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American Sniper Makes a Case Against 'Support Our Troops'

American Sniper Makes a Case Against 'Support Our Troops'

Megan Garber

The military biopic rejects patriotic pablum to explore war's uncomfortable moral complexities.

We tend to talk about “the troops” only in an insistent plural, distancing ourselves from them—their complexity, their individuality, their humanity—through the lens of the heroic collective. Bumper stickers remind us to “support the troops,” which is the functional equivalent of a bumper-bound request to “imagine world peace.” Newscasts feature “In Remembrance” lists of “The Fallen,” which fill our screens for five seconds before the rerun of The Big Bang Theory begins. Memorial Day may involve parades and solemn services; primarily, though, it involves barbecues.

It's not, of course, that “the troops” don’t deserve our admiration; it is that they deserve much more than these weak displays of convenient gratitude. A hero-happy treatment of the military—damning, you could say, with quaint praise—does no favors to our service members (or to the people, and the country, they serve). Not only because the world isn't a Toby Keith song, but because the easy, empty logic of “supporting the troops” gives civilians leave to do a disservice to the people we reflexively thank for their service: It allows us to be ignorant of what that service entails in the first place. We live in a world newly obsessed with the realities of otherness—headlines prefixed with “What It’s Like to Be,” questions asked and answered on Quora, Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything”—yet it rarely occurs to us to ask what it’s like, what it’s really like, to be a soldier.

As Fallows summed it up: "We love the troops, but we'd rather not think about them."

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Are Germany's anti-Islam marches really about Islam?

Are Germany's anti-Islam marches really about Islam?

By Sara Miller Llana

Dresden has seen tens of thousands of Germans join weekly marches in protest of the 'Islamification' of Europe. But underlying that complaint is a host of concerns about immigration, security, and Europe that has long gone unspoken in Germany.

This stunning, baroque city, bombed to bits in World War II and lovingly rebuilt in the decades since, has always been one of paradox.

As the “Florence of the Elbe,” it has long drawn cultural exchanges at the highest level. But it’s also a meeting point for neo-Nazis and soccer hooligans. And now, it is ground zero for Germany’s anti-Islamization movement, a movement that is blossoming into one of the most worrisome developments across Europe.

Interest has surged in Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, especially in the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris. Merely a Facebook group that drew just 300 citizens at its first gathering this past fall, its weekly Monday night protests have attracted growing numbers of marchers. It drew a record 25,000 last week, and on the eve of its next march, no one knows where it will end.

But at its core, Pegida is it not about radical Islam. Rather, that is a repository for a larger disaffection – with immigration, economics, and even Europe. And though much of the Continent has been grappling with such concerns in the form of rising populist parties, Dresden is forcing Germany to confront its domestic malaise for the first time, leading to rhetoric that has long been unexpressed in Germany and fears that, with a backlash against Muslims post-Paris, a more virulent strain of anti-immigration sentiment could strengthen.

“The fear of Islam does not play a main role, it’s just a label,” says Frank Richter, the director of Saxony’s state office for political education. “It’s like an imaginary enemy. Pegida is more of a feeling.”

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Elizabeth Warren keeps pressure on Hillary Clinton and Democrats ahead of 2016

Elizabeth Warren keeps pressure on Hillary Clinton and Democrats ahead of 2016

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has an explanation for the singular nature of her power.

“I’ll always be an outsider. That’s how I understand the world,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in an interview. “There’s a real benefit to being clear about this. I know why I’m here. I think about this every morning before I open my eyes, and I’m still thinking about it every night when I go to sleep.”

Being the target of that kind of focus can be an excruciating experience — the freshest case in point being investment banker Antonio Weiss, whom President Obama put forward last year as his nominee for Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance.

Initially seen as a highly credentialed and noncontroversial pick for a low-profile post, Weiss found himself up against a storm of opposition, led by Warren, who said he was yet another example of Wall Street cronyism within the Obama administration.

On Monday, Weiss wrote a letter to the president asking that his name be taken out of consideration.

The tussle sent yet another signal, maybe the clearest yet, of how Warren intends to wield her growing clout. It showed that she and her brand of populism are forces to be reckoned with — not only by Obama and his team, but also by the Democrats’ likely 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“It’s not about Antonio Weiss personally,” said Simon Johnson, an outspoken Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and former International Monetary Fund chief economist who admires Warren and shares her views. “What it’s really about is the presidential election.”

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As Distinct and Alike as Brothers Can Be

George W. Bush, the first President Bush and Jeb Bush following the election returns on Nov. 7, 2000. Now, Jeb Bush is pondering his own presidential bid.

Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

As Distinct and Alike as Brothers Can Be

By PETER BAKER

While loving and supportive of each other, George W. and Jeb Bush do not talk that often, according to family intimates, and they travel in different circles.

One day last fall, former President George W. Bush called Mel Sembler, a Republican donor from Florida who had served as his ambassador to Italy. Mr. Sembler had just had a pacemaker implanted into his chest, and his wife had also recently had surgery. Mr. Bush wanted to check on how they were faring.

But after the health inquiries, Mr. Bush abruptly interjected. “O.K., Mel,” he said, “is Jeb going to run?”

“Wait a minute,” Mr. Sembler recalled answering. “You’re asking me is Jeb going to run? He’s your brother.”

It was a lighthearted exchange, yet also revealing. As former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida gears up for a possible campaign for the presidency, he is seen as the brother of the last Republican to live in the White House and therefore, in some ways, the second coming of George W. Bush. But the reality is the Bush brothers are not especially close.

While loving and supportive of each other, the two brothers do not talk that often, according to family intimates. Seven years apart in age, they travel in different circles and have distinct political networks. The older brother has been a vocal advocate of a Jeb Bush campaign but, like everyone else, reads tea leaves about whether he will run. Indeed, before Jeb Bush announced that he would explore a campaign, the former president confided to associates privately, “I may be the last one to know.”

.................................

On issues, the two certainly share a similar outlook and philosophy. While other Republicans repudiated aspects of the last Bush presidency, Jeb never did. “It’s just until death do us part,” he told an interviewer who tried to get him to disagree with his brother. In other ways, though, the 43rd president and the potential 45th president are a curious study in fraternal contrasts — in temperament, in style, in the paths they have chosen in life, in the ways they think and communicate and lead.

“You come away amazed that these two guys could be so different and be brothers,” said Jim Towey, a former Florida official who became so close to Jeb Bush that their families spent Thanksgivings together and who went on to work in George W. Bush’s White House directing faith-based initiatives. “I love them both. But they’re just very different people.”

The oldest two sons of George Bush, the 41st president, George W. and Jeb share many traits. Both are deeply religious, schooled in politics, enamored of sports. They are punctual and impatient, rushing through activities, like golf, where others prefer to linger. Both worship their father. Both are conservative on issues like abortion and gun rights while pushing their party away from orthodoxy in areas like education and immigration.

Yet watching them together might confuse the uninitiated. George, 68, likes to work a room. He teases and needles aides, lawmakers or reporters until he gets a rise. He talks about issues in broad strokes, believes in delegating and sometimes mangles his English.

Several inches taller, Jeb, 61, reads footnotes, emails frenetically and talks in full, wonky paragraphs. But in political settings, he sometimes seems to eye the exit, calculating how to get from here to there with the least fuss. “Former President Bush is much more instantly gregarious, a bigger personality,” said Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s first White House press secretary. “When he walks into a room, he just takes it over, by style and by charm. Jeb is more intellectual, more pensive and more articulate.”

Jeb Bush has a quick wit, Mr. Fleischer added, but it is softer than his brother’s.

“Jeb is very much a policy wonk and comes across that way,” he said. “Former President Bush was much more big picture, strong leader, defined things in immediately clear moral terms.”

They come at politics from different angles. “Public service seems to be a calling for George Senior and George Junior, whereas for Jeb it is about a mission,” said Clint Bolick, who wrote a book on immigration with Jeb Bush. “It’s about policy and ideas. I never really got the impression that either his dad or his brother were really motivated by ideas and policies. For Jeb, politics is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.”

Read Kiss-ass Article

Publisher's Note: Enough of these morons..........

 
How Cherif Kouachi Went On and Off the Police's Radar

How Cherif Kouachi Went On and Off the Police's Radar

Why didn't French terror investigators follow alleged Paris attack gunman Chérif Kouachi more closely? WSJ's Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer.

 
Obama loves trolling the GOP, even if it hurts the Democrats

Obama loves trolling the GOP, even if it hurts the Democrats

Obama loves trolling the GOP, even if it hurts the Democrats

You know, you just know, that after the president goes out there and announces he wants to make community college free for all Americans — as though anything government does is “free” — or is unilaterally and unconstitutionally legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants, he comes back to the offices, pulls out the presidential BlackBerry, and gleefully follows along as the Right goes completely ape over these wild policy decisions.

Imagine his delight after it “leaked” that he will propose raising taxes on the wealthy by $320 billion over the next 10 years, including increases to the capital gains and inheritance taxes.

This, of course, has no chance of passing. But then Tuesday night’s State of the Union address could be the first one in history deliberately designed solely to generate a Pavlovian rage response in members of the opposing party.

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Ted Cruz’s Dad Fights Gay Rights in Texas

Ted Cruz’s Dad Fights Gay Rights in Texas

An anti-discrimination ordinance that would protect gays and transgender people is facing strong opposition in Plano, Texas. Naturally, the Cruz family is involved.

Rafael Cruz, the fiery pastor and father of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, is well known for his conservative and Christian bona fides, and now he has inserted himself into a local city council issue in Plano, Texas, claiming an anti-discrimination measure is an “attack on Judeo-Christian beliefs in America.”

The measure that has Cruz so fired up is an equal rights ordinance passed late last year by the City Council of Plano, Texas. When it was passed, the ordinance’s backers on the Council did not predict much commotion. The measure, after all, merely extended existing provisions forbidding discrimination in housing and employment to include sexual orientation and gender identity, putting the city largely in line with federal law.

Instead, Plano, a city of under 275,000 on the outskirts of Dallas, is quickly becoming a suburban Stonewall.

Opponents of the ordinance say preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is against their religious beliefs as Christians, and that being required to follow the new rules is an assault on their personal liberty. That’s an expansive interpretation of religious liberty, but one which has been used across the country by religious conservatives to deny wedding services to same-sex couples and, most famously, for owners of privately held companies who oppose abortion to deny insurance coverage of birth control to women employees.

In this case, losing the ability to deny gay people access to public housing projects “is an attack on religious freedom, an attack on freedom of speech, an attack on freedom of thought,” said Cleve Doty, counsel at the Liberty Institute, a Plano-based organization “dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America.”

 
Je Suis Charlie: Courage, Commitment and the Cost of Freedom

Je Suis Charlie: Courage, Commitment and the Cost of Freedom

By Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D.

It is easy for Americans and French citizens to take our freedom for granted. But these violent attacks remind all of us that freedom is something precious and precarious, and that it takes great courage and commitment to affirm and maintain it. This is an existential truism not only for nations or cultures, but for patients in psychotherapy too.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called anxiety or Angst "the dizziness of freedom." To be free is to be fully responsible for our actions, to accept the existential guilt and anxiety that always accompany freedom. When we habitually refuse responsibility for problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and their adverse effects on others, we perceive ourselves as passive victims of fate, and the power to creatively transform one's self, life, and relationships is diminished. 

 
Stopping all terrorist attacks is impossible, says Europol chief

Europol director Rob Wainwright

Stopping all terrorist attacks is impossible, says Europol chief

Rob Wainwright says extremist threat has changed in 10 years but adds police response is more advanced too.

“Stopping everything is very difficult, containing the threat fully is very difficult, but I’m sure we will prevail, as we have prevailed against other forms of terrorism in the past,” Wainwright told Sky News.

Asked whether there was no guarantee attacks such as those in Paris could be prevented, he said: “No, there can’t be, otherwise what happened in Paris wouldn’t have happened. I think there is a realisation across the police and security community in Europe.

“But at the same time we have a very strong determination to maximise our capability to keep our citizens safe.”

He said the scale of the problem had increased over the last 10 years, adding that terrorists no longer had a coherent, identifiable command and control structure such as in the past. “But over those 10 years, the sophistication of the police response has also increased.”

Wainwright has said that at least 2,500 and possibly up to 5,000 people have travelled from Europe to conflicts in Syria and Iraq and might have been radicalised.

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Former Bill Clinton adviser predicts 'tough road' for Hillary

Former Bill Clinton adviser predicts 'tough road' for Hillary

By Rachel Huggins

A former adviser to President Bill Clinton predicts “a tough road” for Hillary Clinton as she prepares to possibly announce a 2016 presidential campaign in coming months.

Top Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said President Obama won't let the Clintons retake control of the Democratic Party because “no one likes to get off the stage,” in an interview on "The Cats Roundtable," host John Catsimatidis's Sunday radio show on New York AM 970.

"For the last eight years it's been the Obama Party, it hasn't been the Clinton Party for quite sometime and there's certainly a rivalry between the Clintons and the Obamas. The question is does Obama give it up and allow Hillary to be elected president? Likely not."

He added that Clinton will also face pushback to win the presidency because other major powers in the Democratic Party are not committed to her.

Obama has made “it a lot more difficult for Democrats to get into power again” because of his inability to confront the threat of radical Islam, he added.

 
Court to Look Into Possible Israeli War Crimes in Palestinian Territories

Court to Look Into Possible Israeli War Crimes in Palestinian Territories

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary examination on Friday of possible war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, the first formal step that could lead to charges against Israelis.

Palestinian officials welcomed the announcement of the inquiry by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who described it as required procedure. Israeli officials reacted furiously, calling it an inflammatory action in the protracted dispute with the Palestinians over Israeli-occupied lands.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said he would recommend that his government not cooperate with the inquiry. He also said Israel would seek to disband the court, which he described as an anti-Israel institution that “embodies hypocrisy and grants a tailwind to terrorism.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “Palestine considers this as an important positive step toward achieving justice and ensuring respect for international law.”

Accusing Israel of “systematic and blatant” breaches of international law, including during the Gaza war last summer, the statement added, “Ending this impunity is an important contribution to upholding universal values, ensuring accountability and achieving peace."

.......................

Still, the investigation, infused with internationally recognized legality and credibility, was one that the Israelis had sought to prevent. “It’s like she turned the key in the ignition of the judicial vehicle,” Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, said of Ms. Bensouda.

The immediate effect appeared to be raising the antipathy between Israelis and the Palestinians, whose relations already face increasing strains tied to the long-paralyzed diplomacy aimed at a two-state solution to their conflict.

In a statement released, unusually, on Friday evening, after the start of the Jewish Sabbath, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the announcement “scandalous,” coming a week after four Jews were killed in a terrorist attack in France.

Framing Israel as a victim of terrorism, Mr. Netanyahu called the announcement “all the more absurd” because it had come at the behest of the Palestinian leadership, which he said was in alliance with Hamas, the Gaza-based militant group “whose war criminals fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians.”

The Palestinian Authority leadership and Hamas, longtime rivals, signed a reconciliation pact last spring and jointly backed a new government.

Mr. Lieberman accused the court of acting out of “anti-Israel, political considerations.”

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State of the Union: Obama to dare Republicans on tax populism

US President Barack Obama speaks about increasing access to high speed and affordable internet at Cedar Falls Utilities in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 14, 2015. The town of Cedar Falls has built their own private high-speed internet network and runs it like a public utility. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

State of the Union: Obama to dare Republicans on tax populism

President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union address to stake out a populist vision of tax reform and new middle-class benefits — and practically dare Republicans to say no.

The message: Wage stagnation? Obama’s on it. And if Republicans say no — especially to catchy-sounding ideas like getting rid of the “trust fund loophole” — they can explain it to voters in 2016.

create new and expanded tax credits for the middle-class, including a new tax break for two-earner families and a tripling of the child tax credit, and pay for it through a big increase in capital gains taxes and a hefty fee to discourage risky borrowing by big banks.

Altogether, the new tax benefits for middle-class families would cost $175 billion over 10 years, according to senior administration officials — in addition to the $60 billion price tag for the proposal Obama has already announced to make community college tuition free for two years.

But not to worry, administration officials say — steeper capital gains taxes and new financial fees would more than pay for it. They’d raise $320 billion over 10 years, according to White House estimates — $210 billion from the new capital gains tax revenues and $110 billion from the bank fees. All of the proposals will be spelled out in more detail in the budget proposal Obama will submit to Congress on Feb. 2.

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Obama Will Seek to Raise Taxes on Wealthy to Finance Cuts for Middle Class

Obama Will Seek to Raise Taxes on Wealthy to Finance Cuts for Middle Class

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS

WASHINGTON — President Obama will use his State of the Union address to call on Congress to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to finance an array of tax cuts for the middle class, pressing to reshape the tax code to help working families, administration officials said on Saturday.

The proposal faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Congress, led by lawmakers who have long opposed raising taxes and who argue that doing so would hamper economic growth at a time the country cannot afford it. 

But the decision to present the plan during Tuesday’s speech marks the start of a debate over taxes and the economy that will shape both Mr. Obama’s legacy and the 2016 presidential campaign.

It is also the latest indication that the president, untethered from political constraints after the midterm losses, is moving aggressively to set the terms of that discussion, even as he pushes audacious moves in other areas, like immigration and relations with Cuba. 

The president’s plan would raise $320 billion over the next decade, while adding new provisions cutting taxes by $175 billion over the same period. The revenue generated would also cover an initiative Mr. Obama announced this month, offering some students two years of tuition-free community college, which the White House has said would cost $60 billion over 10 years.

The centerpiece of the plan, described by administration officials on the condition of anonymity in advance of the president’s speech, would eliminate what Mr. Obama’s advisers call the “trust-fund loophole,” a provision governing inherited assets that shields hundreds of billions of dollars from taxation each year. . The plan would also increase the top capital-gains tax rate, to 28 percent from 23.8 percent, for couples with incomes above $500,000 annually.

...................................

Those changes and a new fee on banks with assets over $50 billion would be used to finance a set of tax breaks for middle-income earners, including a $500 credit for families in which both spouses work; increased child care and education credits; and incentives to save for retirement.

The initiative signals a turnabout for Mr. Obama, who has spoken repeatedly about the potential for a deal with Republicans on business tax reform but little about individual taxation, an area fraught with partisan disagreements. 

The proposal includes some elements that have previously drawn support from both Republicans and Democrats, including education and retirement savings proposals and the secondary earner credit. A tax on large banks was part of a plan proposed last year by former Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, who retired as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Obama’s advisers characterized the plan as the next phase in the president’s economic message, which he has been promoting over the past two weeks with trips highlighting the nation’s financial rebound. During the tour, Mr. Obama has pitched a range of initiatives to help the middle class, including free community college and paid leave. Both Democrats and Republicans see middle-class voters as an important bloc for winning the White House in 2016.

The bulk of the financing for the plan — $210 billion — would come from a capital-gains tax hike and a change in the way the tax code treats the appreciated value of inherited assets. Under the proposal, inherited assets would be taxed according to their value when they were purchased. That means the capital gains on those assets during a person’s lifetime, now shielded from taxation, would be subject to tax at the time of the bequest.

 
Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

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George Will: Romney’s third presidential run would be no charm

Romney’s third presidential run would be no charm

After his third loss, in 1908, as the Democratic presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan enjoyed telling the story of the drunk who three times tried to enter a private club. After being tossed out into the street a third time, the drunk said: “They can’t fool me. Those fellows don’t want me in there!”

Mitt Romney might understandably think that a third try would have a happy ending in a successful presidency. First, however, he must be a candidate. In 1948, when Democrats considered offering their presidential nomination to Dwight Eisenhower, the former and future Democratic speaker of the House, taciturn Sam Rayburn, said of Eisenhower: “Good man but wrong business.” Two landslide elections and an admirable presidency proved that Rayburn was spectacularly mistaken, but he was right that not every good man is good at every business. Romney, less than nimble at the business of courting voters, lost a winnable race in 2012.

The nation was mired in a disappointing recovery, upward mobility had stalled and the incumbent president’s signature achievement was unpopular and becoming more so. Barack Obama, far from being a formidable politician, was between the seismic repudiations of 2010 and 2014. Running against Romney, Obama became the first president to win a second term with smaller percentages of both the popular and electoral votes. He got 3.6 million fewer votes and a lower percentage of the electoral vote. Yet Romney lost all but one (North Carolina) of the 10 battleground states. He narrowly lost Florida, Virginia and Ohio, but even if he had carried all three, Obama still would have won with 272 electoral votes.

If it seemed likely that the Republican field of candidates for 2016 would be unimpressive, this would provide a rationale for Romney redux. But markets work, and the U.S. electoral system is a reasonably well-functioning political market, with low barriers to entry for new products.

For all the flaws of a nominating process that begins with the Obnoxiously Entitled Four (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, with 4 percent of the nation’s population), those states do not require immediate substantial financial muscle, and they reward retail campaigning, so lesser-known and underfunded candidates can break through. Furthermore, campaign finance laws designed to limit competition are, fortunately, porous enough to allow a few wealthy contributors to enable marginal candidates to be heard. These are among the reasons the Republicans’ 2016 field will have more plausible aspirants than any nomination contest since the party’s first presidential campaign in 1856

America does not have one presidential election every four years, it has 51 — in the states and the District of Columbia. A Romney candidacy, drawing on his network of financial supporters and other activists, might make sense if the GOP were anemic in the states. But Republicans as of this week control 31 governorships, including those in seven of the 10 most populous states (Florida, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio — all but California, Pennsylvania and New York). Republicans control 68 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers. (Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is chosen in nonpartisan elections.) In 23 states, with 251 electoral votes, Republicans control the governor’s office and the legislature. (Democrats have such control in only seven states.) Republicans have their most state legislative seats since the 1920s.

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Obama to Congress: On Foreign Policy, Back Off

 JANUARY 16: U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron participate in a joint news conference at the East Room of the White House January 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. The two leaders had an Oval Office meeting earlier discussing bilateral issues including economic growth, international trade, cybersecurity, Iran, ISIL, counterterrorism, Ebola, and Russias actions in Ukraine. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Obama to Congress: On Foreign Policy, Back Off

President filibusters against push for additional Iran sanctions.

 
How Republicans Plan To Destroy Liz Warren's Greatest Achievement

How Republicans Plan To Destroy Liz Warren's Greatest Achievement

The GOP is going to give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the Darrell Issa treatment.

By Erika Eichelberger

Ever since Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) helped get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau off the ground in 2010, Republicans have been trying to shut it down. GOPers drafted legislation to weaken the fledgling agency, which was designed to prevent mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and other financial institutions from screwing average Americans. The measures died. Republicans turned to the courts to gut the bureau. That effort failed. Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress, they have another weapon at their disposal: new subpoena powers they can deploy to blitz the CFPB with document requests.

The goal is obvious: dig out material the GOPers can use to embarrass the agency. And if nothing untoward is discovered, Republican legislators can at least pin down the bureau with onerous paperwork demands. Democrats fear Republicans' new information-gathering abilities will make it easier for the agency's foes to launch witch-hunt style investigations of the CFPB similar to those former House oversight committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) launched regarding Benghazi and the IRS.

All committees in both the House and the Senate have the right to subpoena federal agencies for information. But until recently, either the most senior committee member from the minority party had to sign off on a subpoena or the entire committee had to vote on the request. In the last Congress, six House committees okayed a rule change giving the committee chair unilateral subpoena power. On Tuesday, the House financial services committee—which has jurisdiction over the CFPB—voted along party lines to grant the same privilege to its Republican chairman, Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Republicans already have a track record of looking for information that could tarnish the CFPB's reputation, and Democrats fully expect Hensarling to continue down the same path. And now Hensarling, a fierce CFPB critic, will be able to more easily mount politically motivated investigations of the agency.

Without the rule change, GOPers could still push through the subpoenas. As the majority, Republicans on the committee could vote to approve an information request. But with its new subpoena superpowers, the committee can demand records without a vote—and, thus, can keep the process  from the public eye, a spokesman for the committee Democrats says. No longer will there be a public hearing where lawmakers can debate the subpoenas and Democrats can make a case if they think Hensarling and the Republicans are abusing the privilege. Last year, for example, ranking Democratic member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) used the public forum to convince Hensarling to back down on a Treasury Department subpoena.

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White-Out: Where Democrats Lost the House

White-Out: Where Democrats Lost the House

In 2009, 76 Democrats represented primarily white working-class congressional districts. Just 15 of them are still in the House today.

By Ronald Brownstein

Republicans have surged to their largest majority in the House of Representatives since before the Great Depression by blunting the Democratic advantage in districts being reshaped by growing racial diversity and consolidating a decisive hold over the seats that are not.

Compared with 2009 and 2010, when Democrats last controlled the House, the Republican majority that takes office this week has essentially held its ground in districts where minorities exceed their share of the national population, a Next America analysis has found. Aided by their control of redistricting after the 2010 census, Republicans over the past three elections have simultaneously established an overwhelming 3-1 advantage in districts where whites exceed their national presence, the analysis shows. Those white-leaning districts split between the parties almost equally during the 111th Congress, in 2009-10.

A majority of the GOP gains since then have come from the Democrats' near-total collapse in one set of districts: the largely blue-collar places in which the white share of the population exceeds the national average, and the portion of whites with at least a four-year college degree is less that the national average. While Republicans held a 20-seat lead in the districts that fit that description in the 111th Congress, the party has swelled that advantage to a crushing 125 seats today. That 105-seat expansion of the GOP margin in these districts by itself accounts for about three-quarters of the 136-seat swing from the Democrats' 77-seat majority in 2009 to the 59-seat majority Republicans enjoy in the Congress convening now.

The GOP dominance in these predominantly white working-class districts underscores the structural challenge facing Democrats: While the party has repeatedly captured the White House despite big deficits among the working-class white voters who once anchored its electoral coalition, these results show how difficult it will be to recapture the House without improving on that performance. "The question is: Are we at rock bottom here?" says Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic voter targeting firm TargetSmart Communications.

These trends present Republicans with a mirror-image challenge. The vast majority of their House members can thrive without devising an agenda on issues—such as immigration reform—that attract the minority voters whose growing numbers nationally have helped Democrats win the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. "When you can go out screaming 'amnesty' and not get any pushback in your districts, you are more prone to scream 'amnesty,' " says veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres. "It leads to an attitude of: 'problem, what problem?' "

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Will Common Core sink Bush?

Will Common Core sink Bush?

Jeb Bush’s Common Core problems may just be getting started.

Karl Rove has already said the former Florida governor’s support for the set of nationalized education standards will be his biggest challenge in seeking the GOP presidential nomination. His likely rival, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has predicted it will doom Bush in the primaries.

That starts in Iowa and South Carolina, where conservatives there say backlash against Common Core has become the hot-button issue among grassroots voters in their states.

"It's huge,” said Sam Clovis, an influential conservative activist in Iowa. “I think it's a disqualifier…we have pretty strong feelings out here about life and marriage, and Common Core is right up there as an issue that really energizes the base.”

Luke Byars, a South Carolina GOP strategist, called Common Core a “hornet’s nest” and “the defining issue” of the state-level elections in 2014 in the Palmetto State, predicting it will “boil over” into 2016. 

“If you had any shade of gray or neutrality on it, you were in trouble,” he added. “Everyone running in the primaries was running as fast as they could to get to the right of everyone else.”

That’s already happening in the field of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates, too. 

Paul, who campaigned against Common Core on a swing through New Hampshire this week, has joined Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as co-sponsor on a bill to protect state and local school districts from federal intrusion. 

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is suing the Obama administration on the matter, alleging that the feds are forcing states to adopt the standards. 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose star rose under Bush in the state legislature, has joined the chorus of conservatives decrying a federal takeover. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who in the past was a Common Core supporter, has declared it “toxic” and “dead as a brand.”

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has established a commission to evaluate whether the state should reverse its adoption of the standards. 

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney sees an opening to run to the right of Bush on the issue. The 2012 nominee is considering another White House bid in part because he believes Bush will struggle in the primaries because of his positions on Common Core and immigration.

“Jeb Bush's bigger problem is Common Core, not immigration,” said Alfonso Aguilar, an immigration adviser to Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush.

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Opponents warn Obama: Don't sit down with Castro

Opponents warn Obama on Castro

Opponents warn Obama: Don't sit down with Castro

By Susan Crabtree

The Obama administration will lay more groundwork for normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba next week when a high-level U.S. delegation visits Havana for talks, but it is not commenting on whether President Obama intends to meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro in April.

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, will lead a U.S. delegation to the island nation Jan. 21.

The visit comes just days after the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments took steps to ease a series of sanctions and restrictions on travel to Cuba and commerce between the two countries.

Jacobson’s talks with her Cuban counterparts will focus on migration between the United States and Cuba just weeks after Obama announced his executive action to try to normalize relations. The president's move has so far failed to stem the flood of Cuban refugees arriving in the United States.

Opponents of the move reversing 50 years of U.S. policy toward the communist island nation also expect Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Havana in early February.

Fearing that Obama is rushing the new policies, advocates for greater reforms in Cuba are already vigorously lobbying against any type of meeting or formal handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro when the two leaders attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama in mid-April.

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The Myth of Jeb’s Protégé

The Myth of Jeb’s Protégé

If you believe their stories, Bush was a mentor to Rubio. The truth is more complicated.

Much of this notion flows from the September 13, 2005, ceremony that officially designated then-state Rep. Rubio as the first Cuban-American House speaker in Florida history. Rubio delivered an eloquent speech accepting the honor, closing with a story about a young single mom and how all she wanted was to offer her baby a better life, and the state’s moral obligation to help her do that. He finished, and a choked-up Bush followed him to the House well.

“I can’t think back on a time when I’ve ever been prouder to be a Republican, Marco,” Bush said, before recounting the tale of “Chang.”

“Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society. I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side, and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.”

Then Bush presented Rubio a golden sword, and solemnly explained its significance. “I’m going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior.”

Only … a closer look at the sword and its display stand Rubio kept in his Florida Speaker’s suite showed that the inscription read “C-H-I-A-N-G,” not, “C-H-A-N-G.” Specifically: “Unleash Chiang.”

“Unleash Chiang,” as in the rallying cry of John Birchers in the 1950s, who urged the United States to arm Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese Nationalist leader of Taiwan, so he could retake Red China from Mao. “Unleash Chiang,” which later morphed into sports trash talk in the Bush family, like when George H.W. would warn from the baseline that he was about to “unleash Chiang” with his next serve.

Some journalists covering Rubio’s ceremony didn’t recognize the allusion and wrote it up straight. It’s unclear even in a 2012 interview whether Rubio himself understood the story’s origins.

And so it was that the Sword of Chiang became allegory taken a little too literally—which is to say: not terribly different from the broader, Bush-as-Rubio’s-mentor meme itself.

.......................

It’s certainly true that Bush and Rubio admire and support one another. Rubio’s first job out of law school was with the firm of Al Cardenas, the Cuban-born Miami lawyer who was already close to Bush and later became his state party chairman. Bush donated to Rubio’s first run for elective office, a West Miami city commission seat in 1998, the same year Bush was elected governor. Bush introduced Rubio at his election night party in 2010 when he defeated Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

But “mentor” in the traditional sense of working closely with a younger colleague? That did not really happen. In fact, Bush’s archived emails suggest that for most of the seven years the two men shared in Tallahassee, their relationship was similar to those Bush had with all the other lawmakers outside of the House and Senate presiding officers.

In spring of 2002, Rubio met with Bush about a $750,000 state grant request for West Miami’s sewage plant. The grant nevertheless wound up on the list of projects Bush would veto. In 2003, Rubio helped Miami with a $200,000 request to restore its historic city hall. In 2005, Bush asked for Rubio’s help lobbying some Miami-Dade state senators on an education bill he wanted.

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Is Mitt Romney for real?

Mitt Romney is pictured. | Gettty

Is Mitt Romney for real?

His speech in San Diego suggests he might actually be serious.

By Alex Isenstadt

Mitt Romney, in a campaign-style speech Friday night to Republican Party brass, confirmed his interest in a third White House run, outlining a three-plank platform and pointedly attacking presumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Introduced by his wife, Ann, Romney took to the deck of the U.S.S. Midway and was greeted with a standing ovation from members of the Republican National Committee gathered here for a party conference. “Me, I’m giving some serious consideration to the future,” he told them.

In the 15-minute speech, he sounded very much like a potential contender, laying out a vision of where he said the Republican Party should go as it looks to toward the 2016 election. In 2012 his detractors dismissed Romney as the candidate of the “1 percent”; on Friday, he said the GOP needs to focus on closing the income gap between rich and poor Americans and lifting people out of poverty.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before,” Romney said.

Ticking off a laundry list of overseas crises, Romney went on to call for a muscular approach to foreign policy while delivering a sharp critique of Clinton, the former secretary of state.

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Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs

Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs

Forty Percent of Students Seen Ill-Prepared to Enter Work Force; Critical Thinking Key

By Douglas Belkin

“Colleges are increasing their attention to the social aspects on campus to keep students happy; there is not enough rigorous academic instruction”

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US Spies Expected Airline Bombs–And Got The Paris Attacks Instead

US Spies Expected Airline Bombs–And Got The Paris Attacks Instead

Everyone worried that al Qaeda’s deadliest affiliate would try to take down a plane. Then came the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo.

For more than five years, U.S. intelligence agencies, counterterrorism operators, and the military have been intensely focused on trying to stop al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen branch of the global terrorist network, from sneaking hard-to-detect bombs onto airplanes and slaughtering hundreds of people.

What they got last week was Paris—a completely different kind of attack.

In claiming credit for last week’s decidedly lower-tech shooting spree at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, AQAP seems to have flipped its playbook, leading to inevitable questions about whether U.S. officials misjudged the terror group’s capabilities or were too focused on the wrong threat: bombs instead of bullets.

All this, despite a slick AQAP magazine that called specifically for shooters—and for Charlie Hebdo to be put in the crosshairs.

“In some quarters there’s skepticism that [the Paris attack] was AQAP because analysts expected that AQAP would launch an attack against aviation, rather than this kind of tactic,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an experienced terrorism analyst and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “We get into trouble when we think we know a clandestine foe better than we actually do.”

In interviews with half a dozen current and former U.S. officials with frontline experience fighting al Qaeda, a clearer picture is emerging about the years leading up to the rampage in Paris. While intelligence and security agencies never ruled out the possibility that the terror group could employ mass shootings as a way to “create havoc in the West,” as one former top counterterrorism official put it, the U.S. security bureaucracy was more focused on AQAP’s repeated attempts to launch more spectacular attacks against civilian aviation, particularly after the group tried to blow up a commercial airliner over Detroit in 2009.

Now, as investigators scrutinize the more than three years that the Paris shooters spent between a visit to Yemen in 2011 and last week’s attack, they’re looking for clues that might have alerted Western security services to the plot but apparently went undetected. Current and former officials insisted that they had not taken their eyes off al Qaeda in Yemen in the time before the Charlie Hebdo attack. 

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As Europe Moves Aggressively Against Terrorism, New Challenges Emerge

As Europe Moves Aggressively Against Terrorism, New Challenges Emerge

BERLIN — After a series of police raids and a deadly gun battle, arrests of terror suspects in Belgium, Germany and France late Thursday and Friday highlighted the scope and complexity of the challenge facing European intelligence agencies and security services in confronting the expanding threat from radical jihadists, many of them battle-hardened in Syria and Iraq.

On Friday alone, the Belgian authorities announced that 13 people had been detained nationwide after two men suspected of planning an imminent attack were shot dead by the police in the eastern town of Verviers on Thursday evening. The authorities in France reported 12 detentions, and 250 police officers in Berlin swooped down on 12 locations to detain five Turks — three of whom were later released — on suspicion of recruiting, financing and helping Turkish and Chechen fighters get to Syria.

There was no public indication that the raids in Belgium and Germany were directly linked to the attacks last week in Paris, in which 17 people were killed and the three gunmen, all professing allegiance to militant groups, were shot dead by the police. The authorities in Paris said the 12 people detained there overnight might have belonged to a previously undetected cell that supported one of the gunmen in the Paris attacks.

The combination of the raids in three countries suggested a new willingness on the part of the authorities across Europe to act more aggressively and pre-emptively to head off potential threats.

Just before millions of people gathered to march in France last Sunday in defiance of the attacks, the interior ministers of 11 European countries huddled quietly in Paris to draw up measures to combat potential threats — in particular, officials said, more vigilance against radical material on the Internet and social media; more intense swapping of data among governments, especially no-fly lists; and a crackdown on illegal sales of weapons.

“The threat has increased,” said Rob de Wijk, director of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies in the Netherlands, pointing to the sharp increase in arrests for religion-inspired terrorism, which Europol statistics show rose to 216 arrests in 2013 from 110 in 2009. Even as governments are ramping up their counterterrorism efforts, though, they are igniting a growing debate about whether they are going too far, too fast, and are at risk of sacrificing civil liberties as they scramble to intensify security. The trade-offs are not always easy to discern at a time when there is clear evidence of a threat from a small but potentially dangerous group of residents of their own countries.

American intelligence agencies have estimated that 18,000 foreigners, including 3,000 Europeans and other Westerners, have traveled to Syria and Iraq since the fight in the region broke out in 2011. Of those, more than 500 veterans of the fighting are estimated to have returned to Europe, according to research by Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer.

The three gunmen in the Paris attacks, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, had all been monitored at various points by French law enforcement and intelligence agencies but were nonetheless able to plan and execute attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.

The handling of their cases has prompted widespread debate about whether Europe has adequate resources to track not just citizens traveling to and from Syria but a broader group of radicalized Muslims who could be potential threats to act alone or in loose affiliation with militant groups like the Islamic State and offshoots of Al Qaeda. Security agencies are clamoring for more money and powers to keep up.

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