New Mexico Gets a Splashy Campaign Ad

The Story:

Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent, now a candidate for a US House seat from New Mexico’s 3d district, has a television ad out that shows off her CIA-trained driving skills and that ends with her saying, “Mr. President, I’ve got a few scores to settle.”

Background:

Plame is one of nine already-declared candidates on the Democratic side of the race for that seat, and she is seeking to stand out from the field by reminding people of a 2003 scandal, the “Plame affair.” Her ad shows Plame driving a car rapidly backwards through a stretch of New Mexico desert, then pulling a quick J-turn, presumably a CIA agent’s learned survival-driving skill.

In the voiceover, Plame reminds people that in the lead-up to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, she was outed as an agent apparently in revenge for her husband’s public contradiction of one of the justifications for war that the administration was promoting.

An aide to the then Vice President, [Scooter Libby, aide to Dick Cheney] was later convicted of lying to investigators about that leak, and Libby was pardoned in 2018 by the current President, Donald Trump.

The Thing to Know: 

Immediately upon broadcast the ad encountered pushback from fact checkers. The voice over identifies Libby as the source of the leak of her identity as an agent. Actually, Dick Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, was the source of the leak at the time (as he has acknowledged). Libby apparently did talk to a reporter, Judith Miller, about the weapons of mass destruction Iraq was allegedly developing and may have mentioned Plame in that context, but Miller published no story on the subject. Libby was convicted  — and pardoned — with regard to the cover-up, not the leak itself.

 

Mike Gravel Suspends His Campaign for President

Live: Senate debates bringing Kavanaugh confirmation to a vote

The Story:

Mike Gravel, a former US Senator who was for much of this year waging a long-shot campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, suspended that campaign last week, and as he left the field he sharply criticized the Democratic National Committee for keeping him out of the televised debates.

Background:

Gravel, an Alaskan, became well-known during the Vietnam War period, first for his outspoken opposition to the draft of young men into the military; later for his enthusiastic support of the publication of the so-called “Pentagon Papers.”

Gravel lost his seat in the US Senate in 1980 and has been out of the public eye for most of the time since. But this year two young (teenager) admirers effectively ran a Presidential campaign on his behalf and with his blessing. It is that campaign that Gravel suspended on August 2.

Although Gravel met the criteria for a spot in the debates, the DNC had also set a limit on the number of candidates who could participate, putting the ceiling at 20. Since 20 other candidates crossed the necessary thresholds before he did, Gravel was not allowed in.

The Thing to Know:

Gravel’s distinction in the campaign was to be its foremost advocate of a non-interventionist (opponents might even call it an isolationist) foreign policy. Gravel has demanded that both former President George W. Bush and former President Barack Obama be tried by the International Court of Justice for “the crimes and murders they’ve committed” by way of overseas military actions.

What Joe Biden’s Opponents Are Saying About Him On The Campaign Trail | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC

What Joe Biden’s Opponents Are Saying About Him On The Campaign Trail | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC

It may be Biden’s first day officially on the campaign, but his Democratic opponents are not holding back. Former Deputy Director of Speechwriting for the George W. Bush Administration, Peter Wehner, and former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton Robby Mook join Stephanie Ruhle to discuss how Biden’s competitors are greeting him to the race.
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What Joe Biden’s Opponents Are Saying About Him On The Campaign Trail | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC

Faith and politics — a dish best served separately?

Is it dangerous for faith and politics to be mixed? (Photo of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral by Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

Faith and politics — for many, the two powerful identities are inseparable. But the former deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush cautions not to mix the two together too firmly.

Peter Wehner, who also served in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations and is now a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, may have made himself known on the conservative side of the aisle, but he keeps an open mind about politics in relation to his Christian faith.

“I don’t think God is part of any political party, and to do so is a danger to faith and a danger to politics … God stands in judgment of all political ideologies and all political parties,” he said to the Dori Monson Show.

It was for a similar statement that Wehner on Tuesday praised 2020 presidential candidate and South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Twitter. Buttigieg, who is an openly gay and devoutly Christian Democrat, spoke of God’s political impartiality during a CNN Town Hall on Monday.

“God does not have a political party.” Wise and welcome words from Pete Buttigieg, from his CNN town hall event last night. Those who claim otherwise are turning their faith into a political instrumentality, and sometimes a political weapon. https://t.co/CnBnN5cwUN

— Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner) April 23,…

Valerie Plame May Run for Congress in 2020

The Story:

Valerie Plame, the former CIA spy who first came to broad public attention in 2003 when the George W. Bush administration was trying to make the case that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction, is back in the public eye: she says that she may run for a seat in the House of Representatives from New Mexico’s 3d district next year.

The Background:

Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former Ambassador. In the period 2002-03 Wilson publicly argued, contrary to White House assertions, that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was not attempting to buy “yellowcake” uranium from Niger.

Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, the chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, leaked to the press the fact that Plame was CIA. He ‘blew her cover’ as the saying goes, ending her espionage career: apparently in retaliation for the public position her husband had taken.

Libby was later convicted of crimes related to his efforts to cover up this leak. His sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush and, just last year, he was granted a full pardon by President Trump.

The Thing to Know: 

The incumbent of the 3d district seat in New Mexico, Ben Ray Lujan, is the fourth-ranking House Democrat. He will not be running for re-election because he is seeking one of the state’s US Senate seats. The contest for the 3d district, then, may prove hotly competitive. Plame says that if she runs her goal will be “to continue Ben Ray’s legacy.”

Pelosi says Trump using 9/11 images for ‘political attack’

FILE – In this March 6, 2019, file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., sits with fellow Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup, on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump is weighing in on the most recent controversy involving Omar, retweeting video edited to suggest that the Minnesota congresswoman was dismissive of the significance of the Sept. 11 attacks. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) –The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has weighed in on the most recent controversy involving Rep. Ilhan Omar, retweeting video edited to suggest that the Minnesota Democrat was dismissive of the significance of the Sept. 11 attacks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president “shouldn’t use the painful images of 9/11 for a political attack.”

The video pulls a snippet of Omar’s speech last month to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in which she described the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as “some people did something,” as well as news footage of the hijacked planes hitting the towers. Trump on Friday tweeted, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”

Omar’s remark has drawn criticism largely from political opponents and conservatives. They say Omar, one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, offered a flippant description of the assailants and the attacks on American soil that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Neither Trump’s tweet nor the video includes her full quote or the context of her comments.

Omar told CAIR in Los Angeles that many Muslims saw their civil liberties eroded after the attacks, and she advocated for activism.

“For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly,…

American Meritocracy Is a Myth

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.

Despair about the state of our politics pervades the political spectrum, from left to right. One source of it, the narrative of fairness offered in basic civics textbooks—we all have an equal opportunity to succeed if we work hard and play by the rules; citizens can truly shape our politics—no longer rings true to most Americans. Recent surveys indicate that substantial numbers of them believe that the economy and political system are both rigged. They also think that money has an outsize influence on politics. Ninety percent of Democrats hold this view, but so do 80 percent of Republicans. And careful studies confirm what the public believes.

None of this should be surprising given the stark economic inequality that now marks our society. The richest 1 percent of American households currently account for 40 percent of the country’s wealth, more than the bottom 90 percent of families possess. Worse yet, the top 0.1 percent has cornered about 20 percent of it, up from 7 percent in the mid-1970s. By contrast, the share of the bottom 90 percent has since then fallen from 35 percent to 25 percent. To put such figures in a personal light, in 2017, three men—Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates—possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than the bottom 50 percent of Americans.

Over the last four decades, economic disparities in the United States increased substantially and are now greater than those in other wealthy democracies. The political consequence has been that a tiny minority of extremely wealthy Americans wields disproportionate influence, leaving so many others feeling disempowered.

What Money Sounds Like

Two recent headline-producing scandals highlight money’s power in society and politics.

The first involved super-affluent parents who used their wealth to get their manifestly unqualified children into highly selective colleges and universities that previously had reputations (whatever the reality) for weighing the merits of applicants above their parents’ wealth or influence.

The second concerned Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s reported failure to reveal, as election laws require, more than $1 million in low-interest loans that he received for his 2012 Senate campaign. (For that lapse, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) fined Senator Cruz a modest $35,000.) The funds came from Citibank and Goldman Sachs, the latter his wife’s longtime employer. News of those undisclosed loans, which also cast doubt on Cruz’s claim that he had funded his campaign in part by liquidating the couple’s assets, only added to the sense that favoritism now suffuses the politics of a country that once prided itself on being the world’s model democracy. (Journalists covering the story couldn’t resist pointing out that the senator had often lambasted Wall Street’s “crony capitalism” and excessive political influence.)

The Cruz controversy is just one reflection of the coming of 1 percent politics and 1 percent elections to America at a moment when the first billionaire has been ensconced in the Oval Office for more than two years, posing as a populist no less.

Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, money has poured into politics as never before. That’s because the Court ruled that no limits could be placed on corporate and union spending aimed at boosting or attacking candidates running for political office. Doing so, the justices determined in a 5-4 vote, would be tantamount to restricting individuals’ right to free speech, protected by the First Amendment. Then came the Court’s 2014 McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision (again 5-4), which only increased money’s influence in politics by removing the aggregate limit on an individual’s contribution to candidates and to national party committees.

In an age when money drives politics, even ex-presidents are cashing in. Fifteen years after Bill Clinton departed the White House, he and Hillary had amassed a net worth of $75 million—a6,150 percent increase in their wealth. Barack and Michelle Obama’s similarly soared from $1.3 million in 2000 to $40 million last year—and they’re just warming up. Key sources of these staggering increases include sky-high speaking fees (often paid by large corporations), including $153 million for the Clintons between February 2001 and May 2016. George W. Bush also made tens of millions of dollars in this fashion and, in 2017, Obama received$400,000for a single speech to a Wall Street firm.

No wonder average Americans believe that the political class is disconnected from their day-to-day lives and that ours is, in practice, a democracy of the rich in which money counts (and counts and counts).

Cash for College

Now let’s turn to what those two recent scandals tell us about the nexus between wealth and power in America.

First, the school scam. Parents have long hired pricey tutors to coach their children for the college admissions tests, sometimes paying them hundreds of dollars an hour, even $1,500 for 90 minutes of high-class prep. They’ve also long tapped their exclusive social and political connections to gin up razzle-dazzle internships to embellish those college applications. Anyone who has spent as much time in academia as I have knows that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. So has the practice of “legacy admissions”—access to elite schools especially for the kids of alumni of substantial means who are, or might prove to be, donors. The same is true of privileged access to elite schools for the kids of mega-donors. Consider, for instance, that $2.5 million donation Charles Kushner made to Harvard in 1998, not long before his son Jared applied. Some of the folks who ran Jared’s high school noted that he wasn’t exactly a whiz-bang student or someone with sky-high SAT scores, but—surprise!—he was accepted anyway.

What’s new about the recent revelations is that they show the extent to which today’s deep-pocketed helicopter parents have gone into overdrive, using brazen schemes to corrupt the college admissions process yet more. One unnamed parent spent a cool $6.5 million to ensure the right college admitted his or her child. Others paid hefty amounts to get their kids’ college admissions test scores falsified or even hired proxies to take the tests for them. Famous actors and financial titans made huge payments to university sports coaches, who then lied to admissions officers, claiming that the young applicants were champions they had recruited in sports like water polo, crew, or tennis. (The kids may have known how to swim, row, or play tennis, but star athletes they were not.)

Of course, as figures

Trump’s 2020 Campaign: A Traditional Operation With a Wild-Card Candidate

Jason Andrew for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — On a former trading floor in an office tower in Rosslyn, Va., with sweeping views of the Potomac River, the Trump 2020 campaign is settling in. It has about 40 staff members and counting, reported $19.2 million in cash on hand in its last report and has spent $4.5 million on online ads since December.

It is a long way from Mr. Trump’s first presidential race, which came together in the summer of 2015 and was run as a taped-together operation, with a few desks strewn across an unfinished floor of Trump Tower.

But one thing is missing from the high-powered but traditional campaign operation underway in Rosslyn: a candidate who abides by tradition.

In a speech to a conservative group this month, as Mr. Trump described what he had in mind, he made a point of recounting “how I got elected, by being off script,” adding, “If we don’t go off script, our country is in big trouble, folks.” And at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday, Mr. Trump illustrated what he meant, delivering an 80-minute stemwinder in which he lashed out at familiar targets who fostered “the collusion delusion” and offered the in-depth rehash of his 2016 victory that is a staple of his rally speeches.

“We won a lot,” he said, after explaining where “Crooked” Hillary Clinton went wrong. “We won 306 to 223.” (Mrs. Clinton’s total was actually 232.)

Mr. Trump has made it clear that he wants to run on the same anti-immigration, anti-Islam, fear-mongering tropes that lifted him to victory in 2016, denouncing old enemies like Mrs. Clinton and adding new ones, even as his aides try to emphasize his accomplishments in office like the economy and the rout of the Islamic State. Advisers say privately that he has been distracted by the Mueller report, which he regards as a clear political victory, and has not focused on message for the coming months.

As the campaign tries to build a traditional re-election operation, which officials often compare to President George W. Bush’s 2004 race, the tension may build between campaign officials and Mr. Trump, who trusts his gut above all else.

“President Trump has always had his finger on the pulse of the nation and he understands what it is that the American people want, and that is why he won in 2016 and that has not changed,” said David Bossie, a former campaign adviser who, alongside the former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, attended the rally with Mr. Trump on Thursday night. “He is his best political barometer.”

Incumbent presidents running for re-election always come with built-in advantages: money, time, the stature of the office and the opportunity to define the terms of the race, while an inchoate field of opponents fight among one another.

The Trump campaign is building an organization aimed at capitalizing on all of those advantages, crafting a conventional structure around a candidate whose nature is to buck against it. “There are lots of differences between being part of a bruising primary versus being the incumbent,” said Tim Murtaugh, the campaign communications director. “One of the differences is time. We have a big advantage on the Democrat field in that, and we intend to use it.”

But the wild card is Mr. Trump himself.

“It’s easy to build a beautiful operation,” said Robby…

Trump announces Kelly Knight Craft as nominee for UN ambassador

Trump taps Kelly Knight Craft to be next US ambassador to the United Nations
Trump taps Kelly Knight Craft to be next US ambassador to the United Nations

President Trump on Friday announced Kelly Knight Craft, ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to become the next United States ambassador to the United Nations.

“Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our Nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level,” Trump tweeted. “Congratulations to Kelly and her entire family!”

If confirmed for the role, Craft will succeed Nikki Haley, who abruptly announced her resignation in October last year.

Haley offered Craft her congratulations on Twitter following the announcement. “She’s done a great job representing us as @USAmbCanada and we know she’ll be a strong voice for America at the United Nations,” Haley tweeted.

The president’s decision comes roughly a week after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew her name from consideration for the U.N. ambassadorship.

“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,” Nauert said in the statement released by the State Department on Saturday. “However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest…

‘I did inhale’: How the politics of pot is changing

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File photo: Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is not only unabashedly owning up to her own personal marijuana use, but is in full support of making it legal nationwide.

By Colby Itkowitz | Washington Post

WASHINGTON – President Bill Clinton admitted to smoking marijuana, but famously said he never inhaled. President George W. Bush is believed to have partaken in illicit drugs in his youth, though he always played coy about it. President Barack Obama wrote candidly about his past marijuana and cocaine use, but was never a strong supporter of pot reforms at the federal level.

Now, less than 30 years after Clinton felt the need to qualify his drug use, presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is not only unabashedly owning up to her own personal marijuana use, but is in full support of making it legal nationwide.

“Half my family is from Jamaica, are you kidding me,” Harris said laughing, during a radio interview Monday. “And I did inhale.”

Harris’s unflinching support for legalization shows the dramatic evolution in the ease in…