Forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter advising Iranian leaders that, in effect, whatever deal they may make with President Barack Obama they’ll unravel as quick as they can. But cable news was still dominated 3/10-11 by reports on Hillary Clinton’s use of her private email account when she was secretary of state, as previous secretaries of state did.

At her news conference at the UN (3/10), Clinton admitted that, looking back, it might have been better to use a separate State Department account for official emails. But she insisted that she has broken no laws and has furnished copies of the official emails, as required, and she hopes the State Department will make available all 55,000 pages.

Charles P. Pierce noted at Esquire.com that Clinton did not look at all comfortable. “There were moments when syntax temporarily abandoned her, and other moments in which she vanished into a cloud of lawyerly squid-ink. Perhaps even after all this time, and all her experience, she’s amazed at the modern media’s ability to make something out of nothing. Which she, of all people, shouldn’t be. Or perhaps, and this is what instantly deprives the Democrats of their bejabbers, she’s seriously considering whether or not she’s up to going through this nonsense for two years of a campaign, and then possibly eight years thereafter. If there’s one thing that’s been made painfully clear since her husband got elected, and even clearer during the two terms of the current administration, it’s that Republican members of the national legislature have no intention ever of allowing a Democratic presient to govern as a Democratic president, and they will do anything, from ginning up fake scandals, to filing fake lawsuits, to writing mash notes to the mullahs, to keep a Democratic president from actually governing. If Clinton is at the moment wondering here’s no evidence of illegal activity ... based on what’s been reported so far the only thing Clinton failed to do was to routinely bacwhether or not it’s all worth it, you can hardly blame her.”

Pierce added, “Oh, and ‘Turn Over The Server!’ is going to be the new ‘What About The Billing Records?’ Guaranteed. Drinks all around at the Mena Airport Lounge.”

Bob Cesca noted at TheDailyBanter (3/9) that the original narrative was based on two very flawed articles, one from the New York Times (3/1) and another from the Associated Press (3/4). “Neither bombshell revealed any laws that were broken, and the AP article about Clinton’s alleged “homebrew” email server explicitly stated, “It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system,” but only after stating in both its headline and its text that Clinton was ‘running her own email server.’

“There’s no evidence of illegal activity ... based on what’s been reported so far the only thing Clinton failed to do was to routinely back-up her emails on a State Department server — a server, by the way, that was repeatedly hacked during her time as secretary. This constitutes a violation of National Archives and State Department guidance, but not the law itself, which only barred personal email usage as of November, 2014 (as reported by the liberals at the Wall Street Journal, among others).”

After Clinton’s news conference, Cesca noted (3/11), “Without question, the congressional Republicans and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) will subpoena both the emails and the server itself, which could turn into a thing because based on what Clinton said on Tuesday, she has no intention of allowing anyone, much less the GOP sift through her email server. There will also be a State Department document dump of as many emails it can redact.”

He concluded, “to borrow Bob Schieffer’s phrase, the inquest doesn’t pass the ‘smell test.’ If we were really concerned about government officials and their email habits, then we’d be speed-dialing every cabinet and sub-cabinet level official from the last 15 years to quiz them about their email as well as to demand copies. If this whole ... show wasn’t really about Clinton, we’d be talking to some of the GOP presidential candidates about their usage of private email, too. I mean, sure, Jeb Bush wasn’t dealing in international diplomacy — just unimportant matters like, you know, the outcome of the 2000 election. By the way, it was revealed on (3/10) that former Obama administration Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel allegedly used a Gmail account.

“But instead of focusing on the right thing, the email story has been driven by preconceived notions about Hillary Clinton rather than a sane review of the facts. To date, no one has been able to adequately explain why she’s the only person being scrutinized like this. And while the facts indicate some obvious problems, both past and present, the problems aren’t exclusively Clinton problems, but a series of government-wide security and transparency meta-problems. That ought to be the centerpiece of the story, and not solely whether Clinton was orchestrating a Frank and Claire Underwood-style flimflam.”

John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, told The Guardian (3/10) that Congress can easily “pass clearer requirements governing the use of official email, and create strong oversight and enforcement authority to ensure the law is followed.” It’s also the perfect time to quickly pass the FOIA Improvements Act, which would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and increase government transparency. Congress came within a hair’s breadth of passing it last December, as it unanimously passed in the House in February 2014 and the Senate unanimously approved it 12/8/14 but House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it up again in the House.

REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT COULD STILL GUT ACA SUBSIDIES. Even if Obamacare subsidies survive Supreme Court review, a future president might be able to block them, legal experts told TalkingPointsMemo.com (3/10).

The court heard arguments in King v. Burwell, a case about whether the text of the Affordable Care Act allows the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax subsidies to Americans in three dozen states who buy insurance on federally run exchanges.

There are three ways the justices could rule, Sahir Kapur noted: 1) They could side with the plaintiffs and say the law unambiguously forbids the subsidies, in which case no president can provide them; 2) They could side with the government and say the law unambiguously authorizes the subsidies, in which case no president can deny them; 3) They could say the statute is ambiguous and therefore defer to the agency that implements it — in this case, the IRS — under the longstanding legal theory of “Chevron deference.”

If Obamacare subsidies survive, Kapur noted, it’ll likely be because the justices find the law ambiguous and defer to the agency. That’s the basis on which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, from which the Supreme Court took the case, upheld the federal exchange subsidies, he noted.

In that case, the subsidies would be safe under the Obama administration. But a future administration, perhaps under a Republican president, could legally reinterpret the law and decide the subsidies are prohibited.

“If the Court were to hold that the statute is ambiguous and defer under Chevron to the IRS, then they’d be saying that the IRS has the discretion to resolve the ambiguity in the statute,” said Nick Bagley, an administrative law and health law professor at the University of Michigan, who supports the government’s position in the King case. “And in principle the IRS could in one administration say the subsidies are allowed, and in another administration say they are not. “In order to do so, it would have to supply reasons for making the change.”

Under the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act, a future president’s IRS would have to show that its reinterpretation of the law is not “arbitrary” or “capricious” or “an abuse of discretion.” It could try to argue that it would be fiscally prudent as it would save hundreds of billions of dollars. The administration’s reasoning would have to be persuasive enough to fend off an expected legal challenge from those harmed.

NEARLY 8M COULD LOSE HEALTH INSURANCE AID. Nearly 8 mln people could lose up to $24 bln a year in health insurance subsidies if the Supreme Court rules that the assistance is illegal in states where the federal government took charge of running health insurance marketplaces when state governments refused to do so.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that 7.7 mln people in 37 states with federally-run markets are getting an average of $263 a month to help pay premiums. That works out to $2 bln a month, the Associated Press reported (3/10).

The biggest potential loser is Florida, where nearly 1.5 mln residents get an average of $294 a month, or up to $5.2 bln a year for the state. The subsidies are delivered in the form of tax credits.

In Texas, more than 1 mln residents get an average of $239 a month, or nearly $3 bln a year.

In North Carolina, more than 515,000 subsidized customers would lose an estimated $1.9 bln a year.

Other findings from AP’s analysis:

• After subsidies, the average premium for consumers in states with federally-run markets rose by $19 a month, or 23% from 2014. Officials said that may reflect people who picked higher quality coverage, and to a lesser degree, higher premiums for tobacco users.

• Consumers in Alaska received the highest average subsidy, $534 a month.

• After subsidies, Mississippi residents paid the lowest average premium, $52 a month. Premiums vary by state.

Across the nation, 11.7 mln people signed up for 2015 coverage in the insurance markets created under the Affordable Care Act. The administration set a goal of 9.1 mln people enrolled and paying their share of premiums. Since some customers have yet to pay, the official enrollment figure is still undetermined.

National surveys have found that the number of uninsured adults declined by more than 10 mln since the law took effect. And the Congressional Budget Office found that the program is expected to cost about 11% less over the next decade.

The lawsuit before the Supreme Court claims that subsidies are only allowed in 13 states and D.C. that set up their own insurance exchanges, although legislators have said that was clearly not their intent.

OKIE O’CARE OPPONENT WANTS TO SAVE SUBSIDIES. Oklahoma is an extremely red state governed by the reddest Republicans who hate the concept of helping lower-income people get access to health care, Jim Newell noted at Salon.com (3/10). The state under Gov. Mary Fallin (R) did not expand Medicaid or create its own health care exchange, so 102,000 Oklahomans who enrolled in health plans through the ACA’s federally facilitated exchange are in danger of losing their subsidies, which average $2,472 a year, if the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell.

The state’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, filed one of the suits against the government arguing that the IRS cannot offer premium subsidies to those who enroll on the federal exchanges. Last fall, after Oklahoma won that case, Gov. Fallin was ecstatic:

“For years, I have argued that Obamacare represents bad policy, irresponsible spending, an outrageous expansion of federal authority into the private sector, and unconstitutional law. Since 2012, the state of Oklahoma has been fighting the implementation of the ACA, both to protect our citizens from the negative effects of this law – including devastating cuts to Medicare — and to stand up for Constitutional principles,” she said.

Now that the Supreme Court is considering throwing out the subsidies, Fallin wrote in an op-ed for the Tulsa World (3/9) that it’s great that the ACA is on the ropes. “Many of our citizens,” she writes, “have had no other option but to purchase the expensive, mandate-heavy, federally-regulated insurance required by the ACA.”

Fallin then acknowledges that those people who “have had no other option” to purchase insurance through the exchange may be very upset to suddenly lose the coverage. And so she urges Congress to pass a temporary extension of those subsidies in the event that King et al. prevail, until an adequate “free-market, consumer-friendly” replacement plan for Obamacare is developed.

FCC ALSO ALLOWS MUNI BROADBAND. Somewhat overlooked when the Federal Communications Commission affirmed net neutrality (2/26) was a second decision to overturn state laws that prevent municipalities in Tennessee and North Carolina from extending publicly owned broadband networks.

The FCC responded to petitions from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., asking it to overturn state laws that prevent them from extending their highly successful publicly-owned networks to surrounding communities eager to connect. David Morris of the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ilsr.org) noted the FCC’s decision affects just those two states’ laws but will undoubtedly become a precedent to evaluate most of the other 17 states’ restrictions on municipal broadband.

Republicans grumbled at the net neutrality decision but they positively shrieked their dismay when the FCC ruled in favor of local authority, Morris noted. Within hours of the vote Republicans introduced a bill stripping the FCC of its authority to do so. A year ago Republicans tacked on an amendment to another bill that would have prevented the FCC from even taking up the issue. That amendment passed the House. Republicans voted 221-4 in favor. It died in the Senate.

Chris Mitchell of ILSR observed a year after North Carolina stalled municipal network expansion, “The Federal Communications Commission ranks North Carolina last in the nation in percentage of households subscribing to at least a ‘basic broadband’ service, largely because Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink and AT&T have declined to upgrade their networks to modern standards.” Nationwide the Washington Post reported, “More than half of Americans have only one choice of Internet provider at speeds of 25 megabits per second, the basic threshold for high-speed internet under a new definition approved by the FCC last month.”

While Republicans such as Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) say they are trying to protect taxpayers from poor investments by local governments, Morris noted that the vast majority of municipal broadband networks have been successful. “The economic benefits of munis have been amply catalogued by ILSR’s Community Broadband Initiative. They’ve saved host communities hundreds of millions of dollars, created tens of thousands of jobs, and become a firm foundation for future economic development efforts.”

“Sen. Tillis surely knows that North Carolina passed its bill only after several city networks had proven so successful that a growing number of other cities were seriously exploring the option. According to data gathered by the Center for Public Integrity the price of broadband delivered by the nine municipal networks in Tennessee have proven highly competitive.”

MIKULSKI RETIREMENT CREATES SENATE OPENING IN MD. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) set off a potential free-for-all when she announced she would not seek re-election. First to jump in the race was US Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a liberal Democrat who has been in Congress since 2003. Rep. Donna Edwards, the most liberal member of the Maryland House delegation, joined the race (3/11). Also reportedly considering the race is Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and US Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Elijah Cummings, David Nir wrote at DailyKos (3/10).

On the GOP side, Chrysovalantis Kefalas, a former aide to US Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, is considering a campaign. Kefalas is vice president of Executive Communications for the National Association of Manufacturers, so he may have some money to burn, Nir noted.

In Kentucky, Republicans plan to change their presidential primary next year into a caucus process, so that Sen. Rand Paul (R) can run for re-election as well as running for president in a state that doesn’t allow candidates to run for two offices on the same ballot. The state Republican executive committee (3/7) approved Paul’s plan to hold presidential nominating caucuses in March as well as the regular primary election in May. However, if Paul were to win the Republican presidential nomination, it could hand the Democrats Rand’s Senate seat in November.

BIPARTISAN BILL WOULD END MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROHIBITION. It might not be the beginning of the end of the federal War on Marijuana, but perhaps a bipartisan bill to end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana is the end of the beginning.

Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), unveiled arguably the most progressive medical marijuana legislation is history (3/10). The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would end federal prohibition of medical marijuana and also introduce a host of other reforms aiming to curb restrictions on its transport, prescription and availability. Among other things, it would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, which for the first time would acknowledge that pot has some medical value, Vox.com noted. The bill also would prohibit the federal government from shutting down medical marijuana in states where pot is legal for medicinal purposes.

Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, told the Washington Post the bill would “effectively end the federal war on medical marijuana.”

Steve Benen of MaddowBlog noted that the Senate apparently has never considered bipartisan legislation to legalize any use of marijuana. It’s still an open question as to whether the bill has any chance of passing in Congress, though the spending bill that Congress approved in December included a provision the House added to end DEA raids on state-approved medical marijuana operations.

Pot has been legalized for medical purposes in 23 states and D.C. Several professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics have called on the government to reschedule marijuana to allow more research into the drug to gauge its medicinal value.

WHAT ‘DOING SOMETHING ABOUT ISIS’ LOOKS LIKE. An astounding number of Republican lawmakers and politicians, from state legislatures to the congressional leadership, have argued repeatedly in recent months that President Obama hasn’t “done anything about ISIS.” Given the scope of the military offensive launched by the Obama administration, Steve Benen noted at MaddowBlog (3/10), “the rhetoric seems oddly delusional.”

As of 3/8, US and coalition have conducted a total of 2,753 airstrikes against ISIS targets, he noted. That includes 1,529 airstrikes in Iraq and another 1,224 in Syria.

Of that total, US military, on Obama’s orders, has launched 2,213 airstrikes, which translates to more than 80% of the overall total. The tally includes 1,081 airstrikes in Iraq and another 1,132 in Syria.

At the same time, the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias were moving to retake the ISIS-held city of Tikrit, sealing off Saddam Hussein’s homeotnw in preparation to confront the extremists in one of their biggest strongholds, the Associated Press reported (3/10). The Iraqi forces are advancing without US-led airstrikes.

“What’s more, the Obama administration has successfully assembled a coalition that now includes Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the United Kingdom – all of which have launched military strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq, Syria, or both,” Benen wrote, adding that 2,840 US military personnel were deployed in theater.

“All of this as part of a military offensive the president launched last August, and which Congress has shown little interest in authorizing.

“Every Republican – and there are far too many – saying Obama is doing ‘nothing’ about ISIS is completely and demonstrably wrong. The federal policymakers who are actually doing ‘nothing’ about ISIS are members of Congress.”

FAMILY FARMERS CRASH AGRIBIZ PARTY. The Iowa Agriculture Summit drew 11 likely Republican presidential hopefuls to Des Moines (3/7) to court the rural vote and address topics including renewable fuels, GMO’s, land conservation and federal subsidies. But activists and farmers gathered at the offices of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) told Kira Lerner of ThinkProgress that Rastetter’s “corporate ag” summit would manipulate the political process and spread messages and policies that hurt family farmers and the agricultural industry

Farmers and activists are concerned about factory farm production, the support for trade deals like NAFTA and the pressure to adopt genetic engineering and chemical technologies to increase production while polluting the environment.

“Corporate agribusiness is putting profits before people, profits before soil health, profits before sound crop production, profits before clean water and profits before the lives of rural people,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth generation family farmer from Adair County, Iowa.

Bruce Rastetter, organizer of the Ag Summit, is a multimillionaire and the CEO of the agribusiness corporation Summit Group. In recent years, his political activism has grown and he has used his money earned through pork, ethanol and farm real estate businesses to become the state’s highest Republican donor, funding conservatives across the country.

Though he’s touting the event as an “Agriculture Summit,” the policies discussed by Rastetter and the presidential hopefuls leaned toward agribusiness and the intersection of corporate wealth and farming.

George Naylor, a non-GMO corn and soybean family farmer and the past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, told ThinkProgress that the corporate vision for agriculture doesn’t take into account farmers or the environment. Corporations’ efforts have made commodities cheaper through overproduction which benefits the businesses but not the people working the land, he said.

“How can you expect to get a decent price for your commodity when farmers have no choice but to plant fencerow-to-fencerow and more and more typical commodities are being produced all over the world, so that adds to the big supply and depressed prices,” he said.

Alicia Harvie, director of advocacy for non-profit Farm Aid, told ThinkProgress that agribusiness supporters will attempt to “take ownership over the dialogue” during the summit using words like “family farmer,” when their policies actually undermine the farming communities.

“We’re very concerned about this effort to confuse the public about what’s in all of our best interests and about what family farm agriculture really is,” she said. “This extractive economy that takes health and takes wealth out of farming communities is unacceptable and we’re for transparency and have no illusions about what this conversation is really about.”

As Harvie said and as Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson noted in an op-ed in Politico Friday, the presidential hopefuls will tout corporate agriculture’s abilities to “feed the world.”

“The United States does not need to feed the world,” said Joe Harder of the farm organization Missouri Rural Crisis Center. “The world can feed itself and we’re better off when they do.”

“We know this doesn’t work,” said Frank James, a farm activist from Soh Dakota. “We know it doesn’t work for the eaters or the farmers or the communities. It’s time for this country to double down on family farmers, who will feed the world and each other. Quit messing with us.”

POPE ATTACKS CORRUPTING INFLUENCE OF MONEY IN POLITICS. Pope Francis called upon candidates in his home nation of Argentina to hold a “free, unfinanced campaign” during a question and answer session with low-income youth from Buenos Aires (3/10). The Pope also warned that campaign donations lead elected officials to act against the interests of the people. “In the financing of electoral campaigns, many interests get into the mix,” according to Francis, “and then they send you the bill.”

The Pope’s comments place him at odds with five other very prominent Catholics — the five justices who joined the Supreme Court’s decision in *Citizens United v. FEC*. That opinion did not simply deny that huge influxes of money can corrupt elected officials, at least when that money goes to allegedly independent groups such as super PACs; it even suggested that the use of money to obtain greater access to politicians is an objective moral good.

The Pope also suggested that he would support a public financing system, noting that such a method of funding elections “would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.” The same five conservative justices who decided *Citizens United*, however, have also made public financing virtually impossible to implement successfully in the United States.

In Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the Court struck down a public financing system which provides extra funds to publicly financed candidates who become the target of large amounts of campaign spending. Without such a mechanism, which allows publicly financed candidates to defend against unexpected and well-financed attacks from super PACs and the like, candidates will be extraordinarily reluctant to participate in public finance systems, which typically forbid candidates who participate in them from spending money that they raise outside of the system. (Ian Milhiser, ThinkProgress, 3/11)

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2015


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