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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

Gert Hobson (c.) and other supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, stand outside DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she was scheduled to speak at the annual dinner of the Club of Grand Rapids on Monday. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press/AP)

'Ready for Hillary': Are Democrats behaving like Republicans?

By Staff writer / 06.18.13

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s announcement Tuesday that she is endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton for president should come as no surprise – aside from the fact that the 2016 election is 3-1/2 years away. And the first nominating caucus is probably about 2-1/2 years away.  And the former secretary of State isn’t close to announcing that she’s actually running.

But no matter. The 2016 race is well under way, at least among the politically addicted, which includes those thinking of running and the people who love them (and/or want to work for them). So it also comes as no surprise that there’s already a well-established "super political action committee" – Ready for Hillary – encouraging former Secretary Clinton to run. Former Bill Clinton political guru James Carville is on board, as is former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) of Michigan.

Senator McCaskill (D) of Missouri is the first sitting member of Congress to climb on board, which takes the super PAC’s prestige up a notch. For McCaskill herself, the decision to endorse early may represent a bit of atonement for her early endorsement of then-Sen. Barack Obama over then-Senator Clinton in the 2008 cycle.

But McCaskill puts forth another reason to back Clinton early.

“Hillary Clinton had to give up her political operation while she was making us proud, representing us around the world as an incredible Secretary of State, and that’s why Ready for Hillary is so critical,” McCaskill said in her announcement. “It’s important that we start early, building a grassroots army from the ground up, and effectively using the tools of the Internet – all things that President Obama did so successfully – so that if Hillary does decide to run, we’ll be ready to help her win.”

The idea that Clinton is the inevitable nominee if she decides to run has become an article of faith. In fact, “the only ‘news’ a top Democratic official can make now about 2016 is announcing their intention NOT to support Clinton,” notes NBC’s “First Read” political sheet. “At this point, announcing support for her is not exactly NEWS.”

Well, we think it’s a modest news point, at least worthy of a blog item. And it reminds us that in these early days of the 2016 presidential cycle, the Democrats are behaving like Republicans and vice versa. For the past many cycles, the Republicans have settled reasonably early on a  candidate – often the runner-up from the previous cycle (see Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney), almost always someone who has run before, or, in the case of George W. Bush, the scion of an American political royal family.

Now, it’s the Democrats who are doing that. If Hillary Clinton runs, she effectively clears the field. The Republicans, in contrast, have at least a dozen serious people gearing up to run or thinking about it, and several strong prospects, but no clear front-runner.

So which party is in better shape? There are reasons to say the Democrats, but the fact that they have an obvious next-nominee-in-waiting may not be one of them. Remember, Republicans say, their model hasn’t worked so well of late. In the last six elections, the Republican nominee has won the popular vote only once. Sometimes, it appears, a vigorous, wide-open competition can be just what a party needs. The best is allowed to rise to the top. 

A bus drives past a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programs, at Central, Hong Kong's business district, June 17. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Did Edward Snowden just disclose more secrets in online chat? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 06.17.13

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden answered questions from ordinary folks Monday on a Guardian newspaper online chat. It was a technical first of sorts – a virtual public news conference by someone who’s in a lot of trouble and does not wish to make public their precise location.

So did he reveal anything new? Yes – among other things, he charged that US lawmakers are themselves shielded against NSA snooping.

This came on his very last answer in the chat, after Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald asked him if he had anything to add. Mr. Snowden said that just because you – as in “you, the average citizen” – are not an NSA target does not make the agency’s programs OK.

That’s because civil liberty protections built into NSA procedures are no replacement for having the information gathering limited to individuals who have already fallen under suspicion.

“This is the precise reason the NSA provides Congress with a special immunity to its surveillance,” Snowden added.

Is this true? As national security expert blogger Marcy Wheeler points out, it’s certainly feasible to block the NSA from access to all official congressional numbers. But given the multiple communications devices common to congressional aides and campaigns, plus personal stuff, it might be challenging to actually wall off Congress from any inadvertent NSA collection.

However, Ms. Wheeler notes that immediately after Snowden’s initial leaks Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, complained publicly about the possibility the NSA was intercepting her communications. Then she shut up about it, and did not bring up the subject at a hearing featuring NSA director Keith Alexander.

“So while Snowden is clearly trying to push the debate, it is also quite likely that the immunity comment is true,” Wheeler wrote Monday.

Another interesting tidbit that came out of Snowden’s Guardian chat was his assertion that he is trying to protect the privacy of people all over the world, not just in the United States.

He said that he believes “suspicionless surveillance” is not OK, period, even if the targets of this are not American citizens.

“Our founders did not write that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all US persons are created equal,’ ” Snowden said in the chat.

This shows that Snowden is not just concerned about the effect of NSA programs on American citizens, but is an extreme skeptic of government surveillance of all sorts, writes Zeke Miller of Time Magazine.

“In that sense, Snowden is emerging as an heir to [Wikileaks founder] Julian Assange,” Mr. Miller writes.

Other interesting stuff that came out of the Guardian chat includes Snowden’s denial that he is a spy for China. If he were, he’d have gone straight to Beijing and be living in a palace “petting a phoenix,” he said.

He also was harshly critical of former VP Dick Cheney, who has called Snowden a “traitor” for his disclosure of NSA secrets. He said Cheney had supported the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping as well as the Iraq War.

“Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American,” said Snowden.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, Friday. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

Jeb Bush says immigrants 'more fertile.' Is that right?

By Staff writer / 06.14.13

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday told an audience of conservatives that the future of the US economy depends on immigrants in part because they are “more fertile” than native-born Americans and thus will produce many young workers to help support the aging US boomer generation.

“More fertile”? Yes, that’s a formulation Mr. Bush has used before, but it’s now drawing a lot of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere on the Web. That’s because it’s not the right word. “Fertile” means “capable of reproduction,” so what Bush was saying was immigrants are more physically able to have children. That’s not true.

Jeb Bush, a regular Bill Nye the Science Guy,” read one typical Twitter comment.

What Bush meant to say was that immigrants have a higher birthrate. In the years ahead, the United States will need a large cohort of young workers to pay taxes to help support the Social Security and Medicare expenses of retirees. With the native-born birthrate sinking toward a record low, immigration could be a big help in this regard, runs Bush’s real argument.

“Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity,” was Bush’s full quote during his speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference in Washington.

It’s true that immigrant women per capita have more children than native-born women. Last November, a comprehensive Pew Research Center analysis of the latest available government data found that the immigrant birthrate in 2010 was 87.8 live births per every 1,000 women of childbearing age. The equivalent figure for native-born women was 58.9.

(It’s also true that the immigrant birthrate is declining. Hispanics are having fewer children per capita as they assimilate into US culture, as did previous waves of immigrants throughout US history.)

To see why high birthrates might be a help, consider that preliminary figures show the 2011 birthrate for all women was 63.2 births per 1,000, according to Pew.

“That rate is the lowest since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers,” wrote Pew’s Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn.

By contrast, the birthrate in 1957, at the height of the baby boom, was 122.7, nearly double today’s rate.

Aside from his weird word choice for his birthrate argument, Bush gave a “civil speech on serious issues,” judges NBC’s deputy political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Besides backing comprehensive immigration reform, he pushed for greater North American energy production; further changes to the education system, such as using student achievement to rank schools; and greater support for families, including nontraditional ones.

“Let me remind you, families don’t look all the time like they used to, and that’s OK,” Bush said. “We have to be supportive of a single mom or dad, or the grandmother taking care of young children.”

But on Friday at least, the right-leaning conference that Bush spoke to was not buying it.

“Bush’s arguments for immigration reform were met with near silence from the conservative crowd Friday, and following his speech the former Florida governor received a polite standing ovation,” CNN reported.

In contrast, firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota received loud applause from the same crowd for opposing the current immigration reform effort.

In general, the tea party and anti-immigration-reform Republicans remain suspicious of Bush. Within the current GOP, he stands as a moderate.

“We need to embrace ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ because ... fertility? Remember when Barbara Bush said, ‘We’ve had enough Bushes?’ ” gibed the conservative website Twitchy following Bush’s speech Friday.

Former GOP VP candidate and ex-Alaska governor Sarah Palin points as she addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16. An announcement was made on Thursday that Palin will rejoin Fox News Channel as a commentator June 17 on the network's morning show 'Fox and Friends.' (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File)

Sarah Palin is back on Fox! Why is she reappearing now? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 06.14.13

Sarah Palin’s back! Back on national TV as a regular, that is. Fox News announced Thursday that they’ve rehired Ms. Palin as a paid contributor. Her (undoubtedly triumphant) reappearance is set for June 17 on the network’s morning show “Fox and Friends.”

“I have great confidence in her and am pleased that she will once again add her commentary to our programming. I hope she continues to speak her mind,” Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said in a news release.

The former GOP VP candidate and ex-Alaska governor added that the “power of Fox News is unparalleled” and that she’s “pleased and proud” to be rejoining her old team.

If you recall, Fox and Palin publicly parted ways earlier this year. Fox chose not to renew a contract that had reportedly paid Palin $1 million annually for three years.

She’s probably getting paid a lot less than that now, although terms of the contract weren’t released. Still, there had been some grumbling from Fox about the quality, or perceived lack thereof, of Palin’s on-camera work. So what’s changed? Why have Fox and Miss Wasilla of 1984 chosen to rejoin forces?

Here are our initial theories:

A target-rich environment

When Palin and Mr. Ailes parted ways, President Obama had been comfortably reelected and the GOP was in turmoil. The Republicans are still engaged in reassessment, but for Obama the good feelings of November are but a memory.

GOP members of Congress are continuing to raise questions about the fatal attacks on US buildings in Benghazi, Libya, while IRS targeting of conservative groups is big news. Plus, there’s the new NSA spying-on-Americans scandal on top of the AP subpoena controversy and … so forth and so on.

You get the picture. There are just so many juicy topics for Palin to talk about, it behooves Fox to have her back on. She was a huge hit at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, proving she’s still got the audience appeal Fox producers crave.

The rise of the competition

Is it a coincidence that Palin’s first reappearance will come on the morning CNN launches its new morning show “New Day”? We think not. Flaunt a celebrity guest – that’s a time-honored TV way of driving down an opponent’s ratings.

And what about the competition that Palin faces herself? Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R) of Minnesota has announced she won’t run for reelection and already appears to be edging in as a new tea party favorite commentator. She was on Glenn Beck’s “TheBlaze TV” show yesterday warning conservatives about the perceived peril of immigration reform.

“We’re losing badly … we need your viewers to melt the phone lines,” Rep. Bachmann told Beck.

Can’t you imagine Palin watching that? “Melting phone lines. … We’ll see who can melt phone lines,” she might say to herself.

Promo platform

In the past, Palin has done well with the written word. Her 2008 “Going Rogue” memoir has sold more than two million copies, and her “America by Heart” was a big bestseller in 2010.

Now she’s got another book on the horizon: “A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas,” scheduled for November release. A platform on Fox would be an invaluable aid in promoting this latest Palin volume, so much so that she’d probably take a lot less money from Fox upfront for her appearances.

Plus, Fox benefits from all the Palin-is-back stories that the scurrilous lame-stream media will indulge in. As the network’s Greta Van Susteren noted yesterday, “it is a free promo for Fox since it will drive her TV critics crazy! They are obsessed with her!

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Meeting in Chicago, Thursday. Her speech Thursday was a broad-brush address heralding the power of women and talking education and opportunity. (Scott Eisen/AP)

Hillary Clinton makes a splash in Chicago, but not an overtly political one

By Correspondent / 06.13.13

She is the Illinois girl made good, after all, and so perhaps it’s a natural that Hillary Rodham Clinton chose Chicago for her first policy speech since leaving the State Department.

Her speech Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference that she is co-hosting with her husband was a broad-brush address heralding the power of women and talking education and opportunity.

But it was not – no surprise here – an obvious return to the political fray. No firm declarations of intentions this June day. Instead, call it her national stage debut as a much-watched private citizen.

"When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. This also should be a no-brainer," Mrs. Clinton said. "When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and more secure. And when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society."

Her comments – much as her Twitter debut was just a few days ago – are being mined by 2016 watchers for every clue about whether she’ll run for president and what that bid might look like. Perhaps of most note, she talked a great deal about leveling the field for women, and women, of course, handed the White House to President Obama in the last two national elections.

What is also clear is that the Clintons remain formidable manipulators of the political press. Even as news breaks of a prostitution and drugs scandal involving staff at the State Department while she was in charge, Hillary Clinton is ignoring the hubbub and generating the headlines she wants.

NBC’s First Read teased the speech with this: “Hillary fully steps out of Bill Clinton’s shadow.”

Meanwhile, the Clinton foundation is being renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Clinton used her foundation remarks to outline her goals for her work with the organization, and she hinted at another “exciting announcement” she’ll make tomorrow.

During Clinton’s 30-minute speech, she called her work for children “a core cause of my life,” according to The New York Times, and she said helping women to succeed at work and families to thrive – creating more opportunities for women and girls – is “the great unfinished business of this century.”

She wants to “make equal pay a reality,” expand family and medical leave benefits, encourage women to pursue careers in science and math, technology and engineering, among other priorities touched on.

She received a standing ovation from the friendly crowd of hundreds of business and political leaders, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President Clinton), Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, among other notables.

From her perch at State, a globetrotting Clinton visited 112 countries. She appears to be returning her attention to domestic issues.

“Women are the world’s most underused resource,” Clinton said, as she touted those areas of interest in which she’ll invest her time and personal capital.

Would that line fit on a 2016 bumper sticker?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answers a question after announcing in Trenton, N.J., last Thursday, that the state's Republican attorney general Jeffrey Chiesa (r.) will temporarily fill the Senate seat that opened up after Frank Lautenberg's death. Christie, appearing on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' Wednesday night, slow-jammed his decision to hold a special Senate election. (Mel Evans/AP)

Chris Christie 'slow jams' the news: How'd he do?

By Staff writer / 06.13.13

Is Gov. Chris Christie running for president? Clearly. And the New Jersey Republican is also clearly using the playbook of a famous Democratic friend.    

Like President Obama before him, Governor Christie “slow jammed" the news Wednesday on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” The news in question was Christie’s controversial and expensive decision last week to call his state’s special Senate election for Oct. 16, just three weeks before the already-scheduled gubernatorial election this November.

Christie deadpanned it beautifully – bobbing his head to the R&B rhythms of the "Late Night" house band, The Roots, as he wonkily explained his decision. And he didn’t crack when Mr. Fallon and the band “analyzed” the move with sexually suggestive language.   

But alas, if you’re a Christie fan, he may not have done himself any favors. Yes, he probably impressed a few young voters, an important demographic for a Republican Party desperately trying to get out of its old-white-guy ghetto. But he added life to a story that gives fuel to his eventual opponents for the 2016 GOP nomination.

Republicans roundly rejected his decision to call an election for this fall, rather than appoint a Republican to the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) until the November 2014 midterm elections, which Christie had the right to do. Last Thursday, Christie appointed the state’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Chiesa, to the seat until the special election. 

Now, there’s a strong possibility that a Democrat – Newark Mayor Cory Booker – will retake the seat in October. Critics say Christie opted for the separate special election to avoid being on the same ballot with Mayor Booker, even though Christie has a massive lead over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.

So it appears he went for the separate election to protect his point spread. And by calling the special election for Oct. 16, instead of Nov. 5, he is costing the state millions of dollars – an affront to fiscal conservatives.

But maybe his biggest sin on “Late Night” was all the sexual innuendo, which we’ll leave to the imagination (and the video). To win the GOP nomination in 2016, Christie needs a decent number of religious conservatives to back him. But he has done little to reach out to them.

On Friday, the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference will take place in Washington, and Christie won’t be there. Instead, he’ll be in Chicago, speaking at another event – one with a Democratic hue: a conference of the Clinton Global Initiative. 

Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on June 9, in Hong Kong. The Guardian identified Snowden as a source for its reports on intelligence programs on Sunday. (The Guardian/AP)

Edward Snowden: Who is he, and what kind of life is he leaving behind?

By Correspondent / 06.11.13

In the interest of revealing what he saw as the privacy violations of millions of Americans by their own government, Edward Snowden, 29, has likely forfeited his future at an age when most young adults are still shaping the arc of their lives.

A high school dropout turned analyst with high-level security clearance, he’s now a wanted man whose name is Googled around the globe and face flashed on airport television screens from Washington to Hong Kong, where he fled before he identified himself as the source of leaks revealing the National Security Administration’s programs to electronically monitor citizens.

Bespectacled and serious in the videotaped interview with the journalists who broke his story, Mr. Snowden is now a hot topic of debate: Whistleblower or traitor? Will he be extradited? Face jail time?

So who is he? What life does he leave behind?

First off, effective immediately, he is unemployed. Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm, has fired him. Reports suggest he was making $122,000 as an infrastructure analyst.

Before embarking for Hong Kong, Snowden was living in Hawaii – “paradise,” he called it – with a girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Together, they rented a three-bedroom home in the Waipahu community on the island of Oahu, according to USA Today.

As for Ms. Mills, news outlets reported Tuesday, she is “an acrobatic pole performer” who blogged about her peripatetic life with Snowden, whom she called “E.” She aired her heartache publicly on a blog that has since been dismantled. Her comments suggested – and Snowden similarly told The Guardian – that she didn’t know of his plans.

“Surely there will be villainous pirates, distracting mermaids, and tides of change in this new open water chapter of my journey,” she wrote, according to ABC News. “But at the moment all I can feel is alone. And for the first time in my life I feel strong enough to be on my own. Though I never imagined my hand would be so forced.”

Snowden, who was born in North Carolina, spent much of his childhood in Maryland, where his mother, Elizabeth Snowden, is chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology for US District Court in Baltimore.

She filed for divorce from his father, Lonnie Glenn Snowden Jr., in February 2001. Neighbors told The Baltimore Sun that she is “lovely” and that her son was “a quiet young man who spent a lot of time on his computer.”

Ms. Snowden is avoiding reporters outside her Maryland subdivision. Her ex-husband, now living in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, is a former Coast Guard official who told ABC that he was still "digesting and processing" the news about his son.

Snowden dropped out of high school after a year and a half, and an individual with his name took classes at Anne Arundel Community College for six years, from 1999 to 2005, but failed to receive a degree or certificate, The Sun reports.

A stint with the CIA as a “senior adviser” – his words to The Guardian – ended after two years, according to The Sun. But the job helped him leverage his experience in the consulting world. Enter Booz Allen.

But now, no job, no girl, no paradise. And no country. Snowden is on the run.

"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," he said in his interview with The Guardian.

His every move to date is likely under intense scrutiny, however, as officials weigh criminal charges against him – the first step in getting Snowden either extradited or deported.

Awaiting him is a hero’s welcome in some quarters – 22,000 people have already signed an electronic petition asking that Snowden be pardoned – as well as a major legal battle.

“I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina.

House Speaker John Boehner has also weighed in, calling Snowden "a traitor."

White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that while he couldn’t remark on the specifics of the Snowden situation because it is under investigation, "leaks of sensitive, classified information that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem, a serious problem."

Information is "classified for a reason," Carney said.

A warm public homecoming is unlikely, and mercy, it appears, is not on the minds of government officials.

Former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs as she gives a speech during a ceremony honoring her at the Pentagon in Washington, Feb. 14. Clinton renewed the conversation of a presidential run Monday with her very own hashtag – joining Twitter to much fanfare. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File)

Did Hillary Clinton just drop a presidential hint on Twitter?

By Correspondent / 06.11.13

As if her 2016 White House intentions haven’t already been hashed and rehashed, Hillary Rodham Clinton renewed that conversation Monday with her very own hashtag – joining Twitter to much fanfare.

She describes herself as: “Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD ...”

Let the image crafting commence anew. Ms. Clinton touts her extensive professional credentials with a dash of humor, a splash of the self-deprecating. And look, she even loves dogs!

Her first tweet:

“Thanks for the inspiration @ASmith83 & @Sllambe – I’ll take it from here ... #tweetsfromhillary.”

Clinton is referring to Adam Smith and Stacy Lambe, who created the popular meme, “Texts from Hillary.” Her avatar is the Diana Walker shot that accompanied the Smith-Lambe site; in it, she is sunglasses-clad and texting from her seat on an airplane.

It’s that “TBD” – to be determined – that has prompted the flurry of interest in her debut on the social networking site, a must for public figures, journalists, students, authors, and anyone who wants to be anyone in the modern technological age. A person probably can’t run for president, for example, without a Twitter handle.

Clinton was welcomed to Twitter by everyone from Ben Affleck to Patti Solis Doyle (Clinton’s effectively ousted 2008 campaign manager) to UN Women to a real person with the handle: @sarahwbolton: “How in the world was I not already following @hillaryclinton?!?! I need more #tweetsfromhillary in my life.”

And that’s likely what Clinton and her handlers are hoping. That more of her is better: This is the Twitter essence, after all. It allows an unfiltered direct-from-the-source commentary on all things.

Word of Clinton’s Twitter arrival – a 2016 tease for all those handicapping the race not even five months after President Obama was sworn in for a second term – was headline-making. “Playful Hillary Clinton Joins Twitter,” ABC News reports. “Twitterati warmly welcome Hillary Clinton,” the New York Daily News writes.

She’s “playful” and her reception was warm. This is so not the congressional hearings on Benghazi. Twitter allows politicians to cut out the middle men and women, the elected officials, reporters, and pundits who tell voters what to think about a public figure.

A Gallup poll released Monday shows Clinton’s favorability slipping this spring, perhaps a result of sustained questions about how the State Department under her leadership handled the security situation in Benghazi, Libya. Her unfavorable rating is up to 39 percent, from 31 percent in April. Her favorability rating, though still solid, is down to 58 percent from 64 percent in the previous survey.

Republican strategist Kevin Madden says Twitter has “become such an essential way to communicate with audiences in today’s digital age.” The frenzy over “its latest high-profile member was bound to happen,” he adds.

“Joining Twitter isn't a sure sign that a decision has been made about a 2016 race,” Mr. Madden tells the Monitor. “It's just a sure sign that Twitter is now standard operating procedure as a communications tool for public figures interested in staying in touch with public audiences.”

Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist, says Twitter will allow Clinton, forbidden in her role as secretary of State from discussing overtly political matters, to newly engage with her supporters "in a political and grass-roots way."

Is the move the surest sign yet that Clinton will launch a White House bid?

"She doesn't want to close any doors," Ms. Omero says. "This is the first step, but the fact that she's taking it doesn't mean [a presidential run] is a fait accompli."

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton, coaxed onto Twitter recently by the comedian Stephen Colbert, welcomed his wife: “Does @Twitter have a family share plan? Great to be here with @HillaryClinton & @ChelseaClinton. Looking forward to #tweetsfromhillary.”

He has 757,727 followers as of midday Tuesday. With Ms. Clinton’s feed boasting 371,173 followers by late morning, how long before the former first lady’s number rivals that of her husband?

Perhaps that’s another contest we should all be watching.

This photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, in Hong Kong. (The Guardian/AP)

Edward Snowden: How much trouble is he in for leaks of NSA snooping?

By Staff writer / 06.10.13

The person who leaked classified US documents on sweeping surveillance programs to the press has now leaked his own identity. Edward Snowden, a young computer system professional for a National Security Agency contractor, revealed on Sunday that he provided information on two NSA programs to The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. He said his motive was to expose the extent of US electronic snooping and that he’s clear-eyed about the consequences to come.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Snowden told The Guardian in a story published at his request.

Now that he’s gone public, how much trouble is Snowden in? That depends on a number of factors, including how long he can stay in his current location of Hong Kong, and what the US decides to charge him with if he returns home.

He himself told the Post reporter he worked with that his disclosure of the NSA information “marks my end.” That may be an exaggeration, but the quick answer to the “how much trouble” question starts with “quite a bit,” and then possibly slides up the scale to “tons” and “almost as much as Bradley Manning.”

At trial in the US, prosecutors would certainly pursue mishandling of intelligence and possibly espionage charges that could result in decades of prison time. Each individual document leaked would be considered a separate charge, national security lawyer Mark Zaid told the Associated Press.

Given the number of documents leaked, the Justice Department could probably threaten Snowden with the equivalent of a life sentence, just to start.

Furthermore, prosecutors could pursue a charge of aiding and abetting the enemy, as they have with Bradley Manning, the Army soldier who passed vast amounts of information to WikiLeaks.

The basis for this charge would be that Snowden’s leaks have provided information to terrorists that will allow them to change their behavior and avoid US surveillance.

“Aiding the enemy” is a capital charge. Prosecutors have indicated that they would not seek a death sentence if Manning is convicted, but would ask for life imprisonment.

All this presupposes that Snowden faces trial, of course. Right now that appears to be something he would like to avoid. He has publicly requested asylum from any country willing to give, mentioning Iceland as a possibility. He has spent the past several weeks in a hotel room in Hong Kong, according to Guardian and Post reports, but he checked out Monday and his whereabouts are now unknown. While the US has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, there may be a legal situation in the former British colony that could help him.

If Snowden requests political asylum in Hong Kong, “he is going nowhere” in the forseeable future, Hong Kong legal expert Simon Young tells The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford.

Hong Kong’s asylum law currently is a “black hole,” according to Mr. Young. It requires the local government to independently investigate asylum claims, but Hong Kong has yet to set up procedures to do so. Doing so now could take months, if not years.

Furthermore, from a public relations standpoint, Snowden has taken steps that could shape the legal environment to his advantage. He has voluntarily identified himself, and asserted that he leaked information that public has a right to know, in the tradition of government whistle-blowers such as Daniel Ellsburg, who made public the secret Pentagon Papers detailing the history of US involvement in Vietnam.

Given this, the Obama administration might want to seek more moderate charges so as not to appear to be overreacting in this case.

It’s also possible that in a legal sense Snowden might be better off just to come home and allow the wheels of justice to start rolling.

In 2009 a federal judge said there are occasions when leaking classified information could be necessary and appropriate, notes government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News blog.

But the leaker in question should have the courage of their convictions and argue their case within the legal system, said Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia during a 2009 sentencing hearing for Lawrence Franklin, a Defense Department employee who pleaded guilty to leaking information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“One might hope that, for example, someone might have the courage to do something that would break the law if it meant they’re the savior of the country; but then one has to take the consequences because the rule of law is so important,” said Judge Ellis, according to Secrecy News.

Mr. Franklin was initially sentenced to 13 years in prison for his infractions, but the sentence was later reduced to 10 months' house imprisonment.

This image taken from michelebachmann.com, shows Congresswoman Michele Bachmann making a video announcement on her website. Bachmann, who announced last week she will not run for reelection to the House, said Thursday she is looking for a 'different perch' from which to advance her causes. (michelebachmann.com/AP)

Michele Bachmann hints at another run. Is she back already? (+video)

By Staff writer / 06.07.13

Is Michele Bachmann back already?

No, this question does not mean she’s undoing her retirement. If you remember, last week Representative Bachmann (R) of Minnesota announced that she would not run for reelection to her House seat. This was kind of a surprise and led to lots of pundit speculation that she was stepping down because she feared losing next time around, or due to federal investigations into her campaign finances.

But don’t cry for her, Anoka County! In her first extended interview since the announcement, Bachmann pointed out the obvious: Her current term does not expire until January 2015. So all those stories headlined “Bachmann Bows Out” and so forth were premature.

“[I have] another year and a half to do a lot of work in Congress,” Bachmann said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

So the chairman of the House Tea Party Caucus will still be on the job, talking about the IRS scandal, repealing ObamaCare, and what she termed the “serial lawlessness” of the Obama administration.

“I’m not going away. I’m not leaving Washington,” said Bachmann.

She did say she was looking for a “different perch” from which to carry on her various crusades after her term ended. Nothing like launching a job search on national TV, is there? Especially if you’re talking on a national TV network that itself might be a future employer.

But that does not mean she’ll never seek office again, apparently. She said in the interview that she might engage in another campaign. Mr. Hannity waited until the end to ask her the big question: Does that mean she’s gearing up for 2016 and a presidential run?

“I’m not taking anything off the table but ... that’s not the No. 1 item I’m looking at right now,” said Bachmann. “I’m in the game for the long haul.”

So, buck up, James Carville. Last week the raging Cajun Democratic consultant expressed remorse that Bachmann was leaving the national stage, calling it a “sad day.” Her inflammatory and sometimes inaccurate comments have in the past made her a favorite foil for left-leaning pundits.

And sorry about that, Karl Rove. The longtime Republican political operative has been dismissive of Bachmann in the past for the same reasons that Mr. Carville embraced her. Earlier this week, Mr. Rove told ABC News host George Stephanopoulos that her impending retirement would make it easier for Republicans to hold her Minnesota seat, and complained that she “did nothing” in her positions as Tea Party Caucus chairman.

“Now the position has opened, someone next year will accept the chairmanship of it. And they may do something with it,” Rove said.

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