Has US diplomat Gregory Hicks suffered political retaliation for revealing details of the lethal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11? That’s a big question raised by Wednesday’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Mr. Hicks was the deputy chief of mission in the US Embassy in Libya at the time. Yesterday, he gave a gripping account of the day’s events, from the moment he was alerted that the Benghazi consulate was in danger (he was in Tripoli, watching TV at the time) to the “saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life," which informed him that US Ambassador Chris Stevens had died.
Hicks described at length a phone call from Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ms. Mills was “upset” that he’d met with House investigators looking into Benghazi after being told he should not, he said. She questioned why a State Department lawyer wasn’t in that meeting. Hicks said the lawyer didn’t have the proper security clearance.
Hicks also asked other superiors why Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, had said the attack might have been a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video. That video was a “non-event” in Libya, Hicks said, adding that it seemed clear from the first that the assault was a terrorist attack.
“The sense I got was I needed to stop the line of questioning,” Hicks told the House panel.
Since then, he’s been demoted, Hicks said. He’d been told he could expect a “good level of assignment” in the wake of his performance in the Libya tragedy. Instead, he’s been returned to Foggy Bottom and given a desk job as a foreign affairs officer.
“ 'Foreign affairs officer’ is a designation that is given to our civil service colleagues who – frankly who are desk officers.... So I’ve been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer,” said Hicks.
This charge jolted the hearing. As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler writes in his roundup of what came out yesterday, Hicks's "description of the internal dynamics – and reported retaliation for questioning the administration’s public posture – is certainly new."
Republicans say that the charge proves Obama officials attempted to downplay the attacks in the immediate aftermath and are now trying to cover up that fact. Hicks has worked for the State Department 22 years, served in Afghanistan and Syria, among other places, and won numerous internal awards, points out conservative commentator Allahpundit on Hot Air!.
“Suddenly, after he started asking questions about Susan Rice, his ‘management style’ was unacceptable,” he writes. “How does a guy with management deficiencies rise to number two in Libya, one of the most perilous diplomatic posts in the world? Should we start asking State instead to explain why they’re promoting alleged incompetents?”
The State Department rejects this characterization of events.
“The Department has not and will not retaliate against Mr. Hicks,” said Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department.
Hicks asked to be reassigned from Libya in the wake of the attack due to understandable family issues, said Mr. Ventrell. But that meant he was out of step with the annual assignment cycle. Finding a suitable post isn’t always easy under such circumstances, he added.
An anonymous source was harsher. A US diplomat told Foreign Policy’s Gordon Lubold that Hicks is a “classic case of underachiever who whines when big breaks don’t come his way."
The fact that after 22 years of service Hicks remains an FS-1 grade, the equivalent of a colonel in the military, shows that he has not exactly been a fast tracker, the source told Mr. Lubold.
More facts about Hicks’s fate will undoubtedly emerge in the days ahead. But if nothing else, he provided a service with his vivid testimony of what it was like on the ground on a confusing, terrible, and deadly night for US diplomacy, adds Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple.
“Whatever the impact of Hicks’s words – whether they keep this story alive, whether they puncture the political standing of Clinton, whether they cause a Defense Department shakeup, whether they annoy the White House – they delivered the sort of person, visceral account that the country deserves after its people are killed in a terrorist attack,” Mr. Wemple writes.
Talk about a comeback.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) “left office as one of the nation’s top political pariahs,” with a “political career left for dead,” only to “return from the political graveyard” in a race that epitomized political redemption.
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This, for a guy who wove himself into such a tangled web, his own party abandoned him – and political opponents had nothing to do but sit back and watch.
In case you’ve forgotten, then-Governor Sanford disappeared from office for six days in June 2009, and his office issued a vague story about him hiking the Appalachian Trail before it was revealed that he was actually having an affair with a paramour in Argentina – on the state’s “time and dime." For this, he was slapped with 37 ethics charges and had to pay $70,000 in ethics fines, the largest amount in state history. Then, there was the messy divorce from his popular wife and the recent charge brought by his ex-wife that he had trespassed on her property.
Even Sanford appears to acknowledge the political miracle behind his congressional victory.
“I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances but third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth chances, because that is the reality of our shared humanity," Sanford said at his victory celebration. “I am one imperfect man saved by God's grace.”
Here are four factors behind Sanford’s improbable comeback.
Red state, red district
Let’s not forget the obvious. South Carolina’s First Congressional District is a deep red district in a deep red state – a fact that provided the Republican candidate, no matter who, a huge leg up. Consider this: GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney won the state by almost 20 percentage points last November. And Rep. Tim Scott (R) was reelected by 27 points before he was picked by Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to fill the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint (R). In fact, no Democrat has held the district’s congressional seat in more than 30 years.
As Slate put it, South Carolina’s proudly Republican voters “put fidelity to party over fidelity to fidelity.”
Rule No. 1: Apologize
From the "How to Survive a Sex Scandal" handbook, Rule No. 1 is: Own up, acknowledge your flaws, and apologize. Sanford did all three from the get-go and appeared humbled from the start of his campaign, effectively vaporizing the elephant in the room.
His first TV ad addressed the issue right off the bat. Notably in this relatively religious district, Sanford adopted religious language to describe his turnaround, talking about a “God of second chances,” and mixing in religious language about forgiveness for good measure.
“I have experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it,” Sanford told voters in his first TV ad.
This allowed him to get out in front of the issue before his opponents could.
Even in his victory speech Tuesday night, he acknowledged his flaws, saying he had “deficiencies that were well-chronicled as a candidate.”
Nationalize the race
After he owned up to his mistakes, Sanford’s advisers masterfully moved the focus off of their candidate and onto safer territory – the Democratic Party and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D), persona non grata in South Carolina.
Sanford’s campaign made the race a referendum on the national Democratic Party and one of its leaders, Representative Pelosi, instead of Ms. Colbert Busch, who attempted to describe herself as an independent.
It did so with stunts – remember Sanford dragging around and debating a giant cardboard cutout of Pelosi before he was able to secure a debate with Colbert Busch? Zany, yes, but it implied Pelosi was a stand-in for Colbert Busch and connected the two indelibly in press coverage and in voters’ minds.
As Politico reported, “Every time a reporter put “Pelosi” and “Colbert Busch” in the same sentence, the Republican was winning.” Sanford also connected the two personalities through sheer repetition, mentioning Pelosi's name so many times during their April 29 debate that several people following the debate started tweeting about it.
Whatever Sanford’s flaws, there’s no denying that this was Colbert Busch’s first political campaign and Sanford’s sixth, by our count. And it showed.
Colbert Busch ran a tightly controlled campaign, rarely held public appearances, and sometimes appeared to be in hiding. For a newcomer and relative unknown, it wasn’t the best way to introduce oneself to voters.
Sanford, by contrast, was all charm and glad-handing. A seasoned campaigner, he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and start from scratch, riding around the Carolina Lowcountry in a black van with an aide, reintroducing himself to voters with each stop.
As Republican strategist and a former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, Hogan Gidley, told CNN, “Sanford may be a flawed candidate but he's a fabulous campaigner. Forget the rhetoric or the policy or the delivery – hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye, he's very good and it's impossible to outwork him.”
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Bill Clinton wants everybody to just cool it with all this speculation about whether Hillary will or will not run for president in 2016, OK?
His tone was slightly disapproving and high-minded when he discussed the Hillary situation Tuesday night during an appearance at the 2013 Fiscal Summit, a heady event sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to explore ways of hauling the US government out of its deficit mess.
“Hillary hasn’t mentioned it to me,” Mr. Clinton said after Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) got the whole thing rolling with a wife-running-for-president-or-not reference.
Mrs. Clinton “is having a little fun being a private citizen for the first time in 20 years,” Mr. Clinton added.
Then he ripped into 2016 conjecture. It’s “the worst expenditure of our time,” he said.
Instead of wasting moments on will-she-or-won’t-she, we should explore solutions to the nation’s fiscal and policy problems, according to the Clinton, who is an ex-president.
“We need to be worried about the work at hand – all of us do,” Clinton said. “So whoever the next president is has an easier set of choices before him or her to build America’s future.”
Very nice, Bill. You’re full of it here, you know that?
We do need to be worried about the work at hand – that’s not the point. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. Mulling over Clinton-versus-Biden 2016 in no way eliminates the brain’s ability to consider chained CPI for Social Security.
In some ways those activities are complimentary. Candidates and possible candidates are weighing their chances and looking about to see what issues they should run on, and what their positions on those issues should be, writes the left-leaning Greg Sargent in his Plum Line Washington Post blog.
“It’s not too soon to be thinking about and working for the 2016 presidential nomination contest, because now is when it’s really possible to push the candidates on policy, which is what’s really important,” writes Mr. Sargent.
Plus, Bill Clinton is just the kind of person who would enjoy speculating about Hillary’s chances if she were not related to him in any way.
Politics has been his life. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Do you not think he knows the names of which Iowa Democratic Party county chairman support Hillary, and when their birthdays are? Of course he does. He probably doodles “Hillary 2016” logos on those note pads they put out at the conferences he now attends, when he’s not speaking.
And finally, one word: “Benghazi.” It’s possible Bill is just trying to separate the image of Hillary the possible candidate from that of Hillary the ex-secretary of State on a day when House Republicans are holding a hearing that will be critical of her actions in regards to the Benghazi, Libya, attack that killed four Americans.
“I think the dam is about to break on Benghazi. We’re going to find people asleep at the switch when it comes to the State Department, including Hillary Clinton,” wrote Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina on his Facebook page Tuesday.
Michelle Obama is back on the book tour circuit for her gardening tome, “American Grown." On Tuesday, about 250 people braved a soaking rain to line up outside northwest Washington’s Politics & Prose bookstore and then file through for an autograph and a few seconds of chat with the nation’s first lady.
“Buy away. It’s Mothers Day. It’s coming up,” said Mrs. Obama, to laughter from the damp crowd. They’d all purchased an “American Grown” copy as the price of their admission.
“American Grown” is a sumptuous picture book, the story of the White House garden. It came out last year and more than 175,000 copies have been printed, according to publisher Random House. It’s got recipes and stories about other gardens that have inspired Obama, including a scent garden for the visually impaired at a New York City school.
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During the appearance Obama admitted that her own daughters really just like to thumb through the book’s illustrations. She added that, slowly but surely, they’ve started to read the text, as well.
“And that’s really the hope – that the pictures draw people of all ages in and then they start to read it and maybe start thinking about how to start a garden on their own, because there are many ways to do it,” said Obama.
She noted that if you don’t have any suitable ground you can use containers. (She didn’t add that in the Washington area that’s a particularly good idea, because the natural soil resembles ground-up clay pots.)
Yes, it’s unusual for an author to still get personal appearances after a book’s been out 12 months. Mid-list authors with sensitive coming-of-age novels usually don’t get that treatment. But Random House probably figured that with gardening season just starting, a bit more publicity could push a more “American Grown” hardcover copies out the door. Profits go to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks.
Nowadays, first ladies just have to churn out books, don’t they? “American Grown” is the first by Obama, but we bet there are more to come. Every first lady since Lady Bird Johnson has eventually written a memoir of their White House years that received a large printing and full-press publicity, according to Craig Fehrman, an author who’s been researching a book about presidential books for several years.
This does not mean that books by first ladies are a purely modern phenomenon. The first presidential spouse to see her memoirs published while she was still alive was Helen Taft, whose book came out in 1914, according to Mr. Fehrman. Edith Wilson wrote a popular book. Eleanor Roosevelt was practically a publisher unto herself – she wrote dozens of tomes, from “Courage in a Dangerous World” to “Christmas, 1940” and “It’s Up to the Women."
“In the end, what first lady memoirs may have most in common is popularity. Every such book in the 20th and 21st centuries has hit the best-seller lists,” wrote Fehrman in a 2010 New York Times essay on the subject.
This should not be surprising – first ladies have generally been more popular figures than their husbands, since they don’t get as involved in controversial policies.
As “American Grown” shows, memoirs aren’t the only, or even the preeminent, kind of first lady book. The Atlantic Wire has compiled a list of some of the lighter efforts, including Eleanor Roosevelt’s, “A Trip to Washington with Buddy and Betty,” written for children in 1935, and Nancy Reagan’s, “To Love a Child,” about the foster grandparents program.
And who could forget Barbara Bush’s dog books, the classic “C. Fred’s Story," written when her husband as VP, and “Millie’s Book,” written in the White House? They purported to be in the canines’ voices, as dictated to their owner.
“Between 7 and 7:08, the President and I go off to the Oval Office,” wrote Millie in describing her day. “I often sit in on the morning briefings.... I overheard the Bushes talking the other night. Some discussion about me keeping a lower profile.”
We’d have gone the other way – maybe a higher Millie profile would have eked out a reelection victory for Bush 41 in 1988.
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Here's one thing you can say about Republicans: They sure like their props.
First there was Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. Then there was Sarah Palin chugging down a Big Gulp at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, and a couple months later, waving a tin of chewing tobacco at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston this past weekend.
But in the prop-toting antics category, Glenn Beck may take the cake. He used not one but five props at his keynote address at the NRA’s “Stand and Fight” convention Saturday, a rousing almost-two-hour talk during which he paced, mocked, pontificated, and of course, referred to props in classic Beck fashion.
He presented a series of firearms: the gun owned by serial killer Charles Manson before police confiscated it and Manson had nine victims slaughtered – with knives, not guns; a 9/11 first responder’s handgun, which Mr. Beck called a “small token of liberty;” and an antique rifle used by an American “the first time we fought against Muslim extremists” – the Barbary pirates.
A parade of arms? A firepower fashion show? A gun pageant? No, Beck was hammering home his point.
“So, what is this gun, good or evil?” he asked. “It is nothing! A gun is only the reflection of the people that use it.”
In other words, the classic gun rights supporters’ argument – guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
But Glenn was just getting started. His next prop? A pressure cooker.
“What was my grandmother’s summer pastime has now been defined as a weapon of mass destruction,” he said, gingerly carrying out a pressure cooker and placing it on a stool.
“Have we gone insane? Have we gone insane?” he shouted. “Guns save lives, guns protect homes, businesses … they feel they must regulate us until we comply. I will not comply.”
Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a strange segue to Beck’s final, bizarre, “prop” of sorts.
Taking aim at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Beck mocked the mayor’s “soda ban, popcorn ban, salt ban,” then unveiled his off-color twist on the “I Heart New York” motto: a giant image of Mayor Bloomberg (who is Jewish) as Adolf Hitler, delivering a Nazi salute, with the words “You will” love New York printed below.
We can’t explain that one.
His rambling chalkboard flowcharts.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has had weight-loss surgery, according to an account in Tuesday’s New York Post. He agreed to the operation at the urging of family and friends after reaching the milestone of his half-century birthday.
The lap-band procedure is designed to cut his appetite by constricting his stomach. It’s already working, he told the Post.
“A week or two ago, I went to a steakhouse and ordered a steak and ate about a third of it, and I was full,” Governor Christie said.
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Is this about 2016 and the politics of appearance? After all, comedians have ribbed the non-small Christie about his weight for years.
In 2011, David Letterman did “Top Ten Ways the Country Would Be Different if Chris Christie Were President,” and it was basically just a list of fat jokes. (Our favorite was No. 9, “Goodbye White House vegetable garden.”) That same year, veteran political journalist Michael Kinsley wrote a Bloomberg View column saying that Christie had done well in the Garden State and might be the man to impose fiscal discipline on Washington. Then he went for the too-obvious symbolism.
“Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first,” Mr. Kinsley wrote.
The fact is, though, Christie is doing pretty well on the national stage just the size he is. He’s one of the most popular governors in the United States and a front-runner for the 2016 GOP nomination, trailing ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Florida Sen. Marco Rubio by a tick in a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll.
Christie himself explains his surgery as something he did for his wife and kids. It’s got nothing to do with 2016 and isn’t complicated, he said. Weight is a problem he’s struggled with for years, and it’s time to do something about it.
“For me, this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them,” said Christie.
That’s a sentiment any nacho-loving spouse and parent can relate to.
If there’s something the procedure is not about, it’s Christie’s more-immediate political prospects. He’s running for reelection at the moment, and he’s so far ahead he’d need a telescope to look back at his opponent, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.
As of the beginning of May, Christie has raised $6.2 million for his reelection bid, according to Politico.
Senator Buono has raised about $738,000, which is not even enough to qualify for all the public matching funds to which she’s entitled, according to Jarrett Renshaw of the Newark, N.J.-based Star-Ledger.
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Al Gore is almost as rich as Mitt Romney, according to a new in-depth Bloomberg analysis of his wealth. He’s got a fortune just short of $200 million, as opposed to the $250 million net worth of the Republican the 2012 Obama campaign framed as an out-of-touch plutocrat.
Much of Mr. Gore’s wealth stems from the January sale of Current TV, which he co-founded, to the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera media empire. Gore netted about $70 million from his Current stake, estimates Bloomberg. That same month the ex-VP and almost-president of the United States also raked in about $30 million from sales of Apple stock. He’s on Apple’s board of directors.
“That’s a pretty good January for a guy who couldn’t yet call himself a multimillionaire when he briefly slipped from public life after his bitterly contested presidential election loss to George W. Bush in late 2000,” write Bloomberg’s Ken Wells and Ari Levy.
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Gore still has $45 million worth of Apple stock he has not sold. He’s a co-founder of an investment firm, Generation Investment Management, that’s done quite well. He’s a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Then there are those best-selling books about environmental threats as well as speeches that earn him around $175,000 a pop.
Is this unseemly? After all, Gore railed against climate change, and now has a Tennessee mansion so big it uses 20 times more electricity than the average US household. He’s promoted green energy, yet made his biggest payday from selling his under-performing cable firm to petro-dollar interests.
But losing presidential candidates don’t take a vow of poverty. Gore had to do something, and throwing himself into making money appears to be his method of coping with the shock of winning the popular vote yet losing the presidency.
“Ideological consistency has never been one of Al Gore’s hobgoblins, for better or worse. And one benefit of having endured what Gore has endured is that he has a very thick skin,” writes Steve Fishman in a lengthy profile of Clinton’s Veep in New York Magazine.
The better question to ask might be if all this money has truly made Gore happy. That’s the impression one gets from reading Fishman’s piece, which includes an interview with Gore at his (virtually empty) Nashville mansion.
Fishman portrays Gore as the “ultimate Davos man,” meaning the avatar of someone who is well-compensated for traveling the world to exchange ideas for saving it at posh resorts.
Gore’s books such as “An Inconvenient Truth” are apocalyptic. The word “cheery” does not come to hand when describing the man himself.
“Wherever Al Gore is, it’s hard not to get the sense that there are dark clouds lurking,” writes Fishman.
Still, Gore’s flood of cash may cushion the blow of being the Almost President, writes Dashiell Bennett at the Atlantic Wire.
Gore did not invent the Internet, but it turns out he’s made a lot of money off it, writes Bennett – “money that he almost certainly would have missed out on had a few more hanging chads gone his way.”
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The GOP's Sen. John McCain couldn’t do it in 2005. Spanish-speaking Texan President George W. Bush couldn’t do it in 2007. Spooked, President Obama didn’t even try it in his first term, although he had promised to.
Indeed, Republican opposition has doomed immigration reform nearly every time it has been proposed – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010, according to the National Journal.
By all accounts, however, this time will be different. Even the typically restrained Associated Press calls it, “the kind of breathtaking turnaround you rarely see in politics.”
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Senate hearings begin this week on the 844-page immigration reform proposal written by a bipartisan group of eight senators, including co-author Florida senator and conservative idol Marco Rubio. Though opposition still looms, for the first time in years partisan outrage appears to be absent – and this latest immigration reform proposal may have the best chance of passing in a very long while.
Here are three reasons why:
The 2012 election
You haven’t already forgotten, have you? If the 2012 election taught us anything, it is that Hispanic voters matter. Like the youth vote in 2008, Hispanics were the star bloc of the last election, arguably the reason Mr. Obama won and GOP contender Mitt Romney lost.
It’s not just the GOP that recognizes that. Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic voters in 2012, and frankly, he may feel he owes them – especially since he’s been promising immigration reform since he ran for office in 2008.
And the GOP, well, its “pathetic job of reaching out to people of color” (as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) told Fox News after his party’s thrashing) cost it the White House last year. And the party knows it’s more or less doomed without Hispanic support in coming years.
“If we don’t do better with Hispanics, we’ll be out of the White House forever,” Republican strategist Ana Navarro said post-election.
Potential political irrelevance? Nothing like it to fuel legislative action.
Come on, who’s got more conservative cred’ than bill co-author Sen. “I bleed Republican red” Rubio?
And that’s why he’s the immigration reform bill’s best bet for success. Rubio, along with Gang-of-Eight GOP heavyweights Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, are targeting Republican lawmakers to support the bill.
Sure, he’s getting plenty of flak, but that hasn’t stopped the Cuban-American from Florida from making his case.
As he recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Conservatism has always been about reforming government and solving problems, and that's why the conservative movement should lead on immigration reform … defeating it without offering an alternative cannot be the conservative position on immigration reform. That would leave the issue entirely in the hands of President Obama and leave in place the disastrous status quo.”
Unlike in 2007, when Republican outrage mounted into an all-out war against immigration reform, 2013 sees increasing support for – and recognition of the need for – comprehensive immigration reform from a bevy of conservative groups.
Top among them: evangelical Christians. In 2007, they were among immigration reform’s staunchest opponents; today, they are some of its biggest supporters, calling on their ranks to obey biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger.
No surprise, business leaders are also coming out more publicly in favor of immigration reform, recognizing that they need immigrants – skilled and unskilled – to advance their own interests. As it stands, the Gang of Eight’s proposal would establish an agricultural worker visa system as well as create more visa programs for high- and low-skill workers.
When it comes to change of heart, however, the biggest surprise has been conservative talk radio.
Six years ago, irate talk radio hosts, such as Fox News personality and syndicated talk radio host Sean Hannity, whipped up Republican outrage over immigration reform, which ultimately doomed the bill.
Not this time. Mr. Hannity "says that he 'has evolved' and that it is time for Republicans to support some kind of major change in the nation’s immigration system,” according to The New York Times.
Apparently he’s not alone.
Conservative talk radio host Michael Medved told the paper he sensed a shift. “What you are not hearing as much, except from a handful of people, is ‘over my dead body,’ ” Mr. Medved told the Times. “The level of apocalyptic hysteria is much less.”
Hey, if conservative talk radio – and Hannity – can pull an about-face on immigration reform, this bill’s got its best chance yet.
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Why is Sarah Palin holding up a tin of chewing tobacco? That’s what attendees at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention in Houston might have asked if they weren’t paying close attention to the speeches. You know, you’re poking around the merchandise tables, maybe getting a snack, and you look up at the video screens that show the action – and there’s the former governor of Alaska waving what appears to be a can of chaw. Does she chew that stuff herself?
No, not as far as we can tell. At least not in public. She was using the chewing tobacco as a visual aid in her battle against what she perceives as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-freedom crusade.
In March at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Ms. Palin defiantly sipped from a Big Gulp to mock Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in city restaurants. At the NRA convention she went a bit further, taking the tin of tobacco (no word on what brand) out of her pocket and showing it to the crowd in an attempt to belittle Bloomberg’s new proposal to forbid stores from publicly displaying tobacco products, set a minimum price for cigarettes, and prevent stores from redeeming tobacco-company coupons.
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“Don’t make me do it!” said Palin to laughter from the crowd, tapping the tin as if she were about to open it. “That’s funny, though: Todd has been looking for this all morning.”
“Making them backdrops ... we have leaders who practice the politics of emotion,” Palin said.
Wasn’t the tobacco tin kind of a backdrop, though? Palin herself is pretty good at riling up a conservative crowd with applause lines, which is also the politics of emotion.
That said, New York City’s Bloomberg is a good target for a lot of people, since his ambitions are large and his enthusiasms can seem nanny-like. He was even mocked in the cold open of “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend. The skit was complicated: We’ll just say it involved a 16-liter cup of cherry soda, a fake “Fox & Friends” interview, and gun control.
“If there’s one person American gun owners will listen to, it’s a northeastern Jewish billionaire,” insisted “Mayor Bloomberg,” played by Fred Armisen.
Nor is Palin alone in criticizing the proposed ban on visible tobacco. An association of small grocery owners in the city has started a “Save Our Stores” campaign, arguing that the move would just create a black market in tobacco products while depriving them of crucial sales.
But it’s a lot easier to mock soda control than new tobacco regulations, given the science linking illness and tobacco products. Bloomberg has pointed out that some entire nations, such as Canada and Britain, have enacted similar prohibitions on displaying tobacco products.
“This legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said in March.
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Ms. Chesimard/Shakur is a fugitive member of a black militant group convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper by the side of a roadway on May 2, 1973. Sentenced to prison in 1977, she escaped in November 1979. Eventually she made her way to Cuba, where the Castro regime has sheltered her ever since, claiming she is a victim of racial persecution.
Cuba has declined repeated US requests to extradite her. On Thursday, the FBI and New Jersey law enforcement officials announced that they have doubled the reward for her capture and return to $2 million.
The FBI “Most Wanted Terrorist” list is an offshoot of the venerable “Most Wanted” list, and something of a younger brother. It was first drawn up and published in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. At that time it contained the names of 22 men, mostly Middle Eastern, who had been indicted by federal grand juries on charges connected to terrorist attacks ranging from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to the 1996 attack on a US military residential tower in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden was No. 1. He was the only person on the 2001 terrorist list who was already a “Most Wanted” – in his case, due to his involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa.
Alleged terrorists remain on the list “until such time as the charges are dropped or when credible physical evidence is obtained, which proves with 100 percent accuracy, that they are deceased,” says the FBI.
Needless to say, Mr. bin Laden is no longer listed.
The first domestic terrorist added to the list, according to the FBI, was Daniel Andreas San Diego, in 2009. He is an alleged environmental extremist – the FBI says he has ties to “animal rights extremist groups” – wanted for possible involvement in two 2003 bombings in the San Francisco area.
As for Joanne Chesimard, the FBI says she was a prominent member of the Black Liberation Army, which from the late 1960s through the 1970s was responsible for the killings of more than a dozen law enforcement officers.
On May 2, 1973, state police stopped a car in which Chesimard and two associates were riding on the New Jersey Turnpike on grounds that it had a broken taillight. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for possible involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.
“Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range,” reads the FBI’s account of what happened.
One of Chesimard’s companions was killed in the firefight. The other was convicted and remains in jail.
Not everyone agrees that Chesimard belongs on the terrorist list. They note that, among other things, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies used both legal and illegal means to watch and counter left-wing groups in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Nor is there any evidence that Chesimard actually fired the shots that took the life of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, said Rutgers University criminal justice professor Lennox Hinds, who was one of her defense attorneys. (Under New Jersey law, an accomplice can also be convicted of first-degree murder.)
“I believe that we have to look at this in the context of what has just happened in Boston,” Mr. Hinds told the self-described progressive news show "Democracy Now!" on Friday. “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of have nothing to do with terrorism.”
The FBI, for its part, alleges that Chesimard took an active role in the firefight, including firing the first shot.
“This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism,” said Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant with the New Jersey State Police and a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark, at Thursday’s press conference.