Maybe Tom Harkin felt he was getting a little old to be the junior senator from Iowa. In fact, he is ranked the most senior junior senator in the US Senate, and he likely felt it was time to move on. He has stepped aside before, during the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, to let Arkansas native Bill Clinton have a clear path to the party’s nomination. And that was after leading in some polls. So now we have a Senate race in Iowa with no incumbent. Joni Ernst; Iowa born and bred, a state senator, and as Republican as they come, is in a tight race with about a 3 point lead over Bruce Braley; Iowa born and bred and about as Democrat as they come. In other words, on most issues there is a continent’s worth of distance between the two candidate’s positions. For example, Joni Ernst, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, would like to eliminate the Federal Education Department and leave Education up to each individual State’s department, as a way of reducing the size of the federal government and devolving power over education back out to the states. Braley apparently complained about the House gym and the cutbacks to certain services offered by said facility. Ernst is in favor of eliminating the EPA and is a climate change skeptic, while Braley can’t wait to enact reductions in emissions and has voted for emissions trading. Braley voted for Obamacare and Ernst is in favor of replacing it. Braley is pro-choice earning a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Ernst is pro-life and co-sponsored a state bill that would have made marriage an act between a man and a woman.

In other words, the choice between the two candidates, in terms of policy and values, is very clear. A RealClearPolitics polling average has Ernst ahead by 47.3 to 44.8. She had trailed earlier in the year but in late spring/ early summer shot up in the polls to make it a tight race, one that it now appears she will win. In a fascinating and fairly wonkish article by Shawn McCoy, someone who knows Iowa politics fairly well and applies innovative statistical modeling, he points out two key factors that seem to be pointing clearly to an Ernst win. The first one is that Joni Ernst has managed to come on strong in the home stretch in terms of fundraising, meaning she is finishing strong in terms of getting her message out to Iowa voters. The second reason is that Republicans seem to be winning the ground war, doing a much better job with no-party or independent voters. Those advantages should help undecideds vote for Ernst in large enough numbers to give her a close win. The choice for undecideds could not be clearer between the two candidates. Let’s see which way they do vote. Iowa will be one to watch on November 4.

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 never occupied the popular imagination, or has it’s place within the media, in the way it should have after the horrifying plague stopped as suddenly as it had started in the year or so after WW I. It is only in the last decade or two, after SARS and other bird flu scares that it’s ghost has been revived and the disease that claimed so many lives began to take it’s place alongside the bubonic and other plagues that devastated Europe centuries ago and have been part of popular culture ever since. With the Spanish flu, which killed up to 5% of the world’s population, there seems to have been a roaring silence in the years that followed. Had the Influenza virus continued it’s progression for another year, the effects on the world’s population can only be imagined. Even then, in an era of slower and less frequent communication, it was impossible to stop. And today with the legal and logistical difficulties of imposing quarantines of any kind it seems, a horrifying but relatively focused outbreak of Ebola is now spreading case by case around Africa and to America and Europe, and perhaps elsewhere.

What can be done to prevent Ebola’s spread? Maybe a reasonable period of isolation for any health care worker who was exposed to a patient would be a good idea? Instead of climbing aboard a cruise liner in Galveston? So far the worker on the cruise ship is under self-imposed isolation and is self-monitoring her temperature and shows no signs of the disease. How reassuring. What is it like to know that your folks or your aunt or some loved one or close friend is on that liner? And do you give them a big hug when they arrive back home to let them know you still love them? Any policy of pandemic containment runs up against our egotistical habits, as well as concerns that a strict quarantine would tank the local economy in which it is imposed. So what does the CDC do? Perhaps worrying less about causing “panic” and providing as much information and warnings as the evidence suggests is necessary. I suspect most people would prefer that than a tardy admission that Ebola, or any virulent infectious disease, is already here. And maybe less centralization in one headquarters in Atlanta would help. And finally, the CDC is also a warehouse if you will, of deadly plagues that have or rare occasion been sent to at-the-time allies like Iraq. The organization clearly has a double role – in part to enable response strategies to any attempt at biological warfare by an enemy state or rogue group – as both defender against and provider of deadly plagues. Perhaps the double role is unavoidable in today’s world of terrorist threats, but one hopes the CDC is always painfully aware of what color hat they are wearing and that they don’t mix roles up. Being a little more forthcoming might help.

Amendment 3 in Tennessee would permanently enshrine their no-income-tax policy and is being pushed by various groups after an opinion by their AG suggested the state could at some point reimpose an income tax to meet budgetary needs. Aside from some worries about voting “no” when seeing the word “tax” on the ballot, the measure seems to have a good chance of passing. And Tennessee has one of the lowest overall state tax burdens despite having a relatively high sales tax rate of 7%. The average per capita state and local tax paid was $2.777 according to the Tax Foundation and that’s the 2nd lowest in the country. They do have a tax on dividend and interest income however, not good for retirees who depend on that income to meet monthly expenses.

More generally, the problem of spending by state governments, and by the federal government as well in each individual state, presents interesting evidence. A study of the net federal contribution of each state as a percentage of individual gross state products produces something of a contradiction. States that raise less money in federal taxes than that spent by the federal government in their state, tend to want to reduce the size of government at the same time that they benefit from overall transfers from Washington. Tennessee for example, contributes 18.7% of it’s GSP to federal revenue and receives 24.4% of it’s GSP in federal spending, for a 5.7% shortfall, coming between Hawaii at a shortfall of 4.3% and Lousiana at a shortfall of 5.8%. Now Hawaii is no red state so the contradiction of net contributors voting Democrat is not always the case. But assuming there is this contradiction in some cases – Mississippi and Kentucky have shortfalls of 13.3% and 17.9% – then is it hypocritical for them to wish to reduce the size of government? Salon ran an article gleefully pointing out 10 offending states, Mississippi and Kentucky are on the list. But all states are captive to federal welfare policies and must spend money that they perhaps would rather not, on policies like Obamacare for example. The real test is how willing voters in Tennessee, for example, would be to cut back all government spending until taxes balance out what they receive from Washington. I suspect that many in Tennessee would be willing, but I also suspect that Washington will never allow them that freedom. Is there fiscal hypocrisy on the part of low-tax states? Sure, but they operate within the constraints that the federal government imposes on them.

It’s hard to think of an appropriate sports metaphor to extend that of the NY Times headlines that basically stated that the Democrats have benched Obama, and turned to Hillary as the effective leader of their party. After all, she was precisely that – or more specifically the Clintons had been since 1992 – until Obama suddenly upstaged her in 2007 – 2008. Former star rookie replaced by former Coach’s wife? The left has no one left to turn to but Hillary. Her voting record as senator suggests she is a somewhat hawkish liberal, but who else can they turn to? Perhaps Elizabeth Warren, and stories have circulated in the last few months that Obama himself might consider backing the senior Senator from Massachusetts, as he feels she would be more activist and left-leaning and Hillary more of a pragmatic centrist. But given the president’s isolation, (one wonders if he actually wandered over to the bench himself, or up into the stands, or out into the parking lot, rather than being benched by his party), will Obama’s possible support of an Elizabeth Warren run for president make much of a difference? It certainly wouldn’t unite his own party, and would be one more barb between himself and the Clintons.

Time will tell on that one, but Obama’s isolation seems to be growing by the day. Whether he has the inclination to attempt to recognize and fix some of the shortcomings of his administration is a question for Hillary’s team who have to somehow rescue their party’s legacy before November, 2016. But then again, Obama’s isolation can be seen directly as a product of the Clinton’s return to center-stage politics and they seem to be not at all unhappy – to not say joyful – about the President’s sorry state in the polls. One nasty night in November in a few weeks, and then the Dems can really start cleaning house and prepare the way for the returning royalty. They seem certain that they – Hillary and Bill we have to start saying now – can regain the balance and drive the party completely lacks and whip things into shape. The GOP, once they have counted up their seats in the Senate, will need to move with purpose and ideas to make sure Hill & Bill don’t make hay by dancing on a sitting president’s grave come this November.

Maybe Governor Jerry Brown should have paid more attention to the situation in Sweden when he passed into law California’s Affirmative Consent, or “yes means yes” law. The Scandianavian cradle of political correctness has a date with Julian Assange to question him over alleged sexual molestation and possible sexual assault. Assange is not charged, strictly speaking, but could be after questioning. At the same time, in Sweden last year, a gang of 6 teenagers were acquitted of raping a 15 year old female in a bedroom at a house party because of a change in the laws from the victim having to be in an “incapacitated state” to being “particularly vulnerable.” In this twilight zone of process and progressive nanny statism run amok, justice seems to go missing in both cases. We are step by step approaching the logical end point of marxist liberation theory as applied to gender relations, where maleness in itself becomes guilty unless it can prove it’s innocence. California, and now New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire all have on the books, or have sponsors attempting to test-run, a yes-means-yes policy on campuses in their states.

Part of the problem with consent is how to decide if it has been given when alcohol and/or drugs have been consumed. Surveys done by the CDC or the Justice Department have been criticized for the wording of the questions and the methodology used. As a result, their findings of 1 in 5 college women experiencing some form of sexual assault can certainly be questioned. And when substance abuse is involved, the question becomes a judicial nightmare for all involved, and certainly for the accused. Substance abuse has been a widespread problem on and off campuses across America for decades now. It is also one that has resisted all sorts of solutions, from stricter laws to tough-love, to softer-therapy intervention, to faith-based intervention. The successes seem to trail the failures and the problem continues. With this in mind, two approaches to sexual consent laws might help: a set of statistically sound, clearly worded surveys, done across broad samples to clearly define and then see how prevalent sexual assault is, on and off campuses, and sexual assault laws that provide reasonable due process to the accused. Campus rape is a problem, although it is not clear how large a problem, but the solution must be crafted with a little wisdom. The debate over what consent involves is unavoidable nowadays. Judicial process needs to be balanced and clear eyed in response.

It sounds better saying you’re Libertarian, rather than saying you’re a pacifist. Sean Haugh seems to be both, but he is not shy about his pacifism. “I want to stop all war. Not only real war, but metaphorical war as well.” From military drones to militarized police to arms exports or even, one would suppose, any military support for allies abroad, Sean Haugh is dead set against it.. As he says on his page, “If everyone got comfortable inside their own skin, this world would be a much happier place.” But we don’t really need to shed a light on Haugh’s easy going libertarianism, he’ll do that himself in the debates in North Carolina. He’s running as the Libertarian Party candidate and if polls showing him receiving over 6% of the vote turn out to have been accurate on election night, he might upset the balance and draw voters away from either incumbent Kay Hagan or Republican Thom Tillis and hand victory to the other side. That is if voters don’t peel away and come to his cause in even proportions.

But Sean Haugh’s real calling card is not his chill-out-y’all philosophy, it’s the fact that he works delivering pizzas. Mainstream media now seem to have a crush on the oddball guy from Raleigh – although he was born in Arizona and raised in Tucson – and one wonders if he didn’t deliver large pepperonis with extra cheese for a living, whether they would have given him a second thought. He hasn’t just delivered pizzas of course. Back in 1980, he worked on Ed Clark’s libertarian campaign for president. David Koch, as in the Koch brothers, was Clark’s running mate. After taking some distance from libertarianism as a reaction to it’s brainy, debate-club posture, he returned to the cause in North Carolina in the 90′s leading the State Libertarian party and working for the Libertarian National Committee. He retired from politics in 2010 and now he’s back. What would Sean Haugh do if he were a Senator? Give the media lots of great sound bites from the Senate floor? Who knows. Who knows in fact, if he will even have a measurable effect on the North Carolina Senate race. He is certainly having a measurable effect on the media coverage in Raleigh.

Louisiana knows the Landrieu family well; Moon Landrieu was mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978 and HUD Secretary in the last two years of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. By the time Moon cleared out his office in early 81, his daughter Mary was already a representative in the Louisiana State House where she would remain until 1988. And when Mary cleaned out her desk, her brother Mitch took over the work of representing the 90th district from his sister. Mary that same electoral year, (1987), ran against only Democratic opposition for State Treasurer and won with about 40% of the vote. She was re-elected in 1991 without opposition. Her shot at Governor in 1995 failed, but she won a US Senate Seat in 1996 and has been there since, coming into the spotlight for her pugnacious media presence in the aftermath of Katrina.

And now in 2014, mere weeks before midterms, she seems to be having a panic attack as she trails Rep Representative Bill Cassidy by about 5% in the polls according to RealClear Politics. That means that campaign manager Adam Sullivan is being shunted into an advisory role and will be replaced by Ryan Berni, who by the way, used to work for her brother Mitch, who by the way, is now Mayor of New Orleans. It is fair to ask then, if Louisiana needs a break from the Landrieu clan and her support of Obama’s policies. Despite trying to paint herself as a tough conservative Democrat, Landrieu’s voting record according to govtrack.us is merely pragmatic, joining or writing bipartisan bills, and is among the most conservative 30% of Democratic Senators …. Ok, so it’s not a remarkable record, and some sources have her voting over 90% with Obama’s proposals in 2013. And earlier in 2009, her support for Obamacare was conditional on a $300 million check being written for Medicaid in the State of Louisiana. Bill Cassidy is also known in Louisiana. The physician, and now US Representative, helped found the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic to provide uninsured residents access to health care. Local,on the ground, and involved. It’s a very different strategy from beltway quid pro quo politics involving $300 million checks written by Washington. With new blood like Bobby Jindal in the Governor’s office, maybe the voters of Louisiana will decide that in the Senate, a change is gonna come.

Representative Peter King, R-N.Y. got it partly wrong when he stated, “You get radical chaplains who then radicalize them and turn them toward terrorism or turn them toward violence.” He was referring to how prisons in America, in imitation of a trend in the UK for example, are becoming breeding grounds for radical islamic terrorists. The part he got wrong of course is the that they get “turned toward violence.” It might seem like nitpicking on a topic that Peter King is clearly informed on and very much involved with, but it bears reminding of the simple fact that prisoners are targeted by radical islamic clerics and other crazed militants precisely because they have proven to be violent. From the world of closed cells of terrorists, radical islam, like ISIS, now are trying to go viral by using social media to convert and incite lone wolves or anyone they can to their bloodthirsty cause. And prisons are one place they seem to be targeting.

This brings us to the case of Alton Nolen, an ex-con who had converted to Islam, and the horrifying attack he perpetrated at Vaughn Foods in Oklahoma. Shortly after being fired from his job at the company, Nolen returned with a knife and beheaded one of his co-workers – attacking her from behind – and fatally stabbed another. It was only when company owner Mark Vaughn shot him in the arm and abdomen that the attack ended. He reportedly shouted Koranic verses as he carried out the attack. Was this a planned act of terrorism or a violent revenge, another case of a fired worker going postal? Wrong question according to Patrick Dunleavy, former inspector general of NY State Police’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, and author of a book on radical islam and prisoners. It can be both things he argues. The need for violent revenge is framed within the context of a call to violence by islamic groups who are even calling for a caliphate in America. It is a case of using social media – Nolen apparently viewed the beheadings carried out by ISIS, perhaps repeatedly – to produce human time bombs that are targeted to go off and perpetrate horrifying crimes like the one at Vaughn Foods. It may be that to fight this emerging phenomenon, islamic clerics should be carefully screened before gaining access to any prison, and be denied that access if any reasonable suspicion arises as to whether they sponsor radical violence. As to social media and ex-cons already out of jail who risk being converted to violent causes like that of ISIS, it’s a problem of whose dimensions little is still known, but much needs to be found out. We need to listen to people like Patrick Dunleavy. Right now.

Who Tom Cotton Is

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Filed Under Obama News on Oct 6 
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As a recent Gallup poll demonstrates, voter opposition to Obama is at a 16 year high, when comparing those who want to send a message opposing the president at 32%, against those who wished to send a message of support, at 20%. That’s noticably worse than what Clinton faced in 98 in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. So in a perverse sort of logic, we now have Clinton working the stumps in Arkansas to desperately separate Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor from the president. Unfortunately for Pryor, his Republican challenger Tom Cotton has managed to use Pryor’s voting record – he voted 93% of the time with the Obama’s proposals according to Cotton – to keep precious little daylight between the sitting Arkansas senator and Obama. In Arkansas, Obama’s job approval rating is at 31% with a disapproval rating of 62%. While the race for senator in Arkansas is reasonably close, Cotton is clearly ahead in a majority of the polls and seems to have numbers that are very solid and are holding up well in the final weeks leading up to November. By using Pryor’s voting record as a proxy for the Democratic senator’s approval of the job Obama is doing, he has forged an effective rhetorical weapon that he uses every time he hits the stage during the final run of his campaign to unseat Pryor. In a state with a 31% approval rating, where in the world can you find someone who gives Obama a 93% approval rating? That’s how Cotton starts off most speeches and it certainly seems to play very well in Arkansas.

Mark Pryor is, of course, the son of former Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator David Hampton Pryor, who served in the US Senate from 1979 until 1997. He is currently considered one of the more vulnerable candidates in the upcoming elections and maybe Arkansas is more than ready for a change. Tom Cotton, the son of Vietnam veteran, and a veteran himself with several decorated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, is also a Harvard educated lawyer. To say he is an achiever is an understatement. With Tea Party ties and also the support of John McCain as well as Mitt Romney, he has built up solid relations within the GOP within a relatively short time. His famous letter – it was an email in fact, sent by the young lieutenant – to the NY Times, calling for charges of treason to be laid against reporters that revealed key details of a secret program against terrorist financial backers, has been used against him when he first ran for a House seat in 2010. It did not work, and despite the discomfort certain defenders of the 1st amendment might feel, it was a legitimate criticism of an editorial decision that likely ended up compromising the program itself, and costing lives. Lives like those of the soldiers under Tom Cotton’s command. What he wrote in that email is what many felt at the time, whether a majority or not. It was a bold and risky, even intemperate act to send that email, and it shows something about who Tom Cotton is. We will likely be finding out a lot more about who Tom Cotton is and what he believes over the following years.

According to a just-released AP-Gfk poll, Congressional approval is at 7%. People are also mad at Obama. 58% of those polled are angry with the administration, and 74% are angry at the Republican leadership in Congress. What does this mean to the midterm elections? Will a surge of angry voters converge on the polls on November 4th and wreak a vengeful justice on Washington DC? Unfortunately for Obama, likely not. Likely not, because midterm elections have consistently produced lower voter turnouts than presidential elections; around 40% compared with around 60%, depending on how you calculate the size of the eligible voting public. Unfortunately for Obama, because lower voter turnout favors the party not in the White House. Republicans have this key advantage then going into these midterms; their voter engagement will pay more dividends. Plus there’s the why of midterm election’s low turnout. Several reasons have been proposed including the fact that presidential elections are galvanizing and tend to produce a swing towards one party that energizes it’s partisans to vote in larger numbers. Come midterms, however, there seems to usually be a reckoning of sorts, and Obama is certainly facing one now. Voters that came out in 2012 are much more likely to stay home and hence the shouting about voter registration: Democrats know they are going to lose seats in Congress. The only question is how many?

So what is on the mind of all these angry votes, who might just stay home rather than vote. As often is the case, it’s the economy for 90% of those polled in the AP-Gfk poll. When people say the economy, they mean jobs. When people say jobs, they wonder why the recovery is so slow. When they think of that, the administrations policies – taxes, regulations, energy policy, etc come under attack. As does Obamacare, because of the added costs imposed on business. These are the kinds of problems that require sensible tax polices and steady handed management that does not get too heavy handed or distracted. Unfortunately, we have a distracted president, some of it for understandable reasons like ISIS even if his response to ISIS has not always been appropriate, and some of it because of worries in the White House about losing the Senate. Not the best way to get people back to work. Once the GOP has taken advantage of a distracted president and an angry bunch of voters, they too will have to bring clear ideas to the table about putting people back to work. Not that they lack them. They just need to show voters they have a plan, a coherent, understandable one. And then Congressional approval ratings can soar back up to 30%, or even higher. Who knows?

According to a disclosure form filed back about 7 years ago, Ed Gillespie had accumulated a fortune of between $7 and $19 million from his high-profile consulting business. Senator Mark Warner went about accumulating his $200 million and rising net worth the honest Washington DC way – he used his beltway contacts and his interest in telecommunications to start a venture capital firm, Columbia Capital, which was an early investor in technology companies. Like Nextel, for example. So you could say that the Democratic Senator From Virginia is a man of substance. Unfortunately for Warner, so is Gillespie. That is, if by substance you mean policy. As in being one of the drafters of the Contract With America back in 94, for example, and as a firm critic of Obamacare.

In a fascinating piece in Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende uses regression analysis to show that over the last 12 years, voter trends have regressed to the mean, or the fundamentals, as election night draws near. What he means by that is that the fundamentals – as measured by the sitting president’s job approval ratings – tend to set a base line around which candidates of the president’s party whose polling was above the approval rating had stagnant numbers going into the last month or so, while those below the approval rating tended to rise towards the job approval ratings. That means that given Obama’s low job approval rating,, GOP candidates may be much more likely to pick up undecided voters between now and November 4th, while Democrats have already picked up most of the voters they can. That brings us back to Ed Gillespie and the race for Senator in Virginia and his critique of Obamacare. There is no doubt that Mark Warner is a successful businessman and is popular in his home state. But there is now an interesting chance that even in a race like Virginia, where Ed Gillespie is closing what was a 20 point gap, the final results could surprise. It may be that if Ed Gillespie keeps focused on policy issues like Health Care, Defense, and Energy – he is a supporter of Keystone – he may just swing enough undecideds and upset Mark Warner, Virginia’s 200 million dollar man. The final count in the Senate, come November 5th, is still very much undecided, and it may surprise on the upside for the GOP. Among the other key senate races, spare a thought for Virginia on election night.

With a jacket in one had and a cup of coffee in the other, President Obama disembarked Marine One, and raised his cup-o-joe to the saluting Marine. A pitiful display of our Commander in Chief. No, he never served in the military, but he is the Commander in Chief who is the leader of our military, and they deserve more respect than that. The behavior displays a lack of respect to his position as POTUS, so how are people supposed to respect his position when he doesn’t even show respect for it?

The White House shared a video of the moment as Obama was returning from a United Nations meeting in regards to Climate Change and airstrikes in Syria. Is it proper respect and etiquette for the President to salute? Yes. However, in this case he would’ve been better off not saluting at all. This isn’t something that politically biased to a party, or something dems will accuse FOX news for blowing out of proportion. Democrats, Republicans and others just aren’t impressed with this display. Bottom line, the President should be ashamed.

Early Voting in Ohio

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Filed Under Predictions on Sep 30 
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The right to vote has a long and fascinating, and yes controversial, history. Not stated as a specific right in the Constitution, it has traditionally been a state prerogative and has evolved through a series of amendments over the years which have, step by step, expanded the franchise of voters and usually has meant federal involvement in state rules on voting rights. Does any of this, strictly speaking, have anything to do with SCOTUS’ decision to delay early voting in Ohio? The court’s decision to not allow registration and early ballot casting at the same time was divided among conservative and liberal judges in a split 5 – 4 decision. Republican state officials are now pitted against black civil rights groups and church groups who say it will unfairly restrict african-american voters ability to cast their ballots. Once again, like in Georgia, we have a concerted rush to the finish line to register voters and loud posturing against anything that gets in the way of this rush. Once again, it must be asked why a steady year-long campaign to register voters was not employed, or if employed, was not successful enough. Ohio is a swing state of course, and no amount of voters on either side is enough for either party. It’s a matter of getting out as many voters as possible to try and move the vote in a close election. That’s electoral politics and almost all is fair in war and love and elections, but is it a negation of voter rights to roll back the start of early voting?

Early voting has become an increasingly important factor in Presidential elections, increasing from around 7% in 1992 to about 30% of votes cast in the 2008 election. It seems that SCOTUS has called a delay, (the voting in Ohio will start on Oct. 7, almost a month before Tuesday November 4), to establish some clarity over early voting in the face of partisan push-and-shove at the state level. Some form of early voting exists in all but 14 states according to the National Confederation of State Legislatures, so it seems to be a matter of dealing with the details of early voting rules across different states. Those who oppose early voting warn of fraud and in any rush to register voters in the weeks leading up to an election there is surely a gray area between sloppy paperwork and deliberate falsification. How much of a potential problem this may turn out to be, however, is a matter of debate. We now have to wait to see what further clarification may come from the court and wonder whether another amendment to the Constitution, one that deals with early voting, awaits voters in the US in the years ahead.

The legal battle over online taxes actually began in 1967 with National Bellas Hess, a retail mail order business whose main physical place of business was Missouri where the plant would receive mail orders from its customers and ship off their consumer products to their clients. The State of Illinois – home to more than a few heavy handed local governments over the years – decided to slap a user tax on all state clients of National Bellas and a court battle ensued. The Supreme Court in 1967 handed the State of Illinois a defeat stating, ” The Commerce Clause prohibits a State from imposing the duty of use tax collection and payment upon a seller whose only connection with customers in the State is by common carrier or mail.” Quill corp v North Dakota in 1992 reaffirmed the precedent set in 1967: the only way a company would have to pay state taxes would be for it to have a nexus or physical presence within the state of residence of the consumer.

That was just a year before the world wide web exploded in case anyone needs reminding. For the US Senate, SCOTUS decisions are not good enough, so last year they passed the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 which gets right down to business in section 2: Authorization to require collection of sales and use taxes. It authorizes state governments to collect and remit sales taxes on “remote sales sourced to that Member State.” And now the wise and honorable members of the Senate have found a way to take another step towards assuring interet taxes prosper far and wide across the land. They plan to link an internet sales tax provision to a bill prohibiting the collection of internet access taxes. In other words, if Congress, and especially the House, want to continue upholding the ban on internet access taxes then they will have to bite the bullet on online sales taxes. All this in a lame duck session, seeing the current ban on access charges to the internet expires in December. Brick and mortar retailers are all for it. Both Dems and Republican members of Congress seem to be for it. One wonders if the Senate tactic succeeds, what further measures might be proposed for the good of the internet as well as for the good of local and state coffers. One can use the challenges of the internet to encourage simplifying and unifying state tax codes to encourage all business, online or offline. Or one can revert to blunt attempts to turn back the clock in the name of government tax grabs. It’s clear which way the US Senate has chosen, just like the State of Illinois in 1967. Do we need a new proposition-13 style revolt? It may be the only response possible from those who wish to move forward and not backwards.

Is Matthew Todd Miller a martyr for freedom, an unhinged young man from Bakersfield, California, or a bargaining chip for the crazed North Korean regime to use in its upcoming nuclear tests? It is hard to glean much information aside from the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, official news releases, especially given Reporters Without Borders ranks the Stalinist state at or near the bottom of it’s world rankings for press freedom. So their declaration that Miller tore up his tourist visa upon entering the country has to be treated, as with all their other press releases, with caution to say the least. Unfortunately, that bit of news might be at least partly true. Miller has recently spent several years in South Korea where one of his brothers is stationed with the Air Force, and he taught English and learned Korean apparently. Did he conceive of a crazed mission to reveal to the world how repressive a regime North Korea is? In a closely monitored interview with APTV he stated that he has received no response from the State Department who have investigated his situation since his April detention.

Does that mean he is indeed a bargaining chip and Foggy Bottom are negotiating behind the scenes? Negotiating, it must be added, with what is the world’s most unpredictable government, to put it politely. North Korea is capable of kidnapping people from neighboring countries like Japan and it may very well be Miller merely entered the country and was arrested. Or maybe not. His family is pleading privacy which is understandable, but one wonders if the bright and shy youngest son of two petroleum engineers is a little eccentric. If he indeed did rip up his tourist visa in some deranged quest, then Matthew Todd Miller has made the USA’s position in the Korean peninsula that much more difficult. Everything diplomatically feasible must and is being done to release him but he is in the confines of a horrifyingly repressive state and his outcome is uncertain. Because America values freedom, people like Matthew Todd Miller can travel to North Korea and expect that their government will aid them if they are placed in jeopardy. One hopes that the young man from Bakersfield will be grateful for the aid and support he receives when he does get released. Unfortunately, any possible outcome in his case is highly uncertain. If you cross the border into North Korea, you have to know you are entering an extremely dangerous country that can and will arrest you at the drop of a hat, and certainly at the tearing up of a tourist visa card.

If a 300 pound Black Bear is stalking you, don’t run. Walk slowly and avoid eye contact. Do not run. That’s the advice New Jersey state officials have for hikers after Darsh Pratel lost his life, having apparently been mauled to death by precisely such a bear in the Apshawa Preserve in West Milford, New Jersey. Pratel’s four friends ran away just like he did when they noticed the bear stalking them, but were a little luckier; they weren’t hunted down by a large predator capable of speeds of up to 35 miles an hour over short distances. The 22 year old Rutgers student is the first victim of a bear attack in the state for over 150 years and that must offer no consolation to his distraught family. The bear was shot to death by officials after they found it circling Pratel’s body and after it did not respond to attempts to have it leave the area. We wll have an autopsy and we will also have wildlife experts explaining to everyone how rare an encounter this is and how wonderful it is to have bears roaming the woods of New Jersey as in the days of yore. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, however, allow a legal bear hunt to cull the numbers of black bears in the state and lessen the probabilities of human encounters, especially tragic ones like this one.

The question becomes then, what are the limits of biodiversity that a post-industrial society is capable of supporting? The answer depends on who you ask: deep environmentalists would have almost all humans eliminated from North America as well as those invasive domestic breeds like cattle. Urban environmentalists think the increasing number of city-dwelling coyotes in North America is a good thing, and us humans will have to make sure that packs of urban coyotes don’t drag our pets or children into the bushes to be devoured. Ranchers in places like Montana would like to have every last wolf and coyote converted into pelts to be proudly displayed beside their fireplaces. In other words there is a choice to be made about how we coexist with wildlife. While the young Rutgers student’s horrifying fate is likely an anomaly, statistically speaking, bear culls, especially black bear culls, need to be part of any wildlife area’s policy tools. And the Disneyfication of dangerous predators in various media, which will surely continue, must be countered with sober and pragmatic education that lets hikers and others know just what kind of an animal they are dealing with.

If Rep Tim Bishop (D, NY) is right, there are about 40 ISIS, (or ISIL), fighters who are back in the US after having left the country to fight for the terrorist group in the Middle East. According to Bishop, the FBI has them under surveillance so the threat is not quite imminent. That is scant comfort, given the arrests in Australia this week. While all the information regarding their plans is not public, it appears that ISIL supporters in that country were planning random kidnappings in order to then behead the Australians kidnapped right off the sidewalk and film the execution. All this at the behest of an ISIL member who has Australian citizenship and ordered the terror campaign to be carried out on the streets of Australia. Clearly, similar campaigns will be attempted – if they are not already being planned, in the US. Better to alert the public about possible dangers than have the horrifying outcome of a victim of ISIL on home soil.

The odds of something like this being attempted have just shot up. With ISIL there is no limit, it seems, to their savagery and as much intelligence as possible must be accumulated and sifted through continually. Profiling potential ISIL terrorists – young angry men with roots in the Middle East who have recently returned from there might be a good place to start – but unfortunately the profiling will have to much broader than that. The medieval delusion of a revived Caliphate in the Middle East has not died with Bin Laden, it remains a motivating factor for those whose fanaticism leads to this sort of evil. One of the lessons learned from 9/11 is the vital. life-saving importance of coordinated intelligence between all levels of law enforcement and security. That cooperation is now needed even more than it has been in this last decade and a half. ISIL has to be fought on every front and thwarting their evil at home means everyone from the head of the NSA to your hometown police officer needs to be, in some way, part of the effort. Let the ACLU fret and fuss all they want. For the intelligence and police forces, to not profile and assemble the data and, you bet, eavesdrop, means to shirk their duty to defend the nation. We don’t need crazed conspiracy theories about drones attacking innocent americans. We need full utilization of all intelligence assets to safeguard citizens from a possible attempt, even a lone deranged attempt. That does not mean an overbearing apparatus that monitors every move anyone makes. It means getting to the right information as quickly as possible, and letting government lawyers worry afterwards about future lawsuits filed by the usual suspects, like the ACLU.

“Republicans have for too long been captive to industry lobbyists seeking special favors.” Those are Tim Carney’s words writing in the Washington Examiner. The motivating reason for Carney’s declaration is electoral of course, as well as political. Main street does not like corporate welfare, and lobbying is seen as an inside track to gain advantages for any given corporation or industry. K street does not play well on Main street. With midterm elections a few weeks away, the GOP – specifically what the GOP’s agenda will be when and if they gain control of the Senate – matters to the electorate and quickly cozying up to business lobbies is a worry for some party supporters. There are three easy, make that visible, targets for anti-lobbying crusaders to take on: The Export-Import Bank, Ethanol subsidies, and Sugar subsidies. Bobby Jindal has planted a stake coming out for the elimination of ethanol subsidies and righting the market distortions that they create. The Export-Import Bank is perhaps a less rational target, seeing they aid US corporations that sell abroad. A trade surplus is hardly something to run screaming from as a true populist, and helping US corporations compete against European and Asian competitors who receive all sorts of subsidies makes economic sense. One can argue that it is a violation of free market principles, but who goes first? Think of Boeing and the jobs – those in the US – it creates by selling its aircrafts around the world. Does Boeing lobby Washington? What do you think? Finally, Sugar subsidies mean higher prices for US consumers. Of course, cutting sugar subsidies will hardly play well in Florida and may come back to hurt GOP chances in the state in 2016.

There is the matter of free speech as well. SCOTUS has ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations. So as a matter of law, whether settled law might be too early to say, K street is within its rights to spend a lot of money to gain Washington’s ear. Direct contributions are still banned, so for business – big, medium, or small – K street is their most effective route, literally and metaphorically, to argue their case. That’s a rollback of some of McCain-Feingold and it might not sit well in Main Street. That is, until voters in any district realize that that an evil corporation has lobbied for a subsidy or rule change that means more jobs in their district. It’s the age old story of Federal politics in the US: get the government out of the economy except when it creates jobs in my district. Big business is bad, especially if it doesn’t lobby for favors that could mean a new plant opening up down the road. Every senator, whether GOP or Dem, knows this in his or her bones, and so it will be interesting to see how vigorously the Senate pushes an anti-K street agenda after November.

Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen have been firsts or near-firsts at a few things in their political careers and their lives. With Brown’s victory in the GOP primary they now get to decide who will be first in November in the race for Shaheen’s Senate seat representing New Hampshire. Should Brown win, he would be the first senator to have represented 2 different states since 1879 when James Shield represented Illinois and Minnesota. Shaheen is the first female senator to represent New Hampshire as well as the first woman to be elected governor in the state. She is also the first female elected to both governor and senator in the US. While selling herself – successfully it must be admitted – as a moderate in New Hampshire, she has worked on Democratic campaigns for everyone from Carter, through Gary Hart, and Al Gore as well as John Kerry. She has taught at Harvard and has been a fellow at their Institute of Politics. Gore apparently had her on a short list for VP. In other words, Shaheen is as big L Liberal as they come. And yes, she likes taxes, being one of the first New Hampshire politicians in 4 decades_ not_ to promise no new taxes. Her attempt at a sales tax was defeated by the state legislature over ten years ago.

Scott Brown knows what it is to battle with Liberals, certainly female lionesses of the left like Elizabeth Warren, who he lost his 2012 US Senate re-election to in Massachusetts to. One could describe Scott Brown as a Massachusetts Republican, having voted about 90% of the time with the state Republican leadership. He has also been willing to work across party lines and has also earned conservative Tea Party criticism for his opposition to budget cuts in 2011. Does that mean that Scott Brown – he has earned endorsements from them in the past – is a moderate Tea Party candidate? He introduced Mitt Romney at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but has not been beyond considering supporting jobs bills promoted by Democrats. He calls himself a fiscal conservative and a social moderate: on issues like gay marriage he is flexible if not overtly supportive, and he has called Wade v Roe “settled law.”

Will New Hampshire – where he has childhood ties and has vacationed in for years – accept Scott Brown? The primary victory is a clear “yes”, and some polls suggest his popularity is starting to surge and he could chip away at Shaheen’s 12 point lead, reducing it to single digits by November. If Brown is able to win in New Hampshire, GOP control of the US Senate will be even more assured. Once that gets done, then voters can decide exactly what type of Republican Scott Brown is.

It appears that President Obama now has a plan of sorts to deal with IS in Iraq and Syria. On the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11, Obama delivered an address on IS and what actions the U.S. will take to counter it. I had low hopes for the speech and as anticipated, I was let down by it. In presenting his plan he prioritized rhetoric over details and answers to questions while doing little to instill confidence that he truly believed in what he was suggesting. Now it would appear that we are engaging in a half-hearted attempt to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, a campaign that might extend into the next presidency. The plan is unrealistic, simplistic, and is a poorly crafted attempt to rectify the failure of this administration to generate a strategy against dealing with a group we’ve been fully aware for over a year.

I find the strategy put forth by the president as completely lacking. There are too many questions that remain unanswered while the plan itself seems simplistic and poorly conceived. One of my biggest problems is the military strategy. There is an absolute reluctance and opposition on the part of the president and many of the American people for the use of ground forces regardless if they are in combat or not. Obama insists that the eventual 1,000 troops we are sending will only advise and train the Iraqi military. Various analysts though have suggested that the troops sent are too few and upwards of 10,000 troops will be needed for such activities to be successful. To that end, our campaign against IS depends on using the forces of Iraq, militia groups, and Syrian rebel groups as our ground troops, all of whom have already proven to be less than capable of meeting this threat.

Our primary military contribution to the operation will be airpower. Airstrikes as they are being conducted now against IS in what is a piecemeal manner will not bring about the groups destruction. Airpower would have made a major difference when then ISIS was on the offensive and convoys were travelling in the open desert between cities. Now we are forced to engage a group no longer in the open but that is blending in with civilians in cities and towns. Our intelligence estimates on IS are sorely lacking and this will further hamper destroying them; just recently the CIA revealed that it had grossly underestimated the number of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria. When you are conducting an aerial campaign it tends to help when you can identify targets and know critical information about your enemy. It seems though that we know little about IS and as a result airstrikes will continue to be against targets as they present themselves rather than being truly focused. Prepare to be awed by videos of $60,000+ missiles being used to destroy random pickup trucks and tents while the administration insists that we have the upper hand.

Then there is the problem with arming and providing more assistance to moderate Syrian opposition groups which is part of Obamas plan. Just weeks ago Obama considered such a move as “fantasy” arguing that arming who are essentially “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” would make little difference in the fight against Assad. Well now that’s no longer the case; never mind that the moderate rebels also have to contend with fanatical IS fighters in addition to government forces. Then there is difficulty in choosing who to provide assistance as there is a history of groups we supported later turning on us. Also weapons we provide to supposedly moderate groups have a habit of falling into the hands of the enemy. Lastly there is the complexity of the situation itself in Syria; a conflict between the government, moderate opposition, and IS fanatics all of whom are backed by different actors internationally. Are we arming moderates to fight just IS or also Assad? What if IS is defeated and Assad is still in power, do we abandon the moderates or do we become militarily engaged against him as well?

Finally there is the issue of time and what will happen if IS is ultimately destroyed. Already the White House has said the campaign against IS might take three years, mind you a three year military campaign against a group the president earlier this year termed a “JV” basketball team. Now the situation might play out radically different. Sunni groups that had allied themselves with ISIS in a move that was seen by some to have been meant as a political message to the government, are now ready to fight against IS. The Iraqi military and the Kurds might successfully rally and go on a full offensive against IS. There is that chance that IS might be defeated by mid-2015, anything is possible. Regardless, if this administration is serious about defeating IS don’t say it can take three years because it looks like we aren’t serious. Furthermore how far have we planned this because I highly doubt that we will be able to just extract ourselves from this easily. Upon defeating IS we might be setting ourselves up for a military confrontation with Syria or the Kurds might push for greater independence from Baghdad; in either case we will remain heavily involved.

I want to see IS absolutely liquidated but that doesn’t mean I will support a plan that I don’t believe in. What has been proposed is a military strategy that is watered down to be politically acceptable and to reduce the footprint of U.S. involvement. Remember, Obama ended the war in Iraq and it is no doubt hurting him that we are returning to Iraq. If you engage in military conflict you do it to win, not a partial but an absolute victory; this plan speaks of an absolute victory but it doesn’t portray the realistic ways and means to achieve it. Furthermore I feel it is too open-ended and leaves us open to a military confrontation with Assad in Syria. I firmly believe IS must be dealt with though I would rather take the time now to create an effective strategy rather than rushing in with one that is so lacking.

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