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Is Jill Stein Right To Oppose Any Authorization Of Force Against The Islamic State?

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein urges Americans to oppose Barack Obama’s request for congressional authorization of military force against the Islamic State. Stein writes, “Don’t let America get dragged into another war for oil in the Middle East. These reckless and destructive wars have done nothing but create tremendous blowback against the U.S. around the world. It’s time to discard the failed foreign policy of endless war, and break the cycle of violence through diplomacy, international law and human rights.”

“Stop the wars,” Stein says. I agree with her that stopping war is an important goal. I am given pause, however, when I look at Barack Obama’s actual request for authorization of military force.

What I see in Obama’s request for authorization is a reduction in the ability of the United States to wage war, compared to the powers that President Obama currently claims (although these claims are an implausible stretch). First, the request for authorization would repeal the authorization for war in Iraq, upon which Obama bases his current military actions against the Islamic State. Second, the request sunsets the authorization of force against the Islamic State in three years, whereas the current authorization of force against Iraq is open-ended. Third, the request limits the use of force to the Islamic State, its current allies on the battlefield, and to any “closely-related successor entity” which is actually engaged in hostilities against the United States.

The authorization of force that Barack Obama is requesting does not end war. However, it would offer a significant restriction of the ability of the President of the United States to wage war. This restriction, under the guise of a new military effort, seems to be the closest that the current Republican-controlled Congress would ever come to curtailing the President’s military powers. Given that, in two years, we will have a new President, who might be yet another Bush, limitation of war powers now seems especially important.

Jill Stein would have us miss this opportunity to lessen the war making of United States, because it is not a complete elimination of authorization for war. While I understand her motivation, I question her sense of political tactics. Sometimes, heading straight for a target is the surest way to ensure that one never reaches it.

Renamed “Level the Playing Field,” Americans Elect outlines Presidential Plans for 2016: Debates

Americans Elect has returned in a new guise.  The corporation that started as Unity08, sought to direct its own privatized presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012, and failed in those bids due to a lack of public support is now regathering its staff and reintroducing itself as the Level the Playing Field Foundation under the sole funding of Wall Street tycoon Peter Ackerman.

The Americans Elect plan for 2016 is new, but follows a consistent trend of altering the odds through policy change.  When as Unity08 it failed to get its “grassroots” presidential nomination off the ground in 2008 because it was forbidden from taking secret contributions of unlimited size, the corporation sued the FEC to change the rules and ultimately won the right to take secret large money contributions in the next round of presidential elections, renamed Americans Elect.  But as Americans Elect found out, secret large money wasn’t enough to get a presidential nomination off the ground in the 2012 election.  Americans Elect portrayed itself as a “grassroots” “movement” and wrote its own rules to require that actual Americans vote in its privatized presidential nomination system.  Fewer than 5,000 Americans actually participated in the Americans Elect nomination, however, which triggered an automatic failure of Americans Elect’s own presidential nominating rules.  The changes Americans Elect seeks, in a petition to the Federal Election Commission under the name of “Level the Playing Field,” is an attempt to fix that problem, too.

The story Americans Elect has been telling itself (and its funders) is that it would have been more popular and successful if only it had been willing to convince the just the right candidate to accept an Americans Elect nomination.  It turns out, you see, that while Americans Elect had been telling everyone that it had no favorite candidates, it had been actually been courting a certain set of potential candidates and begging them to get into the race under the Americans Elect banner.  Americans Elect corporate team members Cara McCormick and Darry Sragow explained these recruitment activities in a 2012 post-mortem document to Americans Elect financial supporters:

“Beginning in the late summer of 2011, through the end of April 2012, Americans Elect conducted confidential briefings with more than 150 individuals to lay out in detail the groundbreaking opportunity for a great American to run for the presidency independent of the nominating process of the two major parties. This stellar group of individuals included present and former members of Congress, U.S. senators, high-ranking members of the military, and CEOs of major corporations.

“…The candidate briefings enabled leaders across the country to seriously consider the opportunity to make a presidential bid that would forever change our political landscape. Briefings were held across the country and were attended by multiple members of the Americans Elect senior leadership. AE’s Board of Directors and Board of Advisors participated heavily in finding and briefing potential candidates.

“…Through its ballot access efforts, Americans Elect removed the most prominent barrier to running for the presidency outside of the two-party system. Still, candidates had additional barriers to entry…. Many were very concerned about having the money or organizations to compete in the general election against the Democratic and Republican billion-dollar machines.”

The report goes on to explain that not enough high-quality candidates were attracted to the ticket.  If we accept that logic, the solution for the next cycle would be to make participation more attractive.

What if Americans Elect could guarantee the winner of its privatized nomination a spot in the presidential debates?

That’s the idea that Americans Elect’s successor organization, Level the Playing Field, has proposed to the Federal Election Commission in an official petition filed with the FEC.  Read pages 29-30 of the 281 page petition to find the Americans Elect/LPF proposal:

“Petitioners have devised one such alternative. The new rule would work as follows: On April 30 of an election year, any candidate, party, or nominating process with ballot access in states that collectively have at least 270 Electoral College votes would notify the CPD of that access. If there is more than one, then whoever has gathered the most signatures as part of the ballot access process will participate in the debates with the Democratic and Republican nominees.

“This new rule builds on the existing legitimating function of the ballot access process. Ballot access laws reflect a state’s decision of the demonstrated level of support necessary to warrant the serious step of including a candidate among the choices citizens are given on Election Day. The minimum number of signatures necessary to achieve ballot access in states comprising 270 electoral votes represents the collective and objective political judgment of who can qualify to run for President. Achieving that number alone is a significant mark of a candidate’s seriousness. Indeed, since 1988, the greatest number of third-party or independent candidates to meet this minimum in any given election was five (in 2000), and was often three or less.

“Of course, given the historic prize of entry into the debates, the competition to gain the most signatures will be vigorous and propel competitors well beyond the minimum. As a result, a legitimate third candidate will emerge. The winner should plan to stop 6 to 8 million people in the streets with the hope of 4 million signing. The cost and scale of that endeavor – requiring at least $13 million or more and a coordinated, nationwide network of staffers and volunteers – would not be insurmountable, but is substantial enough to ensure that only someone with significant fundraising and operational capacity could win.  And by virtue of having gotten the signatures of a broad cross section of Americans, the winner will have demonstrated popular appeal.”

This is the new Americans Elect plan for 2016.  What do you think of it?

For Immediate Release, Check Out Jim Rundberg For President

Are you looking for some immediate release? If so, Jim Rundberg has got just the thing for you.

He’s running for the Republican nomination for Governor of Colorado. “I am going to be the next Governor of Colorado! We are making our future the way we want it to be!”

jim rundberg for presidentNo, hold on a second, that’s just what his Twitter profile says. Actually, Jim Rundberg is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Rundberg still owes tens of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to file campaign finance reports from his Colorado campaign for governor last year, actually. He only ever raised $327 to support his campaign. Rundberg now lives in Puerto Rico.

“Truly,” says Rundberg, “we Americans are the sum of the whole.” Well, some Americans are part of the sum of the whole, anyway.

Women don’t count. They’re not part of the “American heritage” that Rundberg talks about, when he explains that our heritage is “the way we work to provide for our wives”.

Could lesbians be part of Rundberg’s American heritage, apparently, so long as they’re married in one of the states that provides for marriage equality? Sadly no. “God does not accept homosexual behavior, and he does not authorize any homosexual relationship. Neither do I,” says Rundberg. So, gays and lesbians are not part of the sum of the whole of America either, it seems.

Non-Christians don’t count, either. American heritage, says Rundberg, “is the faith in God which we hold”. Don’t have faith in gods? Then Rundberg’s presidential campaign isn’t for you.

Other than that, it is with a humble tone that Rundberg begins his presidential campaign, explaining that he is campaigning in accordance with “the will of Almighty God”. This tone of personal humility is in line with his policy platform, which includes the geographical expansion of the United States. “We must realize the need is not for making stronger our current borders,” he writes. “The need is to expand our borders that they may encompass any who wish it, so that they too may enjoy the blessings of liberty and know what it is to be American. As President, I will not ask other countries to be like us. I will invite them to become America with us.”

Where, though, has there been a model for a nation inviting other nations to be absorbed? Oh, I know – how about Russia? If Jim Rundberg is elected President, he could call Vladimir Putin for advice about how to incorporate neighbors who ask to be annexed.

Have you felt that immediate release yet?

Roll Call: The House Democrats Who Voted For The XL Keystone Pipeline

The XL Keystone pipeline, if built, will provide few jobs, but will create much risk. The pipeline is designed to send thick crude oil, derived from Alberta tar sands, all the way across the middle of the United States down to Texas, where it will be refined, and then sent to be sold overseas. The construction of the XL Keystone pipeline will result in a great profits for the oil industry, and tremendous pollution that the rest of us will be forced to deal with. Not only will our skies will become thicker with toxins when the oil is burned, but the pace of climate change will also be increased, as the burning oil sends huge plumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Oil pipelines often leak, sending black, viscous sludge into streams and rivers.

democrats for big oil

In spite of the high risk and low benefit to the American people from the XL Keystone pipeline, the House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill approving the pipeline yesterday, circumventing the normal approval process. The bill was written by Republicans, but it wasn’t just Republicans who voted for this anti-environment legislation.

29 Democrats joined the Republican Party to vote for the pipeline. Their names are:

Brad Ashford, Sanford Bishop, Robert Brady, Cheri Bustos, James Clyburn, Jim Cooper, Jim Costa, Henry Cuellar, Mike Doyle, Gwen Graham, Al Green, Gene Green, Ruben Hinojosa, Sheila Jackson Lee, Dan Lipinski, David Loebsack, Sean Maloney, Patrick Murphy, Richard Nolan, Donald Norcross, Collin Peterson, Cedric Richmond, Kurt Schrader, David Scott, Terri Sewell, Albio Sires, Marc Veasey, Filemon Vela, and Tim Walz.

Americans Elect returns as the Level the Playing Field Foundation (and Mystery Follows)

A tip of the pen to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, who broke the leading edge of this story:

Americans Elect is back.

The Wall Street-funded corporation that sought to run its own privatized candidate in the 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections has changed its name to the “Level the Playing Field Foundation” for a new election cycle, just as “Americans Elect” was a renaming of the old “Unity08.” Unlike Unity08, which obscured its connection to Americans Elect, the Level the Playing Field Foundation openly declares itself “the successor of Americans Elect.” The “Level the Playing Field Foundation” retains the core elements held by both Americans Elect and Unity08.  Like its two nominal predecessors, the Level the Playing Field Foundation is led by the wealthy private capital investor Peter Ackerman and headquartered at Ackerman’s longtime personal offices situated a block from the White House at 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. A screen capture from the Level the Playing Field Foundation reveals the organization’s address:

DC Corporation Search for Level the Playing Foundation Results

And a search of IRS listings reveals the official status of the Level the Playing Field Foundation: it is a Section 527 registered political organization (EIN 47-1788821).

What are the Level the Playing Field Foundation’s goals?  I’ll consider the answer to that important substantive question, embedded in a long petition to the Federal Election Commission, tomorrow.  For today, let’s look at the structural makeup of the group.  The declared officers of the Level the Playing Field Foundation are listed in the group’s initial filing with the IRS in September 2014:

Offices of the Level the Playing Field Foundation

Cara McCormick, Kahlil Byrd, Peter Ackerman and Joshua Levine are all still listed on the old Americans Elect web page as part of Americans Elect’s leadership, indicating significant continuity.  More Americans Elect leaders involved in the activities of the new Level the Playing Field Foundation include Ileana Wachtel, Larry Diamond, David King, Douglas Schoen, and Michael Arno.

The Level the Playing Field Foundation’s year-end report shows that Peter Ackerman not only provides the physical home for the Level the Playing Field Foundation, but is the sole funder of the group, contributing $778,621 through the end of 2014.

One of the most mysterious aspects of the Level the Playing Field Foundation’s political activities is its payment of $55,000 on September 8, 2014 — its first day of existence — to “IMAGINARY FRIEND” for website design and development.

Level the Playing Field Foundation pays $55,000 to Imaginary Friend for Website Design and Development

Another mysterious payment is listed as a “Charitable Contribution” to a group called “The Chamberlain Project,” the address of which is a post office box in South Portland, Maine.

What is a 527 Political Corporation doing making a $50,000 donation to a charitable organization run by its Secretary?

What is a Section 527 political corporation doing making payments to a charity named “The Chamberlain Project?”  I don’t know. A specific search of charitable organizations in Maine containing the word “Chamberlain” turned up no registered “Chamberlain Project” or any other “Chamberlain”-related entity in South Portland.  Web searches for a charity known as “The Chamberlain Project” in South Portland turned up empty, except for this entry in a whois search for a blank website called smartcampaigns.info:

What is the Chamberlain Project in South Portland, Maine?

Cara McCormick, as you’ll recall from above, is the Secretary of the Level the Playing Field Foundation and a Board of Advisors member of Americans Elect.

These are just tidbits of information; we can expect more in the months to come.  Where the Level the Playing Foundation is headed next is unclear, but wherever Americans Elect’s successor heads, drama seems sure to follow.

PostScript: Why care about the little things, like imaginary friends and mystery charitable contributions? Because this is a corporation that tried twice to elect its own President of the United States. Because it looks like they’re getting ready to try again.

Alan Errol Spears Declares Presidential Campaign With American Independent Party

This week, San Diego lawyer Alan Errol Spears declared his intention to seek the presidential nomination of the American Independent Party. His campaign’s fundraising arm is formally titled the Committee To Restore America’s Greatness, but it’s not at all clear yet what Alan Errol Spears believes America’s past greatness was, what led it to become diminished, or how he intends to restore it.

american independent partyI’m curious about the Spears for President campaign, though, because there’s no obvious signs of imbalance in his application to the FEC (a quality most of those who submit papers to the FEC are unable to muster), and because of his choice to align with the American Independent Party.

The American Independent Party claims to be the fastest growing political party in the United States, but that’s not a difficult achievement for the AIP, given its tiny size. The party was founded in 1967, and served as a platform for George Wallace, the nasty Southern politician who gained prominence for refusing to accept that African-Americans have a right to equality under the law.

Whether or not the AIP is actually growing quickly, it seems to be limping along organizationally. The party hasn’t even managed to update its platform in five years.

What is on the platform of the American Independent Party is quite disturbing. The AIP claims that we all have a duty to worship God, and that our nation is built upon this principle. In fact, the Constitution makes it clear that the government has no business imposing a duty of religion worship on anyone. It forbids the government from imposing religious tests for employment, and prohibits Congress from establishing religion. The AIP ignores this, declaring that, “All governments are under God whether they like it or not!”

The religion of the American Independent Party isn’t just some general faith that all Christians can agree upon. Instead, The American Independent Party is also explicitly anti-environment in its religious platform, regarding natural ecosystems as nothing more than garbage. “God gave Man this earth to make of it a well-tended Garden — not to leave it an uninhabited wilderness,” the AIP writes.

The AIP also uses the cloak of religion to advocate for the beating of children by their parents, and the denial of legal equality to heterosexual and homosexual married couples.

The American Independent Party has served as a means for the advancement of cruel, regressive politicians in the past. Will it do so again in the presidential election of 2016?

Ethan Czahor Exemplifies Republican Problem With Bigotry

When I described the man Jeb Bush hired to run the online strategy for his presidential campaign as “outdated” a couple of days ago, I had no idea. It turns out that Ethan Czahor was too slow in deleting tweets in which he repeatedly referred to women as “sluts” and his described his fears that other men at his gym might be gay. Czahor also tweeted about “non-white places”, wrote that “black parents need to get their sh@# together”, and warned that he wasn’t a “white liberal who feels guilty for being white”.

These bigoted ideas aren’t isolated. They come in the context of frequent bigotry from Republican leaders.

There’s Steve Scalise, of course, who sought the support of NeoNazis, attended and gave a a white supremacist conference, met several times with KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, and is now insisting that Democrats help Republicans evict massive numbers of Hispanic children from the United States. Congressional Republicans, when they found out what a nasty racist Steve Scalise is, didn’t punish him. They rewarded him for it by giving him the prestigious position of House Whip.

There’s also the aide to Republican Aaron Schock who compared African-Americans to animals at the zoo. There’s the member of the Republican National Committee who called gays “filthy”, suggested that Muslims-Americans have never contributed to society, and called a white supremacist article that declared African-Americans incapable of logical reasoning “very interesting”.

Barack Obama has been consistently mocked by Republicans for his African ancestry, by the rank and file as well as by political leaders such as the Republican member of the Nebraska state board of education who called Obama a “half breed”.

Civil Rights leaders want to meet with congressional Republicans to address the bigotry that is rampant throughout the Republican Party, but no meeting will cure the underlying hatred. It’s up to voters to reject the GOP politicians who embody bigotry in their law-making, their speech, and their political associations.

In the Last 5 Years, the U.S. Minimum Wage Dropped 75 cents an hour

Over the last five years, the real U.S. minimum wage has dropped 75 cents an hour.  This is true even though nominally speaking, from 2009 to 2014 the U.S. minimum wage has remained at $7.25.

The above paragraph may seem paradoxical, but it isn’t.  The two statements are resolved by noting the difference between “real wages” and “nominal wages.”  “Nominal” is a word that refers to the name we use for some object, and so a “nominal dollar” is the literal numerical worth of a one dollar bill. Literally speaking, 1 dollar was 1 dollar in 2009 and 1 dollar is 1 dollar today, because that’s what it says on the bill. But “real dollars” adjust for inflation — the tendency of currency to be worth less as time passes. Tracked by the Consumer Price Index, inflation means that what a $1 dollar bought in February 1977 would take $4 to buy now.  $7.25 in wages in 2009 would have bought the same amount of goods (food, housing, clothing and so on) that in 2014 would have taken $8.00 to buy today.  But in 2014, the minimum wage hasn’t risen from $7.25 to $8.00 to keep pace with the cost of living.  In real terms, the minimum wage has fallen behind.  In terms of the real value given by employers to people for their work, the minimum wage has dropped by 75 cents in the last five years.

That’s just in the last five years, mind you.  Let’s use CPI data to look farther back:

Chart of Real and Nominal Minimum Wages, 1968 to 2014

Over the past 46 years, the U.S. minimum wage has fallen by $3.63 an hour.  American minimum-wage workers are being paid a third less for their labor than they were half a century ago.

Thanks to InflationData.com, we can compare the erosion in pay for workers to the accumulation of wealth by corporations.  Over the same period that minimum-wage workers lost a third of their real hourly wage, the real value of corporations on the New York Stock Exchange has nearly tripled:

Inflation-Adjusted Stock Price of the New York Stock Exchange Index, 1966-2015


Real corporate wealth up nearly three times.  Real minimum wages for workers down by a third.  This is the continuing story of the American economy you just won’t catch on FoxNews.


Richard Shelby Introduces Constitutional Amendment To Encourage State Of Perpetual War

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, proposed a new amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The constitutional amendment introduced through S.J. Res. 9 would allow the U.S. Congress to pass a budget with deficit spending only if the United States is at war.

The amendment is being promoted as a tool to ensure balanced budgets. Its more likely impact, however, would be to encourage the United States of America to enter a state of constant war, so as to enable deficit spending to continue.

richard shelby amendment

GOP White Supremacist In Congress Tells Democrats To Hurry Up And Kick Hispanic Kids Out Of The USA

steve scalise nazi agendaWhen it was revealed that Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise gained his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by seeking the political support of NeoNazis, attended and spoke before a conference of white supremacists, and repeatedly met with David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, Republican congressional leadership told America that it was no big deal. Just because he hangs out with racists, and solicits the support of racists, doesn’t mean that Scalise is a racist, they said. Don’t worry, they said. Nothing bad will happen when we make Steve Scalise the third most powerful leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That’s what they said. Today, we see this headline from the right wing extremist site Breitbart News: HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP SCALISE TO SENATE: DO YOUR JOB, PASS DHS FUNDING BILL BLOCKING OBAMA AMNESTY “As House Republicans, we did our job – we kept our promise to the American people that we would take action,” the article quotes Scalise as saying, as he calls upon Democrats in the Senate to finish the job.

Just what is this “job” that Steve Scalise keeps talking about?

The legislation that Steve Scalise demands the Democrats allow to move forward would result in federal agents going across America, hunting down Hispanics that Steve Scalise and his racist allies find undesirable, breaking up families, and sending children out of the country. Scalise calls these people he wants to target “illegal”.

A government that hunts down children who are designated illegal because of their place of origin… doesn’t that sound like the white supremacist agenda of David Duke and the KKK?

GOP leadership told us not to worry, but right now, before our eyes, Steve Scalise is promoting a NeoNazi vision for America.

Equivalence? Limerick Open Thread

If burning a man in a cage
Is condemnable terrorist rage
How can we condone
A blast from a drone?
Both are signs of a more savage age

Share your thoughts on the age that’s before us
Strike your keyboard and join in the chorus
Use the limerick form
In rhetorical storm
The poetic form never will bore us