Prez Leaves Door Open for Air Strikes in Iraq

President Obama announced that he will send up to 300 advisers/trainers to Iraq to help the government in its struggle against ISIS militants.

We will also have continued surveillance and intelligence gathering.  The President did not announce any air strikes at this point, but left the door open for such strikes in the future.

He said that he would continue to consult with Congress, but did not say that he would seek authorization if he decides to do air strikes.

He reiterated the need for the Iraqis to unite and form a more inclusive government, saying that the solution ultimately must be political, not military.

Prez Slow Walks Iraq

Not that I blame him, but President Obama definitely is slow walking if/how we will get involved in Iraq again.

As ISIS takes the fight to Baquba, just forty-five minutes from Baghdad, Obama is planning to meet with Congressional leaders (Boehner, Pelosi, Reid, McConnell) tomorrow afternoon.  So not exactly urgent…

Aside from protecting our embassy personnel, the Prez really doesn’t seem eager to join the fray.

Your New Majority Leader

Ok, so Eric Cantor says he will stop being Majority Leader on July 31.  Who replaces him?

Technically next in line is the #3 in the House, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.  Cantor says he’s supports him, which may or may not be a good thing for McCarthy.

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, a Boehner loyalist, says he’s running.  And the Tea Party is lining up behind another Texan — Jeb Hensarling.

Not THAT Princeton

When I heard that David Brat got a Masters in Divinity from Princeton, I thought of the Ivy League school — you know, the Princeton of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Woodrow Wilson, Tigers, orange and black.

But then I thought, wait, Princeton has a divinity school?

Actually, they don’t.  David Brat went to Princeton Theological Seminary, which has nothing to do with Princeton University except that they are in the same town of Princeton, New Jersey.

This Brat guy is going to be a lot of fun.

Not Ready for Early Morning

So soon-to-be Virginia Congressman David Brat went on Chuck Todd’s show this morning.  It didn’t go well…

Asked “should there be a minimum wage in your opinion,” Brat replied, “I don’t have a well-crafted response on that one.”

Turning to foreign affairs, Todd asked if we should arm Syrian rebels.  Brat had no clue, whining, “Hey, Chuck, I thought we were just going to chat today about the celebratory aspects.”

Since the media describe Brat as an “economics professor,” you may wonder why he can’t answer a question on the minimum wage.  Actually, he teaches Ayn Rand.  So he’s a fiction professor.

Arrogance, Not Immigration

As we write Eric Cantor’s political obituary, the cause of death should be arrogance, not immigration.

When I heard Cantor was out,  I immediately thought of Scott Brown defeating Martha Coakley for Senate in Massachusetts.  Coakley ran a lazy campaign, taking victory for granted in the deep blue state.  She famously asked if she should have stood in the cold, shaking hands at Fenway Park.  Um, yes, Martha, that is exactly what you should have done.  Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, voters don’t respond well to being ignored.  Come election day, they will boil your bunny, metaphorically speaking.

Cantor spent too much time being majority leader and too little being congressman from the seventh district of Virginia.  Now he will be neither.

Yes, David Brat got a boost from right-wing radio hosts like Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, but they also regularly tout candidates who flop.

Yes, Brat got a boost for running on an anti-immigration platform at a time when right-wing media are focused on the flood of unaccompanied young people coming across the border and overwhelming authorities.  But down in South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey “Butters” Graham, who supports immigration reform, won without even having to face a runoff because he took his primary seriously and protected himself in every way he could think of.  By contrast, Cantor brushed Brat off like an annoying mosquito.

Butters will be back next year because he ran full of fear, Cantor won’t be back because he ran full of himself.

Asking Forgiveness, Not Permission

The White House sadly has gotten to DiFi.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had been very critical of the Bergdahl-Taliban Five trade, especially the failure to notify Congress.

Today she backed off:

“I think we need to put an end to all of this now. I think enough is enough. I think the Senate has had a hearing and the House has had a hearing. Everybody has heard what they need to hear.”

When the trade was under consideration in the past and Congress was in the loop, Feinstein strongly opposed letting those five Gitmo prisoners go free, as did others of both parties.  I think it’s become clear that the lack of notification wasn’t a fear that Bergdahl would die from health issues or be killed by his captors, but a fear that Congressional leaders, having opposed this trade in the past, would oppose it now.  The Administration decided it was better to ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Obama Can End the “Carried Interest” Loophole Without Congress

Wow, you really do learn something new every day.

I really, really hate the “carried interest” loophole that lets the ordinary income of hedge fund and private equity guys get taxed at the lower rate for capital gains.  Right now the top rate for ordinary income is 39%, and only 20% for capital gains, so we’re talking real money.  The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than $24 billion in 2013.

I always thought that Congress gaveth that loophole and Congress would have to taketh it away.

But nooooo!  As David Lebedoff writes at Slate*, the IRS issued a ruling in 1993, before hedge funds existed, that was intended to apply to real estate investments.   Congress never voted on it.  When hedge funds arrived on the scene, the IRS applied this ruling to them.  But President Obama could — right now, today, before his bedtime in Europe! — tell the IRS to stop doing that.

Looking for a real IRS scandal?  This is it.

* “Why Doesn’t Obama End the Hedge Fund Tax Break?”

After Snowden, We Get Snow Job

The House passed the USA FREEDOM Act today, which is supposed to fix the PATRIOT Act and rein in the NSA, but falls far short of what we need to get our rights back.  The vote was 303-121, with 179 Republicans and 124 Democrats in favor.  The bill now goes to the Senate, but I doubt it will get fixed enough to keep this from being a huge wasted opportunity to restore our privacy.

Here’s James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), the chief sponsor of the bill:  “Let me be clear:  I wish this bill did more.  To my colleagues who lament the changes, I agree with you.  The privacy groups who are upset about lost provisions, I share your disappointment.”

Here’s Zoe Logren (D-California), who supported the bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee, but voted against the final bill:  “This is not the bill that was voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously.  Regrettably, we have learned that if we leave any ambiguity in the law [on bulk data collection], the intelligence agency will run a truck through that ambiguity.”

Companies like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Facebook had supported the original bill, but did not support the final version, believing that it contains a loophole for government surveillance of our Internet data.

The bill also dropped the provision creating an independent public advocate at the FISA court.  It removed provisions about public reports from the government about its targeting activity and FISA court requests.

The bill requires phone companies to keep records for 18 months, with the NSA having to get a court order to access those records.