Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Jan. 30 2015 12:34 PM

Jeb Bush Announces That He Met an “Excellent” Journey Cover Band

Mitt Romney announced to top donors today that he will not be running for president in 2016, leaving Jeb Bush as perhaps the most prominent moderate Republican considering a run. And, as it happens, Jeb Bush also made a huge announcement recently.



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Jan. 30 2015 11:49 AM

Ukraine Separatists Invite Texas to Participate in "Summit of Unrecognized States"

A representative of the Russia-backed Donetsk People's Republic rebel group in Ukraine has invited Texas to participate in an upcoming summit of separatist states, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. Aleksandr Kofman made the assertion in a TV appearance on a station in rebel-held Donetsk.

Kofman listed representatives from Spain's Basque region, Belgium's Flanders region, Venice, Italy, and the U.S. state of Texas as potential participants. (There was no mention of Kosovo, which has been recognized by 108 states but notably not by Russia.)
Kofman's interviewer expressed particular interest in Texas, asking if there are "sprouts of support" in the U.S. state.
"There's more than sprouts," he said, adding that those in favor of Texas independence "fully support the Donetsk People's Republic."

In what appears to be the most recent poll on the subject, 18 percent of Texan respondents told Rasmussen they believed their state should secede from the U.S.

Jan. 30 2015 11:14 AM

Mitt Romney Is Not Running for President

Republican anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is fond of saying that running for president is like getting malaria: Catch the fever just once, and it will be in your system for the rest of your life.

I guess Mitt Romney’s fever broke. The AP is reporting that the two-time former presidential candidate told top donors that he won’t launch a third presidential bid. In 2008 he lost to John McCain in the Republican primary. He won the nomination in 2012, but lost to Obama in the general, of course.


“After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee,” Romney says in a copy of remarks given to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

Romney’s decision to take a pass means we’ll miss out on the rare treat of a Romney/Huckabee Iowa smackdown. (Erstwhile Fox News host Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses in the 2008 Republican primary, and Romney took second. I was looking forward to a rematch.)

Jeb Bush, who is all but certain to run, now seems even likelier with Romney out. Bush recently snagged former Romney strategist David Kochel to be a senior strategist. The New York Times reports that Kochel will likely be his campaign manager.

Jan. 30 2015 10:49 AM

New Poll: Republicans Believe in Global Warming, Think Government Should Take Action to Fight It

A poll conducted by “the New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future” finds that 54 percent of Republicans believe global warming is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem for the United States—and that a majority of Republicans believe the government should limit greenhouse gas emissions and give tax breaks to companies that produce electricity from water, wind, and solar power.

A number of prominent Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—answer questions about climate change by saying that they are not scientists and can’t evaluate claims about it. Potential 2016 presidential candidates including Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, and Bobby Jindal have said they don’t believe global warming is real or aren’t sure how much of it is caused by humans. (Chris Christie is an exception, sort of.) The alleged uncertainty on the issue is often given as a reason to avoid action. (Rubio: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.”) But when the Times poll asked respondents to say whether various statements made them more or less likely to vote for a candidate, more Republicans favored the statement that asserted climate change was real, mainly caused by humans, and required government action than favored statements describing it as a hoax or as a messy issue with potential to cause economic damage if addressed by the government. Here are the statements:

  • “When people ask me if I believe global warming has been happening, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change, because I am not a scientist. When people ask me if I believe human activity causes global warming, I don’t know. There is significant scientific dispute about that. We can debate this forever. I am not qualified to make this decision. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”
  • “The science on global warming is a hoax and is an attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the American people. I don’t buy into the whole man-caused global warming mantra. We must spend no effort to deal with something that is not a problem at all. We should not invest in windmills and solar panels as alternative energy sources. Instead we should continue to focus on our traditional sources of energy: coal, oil and natural gas. We should expand energy production in our country, including continuing to mine our coal and doing more drilling for oil here at home.”
  • “I believe that global warming has been happening for the past 100 years, mainly because we have been burning fossil fuels and putting out greenhouse gasses. Now is the time for us to be using new forms of energy that are made in America and will be renewable forever. We can manufacture better cars that use less gasoline and build better appliances that use less electricity. We need to transform the outdated ways of generating energy into new ones that create jobs and entire industries, and stop the damage we’ve been doing to the environment.”

48 percent of Republicans said the last statement would make them more likely to vote for the candidate who gave it, compared with 37 percent for the first statement and 24 percent for the second.

Jan. 29 2015 11:43 PM

Texas Executes Mentally Disabled Man After the Supreme Court Rejects Appeal

Following unsuccessful appeals to the Supreme Court, the state of Texas executed 57-year-old Robert Ladd by lethal injection on Thursday for the murder of a woman nearly two decades ago. Ladd’s attorneys challenged the state’s use of pentobarbital in executions and whether Ladd, who was mentally impaired, was even eligible to receive the death penalty.

“Ladd came within hours of lethal injection in 2003 before a federal court agreed to hear evidence about juvenile records that suggested he was mentally impaired,” according to the Associated Press. “That appeal was denied and the Supreme Court last year turned down a review of Ladd's case.” Ladd’s attorneys cited a 1970 psychiatric evaluation of Ladd that found he had an IQ of 67—below the legal standard of an IQ of 70 the courts commonly use as a threshold for impairment.


The details of Ladd’s 1996 murder of 38-year-old Vicki Ann Garner are gruesome. Ladd committed the crime while he was on parole for the murder of a Dallas woman and her two children. Twenty-seven minutes after the lethal injection was administered, Ladd was pronounced dead at 7:02 p.m. In his final statement, Ladd told Garner’s sister, Teresa Wooten, he was “really, really sorry.” "We hate the sin he committed. We hate the deed he committed," Wooten said, accepting the apology. "But at the end of his life we no longer hated the man and have sympathy for his family."

Jan. 29 2015 9:50 PM

Rap Mogul Suge Knight Kills a Man in Fatal Hit-and-Run in Compton

Suge Knight, former CEO of Death Row Records, was involved in a fatal hit-and-run in Compton on Thursday afternoon. According to the rap mogul’s lawyer, Knight claims he was trying to escape in his car from two attackers when he hit and killed a man Knight reportedly knew. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the incident as a homicide, not a traffic incident, the Los Angeles Times reports. Knight is expected to turn himself in, his lawyer said.

Jan. 29 2015 9:43 PM

Democrats Introduce Bill to Ban Civilian Body Armor

Police militarization has become a central concern for many in the wake of the Ferguson protests. But a small group of Democratic lawmakers has decided to focus on civilian demilitarization.

Rep. Mike Honda has introduced legislation that would ban everyone owning enhanced (or Type III) body armor “except certain authorized users, such as first-responders and law enforcement,” per Honda’s press release. The legislation hasn’t gotten much media attention, and its small, partisan base of support means it’s likely dead on arrival in the House. But it has some corners of the Internet up in arms.


The bill's proponents argue that Type III body armor only exists for military purposes, and that there's no reason civilians should use it. Honda and the bill’s other supporters have expressed concerns that shooters would use body armor to protect themselves from police while committing violent crime.

But Truth and Action, a site that also devotes real estate to water fluoridation skepticism, calls it, “Yet more garbage from a communist politician who knows nothing about guns.” Alex Jones’ site Infowars is all over it too, saying “Democratic members of Congress apparently aren’t going to be satisfied until American citizens are completely and utterly defenseless.”

Some mainstream conservatives are also alarmed. Adam Bates, a criminal justice policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, says the bill “looks like a solution in search of a problem,” citing FBI data that shows only 5 percent of active shooters wear any body armor (and that data doesn’t distinguish between body armor this bill would allow and the armor it would criminalize).

“It’s certainly against the spirit of the Second Amendment, which is that people have the right to protect themselves,” he said. “This idea that people have to be preemptively unprotected in case the government needs to shoot them at some point—I think that’s basically the implication of the bill.”

Honda’s press release quotes Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley saying that the bill “will serve to combat our nation’s epidemic of gun violence.”

Jan. 29 2015 8:46 PM

Video Shows Gunman Entering Dutch National TV Studio Demanding Airtime

An armed man was able to get past security and enter Dutch national broadcaster NOS on Thursday. The 19-year-old, wearing a suit and tie, demanded to go on air after reportedly threatening a security guard with a pistol that later turned out to be fake.

“He had intended to speak to the country on the most popular evening news broadcast, but was led to an empty studio by a quick-thinking security guard,” Reuters reports. “Footage aired on Dutch TV showed the man pacing in the studio with a black pistol behind his back.” Police stormed the studio, the man surrendered, and was quickly arrested. "He took the security guard hostage and said he wanted air time. If they didn’t give it to him, he said there would be bombs in different places in the Netherlands that would explode if he didn’t get time on TV," police spokesperson Christine Scholts said.


The motive for the man's commandeering of the studio is still unknown, although he claimed to be from a “hackers’ collective,” according to local reports. NOS reported that the man is a student whose parents had recently died. Inside the empty studio, the NOS footage showed him saying: "The things that are going to be said (pause) those are very large world affairs. We were hired by the security service." The broadcaster’s office was evacuated around 8 p.m. and the evening newscast Journaal was canceled. In its place the message “One moment please” aired for more than half an hour.

Jan. 29 2015 6:07 PM

Senate Pushes Through Keystone Bill. Next Up: Obama’s Veto.

After an unexpected delay earlier this week, Senate Republicans finally scored their first legislative victory of the year on Thursday. The upper chamber voted, 62-36, to fast-track construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nine Democrats crossed the aisle to help push the GOP-authored bill across the finish line.

President Obama has promised to veto the bill. Before that happens, though, there is still one more procedural step that needs to happen. Because the Senate modified the version the House approved earlier this month, the lower chamber will either need to vote on it again or opt to hammer out the details in conference before having both chambers give their final stamp of approval. Neither option, however, will prevent the legislation from reaching the president's desk.


The Democrats who broke ranks to vote in favor of the polarizing pipeline were: Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

As I explained earlier this week, during the Senate floor debate things went from bad to worse to downright miserable for anyone who believes in the reality of man-made climate change. Democrats may have been able to score a few political points along the way, but those were hollow victories given the larger message Republicans sent to the world at large, which was: The U.S. Senate does not believe that humans contribute to climate change.

Given Obama’s looming veto, the political posturing on the floor—not unlike the bill itself—was largely symbolic. But messages matter in this fight more than most, particularly ahead of this year’s U.N. climate conference in Paris, where the president will have to convince the rest of the world that the United States is serious about combating global warming. 

Jan. 29 2015 6:01 PM

Dartmouth Announces Campus Ban on Hard Liquor

Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon announced on Thursday a campus ban on hard liquor and a number of other measures designed to stabilize the social atmosphere of the school, which revolves heavily around alcohol-fueled parties at fraternities and sororities. The school's decision comes after a series of embarrassing incidents involving drunken students, a federal investigation into its handling of sexual assault, and a confessional article written by a Dartmouth fraternity brother in the school newspaper that turned into a book deal.

Hanlon's plan, which he intends to implement when the spring term starts on March 30, was rolled out in an interview with campus newspaper the Dartmouth and a speech to students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Both possession and consumption of hard alcohol with a proof of 30 or higher will be prohibited at events organized by student organizations or the College. Individual students, including those over the legal drinking age, will also have to adhere to this policy. [...]
The College will hire additional Safety and Security officers, train residential life staff to enforce the new policy and require undergraduate advisers to complete inspection rounds of residence halls on “likely drinking nights” — Wednesday through Saturday, according to the proposal.

In addition to the liquor ban, Hanlon is making changes to the campus itself to reduce instances of sexual assault and alcohol poisoning, and to help students build social connections outside of the Greek system, which roughly two-thirds of Dartmouth undergrads join.

Beginning with the Class of 2019, first-year students will be assigned to one of six communities consisting of a cluster of residence halls that organize social and academic events... Students will remain members of their assigned community throughout their Dartmouth career, including during terms when a student chooses to live in off-campus, Greek or affinity housing. A faculty advisor and a graduate student advisor will live in each community.

Dartmouth's isolated location in small-town New Hampshire makes its campus the center of social activity for many students, and a ban on hard liquor could significantly alter the undergraduate experience. If the ban is actually enforced, Hanlon's tenure as president, now in its second year, might prove a formative time for one of America's oldest institutions.