Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Jan. 31 2015 12:36 PM

Regulators Recall 2.1 Million Vehicles for Air Bag Problems

It’s the air bags again. Federal regulators said on Saturday that around 2.12 million vehicles have been recalled to fix a problem that could make air bags deploy while driving. “The new recalls cover 2.12 million Acura MDX, Dodge Viper, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Honda Odyssey, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix and Toyota Avalon models made in the early 2000s,” details the  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Toyota, Fiat and Honda had already recalled some of the vehicles. But “a small number of vehicles” that had already been recalled experienced this problem with the airbags so they must be recalled again. “The latest recall highlights the difficulty automakers and regulators have with increasingly complex electronic systems,” notes Reuters.  In addition, around one million Toyota and Honda cars are also subject to a separate recall because the air bags could deploy with such force that they could cause injury or death.

“This is unfortunately a complicated issue for consumers, who may have to return to their dealer more than once,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “But this is an urgent safety issue, and all consumers with vehicles covered by the previous recalls should have that remedy installed.”


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Jan. 31 2015 12:30 PM

CIA Worked Closely With Mossad to Assassinate Senior Hezbollah Figure

The CIA and Mossad worked together to plant a bomb in the spare tire of an SUV that killed Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international operations chief, in 2008. CIA officers looked on as Mughniyah left a restaurant and approached the parked SUV that contained the bomb. He was killed instantly. Even though it was Mossad that pulled the trigger, officers in Israel were constantly in contact with the CIA operatives who could call off the assassination at any point, reveals the Washington Post. Beyond that, the CIA helped build the bomb and repeatedly tested it to make sure it would work properly.  

Even though the Israeli involvement in Mughniyah’s death was already widely known, the Post scoop provides a rare glimpse into the close cooperation between the CIA and the Mossad. And also raises legal questions—particularly in the use of a car bomb. “It is a killing method used by terrorists and gangsters,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame. “It violates one of the oldest battlefield rules.” Although there was little debate in the administration about the use of a car bomb, getting authorization for the killing required a “rigorous and tedious” process in which officials had to show “he was a continuing threat to Americans,” says one of the Post’s sources.

Jan. 30 2015 5:56 PM

Lindsey Graham Creates 2016 Exploratory Committee, Pledges to Keep America Out of Ditch

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced on Thursday that he has created an exploratory committee to study a possible run for the presidency in 2016. Capitol Hill reporters got a preview of a potential Graham candidacy when the senator described himself as a centrist lawmaker who would get America "out of the left ditch" without putting it "in the right ditch." 

Politico reports that Graham stressed his work with Democrats, his votes in favor of Barack Obama's judicial nominees, and his ability to appeal to groups that do not traditionally vote Republican during the announcement.

"We have a demographic problem,” Graham said. “And I represent a form of conservatism that is acceptable to the reddest of red states." [...]
"How could a guy win in South Carolina by 41 points who voted for Sotomayor, Kagan, embraces [the notion that] climate change is real and immigration reform is necessary?" said Graham, who noted that he is "inclined to support" Obama's attorney general pick, Loretta Lynch. "My party is center right... I am conservative by any rational definition. Working with the other side when it makes sense is not inconsistent with being conservative. I will never concede to anyone that conservatism requires a hands-off approach to solving problems."
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Graham said his next steps are to talk to Republican campaign donors and take polls to test if he has a viable path to the presidency.

At least one of his Senate colleagues is decidedly Team Lindsey: John McCain (R-AZ) has recently made remarks that seem designed to nudge Graham toward a run. From CNN:

"My illegitimate son Lindsey Graham is exploring that option," the two-time presidential candidate said, prompting laughter from reporters during a press conference in the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
"So I am strongly encouraging Sen. Lindsey Graham, particularly with the world the way it is today. No one understands the world today in the way that Lindsey Graham does, in my view."

Politico reports that Graham's exploratory committee, called "Security Through Strength," is headed by George W. Bush's former ambassador to Canada and that Graham plans to make a decision about a potential run by April. The GOP's 2016 primary field might have suffered the loss of Mitt Romney this week, but it has gained one patriotically-named exploratory committee.

Jan. 30 2015 5:38 PM

Cuba Wants Gitmo Back

Cuban President Raul Castro demanded in a speech this week that the U.S. remove the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay before diplomatic relations between the two countries are normalized. The White House has dismissed the idea, saying in a statement that President Obama "does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down... but not the naval base"

This is the only politically prudent course of action for the White House to take here. Given that Congress is already threatening to derail both the long-delayed efforts to close down the detention center and the diplomatic opening to Cuba, upping the ante by agreeing to a Cuban demand to shutter the entire base seems like a non-starter. Obama has already gone farther and faster than most expected to bring an end to the half-century old conflict between the two countries. He shouldn’t have to  accede to new Cuban demands at this point.

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Still, separate from the demand, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the U.S. to take stock of why it continues to control 45-square-miles of Cuban territory and whether it should. The U.S. has controlled Guantanamo, its oldest overseas military base, since 1903 thanks to a lease signed in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. In an example of what historian Paul Kramer calls “gunboat tenancy,” the U.S. congress effectively made the American military’s access to the site a condition of troops being pulled out of Cuba, and the lease had no cut-off date. The original rent of $2,000 per year in gold was raised to $4,000 in 1934. The U.S. continues to pay the rent every year, though the Castro regime has made a point of never cashing the checks. The base has been completely isolated from Cuba since 1964, when Castro cut off electricity and water to the base.

Guantanamo was a major shipping hub during World War II and was considered strategically vital during the Cold War. Today, it’s a logistical hub for the Navy’s fourth fleet and is used for training and as a staging ground for counter-narcotics efforts and humanitarian relief missions. It hosted refugees fleeing neighboring Haiti after the 1991 coup and the 2010 earthquake. But, since 2002, it’s been best known for the controversial detention center.

Given that the Caribbean is not exactly at the top of the U.S. security agenda these days, it doesn’t seem worth it for the U.S. to hold on to a controversial vestige of a not-particularly appealing era of American history. After all, the U.S. gave back the Panama Canal and scaled back its military presence elsewhere in the region. Why not Guantanamo?  

“Whatever Guantanamo's minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently—with the stain of the prisons, the base's imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government—outweigh the benefits,” wrote Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2009. Harvard historian Jonathan Hansen, author of Guantanamo: An American History, argued in 2012 that the base “has served to remind the world of America’s long history of interventionist militarism. Few gestures would have as salutary an effect on the stultifying impasse in American-Cuban relations as handing over this coveted piece of land.” And retired Admiral James Stavridis, former head of the U.S. Southern Command, which includes Guantanamo, says the U.S. should hold on to the base but that it should be “internationalized”—converted into a hub where countries throughout the region could cooperate on humanitarian relief efforts and counter-narcotics programs.

The time might not be right for the U.S. to hand over Guantanamo. If anything, the administration should first concentrate on its long overdue effort to close the detention center. But that doesn’t mean nothing else should change. The U.S. and Cuban militaries already hold regular—and from all accounts cordial—meetings at the base fence. Those military contacts could be increased. Cubans also haven’t been employed at the base and U.S. service-members haven’t been able to venture outside the perimeter since the 1960s. That’s another area for improvement. The yearly $4,000 payments are a frankly insulting reminder of an agreement Cuba signed under duress more than a century ago. At some point, more equitable terms could be negotiated.

“You need me on that wall,” goes the famous speech delivered by Jack Nicholson’s fictional Gitmo commander in A Few Good Men. For a century, few have questioned the necessity of maintaining a base on enemy territory, despite the ugly circumstances of its founding. But if the long conflict between the U.S. and Cuba does come to an end, the wall should eventually come down. 

Jan. 30 2015 5:19 PM

Former Presidential Losers Almost Never Run Again, but Nobody Told the Media That

So keyed up were news mavens for the possibility that Mitt Romney would run again for president that two media organizations, Bloomberg and the Daily Beast, initially misreported that the former Massachusetts Governor would be running. Romney then rather blandly announced to donors that he felt that he was not the right person for the job, triggering headlines about how someone who had never been running for president in 2016 was not, in fact, running for president in 2016.

We should have known—based on a lot of recent history, Mitt was almost certainly not running. As many have noted, the only person since the 1800s to win the presidency after losing a general election as his party's candidate was Richard Nixon in 1968. The last candidate to even attempt to reclaim his party’s nomination after a general-election loss was Hubert Humphrey, who lost the Democratic nomination to George McGovern in 1972 after winning it in 1968.

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This history, though, has never stopped the press from wondering, pretty much every dang time, whether the last loser will run again—sometimes, as with Romney this year, because of coy moves made by the losing candidate himself.

If John McCain hadn't made it clear before, he's leaving no doubt that the presidency is a dream gone by.
Addressing a veterans rally for a Republican Senate candidate in Nashua on Saturday, …. [h]e told the audience of 200 that "this may surprise you, but I will not be running for president again."
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, announced Wednesday that he will skip a second run for the White House to concentrate on bringing the war in Iraq to an end.
"As someone who made the mistake of voting for the resolution that gave the president the authority to go to war, I feel the weight of personal responsibility to act to devote time and energy to the national dialogue and an effort to limit this war and bring our participation to a conclusion," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

From the New York Times in 2002: "Gore Will Not Run in 2004"

Al Gore has decided against running for president in 2004, ending a month-long flirtation with another candidacy.
Mr. Gore announced his decision in an interview on "60 Minutes" tonight. The decision marks the end of a chapter in the political life of Mr. Gore while immediately recasting the entire Democratic field.
"I've decided that I will not be a candidate for president in 2004," Gore said on the show. "I personally have the energy and drive and ambition to make another campaign, but I don't think that it's the right thing for me to do."
Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, he of the plummeting poll ratings and slumping state budget, hasn't ruled anything out for '92.
In a television interview broadcast Sunday, the 1988 Democratic nominee sounded like a man ready to get up off the canvas and go another round.
"Can you ever see yourself running for President again?" the governor was asked on C-SPAN, a cable TV public affairs network. "Maybe. Maybe," Dukakis said.

From the AP in 1982: "[Carter] Supports Reagan's Nuke Move; Mondale for President"

On the 1984 elections, Carter said he is definitely not running.
Repeatedly questioned on this, he said: "It means that I am definitely supporting Mr. Mondale." Carter has indicated previously he would not seek re-election.

From the AP in 1979 on the draft Gerald Ford movement:

Organizers of a political movement launched with the traditional Washington news conference hope to persuade former President Gerald Ford that he should make another run for the White House.
Vermont Gov. Richard Snelling said Friday he believes Ford will enter the 1980 Republican nomination fight if he can be shown there is enough grassroots support for his candidacy. Ford has said he is not a candidate.

From the Chicago Tribune in 1976: "Humphrey’s again the happy warrior"

Once again Humphrey is Horatio at the bridge, the happy warrior with the battle-scarred shield who brushed off [Eugene] McCarthy in 1968, who almost beat back George McGovern in 1972, and who may be—make your bets, ladies and gentleman—the Democratic establishment’s last, best hope to stop Jimmy Carter. ….
A Draft Humphrey Committee has been formed without discouragement from the senator, who once told the same group to cool it. …
“Maybe, if you’re asking for it,” [Humphrey] said, “you won’t get it; maybe if you’re scrambling for it, you’ll lose it; maybe if you’re begging for it, it’ll be denied ... I’m not going to scramble, beg, or ask … I’ve asked too many people to help me too long…
“I don’t want this office enough to literally, go on out and destroy myself or destroy what I’m for … if my party needs me and wants me, they know where I am.”

From the Chicago Tribune in 1960: "Gains Claimed for Adlai and Sen. Johnson"

Spokesmen for Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson [Tex.] and Adlai E. Stevenson, who aren’t on Democratic convention scene yet to do their own talking, Tuesday asserted that their principals had gained strength in the last 24 hours. ….
James Doyle, the Madison Wis. attorney who is spearheading the draft Stevenson forces, told another press conference that he had won the convention floor privileges and seating accommodations for Stevenson that will give him equality with the other candidates. Stevenson isn’t an announced candidate but has said he is willing to be drafted.

Adlai Stevenson was the only one of these candidates to go through with any sort of run, but he lost to John F. Kennedy on the first ballot. Poor, Adlai Stevenson.

Jan. 30 2015 4:10 PM

New Orleans Smoking Ban Will Cover Casinos and Bars, but Not Sidewalk Revelry

The United States’ second-most committed oasis of debauchery* will become moderately less debaucherous in 90 days when New Orleans’ newly passed smoking ban goes into effect. Under the new rules, smoking will be prohibited in bars and casinos, among other places—but not on sidewalks or streets. The ban, which passed the City Council unanimously, starts April 22. Mardi Gras this year is on Feb. 17. This year is your last chance to smoke at a bar during Mardi Gras!

*1 = Vegas

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.

Wow!

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NADA is the National Automobile Dealers Association. Evolution, a Bay Area group, can be reached for bookings via phone at 925-449-1724 or email at booking@evolutionjourneytribute.com.

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."
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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.

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“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:

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  • “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.

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