Republican David Jolly wins Florida Special Election in Referendum on Obamacare
The results of Florida’s special Congressional election are in and Republican David Jolly has won, according to the Associated Press. The election in Florida’s 13th District has been cast as the first major test of voter sentiment towards President Obama’s health care law – and shown that Obamacare may be a narrow loser. Jolly beat out Democratic challenger Alex Sink by just a few thousand votes, or 48.5 percent of the vote to Sink's 46.7 percent.
Both Democrats and Republicans poured millions of dollars in the race, hoping a win in the swing district would set the tone for upcoming midterm elections later this year. Republicans ran ads linking Sink to Obama and the Affordable Care Act, which she said should be upheld but fixed. Here's Politico with the details:
National Republican groups...combined to spend nearly $5 million, much of it on tying Sink to the unpopular Affordable Care Act and painting her as a steadfast ally of President Barack Obama. Democrats, meanwhile, poured in nearly $4 million, much of it on portraying Jolly as a cold-hearted opponent of entitlement programs and abortion rights.
Now the analysis begins. Both sides will head back to their respective corners to examine tactics, messaging, and why this election is or isn't a prequel to the fall.
Jolly will fill the seat of GOP Rep. Bill Young, which was made vacant when Young passed away in October after serving more than four decades in the House. Though the election received national attention, most agree it will do little to change the balance of power in the House. Democrats need to grab 17 seats to win back a majority -- a feat nobody is betting on.
Did Chris Christie Just Ban Tesla from New Jersey?
Tesla is a new kind of carmaker in more ways than one. And its practice of selling cars directly to consumers, rather than through franchise dealerships, hit a snag in New Jersey today when the State’s motor vehicle commission voted to ban the direct sale of automobiles. The decision puts New Jersey alongside Texas and Arizona which have also made direct-to-consumer car sales illegal. New York is also considering a bill of its own.
Tesla Motors, who operates two stores in New Jersey and has sold about 500 cars in the state, will cease sales at the locations on April 1. In a blog post today, the electric car company slammed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for stifling its operations and innovation, “This is an affront to the very concept of a free market.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the move undemocratic.
New Jersey auto dealers subverting democratic process to try to block Tesla sales http://t.co/PLY97W1oh0--; Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 11, 2014
The Christie administration says Tesla’s new sales model will require additional legislation – and that the company always knew this. According to NJ.com, the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers spent more than $155,000 lobbying for the restriction. Looks like their dollars made a difference. What could be more democratic than that?
Previously in Slate: Are Apple and Tesla About to Build a Car?
Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank are Together At Last
After what can only be called an epic saga, Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank are finally merging. In the end, it is Men’s Wearhouse who today announced that it will acquire Jos. A. Bank, the smaller of the two rivals, for $1.8 billion. The deal comes after months of counterbidding, boardroom maneuvering, and shareholder tactics between the two suitors. Here’s Reuters with the walk down memory lane (bolded labels added):
The initial offer: Jos. A Bank's initial offer for Men's Wearhouse in October  came soon after Men's Wearhouse founder George Zimmer was pushed out of the company by the board of directors.
The rebuff: Men's Wearhouse rebuffed the offer, which spurred Jos. A. Bank to say it could raise its bid if it was allowed access to its larger rival's books for due diligence.
The activist investor: Hedge fund Eminence Capital LLC, a Men's Wearhouse shareholder, then put pressure on the company to engage in merger talks with Jos. A. Bank.
The counteroffer: In November, Jos. A. Bank terminated its offer with Men's Wearhouse. In turn, Men's Wearhouse struck back at Jos. A. Bank with a $1.5 billion bid which Jos. A Bank turned down.
The “Pac-Man Defense:” Jos. A Bank later said it would acquire clothing brand Eddie Bauer from private equity firm Golden Gate Capital in a bid to stay independent and would start a share buyback worth $300 million after the deal closed.
As part of their merger deal, Jos. A. Bank will terminate its plans to acquire Eddie Bauer, a move that was meant to bulk up the company and make it more difficult and expensive for Men’s Wearhouse to buy. The companies haven’t released information on potential store closings – they duplicate each other in many malls – but according to the Wall Street Journal, the retailers have no plans to rebrand or remodel Jos. A. Bank stores.
Previously in Slate: You’re Going to Hate the Way Our Merger Works – Reduced Competition Guarantees It.
Slatest PM: Latest Obamacare Signup Figures Miss the Mark
Healthcare.gov Comes Up Short in February: National Journal: "Roughly 4.2 million people had signed up for coverage under Obamacare at the end of a weaker-than-expected February, the Obama administration said Tuesday. The administration's enrollment campaign is now in its intense final push ahead of the March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage. The White House and its allies are unleashing a flood of paid advertising, promotional partnerships, and grassroots outreach designed to coax consumers—and especially young people—into new insurance markets created by the health care law. February's progress was slower than expected. About 943,000 people signed up for coverage last month, compared with the nearly 1.3 million the Health and Human Services Department had anticipated for February."
The Final Push: NBC News: "The White House is heading up a last-ditch push to get the word out about the exchanges and and their hefty subsidies. More than 80 percent of people who have signed up qualify for federal help in paying premiums, Tuesday’s data shows. This week’s theme for the enrollment push from the White House: #GeeksGetCovered, aimed at entrepreneurs, researchers, and graduate and postdoctoral students. 'These folks may be poised to launch America’s next great company, develop a life-saving drug treatment, or uncover a game changing scientific breakthrough, and they benefit from enrollment in quality, affordable health care,' a White House official said. President Barack Obama also made an appeal to young adults in an appearance with comedian Zach Galifianakis on the website Funny or Die. 'Healthcare.gov works great now,' he asserted."
Missing Jetliner May Have Flown Hundreds of Miles After Losing Contact With Air Traffic Control
The latest twist in the ongoing—and so far fruitless—search for flight MH370 comes by way of Reuters, which spoke with an unidentified senior officer in Malaysia's military. The big takeaway, which raises nearly as many questions as it answers: The military now believes that the missing jetliner may have flown several hundred miles off course after last making contact with civilian air traffic controllers:
The Between Two Ferns Payoff
McGuinness is a senior White House communications adviser specializing in health care. The figure she is touting might be somewhat cherry-picked—we don't know just how many people funnyordie.com is sending to healthcare.gov, nor what it's knocked off from the no. 1 spot—but it nonetheless suggests that the White House's yuks-focused ACA outreach aimed at young Americans is paying dividends today. For those who haven't seen it yet, you can check out President Obama's Between Two Ferns appearance on Funny or Die here.
Senate Intelligence Chair Accuses CIA of Illegally Searching Committee's Computers
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, came out swinging this morning on the upper chamber's floor, accusing the CIA of violating federal law—and likely the Fourth Amendment—by secretly removing documents from a stand-alone computer network used in a congressional investigation of a controversial Bush-era interrogation program. The Washington Post with more:
She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she said that the CIA appears to have violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as various federal laws and a presidential executive order that prevents the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance. She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, she said. "I have received neither," she added. ...
Through press reports, officials alleged that the CIA had searched computers intended to be used solely by the panel as part of its investigation. The searches, officials said, were conducted in an effort to determine how committee staff members had gained access to a draft version of an internal agency review of its controversial interrogation program.
CIA Director John Brennan quickly denied Feinstein's allegations that his agency had covertly searched the computer system, saying at an off-the-Hill event Tuesday morning that "nothing could be further from the truth" and that "we wouldn't do that."
Feinstein is known as one of the most vocal backers of the intelligence community in the Senate, a reputation that made this morning's comments all the more surprising. They are sure to escalate a dispute that had been simmering slightly under the radar for weeks concerning the documents used in the review that the CIA has suggested were taken without its permission. (Feinstein, of course, maintains that her committee was entitled to them.)
The Intelligence review in question occurred in 2009 and was focused on the CIA program best known for utilizing waterboarding in an attempt to elicit information from terrorism suspects held at secret prisons overseas. To date, the details of that report have remained officially under wraps but U.S. officials who have spoken to the press on background say that it shows that the CIA misled Congress, the White House, and the Justice Department, all while overstating the program's success before President Obama ended it in 2009. (More background on that here.)
Mystery Men Aboard Missing Jetliner IDed as Iranians, No Terror Ties Suspected
The search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continues, but meanwhile police appear as though they are nearly ready to close the book on the case of the two men who boarded the plane with stolen passports and tickets purchased through an Iranian middleman, via the New York Times:
The Malaysian police said on Tuesday that one of the two passengers known to have used stolen passports to board the missing Malaysian airliner was a 19-year-old Iranian who wanted to migrate to Germany and who appeared to have no connection to terrorist organizations.
The passenger, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, who was using a passport that had been stolen from an Austrian man, was traveling to Germany, where he was to meet his mother, said Khalid Abu Bakar, the inspector general of the Malaysian police. “We are in contact with his mother,” Mr. Khalid said at a news conference.
ABC News reports that Interpol later identified the second mystery passenger as Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29, who arrived in Malaysia on the same day as Mehrdad. While authorities are still digging into Reza's past, the early evidence likewise points to an immigration attempt. (The two men were ultimately booked through to Amsterdam, at which point their flight itineraries diverged to a pair of other European cities.) Both, according to authorities, were traveling on Iranian passports for the leg of their journey that took them to Malaysia, and then are believed to have switched to the stolen Austrian and Italian travel documents while there.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Ronald K. Noble, Interpol's secretary general, told reporters at a briefing at the agency's headquarters in Lyon, France.
Senate Passes Military Sexual Assault Bill, Ends "Good-Soldier" Defense
There are in fact some things that members of Congress can agree on. With a vote of 97-0, the Senate unanimously approved a set of changes to the military’s sexual assault policies late on Monday night. The bipartisan bill composed by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), ends the time-old practice of using a “good soldier defense” in cases of assault. Here’s the AP:
The new legislation would change the military rules of evidence to prohibit the accused from using good military character as an element of his defense in court-martial proceedings unless it was directly relevant to the alleged crime. The "good soldier defense" could encompass a defendant's military record of reliability, dependability, professionalism and reputation as an individual who could be counted on in war and peacetime.
McCaskill described it as "the ridiculous notion that how well one flies a plane should have anything to do with whether they committed a crime."
The full Senate backing comes in sharp contrast to a vote just last week on a measure proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would have stripped commanders of their ability to prosecute or prevent charges and placed that authority with military lawyers outside the unit in question. Military leaders staunchly opposed the bill, insisting they should have more responsibility for the men and women under their leadership, not less. The Senate came up five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, 55-45, on that farther-reaching proposal.
“Although this bill does not create the critical fundamental change needed to improve the military justice system, [McCaskill’s legislaiton] builds on useful reforms already undertaken by Congress,” Greg Jacob, policy director for Service Women’s Action Network, told Politico.
The bill, which also provides legal counsel for alleged victims and criminalizes retaliation against those who report assault, will now move to the House where it is expected to receive a warm welcome.
Sbarro Files for Bankruptcy, Blames Declining American Malls
As mall rats move online and so-called anchor department stores like Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney struggle to climb out of the recession, food court establishments are hanging on for dear life. The latest casualty? Sbarro. The pizza chain today filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in three years.
The New York-based company, which is set to close 155 of its 400 locations nationwide, says “an unprecedented decline” in traffic at America’s malls is hurting its business. Emptying malls have also put the squeeze on Hot Dog on a Stick, which filed for bankruptcy just last month, and retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Wet Seal, and RadioShack.
According to real estate analytics firm Green Street Advisors, about 15 percent of U.S. malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years. But for some, these companies are something other than victims of circumstance. Via Reuters:
"Sbarro has been stuck with an outdated business model," said Michael Whiteman, a restaurant consultant and president of Baum & Whiteman LLC in Brooklyn, New York. "Its biggest shortcoming is that it sells food that has been sitting out for a while.”
Previously in Slate: The State of Sbarro: America's Least Essential Restaurant.