Thursday, July 17, 2014

Israel Launches Ground Invasion of Gaza Strip

Israel began ground operations in the Gaza Strip Thursday in response to Hamas rocket fire. This comes after Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, rejected an Egypt-brokered peace deal with Israel.

Israel has said its ground operations will be limited in nature, and it warned residents in certain areas of the Gaza Strip to evacuate in anticipation of the invasion.

Israeli drones are reported to be used to spy over Gaza as Israeli forces move into the area.

Boeing 777 Shot Down Near Ukraine-Russia Border

Debris from downed Boeing 777
Credit: Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev
A Malaysian Airlines flight with 295 people on it was believed to have been shot down Thursday near the Ukraine-Russia border. According to Ukrainian officials, the debris filed is nine miles long and that no people are believed to have survived.

The Ukrainian military, the Russian military, and the pro-Russian separatists operating in Ukraine have all denied responsibility. Current evidence, however, points to the pro-Russian separatists as possible perpetrators. The militants are known to possess surface-to-air missile capable of taking out a cruising jet liner. One theory currently being floated is that they were targeting a Ukrainian military jet or cargo plane and instead hit the Boeing 777 because of a targeting error.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told American President Barack Obama about the plane crash during a call over US sanction on Russia, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Updates as more information is available will follow.

UPDATE 3:19 PM EASTERN TIME 7/17/14:

23 American citizens are believed to have been on the flight. A video has surfaced that likely shows the crash of MH 17 right after impact. No smoke trail in the sky was apparent, making it more likely that a missile may have hit the plane, rendering unable to fly, causing it to crash and its fuel to explode into a fireball, utterly destroying the fuselage.

UPDATE 5:29 PM EASTERN TIME 7/18/14:

So far only one American has been confirmed to have been on the flight, Quinn Lucas Schansman. The death toll has been updated to 298 with three more passengers reported.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Amidst Obama Administration Woes, Republican Candidates May Be Stumbling

Since the bungles of the 2012 elections involving many of its nominees, the Republican Party has been working hard to put electable candidates in competitive races across the county, especially in senate races. Though the GOP has managed to avoid the faux pas such as those of Todd Akin and Richard Murdock this election cycle, recent developments may be hurting the GOP's chances of making big gains in the upcoming midterm elections.

For example, Iowa GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst is trying to walk back comments made back in January about impeaching President Obama. Ernst was critical of certain recess appointments Obama had made, which were later ruled by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutionally appointed. In addition, Ernst had said that the President has "become a dictator," referring what she called an overreach of his executive power.
GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst's calls for Obama's impeachment
have led to criticism both of her campaign and the GOP
in general.

Trying to quell the controversy, her campaign spokeswoman said, "If any president oversteps their bounds, there are procedures in place for Congress and the American people to hold him or her accountable. Impeachment is a strong word and should not be thrown around lightly.”

Ernst has not been the only prominent Republican to throw around the idea of impeachment. Former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is now actively calling for Obama's impeachment. She also criticized Speaker of the House John Boehner's lawsuit against Obama over hi executive powers. When confronted with Palin's comments at a press conference, Boehner appeared visibly agitated and responded to her comments with only two words: "I disagree."

The GOP leadership has avoided nearly all impeachment talk, hoping to avoid a situation like the last time the party tried to impeach a President. When House Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998, the GOP's brand suffered while Clinton came out more popular.

Besides impeachment talk, Democrats are using women' issues in their campaign tactics in hopes of turning out their base in November. In the wake of the "Hobby Lobby ruling," in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that certain "closely-held" corporations could not be forced to provide insurance coverage for contraception that runs counter to their religious or moral beliefs, many Democratic leaders have cried foul, saying that reproductive rights are under siege. Many prominent Democrats have went so far as to imply that the court's ruling will lead to employers taking away the freedom of women to use contraception. Most Republicans disagree with that characterization; however, many Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, continue to hammer Republicans for not, in their view, doing enough to preserve reproductive rights. The same tactic was used in 2012 against Republicans.

Former Missouri Representative and then-Senate candidate Todd Akin added fuel to the fire in 2012 with his comments on rape and pregnancy, in which he used the term "legitimate rape." Akin has recently recanted his apology for the comments, which was given in the wake of political pressure following his initial comments.

Other controversies exist with other GOP candidates. Chris McDaniel, who narrowly lost the Mississippi GOP Senate runoff to longtime incumbent Thad Cochran, has continued to challenge the results, saying that many of the votes for Cochran were cast illegally. National GOP leaders were worried about a McDaniel candidacy. Besides their obvious affinity for the incumbent Cochran, national and Mississippi Republican officials were concerned that McDaniel's dislike for bipartisanship (revealed in his fiery non-concession speech) and his controversial remarks on his former radio show may cause problems for other Republican candidates nationwide. That tactic was used by Democrats in the wake of the Todd Akin controversy, in which the party attempted to tie the Romney/Ryan ticket with Akin with the faux campaign motto "Romney/Ryan/Akin."

Even in the wake of these controversies, the GOP is strongly favored to keep control of the House and is in a good position in its attempt to take control of the Senate. With the Obama administration's record low disapproval ratings and a string of controversies ranging from the border crisis, the VA scandal, and the situation in Iraq, the Democratic Party is by no means in a good position for the midterm elections. However, if more Republican candidates continue to make controversial statements, the results of 2012 may be another reality, not just a memory.

Monday, June 30, 2014

ISIS Announces Caliphate

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki has rejected calls for a unity
government of Shias and Sunnis
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a Sunni militant group, declared a caliphate out of their conquered areas in Syria and Iraq. In addition, they hope that their caliphate will comprise the entire Muslim world.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim hoping to stop ISIS’s advance, has asked majority-Shia Iran and the US to help in stopping the rebel terrorist advance. Some Sunnis in Iraq, however, have welcomed ISIS’s advance, feeling neglected by Maliki’s Shiite-favoring regime. al-Maliki’s refusal to form a unity government of Shias, Arab Sunnis, and Kurds (who have also taken control of parts of Iraq) may lead to a de facto split of Iraq for years to come.

ISIS has declared their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new caliph.

 

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Hobby Lobby

The Obamacare contraception mandate was weakened by
today's ruling in the "Hobby Lobby case"
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts company owned by evangelical Christians, who said that a new mandate requiring all for-profit companies provide birth control, including controversial "morning after" pills. The Supreme Court ruled that "closely held" companies may opt out of the requirement, which was created after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

White House Press Secretary criticized the ruling, saying it "jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies." He also said that the administration would respect the ruling.

One of the members of the Hobby Lobby defense team, Adele Keim, counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said after the ruling that "today is a great day for religious liberty."

Cochran's and Brat's Victories Both Losses for "Tea Party Establishment"

Cochran's victory may signal weaknesses in the
the "Tea Party Establishment."
Move over Republican establishment; meet the Tea Party establishment.

When the Tea Party movement started in 2008 and 2009, its main elements were local groups and organizers. It has since then developed into a organized movement filled with big-money groups, and that may be hurting it.

Tea Party-supporting groups, such as FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Tea Party Express, and Tea Party Patriots, spent millions of dollar on Tea Party candidates this election cycle, but there has been little to show for it. The biggest victory of the Tea Party this year, the victory of Dave Brat over Eric Cantor, was not funded by any of these groups. Instead, many groups poured millions into the Senate race between incumbent Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. Cochran has been known as one of the biggest spenders in Washington, brining millions of federal dollars to Mississippi during his tenure in Washington. Cochran ultimately prevailed. McDaniel has refused to concede, saying that many of Cochran's votes are fraudulent.

Other Tea Party attempts to unseat incumbents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), and Sen. Lindsey Graham have failed. Some have attributed these losses to a decreased appetite for Tea Party politics in the American electorate. Others have said that the Tea Party is too organized and nationalized to be effective, and that the Tea Party is best left to local groups for its survival and success.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Loses GOP Primary

Credit: Fox News
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the number in House Republican leadership and the de jure leader of House Republicans has lost the GOP primary for his House district to Dave Brat, a political newcomer and an economics professor at Randolph Macon College.

This result is sending shockwaves through the GOP establishment and political observers, who saw Cantor's denomination as inevitable. Cantor had run negative campaign ads against Brat, while Brat used a grassroots approach to get his message out.

Brat will face Democratic opponent Jack Trammell, who also works at Randolph Macon College.

Current ballot counts as of 8:44 Eastern put Brat leading Cantor 55.5%-44.5% with 98% of the votes counted in Virginia's 7th Congressional District.

Speculation now turns to Cantor's political future, who was touted as a potential heir to the speakership whenever John Boehner's term as speaker ends. Some are speculating that Cantor may try to run a write-in campaign; however, it remains unlikely that he will do so.

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz praised Cantor's ouster, saying that it proves the Tea Party has "taken control" of the Republican Party. Though the GOP establishment likely does not agree with her assessment, it will indeed embolden the Tea Party wing of the House GOP to challenge the Republican leadership.

It is speculated that Brat's attacks on Cantor's immigration stances may have led to Cantor's defeat. The current overflow of minors crossing the US-Mexican border illegally may have reflected badly on Cantor's willingness to work on immigration reform.

Cantor never endorsed amnesty or a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; however, he has shown willingness in the past to cooperate across the aisle in passing some sort of immigration bill.

It is the first time a House majority leader has lost his seat in a primary.

Updates will be added as additional details come forth.

UPDATE 9:25 PM Eastern

Dave Brat's campaign also received a boost from talk radio, most notably Laura Ingraham, who hosts her own radio talk show in addition to contributing to Fox and ABC News. The boost he received from her and other conservative firebrands likely fueled Brat's late surge and victory.

CORRECTION: An earlier version said Mike Dickinson was the Democratic nominee. Dickinson is a write-in nominee; Jack Trammell is the Democratic nominee.