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Skeptical

Poll Shows Iran Sanctions Support

As Obama prepares for the State of the Union, a majority of Americans are skeptical of his Iran policy according to a new poll.

A majority of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the Iran issue and want Congress to have a say in any final agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program, according to a new poll.

As Obama prepares to address the American people in Tuesday’s State of the Union, Congress is considering new legislation to set out their vision of what a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran should look like and to impose new sanctions if the Iranian government doesn’t live up to its end of the deal or walks away from the negotiations.

A new survey, sponsored by The Israel Project, a pro-Israel non profit, and conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, found that 63 percent of those polled want Congress to move forward with the new sanctions legislation, while only 28 percent oppose. Over two-thirds of those surveyed, 69 percent, said any final nuclear deal with Iran should be approved by Congress and 62 percent said that Congress should weigh in before the Obama administration gives more sanctions relief to Iran.

"This survey shows that all Americans – Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, men and women, young and old – do not trust Iran, want Congress to have a final say on any deal, and believe passing the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act will strengthen our diplomacy,” said Josh Block, President and CEO of The Israel Project. “Seeking a tougher approach and increased pressure on Tehran, the American people reject further reduction of sanctions before Iran fully dismantles its nuclear infrastructure.”

Wasted Money

Afghan Army Literacy Effort Fails

The U.S. spent 5 years and $200 million on a program to teach Afghan soldiers to read, but a new report reveals that effort was a failure.

The United States government has spent $200 million on a literacy program for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) over the past five years but half the Afghan army still can’t read or write according to a new report.

"Literacy of the Afghan National Security Forces is of critical importance," said John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). "We've spent $200 million on this  -- yet we don't even know how many Afghan security forces are literate or how well the program worked. That's deeply disturbing."

The goal of the program was to make 100 percent of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) able to read at a first grade level and 50 percent literate at a third grade level by the time U.S. forces are due to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. But officials told SIGAR that that attaining those goals with the Afghan army, which is set to grow to 352,000, may be “unrealistic” and unattainable.” 

To be considered literate at a third grade level, an Afghan soldier must be able to read, write, and comprehend short paragraphs, use correct punctuation to aid meaning and understanding, add and subtract using six-digits numbers, and multiply and divide with three-digit numbers.

Double Trouble

GOP Warner Backs Dem Warner

Longtime Republican Senator John Warner announced his endorsement of Democrat Mark Warner on Monday.

Longtime Virginia Republican Senator John Warner announced his endorsement of incumbent Democrat Mark Warner Monday

John Warner was a mainstay of the Virginia GOP for decades. A relatively moderate Republican, he served 30 years in the U.S. Senate from 1978 to 2008. The aristocratic Warner, who was married at different times to both a Mellon heiress and Elizabeth Taylor with the epitome of traditional establishment Republican. His endorsement of Mark Warner is a major boost to the centrist Democrat who is up for re-election to his second term in the U.S. Senate in 2014. Mark Warner is a former Governor of Virginia who also unsuccessfully ran for Senate against John Warner in 1996. 

This endorsement comes shortly after longtime Republican insider Ed Gillespie entered the Senate race and signals a major shift in the race. Gillespie, a lobbyist, political consultant and former George W. Bush White House aide who served as chair of the RNC from 2003-2005. His entry into the race was supposed to provide Mark Warner a credible opponent in this swing state as well as unite the deeply divided Virginia GOP, where social conservatives and Tea Partiers have long been feuding with the party establishment.

This rift came to the fore during the state's 2013 gubernatorial campaign when social conservative Ken Cuccinelli lost to Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe while suffering a number of notable Republican defections. In particular, Cuccinelli's top rival for the GOP nomination, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling refused to endorse in the race and one of his key advisors, Boyd Marcus, openly backed McAuliffe.

Cocaine Quitter

Florida Man To Resign From Congress

The Florida Republican busted for cocaine possession in October announced he would resign from Congress on Monday.

Trey Radel, the first-term Florida congressman busted for cocaine possession in October announced that he would resign from Congress on Monday. 

The 37-year-old Florida Republican returned to Congress in January after spending a month taking a leave of absence to attend inpatient rehab in his southwest Florida district. But while Radel initially seemed intent on riding out the political storm to serve out his term and even run for re-election, the former Florida television broadcaster is now throwing in the towel. 

Prior to his arrest and subsequent conviction, Radel had previously drawn attention for his hip-hop fandom. The Congressman had livetweeted his review of the Jay-Z album Magna Carta Holy Grail and often described himself as a "hip-hop conservative."

Radel's resignation will force the House Ethics Committee to end an ongoing investigation of his conduct and will prompt a special election in his safely Republican district. A number of prominent area Republicans had already started to explore bids against the endangered incumbent and the open seat is likely to prompt a highly competitive GOP in the eventual special election.

Terminated

Iowa GOP Fires Facebook Contractor

The person responsible for a controversial Facebook post on racism has already been terminated by the Iowa GOP.

The Republican Party of Iowa is already taking action after an offensive flowchart was briefly posted on its Facebook page Friday night.

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In a statement to The Daily Beast, party chair AJ Spiker said the contractor responsible for posting the flowchart which asked "is someone a racist" has been fired. In addition, he said that the Republican Party of Iowa was taking new measures to avoid such incidents in the future. Echoing his statement last night, Spiker said, "One day ago, a contractor of the Iowa GOP who handles social media made a post referencing a discussion on race that the GOP believes was in bad taste and inappropriate. We apologize to those whom were offended, have removed the post and are ensuring it does not happen again." Spiker then went on to announce that "the contractor has been terminated and moving forward the Iowa GOP has instituted a new policy regarding our social media postings that will require all posts to be viewed and then approved by no less than two individuals before they are submitted and posted."

The contractor responsible for posting the flowchart, Shane Vander Hart, posted an apology on his personal blog. In his statement, Vander Hart wrote, "It was an attempt at humor which perhaps would have been ok for my personal page, but not for the Republican Party of Iowa. My intent was to make light of how the race card is played in American politics. It was an error in judgment, one I deeply regret, and take full responsibility for. I apologize to those whom I offended, as well as, to Iowa Republicans. This is not the message we need to send. It is distracting to our mission of electing Republicans. I also would like to publicly apologize to A.J. Spiker for the problems this has caused him."

Racist?

Iowa GOP Posts Racism Flowchart

Is someone a racist? The Republican Party of Iowa briefly posted a controversial flowchart Friday night on the topic.

The Republican Party of Iowa briefly posted a photo on its Facebook page of a flowchart asking readers to determine "Is Someone A Racist?"

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The flowchart first asked if the person was white or not white. If they weren't white, they were automatically not a racist. If they were, it then asked "do you like them?" If the answer was yes, they were also not a racist. However, if the answer is no, then "they are racist." The flowchart also noted "if you think this flowchart isn't funny, then this flowchart is racist." 

It was posted by the official Iowa GOP Facebook account at 8:00pm EST on Friday night with the message "Because it's Friday night and we don't need serious political posts on Friday night we are sharing this. Happy Friday and LIKE and SHARE! Unless you think the chart is racist, then don't." 

Contraception

Nuns Notch Small SCOTUS Win

The Court extended an injunction from earlier this month allowing the Little Sisters of the Poor to avoid self-certifying under Obamacare's contraception mandate.

Without dissent, the Supreme Court extended its injunction in the controversial case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius on Friday.

In a one paragraph order, the Court allowed the Little Sisters of the Poor to continue to avoid "self-certifying" that they seek to be exempted from the contraception mandate under Obamacare. The organization has sought to avoid doing so because it believes that the self-certification process, which consists of sending a form to the Department of Health and Human Services stating that it wishes to be exempted, still violates its religious beliefs by forcing them into a certain level of compliance with the law.

Instead, the Court held that if a group informs HHS "in writing that they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services"  the government can't enforce the mandate. The victory for the Little Sisters of the Poor is that they don't have to use the mandated form.

The order ended by noting that "The Court issues this order based on all of the circumstances of the case, and this order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s view on the merits.” In other words, just because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor on this procedural motion, it doesn't mean it will take their side if it ever hears the case (which is currently pending in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals).

Vanished

Stockman Mystery Deepens

On Friday, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner told The Daily Beast that even Boehner hasn't heard from Texas Rep. Steve Stockman.

Not even John Boehner has any idea where Steve Stockman is.

Steve Stockman, the Texas congressman and candidate for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, has seemingly disappeared in recent weeks. He has not shown up on Capitol Hill for votes, and save for one appearance at a Tea Party event in North Dallas and a trip to Egypt, has made no public appearances.

On Friday, The Daily Beast asked Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, whether his boss had received any communication from Stockman about his whereabouts and if he had any idea when or if the Texas congressman might return to Washington for votes. Steel tersely replied "No."

The Daily Beast also talked to someone named Richard in Stockman's office. When asked when the last time he had seen Stockman, Richard said, "I can't disclose that information." When pressed for why he couldn't, Richard nervously said "I just started here." The only information that he was authorized to disclose was the House email address for Stockman spokesman Donny Ferguson. According to Richard, Ferguson was not accessible by telephone or any other means of communication. The Daily Beast has repeatedly reached out to Ferguson in recent weeks and he has yet to respond. 

Beat It

New Calls for GOP Official to Quit

RNC Chair Reince Priebus called on controversial party activist Dave Agema to resign Friday.

Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, as well as Michigan Republican Party chair Bobby Schostak, called on controversial national committeeman Dave Agema to step down on Friday. Agema has come under fire for repeatedly making anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks. In a one-sentence statement to the Detroit Free Press, the two said "For the good of the party, we believe Dave Agema should resign."

Agema, a longtime Republican activist, was elected to be one of the Wolverine State's two representatives to the RNC in 2012. Since taking office, he repeatedly received national attention for comments suggesting gays want free health care because they die between the ages of 30-44 and that Muslims don't contribute anything to the United States as well as for posting an article on his personal Facebook account that said gays were "filthy," prone to pedophilia, responsible for spreading AIDS and infected with the STDs.

The call for Agema's resignation came at the end of the RNC's three-day winter meeting in Washington, D.C., which the Michigan national committeeman did not attend to avoid giving "liberal critics" an excuse to amplify the controversy around him. In his Friday statement, Priebus and Schostak join three Republican congressmen from Michigan as well as a number of other prominent party activists in calling for Agema to step down.


Libido

Huckabee on Women's Libido

Saying so at the RNC's winter meeting Thursday.

In a luncheon speech at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said Democrats want women to think "they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government."

Huckabee, the runner-up in the 2008 GOP presidential primary, made the comments in reference to the ongoing political battles over reproductive rights in American politics in which Democrats have called the Republican Party's position "a war on women." The former Arkansas governor urged Republicans to wage "a war for women" instead.

The statement may not help the Republican Party in its ongoing efforts to appeal to female voters. The GOP has long been plagued by a gender gap in voting and many elected officials often made gaffes while discussing issues like abortion, birth control, and women's issues. The most recent was a Republican Congressman publishing a book this month where he wrote that "a wife must voluntarily submit to her husband" while others include the awkward statements of 2012 Senate candidates like Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. 

Huckabee also spoke at length about the Beatles in his speech Thursday.

Shadow Primary

RNC To Change 2016 Rules

On Thursday, the Republican National Committee is expected to approve significant rules changes for the 2016 presidential primary.

The Republican Party is poised to change the rules of the 2016 presidential primary Thursday in order to create a faster, more compressed nominating process that avoids the chaos that marked the back and forth of 2012 GOP primary.

In a meeting of the RNC’s Rules Committee scheduled for 3PM today, the group is slated to approve sweeping changes to how the Republican Party nominates its presidential candidate.

The changes will allow four carve outs for the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to allow them to hold their contests in February. No other state will be allowed to hold a primary until March 1.  The primary season will conclude by late May late though as the Republican Convention will be held in late June or early July and party rules make clear that the last primary has to be held 45 days in advance.

If states move up and hold their primaries outside the rules, they will face significant penalities if these proposals are passed. Assuming these rule changes are approved by the Rules Committee, they will go before the full RNC for ratification on Friday.

Voting Report

No More Election Day Lines?

On Wednesday, a bipartisan commission released its report on how to make voting easier and to reduce lines on Election Day.

No one should have to wait more than half an hour to vote. 

That was the key principle in the report of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which was delivered to the White House today. In order to achieve this, the commission led by Democrat Bob Bauer and Republican Ben Ginsberg, recommended a nationwide expansion of early voting---both by mail and in-person---as well as a number of other reforms. 

The Bauer-Ginsberg Commission was established by President Obama in the aftermath of the 2012 election in an attempt to solve the problems with long waits and crowding that have plagued American elections in recent years. The recommendations of the commission were made on a bipartisan basis and almost entirely avoided the ongoing “voting wars” over voter ID and registration. Instead, the commission focused on the nuts and bolts of election administration.

In addition to the expansion of early voting, other recommendations in today’s report included implementing online voter registration, increased use of schools as polling places and having states try to minimize the length and complexity of their ballots in presidential election years.

Inflamatory

NAACP Attacks Tim Scott

In a sermon on Sunday, the chair of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP called Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) "a dummy."

What better way to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. than with inflammatory language?

On Sunday, Rev. William Barber, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, gave a sermon in Columbia, South Carolina where he targeted Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). He lit into Scott, the first African American senator from the South since Reconstruction, “a ventriloquist can always find a good dummy,” Barber said.

The civil rights activist went on to explain, as first reported by The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, “the extreme right wing down here finds a black guy to be senator and claims he’s the first black senator since Reconstruction and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and articulates the agenda of the Tea Party.”  Barber has been a prominent leader in the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina, which has protested conservative legislation in that state, including restrictions on voting rights and cuts in government spending since Republicans took over the State House in Raleigh in 2012.

In an emailed statement to the conservative website, The Daily Caller, Scott brushed off the insult. “To reflect seriously on the comments a person, a pastor, that is filled with baseless and meaningless rhetoric would be to do a disservice to the very people who have sacrificed so much and paved a way” said Scott. “Instead, I will honor the memory of Dr. King by being proactive in holding the door for others and serving my fellow man.”

Gone Too Soon

Alexandros Petersen, 1984-2014

Author and academic Alexandros "Alex" Petersen died in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan on Jan. 17 at the age of 29.

On Jan. 17, five days after his arrival in Afghanistan, author and academic Alexandros Petersen died in a terrorist attack on a Kabul restaurant frequented by foreigners. He was 29 years old.

Known as “Alexi” to his family and “Alex” to his many friends in his hometown of Washington and in London, where he lived for years, Petersen was an accomplished scholar, writer, and consultant to governments and private organizations on global geopolitics, Central Asia, the Caucasus region, Russia, and energy policy. He was the author of the 2011 book, The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and he co-authored the blog China in Central Asia, which was also the topic of a book he was near finished writing.

Petersen was a convener of people, known on multiple continents as a careful thinker, dynamic speaker, and dapper dresser. During his time as a student at King’s College London, where he earned a BA, and the London School of Economics, where he received a PhD, Petersen founded the London branch of the DC networking organization, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, which he grew to over 500 members before returning to Washington.

Born in Philadelphia, Petersen’s parents moved the family to Rome until he was four years old. He was the son of a Danish father, a now-retired economist for the World Bank, and a Greek mother, also an economist, working for the International Monetary Fund. His parents’ work included travel to Central Asia and the Caucasus, spurring Petersen’s interest in those two regions from a very young age.

Vanished

Where Is Rep Steve Stockman?

The Texas congressman mounting a long shot campaign for Senate hasn't appeared on Capitol Hill for weeks.

Judge Crater, Jimmy Hoffa and Steve Stockman?

The Tea Party Texas congressman challenging incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn in March’s primary is the new invisible man of American politics. The Texas congressman hasn’t shown up on Capitol Hill for a vote since January 9. Instead, he has made only sporadic public appearances, surfacing once in North Dallas on January 14 and then a few days later in Cairo. In between, Stockman missed key votes in Washington, including the omnibus budget. His spokeman, Donny Ferguson, has not responded to inquiries on the Congressman's whereabouts.

Stockman's disappearance from public view marks the latest oddity in a bizarre campaign that seems more performance art than politics. The Texas congressman recently unveiled a website called Cornynlovesobamacare.com that alleges that the number two Republican in the Senate has “a forbidden love” for Obamacare despite repeatedly voting against it. The website also includes an image Cornyn embracing Obama that The Wire’s Philip Bump has reported is a photoshopped image of the Texas senator’s head on the body of former Florida governor Charlie Crist.

The goal of Stockman’s campaign has been to label Cornyn, an ardent conservative as a liberal supporter of Obamacare. While this has given liberals some chuckles, it hasn’t exactly caught fire as a campaign message. In a December poll, the Texas congressman trailed by a whopping margin of 50%-6%. Stockman’s other attempts to draw attention to himself, including giving away “Obama barfbags” and fighting to allow donors to give campaign contributions in bitcoins have not proved successful either.

Josh Rogin: Hope Is Not a Policy

After President Obama announced a shift in approach to the conflict in Syria, Josh Rogin joins ‘The Daily Rundown’ on MSNBC to offer his take on whether the move was too little, too late.

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