Kentucky State Sen. Brandon Smith (R) took some heat for claiming last week that climate change was a myth because the Earth and Mars are the same temperature. Smith has, understandably, now walked back that argument:
— Brandon Smith (@Smithkysenate) July 3, 2014
In a July 2 hearing, Smith said he would not debate climate change, adding, "I'll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here." Jon Terbush
Preston Wiginton is finally getting his moment in the klieg light. The 51-year-old former pallet manufacturer crowned "Strongest Skinhead" in 2005 at the neo-Nazi gathering Hammerfest, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is hosting "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University on Tuesday, and while his past forums in rented university rooms featuring controversial speakers have been widely ignored and drawn tiny crowds, this event is getting national coverage.
Texas A&M, which Wiginton attended for a year in his 40s, says it can't stop the Spencer event because it is a public university and can't impinge on First Amendment rights, but it has voiced opposition to the white supracist views espoused by both Wigington and Spencer and is holding a counter-event at the football stadium. A&M isn't the only actor put in a bind — so is the media. The journalism that "aims to cover or even expose Spencer," says Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week, "ultimately plays into his hands," and the same is probably true about Wigington. "Hopefully, this event will give me enough exposure that people will say, 'This guy knows what he is talking about,'" Wiginton said last week.
CNN's Gary Tuchman interviewed Wigington for Monday's Anderson Cooper 360 and tried to push back on the white nationalist's more outrageous claims — such as the opinion, suggested also by President-elect Donald Trump on the night before the election, that Somalis are too different to fit into white American culture. "By saying that all Somalis shouldn't come here, isn't that being a bigot?" he asked. "Um," Wigington said, pausing for a long second. "Sometimes maybe being a bigot is wise."
If you want, you can read more about Wigington — including his time in Russia living in a David Duke-leased apartment and forging ties with Russian skinheads and far-right leaders — in this report from WFAA and The Texas Tribune. Wigington would probably appreciate it. Peter Weber
Republican presidential elector Christopher Suprun says he doesn't think a president-elect should be disqualified over policy disagreements or because he lost the popular vote — to him, the deal-breaker is showing the country daily that you're not qualified for the office.
In a New York Times op-ed published Monday, Suprun, a paramedic from Texas, said he was part of the response to the Sept. 11 attacks, a period he calls the last time the country was united. With his unfettered tweeting, Donald Trump is doing what he can to "drive a wedge between us," Suprun said, and he "does not encourage civil discourse, but chooses to stoke fear and create outrage." Suprun also took issue with Trump's business dealings and the fact that he surrounds himself with advisers like former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, and said Trump lacks the foreign policy experience and demeanor to be president. This is troubling, but since the vote hasn't taken place yet, "electors of conscience can still do the right thing for the good of the country."
The role of the Electoral College is to "determine if candidates are qualified, not engaged in demagogy, and independent from foreign influence," he said. Trump has shown over and over he doesn't meet these standards, Suprun continued, and "given his own public statements, it isn't clear how the Electoral College can ignore these issues, and so it should reject him." He said he'd like to see his fellow electors rally around an "honorable" Republican candidate, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, adding that while he has worked hard in the past to elect Republicans, he "owes no debt to a party. I owe a debt to my children to leave them a nation they can trust." Suprun ended his op-ed on a sober note. "Fifteen years ago, I swore an oath to defend my country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic," he said. "On Dec. 19, I will do it again." Read the entire op-ed at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia
Any member of the Electoral College who wants to vote against Donald Trump but would violate state law by doing so has the support of a Harvard University law professor and a California-based law firm.
Larry Lessig has started "The Electors Trust" in order to give free counsel to electors through the firm Durie Tangri. Lessig said his group will also give electors guaranteed anonymity so they can determine if there are enough electors set on keeping Trump from winning the presidency. "It makes no sense to be elector number five who comes out against Trump," Lessig told Politico. "But it might make sense to be elector 38."
A group of at least eight Democratic electors from Colorado and Washington have started an effort of their own, called the "Hamilton Electors," to lobby Republican electors to ditch Trump in favor of another GOP candidate. Because Trump has 306 electoral votes, they are trying to flip at least 37 Republicans, and the Hamilton Electors hinted Monday they would likely choose Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) as the alternative to Trump. One Republican elector, Chris Suprun of Texas, went on the record Monday, writing in The New York Times that he will not vote for Trump when the members cast the official vote on Dec. 19. If the electors are able to block Trump's election, it would be sent to the House of Representatives. Catherine Garcia
In the past week, the world has caught "glimpses of what likely will be two of the most important features of a Donald Trump presidency," Seth Meyers said on Monday's Late Night: "His willingness to make false claims with no evidence, and his shoot-from-the-hip approach to foreign policy — and those two things do not mix well." Meyers was playing catch-up from being on vacation last week, and that allowed his "closer look" to pull back a bit for some perspective. It wasn't exactly a comforting panorama.
"When you're dealing with foreign powers and unstable regions, you need sober, analytical thinking and a firm grasp of reality — qualities you definitely do not associate with Donald Trump," Meyers said, laying out his thesis. He began with the apparent disregard for facts in Trumpworld, highlighting Trump's baseless claim about illegal voters and comparing Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Reince Priebus, and other Trump aides to "entitled" helicopter parents defending their bratty child at a high school.
"The scariest thing about these false conspiracy theories is that a lot of people believe them," Meyers said, playing a clip of a CNN reporter listening to a Trump voter confidently parrot the illegal-voter myth, the reporter ending up with her hand on her forehead. "Look at how frustrated she is," Meyers said. "I'm starting to think hand on the forehead is how we're going to do the Pledge of Allegiance during the Trump years." Then he got to the bigger point: "At the heart of the Trump team's defense of these false conspiracy theories is the cynical notion that truth doesn't matter at all, that people can choose to believe whatever reality they want to believe."
Despite the implicit Trump argument and the explicit claim of Trump surrogates, facts do exist, and they "really do matter, whether you believe in them or not," Meyers said. And that's especially true in foreign relations. You can watch how he ties that point to China, Pakistan, and the Philippines — and ends up with his hand on his forehead — in the video below. Peter Weber
Sure, the 2016 election is still visible in the rearview mirror, but there's no better time than now to start speculating on who might run in 2020.
After a Senate session on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden was asked by a reporter if he would ever run for office again. Biden quickly responded yes, in 2020, and when pressed, he said he would try for the presidency, adding, "What the hell, man." Another reporter asked Biden if he was kidding, but instead of walking the statement back, Biden said he couldn't entirely rule out the possibility, adding, "I learned a long time ago, fate has a strange way of intervening."
In 2020, Biden will be 78, and it will be more than 45 years since he first was elected to represent Delaware in the Senate. Biden, who ran for president in 1988 and 2008, announced in 2015 he would not be running in the 2016 race, as he was still dealing with the loss of his son, Beau, to cancer. Catherine Garcia
Security has been increased at transit stations across Los Angeles County after the FBI received an anonymous phone call on Monday threatening the Metro Red Line station in Universal City.
The threat was made through a public safety line, FBI Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike said during a news conference Monday night. The person said something was going to happen at the station on Tuesday, and law enforcement is working to determine the threat's credibility. Mayor Eric Garcetti urged the public to be cautious, but go about their normal routines, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said there will be more uniformed and undercover deputies at stations and on trains. Catherine Garcia
After a 2015 internal study requested by Pentagon leaders suggested that $125 billion was spent on administrative waste in its business operations, the report was quickly hidden over concerns Congress might use the information to cut the defense budget, The Washington Post reports.
Through interviews and confidential memos, the Post discovered that the point of the study was to make the Pentagon's back-office bureaucracy more efficient, and the money saved would then be reinvested in combat power. The Defense Business Board, looking at personnel and cost data, found that the Pentagon was spending $134 billion of its $580 billion budget on overhead and operations like human resources, accounting, and property management. More than 1 million people work in business operations, nearly as many as the 1.3 million active-duty troops. The report recommended early retirements and attrition, making better use of information technology, and cutting back on expensive contractors in order to save $125 billion over five years, the Post says. It did not suggest any layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel.
This report didn't go over well with some Pentagon leaders, who had no idea how much money was being spent on these operations and worried that by showcasing administrative waste, Congress and the White House might slash their budget, the Post says. A summary report had been made public, but was removed from the Pentagon's website, and they placed secrecy restrictions on the data. "They're all complaining that they don't have any money," Bobby Stein, who served as chairman of the Defense Business Board, told the Post. "We proposed a way to save a ton of money." He called the data "indisputable," and said it was a "travesty" for the Pentagon to keep the results hidden. "We're going to be in peril because we're spending dollars like it doesn't matter."
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work, the second-highest-ranking official at the Pentagon, told the Post he didn't dispute the findings about the size and scope of the Pentagon's bureaucracy, but said the $125 billion savings proposal was "unrealistic" and the board did not understand how difficult it would be to cut so many federal civil service jobs. Read more about the report, how it was developed, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter's reaction to it at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia