On Martha’s Vineyard, black elites ponder the past year – By SARAH WHEATON 8/22/15 8:02 AM EDT

As Obama vacations on the island, an upper-class gathering grapples with a year of unrest.

US President Barack Obama (2nd L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (2nd R) walk from Marine One upon arrival on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, August 7, 2015. The Obama family is starting a 2-week vacation. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

EDGARTOWN, Mass. – For America’s black elite, this year’s seasonal sojourn to Martha’s Vineyard turned into a soul-searching retreat.


The shooting of a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., last year did little to disrupt the annual idyll of upper-class blacks on this island 1,200 miles away. Photos showed President Barack Obama dancing at a soiree for political power couple Vernon and Ann Jordan as Ferguson burned. The next afternoon he delivered an anodyne statement urging calm without mentioning race.

Obama returned this year for his sixth summer in office on Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the Massachusetts coast that has been a vacation destination for upwardly mobile African Americans for more than a century. But this year, many of the black doctors, lawyers, executives, professors and politicians who gather here to enjoy the sunshine, surf and cultural events are grappling with the realization that there may not be quite as much to celebrate as they once hoped.

Yes, the country has been led by a black president for nearly seven years. But images from body cameras and smart phones that have splashed police killings of unarmed black men across televisions and the Internet over the past year have forced the black elite to recognize — along with the rest of America — that their highest tide has left some boats sinking faster than ever.

“Middle-class African-Americans, the upper echelon, need to be cognizant of that,” said Linda D. Gaines, a regular summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard. “We cannot go back to our comfortable abodes and forget the struggle even though we don’t live next-door to less fortunate communities.”

The strides African Americans have taken in the American political establishment are on full display here each year. While Martha’s Vineyard has played host to black leaders for generations – Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X vacationed here – the top figures no longer lead protests. They lead the government.


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‘Dark money’: Conservative group wants image makeover – By TARINI PARTI 7/30/15 5:15 AM EDT Updated 7/30/15 5:15 AM EDT

The goal is to reduce negative perceptions about anonymous contributions.

Occupy Portland F29 marchers walk up SW Broadway in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. The march was to raise awareness of the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Benjamin Brink)

The Koch brothers-backed group that helped launch the push for voter ID laws and “stand your ground” statutes has a new project: defending the anonymous “dark money” in politics.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, composed of conservative state lawmakers and corporations, devoted part of its annual conference last week to turning around negative perceptions about anonymous contributions. In an audio tape obtained by POLITICO, panelists at the San Diego event lament a movement gaining traction in state and local governments to require more disclosure of donations to politically active nonprofits, which are expected to spend hundreds of millions in the 2016 election.

According to the audio, speakers stressed that groups pushing for disclosure were strategic in labeling anonymous spending “dark money,” “conjuring images of shady operatives in smoke-filled rooms” in the minds of voters to boost their cause.

“Seems to me that by using the term ‘dark money’ in this discussion we are buying into their arguments,” said one state senator at the session. “If the media were to call it something better such as ‘anonymous free speech money’ or something else. Somebody needs to come up with a better label than ‘dark money.’”

Other speakers also acknowledged that disclosure advocates have waged a more successful public relations campaign in influencing voters’ opinion on the issue, and that it’s time for their side to step it up as more statehouses propose disclosure laws.


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Here’s Why the Huffington Post Is Wrong About Donald Trump—By David Corn | Fri Jul. 17, 2015 1:30 PM EDT

His bid isn’t a joke; it’s a return on the GOP’s investment in extreme politics.

My good pals at Huffington Post have announced a momentous decision: No longer will they treat Donald Trump—a.k.a. @realDonaldTrump—as a serious political candidate and afford him coverage in its news and politics verticals. Instead, they will relegate the tirade-prone and traffic-generating tycoon to the entertainment section. I’ll let them explain:

After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won’t report on Trump’s campaign as part of the Huffington Post‘s political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

Trump has indeed turned an important event—a major political party selecting its presidential nominee—into a stretch Hummer-sized clown car. A Trump-dominated GOP contest does have the feel of a super-charged reality show, with political consumers (that is, the audience) on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next Trump tweet—Trweet™—blasting another foe or critic. (“Hey Pope Francis, you suck!”) Trump is campaigning as a bombastic buffoon, playing to the crowd and inspiring love-hate viewing. Yet, I believe my dear comrades at HuffPo (and I hope they will link to this article) are wrong.

It’s not that Trump is truly a statesman who ought to be regarded as such. But he is a political phenomenon that tell us much about a significant slice of the American public: Republican voters. It is indeed a drop-dead serious matter that a large bloc of GOPers—perhaps a plurality, depending on which poll you prefer—would entrust this nation to Trump. And the fact that Trump’s demagoguery is prevailing at this early stage of the Republican presidential race is a measure of how far the tea party shift in the party has gone—and how this ideological extremism has developed deep roots within the GOP.

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ISIS captures part of Syria’s Palmyra – By Mark Hensch May 16, 2015, 03:18 pm

Palmyra is one of the best-known ancient sites in the world

Palmyra is one of the best-known ancient sites in the world

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized portions of Syria’s historic Palmyra ruins Saturday.

ISIS forces now occupy the ancient city’s northern quarter, BuzzFeed reported.

Britain’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added in a statement that 13 ISIS soldiers died in fighting for the cultural site.

The terrorist organization clashed with Syrian troops over an old Islamic citadel, it added.

ISIS’s victory in Palmyra – also called Tadmur – raises fears about preserving the city’s cultural significance.

The group has previously destroyed priceless religious artifacts in territory it has conquered in Iraq and Syria.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lists Palmyra as a world heritage site.

“We must save Palmyra,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement from Paris on Thursday.

“This site has already suffered four years of conflict,” she said, referencing the civil war between Syrian rebels and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“It suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and the world,” Bokova said. “I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.”

UNESCO’s website lists Palmyra as “one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.”

The desert oasis was established in the 1st century AD.

Palmyra’s central location in the Middle East made it a hub of cultural exchange between the ancient Persians and Romans.

ISIS’ victory there Saturday was tempered by a crushing defeat elsewhere in Syria the same day.

A U.S. Special Forces raid on the group earlier that morning killed senior ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised the mission as a major victory in the fight against the radical Islamists.

“The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL, and it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the group.

Sayyaf reportedly helped control ISIS’s oil and gas resources.

American forces killed the terrorist when he “engaged U.S. forces” rather than risk capture.

U.S. soldiers also apprehended Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, and freed a young Yezidi woman who was reportedly the couple’s slave.


In Iowa, GOP field stresses opposition to same-sex marriage – By JAMES HOHMANN 4/26/15 1:02 AM EDT

WAUKEE, IA - APRIL 25:  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff. | Getty 

WAUKEE, Iowa—Leading Republican presidential candidates came to Iowa Saturday to assure social conservatives that they still oppose gay marriage, despite shifting public attitudes and the recent backlash against religious liberty laws.

Speaking to some 1,000 evangelicals at the Point of Grace Church in this suburb of Des Moines, a procession of presidential candidates expressed support for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to re-ban gay marriage if the Supreme Court recognizes a right to such unions.

Many GOP elites, in the donor and operative class, want to move beyond gay marriage. They think it’s a losing issue for the party in the long-term and makes outreach to younger voters more difficult. But social conservatives are the most influential constituency in the caucuses, which kick off the nominating process.

The nuanced answers from many Republican candidates in recent months took a backburner Saturday night, as several of the candidates tried to outdo one another on who could speak out most strongly against a right to gay marriage.

“Marriage as an institution existed before even government itself,” declared Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, kicking off the five-hour Faith & Freedom Summit, at which nine likely presidential candidates spoke. “The institution of marriage as between one man and one woman existed even before our laws existed.”

Scott Walker noted that he voted for Wisconsin’s constitutional ban and defended it through the judicial process, until the Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling that his state issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

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Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/04/iowa-faith-freedom-summit-2015-117346.html#ixzz3YPPU54Vw

Republicans scratched “civil rights and human rights” from a Senate subcommittee name Updated by Jenée Desmond-Harris on January 25, 2015, 12:30 p.m. ET

  1. Under new Republican leadership, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, has been renamed: it’s now called the Senate Subcommitee on the Constitution.
  2. The change wasn’t formally announced, but when Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) listed the members of the subcommittee this week, the “civil rights” and “human rights” were missing, the Huffington Post reported Friday.
  3. A spokesman for John Coryn (R-Texas),the chairman of the renamed subcommittee, confirmed the change and explained, “We changed the name because the Constitution covers our most basic rights, including civil and human rights,” and, “We will focus on these rights, along with other issues that fall under the broader umbrella of the Constitution.”

A change that reflects priorities?

The switch, combined with Coryn’s legislative track record (he has, for example, opposed a bipartisan plan designed to revive the Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court decision stripped its key provisions), is causing concern among those who take it as confirmation that the subcommittee won’t prioritize civil rights or human rights issues.

In a statement release Friday, Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the change “discouraging.” She said, “Names matter. This, after all, is a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the implementation and enforcement of many of our most important civil rights laws.”

A spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who’s the subcommittee’s previous chairman and now, ranking member, told the Huffington Post that the committee’s name change “speaks to its priorities,” but that Durbin would fight to make sure civil rights and human rights weren’t ignored under its new, more conservative leadership.

The subcommittee’s jurisdiction, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website (which has not yet been updated to reflect the new name or membership) is over the following areas:

  1. Constitutional amendments
  2. Enforcement and protection of  constitutional rights
  3. Statutory guarantees of civil rights and civil liberties
  4. Separation of powers
  5. Federal-State relations
  6. Interstate compacts
  7. Human rights laws and practices
  8. Enforcement and implementation of human rights laws

In a similar Republican-initiated name change that could be interpreted to reflect partisan values, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) eliminated “refugees and border security” from the name of the Senate subcommittee on immigration policy, replacing that phrase with “the national interest.”