Archive for October, 2015

Billionaire Paul Singer Backs Marco Rubio Over Jeb Bush

Marco rubioMarco Rubio’s highly touted debate performance on Wednesday has already yielded a significant tangible benefit: The Republican presidential candidate has snagged the support of mega-donor Paul Singer, in a move that will be widely seen in the political world as a blow to struggling rival Jeb Bush.

One of the party’s most prolific and hard-to-please donors, Singer gave more than $16 million to candidates and political committees in the last four years, according to records on file with the Federal Election Commission. Fiscally conservative and socially moderate, the hedge-fund manager has donated to conservative candidates and causes, such as pro-Israel groups, former Ambassador John Bolton and the Tea Party Patriots, but he has steered many of his contributions to his own super political action committee, American Unity, which supports Republicans who back gay rights. He gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, the super-PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and he supported former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 White House bid.

Over the last two presidential cycles Singer, founder of Elliott Management, convened private meetings of his fellow wealthy New York Republicans, at which presidential candidates effectively audition for support.  A Harvard law school graduate, Singer started his firm in 1977 with $1.3 million that friends and family staked him. The New York-based firm now manages oversees assets worth $25 billion. Its flagship fund has lost money in just two calendar years.

There is a strong possibility that Singer’s endorsement will send a signal to other undecided bundlers to cast their lot with Rubio. Such is Singer’s influence in the donor community that it is conceivable that his move will cause some current backers of Bush to jump ship. That potential dynamic has been watched for closely since Wednesday’s debate, although Rubio’s advisers have cautioned not to expect an immediate wave of defections.  Among the currently unaffiliated mega-donors who could be influenced by Singer’s choice are industrialist David Koch, Philip Anschutz, a Denver-based oilman and entertainment entrepreneur, Charles Schwab, founder of the eponymous brokerage firm, and Chicago Cubs owner Todd Ricketts. All are part of Singer’s network. Ricketts was a national finance chairman for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who dropped out of the presidential race in September.

Singer already is preparing to exercise his influence on Rubio’s behalf. In a draft letter he  has prepared for members of his circle, many of whom have given in the past to Republican presidential candidates but have remained uncommitted so far in this cycle, he asks the to join him in backing Rubio, whom he praises for his “vision” and his ability to deliver “a compelling argument for using conservative ideas to help America adapt and thrive in the 21st century.”

“In a field full of promise, but also of risk for the party, Senator Rubio is the strongest choice,” Singer wrote, noting the Florida senator’s “substantive views well suited to both the primary and general electorate.”

After a debate performance in which his attempt to attack Rubio, a one time political protege, backfired, Bush and his top campaign aides held a conference call with donors this week in an attempt to reassure them.  For Singer, however, the debate was decisive. According to a person familiar with  his thinking, the billionaire investor had been leaning towards Rubio for some time, and the Bush campaign, knowing that, tried to head him off.  In a signal of how influential Singer can be, representatives for Bush in the finance community had pleaded that he hold off on making a decision to give Bush more time. But after what he saw on the debate stage Wednesday, Singer did not believe he would learn more that would influence his decision, according to a source familiar with his thinking. He did not believe Bush could beat front-runner Donald Trump, or fend off a possible surge by ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, or that the son and brother of two previous presidents could beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. Singer wants to consolidate support behind someone he believes can accomplish all of those tasks.

“It’s my highest priority to support the candidate for president who can navigate this complex primary process, and still be in a position to defeat Secretary Clinton in November 2016,” Singer wrote in the letter intended for his fellow donors.

Singer eventually will provide super-PAC money on Rubio’s behalf but for the short term plans to focus on bundling, collecting money from his wide network of  political donors for Rubio’s official campaign committee between now and the start of the caucuses and primaries in early February.





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Shaker Aamer released from Guantánamo Bay

Shaker AamerThe last British prisoner in Guantanamo Bay has been released, it was confirmed today.

Father-of-four Shaker Aamer had been detained at the US military jail in Cuba since 2002 without trial.

He was cleared for release at the end of last month, but Mr Aamer’s wife Zin and four children, one of whom he has never met, have been waiting for his return.

His release was confirmed by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond this morning.

Andy Worthington, co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, said he had informed by Mr Aamer’s lawyer that he is due to return to the UK today.

He said: ‘We’re delighted to hear that his long and unacceptable ordeal has come to an end.

‘We hope he won’t be detained by the British authorities on his return and gets the psychological and medical care that he needs to be able to resume his life with his family in London.’

Other reports suggested he was already on a flight back home.

Human rights charity Reprieve wrote on Twitter: ‘Looks like a plane has left Guantanamo Bay, bound for London.’

But a spokesman for Reprieve said it had no confirmation of Mr Aamer’s release and it would not receive advance warning.

Mr Aamer, 46, says he was working as a charity worker in Afghanistan when he was kidnapped and handed over to US forces in 2001.

During his time in captivity, his lawyers said he was subjected to torture, with beatings and sleep deprivation, and held in solitary confinement for 360 days.

In 2005, he lost half his body weight during a hunger strike.

His family, MPs and actors Mark Rylance and Maxine Peake have also taken part in a 24-hour fast to show their support. Mr Aamer said he cried when he read about the protests.

He was described in US military files obtained by the WikiLeaks website as a ‘close associate of Osama bin Laden’ who fought in the battle of Tora Bora.

However in 2007 the allegations against him were dropped and he was cleared for release.

Despite a formal request by then foreign secretary David Miliband, American authorities refused to allow him to go.

In letters, Mr Aamer said he was not sure if he would know how to respond to his name after being referred to as 239 – his prison number – for more than a decade.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: ‘After so many twists and turns in this appalling case, we won’t really believe that Shaker Aamer is actually being returned to the UK until his plane touches down on British soil.

‘We should remember what a terrible travesty of justice this case has been, and that having been held in intolerable circumstances for nearly 14 years Mr Aamer will need to time to readjust to his freedom.’

In a letter to Mr Aamer’s US lawyer earlier this month, Clive Stafford Smith, Mr Hammond said he ‘greatly welcomed’ the decision to release his client.

It was claimed Mr Aamer’s release was delayed to appease US politicians visiting the camp.

Three Republican Senators visited the camp on a ‘fact-finding’ mission.

Asked about the timescale, Mr Hammond said: ‘As you know, the US authorities have now informed us that they have decided to return Shaker Aamer to the UK.

‘We greatly welcome this decision. The US government has notified Congress and once that notice period has concluded, Mr Aamer will return to the UK.

‘In the meantime we will continue to work closely with the US administration on arrangements for Mr Aamer’s return.’

Speaking about the delays earlier this week, Mr Stafford Smith, who is also Director of pressure group Reprieve, said: ‘Sadly, as we have said all along, it looks like those who don’t want Shaker released are dragging their feet.

‘We want to thank all those who have been committed to helping Shaker, but we must all continue to press the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to do as they promised.

‘Surely 14 years of abuse is enough every additional day is an additional insult to justice. He has to come home now, and his family must be put out of their eternal misery.’

Downing Street has refused to comment on the timing of Mr Aamer’s release.

But the PM’s spokesman said earlier this week: ‘We have been working with the US to make sure the case is dealt with as quickly as possible.’


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Jeb Bush Attack on Rubio Backfires During CNBC Debate Leaving Campaign in Trouble

GOP 2016 DebateJeb Bush needed a strong performance at the Republican presidential debate to silence the doubters. He did not get it.

Instead, his lackluster showing is likely to spur even more questions about his viability as a top-tier candidate, with his campaign manager immediately after the debate insisting that Bush would remain the race for the long haul.

The former Florida governor came into the debate after having dramatically downsized his campaign staff and huddling with nervous donors to calm their fears, the result of persistent single-digit showings in opinion polls.

Those donors are likely to be even more anxious following Wednesday night’s debate, after Bush seemed to come out on the losing end of exchanges with both U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and disappeared from the screen for long stretches of time.

One commentator said, “You have all these donors invested in him,” at some point, they’re going to change horses. If he was looking to revive his campaign and replenish his coffers, tonight did not do him any justice.”

Bush hit fellow Floridian Rubio early with a jab at Rubio’s attendance record for votes on the Senate floor. But in what became one of the debate’s most-talked about moments, Rubio flipped the attack back at him, labeling Bush a craven opportunist.

The only reason Bush was making it an issue, Rubio said, was “because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

Startled, Bush had no response. This was their plan of attack on Rubio, and it was a spectacular failure. He went at Rubio with a knife, Rubio came back with a gun.

Later in the event, Bush was asked whether fantasy football should be treated as gambling – and he joked about his own fantasy team before suggesting the government should get more involved.

It was the rare moment when Bush was given a chance to show his sense of humor and one that otherwise might have gone over well. But he was interrupted by a fiery Christie, who exclaimed, to the approval of the audience, “Are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? We have – wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?”

Bush, whose diminished standing in the race was noted by the debate moderators, was not a factor for much of the night. Of the 10 candidates on the stage in Boulder, Colorado, for the main debate, the only one who spoke less often than Bush was another struggling contender, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Polls have consistently had Bush in the single digits, far behind the insurgent campaigns of billionaire developer and reality TV star Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. The latest Reuters/Ipsos five-day tracking poll had Trump in the lead with 32 percent, Carson behind at 15.5 percent and Bush at just 7 percent.

Still, Bush’s campaign was unbowed, complaining after the debate that he got the short shrift among the time allotted.

“I think Jeb Bush did what he had to do tonight, which is talk about his record in front of millions of Americans,” his campaign manager, Danny Diaz, said after the debate, He maintained that Bush would stay in the race for the duration.

Diaz also suggested that the campaign would continue to make an issue out of Rubio, a first-term senator, and his lack of experience. Bush returns to New Hampshire on Thursday, a state his campaign now intends to make a priority.




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Establishment GOP Candidates Seek Way Back Against Trump & Carson in CNBC Debate

CNBC debateEstablishment politicians trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson for the Republican presidential nomination are eager to shift the campaign focus to the economy and policy in Wednesday’s debate and expose what they see as weaknesses in the two front-runners.

Jeb Bush and other candidates are trying to turn the tide in a campaign that is dominated so far by provocative rhetoric that has played to the strengths of Trump, a bombastic reality television star and developer, and Carson, a soft-spoken surgeon who has been gaining support in opinion polls.

The two-hour debate, moderated in Boulder, Colorado, by business network CNBC.  Trump and Carson hold a firm grip on the race in polls of likely Republican voters for the November 2016 election, the forum comes at an increasingly perilous time for lower-ranking candidates.

Former Florida Governor Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are under pressure to shake up a race for the party’s nomination that so far is tilting away from them with the first voting to take place in little more than three months.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio also need solid performances to build on recent momentum.

Officials from several rival campaigns said they believe the debate could help make Trump and Carson less popular if they are shown to lack knowledge of the intricacies of policy.

“If they run this thing well and push people to see if they’re smart on the economy and job creation and how fiscal restraint fits into that, you could finally start separating the sheep from the goats on an important issue,” said an official in the campaign of one of the Republicans vying against Trump.

Republican strategist Kevin Madden said the debate could pose a test for Trump and Carson.

“It requires them to no longer just glide by on attributes like being new and bold,” said Madden, a former top aide to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Carson set the table for a debate about the future of sacrosanct entitlement programs by telling “Fox News Sunday” he would use health savings accounts as an alternative to popular Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the poor and elderly.

Trump, suddenly behind Carson in some polls, went on the attack on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, saying he did not think Carson would get away with “abolishing Medicare”, which Carson denied he would do.

In Westerville, Ohio, on Monday, Kasich signaled he would take a tougher tone with Trump and Carson.

“I want you to know I’m fed up. I’m sick and tired of listening to this nonsense and I’m going to have to call it like it is in this race,” he said.

A Trump aide said the billionaire would be well-prepared to respond to attacks at the debate. A Carson spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Without mentioning Trump or Carson specifically, the campaign of Huckabee, who has offered a detailed “fair tax” plan, said the debate will require candidates to go beyond talking points.

“All of them as a whole are going to have to give more than just the topline bullet points of their economic policies,” said Huckabee spokeswoman Alice Stewart.

Trump frequently touts the business experience that made him a billionaire as reason enough why a President Trump would create a stronger economy.

He released a tax reform plan in September that would lower tax rates for all Americans and would pay for the loss of tax revenue by eliminating tax deductions and corporate loopholes.

The non-partisan Tax Foundation said it would reduce tax revenues by $10.14 trillion over the next decade when accounting for economic growth from increases in the supply of labor and capital.

Carson has proposed all Americans pay a flat tax of 10 percent on income based on the biblical notion of tithing. He would eliminate individual and corporate tax loopholes. He has said his proposal would be revenue neutral for the federal budget.

Bush has been active in taking on Trump, and an aide said he plans to do so in Boulder.

Bush may have little choice. “Jeb is trailing in the polls, he’s got nothing to lose,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

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Polish Conservatives Win General Election

Polish Conservatives Win General ElectionThe conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party led by eurosceptic Jaroslaw Kaczynski has won Poland’s general elections, ending eight years of centrist rule, official results showed Monday.

PiS scored 37.58 percent of the vote, the state electoral commission said.

The panel did not confirm the absolute parliamentary majority projected by exit polls, saying it would publish the distribution of seats on Tuesday.

An exit poll published early Monday gave the PiS 37.7 percent of the vote, translating into a 232-seat majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

The governing Civic Platform (PO) liberals came second with 24.09 percent.

Three other parties also entered parliament, but the left was ousted from the lower house for the first time since the advent of democracy 25 years ago.

An anti-establishment party, Kukiz’15, led by punk rocker Pawel Kukiz made a strong parliamentary debut, capturing 8.81 percent of the vote, in what analysts said was a successful pitch to younger, disillusioned voters.

Another newcomer, the Nowoczesna (Modern) liberal party led by economist Ryszard Petru, scored 7.6 percent of the vote on promises of introducing a 16-percent flat tax.

The PSL farmers’ party, the PO’s junior coalition parter in the outgoing government, scraped past the five percent threshold to enter parliament with 5.13 percent of the vote.

But the United Left, grouping both the ex-communist SLD party and a collection of other left and green parties took 7.55 percent of the vote, less than the eight percent it needed as coalition to enter parliament.

Under the constitution, President Andrzej Duda, elected in May with strong PiS backing, will set the first sitting of parliament after the state election commission confirms seat distribution on Tuesday.

Parliament must meet for the first time before November 24, or within 30 days of the election.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz must then present her resignation. President Duda will then tap a prime minister-designate to form a government.

Kaczynski’s protege Beata Szydlo is expected to lead the new government.


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Republican Voters View Trump as Strongest General Election Candidate

Trump PollsRepublican voters view Donald Trump as their strongest general election candidate, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that highlights the sharp contrast between the party’s voters and its top professionals regarding the billionaire businessman’s ultimate political strength.

Seven in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say Trump could win in November 2016 if he is nominated, and that’s the most who say so of any candidate. By comparison, 6 in 10 say the same for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who, like Trump, has tapped into the powerful wave of anti-establishment anger defining the early phases of the 2016 contest.

Trump and Carson are considered among the least electable general election candidates by the Republican Party’s professionals, those who are in the business of helping candidates run campaigns and win elections.

Experienced political strategists note that winning a general election and winning the Republican nomination are often very different tasks. The GOP’s most conservative voters, a group that is older and whiter than the nation as a whole wield extraordinary influence in picking the nominee. Independents, moderate voters and minorities are far more important in general elections that draw many more people to the polls.

While Trump and Carson are popular in primary election polls, both have used divisive rhetoric in recent months that alienated some minorities. Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals during his announcement speech; while Carson said he would not support a Muslim presidential candidate.

“Republicans think (Democrat) Hillary (Rodham Clinton) is weaker than she is. They are wrong,” said GOP operative Katie Packer, who was deputy campaign manager for 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. “They think we don’t need to win more women or more Hispanics to win. They’re wrong.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has embraced a welcoming tone with Hispanics, tops the field of experienced political leaders on the question of electability, running about even with Carson and slightly behind Trump.

Six in 10 Republicans say Bush could win the general election and 54 percent say the same about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. There’s a drop-off among the rest of the GOP’s 2016 crowded class. None of the other candidates is viewed as electable in a general election by more than half of Republican voters.

Carson and Trump are the candidates most likely to receive positive ratings from Republican voters, with 65 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of Carson and 58 percent saying the same of Trump. Republicans are somewhat less excited about Bush, with 48 percent giving him a favorable rating.

Trump and Bush have the highest negative ratings within their own party: 37 percent of Republican voters say they have an unfavorable opinion of Bush and 36 percent say the same of Trump.

Their negatives are even more pronounced among the broader electorate. The AP-GfK poll found Trump is viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of those surveyed, the highest negatives of any Republican candidate. Bush is next with unfavorable ratings from 48 percent of all respondents.

Overall, all but one GOP candidate is viewed more unfavorably than favorably by all those questioned. Carson is the exception, drawing about equally positive and negative views. He remains unknown by a significant portion of the electorate.

Among Republican voters, all the candidates except New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have a net positive rating. Carson tops the list, followed by Rubio, former technology executive Carly Fiorina and then Trump.

The poll also found a sharp difference between the political parties over experience.

By an overwhelming 77 percent to 22 percent margin, Republican registered voters and leaners say they prefer an outsider candidate who will change how things are done, rather than someone with experience in Washington who can get things done. They prefer someone with private sector leadership experience over experience holding elected office, 76 percent to 22 percent.

Trump, Carson and Fiorina are the only Republican candidates who have never held elective office. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is a former first lady, secretary of state and senator.

Perhaps that helps explain why Democrats prefer experience over outsider status, 67 percent to 32 percent, and experience in office over private sector experience 66 percent to 33 percent.

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Trump Hits Jeb Bush Over Campaign Debacle

Donald TrumpRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump mocked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in his own state on Saturday, saying recent campaign cuts show he’s not ready to be president.

“Here’s a guy who wants to run our country, and he can’t even run his own campaign. And you know what? He’s cutting back big,” Trump told a raucous crowd of thousands gathered along the riverfront of one of Florida’s most conservative cities.

The comment came the day after the Bush campaign said it was cutting payroll by 40 percent by trimming staff and requiring an across the board pay cut for those remaining.

Trump said Bush, the son and brother for former presidents, is “losing badly and embarrassing his family.”

“Bush has no money. He’s cutting. He’s meeting today with mommy and daddy and they’re working on their campaign,” Trump said.

He chastised Bush for paying his finance director more than $1 million and said that if campaign staffers were willing to work for lower pay, he should have made that deal when the campaign started.

“You don’t wait till you’re failing,” he said.

By contrast, Trump said he’s only spent about $2 million on his campaign and he’s leading in polls.

“So, I’ve put up less money than anybody else and I’m No. 1,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better if we had a country that would spend the least and be No. 1? Think about it.”

The Bush campaign responded by saying people are getting tired of Trump.

“Donald Trump needs a new schtick. Launching absurd attacks at his opponents to distract from his lack of ideas and liberal record is beginning to wear thin with voters. Donald Trump is increasingly showing each day that he is not a serious enough person to be commander in chief and lead the world’s most powerful military,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in an email.

Bush wasn’t the only rival Trump targeted during a speech that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also took hits.

“You’ve got Rubio doing poorly, and he sweats like a dog,” Trump said. “You’ve got Carson. I don’t know what the hell’s going on there. I don’t get it.”

It was the second straight day Trump campaigned in Florida, where he leads in recent polls, a point he took joy in letting the crowd know.

“Trump is No. 1. Rubio, waaaaay back,” Trump said. “You’re talking about a guy who’s sweating, now he’s really sweating.”

He also said Rubio is disloyal because he is challenging Bush for the nomination after saying for years that Bush was his political mentor.

“Everybody said he’d never run. Even I thought, he’ll never run because Bush was his mentor.” Trump said. “Those two guys are fighting like crazy, and I’m laughing watching them fight.”

A spokesman for Carson, Doug Watts, said in an email: “We love and respect Mr. Trump.”

The Rubio’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


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