The sharp improvement in American job creation clearly poses a challenge for Republicans. The GOP spent last year insisting that the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, and federal regulations were crushing the job market, and yet, 2014 saw the fastest drop in unemployment in literally three decades.
After a two-year hiatus from politics, unemployment trutherism made its return to the Republican campaign trail on Monday, making a brief appearance alongside Rick Perry at an Iowa breakfast.
According to Bloomberg Politics reporter Dave Weigel, the former Texas governor told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition that they couldn't trust the official unemployment rate coming out of Washington.
"It's been massaged, it's been doctored," Perry said, as quoted in a tweet by Weigel.
Weigel has not yet published a report with the full context, but he provided a transcript to W. Gardner Selby. The former Texas governor explicitly said, in reference to the unemployed, "I mean, who is it standing up for these people that I call the uncounted? They've lost hope that they can even get a job, so they're not even counted. When you look at the unemployment rate today, that's not the true unemployment rate, it's been massaged, it's been doctored."
When it comes to campaign fundraising, it's easy for the numbers to start to blur together. One candidate raised several million dollars, but is struggling with cash on hand. Another had a subpar monthly report, but fared well in the quarterly report. There are PACs, super PACs, campaign committees, state parties, and on and on, each furiously trying to fill their coffers -- and in a "permanent campaign" environment, it seems to never stop.
I mention this because I understand how easy it is to start tuning out reports on the role of money in elections. Everyone gets it: there's a lot of money being raised and spent.
But some reports shouldn't be dismissed too quickly. This piece from Matea Gold, for example, was legitimately jaw-dropping.
A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The question is not whether $889 million is a lot of money to invest in a single election. It is. Rather, the key here is understanding what such a sum represents in a democratic system of government.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), a far-right former congressman who's rumored to be eyeing the 2016 presidential race, is hardly the only conservative Republican policymaker who's sometimes at odds with the press.
Pence appears to be, however, the only conservative Republican policymaker who hopes to circumvent -- and compete with -- independent news organizations with his own state-run media entity.
Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.
Pence is planning in late February to launch "Just IN," a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.
According to the materials obtained by The Indianapolis Star, state agencies' communications directors were informed last week, "At times, Just IN will break news -- publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such 'exclusive' coverage remain under discussion."
It's hard to say exactly what this will look like in practice -- I suppose we'll see soon enough -- but state officials will apparently publish "news stories" they've written about their own administration's work, effectively erasing the line between press releases and actual reporting.
It'll be especially interesting to hear about the news-gathering process for "Just IN." Will press secretaries chase down quotes from their bosses? When agency chiefs host press conferences, will state officials sit among actual reporters? Will those officials scoop real news organizations before the press conferences even begin?
Rachel Maddow reports that Iowa governor Terry Branstad, who is about to become the longest serving governor in U.S. history, became ill during a speech at a ribbon-cutting event today and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. watch
* Greece: "Alexis Tsipras, the leftist political maverick who swept to power on Sunday in Greece in a popular rebellion, formed a new coalition government on Monday with a right-wing fringe party that will charge immediately into the task of reversing wrenching austerity policies and negotiating with European leaders to reduce Greece's debt burden."
* Yemen: "A C.I.A. drone strike on Monday on a car in eastern Yemen, the first since the resignation of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, killed three suspected Qaeda fighters, American officials said, in a signal that the United States will continue its targeted killing operations in the country despite the apparent takeover by Houthi fighters."
* A new thing for the Secret Service to worry about: "The owner of a drone that landed on the White House grounds early Monday told authorities that he was testing how it would perform in bad weather but lost track of it, law enforcement sources told NBC News. The drone's owner, who is cooperating with a Secret Service investigation, said that he did not realize it had landed in a tree on the lawn of the White House until he saw news reports describing the incident, the sources said."
* Espionage: "A banker and two diplomats were charged Monday with spying for the Russian government in the New York area, using coded messages and secret handoffs to gather intelligence and send it back home."
* Leak case: "Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, was convicted of espionage charges Monday, for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran's nuclear program."
* Marriage news from late Friday: "A federal judge in Mobile, Alabama, today struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, bringing the number of gay marriage states to 37.... The judge did not put a hold on the effect of her ruling, but the state's attorney general, Luther Strange, said he would seek one."
One of the things that makes the debate over health care policy so interesting is that it has such sweeping implications. We can look at the issue, for example, and ask economic questions, such as, "How much is the Affordable Care Act helping the economy?" We can look at the same issue and ask fiscal questions, such as, "How important is it that 'Obamacare' is reducing the national deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars?"
We can look at the issue from a political perspective. And an ideological perspective. And a sociological perspective. And given extreme circumstances, maybe even a national security perspective.
But at its root, for many involved in the debate, the angle that matters is a moral one. Policies like the ACA tend to do extremely well on substantive questions, and quite poorly on political ones, but when we strip away the layers, we're often left with the morality of either providing or denying families access to basic medical care. Confronted with the question, either the dial on your moral compass spins or it doesn't.
This came up in a big way over the weekend, when the American Enterprise Institute's Michael R. Strain made a curious argument about mortality rates in the Washington Post. The headline on the piece read, "End Obamacare, and people could die. That's okay."
In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals -- including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.
In fairness to Strain, he almost certainly did not write the jarringly callous headline, but he did write this quoted excerpt. In fact, his piece went on to say that if Republican policymakers successfully repealed the federal health care reform law, it "could" result in more American deaths, "but it clearly would not be immoral."
I can appreciate why Strain feels the need to make this case. For proponents of reform, there's considerable focus on consequences: if Republicans -- either on the Supreme Court or in Congress -- destroy the law, the potential for catastrophic shockwaves are quite real. As a practical reality, if millions of families are stripped of the benefits, an untold number of Americans will die unnecessarily. Their crime? They got sick.
As hard as it may be to perceive right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson as a credible presidential candidate, he received a very warm welcome at Steve King's "Iowa Freedom Summit" over the weekend, and Carson arguably delivered one of the more polished presentations of the gathering.
But on the substance of Carson's remarks, one thing jumped out at me.
On the Affordable Care Act -- which Carson has on several occasions compared to slavery -- the famous former surgeon said he opposed any government intrusion in health care. "Even if it worked, I would oppose it," Carson said of Obamacare. "It doesn't."
"I don't believe in taking the most important thing a person has, which is their health and their health care, and putting it in the hands of the government," he later added....
What's more, when Carson argues that government shouldn't have a hand in matters related to health care, it would seem to suggest the Republican candidate is against the VA health care system for active-duty and retired military personnel, Medicare, and Medicaid. That's not too surprising -- a guy who draws a parallel between modern American life and Nazis isn't going to be a moderate -- but it's a pretty extreme position for even today's GOP.
But the true gem is, in reference to the ACA, "Even if it worked, I would oppose it."
In early December, quite a few conservative pundits, and even a couple of congressional Republicans, floated a radical idea: President Obama should not be invited to deliver the State of the Union address.
The chatter grew loud enough that the issue came up during House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) weekly press conference on Dec. 5. Asked if he planned to extend an invitation to Obama, Boehner replied, "Listen, the more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes. Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?"
Republicans laughed; the proponents of the idea largely gave up, and the political world moved on. But a week after the president's big speech, it's worth pausing to ask whether Boehner was correct. The more the president talks about his ideas, does he become more unpopular?
A debate for the Republican presidential candidates in August 2011 featured one of the more memorable moments of the race. Eight GOP hopefuls shared the stage and were asked an interesting question: would they accept a debt-reduction deal in which Democrats would give up $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases? Every Republican on the stage said they'd reject the deal.
Jon Huntsman later conceded he regretted how he handled that moment and wished he'd answered differently, but what about his party? As the 2016 cycle slowly starts to get underway, the question still seems relevant, and at a Koch brothers' donor forum last night, ABC's Jonathan Karl put the same challenge to Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
All three senators indicated that they would reject a deal that would cut $10 in spending for every $1 in new taxes, though none of them directly answered the question.... "When and if any of the people up here run for president, there should be an absolute rule: No yes or no answers," Paul said. He then indicated that he wouldn't like such a deal. "I think we have plenty of taxes in this country."
Cruz said that while it's a question "the media likes to ask," it represents a false choice. "That trade-off has proven historically to be a fool's errand," Cruz said. "It's a little bit like Lucy and the football. One element of the promise never happens."
Rubio chimed in: "The only way you can get out of this problem is spending discipline, holding the line on spending, and rapid and dynamic economic growth."
A lot of people forget this, but in March 2011, following the big Tea Party wave of 2010, Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee released a report on deficit reduction. In it, House GOP officials outlined their ideal cuts-to-revenue ratio, and concluded that "successful" attempts to cut the deficit meet a specific goal: "85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases." Roughly speaking, that's about a 5-to-1 ratio in Republicans' favor.
Four years later, however, leading Republican presidential candidates are apparently well to the right of where House GOP officials were in 2011. The fact remains that a Democratic 10-to-1 offer would never happen -- there's nothing fair or just about a "compromise" tilted so heavily in the GOP's favor -- but the point is most leading Republicans wouldn't accept the gift anyway.