Latest StoriesRSS

select from

E.g., 8/28/2014
E.g., 8/28/2014
President Barack Obama speaks  at an event, June 25, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Obama eyes plan to circumvent Congress on climate agreement

08/28/14 10:56AM

President Obama has already acted more than once to combat the climate crisis through executive action, largely by relying on the Clean Air Act. While the White House acted last year to apply regulatory safeguards to new power plants, this year, Obama unveiled rules that apply to power plants that are already operating, pumping carbon pollution into the environment right now.
 
To be sure, these policy breakthroughs matter, but given the severity of the global crisis, officials here and around the world realize far more must be done. As Coral Davenport reported this week, the White House is already eyeing the next step.
The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.
 
In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world's largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution.
You'll notice the word "agreement," rather than the word "treaty." That's not an accident.
 
In theory, U.S. officials could meet with international leaders and begin negotiations on a new climate treaty to be ratified by participating nations. But foreign policy in the United States has entered a post-treaty phase -- Republicans won't even allow a vote on a minimum-wage increase, so the idea of getting 67 votes for a climate treaty is plainly ridiculous.
 
And with this in mind, and facing potentially catastrophic consequences, U.S. officials have had to get creative.
A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.

Why the odds of a government shutdown are growing

08/28/14 10:12AM

Funding for the federal government expires at the end of the fiscal year -- Sept. 30 at midnight -- and for months, everyone in Washington assumed the odds of another shutdown were zero. Just this week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) dismissed the very idea of another standoff as absurd.
 
House Republicans "will pass a clean" spending bill, Ryan assured the public, and that will be that. Congress will only work 10 days in September, following its five-week summer break, but that should be plenty of time to approve a straightforward measure (called a "continuing resolution") to keep the government's lights on.
 
And with roughly a month to go, that may yet happen. But just over the last 48 hours, there's new reason to believe the odds of a shutdown are improving.
 
Indeed, The Atlantic's Molly Ball published an important piece yesterday with two particularly noteworthy paragraphs.
A well-placed House Republican source tells me GOP leadership is increasingly nervous about the potential for a rebellion on the funding bill. The small but influential hard core of House conservatives were emboldened by what happened earlier this month with the border bill: A proposal favored by Speaker John Boehner to address the border crisis with emergency funding and expedited deportations had to be pulled when conservatives, egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, revolted. The legislation the House passed instead had a smaller price tag and would bar President Obama from continuing his policy of allowing some young undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. The Democrat-led Senate, meanwhile, did not manage to pass its own version of border legislation at all, so Congress failed to act on the issue.
 
House conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Steve King considered the episode a major victory. Bachmann called it a highlight of her career. Now, Republican leaders are worried that conservatives will not go along with a simple government-funding bill unless it reflects their priorities.
And what priorities might those be? I'm glad you asked.
The U.S. Capitol is shown at sunset in Washington, D.C.

A congressional excuse takes shape on ISIS?

08/28/14 09:43AM

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, agrees that it would be "wise for Congress to come together and draft a grant of some authority" for President Obama to use force against ISIS targets in the Middle East. Smith just doesn't think it's possible -- not "in a million years."
 
"There is simply no way on earth that members of Congress are going to come together and agree on what the language for an authorization for the use of force in Syria is -- it's just not going to happen," Smith told the New York Times yesterday.
 
Of course, if Smith is correct, and I suspect he is, that's likely to cause a problem. Indeed, with the Obama administration launching airstrikes against ISIS targets and eyeing possible intervention in Syria, Congress' reluctance to meet its constitutional obligations is already a problem.
 
So what comes next? Some of this debate will have to wait -- lawmakers are still on their five-week break, and no one has even raised the possibility of them returning to work ahead of schedule. That said, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) made some interesting remarks yesterday afternoon.
Congress should not give President Obama additional authority to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) until the administration provides a strategy for defeating the militant group, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday.
McKeon said ISIS must be targeted, but that would demand a "comprehensive strategy" from the White House. "This comprehensive approach may well require additional authorities from Congress, but speculation about that before the president has even offered a strategy is putting the cart before the horse," the congressman said.
 
The California Republican added that the president must "explain to the American people what is at stake, what our objectives are, and the strategy for how to achieve them. Only after we understand all this can we contemplate what new authorities might be needed."
 
As best as I can tell, this was a new posture for GOP leaders, and though this is admittedly speculative, I think it offers a hint of the road ahead.
An UZI Pistol Model B

Uzi accident sparks debate about children and guns

08/28/14 09:04AM

It was the kind of story that was hard to miss yesterday. A 9-year-old girl, on vacation with her family, was given an Uzi to fire at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Ariz. When the child couldn't control the submachine gun's recoil, she accidentally killed her instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca.
 
It's generating some overdue conversation.
In the aftermath of the tragic death of a gun-range instructor killed by a 9-year-old girl who wasn't able to control an Uzi 9mm submachine gun, many are raising questions about whether it is safe -- or even legal -- for young children to handle powerful firearms.
 
Arizona, where the incident happened on Monday, is one of 21 states that has no laws restricting the access of guns to minors under 18, as long as there is adult supervision.
 
Twenty-nine states have child access prevention laws. Fourteen prohibit someone from "intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly providing some or all firearms to children," according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The Arizona Republic's E.J. Montini ran a compelling piece with a notable headline: "Why do we allow a child to handle an Uzi?"
 
The columnist wrote, "Arizona law allows a minor to possess a weapon if accompanied by a parent, guardian or an instructor. But this type of weapon? It's time we asked ourselves: Why would a shooting range allow a kid to handle an automatic weapon? Why would a parent? And, most importantly, why would a state?"
 
A New York Times report added that these ranges have become popular tourist attractions. People can "fire the weapons of their dreams: automatic machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers. A hamburger lunch is included; a helicopter tour of the nearby Grand Canyon is optional."
 
And while the public comes to terms with the propriety of these activities, we might also want to ask a related question: who's in charge of the NRA's social-media operation?

Jobless claims inch lower, remain below key threshold

08/28/14 08:38AM

For several years, those rooting for the U.S. job market to improve found it hard to imagine initial unemployment claims dropping below the 300,000 threshold. Now, it's happening all the time. Take the latest data from the Labor Department, for example.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week remained below 300,000, suggesting little likelihood that a brightening outlook for the labor market will dim anytime soon. Initial claims edged down by 1,000 to 298,000 in the seven days ended Aug. 23 and remained near an eight-year low, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
 
What's more, the average of new claims over the past month fell by 1,250 to 299,750. The monthly figure smooths out the jumpiness in the weekly data and offers a better look at underlying trends in the labor market.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 22 of the last 25 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last six weeks.)
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at an event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, August 21, 2014.

Rick Perry, still a little forgetful

08/28/14 08:00AM

It's been nearly two weeks since Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was indicted on two felony counts, and at this point, some critics of the indictment are still struggling with the basic details. That includes the governor himself.
 
Over the weekend, for example, Peggy Noonan told a national television audience the case against Perry is an example of "local Democratic overreach." Reminded that this doesn't make sense -- local Dems weren't involved in any way -- Noonan said the case "looks crazy" anyway.
 
A day prior, Perry seemed just as confused. The Houston Chronicle suggested it might be another "oops moment" for the Texas governor.
As Gov. Rick Perry addressed business leaders in New Hampshire last Friday, he was asked about the two-count felony indictment  he's facing back home.
 
His answer, according to ABC News: "I've been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I'm not a lawyer, so I don't really understand the details here."
 
Bribery? Really?
The "details," for what it's worth, are that Perry was indicted on two counts: "abuse of official capacity" and "coercion of a public official." The governor may think he was charged with bribery, but he was not.
 
The broader question, however, is why Perry, a likely presidential candidate, seems so confused. I realize the governor isn't, shall we say, detail-oriented, but he's facing two felony counts. If convicted, the penalty could include jail time.
 
Sure, there are going to be legal nuances to the case that can be left to attorneys, but maybe Perry should at least know what he's been charged with?

Russian invasion? and other headlines

08/28/14 07:56AM

Ukraine president: Russian forces have invaded. (LA Times)

White House preps legal case for immigration steps. (AP)

U.S. to consider spousal abuse in immigration claims. (AP)

GOP poll of women: Party 'stuck in past.' (Politico)

St. Louis County police chief has no regrets about Ferguson tactics. (Daily Intelligencer)

Detroit is offered a $4b loan if it uses art collection as collateral. (Detroit News)

The US Air Force can't find a downed fighter jet and the Quiet Zone might be why. (Jalopnik)

read more

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.27.14

08/27/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* It's like watching an invasion in slow motion: "Tanks, artillery and infantry have crossed from Russia into an unbreached part of eastern Ukraine in recent days, attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale retreat not only in this small border town but also a wide section of territory, in what Ukrainian and Western military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion."
 
* An emotional appeal: "The mother of an American journalist held by the militants of ISIS pleaded with his captors on Wednesday to spare his life and 'please release my child.' In a video message, Shirley Sotloff directly addressed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by his preferred title -- 'the caliph of the Islamic State' -- and asked him to show mercy on her son, Steven."
 
* More ISIS news: "The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday." President Obama is also weighing "airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq's Turkmen minority."
 
* More on this tomorrow: "The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress."
 
* A stunning story: "A coroner's report obtained exclusively by NBC News directly contradicts the police version of how a 22-year-old black man died in the back seat of a Louisiana police cruiser earlier this year -- but still says the man, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, shot himself."
 
* Proponents of marriage equality, watching developments at the 7th Circuit closely, have reason for optimism: "Lawyers for Indiana and Wisconsin on Tuesday tried, with little success, to explain to three judges why their laws banning same-sex couples from marrying were constitutional."
 
* House Republicans look for an excuse: "Congress should not give President Obama additional authority to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) until the administration provides a strategy for defeating the militant group, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday."
 
* Jindal really hopes we forget that he was a Common Core supporter up until very recently; "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the U.S. Department of Education of illegally coercing states to adopt the Common Core academic standards by requiring states that want to compete for federal grants to embrace the national standards."
Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Policy Luncheons

McConnell offers a peek behind the curtain

08/27/14 04:40PM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with welcome candor, recently told Americans what they can expect if Republicans retake the Senate majority. McConnell's plan is to include policy measures in spending bills that gut Obama administration policies, and if the White House balks, GOP lawmakers will shut down the government.
 
As it happens, much of what McConnell says in public is what he also says in private.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explained his plan to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip against President Barack Obama to a room full of wealthy conservatives two months ago, according to audio obtained by The Nation magazine.
 
"So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. ... All across the federal government, we're going to go after it," McConnell said at a private summit hosted by the Koch Brothers.
In practice, it means a Republican Congress -- if there's a Republican Congress -- might pass a spending bill that includes a policy provision: no money in this bill can be used to implement safeguards against Wall Street. Or fund health care exchanges. Or promote clean air. Or all of the above.
 
And, of course, if President Obama refuses to go along, the GOP response will be exactly what it was last fall: "Fine. We're shutting down the government."
 
When reports on this initially surfaced, McConnell and his allies pushed back a bit, arguing the Republican leader never explicitly promised more shutdowns if/when  the GOP has more power. That said, as Brian Beutler explained well, "McConnell can't sidestep the implications of his publicly declared strategy. He can't say 'when we're in power, we're going to put two and two together,' and then get angry when the headlines say, 'McConnell promises four.'"
 
Regardless, that's not all McConnell said behind closed doors at the Koch brothers' event in June.

Pages