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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.1.15

07/01/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Greece's twists and turns: "An unexpected new effort by Greece to compromise with its creditors on a bailout package prompted a cool response from most of the rest of Europe on Wednesday as efforts to find a way out of the financial crisis confronting Athens remained chaotic."
 
* Egypt: "Militants linked with the Islamic State unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks on security checkpoints in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, the latest strike in a global surge in violence by the group's sympathizers and one that threatened to push Egypt into a wider conflict with the jihadists."
 
* Investigations continue: "Six predominately black churches have gone up in flames in the last ten days -- some likely due to arson, others accidents -- in a rash of fires coming at a time when the country is already on edge over the safety and vulnerability of its places of worship."
 
* Rule of law: "A federal judge has issued an order directed at all probate judges in the state -- who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses -- that they can no longer decline to issue licenses to gay couples."
 
* Crunch time: "When the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, lands in Tehran on Thursday for a hastily scheduled meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's top national security officials, it will be part of a behind-the-scenes effort to resolve two of the biggest obstacles to a nuclear deal: Whether to force Iran to reveal any evidence about suspected design work on nuclear weapons, and how to assure that inspectors can get inside the country's most secret nuclear sites."
 
* A potentially huge probe: "The Justice Department is investigating whether some of America's biggest airlines have colluded to keep airfares high, officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday. Justice Department spokesperson Emily Pierce confirmed the probe, saying investigators are looking into 'possible unlawful coordination by some airlines,' but would not confirm which carriers."
 
* Stuck in the past: "Republican lawmakers on Wednesday skewered President Obama's announcement that the U.S. and Cuba have agreed to reopen embassies in each other's capitals -- with several vowing to block the confirmation of any U.S. ambassador to the communist country."
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Still waiting for that GOP alternative to Obamacare

07/01/15 04:59PM

At least on the surface, congressional Republicans were optimistic of a Supreme Court victory in King v. Burwell. For months, GOP lawmakers talked openly and repeatedly about the prospect of taking a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act, stripping millions of families of their health care benefits. It was only a matter of time before conservative justices delivered.
 
What's more, Republican leaders tried to be reassuring, insisting there was no reason for the public to panic -- the GOP's alternative to "Obamacare" would be even better than the effective reform law. Once the Supreme Court gutted the U.S. system, Republicans would, they claimed, rush in with their superior solution. Indeed, some prominent, far-right lawmakers urged governors to ignore obvious fixes and instead wait for the GOP's remedy to be available.
 
Last week, of course, the high court disappointed Republicans and rejected the ridiculous lawsuit. But I'm still curious about that GOP alternative that was waiting in the wings. Wasn't it all set to go? Where is it? Can we see it?
 
National Journal reported the other day:
For months, Republicans have been crafting a post-King v. Burwell strategy, confident the Court would rule in their favor and strike down the law's insurance subsidies in 34 states using the federal insurance marketplace.
Of course, we've been hearing talk about Republicans "crafting" their own health-care package for many years now, meeting behind closed doors for a half-decade, trying to find an ideologically satisfying proposal to rival President Obama's signature domestic achievement. At least so far, they've come up with exactly nothing.
 
The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they're finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to fail quietly every time.
 
But this year was supposed to different. This year, Republicans assumed the Supreme Court would function as an extension of the congressional GOP and help take benefits from more than 6 million American consumers. This year, Republicans simply wouldn't have a choice -- they'd have to step up with a policy of their own, because the court would force their hands.
Marijuana plants are displayed. (Photo by Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Marijuana possession, but not sales, now legal in Oregon

07/01/15 03:54PM

It was just a few years ago that marijuana was illegal everywhere in the United States, without exception. The policy landscape has changed quite a bit since.
 
Voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington, for example, voted to legalize marijuana in recent years, and their state-based experiments have been allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.
 
Meanwhile, a similar -- but not identical -- change is underway in Oregon, effective today. The Oregonian reported this morning:
As of today, if you are 21 or older, you can legally possess and grow cannabis in Oregon. That's right, a pretty historic day.
 
If you want to mark the day by buying some pot to consume, you're out of luck. For now, people can only share or give away marijuana and starter plants so you'll have to hit up a generous friend, though a bill allowing recreational marijuana sales at dispensaries in the fall is making its way through the Oregon Legislature.
Got that? You can possess marijuana (in limited quantities). You can grow marijuana. You can even smoke marijuana. You just can't buy marijuana.
 
Oregon does have one exception, however, in the form of pot dispensaries that provide medical marijuana to qualifying patients. For everyone else who wants pot, however, it's time to either start gardening or turning to generous friends.
President Barack Obama arrives to speak in the Rose Garden of the White House July 1, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

U.S. re-establishes diplomatic ties to Cuba

07/01/15 12:47PM

The White House's Rose Garden, located just outside the Oval Office, has played host to quite a bit of history lately. On Thursday, President Obama delivered a brief address in the Rose Garden to highlight the Supreme Court's ruling in support of the Affordable Care Act. A day later, he returned to the same location to celebrate national marriage equality.
 
And this morning, there was Obama speaking again from the Rose Garden, and once again making history. NBC News reported:
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba have struck a deal to open embassies in each other's capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations between them for the first time in half a century. [...]
 
This formal step follows Obama's call to normalize relations and economic ties between the two countries after decades of Cold War hostilities. In another major move, the U.S. said in May it was removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana," Obama said this morning. "Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."
 
This isn't to say the United States and Cuba are suddenly buddies -- Obama emphasized that we'll "continue to have some very serious differences" -- but that the failed policy of the last half-century is no more.
 
The president said this morning, "Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect -- cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don't have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn't working, we can -- and will -- change."
 
Anticipating Republican complaints, Obama added, "Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. But it's long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn't work. It hasn't worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba's future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people."

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.1.15

07/01/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* In Iowa, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Scott Walker continuing to lead the Republican field with 18%, followed by Donald Trump and Ben Carson who are tied for second with 10% each. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are right behind them with 9% each, followed by Jeb Bush at 8% and Marco Rubio with 7%. Mike Huckabee, once thought a major power in Iowa, is in eighth place.
 
* A new national CNN poll shows Bush leading his rivals with 17%, followed by Trump at 12%. Carson and Rand Paul are tied for third with 8%, followed by Rubio at 7% and Scott Walker at 6%.
 
* The same poll showed Hillary Clinton with sizable leads over GOP candidates in hypothetical match-ups, with the Democratic frontrunner leading Bush by 13 points, Chris Christie by 19 points, Rubio by 17 points, and Walker by 19%. The Democrat's biggest advantage comes against Trump, whom she leads by 25 points.
 
* In Michigan, the latest PPP survey shows Walker leading the pack with 15%, while Bush, Carson and Trump are tied for second with 14%. No other candidate reaches double digits.
 
* The same poll shows Clinton with a 32-point advantage over Bernie Sanders among Michigan Democrats. She also leads the Republican candidates in hypothetical match-ups by margins ranging from 3 to 10 points.
 
* At an event in Maine this morning, scandal-plagued Gov. Paul LePage (R) endorsed scandal-plagued Gov. Chris Christie's (R) presidential campaign. For Christie, the former chairman of the Republican Governors' Association, it's the first endorsement since yesterday's launch.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder applauds during a luncheon May 21, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty)

Michigan's Snyder targets local control on minimum wage

07/01/15 11:20AM

In Oklahoma last year, state officials saw the national clamoring for an increase to the minimum wage, and they took decisive action. It was not, however, the kind of action workers have been waiting for.
 
In April 2014, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced that Oklahoma not only wouldn't raise the state's minimum wage, but going forward, the state would also block any effort by local Oklahoma communities to raise wages at the municipal level.
 
As the Detroit News reported, Michigan's Republican-led state government adopted a very similar law yesterday.
Municipalities in Michigan will be prohibited from setting local minimum wages above the state rate and imposing new requirements on employers for sick time and other fringe benefits under a bill Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Tuesday.
 
House Bill 4052 bans future municipal ordinances that regulate the hours, compensation and terms of private sector employment, but it does not impact existing ordinances, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.
Originally, GOP legislators wanted the legislation to apply retroactively, scrapping existing local laws that go beyond state minimums, but the Republican governor agreed that would be excessive.
 
How gracious of him.
 
Snyder said he signed the legislation into law in order to avoid a "patchwork" of laws statewide, which would be bad because, well, just because.
 
The broader point, however, is that the right sees local control as an important principle, except when it doesn't.

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