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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.20.14

08/20/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* More on this on tonight's show: "Federal prosecutors briefed Attorney General Eric Holder about the civil rights investigation into the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, during Holder's trip to Ferguson on Wednesday."
* Making a connection: "Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday told a group of black college students here that he had been a victim of racial profiling."
* One of the key angles to watch: "St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch presented preliminary evidence Wednesday to a grand jury in the investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown, kicking off a process that could help ease tensions in this still uneasy community. But ... the calls for McCulloch to step aside aren't dying down."
* You may have seen the video: "The situation in Ferguson ... seemed particularly tense for one police officer on Tuesday night, who aimed his rifle at protesters while shouting obscenities and death threats before being told to calm down by what appear to be fellow officers." He's reportedly been relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely.
* Clashes in Liberia: "Liberia's halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent on Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a neighborhood here that had been cordoned off by the government."
* So close to basic human decency for same-sex couples in the commonwealth: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped Virginia officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, putting on hold a lower court ruling that said the unions could start on Thursday."
* Scary conditions in Iceland: "The risk of an eruption at Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano has increased, after a series of earthquakes in the region.... The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days, affecting more than 10 million people."
* Settlement: "Bank of America has reached a record $17 billion settlement to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, officials directly familiar with the matter said Wednesday."
* Ukraine: "After nearly a week of inaction, a Russian aid convoy destined for the besieged, rebel-controlled Ukrainian city of Luhansk rumbled to life on Wednesday, with 16 of its trucks passing through a Russian border checkpoint."
* ALEC loses a high-profile backer: "Microsoft announced Tuesday that it's cutting ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative public-policy lobbying group. It appears this decision was made due to ALEC's lobbing efforts to block the development of renewable energy."
Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province

'People like this ultimately fail'

08/20/14 04:09PM

President Obama spoke today on the ISIS murder of photo journalist James Foley, and the president's condemnation of the terrorist group was as broad as it was explicit. For all the Beltway chatter about Obama's willingness to emote, the president seemed genuinely angry about Foley's slaying.
"Jim Foley's life stands in stark contrast to his killers," Obama said in his address. "They abduct women and children, subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They've murdered Muslims -- Sunni and Shia -- by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes and murdering them when they can."
"People like this ultimately fail," he continued. "They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy, and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him."
Obama added, "ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.
Soon after, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil. [ISIS] and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable."
And it was right around this time that the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, whose track record for being hilariously wrong about practically everything has become the stuff of legend, decided to start complaining about the Obama administration's indifference towards ISIS.
Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who was appointed by the governor to take control of security operations in the city of Ferguson, walks among demonstrators gathered along West Florissant Avenue on August 14, 2014 in Ferguson, Mi

Those aren't gang signs

08/20/14 02:15PM

One of the key leadership figures in the Ferguson crisis has been Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. It's a shame, then, that Soraya Nadia McDonald had to explain that Johnson has not been photographed flashing gang signs with members of the community.
To reiterate: Capt. Johnson is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity that was formed in 1911 at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the hand sign you see in the pictures below is a Kappa greeting. The Kappas are part of the Divine Nine or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically black fraternities and sororities that include Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta, none of which are gangs.
The gesture -- which looks a bit like an A-OK sign turned on its side -- is obviously harmless. It's evidence of membership in a fraternity, not membership in a gang.
But that didn't stop a variety of conservatives from pushing the line that Johnson was somehow involved directly in gang activity.
How would such nonsense get started?
Journalist James Foley is seen in Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 2012.

U.S. officials authenticate James Foley video

08/20/14 12:45PM

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claims to have beheaded an American photojournalist and has threatened the life of another American journalist if President Obama doesn't stop airstrikes in Iraq.
A graphic video obtained by NBC News purportedly shows James Wright Foley, a freelance reporter for the U.S.-based news service GlobalPost who was kidnapped while reporting from Syria two years ago, reciting threats against America before he is executed by an ISIS militant. The militant heard in the video speaks in English.
As for the authentication of the video, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said this morning, "The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic. We will continue to provide updates as they are available."
As Rachel noted on the show last night, Foley went missing in late 2012, and his official whereabouts were unknown until yesterday. ISIS described its murder of Foley effectively as payback for recent U.S. military operations against ISIS in Iraq.
Last night, Foley's parents released a statement that read in part, "We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the sufferings of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person."
He was just 40 years old. President Obama is expected to speak publicly about the murder any minute now.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.20.14

08/20/14 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:
* To the delight of the Republican establishment, Dan Sullivan, Alaska's former attorney general and national resources commissioner, won his U.S. Senate primary yesterday. The GOP official will take on incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D) in the fall.
* In Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) has been considered one of the safe 2014 incumbents, but the latest PPP survey shows the longtime incumbent leading Democratic challenger Chad Taylor by just seven points, 32% to 25%. Independent Greg Orman is a competitive third with 23%.
* Speaking of Kansas, the same PPP survey found Gov. Sam Brownback (R) trailing Paul Davis (D) by two points, 39% to 37%. Libertarian Keen Umbehr had 9% support in the poll.
* In North Carolina, PPP also found Sen. Kay Hagan (D) hanging on against Thom Tillis (R), 42% to 38%, with Libertarian Sean Haugh in the race. In a head-to-head match-up, Hagan still leads Tillis, but her margin is just one point.
* Speaking of North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee yesterday invested another $1.4 million in support of Tillis' campaign.
* Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) came up just short against Sen. Brian Schatz (D) in their Hawaii primary, but she's decided not to contest the results.
* The conventional wisdom is that Democrats in tight races won't want to campaign with President Obama, but former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), running for his old job, said he hopes to campaign with the president this year.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

When premiums drop under 'Obamacare'

08/20/14 11:29AM

The entire conservative case against the Affordable Care Act has unraveled to the point that some Republican campaigns no longer even want to talk about the issue. The right's predictions have been proven wrong; the ACA system is working well; and even consumers who thought they hated "Obamacare" are realizing the law is a whole lot better than they realized.
What's left? Premiums, or more to the point, the right's belief that the dreaded Affordable Care Act won't be so affordable once consumers see "skyrocketing" premium increases. In keeping with the larger pattern, this isn't working out well for right, either (via Jeffrey Young).
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's individual-market customers will, on average, see a slight decrease in their premiums next year under new rates approved by the Connecticut Insurance Department.
Anthem, the state's largest insurer, initially requested approval to raise rates by an average of 12.5 percent. But the insurance department rejected the proposal and asked the company to resubmit its plan using different calculations.
The result: An average premium decrease of 0.1 percent for Anthem customers.
That's not a typo -- on average, premiums in Connecticut are now expected to go down a little.
Dylan Scott added, "Connecticut is yet another reminder that the news on Obamacare premiums is more complicated than some of the media coverage would have you believe. Not only are consumers mostly protected from any actual rate increases by federal subsidies, but the proposed rate increases are routinely subject to approval from state insurance regulators."
Some states, it turns out, are more comfortable pushing back against insurers than others.
President Obama Delivers Statement At The White House

'A Congress that's reluctant to cast tough votes on U.S. military action'

08/20/14 10:54AM

About a year ago, President Obama was convinced that Syria had used chemical weapons -- crossing a rhetorical "red line" -- and his national-security team had prepared a military response. First, however, the president would go to Congress to seek authorization to use force.
Congressional Republicans suddenly became the dog that caught the car. Some of the same GOP leaders who'd spent months calling for U.S. military intervention in Syria suddenly decided they were against their own idea. Congress ultimately decided to do what it does best: nothing.
It turns out, lawmakers' aversion to action did not carry adverse consequences. On the contrary, while congressional Republicans abandoned their own position, President Obama and his team struck a deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons altogether, and it's working out quite well.
A year later, however, as Obama launches military strikes in Iraq, Congress is once again confronted with questions about the responsibilities it doesn't appear to want.
Mingling with Senate Democrats at the White House earlier this summer, President Obama had a tart comeback to the suggestion that he should seek a vote of Congress before deepening American military involvement in Iraq.
"Guys, you can't have it both ways here," Mr. Obama told the group, according to Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. "You can't be ducking and dodging and hiding under the table when it comes time to vote, and then complain about the president not coming to you" for authorization.
Kaine, of course, has been one of the more prominent voices calling for a congressional vote -- one way or the other -- on the use of force in Iraq.
But he doesn't have many partners in this endeavor. Members of Congress are perfectly comfortable complaining from the bleachers about President Obama's foreign policy, but when it comes time to meet their constitutional obligations and authorize military intervention abroad, these same members think "hiding under the table" is the right way to go.
Ryan speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas

Paul Ryan on Ferguson: 'Let law enforcement do its job'

08/20/14 10:09AM

It's probably tricky for an ambitious politician to know exactly what to say about recent developments in Ferguson, Missouri. Especially in Republican politics, where the party's base is responding to the crisis differently than others, striking the right tone is obviously challenging.
That said, this probably isn't the ideal line.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) waded into the Ferguson, Missouri, controversy on Tuesday and said the best way to bring about resolution is to let law enforcement do whatever they need to do.
"We should take a deep breath, sit back and let law enforcement do their job," he said during an interview with SiriusXM's David Webb. "Let the investigation take place so that the facts can be taken as the facts, and let justice be done appropriately."
Re-emphasizing his point, Paul Ryan went on to say in the same interview that it would be "disrespectful" to "try and attach our own personal political agenda to this tragedy," he prefers to just "let law enforcement do their job."
As those who've been following this story know, however, local law enforcement has been doing its job and the results have been extremely controversial. It was, after all, an incident in which an officer shot an unarmed teen that sparked this crisis, and police responses to the subsequent protests have drawn international security and unanswered questions about excessive force.
Jennifer Bendery's report added, "What Ryan didn't address, though, is that much of the current controversy in Ferguson stems from the use of excessive force by local law enforcement. A militarized and mostly white police force has been turning up nightly -- with tear gas, armored vehicles and rubber bullets -- to counter a group of mostly peaceful black protesters furious about the lack of answers surrounding Brown's death."

McConnell eyes more shutdowns following GOP gains

08/20/14 09:08AM

It's tempting to think the 2014 midterms may not matter much. Assuming Republicans keep their House majority, which seems very likely, the legislative process in 2015 and 2016 will probably look an awful lot like the legislative process since 2011 -- congressional inaction. GOP lawmakers will continue to reject compromises and negotiations no matter who controls the upper chamber.
As this line of thought goes, the part that enjoys the Senate majority will have the power to watch the other party filibuster, and little more.
But there's a flaw in these assumptions: if rewarded by voters with their first Senate majority in a decade, Republicans don't intend to use their new-found congressional power to just spin their wheels. Manu Raju reports today that GOP leaders have a very different kind of plan in mind.
Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration's policies or risk a government shutdown.
In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to "move to the center" if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.
In short, it's a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.
McConnell told Politico, "We're going to pass spending bills, and they're going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That's something [President Obama] won't like, but that will be done. I guarantee it."
There's no reason to think this is campaign-season bluster. McConnell is more than comfortable making demonstrably false claims about public policy and his partisan rivals, but when it comes to process and legislative strategy, the Kentucky Republican is one of Capitol Hill's most candid officials.
The result, however, is a curious pitch: just 76 days before this year's midterm elections, the Senate's top GOP leader wants the voting public to know that a vote for Republicans is a vote for government shutdowns.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, leaves the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center after he was booked, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas.

Texas' Perry booked, takes mug shot

08/20/14 08:39AM

A Texas grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry (R) on two felony counts late Friday, and yesterday, eager to get it over with, the Republican governor went in for booking.
Gov. Rick Perry appeared at a county courthouse Tuesday evening to be booked on felony charges after a grand jury indicted the Republican governor on abuse of power charges.
Reporting to the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, Perry, who is accused of two counts -- coercion and threatening to veto funding to the state's public integrity unit -- surrendered to authorities and had his mug shot and fingerprints taken.
Naturally, Perry once again condemned the charges -- and then went for ice cream.
A state judge set an arraignment date for this Friday, Aug. 22, though the governor will not have to be present for the hearing.
As for the political and legal debate surrounding the charges, I find it heartening, on a principled level, to see so many center-left observers blast the charges as baseless. At least on the surface, it speaks well of progressive voices in general that so many people who find Perry's views abhorrent are nevertheless eager to defend the far-right Texan in this case.
I'm just not sure they're correct.

A 'turning point' in Ferguson?

08/20/14 08:00AM

Around 2 a.m. local time, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson told reporters that Ferguson had reached a "turning point." There were several dozen arrests last night, but the police did not use tear gas or fire a shot.
And as msnbc's Amanda Sakuma and Zachary Roth reported from the scene, the result was an evening that was less dangerous than the night before.
As midnight arrived on the 10th evening of demonstrations here, a small group of people protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown began throwing plastic bottles in actions eerily similar to what set off confrontations with police the previous night. Peacemakers formed a line around the instigators, and officers called for groups to disperse and for media to return to the staging area. Multiple people were restrained with their arms tied behind their backs and placed in a St. Louis County Police van.
The flurry of activity came on the heels of what seemed to be the first calm night after a series of chaotic run-ins between protesters and police.
Attention has also turned to St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's office and calls from many in the community for a special prosecutor in the Brown case, removing local officials from the process. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D), citing the need to avoid "legal uncertainty," has rejected those calls and decided to stick with McCulloch's office.
That will not, however, be the only investigation. The Justice Department launched a probe of the Brown shoot last week -- FBI officials have been on the ground, interviewing witnesses -- and there's new reason to believe the federal investigation may be even broader than first believed.

Holder to Missouri and other headlines

08/20/14 07:47AM

47 arrested overnight in Ferguson. (KSDK)

Grand jury probe starts today. (Bloomberg)

From Eric Holder: a message to the people of Ferguson. (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Holder and Obama differ in approach to underlying issues of Missouri unrest. (NY Times)

Victim of a shooting after a Michael Brown rally last week wants to know what happened to the bullet taken from her head. (Riverfront Times)

Fmr. Alaska A.G. Dan Sullivan wins the state's Republican Senate primary. (USA Today)

Virginia prepares for the possibility of gay marriage. (AP)

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