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The Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex which will be used to produce the Jeep Cherokee in Toledo, Ohio July 18, 2013.

A rescue plan successfully runs its course

12/19/14 12:39PM

Ordinarily, the fact that the Treasury Department this morning sold its stake in something called "Ally" would hardly generate headlines, but Ally Financial is probably better known by its former name: General Motors Acceptance Corp (GMAC).
 
Yes, today's news means something rather important: the Troubled Asset Relief Program is now officially over, as is the rescue of the American auto industry.
The Obama administration declared a profitable end to the Wall Street and auto bailouts on Friday, saying a final sale of stock from what was once General Motors' finance arm had closed a turbulent six-year chapter of the financial crisis.
 
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said that while profit was not the motive to bail out Detroit and Wall Street, "it is important to note we recovered more than we disbursed."
According to Lew, the total profit for American taxpayers on TARP investments stands at $15.35 billion.
 
The NYT report added, "Less than $1 billion in taxpayer funds remain scattered in about 35 community banks around the country, but with the sale on Thursday of the government's last 54.9 million shares of Ally Financial ... the Treasury declared the bailouts done."
 
To be sure, as a matter of politics and public opinion, TARP probably is about as popular as it was when George W. Bush signed the program into law in late 2008 -- which is to say, not popular at all. The word "bailout" has taken on a sinister and menacing meaning in our discourse, to the point that it's effectively supposed to shut down debate on any idea that earns the label.
 
But there's still room for a credible debate about whether the program worked.
President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

A consequential president

12/19/14 11:31AM

In early January 1999, as President Clinton's penultimate year in office was getting underway, columnist George Will could hardly contain his "disgust" for the Democrat in the White House. He published a piece condemning Clinton -- one of many similar columns for the Washington Post conservative -- but he did so in a very specific way.
 
Clinton is "defined by littleness," Will said, adding, "He is the least consequential president" since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
 
It's arguably the harshest of all possible criticisms. All presidents quickly grow accustomed to a wide variety of rebukes, but no one ever wants to be dismissed as inconsequential. It's another way of saying your presidency is forgettable. It doesn't matter. History won't judge you unkindly because judgments require significance, and you're just ... irrelevant.
 
More than a decade later, President Obama has also received his share of criticisms, but it's probably fair to say "inconsequential" is an adjective that no one will use to describe his tenure.
 
We talked the other day about the remarkable stretch of successes the president has had just since the midterm elections, and it led Matt Yglesias to note the "incredible amount" Obama has accomplished over the last six years.
It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama's party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats' overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a "realigning" election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won't be.
I agree, though I'd go a bit further than just his two more recent predecessors and argue that Obama's record makes him a major historical figure in ways most presidents are not.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.

Jindal readies his own 'Response' in Louisiana

12/19/14 10:41AM

In August 2011, less than a week before launching a presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) partnered with a series of religious right groups to host a big prayer rally in Houston. It was called, simply, "The Response."
 
The event's website said at the time that "The Response" has adopted the American Family Association statement of faith, "including the infallibility of the Bible, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the eternal damnation that awaits nonbelievers." Organizers said non-Christians were welcome -- in the hopes that they would be convinced to convert to Christianity.
 
The event, like Perry's presidential campaign, proved to be underwhelming. But more than three years later, "The Response" is ready for yet another massive prayer rally, hosted once again by a far-right governor with national aspirations.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday defended his role as headline speaker at a prayer rally on Louisiana State University's campus next month that has drawn the ire of protesters who say the group hosting the event promotes discrimination and an anti-gay agenda.
 
The Jan. 24 prayer rally is expected to draw thousands of people to LSU's campus for what Jindal, a Roman Catholic, describes in an invitation as "a time of worship, prayer, fasting and repentance."
"Let's be clear about what this is. This is an opportunity for people across denominational lines to come together to pray," Jindal told reporters this week. "It's not a political event, it's a religious event."
 
Asked if he agrees with the agenda espoused by the American Family Association, an extremist group that's helping organize the event, the governor told reporters, "The left likes to try to divide and attack Christians."
 
First, that's ridiculously wrong. And second, notice how Jindal didn't answer the question.
Republican 2014 - 10/02/2013

The wrong argument at the wrong time from the wrong people

12/19/14 10:00AM

Conservative critics of President Obama's new Cuba policy are in a tough spot. The right can't argue in support of the old policy because it obviously didn't work. Republicans can't point to public attitudes because most Americans have supported a change for years. Conservatives can't say this will adversely affect the U.S. relationship with other countries because the exact opposite is true.
 
And so folks like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and others are instead making an argument based on Cuba's horrendous record on human rights. This case is certainly based on reality -- the Castro regime has been brutal and dictatorial -- but as Digby argued yesterday, it's hard not to marvel at the Republicans' timing.
[Y]ou have to wonder if any of these people have the slightest bit of self-awareness. Do they have any idea how hollow their words sound when just a week ago they were condemning our own government for releasing a report that documented America's own human rights abuses?
 
It's absolutely true that the most notorious prison camp on the planet is in Cuba — but it's run by the U.S. government. Guantánamo Bay is still open for business and its practices are still condemned the world over for its mistreatment of prisoners. And Ted Cruz's lugubrious hand-wringing over the Cuban government holding people without due process would certainly be a lot more convincing if Americans hadn't been holding innocent people for years in Cuba with no hope of ever leaving.
Referencing a Rubio tweet, Digby added, "To think that just last week the man who is preaching today about America's commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was exhorting us all to thank the people who used torture techniques like 'rectal feeding' on prisoners in American custody."
 
Those who condemn Castro's human-rights abuses are on firm ground. Those who also celebrate torture as a tool of U.S. national security are not.
Boehner arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

Boehner's job security not in doubt

12/19/14 09:25AM

It seems like every six months or so, there's a new round of chatter about House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) facing a threat from within his own ranks. The last flurry was in April, when there were widespread reports about conservative Republican lawmakers "showing the early signs of a speakership revolt."
 
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), one of the Speaker's fiercest foes, said at the time, "I think pretty well everybody's figured Mr. Boehner's going to be gone."
 
In reality, he's really not "going to be gone," though Andrew Kaczynski reported yesterday on the latest scuttlebutt from Boehner's intra-party critics.
Republican North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones says he and a group of 16 to 18 Republicans plan to challenge John Boehner during the next election to be Speaker of the House.
 
"Right now, I've been meeting with a small group, and we -- about 16, 18 -- and we're hoping to have a name of a sitting member of Congress that we can call out their name," Jones said on the North Carolina-based Talk of the Town radio program.
Though Jones wasn't specific, the North Carolina Republican claims he's met with "one individual" who might be willing to challenge Boehner for the Speaker's gavel. "We're gonna have a conference call the week after Christmas with our little group to see where we are," Jones added.
 
I think we already know where they are: in a position to lose a fight that serves no purpose.
Cuba And U.S. To Re-establish Diplomatic Relations

Obama wins raves in Latin America over Cuba shift

12/19/14 08:40AM

Many of President Obama's critics on the right routinely focus on the global stage as a basis of their rebukes. Obama's foreign policy, they argue, has rattled international confidence in the United States and weakened respect for us abroad. It's hard to lead the free world, the Republican argument goes, if we're not as respected or as admired as we once were.
 
The argument, in general, is nonsense. America's stature quantifiably slipped during the Bush/Cheney era, but there's ample evidence that Obama has helped repair our standing in recent years.
 
That said, even if we take the right's rhetoric at face value, conservatives should be absolutely thrilled with the White House this week -- with one big announcement, the president has apparently boosted the United States' reputation throughout an important part of the world. The New York Times had a fascinating report on this:
President Obama has been lambasted for spying in Brazil, accused of being a warmonger by Bolivia, dismissed as a "lost opportunity" by Argentina, and taunted in Nicaragua by calls for Latin America to draw up its own list of state sponsors of terrorism -- with the United States in the No. 1 spot.
 
But now Latin American leaders have a new kind of vocabulary to describe him: They are calling him "brave," "extraordinary" and "intelligent."
 
After years of watching his influence in Latin America slip away, Mr. Obama suddenly turned the tables this week by declaring a sweeping détente with Cuba, opening the way for a major repositioning of the United States in the region.
This is no small development. As Latin America has soured on the United States, China has sought to take advantage, expanding Chinese ties and influence in the region, and positioning itself as a long-term partner for countries throughout Central and South America.
 
With one breakthrough shift, years in the making, the Obama White House has taken an enormous step towards shaking off our imperialist reputation and vastly improving our standing.
Customers shop for "Green Friday" deals at the Grass Station marijuana shop on Black Friday in Denver, Colo. on Nov. 28, 2014. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Nebraska, Oklahoma take aim at Colorado's pot law

12/19/14 08:00AM

A couple of years ago, voters in Colorado and the state of Washington approved landmark drug laws, making recreational marijuana use legal for adults. The state measures were at odds with federal statutes, but the Obama administration gave Colorado and Washington its blessing to proceed.
 
Two years later, some of Colorado's neighbors are looking to the federal courts to undo what the states' voters did.
Two heartland states filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado's growing array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down.
 
The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, and asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and regulations surrounding retail marijuana.
According to the lawsuit, crafted by Republican state attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, Colorado created a "scheme" that circumvents federal law and allows pot to flow into neighboring states. This in turn undermines their prohibition laws, "draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."
 
The suit added, "The Constitution and the federal antidrug laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and licensed distribution schemes throughout the country."
 
In other words, far-right GOP state attorneys general want federal courts to order federal law enforcement to enforce federal laws, whether voters in the Centennial State like it or not.
 
It's always interesting to see where conservative governing principles start and end, isn't it?

Family searches for U.S. mystery spy, and other headlines

12/19/14 07:53AM

Obama plans to start lifting restrictions on Cuba as soon as next month. (New York Times)

U.S. businesses can't wait for Cuba gold rush. (Washington Post) 

Family says U.S. mystery spy released in Cuba has disappeared without a trace. (Miami Herald)

Kurds, backed by U.S. airstrikes, reverse an ISIS gain (New York Times)

Anti-union groups try changing local county laws. (New York Times)

Nebraska, Oklahoma AG's sue Colorado over legalized marijuana. (Tulsa World)

'Colbert Report' signs off (Hollywood Reporter)

Flares over Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, called normal but worry the neighbors (NBC Bay Area)

What are you reading this morning? Let us know in the comments, please.

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Cuba deal reached under cloak of secrecy

Cuba deal reached under cloak of secrecy

12/18/14 11:39PM

Rachel Maddow reports new details of how President Obama negotiated directly with Cuba's President Castro to remake U.S./Cuba relations, the role of Pope Francis, secret meetings, and the American spy returned to the U.S. in the deal. watch

Russia crash is perilous, schadenfreude aside

Russia crash is perilous, schadenfreude aside

12/18/14 09:42PM

Michael McFaul, former U.S ambassador to Russia, talks with Rachel Maddow about the dire economic circumstances President Putin has placed Russia in, the danger to the world economy of a Russian crash, and what options remain open for Putin to recover. watch

Ahead on the 12/18/14 Maddow show

12/18/14 08:18PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Jason Healey, cyber-security expert and director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council
  • Michael McFaul, professor of political science at Stanford University, former U.S Ambassador to Russia

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.18.14

12/18/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* ISIS: "Three leaders of ISIS have been killed by American airstrikes in Iraq in the past month and a half, U.S. defense officials said Thursday. They were identified as Haji Mutazz, a deputy to the ISIS leader; Abd al-Basit, the top military commander; and Radwin Talib, who is in control of ISIS in Iraq. They were described as mid- to high-level leaders."
 
* Nigeria: "More than 100 women and children were unaccounted for after gunmen stormed a northeastern Nigerian village in a deadly raid Sunday, a Nigerian military source told NBC News on Thursday. No group took responsibility for the attack in Gumsuri, but it bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, which abducted more than 200 girls in April from a secondary school in nearby Chibok."
 
* Secret Service: "The Secret Service is overstretched and needs a 'culture change' from outside leadership, according to an independent review of the agency that found profound problems in the organization tasked with protecting the president and his family."
 
* Putin: "Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a press conference on Thursday to address the country's increasingly dire economic crisis, made an extended, bizarre reference to bears that is drawing a lot of attention, and rightly, because it makes him sound absolutely crazy."
 
* A lot of the early reporting on this was wrong: "How exactly the former Marine suspected in this week's killing spree in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, died is unclear after an examination by the county's coroner. Coroner Dr. Walter Hoffman tells NBC10's Deanna Durante there was no sign of trauma to Bradley Stone's center region, contradicting information released by prosecutors on Tuesday."
 
* DOJ: "Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department's position going forward in litigation will be that discrimination against transgender people is covered under the sex discrimination prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
 
This will matter to several red-state policymakers from Plains states: "U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said reforms announced today by President Barack Obama will make it make easier to sell U.S. farm products to Cuba."

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