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Will the new plan to train Syrian rebels differ from the CIA's program?

09/17/14 02:10AM

Partial transcript from the 9/17/14 TRMS:

Rachel Maddow: The United States government is already arming and training the rebels in Syria. That's supposedly what the big debate is about in Congress right now, and the big vote in Congress this week. Instead of voting on the actual war they are going to vote on this little piece of it. But this little piece of it is already hapening. It's the CIA doing it.

And like everything the CIA does, it's a covert action and so they don't want to talk about it really. But it's not a secret really, it's already happening. It's already happening. There are already efforts under way, for months now, to arm and train those rebels. The debate in Congress is just to ramp that up and expand it and make it less covert.

If that's the case, shouldn't we know if what we've done already is working? I mean, if we've been doing this already for months has it been successful? And if it hasn't been successful, presumably, shouldn't we wonder why we would do more of it?

If it has been successful, then why are we starting out own war now out of apparent desperation? And so fast that it can't even wait for Congress to vote?

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Ahead on the 9/16/14 Maddow show

09/16/14 06:18PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Nancy Youssef, National Security correspondent, McClatchy newspapers
  • Dave Helling, political reporter for the Kansas City Star

After the jump, a preview of tonight's show from executive producer Cory Gnazzo:

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.16.14

09/16/14 05:33PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Afghanistan: "Two Americans were among seven people killed in a massive car bomb near the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital Tuesday, a U.S. military official said. One of the U.S. citizens was a service member, the other a civilian, the official said."
* Ebola response: "The United States will intervene to help confront the global threat posed by the recent Ebola outbreak, President Barack Obama said during a speech announcing a new effort to assist the West African countries that have been overwhelmed by the spread of the deadly virus.... In what he said is the largest international response in the history of the CDC, Obama made public his plans to increase U.S. aid to combat Ebola by sending thousands of personnel and millions of dollars to West Africa to avoid a humanitarian disaster."
* Dempsey tackles a hypothetical: "Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Tuesday that he would recommend deploying United States combat forces against Islamic extremists in specific operations if the current strategy of airstrikes was not successful, offering a more expansive view of the American role in the ground war than that of President Obama."
* Capitol Hill: "Despite lingering reservations on both sides of the aisle, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats is coming together behind proposals to arm Syrian rebels and fund the government beyond Sept. 30."
* The child poverty rate in the United States saw its "largest one-year drop since 1966." That's pretty amazing.
* Ferguson: "A judge has given the grand jury considering whether to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson. Mo., police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an extension of 60 days to make a decision. The jury must decide by Jan. 7 whether Officer Wilson will be criminally charged in Mr. Brown's death."
* Pennsylvania: "A manhunt is under way Tuesday for an anti-cop 'survivalist' with mass-murder fantasies who is wanted in last week's deadly ambush of Pennsylvania state police barracks, authorities said. Arrest warrants have been issued for Eric Matthew Frein, 31, of Canadensis, Pa., for the Friday night shooting that killed one trooper and left another critically wounded."
* Good: "President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to announce a campus sexual assault awareness campaign from the White House Friday, with a special focus on engaging men in the fight against a largely hidden problem."
* "Obsession" is the only word that seems to apply: "Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko arrives to attend an EU summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on August 30, 2014.

Ukraine ratifies EU pact

09/16/14 05:05PM

The current Ukrainian crisis began in earnest nearly a year ago, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych sided with Russia and rejected an offer for stronger trade and political ties to the European Union. The result was mass protests, Yanukovych fleeing to Russia, and new Ukrainian elections -- followed by a series of Russian steps onto Ukrainian soil, including the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The reverberations of the crisis have been felt around the globe, and tensions between Russia and the West have reached heights unseen since the Cold War.
Which is why today's news seemed especially striking.
Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday ratified a landmark agreement on political association and trade with the European Union, the rejection of which last November by then President Viktor Yanukovich led to his downfall. The agreement won unanimous support from the 355 deputies who took part in the vote.
Referring to the deaths of anti-government protesters who came out against Yanukovich's rejection of the pact with the EU and of soldiers killed in fighting separatists since, President Petro Poroshenko said: "No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans."
The Wall Street Journal report added, "Lawmakers broke into the national anthem and cried 'Glory to Ukraine' after approving the EU deal, which President Petro Poroshenko hailed as a first step toward eventual membership in the bloc."
All of which leads me back to a question I've been pondering for a while: when Republicans hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strategic mastermind, what in the world were they talking about?
In this May 3, 2010 photo, attorney Kris Kobach poses for a photo in Kansas City, Mo.

A blast from an unpleasant past

09/16/14 04:13PM

In Kansas, Republican officials find themselves in the unusual position of trying to keep a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate on the ballot, even though he's eager to withdraw. Democratic candidate Chad Taylor has tried to drop out of the race against Sen. Pat Roberts (R), leaving the incumbent to take on Independent Greg Orman, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has stood in the way, objecting to Taylor's paperwork. The case went before the Kansas Supreme Court today.
But take a look at who's siding with the controversial Republican Secretary of State.
One of the officials at the center of the Bush administration's U.S. attorneys scandal is helping to author briefs for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the lawsuit that could help determine one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
Bradley Schlozman, who stepped down from the Justice Department in 2007 amid controversy and is now an attorney practicing in Wichita, Kansas, is one of the signatories of a new brief from Kobach's office.
Who's Bradley Schlozman? As an msnbc report noted in March, "During the George W. Bush administration, an internal Justice Department report found Bush appointees had attempted to purge the division of liberals, or as one Bush appointee Bradley Schlozman put it, 'adherents of Mao's little red book.' The report found that Schlozman, who had vowed to 'gerrymander' all those 'crazy libs' out of the division, replacing them with Republican loyalists, had violated civil service laws with his hiring practices."
Folks who go way back with me may recall that Schlozman was actually at the heart of two separate Bush-era scandals. The first was Schlozman's decision as the former U.S. Attorney for Kansas City, to bring highly dubious indictments against a voter-registration group shortly before the 2006 midterm elections. That one got quite messy.
The other was Schlozman's work in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, where he swore his employment decisions were entirely above-board, and not at all based on political considerations, though ample evidence pointed in the opposite direction. Indeed, Schlozman reportedly took an interest in the partisan "loyalties" of Justice Department attorneys whose work had nothing to do with politics.
And now, here he is again, this time trying to give Kris Kobach a hand.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a news conference, March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Graham vs. Graham on 'boots on the ground'

09/16/14 03:40PM

Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seemed a little hysterical when talking about the threat posed by Islamic State. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," the Republican senator was genuinely outraged that President Obama was launching hundreds of airstrikes against ISIS targets without also sending in U.S. troops as part of a ground campaign.
"It's going to take an army to beat an army, and this idea we'll never have any boots on the ground to defeat them in Syria is fantasy," Graham said, adding, "It's delusional in the way they approach this.... I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety.... This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."
Jon Stewart responded last night, in reference to the Republican senator, "The poor man lives his entire life trapped in 'The Blair Witch Project.' For God's sakes, I've seen chihuahuas in handbags who are less fretful and shaking."
But there's another angle to this that matters. As Amanda Terkel noted, while Graham believes it's a delusional fantasy to believe the U.S. mission can succeed without American troops fighting a ground war, one hawkish Republican senator said the exact opposite earlier this summer.
His name is Lindsey Graham.
[A]s recently as June, Graham said that sending U.S. troops to Syria to fight on the ground was a bad idea.
"Mr. President, if you are willing to adjust your policies, we will stand with you. If you are willing to sit down with your generals and get some good sound military advice, we will stand with you, because what happens in Iraq and Syria does matter," Graham said in a June 10 interview with Fox News. "I don't think we need boots on the ground. I don't think that is an option worth consideration."
It now appears that if President Obama agrees with Lindsey Graham I, the condemnation from Lindsey Graham II will be fierce.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican Convention in Grand Island, Neb., Saturday, July 14, 2012.

Jindal blasts Democratic 'science deniers'

09/16/14 12:35PM

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) rhetoric has been increasingly unnerving of late, but this is one of his sillier contributions to the discourse.
At a breakfast for reporters Tuesday hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, the Republican governor attacked President Barack Obama for not fully taking advantage of the United States' fossil fuel and energy resources.
"The reality is right now we've got an administration in the Obama administration that are science deniers when it comes to harnessing America's energy resources and potential to create good-paying jobs for our economy and for our future," Jindal said. "Right now we've got an administration whose policies are holding our economy hostage."
Right off the bat, it seems the governor may not fully grasp the whole "hostage" metaphor. It generally involves a hostage taker threatening harm unless paid a ransom. When congressional Republicans, for example, said they'd refuse to raise the debt ceiling, push the nation into default, and crash the economy on purpose unless their demands were met, that was "holding our economy hostage."
On the other hand, the United States, since Obama has become president, has become the world leader in production of oil and natural gas. What's more, for the first time in a generation, the U.S. is producing more oil than it imports. This really doesn't sound like much of a "hostage" strategy.
But more interesting still is the notion of Obama administration officials becoming "science deniers." I'm not sure why a Republican governor -- and likely presidential candidate -- would want to pick this particular fight, but let's go ahead and subject Jindal's rhetoric to a little fact-checking.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.16.14

09/16/14 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:
* We talked earlier about Kansas' U.S. Senate race, but let's not overlook Kansas' gubernatorial contest. The new PPP survey shows state Rep. Paul Davis (D) leading incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback (R), 42% to 38%, which is roughly in line with other recent statewide polls.
* As Rachel noted on last night's show, the gubernatorial race in Maine is among the nation's most interesting, featuring another three-way contest. PPP found Rep. Mike Michaud (D) leading incumbent Gov. Paul LePage (R), 43% to 42%, while Independent Eliot Cutler is third with 11%. Cutler has vowed not to quit, though if he did, Michaud's lead would grow and LePage's defeat would be far more likely.
* Polling in Alaska is tricky, but a new Harstad Strategic Research poll shows incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D) with a five-point lead over Dan Sullivan (R), 45% to 40%.
* In New Mexico, a poll last week showed Gov. Susana Martinez (R) with a modest lead over Dave King (D) in her re-election bid, though the latest Albuquerque Journal shows the incumbent cruising to a second term, leading the Democrat by 18 points.
* In keeping with the recent pattern, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee in August, $7.7 million to $6.1 million. Overall, the DSCC has outraised its Republican counterparts this cycle by roughly $29 million.
* In Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken (D) continues to look like a pretty safe bet for re-election, with the latest Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll showing him up by 13 points over his Republican challenger, Mike McFadden.
President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 18, 2014.

Another aspect of a presidential legacy: the courts

09/16/14 11:18AM

Legislatively, President Obama's ability to shape his legacy has probably run its course. Oddly enough, the scope and significance of his legislative achievements in his first two years -- economy, health care, Wall Street, education, civil rights -- were greater than most modern presidents have been able to achieve in their entire tenures, but Obama's list will have no new additions.
But there are ways for presidents to shape their legacies in ways that have nothing to do with signing ceremonies. The New York Times reported yesterday:
Democrats have reversed the partisan imbalance on the federal appeals courts that long favored conservatives, a little-noticed shift with far-reaching consequences for the law and President Obama's legacy.
For the first time in more than a decade, judges appointed by Democratic presidents considerably outnumber judges appointed by Republican presidents. The Democrats' advantage has only grown since late last year when they stripped Republicans of their ability to filibuster the president's nominees.
In case it's not obvious, the direction of the federal judiciary can and does have a considerable impact on the direction of the nation. And while the federal appeals courts are trumped by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land only hears about 10% of the cases appealed to the justices.
In other words, the federal Courts of Appeals are often the final word on all kinds of major legal disputes -- and right now, Democratic-appointed jurists are in the majority in all but four of the 13 appellate benches. The day President Obama was sworn in, only the West Coast's 9th Circuit could say this.
There's no denying the effect of the so-called "nuclear option" in making this result possible. As Roll Call's report added, Obama "has already succeeded in his bid to refashion the bench — and the nuclear option has played a significant role. He has filled 30 percent of all the seats on the circuit courts of appeal, with a crucial 13 of those 53 judges confirmed since the filibuster was neutered."
And since Republicans effectively forced Senate Democrats to go "nuclear," the irony is GOP senators have helped ensure an important aspect of Obama's presidential legacy.