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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.24.14

07/24/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Air Algerie Flight AH5017: "A commercial jetliner carrying 116 people disappeared over west Africa after losing contact with air traffic controllers early Thursday, a Spanish charter company said. Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria."
* Gaza: "A series of explosions at a school run by the United Nations sheltering hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes for safety from Israeli military assaults killed at least 16 people on Thursday afternoon and wounded many more. The cause was not immediately clear."
* Ukraine: "Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned as Ukraine's prime minister Thursday after the ruling coalition in parliament collapsed, accusing lawmakers of imperiling the nation by putting politics above urgent needs during wartime."
* Iran: "Three American citizens, including The Washington Post's correspondent in Iran, appear to have been detained this week in Tehran, U.S. officials and the newspaper said Thursday."
* Gun violence in Pennsylvania: "A gunman opened fire inside a hospital psychiatric unit on Thursday, leaving one hospital employee dead and a second injured before being critically wounded himself, a prosecutor said."
* Border crisis: "As House Republicans struggle to figure out whether their proposed response to the border crisis can pass the House, given opposition to action among conservatives, it's increasingly likely they'll need House Dems to get anything through the lower chamber." Democrats are leaving Republicans with two choices, neither of which the GOP will like.
* This seemed unimaginable six weeks ago: "Negotiations between the House and Senate over legislation reforming the Veterans Affairs Department melted down on Thursday, raising the probability that Congress will leave for the August recess without approving a bill."
* He's right: "Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the health committee and a chief author of Obamacare, tore into an appeals court ruling this week that forbid the federal exchange to provide subsidies to millions of Americans in 36 states. 'It's nuts,' he told TPM in an interview in the Capitol on Thursday."
* The jokes write themselves: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the 'upper level' -- helicoptering over the George Washington Bridge -- to beat rush hour traffic from his home state to a recent GOP fundraiser with Connecticut gubernatorial contender Tom Foley."
* Keep an eye on this one: "Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has accused House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of inappropriately intervening in an ongoing Federal Trade Commission case against a company being represented by a legal group run by a former Issa staffer."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a gala prior to the start of the Virginia GOP Convention in Roanoke, Va., Friday, June 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan, you, and your new life coach

07/24/14 05:02PM

When evaluating proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), it's tempting to grade on a curve. After all, Ryan has unveiled some pretty offensive blueprints over the years -- most of them needlessly extreme, some of them based on data that just didn't add up -- and if we compare today's anti-poverty plan to those recent offerings, this new package isn't the worst thing the Wisconsin Republican has presented to the public.
But that doesn't make it a good plan.
In the interest of magnanimity, let's acknowledge some of the good stuff. Ryan bucks his party, for example, by endorsing expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an issue on which Democrats can and should welcome the opportunity to work with him. He's also prepared to embrace sentencing reforms, which is heartening, and his recommendations on occupational licensing aren't bad, either.
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan doesn't include any of the deep spending cuts to the safety net that have helped define the congressman's far-right budget proposals.
With this in mind, there's plenty not to like in this conservative approach to combating poverty, including the block-grant boilerplate and the anti-environmental regularly "reforms," but it's only fair to acknowledge that this isn't just the same old Paul Ryan plan. It's qualitatively different, and in some respects, better. It's not good by any stretch, but it's a small step in a sensible direction.
But there's one part of Ryan's proposal that I can't quite wrap my head around. From his speech:
"[W]hat we need to do is coordinate assistance to families in need. Get the public and private sector working together. That's how we can smooth the transition from assistance to success. The fact is, each person's needs fit into a coherent whole: a career. And each person fits into a coherent whole: a community. So if the public and private sector work together, we can offer a more personalized, customized form of aid -- one that recognizes both a person's needs and their strengths -- both the problem and the potential."
As part of this "customized form of aid," Washington would give money to states, which states would then be expected to help low-income Americans through "certified service providers." The "providers," in Ryan's vision, would include non-profits, for-profits, or community groups, each of which would "provide personalized aid through case management."
If you're thinking that's a little weird, wait, it's probably worse than you think.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014.

House GOP rejects effort to improve their anti-Obama lawsuit

07/24/14 03:57PM

Sometimes, the most interesting part of a vote in Congress is what happens just before the vote. Today, for example, the House Rules Committee advanced a resolution authorizing Speaker Boehner's (R-Ohio) anti-Obama lawsuit.
The panel voted along party lines to move forward with legal against Obama over his delay of the healthcare law's employer mandate, which Republicans say was outside his authority as president.
The House is expected to approve the lawsuit before lawmakers leave town next week for a five-week summer recess.
Away from Capitol Hill, as Greg Sargent reported this morning, Democrats are actually delighted with the GOP's scheme, eager to seize on the lawsuit as a key election-year message. 
But the funny part today came just before the House Rules Committee held their party-line vote on this misguided case.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., March 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan makes the case for his anti-poverty vision (again)

07/24/14 12:55PM

A funny thing happened last week when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a big speech on poverty at Hillsdale College: it was ignored. The former vice presidential candidate can usually generate some Beltway buzz with his speeches, but last week's remarks were largely overlooked.
Brian Beutler noticed, however, that the speech highlighted the rhetorical evolution of Ryan's far-right ideology. The congressman and Ayn Rand fan "replaced his oft-drawn dichotomy between makers and takers, and the linked concepts of debt and dependency, with 'the American Idea.'" And as it turns out, Ryan believes "the American Idea," as enshrined by the Declaration of Independence, just happens to be his Republican vision for dismantling social-insurance programs.
On the heels of last week's unnoticed speech, the Wisconsin Republican was at it again today, delivering another speech on his anti-poverty vision, including the usual conservative call for block grants to states in areas such as food stamps and housing aid. As msnbc's Suzy Khimm explained, however, Ryan's vision now includes a twist.
Individuals would receive aid by going to certified case managers who would tailor aid based on "a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty," according to proposal. [...]
All participants would be required to meet work requirements to receive aid, and states would be required to give beneficiaries the option of going to non-profit and for-profit organizations for case management. Ryan suggests having participants "sign a contract with consequences for failing to meet the agreed-upon benchmarks" for achieving life goals, as well as rewards for meeting goals ahead of schedule, such as saving bonds.
We'll probably need some more information about this new anti-poverty bureaucracy that Ryan has in mind, but the plan is actually quite broad. As Dylan Matthews explained, it includes, among other things, EITC expansion, sentencing reforms, and changes to occupational licensing.
Jared Bernstein sees a plan that's "misguided" for all sorts of reasons.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.24.14

07/24/14 12:07PM

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:
* Wisconsin's gubernatorial race is shaping up to be one of the year's biggest contests. A Marquette Law School Poll released yesterday found Gov. Scott Walker (R) leading Mary Burke (D) by one point, 46% to 45%, among registered voters, but among likely voters, Burke leads, 47% to 46%.
* After dodging the question for literally months, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced this week that he does not support Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
* Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was quoted earlier this year saying it's "not my job as a U.S. senator, to bring industry to this state." The quote is the basis for a new ad from his challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has big leads in the polls as he runs for re-election, but that doesn't take away from the seriousness of his handling of "a high-powered commission" he created last summer "to root out corruption in state politics."
* In Georgia's U.S. Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching a new video against David Perdue (R), using Republicans' criticism of him during the heated, multi-candidate GOP primary.
Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land talks during a Political Action Committee reception Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at the 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich.

Terri Lynn Land's $3 million problem

07/24/14 11:35AM

Terri Lynn Land, the Republican U.S. Senate hopeful in Michigan this year, served eight years as Michigan's Secretary of State. This put the GOP official in charge of, among other things, overseeing the state's campaign-finance laws.
Land should probably know, then, that this Detroit Free Press report is a bit of a problem.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has given her own campaign nearly $3 million this year and last, but nowhere in her federal financial disclosure form has she listed any bank accounts or other assets in her control worth that much.
Her campaign says it's an oversight, claiming Land ... inadvertently failed to disclose a joint account she has with her husband, Dan Hibma. But it still leaves unanswered questions about the source of the funds. And it raises questions about if such a transfer -- if from her husband's assets -- violates the spirit of the campaign contribution law.
Controversies involving campaign finance and disclosure reports can get a little tricky sometimes, but this one is actually pretty straightforward: Land has given her Senate campaign nearly $3 million of her own money. What's wrong with that? In theory, nothing -- there are no legal limits on how much candidates can spend on their own behalf.
But in Land's case, the Michigan Republican said she doesn't have $3 million. On the contrary, she specifically filed disclosure forms reporting assets of roughly $1.5 million.
The result is something of a mystery: where'd all this other money come from? How can Land give herself money she doesn't have?
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, wipes his brow as he speaks during a discussion on the American family and cultural values." at Catholic University on July 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Rubio tries and fails to thread culture-war needle

07/24/14 10:54AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been quite candid on most of the hot-button social issues of the day, and despite national ambitions, the Florida Republican has positioned himself well to the right of the American mainstream on issues like contraception, reproductive rights, and marriage equality.
But the senator nevertheless believes he has a strong case to make when it comes to the culture war, and yesterday he delivered a big speech his staff billed as an address on "the breakdown of the American family and the erosion of fundamental values that has followed." The remarks, which can be read in their entirety here or watched online here, covered a fair amount of ground, though as Benjy Sarlin explained, there was a special emphasis on gay rights.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged Wednesday that American history was "marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians." But in a speech at Catholic University in Washington, Rubio drew the line sharply at marriage equality and accused supporters of same sex unions of "intolerance." 
"I promise you even before this speech is over I'll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay," Rubio said. "This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage."
Rhetoric like this is familiar -- the right has long believed it's unfair for the left to be intolerant of intolerance. Despite its repetition, though, the argument always seems to come up short.
Consider the underlying point Rubio is trying to make. On the one hand, he and his allies intend to keep fighting, hoping to use the power of the state to deny equal rights and basic human dignity to Americans based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, Rubio and his allies would appreciate it if no one said mean things about them while they push these policies.
I'm afraid the public discourse doesn't quite work this way. No one is suggesting Rubio must abandon his opposition to civil rights for LGBT Americans, but if he wants to avoid criticism while pushing public policies that create second-class citizens, he appears to have chosen the wrong line of work.
That said, let's not overlook the part of the speech in which Rubio also tried to position himself as a critic of anti-gay discrimination.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, watches President Barack Obama speak during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

Boehner wants Obama to act 'on his own' on border crisis

07/24/14 10:08AM

The new House Republican leadership team held a brief press conference yesterday following a closed-door caucus meeting, fielding a few questions, all of which related to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. One exchange between a reporter and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stood out for me.
QUESTION: Just a follow up on that: are you still committed to having a vote before you leave? And, given the concerns within your own conference about the costs of this border bill, can you pass something?
BOEHNER: Listen, I, I'd like to act. We've got a humanitarian crisis on the border, and that has to be dealt with. But the president clearly isn't going to deal with it on his own, even though he has the authority to deal with it on his own.
Wait a second. Hold on. Boehner has spent months shouting, sometimes literally, about President Obama's out-of-control power grabs. As the Speaker and his caucus see it, Obama no longer gives a darn about separation of powers, and he's embraced a tyrannical model in which the president is king. Boehner is so outraged by Obama's willingness to act unilaterally that the Speaker is literally going to take the White House to court.
But when push comes to shove, Boehner's apoplexy is a sham. When the Speaker wants a shift in U.S. policy in Iraq, he demands that Obama deploy troops on his own, whether Congress approves of the administration's policy or not. When Boehner wants a shift in border policy and finds he's incapable of passing a bill, he again suggests the president can do as he pleases, without regard for lawmakers' approval.
If the Speaker of the House believes Obama should take fewer unilateral actions, fine. If Boehner believes the president should take more unilateral actions, that's OK, too. But right now, Congress' top Republican official is making both arguments at the same time, which suggest the Speaker isn't even taking his own rhetoric seriously.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to the local media, July 19, 2014, in McAllen, Texas.

Ted Cruz sees an imaginary 'economic boycott of Israel'

07/24/14 09:22AM

Just last week, a civilian airliner was shot down over a war zone, killing all 298 people on board. On Tuesday, just five days after the tragedy in Ukraine, a rocket landed Tuesday within a mile of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
In the interest of public safety and fearing a "potentially hazardous security situation," the Federal Aviation Administration announced a temporary halt to U.S. flights into the Israeli capital. "Safety is the very first priority for DOT, for FAA," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday. The announcement coincided with suspended flights from Air France and Lufthansa, along with a warning from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which "strongly" recommended against flights into Tel Aviv.
Here in the U.S., many on the right responded to the news with the kind of maturity and restraint we've come to expect: "FAA Trutherism" was born. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a move that was brazen even for him, accused the Obama administration of launching an "economic boycott on Israel."
"When Secretary Kerry arrived in Cairo this week his first act was to announce $47 million in additional aid to Gaza, which is in effect $47 million for Hamas. In short order, this travel ban was announced by the FAA. Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things. One, it helps our enemy. Two, it hurts our ally. 
"Until these serious questions are answered, the facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands. If so, Congress should demand answers."
By any fair measure, Cruz's response was more unhinged than his usual condemnations. The FAA's security concerns, the far-right Texan said, are "punitive" and a possible attempt at "economic blackmail." The senator raised the prospect of a presidential conspiracy, demanding information on "specific communications ... between the FAA and the White House."
Keep in mind, the Obama administration also asked Congress this week to "fast-track Israel's request for an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome anti-missile system." As Steve M. noted, the Obama administration and other Democrats "are seeking additional funding for Israel's defense shield while Ted Cruz is alleging an economic boycott of Israel on Obama's part."
Cruz either hasn't kept up on current events or he's choosing not to see details that contradict his wild-eyed nonsense.

Jobless claims improve to eight-year low

07/24/14 08:39AM

The last time the Labor Department published a report on initial unemployment claims this good, the Great Recession hadn't even started yet.
The number of people who applied for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits in the week that ended July 19 tumbled by 19,000 to 284,000 -- the lowest level since February 2006 -- signaling that companies have further slowed down the pace of layoffs and are letting go of few workers, according to government data released Thursday.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected initial claims of 310,000 in the most recent weekly data. The average of new claims over the past month declined by 7,250 to 302,000 -- the lowest level since May 2007, the U.S. Labor Department reported.
Regular readers know I run the above chart every Thursday morning, highlighting initial unemployment claims since January 2007, the year the Great Recession started. Look closely, however, and you'll notice that today's report is the best since before the chart began.
After finishing with a series of votes, Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., leaves the Capitol to monitor the primary race back home in Montana, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, in Washington.

Montana's Walsh caught up in damaging plagiarism controversy

07/24/14 08:00AM

Appointed Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana is running for a full term this year, and by all estimates, faces long odds. One recent analysis found the decorated Iraq war veteran stands about a 6% chance of success. Recent polling suggests Walsh has narrowed the gap against Rep. Steve Daines (R), but everyone agrees the senator has a tough road ahead.
A road that now looks even tougher, following this New York Times report.
On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.
But one of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh's 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh's master's degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors' works, with no attribution.
The incident occurred seven years ago, before Walsh was serving in elected office, but it can't be dismissed as a youthful indiscretion -- he was 46 at the time. What's more, the extent of the plagiarism wasn't just the result of sloppy editing; large chunks of others' work was presented as his own.
Walsh acknowledged late yesterday that he made a "mistake," adding, "I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor. My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."
Time will tell the degree to which Montana voters hold this against him, but it raises a larger question about why some politicians can overcome plagiarism controversies and some can't.