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Smoke rises over the Airport Road area after heavy fighting between rival militias broke out near the airport in Tripoli July 25, 2014.

GOP blames Obama for Libyan violence

07/28/14 10:04AM

Violence between rival Libyan militias drew closer to the American Embassy in Tripoli recently, prompting a careful U.S. military operation over the weekend. As Kareem Fahim reported, military jets provided air cover during a predawn evacuation of the embassy's staff, which appeared to go without incident. The report added U.S. officials described the evacuation as a temporary measure after fighting drew too close to the embassy.
Any chance congressional Republicans were glad the Obama administration took the precautionary step? No, GOP lawmakers were too busy blaming the president for the Libyan militias' violence.
The violence in Libya that caused U.S. embassy personnel to flee the country on Saturday is partly due to President Obama's inability to bring calm to the region, key Republican members of Congress said on Saturday.
According to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the "deteriorating security posture" that is playing out across the region "is what happens when the United States is not engaged and lacks a clear foreign policy that includes strong U.S. leadership."
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed the sentiment that the Obama administration is to blame for not doing enough to bring security to Libya.
In fairness, not all Republicans on Capitol Hill were quite so crass. House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA) issued a statement extending his well-wishes to the troops and diplomatic team. "As Americans evacuate from Tripoli, I want to express my deep gratitude for the US forces who have been on standby alert there," McKeon said. "My thoughts and prayers are with all Americans in Libya. I wish them a safe return, and for the safety of American troops watching over them."
But among GOP leaders and committee chairs, McKeon was alone -- his colleagues from his party were too busy blaming U.S. leaders for violence between warring Libyan militias. Royce, in particular, cited "the lack of direction and leadership from this Administration" in a statement.
In reality, it's not clear how much the clashing militias really care about "direction and leadership" from the White House.
In the larger context, though, it appears we now have another example of a disturbing pattern.
Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, California July 11, 2014.

NYT editorial board calls for end to pot 'prohibition'

07/28/14 09:21AM

The New York Times' opinion section has taken some curious steps in recent months when talking about marijuana. Last month, for example, Maureen Dowd wrote about a terribly unpleasant incident in which she ingested far too much pot and ended up "in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours ... panting and paranoid."
It followed a David Brooks column from earlier this year in which he noted his own experimentation before concluding that he wants a society in which "government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned."
One of the problems with Brooks' piece, of course, is that the United States doesn't just "discourage" the use of marijuana; we spend billions to fight it, imprisoning many of those who embrace the "lesser pleasures." It is, in other words, a prohibition -- which the editorial board of the New York Times now wants to end.
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
On the surface, it may not seem especially important to think a newspaper ran an editorial on legalizing marijuana. Lots of newspapers run editorials on all kinds of issues every day.
But in practice, the New York Times isn't just any paper, and the editorial board's willingness to adopt a bold stance on drug policy is emblematic of a national conversation has fundamentally changed -- and may never be the same.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, Feb. 27, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Congress reaches preliminary deal on veterans' aid

07/28/14 08:43AM

As of Thursday, a pending bill to expand veterans' benefits appeared to be just about dead. What had been a bipartisan issue had turned into yet another partisan food fight, with House Republicans rejecting multiple compromise offers and walking away from the negotiating table. The Senate Democratic caucus, led in this fight by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was apoplectic, blasting House GOP lawmakers for killing legislation that should be approved easily.
If the goal of the Democratic outrage was to force House Republicans to reconsider, the apoplexy worked. GOP lawmakers, reluctant to get blamed for killing another veterans-aid package, were shamed into renewing talks, and last night, negotiators struck a deal.
According to a summary of the agreement obtained by CQ Roll Call, the negotiators agreed to $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending -- $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA, like hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. That's $5 billion more than Miller offered on Thursday and about $10 billion less than Sanders sought.
To qualify for the private care option, veterans would have to be experiencing long wait times or be located more than 40 miles from a VA facility. They would be able to access providers who already participate in Medicare.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will reportedly join House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) at a Capitol Hill event this afternoon to unveil their compromise.
If the price tag is any indication, Sanders compromised quite a bit -- the Senate bill, which passed in June on a 93-to-3 vote, had a price tag of $35 billion over 10 years. This new agreement with the GOP-led House has reduced the aid package to $15 billion, less than half the original total.
It's worth adding a note of caution: just because the relevant lawmakers agreed to a compromise does not mean that the process is over. Congress will still have to pass the deal and neither chamber will be able to amend the agreement. That said, the odds of success appear high.
So, good news, right? For veterans and their advocates, the announcement is obviously encouraging, but before anyone starts using the "maybe Congress can function effectively after all" talking point, I'd recommend keeping the praise to a minimum.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 19, 2014.

House GOP leader leaves presidential impeachment on the table

07/28/14 08:00AM

House Republicans recently had to elect new leaders, and rank-and-file conservatives insisted that at least one far-right Tea Partier join the team. They succeeded: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a fan of debt-ceiling crises and a lawmaker who believes President Obama may be trying to create a "dictatorship," was chosen as the new House Majority Whip.
Yesterday was something of a coming-out party for the Louisiana Republican: Scalise sat down with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," his first Sunday show appearance of this Congress. It didn't go especially well. As Adam Serwer noted, the congressman, recently chosen as the third-ranking GOP official in the House, refused to take presidential impeachment off the table.
Wallace: Will you consider impeaching the president?
Scalise: This might be the first White House in history that's trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president. Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow the laws. But the president took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land, and he's not. In fact, the Supreme Court, unanimously, more than 12 times, unanimously said, the president overreached, and actually did things he doesn't have the authority to do.
First, that's not even close to what the Supreme Court said, and the fact that a member of the House Republican leadership team would repeat such nonsense on national television -- in response to a question he was no doubt prepared for -- is alarming.
Second, and perhaps more important, was the fact that Scalise didn't answer the question. To his credit, Wallace followed up, asking, "So if he overreaches again on executive action to defer more deportations, what will the House do?" Again, the new House Republican leader dodged. So Wallace asked again whether or not impeachment is "off the table."
Scalise responded, "The White House wants to talk about impeachment and ironically they're going out and trying to fundraise off that, too." Once more, the host said, "I'm asking you, sir." The GOP lawmaker again refused to answer, saying, "The White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president's failed agenda."
Of course, Congress won't approve the president's agenda, making the criticism rather odd, but even putting that aside, Wallace gave the new House Majority Whip multiple chances to answer a straightforward question. In each instance, Scalise refused.
Which is exactly what Democrats wanted to see.

Vets bill deal reached and other headlines

07/28/14 07:52AM

Senate and House negotiators reached a deal on the veterans bill over the weekend. (Washington Post)

In the House's final week before recess, Republicans want to show they can govern. (The Hill)

U.N. Security Council calls for Gaza cease-fire as Eid-al-Fitr begins. (Reuters)

U.S. says images show direct Russian role in Ukraine fighting. (Wall Street Journal)

The trial of fmr. VA Gov. Bob McDonnell begins today. (Richmond Times Dispatch) And his former AG, Ken Cuccinelli, may be called as a witness for the defense. (AP)

New York Times editorial board comes out in favor of legal pot. (NY Times)

Two Americans stricken with deadly Ebola virus in Liberia. (NBC News)

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This Week in God, 7.26.14

07/26/14 09:24AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of New Orleans, where opponents of abortion rights decided to hold an impromptu protest in an unusual place: inside a church, during church services, while the congregation was in the middle of a moment of silence.
Flip Benham's group Operation Save America disrupted the services of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans on Sunday while the congregation was honoring a member who had died. The organization framed their action as simply an effort to "present the truth of the Gospel in this synagogue of Satan" as part of their efforts "to defeat the culture of death."
Apparently, hundreds of activists who oppose abortion rights gathered in New Orleans this week to hold a series of protests, but Operation Save America members took it upon themselves to interrupt this church's worship service, telling members of the congregation they don't have the "true faith," presumably because Unitarian Universalist churches are pro-choice.
Operation Save America's name may not sound familiar, so it's worth noting the group used to be called Operation Rescue National, an organization that developed a reputation for extremist, sometimes violent, activism.
In this case, members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, no longer able to hold a moment of silence to honor a congregant who recently died, sang while the anti-abortion activists disrupted their services.
The Rev. Deanna Vandiver, the UU speaker during Sunday's service, later argued, "No one should invade the sanctuary of another’s faith to terrorize people as they worship."
It would appear Operation Save America disagrees.
Also from the God Machine this week:

Cocktail Moment: The Prescription Julep

07/26/14 01:21AM

Adapted from the Rachel Maddow Show transcript

Other than not containing any bourbon, the Prescription Julep is pretty similar to a regular Mint Julep.

Start with the sugar. You can use simple syrup where the sugar and water are already combined into a syrup, but for this drink, I like to just use a teaspoon of granular sugar and then add the water right in the glass - an ounce of water. Use more sugar if that's your taste. It doesn't need to be perfectly dissolved but you want that to dissolve at least a little bit.

Then you need good fresh mint - a half dozen leaves or so. Don't use the whole sprig because the stalk of the mint isn't the flavor or the texture that you want.

Smoosh it around a little bit. You don't need to go crazy with the muddling. Just use the back of your bar spoon. Get the mint, the sugar, and the water incorporated with each other.

Add 1½ ounce of cognac or brandy. The better the liquor the better the drink!

Add a ½ ounce of delicious rye whiskey.

Add as much ice as you can to the drink. A proper julep would have ice that was crushed so finely that it was basically turned into powder, but plain old crushed ice also serves. 

Stir it up. Stir it for as long as you can stand to without drinking this thing.

Add a sprig of mint as a garnish.

As juleps go, this is bogus but it works and it is delicious!

Video after the jump.

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Worst... Congress... Ever...

Will do-nothing Congress do nothing on VA?

07/25/14 11:02PM

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether this Congress, arguably the worst Congress ever, has the ability to pass a badly-needed bill addressing the needs of veterans and the V.A. watch

House asserts role on troops to Iraq

House asserts role on troops to Iraq

07/25/14 10:57PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the passage of a bill in the House insisting that President Obama seek permission from Congress before sending more troops to Iraq beyond the 60-day limit, which will expire while Congress is away on recess. watch

Ahead on the 7/25/14 Maddow show

07/25/14 08:04PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been working with House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, Florida congressman Jeff Miller, to hammer out a compromise V.A. reform bill
  • Jen Moreno, staff attorney for the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic

And here's senior producer Cory Gnazzo with tonight's preview:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.25.14

07/25/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* A pause? "Israel has offered to halt fighting for 12 hours in Gaza, a senior U.S. official said Friday. The pause in fighting would begin at 7 a.m. Saturday (12 a.m. ET), the official said. It was not immediately clear whether Hamas would also cease hostilities. Word of the offer came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said talks aimed at a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip were bogged down in disagreement over 'some terminology.'"
* "Day of Rage": "Violence spread to the West Bank on Friday as enraged Palestinians protested Israel's continuing military offensive in Gaza. At least five Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, according to Palestinian medical officials and local news reports, adding to the explosive atmosphere in the region and raising the specter of further unrest."
* Ukraine: "Russia has stepped up its direct involvement in fighting between the Ukranian military and separatist insurgents, unleashing artillery attacks from Russian territory and massing heavy weapons along the border, Ukrainian and American officials say."
* Border crisis: "President Obama said Friday that migrant children who cross the border and do not have 'proper claims' will be sent back to their home countries."
* More on this on tonight's show: "The House on Friday passed a resolution requiring authorization from Congress for a sustained presence of combat troops in Iraq."
* Heartbreaking: "The doctor leading Sierra Leone's fight against the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has contracted the virus himself, government officials said. Sheik Umar Khan, 39, was on the front lines of battling the disease that has so far claimed 632 lives in three West African states, according to the World Health Organization. He is credited with treating more than 100 victims. And now he is one himself."
* Occasionally, Republicans can be shamed into talking: "Key lawmakers are back at work on a possible deal to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, just one day after the talks appeared to break down."
* Maybe the FAA's decision wasn't the result of a partisan conspiracy: "An Air Canada flight was forced to circle Tel Aviv, after rockets were fired at Ben Gurion International Airport on Friday, The Toronto Star reports."
* Someone should let Darrell Issa know: "The federal watchdog tasked with enforcing the Hatch Act has cleared the White House's political affairs office of any wrongdoing in violation of the 20th century law that bars political activity by executive branch employees."
* When the right screws up U.S. diplomacy for no reason: "Sen. Ted Cruz will still hold all State Department nominations despite the fact that it could further delay the U.S. posting an ambassador to Russia, his office said on Friday."
* Dear conservatives, if your entire argument for taking health care benefits away from millions is an example of Jonathan Gruber making a mistake, then you've already lost.
Florida Republican Rep. Curt Clawson in a frame captured from a video of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, July 24, 2014.

An 'intensely awkward congressional hearing'

07/25/14 04:59PM

Earlier this month, in a clumsy moment, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lambasted U.S. customs official Thomas Winkowski. But there was a problem: McCain meant to shout at R. Gil Kerlikowske, a different U.S. customs official with a name that was kinda sorta similar.
It was an embarrassing exchage, but on the cringe-worthy spectrum, McCain's confusion was nothing compared to this story, reported yesterday by John Hudson.
In an intensely awkward congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.
The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about "your country" and "your government," in reference to the state of India.
The video is hard to watch, but it's also hard to look away.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks with reporters in Memphis, Tenn., May 9, 2014.

A poor messenger with a dubious message

07/25/14 04:31PM

If persistence mattered more than accuracy, then Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would be extremely well positioned to expand his base of support to traditional Democratic constituencies. After all, the Kentucky Republican rarely misses an opportunity to make his pitch to organizations committed to civil rights and the interests of minority communities.
Benjy Sarlin reports today, for example, that Paul talked up his agenda at a civil rights conference in Ohio this morning.
"I say we take a stand and fight for justice now," said the Republican senator from Kentucky. The speech to the National Urban League's conference in Cincinnati was part of a broader campaign by Paul to engage with minority voters ahead of a likely presidential run. [...]
"Not only do I support the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, I'm a Republican who wants to restore a federal role for the government in the Voting Rights Act," Paul said.
On a surface level, that sounds like exactly the kind of message progressives and proponents of civil rights find appealing.
It's what happens when we look just below the surface that Rand Paul runs into trouble.