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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.29.15

06/29/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The high court makes even more news: "The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday afternoon to put a hold on court rulings that have reduced the number of abortion clinics in Texas. Four of the court's conservatives -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito -- dissented."
 
* Greece roils global markets:  "Stocks closed with their biggest losses of the year as investors worry about fallout from Greece's worsening debt crisis. Greece is moving closer to defaulting on its debt and could be forced to abandon the euro currency."
 
* Talks continue: "Seeking to calm a whirlwind of uncertainty that has battered global markets, opened deep fissures in European unity and threatened to push Greece out of the eurozone, European leaders insisted on Monday that a deal was still possible to settle Greece's spiraling debt crisis."
 
* Helpful overview: "So Greece faces a hard choice: it can accept the Troika's demands for further austerity. Or it can defy the Troika, which would likely lead to a default on Greek debt and possibly a Greek exit from the euro. The Greek government is holding a referendum on July 5 to let voters choose between these bad options."
 
* This won't be pretty, either: "Puerto Rico's governor, saying he needs to pull the island out of a 'death spiral,' has concluded that the commonwealth cannot pay its roughly $72 billion in debts, an admission that will probably have wide-reaching financial repercussions."
 
* After 22 days, it's over: "Convicted murderer and escaped inmate David Sweat was shot near the Canadian border Sunday by a New York state police officer, according to authorities."
 
* A case to watch: "On Monday morning, the Supreme Court announced that it will again be taking up a challenge to university affirmative action policies -- in the same case it punted on two years ago. The court will again be hearing the case of Abigail Fisher, a white student denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008."
The dome of the State Capitol is seen as a protestor waves a Confederate flag during the March For Life anti-abortion rally, Jan. 22, 2014, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Partisan games with the Confederate flag aren't worth playing

06/29/15 05:09PM

National Review's Deroy Murdock published a piece on Friday about Democrats "creating and owning" the Confederate flag, and frankly, I'm surprised it took the conservative magazine so long. I largely expected a piece along these lines much earlier in the week.
"My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony," Governor Nikki Haley (R., S.C.) said Monday, in the aftermath of the terrorist massacre perpetrated by über-racist Dylann Storm Roof.
 
Haley, a rising Republican star, is correct to lower the Confederate flag. It has reflected Democratic racial oppression since it was stitched together in 1861, and has been hoisted by Democrats ever since. Just as Republicans -- led by President Abraham Lincoln -- valiantly crushed the Democrat-run Confederacy, Republicans proudly should banish the Stars and Bars to private property and history museums. They also should remind Americans that Democrats waved this frightful banner until very recently.
It's an oddly defensive piece given that no one seems to be accusing Republicans of having created the Confederate battle flag. Rather, National Review -- which has its own deeply unfortunate history on matters related to race and civil rights -- seems eager to remind the public that, several generations ago, the Deep South was dominated politically by conservative white Democrats before it was dominated politically by conservative white Republicans.
 
Which is true, though forcing these battles into a contemporary partisan frame is more complicated than the right likes to admit.
 
This tends to come up about once a year, usually when Republicans are in a sensitive position related to race, so I suppose it's time to revisit our once-a-year discussion about the parties, the region, and the transformation that unfolded in the middle of the 20th century. This time, however, let's add a twist to the conversation.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the Legal Services Corporation's 40th anniversary conference luncheon Sep. 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Is it still possible to reach Peak Scalia?

06/29/15 04:13PM

Looking back over the last five days at the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia has voted against health care, against marriage equality, against pollution limits, and for the death penalty. And on a certain level, that's not at all unique -- Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voted the exact same way on the exact same cases.
 
But of the three far-right justices, Scalia was the only one whose prose made it seem as if he were auditioning to host a conservative radio talk show.
 
On health care, Scalia was in rare form, rhetorically and intellectually. On the former, he used bizarre phrases such as "interpretive jiggery-pokery" and "pure applesauce." On the latter, the conservative justice ignored his own ACA assessment from three years ago, all the while dismissing legislative history, legislative intent, and context -- at least in this case.
 
Scalia was even more furious a day later on marriage equality, taking gratuitous shots at Justice Anthony Kennedy's writing style, and publishing the curious phrase, "Ask the nearest hippie."
 
Today, on capital punishment, Scalia's side prevailed, but as msnbc's Irin Carmon noted, he decided to complain about marriage equality again, effectively dissenting on same-sex marriage "for a second time."
"Last Friday, this court took away from the people the right to decide on same-sex marriage on the basis of their own policy preferences," he said, taking a shot at Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer for suggesting in their written dissent to the case being announced that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
 
It was, in other words, a dissent to a dissent. "Unlike opposite sex marriage" -- Scalia apparently misspoke and meant same-sex marriage -- "the death penalty is approved by the constitution," the conservative justice said. 
In the same concurring decision -- which Scalia felt the need to read aloud this morning, just because he felt like it -- went after Justice Stephen Breyer's opposition to the death penalty, accusing him of rejecting the entire Enlightenment:
 
For good measure, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick added that while there is no written summary of Scalia's from-the-bench harangue this morning, it "deviated from his written concurrence in some really odd ways," and the whole thing "was very odd."
In this handout provided by The White House, President Barack Obama hosts a working dinner in Laurel Cabin during the G8 Summit on May 18, 2012 at Camp David, Maryland.

Obama earns high marks around the globe

06/29/15 12:56PM

Republicans are heavily invested in the idea that President Obama lacks international respect. There's new evidence that suggests the GOP has it backwards.
 
It was just a few months ago that Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, "We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends. Around the same time, Scott Walker and Donald Trump reportedly had a chat about "how poorly" the United States is now "perceived throughout the world." Mitt Romney added, "It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office."
 
Actually, it's incredibly easy to name countries that have more respect and admiration for the United States today than when President Obama took office. The Pew Research Center published a report last week on "Global Attitudes & Trends" and found that America's overall image around the world remains quite positive -- and in much of the world, impressions of the U.S. have improved since the end of the Bush/Cheney era.
 
More specifically, though, President Obama is an especially popular figure in many parts of the world.
Half or more in 29 of 40 countries surveyed say they have confidence in President Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. Throughout his terms in office, Obama has received particularly strong ratings in Europe and Africa, and that continues to be the case this year. Majorities in every EU and sub-Saharan African nation surveyed give him positive marks. [...]
 
Overall, Obama's image has improved in the last year. In 14 countries of the 36 countries where trends from 2014 are available, more people now say they have confidence in the U.S. president. The largest gain occurred in India, which Obama visited in January. Almost three-in-four Indians express confidence in Obama, up from 48% a year ago. Double digit gains are also found in Ghana (+22 points), Turkey (+21), Nigeria (+20), Uganda (+11) and Brazil (+11).
It's probably time for Republicans to update their talking points.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.29.15

06/29/15 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:
 
* Some Republican presidential hopefuls appear eager to run against GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices, following last week's rulings. Mike Huckabee, for example, said Chief Justice John Roberts "apparently needs medication for schizophrenia," while Rick Santorum said Justice Anthony Kennedy is "potentially disrupting the foundation of the world."
 
* Bobby Jindal not only believes the high court is "out of control," the Louisiana Republican argued late last week that the nation can "save some money" by "getting rid of" the Supreme Court altogether.
 
* The governor's campaign has apparently also settled on a disturbing slogan for official Jindal 2016 materials. "Tanned. Rested. Ready."
 
* Bernie Sanders' online fundraising operation appears to be off to a good start: the Independent senator has raised "at least $8.3 million online" since launching his presidential campaign.
 
* Politico reports that Donald Trump is making Republican officials nervous: "[I]nsiders worry that the loud-mouthed mogul is more than just a minor comedic nuisance on cable news; they fret that he's a loose cannon whose rants about Mexicans and scorched-earth attacks on his rivals will damage the eventual nominee and hurt a party struggling to connect with women and minorities and desperate to win."
 
* John Kasich's interest in the presidential campaign is apparently sincere: he's scheduled a July 21st launch at Ohio State University. In all likelihood, he'll be among the last notable Republicans to enter the crowded GOP field.
Supreme Court Justices

Big Business enjoys another good year at the Supreme Court

06/29/15 11:37AM

A year ago tomorrow, the Constitution Accountability Center published an analysis that proved to be quite memorable.
The Roberts Court's decision on June 26 in NLRB v. Noel Canning capped off yet another winning Supreme Court Term for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, giving the Chamber an 11-5 record for the current Term (69%), a 32-8 record over the last three Terms (80%), and a 70% success rate overall since both John Roberts and Samuel Alito joined the Court.
That's a pretty impressive streak.. When we think about institutions and interest groups that tend to do well at the high court, plenty of entities may come to mind, but as regular readers may recall, it's Big Business and Corporate America that have consistently found a friendly ear among the majority of the sitting justices.
 
And though I haven't yet seen an analysis of the Chamber of Commerce's success rate at the Supreme Court in 2015, it seems unlikely to drag down its overall average in the Roberts era.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 7, 2014.

Supreme Court offers more surprises on term's last day

06/29/15 11:06AM

Last week was a rather extraordinary week at the U.S. Supreme Court, with historic rulings that will change millions of lives. But the high court's term didn't end on Friday -- the last three decisions came down this morning. And though the rulings may not generate international attention, today's news matters, too.
 
Let's take these one at a time.
 
In Glossip v. Gross, the justices narrowly endorsed a controversial method of execution. MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma reported:
A controversial sedative can be used as the first in a lethal drug cocktail to carry out the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday, upholding the continued use of a chemical that has been at the center of a series of botched executions that drew increased scrutiny over how states handle capital punishment.
 
In the case Glossip v. Gross, the question before the Supreme Court was whether a sedative called midazolam effectively made an inmate unconscious before executioners administered lethal doses in a three-drug cocktail. Three convicted killers in Oklahoma brought the challenge, their lawyers arguing that there is no guarantee that midazolam will work, creating a substantial risk of causing severe pain or complications.
The 5-4 ruling is available online here (pdf), and the breakdown falls exactly along the lines you'd expect: Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in the majority; Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan on the other.
 
Many court observers considered oral arguments in this case to be among the most contentious in recent history, and with that in mind, it's worth noting that while Alito wrote the majority decision, Breyer and Sotomayor both read their dissents this morning, only to have Scalia take the unusual step of reading his concurrence, basically to thumb his nose at Breyer, who wants the court to strike down capital punishment as itself unconstitutional.
 
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was arguably the term's most overtly electoral case. MSNBC's Zack Roth reported:
Jeb Bush, Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign stop outside a residence in Washington, Ia., June 17, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Bush, Walker eye new 'nuclear option'

06/29/15 10:00AM

In his weekly address over the weekend, President Obama made a straightforward vow, intended to set families' minds at ease: the Affordable Care Act is "here to stay." His confidence is understandable, since the King v. Burwell case was effectively the anti-healthcare forces' last real shot to undermine the law and take benefits from millions.
 
But, skeptics might say, what about 2017? What about the not-at-all-fanciful possibility that, a year and a half from now, Americans will have elected a Republican president to work with a Republican Congress? It stands to reason that a GOP-dominated federal government might get to work dismantling the current American health care system.
 
Democrats believe the law is "here to stay," however, because of the legislative process -- Senate Dems would obviously filibuster any attempt to start taking benefits away from families. Unless GOP senators had 60 votes -- an unlikely scenario -- a Republican repeal plan would fail.
 
Unless, that is, Republicans change the rules. Bloomberg Politics reported late last week:
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Friday he's open to eliminating the Senate's 60-vote threshold if it helps Congress repeal Obamacare and enact "free-market oriented" health care reforms.
 
Appearing on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, the former Florida governor was asked if he'd support invoking the "Reid rule" -- also known as the "nuclear option" -- to nix the legislative filibuster to replace the Affordable Care Act.
In fairness, the Florida Republican didn't explicitly endorse this path, but when pressed on the strategy, Bush told Hewitt, "I might consider that." He added that if the GOP plan is strong enough, "then I would certainly consider that."
 
The Washington Examiner reported over the weekend that Gov. Scott Walker (R) was even more enthusiastic about the strategy. Asked if he'd call for the end of legislative filibusters in order to "repeal Obamacare," the Wisconsin Republican replied, "Yes. Absolutely."
Investigators say an arsonist is to blame for a fire which caused a quarter-million dollars in damage to the Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte. (Photo by Charlotte Fire Dept)

Church fires lead to federal investigation

06/29/15 09:20AM

Exactly one week after the deadly mass shooting in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) in Charleston, a fire erupted at a black church 200 miles north. NBC News reported last week:
A predominately black church in North Carolina was intentionally set ablaze, authorities said.
 
Charlotte fire officials are looking into whether Wednesday morning's arson at Briar Creek Baptist Church was a hate crime, NBC station WCNC reported. Although there were no initial indications that the crime was motivated by hate, officials haven't ruled it out, fire investigator David Williams told the station.
Fortunately, no one was killed, though the blaze reportedly caused about $250,000 in damage.
 
The same night, God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, was set ablaze. Around the same time, the Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina caught fire. Last week, College Hill Seventh Day Adventist burned in Knoxville, Tennessee.
 
A report in The Atlantic pointed to some other fires at churches over the last two weeks, though in those cases, the circumstances appear to be less suspicious, and in one instance, the church does not have a predominantly black congregation.
 
Nevertheless, given the number of incidents, and the possibility of arson in some of the cases, federal investigators are taking an interest. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:
This Aug. 9, 2014, file photo shows Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as he speaks during an event in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Huckabee sees merits of civil disobedience

06/29/15 08:40AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) grasp of constitutional law has long been a little fuzzy. In January, the Republican presidential candidate said Supreme Court rulings don't set the law of the land because decisions need to be enshrined by lawmakers through "enabling legislation."
 
The problem, of course, was that this was gibberish.
 
Huckabee's argument was presented in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, which arrived on Friday. Right on cue, the former governor made a similar argument to ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you calling for civil disobedience?
 
HUCKABEE: I don't think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we're going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.
He added moments later, "I'm not sure that every governor and every attorney general should just say, well, 'It's the law of the land,' because there's no enabling legislation." When Stephanopoulos asked if he would enforce federal law if elected president, Huckabee said it would depend on Congress passing "enabling legislation."
 
Just as a basic matter of how the American government works, what the GOP candidate is saying simply doesn't make any sense.
U.S. Republican Presidential candidate and Senator of Texas Ted Cruz speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's forum in Waukee, Iowa, April 25, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Ted Cruz isn't taking the marriage ruling well

06/29/15 08:00AM

At an event over the weekend, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was asked about last week's Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality. The right-wing Iowan, not surprisingly, wasn't pleased, calling the court decisions "the heaviest one-two punch delivered against the Constitution and the American people that we've ever seen in the history of this country."
 
Of course, Steve King is expected to say things like this. When presidential candidates go over the top in the same way, it's a little more alarming. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went so far as to call for a constitutional convention to overturn the court's decision while campaigning in Iowa, according to CNN. In an interview with Sean Hannity he called the back-to-back rulings on health care and gay marriage "some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history."
Hannity, incidentally, found Cruz's rhetoric quite compelling, responding, "I couldn't say it more eloquently."
 
For what it's worth, it's not hard to think of some genuinely tragic 24-hour periods in American history. The Lincoln assassination comes to mind. So does the time British troops burned the White House. There were days during the Civil War in which tens of thousands of Americans died on the battlefield. Just in the last century, we witnessed the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, and a corrupt president resign in disgrace.
 
For the Republican presidential hopeful, learning that Americans will have health benefits and loving couples will get married belongs on the same list.
 
To be sure, while much of the country will probably find that odd, it's equally important to appreciate what Cruz intends to do with his outrage.

Biden visits Mother Emanuel and other headlines

06/29/15 07:59AM

VP Joe Biden attends Sunday services at Emanuel AME Church. (Charleston Post and Courier)

Are black churches being targeted by arsonists? (New York Magazine)

Texas AG: state workers can deny licenses to gay couples. (Dallas Morning News)

Chris Christie unveils his presidential campaign website. (Bloomberg Politics)

John Kasich sets his announcement date. (Politico)

NY State manhunt ends after 22 days when a local State Trooper shoots fleeing prisoner. (Plattsburgh Press-Republican) 

Global markets slump as Greece closes banks and debt talks falter. (USA Today)

Whitey Bulger writes teens in a letter: 'my life was wasted.' (AP)

High schoolers' experiment lost again in 2nd failed rocket launch. (AP)

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