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Texas universities take a pass on state's new campus gun laws

12/01/15 11:20AM

After a series of school shootings, policymakers of all stripes offered a series of possible solutions. In Texas, for example, Republican state policymakers responded to the tragedies by allowing Texans with a concealed-carry license to bring loaded firearms into on-campus buildings.
The idea is based on the argument that there will be fewer shootings when there are more guns.
The state law, however, makes the policy optional for private colleges and universities, which can opt-out "after consulting with students, staff and faculty." Soon after, Baylor, Trinity, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, and others said they'd given this some thought and decided to pass on the state law, which takes effect in August 2016..
Yesterday, the Houston Chronicle reported that the list is still getting longer.
Guns will not be allowed at Rice University, despite a new state law letting some Texans carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
Rice on Monday joined a growing list of private schools signaling they will opt out of the law. President David Leebron announced the decision after extensive conversations with campus groups.
In an email to the university, Rice President Leebron wrote, "Not a single constituency consulted has endorsed having guns on our campus; in fact, each overwhelming(ly) opposed it. Maintaining the safety of our students and employees is our highest priority. There is no evidence that allowing the carrying of guns on our campus will make the campus safer, and the most knowledgeable professional groups believe that guns will make campuses less safe."
Imagine that.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Md. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Rubio makes his case against the Paycheck Fairness Act

12/01/15 10:40AM

At a campaign event last night, Hillary Clinton told voters she's prepared to "move heaven and earth" to get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed and signed into law. The proposal, intended to help protect women from wage discrimination in the workplace, would already be law -- President Obama is eager to sign it -- but congressional Republicans have killed it in each of the last three Congresses.
Among the GOP lawmakers who've contributed to the measure's defeats is none other than Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). ThinkProgress posted an item yesterday, noting what happened when members of the work/family organization Make It Work confronted the Republican senator for an explanation.
[Rubio] indicated that the [pay gap between men and women] shouldn't even exist today. "It's already illegal to pay women less than men," he responded. "If I pay a woman less than a man for the same job, it's illegal now. You can be sued now."
Though he offered up lawsuits as the remedy for unequal pay, Rubio is against the Paycheck Fairness Act because it would result in more lawsuits. "The Paycheck [Fairness] Act, all it did was allow trial lawyers to sue," he said. "The reason I voted against it is because ... all it really did is just help lawyers sue."
Rubio has had years to come up with a proper defense for his position, and the fact that this is the best he can come up with is a little surprising.
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)

White House urges Congress to act on ISIS

12/01/15 10:00AM

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) realizes some important congressional deadlines are coming up, and there remains a possibility that Republicans will push for another government shutdown, but the GOP leader considers it unlikely. McCarthy told reporters yesterday that congressional Republicans are primarily focused on national security and ISIS in the wake of the Paris attacks two weeks ago.
Of course, if that's true, Congress can prove it by doing actual work on the subject.
On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama and his team have been quite busy on the counter-terrorism front. In addition to the military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East, the White House announced yesterday that Rob Malley, the National Security Council's Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, will now "focus solely on efforts to degrade and destroy" ISIS, "ensuring full interagency coordination across all lines of effort."
The Obama administration also announced changes yesterday to "the government’s visa-waiver program to try to stop those who have visited conflict zones from easily boarding American-bound commercial flights, a move intended to prevent an attack in the United States similar to the ones that struck Paris."
Against this backdrop, what's Congress up to? Not much. Republicans occasionally complain about Obama not doing enough about ISIS, but it's the legislative branch that's done practically nothing since the president began targeting ISIS nearly 16 months ago.
White House officials argued yesterday that it's time for Congress to begin doing some real work, starting with authorizing the U.S. military campaign.
Speaking in Paris, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Congress needs to implement a series of proposals rather than engage in politically motivated posturing that is “wrong, dangerous and falls far short of what the America people deserve.”
Earnest said Congress should also fully fund an aviation security proposal in a budget deal, confirm a counterterrorism financing chief for the Treasury Department and institute a law banning people on the no-fly list from buying guns.
So, any chance congressional Republicans will stop talking and start acting?
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Nov. 13, 2015 in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Ted Cruz: Most violent criminals 'are Democrats'

12/01/15 09:20AM

A couple of months ago, Rush Limbaugh reflected on the series of school shootings in the United States, and the Republican host drew a partisan conclusion: "The people that are shooting up schools more than likely vote Democrat."
There's no evidence to suggest this is true, but accuracy obviously isn't a priority. The goal with rhetoric like this is to distract from potential policy solutions while exploiting violence for partisan gain.
And in an unexpected twist, a Republican presidential hopeful yesterday made the implicit case that Limbaugh wasn't ambitious enough. For Ted Cruz, it's not just school shooters who are Democrats, but violent criminals in general who are members of the party he holds in contempt. Politico reported yesterday:
Ted Cruz on Monday equated Democrats with violent crime.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, the Texas senator said that "the simple and undeniable fact is the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats."
In the same interview, the Texas Republican added, "There's a reason why the Democrats for years have been viewed as soft on crime. The Democrats know convicted felons tend to vote Democrat."
Media Matters posted the audio clip and transcript of the exchange.
The Cruz campaign hasn't substantiated the claim, but again, the point of partisan vitriol isn't to make substantive policy arguments. The presidential hopeful is being provocative for the sake of being provocative.
A Planned Parenthood location is seen on August 5, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Dems push to end Congress' anti-Planned Parenthood campaign

12/01/15 08:40AM

From the outset, one of the more important flaws in the Republican campaign against Planned Parenthood was its post-policy rationale. As we discussed a few months ago, when GOP lawmakers in Congress first saw controversial videos about the health organization over the summer, Republicans quickly hatched a plan to accuse the group of outrageous crimes and abuses.
There was just one nagging detail: there's literally no evidence Planned Parenthood did anything illegal. It didn't sell fetal tissue for a profit; it didn't misuse public resources, and it didn't violate any laws. The Republican plan was based on a foundation of quicksand.
GOP lawmakers, however, wouldn't let these pesky facts get in the way. They proceeded to launch hearings, investigations, and a new select subcommittee anyway, without much regard for whether the anti-Planned Parenthood campaign made any substantive sense.
For Democrats, this seemed like an annoying distraction from Congress' real-world priorities. But after a series of attacks on Planned Parenthood facilities, including last week's deadly mass shooting in Colorado Springs, BuzzFeed reports that congressional Dems are starting to see the Republican campaign as less of an aggravation and more of a danger that needs to end.
Democrats in Congress are using the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado to once again put pressure on Republicans to disband a select committee tasked with investigating the women's health organization.
Returning to Washington after Thanksgiving break on Monday, some Democrats more forcefully called for ending the committee, which was formed by House Republicans after the release of a series of undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling aborted fetuses' organs and tissues. Democrats also referred to the shooting on Friday, which killed three people, as an act of terror -- language that abortion rights supporters have pushed lawmakers to use to suggest that a network of anti-abortion groups and advocates have helped fuel violence.
Among the lawmakers calling for Congress to scale back its anti-Planned Parenthood crusade are Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who also happens to be a member of the new select committee.
Remember, the panel, which is currently hiring taxpayer-financed staffers and which has held no hearings, has not yet explained its purpose for existence. Writing in the Washington Post yesterday, Paul Waldman noted, "The idea, as it seems to be in most congressional investigations Republicans launch, is that while they don't really know what they're looking for, if they look hard enough then they'll find something that can be used against Planned Parenthood."
And while such a shamelessly partisan fishing expedition seemed exasperating before, the question now is whether congressional Republicans are contributing to a dangerous, toxic political climate for no substantive reason.
US President Barack Obama walks offstage during the 'Mission Innovation: Accelerating the Clean Energy Revolution' meeting at the COP2 in Le Bourget, France, Nov. 30 2015. (Photo by Ian Langsdon/Pool/AP)

GOP sabotage campaign targets Obama administration (again)

12/01/15 08:00AM

Congressional Republican efforts to sabotage U.S. domestic policy is unique in modern American history. For generations, Democrats and Republicans have waged fierce fights over all kinds of policy measures, but even bitter partisans didn't make much of an effort to weaken existing American laws and programs after they were implemented -- though that's exactly what Republicans did during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But U.S. policymakers taking steps to sabotage U.S. foreign policy is qualitatively different, and far more alarming -- and in the Obama era, far more common.
We've occasionally seen individual Republicans taking steps to undermine the White House on the global stage. For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) traveled to Guatemala last year and worked against U.S. foreign policy during the migrant-children crisis. In 2010, then-House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) traveled to Israel in the hopes of undermining U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As long-time readers know, actions like these used to be unheard of in the American tradition, but once President Obama took office, Republicans largely re-wrote the rules.
Earlier this year, 47 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), took the campaign to an entirely new level, sending a letter to Iran, telling officials not to trust the United States. The goal wasn't subtle: GOP lawmakers hoped to sabotage their own country's foreign policy in the midst of delicate international nuclear talks.
A month later, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's most aggressive climate deniers and the man Senate Republicans chose to lead the Senate committee on environmental policy, boasted, "The Tom Cotton letter was an educational effort." As global climate talks get underway at the COP21 conference in Paris, Republicans hope to apply the lessons of the educational effort to try to sabotage the White House once more.
In Washington, congressional Republicans have drawn a line against the president’s climate initiatives, and the House is scheduled to vote this week on legislation that would undo new Environmental Protection Agency rules on power-plant emissions -- a major element of the administration’s efforts to address climate change.
The legislation is unlikely to become law, but Republicans hope it shows the international climate negotiators that the nation is not united politically behind the president’s proposals.
It's that last sentence that carries the most weight: congressional Republicans aren't participants in the international climate talks, but they're nevertheless hopeful that they can play a role in derailing the negotiations from afar.

The Paris attackers and other headlines

12/01/15 07:21AM

How the Paris attackers honed their assault through trial and error. (New York Times)

Pentagon may send more U.S. troops to Syria. (USA Today)

For Clinton, one glaring holdout among female Democratic senators. (Washington Post)

Syrian refugees become issue in Illinois Senate race. (AP)

On Ukraine's front lines, U.S.-supplied equipment is falling apart. (Washington Post)

Alabama marks the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. (

Japan probes mystery boats carrying dead bodies off coast. (AP)

Long-hidden details reveal cruelty of 1972 Munich attackers. (New York Times)

George Lucas explains why Greedo shot first. (Time)

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Cornered Cruz chokes on shooting response

Cruz in questionable company, offers bizarre response to shooting

11/30/15 10:39PM

Rachel Maddow outlines the context of the history of threats and attacks on abortion providers and facilities across the United States, and reviews what little is known so far about the Colorado Springs shooter, and singles out Republican senator and presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, for his bizarre, distinctly unpresidential response to the... watch

More threats as anti-abortion talk cranks up

Increased threats correspond to new Planned Parenthood bashing

11/30/15 09:23PM

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, talks with Rachel Maddow about Friday's deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, the security measures clinics are forced to take, and the recent increase in violence and threats as Republicans have amplified anti-abortion extremists' opposition to Planned Parenthood. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 11.30.15

11/30/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Colorado: "The man accused of killing three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic made his first court appearance Monday, where he was told that he could face the death penalty. Robert Lewis Dear, 57, wore a protective vest and cast his eyes downward as he spoke to the judge via closed circuit TV, while victim's relatives watched from the El Paso County courtroom."
* Maryland: "As many as 80 potential jurors filed into a Baltimore courtroom Monday morning as the first trial in the death of Freddie Gray got underway. Jury selection for Officer William Porter's trial began Monday. When asked by Judge Barry Williams, every juror called said they knew about the Freddie Gray case, were aware of the curfew imposed following the protests and knew about the $6.4 million settlement between the city and Gray's family."
* Pittsburgh: "It began as an ordinary cab ride. But by the time it was over, the Pittsburgh taxi driver -- a 38-year-old Muslim man from Morocco -- had a bullet wound in his upper back and was lucky to be alive, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette."
* Research initiatives like these matter: "President Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are expected to stand with counterparts from more than 20 countries on Monday in announcing the unprecedented efforts, which are aimed at spurring rapid advances in research and development for clean energy, U.S. officials confirmed Sunday."
* Boko Haram: "West Africa's Boko Haram Islamist militant group is expanding and there is only a small window of opportunity to stop it, the top U.N. aid official in Cameroon said on Monday."
* University of Chicago: "A suspect has been arrested after a top-ranked university had to cancel classes due to a threat of gun violence against its campus community. Jabari Dean, 21, was arrested for allegedly threatening to murder University of Chicago students and staff, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois announced Monday."
* Shutdown Watch: "House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday shrugged off the possibility of a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood, saying Republicans are more focused on preventing terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks."
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Nov. 30, 2015. (Photo by Eric Feferberg/Pool/AP)

Obama: International gathering is an act of defiance, resolve

11/30/15 04:32PM

The Paris Climate Conference, known as COP21 (Conference on Parties), began this morning, and while the gathering has been in the works all year, it's not lost on any of the participants that the French capital suffered a deadly terrorist attack two weeks ago.
And with this in mind, when President Obama spoke at the opening session, he acknowledged the circumstances at the outset:
"President Hollande, Mr. Secretary General, fellow leaders. We have come to Paris to show our resolve.
"We offer our condolences to the people of France for the barbaric attacks on this beautiful city. We stand united in solidarity not only to deliver justice to the terrorist network responsible for those attacks but to protect our people and uphold the enduring values that keep us strong and keep us free. And we salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on -- an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children. What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?"
It's no small detail. Organizers of the climate conference have noted that COP21 is the largest gathering of international heads of state in the history of, well, the world. That this is occurring just 17 days after Paris was gripped by violence and bloodshed is itself rather extraordinary, and Obama's well justified to celebrate the circumstances.
If terrorists hoped the world would be frightened off by the events of Nov. 13, they failed.
As part of the same remarks, Obama was apparently supposed to be brief. The president, however, wasn't overly concerned about the arbitrary constraints.
Republican presidential candidates John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul take the stage before the Republican presidential debate, Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

As climate talks open, many candidates flunk science test

11/30/15 12:48PM

Officials from around the world began high-level talks in Paris today, as the United Nations climate change conference kicked off a 10-day gathering intended to combat the intensifying climate crisis. President Obama is on hand and delivered a speech to attendees this morning.
The U.S. leader's challenges are obvious. For one thing, there's plenty of international resistance to making any kind of short-term sacrifice to deal with global warming, and given the scope of the crisis, dramatic changes are required. For another, the Obama administration has to deal with the fact that an entire American political party is actively trying to sabotage American officials' efforts at the Paris gathering.
But there's also the fact that the president, who's been laying the groundwork for these talks for quite a while, only has one year remaining in office, and much of the work will have to continue after Obama's successor is elected. Depending on who that successor is, that could be very good news for our environmental future or very bad news.
MSNBC's Tony Dokoupil had an interesting report over the holiday weekend on the candidates' preparedness on the issue.
The Associated Press invited eight climate and biological scientists to grade the scientific accuracy of candidates in both parties. The material included debates, published interviews and tweets. The candidates' names were not known to the reviewers. As an added protection against bias, the scientists were selected by professional scientific societies.
The grades, which ran from 0 to 100, were mostly abysmal. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the strongest and the wrongest, receiving a grade of 6 points for accuracy. All eight evaluators placed Cruz dead last. Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor, wrote of Cruz's statements: "This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner."
Of course, with Cruz, it's often difficult to know whether and when he's playing a political game. Is he actually ignorant or is he saying foolish things he knows to be wrong in the hopes of winning votes from his party's right-wing base?
Regardless, if Cruz fared the worst, who fared the best?