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Decryptomaddowlogical #109

02/26/15 06:48PM

Last night Rachel described the chaos in Washington, D.C. surrounding both the funding of the Department of Homeland Security and the vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch for attorney general. Counterproductive partisan lock-up is obviously not uncommon in Congress lately, but in this case, Republicans are working against their own interests in keeping Eric Holder in office longer by delaying votes on Loretta Lynch. And whatever message conservatives want to send to President Obama, no one thinks not funding Homeland Security is a good idea. So this is weird beyond partisanship. It's...

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.26.15

02/26/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Identifying the man known as Jihadi John: "The identity of the masked executioner clutching a knife in ISIS beheading propaganda videos was revealed on Thursday. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed to NBC News that a Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi is the person known as 'Jihadi John' in the ISIS videos depicting the murders of American and British citizens."
 
* Speaking of ISIS: "The Islamic State group released a video on Thursday purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in northern Iraq, describing the relics as idols that must be removed. The destructions are apparently part of a campaign by the ISIS extremists who have destroyed a number of shrines -- including Muslim holy sites -- in order to eliminate what they view as heresy."
 
* Kicking the can down the road? "House Republican leaders are eying a stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security and punt the immigration fight for potentially three weeks, GOP sources said Thursday."
 
* In related news, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told reporters this afternoon, "We really, as a governing party, we got to fund DHS, and say to the House, 'Here's a straw so you can suck it up.'"
 
* House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), perhaps struggling with the pressure, was reduced to blowing a kiss at a reporter during a press conference late this morning.
 
* Ebola: "Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation's Ebola outbreak."
Ron Johnson - 09/26/13

A DHS shutdown by any other name...

02/26/15 04:20PM

In the summer of 2013, when the right had high hopes that congressional Republicans would shut down the federal government, Heritage Foundation was reluctant to use the actual word "shutdown." Instead, it preferred the phrase "a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations."
 
That proved to be a little clunky. When GOP lawmakers actually shut down the government, Fox News went with the more streamlined "slimdown" label.
 
With just one day remaining before the Department of Homeland Security runs out of funds, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has an entirely different argument in mind: a shutdown isn't really a shutdown. A Democratic source flagged this exchange between the Republican senator and radio host Vicki McKenna yesterday:
MCKENNA: Here's another proposal. Because the thing is, it seems like we always walk up to the eleventh hour. And then we say, 'Okay, well now we're stuck. I agree.' If on Friday, even though it won't -- there will be no such thing as a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
 
JOHNSON: And I've pointed that out.
 
MCKENNA: Yes, you have. In fact, you were the first one to point that out.
 
JOHNSON: I paid a price for pointing it out.
The Wisconsin lawmaker was probably referring to comments he made in mid-January, when Johnson said he wasn't concerned about the DHS deadline. "Even in the last government shut down only 13.6% of DHS employees were furloughed," the senator said last month. "So the national security aspects, the aspects of the department that keeps America safe, are continuing to function no matter what happens in this very dysfunctional place."
 
Johnson, incidentally, was recently made the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. One assumes his indifference to whether DHS employees start missing paychecks will not go over well among the agency's massive workforce.
 
The basic idea here is that a shutdown isn't really a shutdown, so the public shouldn't be too concerned. That's likely to be a convenient excuse for failure if GOP lawmakers don't approve a funding bill by tomorrow at midnight, but it's not an especially compelling argument.
Loretta Lynch listens during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Loretta Lynch clears hurdle, heads for Senate floor

02/26/15 03:31PM

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been eager to express his frustration with how Loretta Lynch has been treated by the Republican majority. "I've been here 40 years and no attorney general -- no attorney general -- has ever had to wait this long for a vote," he said this week.
 
Lynch's wait, however, may soon be over.
After a lengthy confirmation hearing process, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 Thursday to advance the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general. The full Senate will likely vote on her nomination next month.
 
Three Republicans joined all the Democrats on the committee in endorsing Lynch as America's next top law enforcement officer. Those included Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
There was some doubt about whether Lynch would get committee support, though she needed three Republican votes today and that's exactly what she received. On the Senate floor, the A.G. nominee will need at least five GOP votes to get confirmed, which means finding two more Republicans, assuming Hatch, Graham, and Flake don't change their minds.
 
At this point, I'd say her odds are quite good. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has suggested she's likely to back Lynch, as might Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
 
That said, none of this has been -- or will be -- easy. As Politico noted this morning, several Republican senators who met privately with Lynch and said they were inclined to support her -- a group that includes John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), among others -- have since reversed course without explanation.
 
After sailing through her confirmation hearings, Lynch appeared to be on track for an easy confirmation vote. For reasons even Republicans struggle to explain, she's now just hoping for a narrow majority.

FCC approves landmark net neutrality policy

02/26/15 02:49PM

Proponents of net neutrality have been on a bit of a political roller coaster over the last couple of years, but as of today, the ride ended right where they wanted it to.
After more than a year of heated public debate, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday passed "net neutrality" rules: They allow the agency to prohibit Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that pay for the privilege.
 
The new rules treat broadband providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- the same category as utility companies that provide gas, electricity, etc. -- in which all customers have equal access to service.
The policy shift was set in motion by President Obama, who, just a week after the 2014 midterms, announced a bold move on net neutrality. The president, a longtime champion of the policy, endorsed the "strongest possible rules" to protect net neutrality and urged the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service to be regulated more like a public utility.
 
Earlier this month, the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled a willingness to do exactly that, leading to today's vote from commission members. Predictably, the FCC was split along party lines -- the three Democratic members voted for it, the two Republican members opposed it.
 
Timothy B. Lee added, "Consistent with longstanding practice, the FCC did not release its proposal in advance of today's vote.... However, the agency has released a four-page fact sheet describing its major provisions. And it reads like a wishlist for network neutrality activists."
 
And then, of course, there are net neutrality's many opponents among GOP lawmakers.
Bill O'Reilly appears on NBC News' "Today" show. (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty)

Fox's O'Reilly parses the meaning of the word 'see'

02/26/15 12:49PM

Fox News Bill O'Reilly has long been a controversial media figure, though the last week has been an especially awkward time for the conservative host. Specific claims he made about his work covering the Falklands war, for example, have struggled under scrutiny. Soon after, the public learned that O'Reilly's claims about the suicide of a JFK assassination figure also appear to be, at best, suspect.
 
But perhaps the most striking angle to this story deals with claims O'Reilly made about seeing nuns murdered in El Salvador. If you missed last night's show, Rachel's segment on this stood out for me in part because of O'Reilly's explanation.
 
First, a little backstory. Soon after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, O'Reilly spoke on the air about the nature of evil. "I don't think a lot of people understand," he said. "My mother, for example, doesn't understand evil. When I would tell her, 'Hey, mom, I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,' she almost couldn't process it. She couldn't process it."
 
In reality, while Catholic nuns were executed during El Salvador's civil war in December 1980, O'Reilly could not have seen them get shot -- he was not in El Salvador in December 1980. He arrived in the country the following year.
 
Since there's no way O'Reilly could have seen what he claims to have seen, Fox News gave "The Rachel Maddow Show" a statement from O'Reilly, which read as follows:
"While in El Salvador, reporters were shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast, including depictions of nuns who were murdered. The mention of the nuns on my program came the day of the Newtown massacre. The segment was about evil and how hard it is for folks to comprehend it. I used the murder nuns as an example of that evil. That's what I was referring to when I say, 'I saw nuns get shot in the back of head.' No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador."
That's a pretty remarkable response for a couple of reasons.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.26.15

02/26/15 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:
 
* The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off this morning. Widely considered the premier annual event in far-right politics, at least 11 likely Republican presidential candidates will address the conservative crowd.
 
* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will appear at the event, and his "advisers have taken steps to pack the room with supporters."
 
* To the surprise of no one, Quinnipiac's latest poll of Iowa Democrats shows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a very popular figure and the overwhelming favorite in the race for the Democratic nomination.
 
* As former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) departed from his State Department job this week, he thanked his "once, current, and I hope, future chief of staff." It was a reminder that Feingold is likely to seek a rematch against Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin next year.
 
* Karl Rove's American Crossroads operation is trying to use comments from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to go after Hillary Clinton. The Republican super PAC created a 30-second attack ad, but it's unclear if the spot will appear anywhere other than the Internet.
 
* Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Republican mega-donor, has reportedly told associates he's "open to underwriting an effort" to stop Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign, "should he gain traction in the primaries."
Gina McCarthy prepares to testify before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on her nomination as EPA administrator, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 11, 2013. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Scalise to EPA chief: 'snow blizzards' contradict climate science

02/26/15 11:23AM

House Republicans held a committee hearing yesterday to consider Environmental Protection Agency's budget request from agency chief Gina McCarthy. The discussion went about as expected, though the hearing was a reminder of why policy debates in Washington have become effectively impossible.
 
As Alec MacGillis reported, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was on hand for the discussion, and he told the EPA chief,  "I know the president loves talking about global warming -- and they're canceling flights all around the country due to snow blizzards."
 
Yes, according to Scalise, the #3 Republican leader in the U.S. House, snow storms in the winter undermine climate science. The far-right GOP congressman also seems concerned about "snow blizzards" -- as opposed to the other kinds of blizzards that cancel flights?
 
MacGillis also highlighted the concerns raised by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), who "told McCarthy that she was, effectively, responsible for an epidemic of mental illness."
"I keep seeing the EPA putting in another regulation on top of another regulation," he said. "What it's led, by these overregulation in rural America, it's led to people, their well-being, their mental health, is all being affected by it. I think we're having some depression in areas around the county because of the threats of regulation and what it's doing to jobs.... I really believe it's directly attributed to the regulatory body with it (sic)." No mention of the other factors that are putting pressure on the coal industry in his district, such as the natural gas boom happening very nearby.
 
In case you wondered, McKinley doesn't believe in man-made climate change. "You continue to issue more regulations even though the models say it doesn't work with it," he told McCarthy. "You have a model that says how [carbon dioxide] impacts the temperatures around the globe. We know from the standards that that doesn't work." Oh?
Much of the country often wonders why President Obama and congressional Republicans can't work cooperatively on national problems. Hearings like these offer a big hint. When members of the House Energy Committee argue to the EPA chief that "snow blizzards" raise doubts about global warming, governing is a longshot.
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

West Virginia GOP moves to nullify 'Obamacare'

02/26/15 10:45AM

Before getting elected to the U.S. Senate, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst adopted some remarkably radical political beliefs, including the notion that Iowa could pass a law "nullifying" the Affordable Care Act in the state. The Republican even endorsed allowing local law enforcement to "arrest federal officials attempting to implement" the federal health care law.
 
Obviously, nothing became of these extremist positions, and Ernst was never able to act on her ridiculous beliefs. But the hyper-conservative ideas she embraced clearly haven't faded from Republicans' minds. The Charleston Gazette reported this week:
In another salvo against the federal Affordable Care Act, some Republicans in West Virginia's House of Delegates want to make it a crime for state and federal officials to enforce the health-care law.
 
Under the GOP-backed bill (HB2509), federal employees would face felony charges, while state workers would be arrested for a misdemeanor offense, if they try to administer any federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act. The legislation also declares the federal health-care law "invalid" in West Virginia.
Perry Bryant, who heads West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told the paper, "It's one thing to oppose the Affordable Care Act, but it's another thing to make it a criminal act for people to do their job. This is really an extreme piece of legislation, as extreme as anything I've seen this session."
 
Or any session, really. The notion that a state can simply nullify a federal law it doesn't like is absurd -- the last time states considered this approach, the question was resolved by the Civil War. The "nullification" crowd lost.
 
The notion that West Virginia Republicans could make it a literal crime to enforce American law in America is simply bonkers.
 
And yet, the proposal has the support of a half-dozen GOP lawmakers in West Virginia and was taken up by the state House Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Texas State Capital

The wrong Battle of the Alamo

02/26/15 10:03AM

State lawmakers in Texas this week held a hearing on a curious new proposal. According to state Sen. Donna Campbell (R), Texas needs a new law to prohibit foreign control of the Alamo -- and if you're thinking this is a foolish effort, trust your instincts. The Texas Tribune reported:
Campell proposed the Protect the Alamo Act in response to a nomination that could make the San Antonio Missions -- including the emblematic Alamo -- a World Heritage site through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A decision is expected to be announced in July. Campbell said that without the law to protect the Alamo, there would be a risk that the Texas General Land Office, which manages the Alamo and surrounding properties, could sell it.
 
"In the charge to the battle, the battle cry was 'Remember the Alamo,' and since then, the Alamo has been recognized as hallowed ground in Texas, and a shrine of Texas liberty," Campbell said at a hearing before the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee. "The Alamo is a story of Texas, and it should be owned, operated, and maintained, controlled by Texans."
We've seen some interesting examples of far-right paranoia surrounding the United Nations over the years, but this one's just odd.
 
As we discussed a while back, UNESCO decided to grant World Heritage status to the Alamo, giving the Texas historical site the same status as other American treasures such as Independence Hall, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Statue of Liberty. It would seem like the sort of thing that Texans could be proud of, and which might even help boost tourism in the area.
 
But it hasn't quite turned out that way. Almost immediately, conservatives, pushed by the San Antonio Tea Party, began circulating warnings that the United Nations might seize control of the Alamo. The Texas Land Commissioner's office tried to explain how silly the fears were, but they persisted.
 
And now legislation based on the paranoia is under consideration in Austin.
US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 30, 2013.

Netanyahu becomes political player, so Kerry treats him like one

02/26/15 09:13AM

Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, and going into the hearing, it was widely expected that he'd tout the importance of international nuclear talks with Iran. He did exactly that, though he also went a little further in challenging a critic of those talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who is expected to denounce a potential nuclear deal with Iran during an address to Congress next week, also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.
 
Apparently referring to testimony on the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002, when he was a private citizen, Mr. Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision."
In 2002, Netanyahu assured lawmakers that invading Iraq was a great idea. "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region," he said at the time.
 
We now know, of course, that Netanyahu's guarantee was spectacularly wrong, which matters insofar as credibility still counts -- the same Israeli leader is now telling lawmakers an international agreement with Iran would be a disaster for the United States and its allies. Kerry's point wasn't subtle: those who were this wrong before probably shouldn't be trusted to be right now.
 
There's something almost refreshing about this. Note, there's nothing personal or even electoral about the administration's message -- Kerry didn't offer some prolonged complaint about Netanyahu and the Israeli elections, or the unprecedented nature of the prime minister's partnership with congressional Republicans.
 
It's far more straightforward. Netanyahu has positioned himself as a participant in a policy debate and, at the same time, he's claiming great credibility on the subject matter. The White House is responding in kind, treating Netanyahu as a policy rival.
 
What's wrong with this? Actually, nothing.

Jobless claims remain stubbornly volatile

02/26/15 08:42AM

It's never good news when initial unemployment claims go up, but it's especially discouraging when they spike unexpectedly.
The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose last week, a sign the labor market may have lost some steam after last month’s solid job growth.
 
Initial jobless claims rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 313,000 in the week ended Feb. 21, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 290,000 new claims.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 19 of the last 24 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 four of the last seven weeks.
A marijuana plant.

High times in the nation's capital

02/26/15 08:00AM

When voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana, state laws honored the will of the public. But when voters in our nation's capital did the same thing, the Republican-led Congress intervened. Things got a little complicated.
 
Technically, as of early this morning, marijuana possession became legal in Washington, D.C. But GOP lawmakers, specifically in the U.S. House, have not-so-subtly urged local officials not to proceed with the city's plans.
"I think the attorney general should prosecute people in the District who participate in this under the Anti-Deficiency Act," said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who introduced the appropriations amendment intended to block the city from moving forward with the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November.
 
The federal Anti-Deficiency Act imposes criminal penalties on government employees who knowingly spend public funds in excess of their appropriated budgets.
The Washington Post report added that House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) a rather aggressive letter this week, warning of legal repercussions.
 
"If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law," Chaffetz's letter said. It was signed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the House panel that oversees D.C. affairs. In a follow-up interview, Chaffetz told the Post that local officials run the risk of going "to prison for this."
 
The irony is hard to miss. Conservative Republicans, committed to a small federal government and the importance of local control, realize that the people of the District of Columbia overwhelmingly voted to make pot legal. The decision enjoys the broad support of D.C. officials. And yet, these same conservative Republican lawmakers appear willing to put their principles aside, at least in this specific case.
 
So what happens now?

'Jihadi John' identified and other headlines

02/26/15 07:26AM

'Jihadi John' of ISIS identified. (Washington Post)

Activists: number of Christians abducted by ISIS in Syria rises to 220. (AP)

CPAC starts today, and American Bridge trackers will be there. (The Hill)

DC legalizes pot--and it's going to be complicated. (Daily Intelligencer)

FCC Chairman tweaks net neutrality plan ahead of today's vote. (Politico)

3 more Mississippi men sentenced for racially-motivated beatings that led to the death of a black man. (AP)

Beware, Boston parking-space savers. The city is coming for your chairs. (Boston.com)

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