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Monday's Mini-Report, 5.4.15

05/04/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* We'll have more on the Texas shooting on tonight's show: "Texas police shot dead two gunmen armed with assault rifles who opened fire outside of a 'Draw Muhammad' contest organized in the town of Garland on Sunday."
* New York: "The NYPD officer who was shot in the head while sitting in an unmarked patrol car in Queens over the weekend has died. Officer Brian Moore, 25, died Monday afternoon after being taken off life support at Jamaica Hospital two days after the shooting in Queens Village."
* Baltimore: "Reports of a Baltimore police officer shooting a man Monday near the intersection that was at the heart of looting and riots last week are untrue, Baltimore police said."
* Wisconsin gun violence: "An Air Force veteran shot and killed three people, then himself, on a Wisconsin bridge on Sunday night, police said. Another person was critically injured."
* New Jersey, Part I: "Two of the Republican's former allies -- his ex-deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and his former top Port Authority official Bill Baroni -- pleaded not guilty.... Bail was set at $150,000 for both Baroni and Kelly and a trial date was scheduled for July 7."
* New Jersey, Part II: "The U.S. attorney for New Jersey has cleared three current and former officials in Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration of wrongdoing in an alleged scheme to cow the mayor of Hoboken into supporting a development project by withholding Hurricane Sandy relief funds."
* Oh, Albany: "Dean G. Skelos, the leader of the New York State Senate, and his son were arrested on Monday morning by federal authorities on extortion, fraud and bribe solicitation charges, expanding the corruption investigation that has already changed the face of Albany."
* Kudos to the New York Times for putting this on the front page: "[A large new study, based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children] finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere."
Scott Walker speaks to supporters at a barbeque in Greenville, SC, March 19, 2015. (Photo by Jason Miczek/Reuters)

The force is not strong with this one

05/04/15 05:02PM

For "Star Wars" fans, May 4th is a fun, unofficial holiday of sorts, predicated on a pun: "May the Fourth be with you." Some get the joke better than others.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), for example, turned to Twitter to celebrate "Star Wars Day," complete with a Yoda-esque partisan message: "Hope for Republicans there still is."
The unannounced Republican presidential candidate included an image -- Yoda on one side, Walker in silhouette on the other -- with familiar dialog from the franchise. "That boy was our last hope.... No, there is another." The image includes the governor's name in the classic "Star Wars" font.
To be sure, it's just a fun little message intended to take advantage of an Internet meme, and there's no reason to take it too seriously. But if we were going to get a little nerdy -- OK, more than a little -- Walker's message was a little flawed, at least as far as "Star Wars" canon is concerned.
"That boy was our last hope" referred to Luke Skywalker, who -- spoiler alert -- was the triumphant hero of the franchise. In Walker's message, "that boy" refers to someone -- I guess President Obama? -- but that's not quite the message the Republican candidate is supposed to make here.
Indeed, "There is another" refers to Leia, who gets to go to a nice party with some Ewoks. In the analogy, Walker is apparently supposed to be Leia, with nascent, untrained force abilities? NARAL picked up on this, too, having a little fun at Walker's expense.
Protests in Baltimore After Funeral Held For Baltimore Man Who Died While In Police Custody

Don't blame Baltimore's crisis on 'liberal policies'

05/04/15 04:34PM

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Chuck Todd asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the recent unrest in Baltimore. The Republican leader blasted "50 years of liberal policies that have not worked to help the very people that we want to help."
On "Face the Nation," House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded similar notes, saying the United States has "the same poverty rates," despite "a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent." Ryan rejected the idea of "pumping more money into the same failed system."
The comments weren't exactly surprising. As developments in Baltimore grew more serious last week, plenty of conservatives saw the unrest through a specific lens: the city's crisis is Exhibit A in the case against progressive social-welfare policies.
Rebecca Leber made a compelling case that the right has this backwards.
Conservatives base this logic -- that the city somehow proves government investment and social programs are bad policy -- on a selective history of Baltimore, noting for instance that its residents have elected only one non-Democratic mayor since the 1940s. But Baltimore's problems stretch further back, to institutionalized racial discrimination in the early 20th century. Federal and local policymakers of the time redlined areas with "undesirable racial concentrations" to omit them from mortgage insurance programs.
And over the century, the same neighborhoods faced one destructive policy after another, from mass incarceration to the rise of predatory banks.
The argument that Democrats share responsibility is grounded in fact, but not in the way Republicans mean -- too often Dems, in the name of political expediency, went along with the conservative approach on issues like criminal justice, welfare reform, and generations of red-lining and segregation, which had a brutally detrimental impact on urban areas.
In other words, don't blame Democrats for being too progressive; blame them for not being progressive enough.
The Idaho statehouse in Boise, Idaho. (Charlie Litchfield/AP)

Conspiracy theory prompts special session in Idaho

05/04/15 03:38PM

At first blush, developments in Idaho state government may seem entirely uninteresting: policymakers are struggling to deal with enforcement of the child-support system. But the great part of the story is the amazing conspiracy theory that's driving the problem.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called a special session of the Legislature [last week], his first in his three terms as governor, ordering lawmakers back to Boise on May 18 to address a crisis in the state's child support enforcement system.
"It's the deadbeat parent that we're after here, and it's our responsibility to hold them responsible," Otter declared.
As the Spokesman-Review article explained, the Republican-run state House was supposed to bring the state's child-support enforcement system in line with federal regulations, so that Idaho can receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal resources.
But GOP lawmakers balked, not because they oppose enforcing child-support laws, but because of a ridiculous conspiracy. The Idaho Statesman highlighted "a bizarre episode of toxic, conspiratorial anti-federalist/anti-United Nations/anti-religious fear-mongering," which "leaked like battery acid on a perfectly legitimate program."
The White House seen from the South Lawn Aug. 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

GOP tries to flip 'Party of No' label

05/04/15 01:02PM

President Obama's veto pen hasn't had much use in recent years. There was one veto in 2009 and another in 2010, but they were both technical objections, not evidence of a genuine conflict between Congress and the White House. From 2011 to 2014, when congressional productivity collapsed to historic low, Obama didn't have anything to veto -- in part because very few bills reached his desk at all.
This year, we've already seen two vetoes, but just as interesting is the number of veto threats. The president issued four such warnings last week, and the Washington Times' count puts the total for 2015 so far at 26 veto threats, "by far the most of any president at this point in a new legislative session," at least since political scientists started keeping track 30 years ago.
Republicans have taken aim at the president's reliance on veto threats, which usually are spelled out in official White House documents known as "statements of administration policy." GOP leaders say Mr. Obama has proved he's not interested in working with them on bipartisan goals and instead is intent on blocking Republicans' agenda at every turn.
"Despite Republicans reaching across the aisle to pass good legislation, the president has responded with veto threats President Obama has shown time and again that he is unwilling to work with Congress by threatening to veto bills before they even get a chance to reach his desk," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, wrote on his website last week. "The American people don't want vetoes. They want Washington to work. But it can only work if the President stops his obstruction and starts cooperating with Congress."
The House Majority Leader wasn't kidding -- he's actually accusing the White House of "obstruction." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Fox News have recently used similar rhetoric.
You can almost hear irony crying somewhere in a corner.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.4.15

05/04/15 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:
* In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) support appears to be reaching new lows at the worst possible time. A new Monmouth University poll puts the governor's approval rating at just 35%, with only 30% having a favorable opinion of Christie personally.
* On ABC yesterday, George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) if he would support the Democratic presidential nominee if his campaign comes up short. "Yes," Sanders replied, adding that he would "absolutely not" run as an independent.
* On a related note, Sanders said in New Hampshire over the weekend that he would register as a Democrat if it were procedurally necessary to compete in all 50 states.
* Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) surprised a few people over the weekend, offering supportive comments about Bruce Jenner: "If [Jenner] says he's a woman, then he's a woman." Last night, the unannounced presidential candidate said his remarks about Jenner were "meant to express empathy not a change in public policy."
* A conservative group funded by the Koch brothers are trying to curry favor with Latino voters through something called the "LIBRE Initiative," which is reportedly now up and running in nine states.
* For the fourth time in recent weeks, a high-profile Republican Floridian has passed on next year's U.S. Senate race. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) bowed out late last week, following similar announcements from Rep. Tom Rooney, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, and Florida's elected chief financial officer Jeff Atwater.
Former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina speaks at the New England Council's "Politics and Eggs" breakfast in Bedford, N.H., Feb. 10, 2015. (Photo by Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

Carly Fiorina launches longshot White House bid

05/04/15 11:20AM

As a rule, presidential candidates enjoy a flurry of attention on their first day, which campaigns are eager to exploit for fundraising and generating interest. It's why most campaign kickoffs are spaced out well -- everyone wants the spotlight to themselves, at least for a little while.
This week, however, is a bit of a mess. Ben Carson launched his national candidacy this morning; Mike Huckabee will make his announcement tomorrow; and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina made her bid official a few hours ago.
In a video posted online, Fiorina immediately painted herself as Hillary Clinton's chief critic, beginning with a brief clip of the former secretary of state's own presidential announcement. 
"Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class," she says in the video. "We know the only way to reimagine our government is to reimagine who is leading it. I'm Carly Fiorina and I'm running for president"
Fiorina -- who first announced her bid on ABC's "Good Morning America" -- will follow her announcement with a social media roll-out and visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina later in the week.
Fiorina has never held public office. She ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 -- arguably the single greatest election cycle for the Republican Party in generations -- and Fiorina lost by double digits. She was also an ineffective campaign surrogate for John McCain's and Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaigns.
Indeed, at one point in 2008, the McCain/Palin team was so annoyed with Fiorina's ineptitude that it pulled her from the team of surrogates allowed to speak for the campaign on TV.
In theory, some politicians try to parlay private-sector success into successful campaigns, but Fiorina's business background is arguably her most glaring weakness -- her HP tenure was a "disaster" that "almost destroyed the company." By some measures, she was among the worst American CEOs of all time.
There are some reports this morning that Fiorina  may thrive as a tech-friendly candidate, but she neglected to register -- an oversight her critics were eager to take advantage of.
So, what's left? A candidate with no public support, no experience, no relevant skills, and an unfortunate track record of falling up. Given all of this, why in the world is Carly Fiorina joining an already crowded Republican presidential field, launching a campaign that stands no credible chance of success?
Dr. Ben Carson speaks at the 41st Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 8, 2014.

Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson enters 2016 race

05/04/15 10:40AM

It all began, oddly enough, at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. The gathering is supposed to feature a bipartisan group of speakers, each of whom are expected to avoid partisan attacks and explicitly political speeches, but neurosurgeon Ben Carson used his time at the dais to condemn the Affordable Care Act, with President Obama a few feet away.
The right made no effort to hide its glee, ensuring that the video of Carson's remarks went viral. The retired physician, almost immediately, became a Fox News regular and a frequent guest on Sunday shows. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, one of the more unflinching Republican strongholds in American media, began encouraging Carson to run for president.
All of which leads us to today's campaign kickoff two years after his rise to political prominence.
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson confirmed Sunday evening to a local television station that he will seek the Republican nomination for president, the Associated Press reported.
"I'm willing to be part of the equation and therefore, I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States of America," Carson said in a pre-recorded interview with Ohio's WKRC. Carson is set to make a formal announcement Monday in Detroit.
It will be Carson's first attempt at any elected office. He has never served in government at any level.
Carson's total lack of qualifications, knowledge, and relevant skills may not be a problem in a Republican primary. In fact, in many conservative circles, running as an "outsider" against "career politicians" is a plus, which may help explain why Carson is already roughly in the middle of the crowded GOP field, ahead of well-known, experienced contenders like Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.
The question is whether the right-wing neurosurgeon can parlay his status as a cause celebre into a top-tier presidential candidacy. There's ample reason for skepticism.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) makes a speech where he announced his candidacy for a presidential bid at Liberty University on March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty)

Cruz sympathizes with 'Jade Helm 15' conspiracy theorists

05/04/15 10:00AM

When responsible, mature public officials are asked about the "Jade Helm 15" conspiracy theory, there are a few acceptable responses. "What's the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory?" is a fine answer. So is, "I have real work to do and there's little time for fringe nonsense."
But Dave Weigel talked to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over the weekend, who offered a more troubling response to the same question.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Saturday that he'd been hearing concerns about Jade Helm 15, a domestic military training exercise that has become a fount of conspiracy theories, and that he wanted questions about it to be answered.
"My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise," Cruz, a Texas senator, told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican Party's annual convention. "We are assured it is a military training exercise. I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don't trust what it is saying."
As the Bloomberg Politics report added, the right-wing Texan went on to say he's fielded "a lot" of questions about the conspiracy theory, adding, "I think part of the reason is we have seen, for six years, a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens. That produces fear, when you see a government that is attacking our free speech rights, or Second Amendment rights, or religious liberty rights. That produces distrust."
Apparently, we're supposed to believe that right-wing media figures have disseminated nonsense to right-wing activists who end up believing ridiculous theories ... and this is all President Obama's fault.
It's one of the reasons Cruz's posture is so hard to take seriously.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2015, following a GOP strategy meeting. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Boehner struggles with his failed ACA predictions

05/04/15 09:20AM

House Speaker John Boehner sat down with NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" yesterday, and the host asked a good question about the Republican leader's failed predictions about the Affordable Care Act. Regrettably, the Speaker couldn't respond with an equally good answer.
TODD: You made some dire predictions about health care. 2014 you said fewer people would have health insurance. According to plenty of surveys, more people have health insurance today than they did before it went down from -- the uninsured rate went down 17 percent to just under 12 percent. You said it would destroy jobs. The first year it was implemented, the country added 3 million jobs. Why...
BOEHNER: Obamacare made it harder for employers to hire people. The economy expands and as a result, you are going to have more employees because businesses have to. But if you can ask any employer in America, and ask them whether Obamacare has made it harder for them to hire employees, they'll tell you yes. Because it's a fact.
When you look at -- you know why there are more people insured? Because a lot more people are on Medicaid. And giving -- you know, we expanded Medicaid in a big way. And giving people Medicaid insurance is almost like giving them nothing. Because there aren't -- you can't find a doctor that will see Medicaid patients.
The Speaker soon added that, as far as he's concerned, the Affordable Care Act is "not working."
Boehner might have a credible argument, if we abandoned the agreed upon meaning of "working."
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., makes his way a news conference at the Senate swamp to speak about his agenda for the country, April 30, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Sanders sees surprisingly strong start

05/04/15 08:40AM

As easy as it may be to see Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign as a quixotic exercise, launched by a candidate who doesn't really expect to hold national office, Alex Seitz-Wald reported on the Vermont independent's strong start as a White House hopeful.
Sen. Bernie Sanders raised more than $1.5 million in the 24-hours since he announced his presidential run, his campaign announced Friday.
It's a strong performance for a candidate many pundits have dismissed as fringe, outpacing Republican candidates who have recently announced.
In a statement, Tad Devine, a Sanders adviser who worked as a top aide to Al Gore and John Kerry, described the $1.5 million first-day haul as "a remarkable start for Bernie's campaign."
While one certainly expects a candidate's aides to say things like this about their own campaign, Devine's boast is rooted in fact. Indeed, there are two striking details about Sanders' early fundraising success.
In this Friday, March 15, 2013 photo, Steven Fulop talks to The Associated Press at his campaign headquarters in Jersey City, N.J.

The other mayor who faced retribution from Team Christie

05/04/15 08:00AM

Many of the key details surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) bridge scandal came into sharper focus on Friday. As part of a plea agreement, David Wildstein, a former member of Christie's team, explained that he and two other top aides to the governor conspired to deliberately cripple a New Jersey for several days as part of a retribution scheme -- the local mayor didn't endorse Christie's re-election, so the governor's aides punished the community.
The top members of the governor's administration picked the time to inflict the most severe damage -- the first day of school -- then coordinated a cover-up of their alleged crimes. Two prominent former members of Christie's team are now facing a nine-count criminal indictment, with an apparent trial on the way.
But the Jersey Journal flagged an interesting detail that was also revealed, though largely overlooked, on Friday
Buried in the 30-page federal indictment of two key figures in the Bridgegate scandal is additional confirmation that Gov. Christie Christie's office had it in for Mayor Steve Fulop.
There was a "coordinated and deliberate refusal by the conspirators to communicate with, meet or respond" to Fulop after he became mayor in July 2013, according to the nine-count indictment of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's ex-chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, formerly Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority.
I can appreciate the fact that it's tough to keep track of all of the various scandals surrounding the Republican governor's office, but these new details about the governor's office punishing the mayor of Jersey City reinforce an alarming pattern of abuse from Team Christie.
Let's back up to refresh some memories about the nature of the Jersey City controversy.

Gunmen attack in Texas and other headlines

05/04/15 07:52AM

Police kill 2 men who opened fire outside Muhammad art show in Texas. (Dallas Morning News)

Curfew lifted in Baltimore, National Guard leaves. (Baltimore Sun)

GOP field grows: Fiorina, Carson to launch presidential bids. (AP)

Carson actually announced last night. (WJLA)

Ex-Christie allies to make court appearance in bridge case. (AP)

Ted Cruz says he has asked the Pentagon for answers on Jade Helm 15. (Bloomberg Politics)

101-year-old man rescued in Nepal a week after the earthquake. (AFP)

Astronaut (wearing a Starfleet uniform!) brews first cup of espresso in space. (@NASA)

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The colors of the solar system's innermost planet are enhanced in this tantalizing view, based on global image data from the Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft.

Week in Geek: MESSENGER end of message edition

05/03/15 01:05PM

This past Thursday, NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft completed it mission at Mercury and impacted the surface around 3:30pm EDT. MESSENGER was originally launched in 2004, arriving at Mercury in 2011 after taking a winding path through the inner Solar System. The spacecraft achieved its primary science objectives in March of 2012, but its mission was subsequently extended twice as the spacecraft remained functional and scientists couldn't help but want to know more about the closest rock to the Sun.

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Pope Francis (R) and US President Barack Obama laugh as they exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.

This Week in God, 5.2.15

05/02/15 08:33AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected voice in the pay-equity debate, where proponents are always glad to pick up high-profile allies, though few expected Pope Francis to endorse the principle with fervor.
Pope Francis on Wednesday made an impassioned plea for an end to the salary gap between men and women, calling it "a scandal" that Christians should decisively reject.
"Why is it taken for granted that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. The discrepancy is a pure scandal," he told tens of thousands of people at his general audience in St. Peter's Square.
Raising his voice for emphasis as he made some of his most forceful remarks on the subject to date, he said Christians should "decisively support the right to equal pay for equal work."
Francis added that Christians should "become more demanding" for that "radical equality."
Note, in the U.S. political debate over pay equity, the argument is less about the outcome and more about the means to produce that outcome. In Congress, for example, Republican lawmakers publicly insist they're strongly support equal pay for equal work -- they just oppose legislative remedies to help guarantee equitable results. To this extent, the pope's declaration is an important contribution to the debate, but its impact is limited -- it's not an endorsement of a specific proposal.
That said, for President Obama and congressional Democrats, the pope's endorsement of the underlying principle is welcome. Indeed, it's the latest issue on which Francis is breaking with American conservatives, following the pope's very public -- and quite progressive -- remarks of late on the climate crisis, Iran nuclear talks, and support for a new U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
The Hill reported earlier this year that the pope "is increasingly driving a wedge between conservatives and the Catholic Church." His spirited opposition to the income gap between men and women may very well drive that wedge even deeper.
With Francis headed for the United States in the fall, including a speech to a joint session of Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), it's a dynamic worth watching.
Also from the God Machine this week: