Policymakers in Washington have taken quite a bit of interest in the National Football League lately, for reasons that have nothing to do with rooting for one team or another. For example, Brian Fung reported on the latest from the FCC.
Federal regulators on Thursday sacked the longstanding sports "blackout" rule that prevents certain games from being shown on TV if attendance to the live event is poor.
In a bipartisan vote, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously agreed to strike down the much-criticized 40-year-old policy. Under the blackout rule, games that failed to sell enough tickets could not be shown on free, over-the-air television in the home team's own local market.
I haven't been interested in sports in a long while, but I know this is good news for fans. Indeed, I grew up in Miami rooting for the Dolphins, who've long had poor attendance. I lost count of how many times I wanted to watch a home game only to discover I couldn't because the game wasn't sold out. (This includes a 1983 playoff game against Seattle, which 10-year-old me was forced to listen to on New Year's Eve on the radio. For goodness sakes, the radio.)
The point of the "blackout" rule, of course, was to boost ticket sales -- if you want to see your local team, go to the game and watch. If it sells out, you can watch it on TV; if not, well, you can still buy a ticket. But given the fact that many Americans can't afford ticket prices, and the NFL is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, yesterday's decision helps the viewing public in an obvious way.
The FCC vote was five to zero.
But let's also note that federal policymakers' interest in pro football suddenly goes well beyond television broadcasts. The league's tax-exempt status is also very much on Washington's mind.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R), fighting to salvage his career in Kansas, has sounded the alarm within his party: come rescue me, he's told the GOP, or we're going to lose this seat and possibly a chance at a Senate majority.
And for the most part, Republicans are responding to the call. Notable figures from competing GOP factions -- everyone from Jeb Bush to Sarah Palin -- has made the trek to Kansas, trying to get the unpopular incumbent over the finish line one more time.
But as the Kansas City Star's Dave Helling reported yesterday, there are some within the party who remain reluctant to join the choir.
Former GOP Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Roberts' colleague and friend of more than 30 years, blames his rightward tilt for his struggles.
"There's just disappointment around the state," she said. "They feel they don't know him now."
Asked recently to tape a TV commercial for Roberts, Kassebaum Baker refused.
That's no small development. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, a former three-term senator from Kansas, was a lawmaker who believed in compromise and governing. In recent years, a stark division has emerged within the Kansas GOP -- the far-right vs. the mainstream -- and Kassebaum Baker has long represented the latter.
It makes sense that Roberts would reach out to her, looking for the former senator's support, but the fact that she refused to help the incumbent says a great deal -- about how far Roberts has gone, about the intra-party split, and about moderate Republicans' disappointment with what's happened to their party.
At the same time, however, while Republicans from the governing wing like Kassebaum Baker no longer have any use for Roberts after his shift to the right, Kansas Tea Partiers aren't impressed, either.
In September 2012, near the height of the presidential campaign, Dick Cheney, Marc Thiessen, and a handful of other Republican voices briefly focused on a new line of attack against President Obama: the president, they claimed, was routinely "skipping" intelligence briefings related to national security. It wasn't true -- Obama receives written briefings every day, and there are no in-person briefings to skip -- and the criticisms soon faded.
President Obama has received a face-to-face intelligence briefing 42% of the days he's been in office, a conservative watchdog group said Tuesday.
The group, the Government Accountability Institute, issued a similar report in 2012, finding that Obama had such in-person briefings 42% of the days during his first term.
Right on cue, Rush Limbaugh, right-wing blogs, and Fox News pounced. The cast of "Fox & Friends," focusing on the 42% figure, asked viewers, "Is that good enough for the globe that your national security interests are in the low 40s?"
Even by conservative standards, this doesn't make any sense at all. The right really ought to be embarrassed by such nonsense -- especially since they rolled out this same silliness two years ago, when it was proven to be ridiculous.
But since some folks have apparently forgotten the basics, let's set the record straight again.
Rachel Maddow points out that while a new agreement to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for at least the next ten years has gone almost entirely unnoticed by the media, to military members and families it is significant news. watch
Dr. Robert Bristow, director of disaster medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, talks with Rachel Maddow about the CDC confirmation of the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. and how health authorities will respond. watch
Carol Leonnig, national reporter for the Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about the growing list of Secret Service embarrassments coming to public light as inside sources leak details to journalists and legislators. watch
* Ebola: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first patient to accidentally carry Ebola to the United States has been diagnosed at a hospital in Dallas. Four other people with Ebola -- all medical volunteers working in West Africa -- have been evacuated to the U.S. for treatment but this is the first case in a traveler. The patient's at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas."
* Nigeria: "With quick and coordinated action by some of its top doctors, Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, appears to have contained its first Ebola outbreak, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday."
* Hong Kong: "A midnight deadline imposed by pro-democracy protesters came and went Tuesday without Hong Kong's leader responding to their demands -- but members of the mostly student-led 'Umbrella Revolution' movement vowed to stay as long as it takes."
* ISIS, Part I: "Kurdish fighters opened offensives against Islamic State militants in several parts of northern Iraq on Tuesday, seizing control of a border crossing with Syria that has been a major conduit for the insurgents, officials said."
* ISIS, Part II: The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.
* Bipartisan dissatisfaction: "Secret Service Director Julia Pierson took a beating from nearly 20 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee lawmakers who traveled back to Washington for Tuesday's rare, three-and-a-half hour recess hearing."
* Learning more details: "The man who jumped over the White House fence and sprinted through the main floor of the mansion could have gotten even farther had it not been for an off-duty Secret Service agent who was coincidentally in the house and leaving for the night."
* Oklahoma: "An Oklahoma man was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the beheading of a co-worker, but federal officials said they had found no links between him and Islamic extremist groups that have beheaded several Western hostages in the Middle East and North Africa in recent weeks."
* This really is deeply crazy: "Much of the Affordable Care Act must be defunded and millions of Americans must lose their health insurance, according to an opinion issued Tuesday by Judge Ronald A. White, an Oklahoma federal judge appointed to the bench by George W. Bush.... To date, nine federal judges have considered this question of whether much of the law should be defunded. Only three -- all of whom are Republicans -- have agreed that it should be."
* Wow: "The new Living Planet Index report from the World Wildlife Fund opens with a jaw-dropping statistic: we've killed roughly half of the world's non-human vertebrate animal population since 1970."
The Mitt's Mendacity project ran its course a couple of years ago, and it will not return. But just for old times' sake, let's pause to note that the poor guy is still truth-challenged.
Romney, who seems to spend a little too much time thinking about ways to condemn the president who defeated him, has run into trouble once more, this time in an interview with Mark Leibovich. The twice-defeated candidate is apparently still thinking about the "47 percent" video that helped drag down his candidacy.
"I was talking to one of my political advisers," Romney continued, "and I said: 'If I had to do this again, I'd insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times" -- essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. "I want to be reminded that this is not off the cuff." This, as he saw it, was what got him in trouble at that Boca Raton fund-raiser, when Romney told the crowd he was writing off the 47 percent of the electorate that supported Obama (a.k.a. "those people"; "victims" who take no "personal responsibility"). Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.
"My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man," Romney said. "If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man." I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the "47 percent" line by a ranting supporter.
No, that's a new one. It's also patently false.
Since David Corn first helped shine a light on the infamous "47 percent" video, in which Romney told a group of wealthy donors that nearly half of Americans are lazy parasites, the Republican has struggled to come up with a coherent response. Initially, Romney actually endorsed the sentiments on the video and said they reflected his core beliefs.
He later changed his mind, saying his remarks were "completely wrong" and the result of misspeaking. Later still, Romney switched gears again and said the comments were taken out of context. Now he's come up with an entirely new explanation: Romney's not responsible for what Romney said; some guy in the audience deserves the blame.
Ironically, in the video itself, Romney says of struggling Americans, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility." Funny, he doesn't seem to be a big fan of personal responsibility, either.
I'm not sure why this isn't a bigger story this afternoon.
Afghanistan and the United States signed a long-awaited security pact in Kabul Tuesday, allowing Washington to leave a contingent of troops in the country beyond 2014. Ambassador James Cunningham signed the Bilateral Security Agreement on behalf of the White House, opposite Afghanistan's national security adviser Mohmmad Hanif Atmar.
The deal follows the inauguration Monday of new president Ashraf Ghani, after a protracted election process that lasted six months.
Hamid Karzai has famously balked for quite a while at such an agreement, but Ghani clearly does not share those concerns.
"This is a turning point in our relations with world," Ghani said at the signing ceremony. "There are common threats and we need to have common partnership to fight it. We have the will to bring about peace and stability to this country."
In a statement issued by the White House, the Obama administration added, "After nearly two years of hard work by negotiating teams on both sides, earlier today in Kabul the United States and the new Afghan Government of National Unity signed a Bilateral Security Agreement." The legal framework, the statement added, will help cover, among other things, "critical missions after 2014."