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US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 30, 2013.

Unexpected critics pan GOP/Netanyahu gambit

01/26/15 09:15AM

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced last week that he'd invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver remarks to Congress, it quickly became an important international controversy. Not only had Republican lawmakers ignored U.S. protocol, circumventing the executive branch to partner with a foreign head of state, but the GOP had hatched a plot to sabotage American foreign policy, siding with a foreign government over the White House -- just weeks in advance of Israeli elections.
 
Last week, Obama administration officials, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman all criticized the Boehner/Netanyahu scheme. Over weekend, Michael Oren, Netanyahu's former ambassador to the U.S. urged the Israeli leader to cancel. "The behavior over the last few days created the impression of a cynical political move, and it could hurt our attempts to act against Iran," Oren said.
 
Even some Fox News anchors are siding with the White House's position (thanks to reader F.B. for the heads-up).
[T]wo prominent Fox News hosts, Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith, harshly criticized Boehner and Netanyahu on Friday for secretly arranging a Netanyahu speech to Congress that is transparently aimed at undermining President Obama, and set up without the White House's knowledge.
 
The White House, State Department, and many foreign policy observers, including prominent former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, expressed outrage over the move. And, in a sign of just how many lines Boehner and Netanyahu crossed, so did the two Fox News hosts. "I agree 100 percent," Wallace said when Smith read a quote from Indyk criticizing the Boehner-Netanyahu maneuver.
Wallace, hardly an ally of President Obama, noted that Secretary of State John Kerry met on Tuesday with Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, for two hours, and Dermer never mentioned the Boehner/Netanyahu scheme announced a day later. The Fox News host said "this whole thing" is "wicked."
 
Shep Smith went on to say that the Netanyahu administration seems to think that Americans are "just a bunch of complete morons."
Conservatives Gather For Voter Values Summit

Palin sees Obama as 'an overgrown little boy'

01/26/15 08:35AM

Sarah Palin knows a little bit about generating attention for herself. The former half-term Alaska governor surely realized, for example, that when she declared she's "seriously interested" in running for president -- of the United States, no less -- it'd cause a stir.
 
And that's arguably a shame. There's literally nothing to suggest the right-wing personality is serious about a political campaign, and Palin very likely makes comments like these as a sad little ego exercise.
 
But more important was Palin's cringe-worth speech at Rep. Steve King's (R) Iowa Freedom Summit, fairly characterized as a "bizarre improvised rant," in which the Alaska Republican came up with a new condemnation of President Obama.
"An impatient president doesn't just get to trample our Constitution and ignore Congress just because he doesn't get exactly what he wants every time he wants it," Palin said. "It's like an overgrown little boy who's just acting kind of spoiled. And moms, we don't put up with that, do we?"
Republican rhetoric that infantilizes the president is more common than it should be. It's also creepy.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talks about recent Republican party gains and the road ahead for their party during a press conference at the Republican governors' conference in Boca Raton, Fla., Nov. 19, 2014.

Jindal finds new ways to pander to far-right

01/26/15 08:00AM

Why would Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) spend several days repeating discredited nonsense last week? Because it's apparently working for him. Byron York reported over the weekend:
You know what Bobby Jindal said about Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe, a statement that resulted in Jindal being criticized and mocked by mainstream commentators? It turns out many social conservatives in Iowa really liked it.... [Jindal] not only did not suffer from his remarks but instead benefited from them.
This is, alas, how the game is played in the Republican presidential nominating contest -- say things that aren't true in order to impress activists who don't know better. It's creates an unfortunate set of incentives in which cynical would-be presidents are encouraged to make stuff up, confident that electoral rewards will follow.
 
But for the GOP governor, the question is not how to deal with the fallout of getting caught making ridiculous allegations, but rather, what Jindal can do for an encore. Over the weekend, the dynamic led the governor to turn his attention to marriage equality.
 
The broader context is worth appreciating, because as recently as Tuesday, President Obama noted in his State of the Union address last week, "I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country."
 
Jindal must have missed this. Yesterday, he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos what his reaction would be to a court ruling supporting marriage equality:

Drone at the White House and other headlines

01/26/15 07:42AM

Drone lands inside White House grounds. (NBC News)

Somebody prank called the British Prime Minister. (New York Times)

Obama to propose new wilderness protections in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Alaska leaders irate. (Alaska Dispatch News)

Senate GOP may abolish Supreme Court filibusters. (Politico)

Foreign policy divides 2016 hopefuls at Koch forum. (The Hill)

Chris Christie launches a PAC. (AP)

Romney's consideration of candidacy is closely tied to his faith, allies say. (New York Times)

Boko Haram attacks northeastern Nigerian city, scores killed. (AP)

There's a big blizzard about to hit the northeast. (Weather.com)

Watch jumbo asteroid zip past Earth. (National Geographic)

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U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the start of his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This Week in God, 1.24.15

01/24/15 09:04AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected complaint from the religious right about, of all things, President Obama's State of the Union address.
 
At first, I thought conservatives might complain about the way in which the president ended his remarks. While most SOTU addresses conclude with a president saying, "God Bless America," Obama this week wrapped up by saying, "God bless you. God bless this country we love." The subtle shift seemed like the sort of thing conservatives might not like, and as it turns out, some on the right did take note.
 
What I didn't expect was this.
The American Family Association's Sandy Rios enjoys promoting bizarre conspiracy theories to imply that President Obama is a secret Muslim, and [Wednesday] she even managed to find proof of Obama's hidden faith in his State of the Union address.
 
On Rios' radio program ... she did use the opportunity to claim that Obama was spreading Muslim messages in his speech when he used the word "pillar" to describe the foundations of American leadership in the world: "The other thing he said that I caught, he has done this before, you know there are five pillars of Islam, and he used the term 'pillars' again in his speech last night."
According to the Right Wing Watch report, Rios, who seems a little preoccupied with the idea that the Christian president is a secret Muslim, added, "It is just really interesting, language can actually give us some insight, choices of words."
 
It's probably worth noting that the president did use the word "pillar" in his speech, but last week, Mitt Romney used the same word. Former President George W. Bush referenced "pillars" several times when discussing U.S. policy in Iraq, and former President Ronald Reagan referenced "pillars" while promoting government-sponsored religion in public schools.
 
One can only wonder whether the American Family Association, a co-host of Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) "The Response" prayer rally today, sees secret Muslims everywhere.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Pipe ruptures turn focus to improved safety

Pipe ruptures turn focus to improved safety

01/23/15 11:15PM

North Dakota State Representative Corey Mock talks with Rachel Maddow about considerations being made by the state legislature to improve monitoring of pipelines after a recent rash of ruptures, and how to improve safety without hurting industry. watch

Ahead on the 1/23/15 Maddow show

01/23/15 07:34PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent
  • North Dakota State Representative Corey Mock, House assistant minority leader
  • Dr. Aarti Patel, chief News Dumpologist

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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.23.15

01/23/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* A new Saudi Arabian king: "The ISIS and al Qaeda-fighting credentials of Saudi Arabia's new king and his two successors signal how seriously the kingdom takes the threat from Muslim extremist groups wreaking havoc in the region."
 
* The Supreme Court "announced Friday that it will review the lethal injection protocol used in many executions around the country, after allowing an Oklahoma inmate last week to be put to death using the drugs. The court's four liberals would have granted Charles Frederick Warner a stay but were overruled."
 
* Montana: "Montana state officials on Friday said tap water in the town of Glendive is now safe to drink, six days after more than 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Yellowstone River."
 
* These are odd times for geopolitics in the Middle East: "Iraq's prime minister said on Friday the West had increased support to his country to help it fight Islamic State, and Iran was also providing crucial backing."
 
* Diplomacy is complex, too: "The first round of high-level talks between United States and Cuba wrapped up this week, with diplomats acknowledging both common ground and 'deep disagreements' in mending relations between the two countries."
 
* Ebola: "The number of people falling victim to the Ebola virus in West Africa has fallen to the lowest level in months, the World Health Organization said on Friday, but dwindling funds and a looming rainy season threaten to hamper efforts to control the disease."
 
* New Jersey: "Protesters around the country are once again speaking out against racial disparities in police use of force in response to a video that shows two Bridgeton, New Jersey, officers shooting and killing a black man as he held his hands up. A dashboard camera recorded the encounter, including the moments police pulled over a car and shot and killed the passenger, 36-year-old Jerame Reid."
Two men talk as the sun rises over the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rationale for anti-ACA case continues to unravel

01/23/15 03:42PM

The last remaining legal hurdle for the Affordable Care Act, the King v. Burwell case, isn't as complicated as it may seem. The entire controversy boils down to this: was the Affordable Care Act designed specifically to subsidize insurance for consumers nationwide, or only consumers who enroll through state exchanges?
 
Absolutely everyone involved in the process knows the truth: of course the system was designed to help all American consumers, including those who bought insurance through healthcare.gov. The alternative is a little insane -- the architects of the law wouldn't have any reason to undermine the efficacy of their own system.
 
But the King v. Burwell lawsuit, which Republicans pretend to believe, is predicated on a genuinely ridiculous assumption: Democrats, on purpose, designed "Obamacare" in such a way as to deny help to every consumer who relied on healthcare.gov. They did this deliberately, the argument goes, in order to entice states to create their own exchange marketplaces.
 
It's painfully obvious that this is absurd and that the lawsuit is a joke, and very recently, evidence has emerged that even Republicans who claim to support the case, in reality, don't genuinely believe their own side's argument. Consider this latest catch from Ian Millhiser:
The Affordable Care Act gives states a choice. They can either set up their own health exchanges where individuals may buy subsidized health plans, or they can elect to have the federal government set up such an exchange for them. Individuals who purchase insurance on an exchange may receive tax credits to help them pay for that insurance if they qualify on the basis of income.
 
In his brief, which was filed in a lawsuit called King v. Burwell, [Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch] claims that the law "provides that premium subsidies are available only through an exchange established by a State" -- i.e. not in an exchange that is operated by the federal government.
But five years ago, before Hatch knew the King v. Burwell case was coming, he accidentally told the truth: he wrote in an op-ed that said state exchanges "are not a condition" for subsidies. The Republican senator understood reality in 2010, but is pretending to support a contradictory reality now in the hopes of tearing down the system.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

John McCain: 'Everything I've predicted ... has come true'

01/23/15 12:52PM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reason to be pleased with his recent promotion. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, his party is not only in control of the Senate, but the Arizona Republican is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post he's reportedly wanted for quite a while.
 
But when the senator looks around the world, he isn't pleased at all.
"We are probably in the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime," said the 78-year-old Republican from Arizona, whose control of the committee is the culmination of decades of tenacious advocacy for a muscular foreign policy. "Everything I've predicted, unfortunately, has come true, whether it be in Iraq or whether it be Syria."
The notion that all of John McCain's predictions have "come true" isn't just a bizarre boast, it's also laughably and demonstrably untrue. As Rachel put it on the show awhile back, "Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that."
 
But it's this argument, which McCain has made before, that we're seeing "the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime" that seems especially odd.
 
As we discussed the last time the senator made this assessment, McCain's lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. To suggest turmoil is greater or more "serious" now may be politically convenient -- one assumes McCain is both eager to blame President Obama for unrest and anxious to make the case for more wars -- but it's also completely at odds with reality when considered in a historical context.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.23.15

01/23/15 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 a bit of a surprise, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer announced yesterday he will not run for the U.S. Senate in California next year. As recently as last week, he seemed to be leaning heavily in the opposite direction.
 
* An adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told ABC yesterday, "He has told us to proceed as if he is running for president." Note, the conservative senator has said if he runs for national office, he won't run for re-election at the same time in Florida, which would create an interesting, wide-open Senate race in the Sunshine State.
 
* Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad (R) is reportedly telling Republican presidential candidates that he expects them to "support ethanol production in a big way."
 
* In Pennsylvania, a PPP survey released yesterday showing likely presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D) leading each of her top Republican rivals in next year's presidential race by double digits in the Keystone State. Mitt Romney comes closest, and he trails by 10 points.
 
* On a related note, PPP also asked Pennsylvania Republicans who their top choice is in their party's presidential primaries. Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson was the top choice -- I'm not kidding -- with 18%, followed by Romney and Jeb Bush at 14% each. Rick Santorun, a former two-term Pennsylvania senator, is far behind in his own state with only 6%.
 
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) conceded yesterday that he's considering the 2016 presidential race. "It's a privilege to be governor of Ohio ... and that's my focus," he told the AP. "But if I think something else makes sense, if I think the field is lacking or there's an opportunity, I'll look at it. All my options are open." Note this would be Kasich's second presidential run, following a largely ignored campaign in 2000, when the conservative Ohioan was still in Congress.
(File Photo by Kelley McCall/AP)

GOP governors recommit to welfare drug-testing schemes

01/23/15 11:34AM

The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, "few" applicants have been caught up in the "drug-screening net." How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.
 
Note, I don't mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.
 
In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries -- which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt -- has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing -- in practice, in the courts, or both.
 
And yet, several GOP policymakers just can't seem to help themselves.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests -- a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. [...]
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it's against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance -- a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.
 
Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. "We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court," he told the Journal Sentinel in September.
Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it's a two-fer -- he gets to look "tough" on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.

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