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News gods are testing your outrage tolerance

News gods are testing your capacity for outrage

05/21/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow shares recent news stories that are pushing her outrage-o-meter into the red zone, including a Colorado law that requires the family of an Aurora mass-shooting victim to pay $220,000 in legal fees to the ammunition maker they tried to sue. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.21.15

05/21/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* What a catastrophe: "Crews are working around the clock to clean up the site of an oil spill in Santa Barbara County that has sent tens of thousands of [gallons of] crude into the Pacific Ocean and left even more saturating the soil."
* Related note: "Two days after a ruptured oil pipeline spewed crude into the waters off of California -- tainting 9 miles of ocean teeming with coastal creatures -- environmentalists are scrambling to assess how mucked up the ecosystem is."
* Syria: "ISIS militants executed 17 people, some by beheading, in their first day in control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a monitoring group said Thursday.... It also said that ISIS killed 49 people around Palmyra as it advanced toward the city."
* Trade-promotion authority: "The Senate voted 62-38 to move forward on a bill that would give Obama 'fast track' authority to negotiate, without the threat of congressional filibusters or added amendments, a massive 12-nation trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership."
* A story to watch: "The Chinese navy repeatedly warned a U.S. surveillance plane to leave airspace around disputed islands in the South China Sea, a sign that Beijing may seek to create a military exclusion zone in a move that could heighten regional tensions."
* Overdue: "Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates said on Thursday that the organization's existing ban on gay leaders 'cannot be sustained' and urged for an eventual change of course in order to avoid potential litigation."
A U.S. and Cuban flag hang from the same balcony in Old Havana, Cuba, Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo by Ramon Espinosa/AP)

As diplomacy with Cuba advances, Rubio clings to past

05/21/15 04:59PM

It's been about five months since President Obama's unexpected breakthrough on U.S. policy towards Cuba, and the New York Times reports today that diplomatic progress has brought the countries to a point that seemed unthinkable in the recent past.
The United States and Cuba are closer than ever to reaching an agreement to fully restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies, officials in both countries said as negotiators met Thursday in Washington for another round of talks to iron out remaining details and discuss possible dates.
The move toward full diplomatic relations broken decades ago during the Cold War has been seen as a key step toward ending hostilities and normalizing ties with a historic opponent that once agreed to allow Soviet nuclear missiles on its soil and repelled an invasion by American-backed insurgents.
A senior State Department official told the paper, "I'm trying not to sound too Pollyannaish. But I do think we're closer than we have been in the past, and I think my counterparts are coming up here with a desire to get this done."
It's against this backdrop that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- the one who characterizes himself as a forward-thinking foreign-policy expert, unwed to the old way of doing things -- has vowed to block any nominee the White House sends to the Senate to serve as a U.S. Ambassador to Cuba. Yesterday, the Florida Republican also condemned loosened travel restrictions.
Rubio summarized his case in a fairly straightforward way at the Council on Foreign Relations last week: "In recent years, the ideals that have long formed the backbone of American foreign policy -- a passionate defense of human rights, the strong support of democratic principles, and the protection of the sovereignty of our allies -- have been replaced by, at best, caution, and at worst, outright willingness to betray those values for the expediency of negotiations with repressive regimes."
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an event on May 11, 2015.

Obama pushes back against GOP line on Iraq

05/21/15 03:51PM

Last week, Republicans were heavily invested in a specific talking point: don't blame George W. Bush for the disastrous war in Iraq, blame the intelligence community. This week, this has clearly been replaced with a full-throated replacement talking point: don't blame George W. Bush or the intelligence community, blame President Obama.
We talked yesterday about prominent Republican voices pushing this line quite aggressively, but the argument is spreading like a virus in GOP circles. Jeb Bush has embraced it, as have other Republican presidential candidates, and even a member of Congress.
Not surprisingly, the president has a very different perspective. He talked at length about developments in the Middle East with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, and given the latest Republican meme, these comments seemed noteworthy (via Caitlin MacNeal).
"As you said, I'm very clear on the lessons of Iraq. I think it was a mistake for us to go in in the first place, despite the incredible efforts that were made by our men and women in uniform. Despite that error, those sacrifices allowed the Iraqis to take back their country. That opportunity was squandered by Prime Minister Maliki and the unwillingness to reach out effectively to the Sunni and Kurdish populations."
Though neither Obama nor Goldberg specifically referenced the latest GOP talking point, the president did reference the Republican complaints in general.
"It is important to have a clear idea of the past because we don't want to repeat mistakes. I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I've overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn't argue that we shouldn't go back in. And one lesson that I think is important to draw from what happened is that if the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them. We can be effective allies. I think Prime Minister Abadi is sincere and committed to an inclusive Iraqi state, and I will continue to order our military to provide the Iraqi security forces all assistance that they need in order to secure their country, and I'll provide diplomatic and economic assistance that's necessary for them to stabilize."
What's striking about this, at least to me, is how gracious and contextual Obama's is given the circumstances.
Podiums for this evening's debate between the then four remaining Republican presidential candidates stand ready at the North Charleston Coliseum on January 19, 2012 in Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The GOP's complicated debate plans take shape

05/21/15 12:50PM

We've known for months that the Republican Party is facing a difficult logistical challenge: with an enormous field of presidential candidates,  how in the world are debates supposed to work?
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the plan is finally coming into focus. Rachel Kleinman reported for msnbc last night, for example, that the first debate will reportedly have (at least) 10 candidates.
According to information first reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by NBC News, Fox News, which will host the event Aug. 6 in Cleveland "will require participants to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event," noting that "[n]o GOP primary debate has ever featured more than 10 candidates." Fox News has used similar criteria for past debates.
Not to completely exclude those polling poorly, the right-leaning cable news channel will offer some air time to those who don't make the cut.
With a GOP field that may reach 19 candidates, that means nearly half of the Republicans running will be on the outside looking in on debate night.
Also yesterday, Politico reported that CNN has adopted its own plan for its Sept. 16 debate: the top 10 candidates will have one debate, and there will be a separate debate for the other candidates who have at least 1% support in national polling.
It's hard not to sympathize with debate organizers, who have a very difficult task, but these preliminary plans come with some complications.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.21.15

05/21/15 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:
* Just a week after Jeb Bush bowed out of the Iowa Straw Poll, Mike Huckabee has now done the same. I'd bet good money they won't be the last two to make this decision.
* Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has hired Lorella Praeli, a high-profile Dream Act activist, as Latino Outreach Director.
* In a mayoral race that drew national attention, Florida businessman Lenny Curry (R) was elected as Jacksonville's new mayor this week, narrowly defeating a Democratic incumbent. There are very few big-city GOP mayors.
* In the state of Washington, Public Policy Polling shows incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and incumbent Sen. Patty Murray (D) in pretty good shape next year. Former Attorney General Rob McKenna is the strongest Republican contender against both, though the Dems are ahead in hypothetical match-ups.
* Gallup's new report shows President Obama's favorability reaching its highest level in nearly two years. As the 2016 race takes shape, the president's popularity is likely to make a significant difference.
* At an event in D.C. this week with dozens of House Republicans, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said the fact that he's not a college graduate could help his presidential campaign.
In this file photo taken July 26, 2014, U.S. Rep. and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Cotton speaks at a campaign event in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

Cotton eyes 'permanent' surveillance state

05/21/15 11:20AM

When it comes NSA surveillance, the Senate has a decision to make. The upper chamber could settle for the House's watered-down version, which the Obama administration is willing to live with. It could also keep pushing for a temporary extension of the status quo.
Whatever the Senate's preference, it will have to decide fairly quickly -- Congress has until June 1 to extend the provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes the collection of telephone records, and lawmakers are supposed to be out all of next week.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has clearly made his preference clear, but National Journal today takes a closer look at his intra-party allies pushing aggressively in the other direction (via Greg Sargent).
Driving that strategy are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, and a handful of others. Their ranks include Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a freshman Republican who voted for a version of the reform bill -- known as the USA Freedom Act -- last year but has since come out strongly in favor of the NSA's authorities due in part to "hours and hours" spent with members of the intelligence community and increased access to information as a new member of the Intelligence Committee.
"My preference would be to permanently extend all three authorities," Cotton said in an interview, referring to the bulk-collection power as well as a provision allowing surveillance of "lone wolf" suspects not linked to any formal terrorist group or government, and another allowing "roving wiretaps" to target individuals instead of a specific device.
Wait, did he say "permanently?
Scott Walker speaks during the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina on May 9, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty)

A flip-flop by any other name...

05/21/15 10:40AM

By any fair measure, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has changed course, quite dramatically, on immigration policy. In the not-too-distant past, the Republican governor was quite moderate on the issue. Now, he's not -- Walker not only opposes bipartisan solutions, he's even begun taking on legal immigration.
This week, Fox News' Bret Baier pressed Walker for an explanation: "If you're willing to flip-flop ... on such an important issue like this, how can voters be sure that you're not going to change your position on some other big issues?"
As the Washington Post noted, the Wisconsin Republican responded with his own unique definition of flip-flop.
Walker responded: "Well, actually, there's not a flip out there." [...]
"A flip would be someone who voted on something and did something different," Walker said. "These are not votes... I don't have any impact on immigration as a governor."
If bonus points were awarded based on creativity, Walker would be in much better shape. But he's effectively arguing that if he didn't cast a vote, it can't count.
And that's not an especially credible argument.
US Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a hearing before Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Feb. 10, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

'The big banks have been caught red-handed'

05/21/15 10:01AM

For those looking for greater accountability from Wall Street, this week offered some good news and some bad news. The good news is, five major financial institutions will pay $5.6 billion in fines and plead guilty to multiple crimes. The bad news is, given the scope of their manipulative schemes, the penalty seems far less severe than it should be.
The New York Times reported yesterday on the latest entry "to Wall Street's growing rap sheet."
The Justice Department forced four of the banks -- Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland -- to plead guilty to antitrust violations in the foreign exchange market as part of a scheme that padded the banks' profits and enriched the traders who carried out the plot. The traders were supposed to be competitors, but much like companies that rigged the price of vitamins and automotive parts, they colluded to manipulate the largest and yet least regulated market in the financial world, where some $5 trillion changes hands every day, prosecutors said.
Underscoring the collusive nature of their contact, which often occurred in online chat rooms, one group of traders called themselves "the cartel," an invitation-only club where stakes were so high that a newcomer was warned, "Mess this up and sleep with one eye open."
It was an ugly, elaborate scheme, which included not only colluding and manipulating foreign-exchange markets, but also lying to clients. (For more details on what the banks did, exactly, Matt Yglesias' report for Vox was helpful.)
Of course, in this case, regulators caught the banks in the act, and took meaningful action, including demanding guilty pleas from the financial institutions themselves. The Times' report noted that the pleas "represent a first in a financial industry that has been dogged by numerous scandals and investigations since the 2008 financial crisis. Until now, banks have either had their biggest banking units or small subsidiaries plead guilty. But with the four banks charged with currency violations, the guilty pleas will come from their parent companies."
So, that's good news for Wall Street critics, right? Yes and no.
Former Governor Jeb Bush addresses the National Review Institute's 2015 Ideas Summit in Washington, April 30, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Bush blasts 'arrogance' of those who believe climate science

05/21/15 09:14AM

In Connecticut yesterday, President Obama delivered a commencement at the Coast Guard Academy, and devoted much of his remarks to one specific topic: the national security implications of climate change.
 "I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country," the president said. "And so we need to act, and we need to act now."
Just a little further north, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was campaigning in New Hampshire, where he offered a very different perspective on the climate crisis. The Washington Post reported overnight:
"The climate is changing. I don't think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. "And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it even."
In response [to Obama's remarks], Bush said that climate change should be just "part of, a small part of prioritization of our foreign policy." He suggested that the United States should encourage countries that have higher carbon emissions rates to reduce them.
The Florida Republican went on to argue that President Obama deserves no credit for recent decreases in U.S. carbon emissions. Instead, Bush said fracking and new drilling techniques have helped.
Oh my.

Jobless claims climb, but are still near 15-year low

05/21/15 08:40AM

We've clearly reached an encouraging point when initial unemployment claims can climb by 10,000, but the overall totals are still near a 15-year low.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-May rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 274,000, hitting the highest level in a month, government figures show. That's still near a 15-year low, however. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims in the seven days stretching from May 10 to May 16 to rise to 269,000 from an revised 264,000 in the prior week.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 5,500 to 266,250, the Labor Department said Thursday.
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 30 of the last 36 weeks.