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Cincinnati Archdiocese throws cold water on Ice Bucket Challenge

08/22/14 09:22AM

Not everyone wants to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. President Obama and Vice President Biden, for example, have both demurred. Due to rules related to public officials and fundraising campaigns, diplomats and active-duty U.S. troops aren't supposed to partake in the campaign, either.
 
This Associated Press report, however, presented an angle I hadn't considered.
A Catholic diocese in Ohio is discouraging its schools from participating in the ice bucket challenge to benefit the ALS Association, citing its funding of research involving embryonic stem cells.
 
In a letter sent Tuesday to its 113 schools, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's superintendent of Catholic schools says the research being funded is "in direct conflict with Catholic teaching."
Apparently, the schools can participate in the challenge in a general sense, but they're not supposed to support the ALS Association, which started the campaign to raise money and awareness about the fight against Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
 
The AP report added this quote from diocese spokesman Dan Andriacco: "We certainly appreciate the compassion that has caused people all over the country, certainly including many Catholics, to be interacting and engaging in a fun way to support ALS research. But it's a well-established moral principle that not only the ends be good, but the means must be good, too."
 
And in this case, because the "means" might include research on embryonic stem cells, the Cincinnati Archdiocese doesn't want schools contributing to the ALS Association.
 
I knew there were some political/policy angles to the Ice Bucket Challenge, but I'll confess, I didn't see this one coming.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. listens as he is introduced to speak during a meeting with local Republicans, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in Hiawatha, Iowa.

Rand Paul backs plan to deport Dream Act kids

08/22/14 08:42AM

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will occasionally talk a good game about expanding the Republican Party, creating a more inclusive approach to conservative politics, and reaching out beyond the GOP's far-right, homogeneous base. But when it comes to immigration, when push comes to shove, the differences between Paul, Steve King, and Ted Cruz no longer exist. Sam Stein reported this morning:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in an interview published Thursday that he supports legislation ending the president's program to defer deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
 
Speaking to Breitbart News during a medical mission in Guatemala, Paul lent his backing to House Republican efforts to address the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern U.S. border.
The Kentucky Republican specifically said, "I'm supportive of the House bill and I think it will go a long way to fixing the problem." After complaining about the Senate Democratic leadership ignoring the House plan, Paul added, "I think there's a very good chance the House bill could pass in the Senate, but it won't ever pass if it doesn't ever see the light of day."
 
It's worth clarifying that there are actually two House bills, not one, which were packaged together, but the senator's office later clarified that Paul supports both.
 
And this, in turn, puts Paul squarely in the middle of what Greg Sargent calls the party of "maximum deportations."
 
It's been a few weeks, but let's not forget that House Republicans ignored their own leaders and rejected their own party's border bill. Left with no choice, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told far-right extremists they could craft their own legislation.
 
The result was ridiculous. Right-wing lawmakers largely ignored the humanitarian crisis the bill was originally intended to address, and instead targeted President Obama's DACA policy. The top Republican goal became the deportation of Dream Act kids. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said the Republican Party's policy could effectively be described in three words: "Deport 'em all."
 
The proposals were, by any fair measure, a joke that included far-right provisions that GOP leaders had themselves rejected a few days prior. No one, including proponents, expected the House package to actually go anywhere legislatively -- it wasn't even the point. And yet, here's Rand Paul throwing his enthusiastic support to this right-wing nonsense.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey hold a joint news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 17, 2013.  (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Obama admin raises alarm on ISIS

08/22/14 08:00AM

Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained bitterly and publicly about the Obama administration for not "addressing the threat" posed by ISIS. Graham's expectations were clear: he wanted more rhetoric, sooner rather than later.
 
In theory, the senator has less to complain about this week. In the wake of James Foley's murder, President Obama issued a sweeping condemnation of ISIS, as did Secretary of State John Kerry. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel characterized the terrorist group as "beyond anything we have seen."
In a joint briefing at the Pentagon a day after officials revealed the U.S. secretly launched a failed mission to rescue Foley and other kidnapped Americans held by the Islamic State and Syria and Iraq (ISIS), Hagel suggested the terror group poses a "9/11-level" threat to America.
 
"ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen. They are beyond just a terrorist group," Hagel said. "They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well funded. This is beyond anything we have seen."
During the same briefing, General Martin Dempsey, the Obama-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated.... Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no."
 
The assessments came against the backdrop of additional airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq. All told, there have been 90 U.S. airstrikes against the terrorist group over the last two weeks.
 
As for the politics surrounding the national-security strategy, the line from the president's critics has not yet come into focus. We know they're not satisfied; we don't know what they'd do differently.

Calm in Ferguson and other headlines

08/22/14 07:56AM

Another calm night in Ferguson. (KSDK)

Supreme Court case to shape Ferguson investigation. (AP)

Among whites, Ferguson protests stir a range of emotions and a lot of perplexity. (NY Times)

Ukraine accuses Russia of invasion after aid convoy crosses border without permission. (BBC)

U.S. eyes wider action on Islamist militants. (Wall Street Journal)

U.N.: Death toll from Syrian civil war tops 191,000. (AP)

GAO: Pentagon violated law with Bergdahl swap. (AP)

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Thanks for everything Bill Wolff!

Thanks for everything Bill Wolff!

08/21/14 10:30PM

Rachel Maddow bids a fond and appreciative goodbye to Rachel Maddow Show executive producer Bill Wolff, who is moving on to an easier show with better hours, not that we're bitter... watch

Ahead on the 8/21/14 Maddow show

08/21/14 08:29PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Kenneth Murdock, radio host for WGNU-AM radio in St. Louis
  • Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News

And here's executive producer Bill Wolff, who has our everlasting appreciation, with tonight's preview:

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.21.14

08/21/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Ferguson: "Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the Missouri National Guard to withdraw from Ferguson, where they had been in place since Monday. The move came just after a brief altercation occurred between a state senator and a county spokesperson near St. Louis."
 
* Middle East: "About 10,000 mourners on Thursday buried three senior commanders of the armed wing of Hamas who were killed in a predawn airstrike by Israel, the most significant blow to the group's leadership since Israel's operation in Gaza began more than six weeks ago."
 
* This seems like quite an admission: "A senior Hamas leader has said the group carried out the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June -- the first time anyone from the Islamic militant group has said it was behind an attack that helped spark the current war in the Gaza Strip."
 
* Ebola: "American doctor Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday, and Brantly was released on Thursday."
 
* ISIS: "Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday afternoon that it would not be possible to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria without attacking its fighters in Syria."
 
* It's a good thing the right was wrong about the auto-industry rescue: "[T]he number of cars coming off our assembly lines just reached its highest level in 12 years."
 
* No one knows why this is happening, though most agree it's good news: "For five years now, America's teen birth rate has plummeted at an unprecedented rate, falling faster and faster. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of babies born to teens annually fell by 38.4 percent, according to research firm Demographic Intelligence. This drop occurred in tandem with steep declines in the abortion rate."
 
* Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) hasn't just earned a reputation for his fierce anti-immigration position; he also seems to have a strong aversion to the Congressional Black Caucus.
 
* A city councilman in Missouri apologized this week for posting racist anti-Obama messages online. In an unfortunate choice of words, councilman Peter Tinsley's defense was he was "a very active Republican" when he published the offensive content.
A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples in West Hollywood, Calif., July 1, 2013.

Federal court strikes down Florida ban on same-sex marriage

08/21/14 04:48PM

For proponents of civil rights and marriage equality, the last year has been remarkably successful, though there have been some recent bumps in the road. A state court in Tennessee, for example, interrupted the winning streak last week, while the U.S. Supreme Court halted Virginia marriages that had been set to begin today.
 
But as we were reminded in the Sunshine State this afternoon, the larger trajectory of this fight clearly favors supporters of equal rights.
A federal judge on Thursday ruled Florida's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional and ordered the state to recognize marriages legally performed elsewhere. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, however, immediately stayed his order until after the appeals process is completed.
 
"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination," Hinkle wrote. "Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held."
It was just six years ago that voters in Florida, with relative ease, approved a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from getting married. Amendment 2, as it was called, passed statewide, 62% to 38%.
 
But now, thanks to Hinkle, a Clinton appointee to the federal bench, the measure is unconstitutional. With the district court judge, however, agreeing to a stay, those hoping to take advantage of marriage equality in Florida will have to wait a little longer.
 
As for the larger context, let's return to looking at the scope of recent court rulings, because it really is extraordinary.
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.

Perry sees 'very real possibility' of ISIS crossing southern border

08/21/14 03:23PM

Several weeks ago, President Obama's Republican critics came up with a bizarre new accusation: the White House might be letting Ebola into the United States by failing to properly secure the Mexican border. The argument really didn't make any sense, but some members of Congress repeated the allegations publicly.
 
The talking point seems to have faded, but it's replaced by an equally foolish argument. Andrew Kaczynski reports on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) appearance in Washington, D.C., this morning, where the likely presidential candidate said ISIS terrorists may be -- you guessed it -- entering the United States through Mexico.
"Individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be, and I think it's a very real possibility that they have already used that," Perry said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation Thursday.
 
Perry said he didn't have any "clear evidence" of that but said "common sense" tells you it could occur, citing crimes from undocumented immigrants.
The governor went on to say that he's aware of "historic" levels of border crossings from "from countries with terrorist ties." Which countries? Perry specifically referenced Ukraine -- which isn't at all known for its terrorist ties.
 
There are two broad problems with the Texas Republican's argument, both of which are important.
Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan's convinced: time to cut taxes on the wealthy

08/21/14 12:49PM

There are some congressional Republicans who believe the party's commitment to supply-side, trickle-down tax policy is in need of an overhaul. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), for example, still wants expansive tax breaks, but believes the cuts should be directed primarily at the middle class, most notably through expansion of the child tax credit.
 
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), soon to be the new House Ways and Means Committee chairman, wants to make one thing clear: those within his party who question the value of tax breaks for the rich are wrong. The far-right congressman sat down this week with John McCormack.
Some conservatives have argued that reducing the top rate is less urgent now than it was during the Reagan administration, when the top rate was cut from 70 percent to 50 percent and then cut again from 50 percent to 28 percent. But Ryan says that cutting the top rate is "even more pressing now" than it was back then "because the American economy was so dominant in the global economy and capital was not nearly as mobile as it is today."
Ryan added in the Weekly Standard interview that he's a "classic growth conservative," who believes, "Growth occurs on the margin, which is a wonky way of saying, if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key -- it's the secret sauce."
 
Even putting aside the fact that Ryan seems to have an odd definition of "wonky," this is a bizarre perspective. Note, for example, that the failed vice presidential candidate is apparently convinced there's never been a better time to cut the top marginal tax rate, which only the very wealthy currently pay. The United States is in the midst of another Gilded Age, with massive amounts of wealth concentrated at the very top, but Ryan still demands tax cuts because capital is "mobile."
 
As Matt Yglesias noted, "The idea that globalization, which tends to increase the overall size of the economy while also increasing inequality, makes tax cuts for the rich even more urgent strikes me as a little bit hard to defend intellectually."
 
At the same time, we're also learning more about just how much -- or in this case, how little -- Ryan's ideology has changed.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.21.14

08/21/14 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 North Carolina's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a new Suffolk/USA Today poll shows incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) with a two-point advantage over state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), 45% to 43%. Libertarian Sean Haugh has 5% support in the poll.
 
* A peek at how Washington works: "Only one week after Sen. Mitch McConnell took the CEO of Delta Air Lines to breakfast in the exclusive Senate Dining Room last month, the airline executive and his wife wrote $10,000 worth of checks to help fund McConnell's political operation. The donations, which were reported to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, made Rick and Susan Anderson the largest contributors to McConnell's Bluegrass Committee in July. Delta Air Lines' PAC contributed another $2,500 within days of the breakfast."
 
* The National Republican Senatorial Committee's latest attack ad in Arkansas tells voters that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) "voted to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants." In reality, this never happened.
 
* Rhode Island's Democratic gubernatorial primary is about three weeks away, and it remains a very close contest. The latest WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll shows Gina Raimondo leading the Democratic pack with 32%, five points ahead of Angel Taveras, who has 27%. And Clay Pell, who's at 26%.
 
* Fresh off Dan Sullivan's win in Alaska's Republican U.S. Senate primary, a Democratic super PAC called  Alaska First has welcomed him to the general election with a tough new ad. "There's two things you need to know about Dan Sullivan," an Alaska resident says in the spot. "He's not from Alaska, and he supports the Pebble Mine."
 
* On a related note, Planned Parenthood Action Fund also launched an ad against Sullivan, less than 24 hours after his primary win. (Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood, but has no role with the Action Fund, this ad, or my report.)

The politics and policy of the Ice Bucket Challenge

08/21/14 11:39AM

In practically every way that matters, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a great phenomenon. The idea originated as a campaign to raise money and awareness about the fight against Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and as the summer has progressed, the viral effort has had extraordinary success.
 
But is there a political/policy angle to this? As it turns out, yes.
 
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) noted on Twitter yesterday, "Since 2011, House Republicans have cut NIH funding by billions. And you thought dumping ice water on your head was cold."
 
Sam Stein fleshed this point in more detail, reporting yesterday, "Some of the very lawmakers who have taken the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and money for ALS research voted for legislation that defunded ALS research."
The funding cuts, in this case, were caused by the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 -- otherwise known as the bill to save the United States government from default. As a condition of getting congressional Republicans to sign off on the debt ceiling hike, the Obama White House and Congressional Democrats agreed to budget cuts and future budget cuts that would be delivered via sequestration, an across-the-board cleaver that cut certain agencies' budgets by roughly 5 percent.
 
The National Institutes of Health was one of those agencies. It was forced to slash an estimated $1.55 billion from its programs. Among those was the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. In Fiscal Year 2013, the NINDS budget was $1.53 billion, a $92 million decrease from FY 2012. For ALS-specific research, funding went from $44 million to $39 million.
The underlying policy at play is better known as "the sequester," which, to this day, many on the right still consider "the biggest conservative policy victory in a decade."
 
It's worth noting, as Stein did, that those who voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011 are not necessarily opponents of medical research in general, or ALS research in specific. On the contrary, some lawmakers voted for the legislation because they feared Republicans would follow through on their debt-ceiling threats and crash the economy on purpose. Other sequestration backers support research funding, but want the resources to come from private entities, not public resources.
 
Also, my point is not to rain on everyone's ice buckets. This campaign is not only fun, it's doing an enormous amount of good. All of this is to be applauded and celebrated. That said, if the goal is to raise awareness, part of that means mentioning that the public sector plays an important role in financing research on ALS and other diseases, and Congress is responsible for making these funding decisions.
 
Taking the challenge and participating in a fundraising campaign is a good thing. Congress financing medical research is a good thing, too.

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