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The view from a witness room facing the execution chamber of a "death house" at a correctional facility. (Photo by Caroline Groussain/AFP/Getty)

Why Trump's death-penalty focus won't prevent mass shootings

08/07/19 10:18AM

When presented with complex challenges, Donald Trump generally likes solutions he perceives as simple. Concerns over undocumented immigrants, for example, led the president to demand a giant border wall. Pressed for answers on school shootings, he called for arming school teachers. Alarmed by a trade deficit with China, the Republican embraced a poorly thought out tariff strategy.

In Trump's mind, it's all quite "easy."

Similarly, earlier this year, Trump suggested executing drug dealers would help the United States resolve its drug problem. As of this week, there's another category of criminals the president is eager to put to death. From his Monday speech on the latest mass shootings:

"Today, I am also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay."

The president referred to this as a possible "area of cooperation" to help prevent future mass shootings.

The trouble, of course, is that deterring mass shootings by threatening executions almost certainly won't work -- as Trump would know if he took the policy debate a little more seriously.

As the Associated Press reported, most who perpetrate mass shooters "don't live to face trial."

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Pat Toomey-Timm-09/20/13

Opposing ban, GOP senator stresses 'popularity' of assault weapons

08/07/19 09:20AM

When it comes to congressional Republicans and gun reforms, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has stood out for supporting a new national background-check law. In fact, six years ago, when Barack Obama implored lawmakers to act in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the Pennsylvania senator was the lead Republican sponsor on a bipartisan bill.

Toomey's GOP brethren ultimately killed his proposal, but the senator earned plaudits for his efforts. Given Toomey's ideology -- he's long been a very conservative Republican who, among other things, served as the president of the far-right Club for Growth -- he was an unexpected ally for reform advocates.

But yesterday, we were reminded about the limits of Toomey's approach to the issue. HuffPost reported:

On Monday, the Pennsylvania senator said he supported expanding background checks but rejected the idea of a ban on assault weapons or restrictions on magazine size.

Toomey explained his reasoning to Fox News host Sandra Smith on Tuesday: The weapons are simply too popular.

"They are extremely popular, so to ban an extremely popular firearm, I'm not going to support that, that would be an infringement on the rights of law-abiding citizens," he said.

There are a couple of glaring problems with this. The first, as the HuffPost report noted, is that no one can say with any confidence just how "popular" assault weapons really are, since no one knows how many Americans have bought them: "The government isn't allowed to collect that info and put it in a modern, searchable electronic database."

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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Team Trump files yet another lawsuit on president's tax returns

08/07/19 08:45AM

Policymakers in California recently approved a new requirement for presidential candidates: those hoping to appear on the state's presidential primary ballot will have to publicly disclose their tax returns from the five most recent years. The law takes effect immediately and will apply to the 2020 election cycle.

For Donald Trump, that obviously creates a bit of a problem: the president, for reasons he's been reluctant to explain, has kept his tax returns hidden. The Republican is the only presidential candidate of the post-Watergate era -- from either major party -- to insist on total secrecy for his financial materials.

So, will Trump release his tax returns in order to compete in California? Will he skip competing in the nation's largest state? The answer to both questions is no. Instead, the president and his lawyers yesterday filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee have filed suit against California over a law that requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state's primary ballot, one of Trump's personal lawyers said Tuesday,

"Today we have taken decisive action in federal court challenging California's attempt to circumvent the U.S. Constitution," Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's personal legal team, said in a statement.

I'll gladly leave it to legal experts to speak to the likely outcome of the case, though whatever the outcome, the practical effects will probably be limited. If Trump's lawyers prevail, the president will continue to keep his tax returns secret. If California wins, Trump will likely just skip competing in the state's presidential primary, win the Republican Party's nomination anyway, and continue to keep his tax returns secret.

What strikes me as even more interesting, however, is the larger context: have you noticed how many lawsuits Team Trump filed in recent months over this issue?

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Image: Beto O'Rourke

With attacks on O'Rourke, Twitter Trump tops Teleprompter Trump

08/07/19 08:00AM

On Monday, Donald Trump delivered scripted remarks from the White House on his country's latest mass shootings, and reading from his teleprompter, the president tried to say the right things.

He declared, for example, "Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside -- so destructive -- and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love."

On Tuesday, Trump started tweeting.

"Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O'Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement - & be quiet!"

The Republican's interest in setting destructive partisanship aside -- so destructive -- and finding the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love lasted about a day.

Trump knew, of course, that he's scheduled today to visit El Paso -- Beto O'Rourke's hometown -- where he'll ostensibly try to offer some degree of moral leadership. It's what presidents are generally expected to do: in the wake of brutal tragedies, the public often looks to national leaders to help guide and heal.

But before Trump can even try to do that in Texas today, he first wanted to take a few shots at the grieving community's former congressman, his name, and his poll numbers.

All of which brings us to a familiar point: the eternal struggle of Twitter Trump and Teleprompter Trump.

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Pursuit of white supremacist groups a 'whack-a-mole' challenge

Pursuit of white supremacist groups a 'whack-a-mole' challenge

08/06/19 09:26PM

Eli Saslow, Washington Post reporter and author of Rising Out of Hatred, The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effectiveness of suing white supremacist terror organizations for the violence committed by their followers, and the challenge of shutting down racist organizations when they move so easily to... watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.6.19

08/06/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is bound to be interesting: "Former FBI agent Peter Strzok filed suit against the Justice Department on Tuesday, arguing he was wrongly fired for sending private text messages that ripped Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign."

* So will this: "Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered a state criminal probe into the actions of the Palm Beach sheriff and the former Palm Beach state attorney for their handling of the Jeffrey Epstein underage sex trafficking case."

* I could've sworn Trump recently bragged about the absence of North Korean missile launches: "North Korea fired the missiles into the sea off its east coast for the fourth time in less than two weeks, South Korea said on Tuesday."

* The other recent mass shooting: "Federal authorities announced Tuesday that they have launched a domestic terrorism investigation into the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in Northern California, which left three people, including two children, dead."

* Venezuela: "President Trump signed an executive order on Monday imposing new economic sanctions on the government of Venezuela, escalating his campaign to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office."

* When Trump goes to El Paso, he should bring a check: "According to Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications manager for the El Paso city manager's office, the president has an outstanding bill of $569,204.63 for police and public safety services associated with a February campaign rally."

* A story we've been following: "A federal watchdog challenged the Trump administration's authority to move two USDA science agencies out of Washington, in a report issued a few days after Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, praised the move for encouraging federal scientists to quit their jobs."

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Trump gives away the game with his latest complaints about Obama

08/06/19 12:37PM

Former President Barack Obama raised a few eyebrows yesterday when he issued a statement on the latest mass shootings and included some rather pointed language. The Democrat emphasized efforts policymakers could take to help reduce gun violence, while encouraging law-enforcement agencies and technology companies to "come up with better strategies to reduce the influence" of hate groups.

But perhaps most notable was Obama's insistence that Americans "should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments." The former president went on to condemn leaders who "demonize those who don't look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people."

It was only a matter of time before Donald Trump responded, and this morning, the sitting president published this tweet, quoting Fox News' "Fox and Friends."

"Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control. Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres." @kilmeade @foxandfriends

One could respond to this by explaining that none of the Obama-era mass shootings were carried out by people claiming kinship with the Democratic president. In contrast, there are too many examples of Americans committing acts of violence while invoking Donald Trump's name.

As Aaron Blake joked this morning, "We all remember when Obama warned about the 'invasion' of elementary school children."

But what struck me as just as important, if not more so, was the fact that Obama never mentioned Donald Trump by name. The Republican and his allies saw Obama reference "leaders" who feed "a climate of fear and hatred," and they simply assumed that Trump was the intended target.

It's amazing how often this comes up.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.6.19

08/06/19 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In New Hampshire, a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading his party's presidential field with 21% support, followed closely by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), with 17% and 14%, respectively. Since April, each of the top three have gained support in the Granite State, though Warren has received the biggest boost.

* Given recent events, this seems terribly unwise: "Democrat Amy McGrath, who is running to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Monday criticized the Kentucky Republican for a photo shared by his campaign that showed a gravestone with her name on it."

* If Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who's facing a multi-count felony indictment, runs for re-election next year, he won't just face a tough Democratic challenge: former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio (R) announced yesterday he's running, too.

* In Iowa, J. D. Scholten (D) narrowly lost to Rep. Steve King (R) last year, and the Democrat announced yesterday he's seeking a rematch. Of course, King will have to overcome a GOP primary challenge first.

* Though it often seems Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) isn't fond of Capitol Hill, the Nebraska Republican kicked off a re-election campaign yesterday. Sasse, an occasional Trump critic, suggested his decision was fueled in part by his desire to fight against "socialism."

* After Kentucky Democrats capitalized on "Moscow Mitch," the South Carolina Democratic Party reportedly began selling "Leningrad Lindsey" gear as a way to taunt Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

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A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

'A body blow': farmers grow frustrated with Trump's trade failures

08/06/19 10:50AM

When Donald Trump initially launched a series of trade tariffs, he seemed to realize that his agenda would hurt farmers who rely heavily on international markets. The president seemed convinced, however, that they wouldn't mind shouldering the burden.

As regular readers know, the Republican conceded last year that his plan would cause "pain" for some farmers, but he assumed they were willing to take one for the team. "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots," the president said last spring.

He used identical phrasing late last week, telling reporters what "great patriots" the farmers are. One reporter told the president about a conversation with a soybean farmer who said the administration's tariffs had created a "crisis" for his business.

"Well,' Trump replied, "you interviewed the wrong farmer."

As ridiculous as the response was, it had a familiar quality. As recently as May, the president said he'd "never heard ... any of the farmers speak badly" about his trade agenda.

That's probably because he's not listening. If he were, Trump would hear all kinds of farmers "speak badly" about his trade policies and their effects. Indeed, after China said yesterday it's suspending U.S. agricultural purchases, Yahoo Finance talked to dismayed America farmers.

"This is just another nail in the coffin," Tyler Stafslien, a North Dakota-based soybean farmer, told Yahoo Finance. "To see this thing only seems to be getting worse rather than better is very concerning, and the American taxpayers may have to foot another round of funding if this keeps up — or we could see a ton of farmers' loss throughout this nation."

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said that the pain extended across the country.

"China's announcement that it will not buy any agricultural products from the United States is a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by," Duvall stated.

Are we to believe these are the "wrong" farmers, too?

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