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Religious bigotry haunts group hosting RNC

Religious bigotry haunts group hosting RNC

01/29/15 08:59PM

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, talks with Rachel Maddow about the American Family Association's record of religious bigotry and intolerance that calls to question the RNC's judgment in accepting a trip to Israel with them. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.29.15

01/29/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Afghanistan: "Three contractors working with the international coalition in Afghanistan and an Afghan national were killed Thursday in a shootout on the military side of a Kabul airport, a spokesman with the International Security Assistance Force said."
 
* Change I can believe in: "President Barack Obama doubled down on his State of the Union vision for a new 'middle class economics' on Thursday with an op-ed in The Huffington Post vowing to completely reverse government spending cuts made in 2013. 'My Budget will fully reverse the sequestration cuts for domestic priorities in 2016,' he writes."
 
* Middle East: "Israel's defense minister said on Thursday that his country had received messages through United Nations channels that Hezbollah did not plan any further action after its missile strike the previous day that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven."
 
* ISIS: "The wife of the Japanese journalist being held hostage by ISIS made an impassioned plea for his release Thursday as an apparent deadline passed for a prisoner swap. Rinko Goto, wife of Kenji Goto, said in a statement: 'I fear that this is the last chance for my husband.'"
 
* Egypt: "Militants struck more than a dozen army and police targets in the restive Sinai Peninsula with simultaneous attacks involving a car bomb and mortar rounds on Thursday, killing at least 25 people, including civilians, officials said."
 
* Good thinking: "The North Dakota Industrial Commission called Wednesday for better monitoring of pipelines and higher standards for those that cross major bodies of water as crews continue cleaning up two major pipeline spills that affected the state's waterways."
 
* Dubious secrecy: "[A]s the Obama administration is seeking to declare the long war in Afghanistan officially over, at least from an American standpoint, the move to classify data about the Afghan forces removes one of the most crucial measures for assessing the accomplishments of the international coalition there. And it raises stark questions about the state of the fight against the Taliban, coming after a year in which the Afghan forces took record-high casualties as they battled heavy militant offensives."
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

GOP faces health care challenge it's totally unprepared for

01/29/15 04:57PM

We don't yet know what the Supreme Court will do in the King v. Burwell case, but we have a fairly good sense what will happen if the Supreme Court sides with Republicans. In effect, there will be chaos that could do considerable harm to insurers, families, state budgets, the federal budget, hospitals, and low-income children.
 
It sounds melodramatic, but the fact remains that if the GOP prevails, more Americans will literally go bankrupt and/or die as a result of this ruling.
 
With this in mind, I couldn't help but find some sardonic humor in the House Republicans' request for information from the Obama administration yesterday.
Senior House Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration reveal its contingency plans in the event that the Supreme Court scraps Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states. [...]
 
"Specifically, we are examining the extent to which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other relevant agencies of the federal government, are preparing for the possible consequences of the Supreme Court's decision in the case of King v. Burwell," wrote the lawmakers.
The fact that the GOP lawmakers didn't appreciate the irony was itself unfortunate, but the simple truth is that the underlying question -- what happens if the Supreme Court takes this stupid case seriously and guts the American health care system? -- is one Republicans should be answering, not asking.
An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Washington.

Senate approves Keystone XL project, veto awaits

01/29/15 04:16PM

Three weeks ago, the Republican-led House easily approved legislation to move forward with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This afternoon, the Republican-led Senate did the same.
The Senate voted Thursdayto build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, despite a long-standing veto threat from the White House.
 
Nine Democrats joined a unanimous Republican caucus to support the bill.
The final outcome, which was never in doubt, was 62 to 36.
Charles Gaba joked that the total number of senators who voted for the project easily surpasses the total number of jobs created by the project. That's funny, and it has the added benefit of being true -- a State Department review concluded that the Keystone project, once completed, would create roughly 35 permanent, full-time in the United States, largely in refinery employment.
 
It's not common for 62 senators to invest quite so much energy in the creation of 35 jobs, but here we are anyway. Indeed, the real economic benefits will probably be felt in Alberta, leading Josh Green to joke that it's "kind of nuts" that congressional Republicans decided to start 2015 by "fighting for the Canadian economy."
 
Regardless, with the proposal now having passed both chambers, the bill now heads to the White House, where it will receive President Obama's veto. The president will first have to blow the dust off the box holding the veto pen -- he hasn't used it since 2010, and it will be only the third veto of his presidency. Among two-termers, Obama has made fewer vetoes than any president since Abraham Lincoln, though this may not remain true much longer in light of GOP dominance on Capitol Hill.
 
Towards the end of 2014, there were some concerns among environmentalists that Senate support for Keystone might be strong enough to muster a veto-proof majority. That's evidently not the case -- proponents would need 67 votes to override Obama on this, and as of today, those votes just aren't there.
Roy Moore

Roy Moore: ignore federal courts on marriage

01/29/15 12:45PM

For those familiar with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, he's probably best known as the "Ten Commandments judge." But looking back over Moore's career, the way in which he became a right-wing cause celebre matters.
 
Back in the 1990s, Moore was just a local judge in Alabama, who insisted on promoting Christianity in his public courtroom. When First Amendment proponents challenged his practice of using his bench to advance his religion, Moore said he had the legal right to ignore federal court rulings.
 
This quickly made him a star in far-right circles, and he parlayed his notoriety into becoming the chief justice of state Supreme Court. In 2003, however, Moore was ultimately kicked off the bench for -- you guessed it -- ignoring federal court rulings he didn't like and insisting that the First Amendment doesn't apply to Alabama's state government. (Voters didn't care, and in 2012, following a couple of failed campaigns, Moore was re-elected as chief justice.)
 
I'm noting this context because it matters in light of Moore's newly created controversy:
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has released a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley saying that he intends to continue to recognize the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and urging the governor to do so. [...]
 
Moore said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. "Ginny" Granade "raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction" over the Alabama amendment.
Moore's letter, which is available in its entirety here (pdf), may be predictable, but it's also wildly wrong and a little dangerous. The Republican judge's argument is that a federal court may consider Alabama's ban on marriage equality unconstitutional, but Alabama doesn't have to care.
 
Moore not only intends to ignore the ruling, he desperately wants Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to believe states are not bound by federal court rulings.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.29.15

01/29/15 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:
 
* Hillary Clinton was reportedly planning to launch her presidential campaign in April, but will instead kick things off in July. Because the former Secretary of State isn't especially concerned with primary challengers, Clinton has what Republican aspirants don't: the luxury of taking her time.
 
* Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said yesterday he won't let a little thing like a felony indictment stand in the way of his bid for national office. "No, we're going to continue on," he said in reference to the pending criminal allegations.
 
* Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) delivered a speech to students at Mississippi State University yesterday, where he "sounded out themes for a potential third presidential run."
 
* Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), facing questions about a possible state-run media entity, seemed eager to abandon the idea altogether yesterday. In a radio interview, the Republican governor said he'd never heard of the project before this week's media coverage, adding, "As governor I can assure you that (the plan) did not meet my expectations and if this website doesn't meet my expectations of respecting the role of a free and independent press, I will reject it."
 
* The Republican Party in New Hampshire is reportedly planning to host the "First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit" in mid-April. The idea, according to the Washington Post, is to organize "a two-day festival of political speechmaking in April designed to formally kick off the 2016 presidential campaign in the early primary state."

In conservative circles, scams abound

01/29/15 11:32AM

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has used his mailing list as a lucrative tool for many years, and it's a habit he's apparently reluctant to break. Even after the Arkansas Republican gave up his Fox News program, apparently to pursue another White House campaign, Huckabee continued to send out emails with "really questionable ads."
 
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) isn't running for anything, but as discovered last week, he's also using his list to send out spam-like messages that appear to be scams.
 
It's against this backdrop that Kenneth P. Vogel had a great piece this week on the rise of "scam PACs" that target conservative donors.
Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them. Combining sophisticated targeting techniques with fundraising appeals that resonate deeply among grass-roots activists, they collect large piles of small checks that, taken together, add up to enough money to potentially sway a Senate race. But the PACs plow most of their cash back into payments to consulting firms for additional fundraising efforts.
 
A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million -- 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs.
I'm reminded of a line Chris Hayes used a couple of years ago, which continues to ring true: "[M]uch of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks."
Arkansas' General Assembly

Arkansas sticks with Robert E. Lee holiday

01/29/15 10:49AM

Just last week, Americans celebrated a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., but in parts of the Deep South, the day coincided with a very different kind of holiday. In Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, however, on the exact same day, it was also a statewide holiday honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's birthday.
 
The combination of the two, largely opposite historical figures seemed hard to reconcile, and in Arkansas, some suggested it's time for the state to end the Lee commemoration. Yesterday, Arkansas' Republican-led legislature rejected the recommendations, citing the importance of "Southern heritage."
The proposal called for designating Nov. 30 as "Patrick Cleburne - Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day," a state memorial day but not a legal holiday. Cleburne was a Confederate general who lived in east Arkansas. The legislation also would have repealed a state law declaring June 3 as a state memorial day in honor of former Confederacy President Jefferson Davis' birthday.
 
"This bill is not a bill meant to disregard heritage or to downplay history. It is not a bill to cause division of conflict," said Rep. Charles Blake, D- Little Rock, who presented the measure to the panel. "The spirit of this bill is to allow Arkansans to honor our heritage and honor our progress without them being in conflict with each other."
 
But opponents of the measure packed the committee hearing room, with several saying the Legislature was insulting their heritage.
The Associated Press piece noted local attorney John Crain, who told lawmakers that removing the Lee holiday would effectively tell him "my ancestry and my heritage is not worth honoring."
 
As hard as this may be to believe, Crain went on to argue, "I think Martin Luther King, if he were here today standing beside me, would tell you, 'Why can't we celebrate a birthday of two men, one of color and a white man?'"
 
I'm going to hope it's not necessary to point out why speaking for Dr. King this way is problematic.
Image: 83409718

When a far-right fraud wears out her welcome

01/29/15 10:17AM

On his Fox News program this week, Sean Hannity asked former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), "Did the teleprompter go down?"
 
It was, to my mind, the most confrontational question the host has ever asked one of his Republican allies. Indeed, the question itself was loaded with an unstated assumption: Palin's speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend was so truly wretched that there had to be some other explanation beyond her own personal incompetence.
 
As for Palin's response to Hannity's pointed question, according to the transcript, she replied, "No, you know, I don't know. I received a standing ovation throughout, and at the end of the speech, so I don't know."
 
Well, that ought to clear things up.
 
Much of the political world has seen Palin struggle badly through public appearances and media interviews since her national debut as a national Republican candidate in 2008, but in the wake of her incoherent rambling in Iowa on Saturday night, something has clearly changed. Even Palin's fellow conservatives seem to realize, at long last, that the right-wing personality is less of a hero and more of a fraud.
 
Matt Lewis, for example, conceded yesterday that his years of support for Palin were misplaced. He's not alone.
Sarah Palin's odd, rambling speech last weekend before an audience of committed conservative activists in Des Moines has many influential voices on the right saying that the time has come to acknowledge that the romance has gone cold and the marriage is dead.
The pushback included criticisms from prominent media conservatives, including Byron York, Charles C.W. Cooke, and even msnbc's Joe Scarborough, who described Palin's Iowa speech as "a tragedy."
 
The Weekly Standard, which has long championed Palin, published a "defense" yesterday, which wasn't entirely supportive -- the article said she "has proven she's not a major intellectual," though it proceeded to blame the media for Palin's many shortcomings.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Cruz & Co. launch doomed bid to derail Lynch

01/29/15 09:25AM

Those tuning into the first day of Loretta Lynch's confirmation hearings, looking for high drama, were probably disappointed. President Obama's nominee to succeed Eric Holder as the nation's Attorney General not only seemed unflappable, but Republicans didn't seem all that interested in pressing her with tough questions.
 
On the contrary, GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemingly unaware of the point of an A.G. confirmation hearing, spent much of the day "venting" about their disagreements with Holder. As the day progressed, it seemed increasingly obvious that Lynch will receive majority support in the chamber.
 
That's not to say her confirmation will be unanimous.
Sen. Ted Cruz called attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch's immigration views "dangerous" Wednesday and questioned whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., should even have the chamber consider her nomination.
 
"That is the decision the majority leader is going to have to make. I believe we should use every constitutional tool available to stop the president's unconstitutional executive action. That's what Republicans, Republican candidates all over the country said over and over again last year," the Texas Republican said in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call as the daylong Judiciary Committee hearing on Lynch's nomination neared conclusion.
For the right-wing Texan, the strategy appears to be built around two main points: (1) Cruz opposes Lynch because of her own views, including her belief that President Obama's immigration policy is permissible under the law; and (2) Cruz's belief that if the Senate refused to confirm any nominee for the post, maybe the White House would give in and destroy its own immigration measures.
 
"For several months now, I've called for us to use every constitutional check and balance we have to rein in the president's illegal action. That includes using the confirmation power given by the Constitution as a direct check on the executive," Cruz added yesterday.
 
I think it's safe to say this isn't going to work. Indeed, it's probably going to fail spectacularly.

Jobless claims improve to 14-year low

01/29/15 08:45AM

Labor Department reports on initial unemployment claims have been a little discouraging lately, but the data has come with an important caveat: volatility shortly after the holiday season is common. The question was whether the figures would improve once there the holidays were in our rear-view mirror.
 
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits plunged 43,000 to 265,000 in the week that ended Jan. 24, hitting the lowest tally in 14 years, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The decline, the biggest since November 2012, was much larger than expected. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to tick down to 296,000 in the most recent weekly data from 307,000 in the prior week. [...]
 
The department said there were no special factors in the report but noted that the reference week was shortened by the federal Martin Luther King holiday.
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 17 of the last 20 weeks.

AFA ousts Bryan Fischer as group spokesperson

01/29/15 08:00AM

For those unfamiliar with Bryan Fischer, the religious right leader is practically a real-life caricature of an evangelical radical. Fischer, a prominent voice for the American Family Association for many years, makes ugly and ridiculous comments -- about minority faiths, about gays, about Democrats, et al -- on a nearly daily basis.
 
But going forward, Fischer will no longer make ugly and ridiculous comments in his capacity as a spokesperson for the AFA. Rachel reported on the show last night that the AFA has fired Bryan Fischer from his post:
"Fischer has been their director of issue analysis, the director of issue analysis for the American Family Association forever. He's basically quoted everywhere for years now as the organization's spokesman. [...]
 
"The president of the American Family Association telling us tonight, that as of today, Bryan Fischer should no longer be described as the director of issue analysis for that group, he should not be quoted as a spokesman for the group. As of today, the American Family Association tells us that Bryan Fischer is, and I quote, 'just a talk show host.'"
When "The Rachel Maddow Show" asked AFA President Don Wildmon what prompted Fischer's ouster, Wildmon specifically referenced Fischer's bizarre assertions connecting Nazis and homosexuality. Fischer, of course, originally made these remarks years ago, and has repeated related comments in the years since, but talking to us last night, Wildmon now says, "We reject that."
 
As of last night, Fischer's bio page on the AFA website has been removed.
 
The timing of this unexpected shakeup is probably not a coincidence: the American Family Association, despite years of right-wing extremism, is partnering with Reince Priebus and members of the Republican National Committee on a trip to Israel, which created an awkward dynamic. Why would the RNC team up with a group whose spokesperson says things like, "Counterfeit religions, alternative religions of Christianity have no right to the free exercise of religion"?
 
Nearly 100 RNC members are scheduled to participate in the AFA-sponsored Israel trip, which begins this weekend. It's against this backdrop that, all of a sudden, Fischer is no longer the religious right group's spokesperson.

Citations for the January 28, 2015 TRMS

01/29/15 01:09AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Jeffrey Rosenlaw professor at George Washington University, president of the National Constitution Center
  • Debra Nussbaum Cohen, she is a reporter for Ha'aretz Daily, and contributing editor at Forward.com.

Tonight's links are listed after the jump...

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