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Seniors Rally In Support Medicare, Social Programs In Chicago

Center-left economic ideas dominate

06/23/15 10:46AM

There's plenty to chew on in the new, national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and we'll get to some of the horse-race results a little later. What struck me as equally important, if not more so, were public attitudes on economic policy.
The Wall Street Journal's report flagged this gem, for example.
One of the rare, unifying themes was the broad support for a proposal introduced by [Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders] to increase Social Security benefits, funded by extending Social Security taxes to income above the current cap of $118,500 a year. Americans were similarly resistant to phasing out Social Security benefits for people who make more than $80,000 a year, a proposal made by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a likely GOP presidential candidate.
Last year, the idea of expanding Social Security, instead of cutting it, started to catch on among congressional Democrats as an idea whose time has come. Though widely dismissed as a pipe dream by much of the establishment, a variety of high-profile senators, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) threw their support behind the idea.
 
In all likelihood, most of the public hasn't heard about the proposals directly, but the poll results suggest a high level of intuitive support. Indeed, it was one of the single most popular policy measures in the survey.
 
It's against this backdrop that many Republican presidential candidates are running on a platform that includes reducing Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age.
 
In the same poll, respondents were offered a series of possible problems and asked to identify which were the most pressing concerns. The top choice: "Wealthy individuals and corporations will have too much influence" in the upcoming elections.
 
This, too, makes it that much more difficult for GOP presidential hopefuls to run on a platform that's indifferent, if not hostile, towards campaign-finance reforms.
Marijuana plants are displayed. (Photo by Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Yet another Obama admin breakthrough on marijuana

06/23/15 10:01AM

After decades of a costly "war on drugs," candidate Barack Obama made clear in 2008 that voters would see a very different approach in his administration. To his credit, President Obama has largely followed through on those campaign promises.
 
The administration has already taken a progressive approach to marijuana, for example, clearing the way for unprecedented state experimentation. This week, the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported on another breakthrough.
The White House took a major step forward on Monday to support research into the medical properties of marijuana, lifting a much-maligned bureaucratic requirement that had long stifled scientific research.
 
By eliminating the Public Health Service review requirement, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), also known as the drug czar's office, will help facilitate research into the drug.
Under the old policy, created in the late '90s, anyone hoping to conduct privately-funded medical marijuana research had to jump through all kinds of laborious, bureaucratic hoops -- which proved to be incredibly, needlessly difficult, even for the most determined scholars.
 
Yesterday, as the Washington Post added, the obstacles were removed, "effective immediately."
 
An ONDCP spokesperson said, "The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine. Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components."
 
Those waiting for Republican condemnations of the White House's new policy may be surprised. The old system had few defenders, and even some GOP lawmakers were pleased by the administration's new approach. Roll Call reported yesterday:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during an event on June 19, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Christie's home-state support sinks to new depths

06/23/15 09:21AM

Every presidential candidate wants to be able to brag about the home-state support he or she enjoys. It makes sense -- a policymaker's constituents had an opportunity to see his or her work up close. The more those voters were impressed, the more a White House hopeful can ride a wave of popularity onto the national stage.
 
But as the 2016 race unfolds, a "home-state haters" problem is kicking in. Louisianans, for example, have soured on Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Marylanders aren't at all excited about former Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) presidential campaign.
 
And in New Jersey, the bottom has fallen out on Gov. Chris Christie's (R) support. Last month, a Monmouth University poll put the Republican governor's approval rating at just 35%. This morning, Politico reports an even lower number.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is still not winning any favor with Garden State voters, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll released Tuesday.
 
Christie, who is in the midst of planning a presidential run, has an approval rating of 30 percent, below what is usually expected for a White House hopeful in his own state, where 55 percent disapprove of his performance. His numbers are down from the last FDU poll in April, in which 36 percent of voters approved of the job he was doing, compared to 50 percent who did not.
In case it's not obvious, 30% is a dreadful number. It's the kind of approval rating a politician will find difficult to explain away when he's seeking a promotion.
 
In fact, it's arguably the kind of number that should keep Christie out of the race. The beleaguered governor has prepared all kinds of answers to dismiss his many problems -- the scandals, the downgrades, the pension mess, the policy missteps -- but there is no talking point that can adequately explain a 30% approval rating.
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, pauses while speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015, on the church shooting in Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Comparing U.S. mass shootings to the rest of the world

06/23/15 08:46AM

The day after the massacre in Charleston, President Obama delivered a public address from the White House. "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said. "It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."
 
The observation seemed unambiguously true. In fact, the Washington Post ran a piece in 2012, relying on data from the United Nations, comparing gun homicide rates in wealthy countries. The United States dominated in ways that should be considered a national scandal. There are some countries with higher rates in the developing world -- Honduras, for example, fares especially poorly -- but Obama's comment referenced advanced, wealthy countries.
 
And then PolitiFact decided to weigh in.
 
The website specifically pointed to research spanning 2000 to 2014, analyzing data from 11 advanced nations. In the 10 other countries combined, there were 23 mass shootings, which left 200 dead and 231 wounded. In the United States over the same period, the research pointed to 133 incidents, which left 487 dead and 505 wounded.

That seemed pretty conclusive. We had far more incidents than the other advanced countries combined, more deaths than the other advanced countries combined, and more injuries than the other advanced countries combined, True to form, PolitiFact nevertheless concluded that the president's comments were "mostly false."
The data shows that [this type of mass violence] clearly happens in other countries, and in at least three of them, there's evidence that the rate of killings in mass-shooting events occurred at a higher per-capita rate than in the United States between 2000 and 2014. The only partial support for Obama's claim is that the per-capita gun-incident fatality rate in the United States does rank in the top one-third of the list of 11 countries studied. On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.
This is an important debate -- it's quite literally a matter of life and death -- so the details matter. If we're under the wrong impression about gun violence, that confusion may affect policymaking and elections.
 
In other words, when we consider whether PolitiFact is correct, the answer is more than just idle curiosity. We should know and understand whether mass shootings in the United States are unique among wealthy, advanced nations.
A man holds a sign up during a protest rally against the Confederate flag in Columbia, S.C., June 20, 2015. (Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)

An amazing shift in the political winds

06/23/15 08:00AM

We have a fairly complete picture of what motivated the confessed gunman in last week's massacre in Charleston. A racist specifically chose the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME), murdered nine African Americans at a prayer meeting, and hoped to start a race war.
 
Chances are, the killer had no idea that he would not only fail, but he would help serve as an impetus for progressive change.
 
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) endorsed a plan yesterday afternoon to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds. So far, the proposal, which enjoys bipartisan backing, is fairly well positioned to succeed.
 
But South Carolina isn't the only state relevant to the discussion. Mississippi literally includes a Confederate symbol in its official state flag -- a symbol that Mississippi's Republican state House Speaker is ready to change. As Rachel noted on the show last night, this Clarion-Ledger piece came as quite a surprise.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday night that the Confederate emblem in the state's official flag has to go.
 
"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn, a Clinton Republican, said in a statement. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."
The article noted just what a rarity this is: Gunn's statement marks "the first time a Mississippi Republican elected official has publicly called for the removal of the emblem that served as the battle flag flown by the Confederate army during the Civil War."
 
Around the same time, Walmart announced it will stop selling all Confederate flag merchandise in its stores.

Key vote on trade and other headlines

06/23/15 07:45AM

McConnell asks senators to cast pro-trade vote once more. (AP)

Inside the Republican reversal on the confederate flag. (Politico)

Hillary Clinton to meet with church officials near Ferguson unrest. (AP)

Why Ted Cruz can't quit the gay-marriage fight. (Bloomberg Politics)

The best questions from Mike Huckabee's Facebook Q&A. (TPM)

Support for sending troops to fight ISIS split by party according to new poll. (WSJ)

Putin's plot to get Texas to secede. (Politico Magazine)

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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.22.15

06/22/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Afghanistan: "The Taliban attacked the Afghan Parliament on Monday just as lawmakers were convening for their third attempt to confirm a defense minister, while in northern Afghanistan a second district fell to Taliban insurgents."
 
* South Carolina: "The judge who oversaw a bond hearing for a man accused of fatally shooting nine people at a historic black church in Charleston was previously reprimanded for using a racial slur while on the bench. Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell Jr., who presided over confessed gunman Dylann Roof's bond hearing on Friday, made the comments in a courtroom over a decade ago."
 
* Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Part I: "[Maryland] Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday he's been diagnosed with a 'very advanced and very aggressive' cancer. The governor said he learned of the illness last week after returning from a trade mission to Asia. He said the cancer had spread to multiple parts of his body, but he expected to fight and beat the disease."
 
* Best wishes for speedy recovery, Part II: "Sen. Angus King will undergo surgery this week to address a prostate cancer diagnosis he received earlier this year. The Maine independent said the prostate cancer was detected early, as was skin cancer some 40 years ago from which he fully recovered. 'And once again, early detection during an annual physical put me on the path to wellness.'"
 
* A lead: "DNA from at least one of the two escaped New York prisoners was found at a burglarized cabin in a rural town about 20 miles from the prison, sources told NBC News on Monday. The search for the men, Richard Matt and David Sweat, focused on the town of Owls Head after the DNA was found on Saturday."
 
* He's obviously correct: "In an interview released Monday, President Barack Obama said that combating racism didn't end with making racial slurs impolite."
 
* Middle East: "A U.N.-backed commission presented findings Monday suggesting that both Israelis and Palestinians violated international law and committed possible war crimes during the Gaza war last summer that left thousands dead and wide swaths of the coastal enclave in ruins."
Governor Nikki Haley addresses a full church during a prayer vigil held at Morris Brown AME Church, South Carolina, June 18, 2015. (Photo by Grace Beahm/Pool/Reuters)

S.C. governor: 'It's time to move the flag'

06/22/15 05:01PM

In the face of growing public pressure, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced this afternoon that she wants the Confederate battle flag to be taken down from the capitol grounds. The Republican governor's announcement comes five days after a white gunman murdered nine African Americans at a historic Charleston church. MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin reported:
"It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds," Haley said to loud applause at a press conference, amid mounting pressure to remove the controversial flag following the massacre, which authorities have called a hate crime. Haley appeared at a press conference alongside other South Carolina leaders, including U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, all of whom reportedly support the removal of the flag.
 
"By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven," Haley added.
Of particular interest is the legislative procedure that will unfold. Not only is South Carolina's legislature in recess, but under state law, it would take a two-thirds majority in both the GOP-led state House and the GOP-led state Senate to remove the flag.
 
The governor, however, is calling for immediate action. Lawmakers are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss an unrelated budget matter, but they'll also consider a special session to address the flag issue specifically. Depending on the appetite for change, and the governor's sway with members, that session could come very quickly.
 
As for the broader political context, Haley has done the Republican presidential field an enormous favor.

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