Overnight, sky gazers were able to enjoy a rare and beautiful sight: a so-called "blood moon" in which Earth's shadow completely covers the moon
It wouldn't have occurred to me to connect this to politics in any way, but as Brian Tashman noted this morning, WorldNetDaily manages to "fit criticism of President Obama into nearly everything it publishes, including its story in Monday's lunar eclipse."
Citing the president's comments from January -- "I've got a pen and I've got a phone" -- about using executive orders and executive actions in the face of congressional obstruction, right-wing pastor Mark Biltz told WND today that the "blood moon" is a divine warning to Obama that God has "more than a pen and a phone in his hand."
"In the book of Joel it mentions three times about the sun and the moon going dark and in context it also mentions Divine wrath against all countries that want to divide or part the land of Israel," Biltz said, touching on a frequentReligiousRightclaim that Obama administration efforts to broker a Mideast peace deal will lead to divine punishment.
"Like Pharaoh the leaders and pundits of today will realize when it comes to crossing the red lines of the Creator of the universe he has more than a pen and a phone in his hand."
The WorldNetDaily piece, which I assure you was not published as satire, added a quote from the pastor that "blood moons" carry "great historic and prophetic significance," adding, "I believe the moons are like flashing red warning lights at a heavenly intersection."
To be sure, both blitz and the publishers of WorldNetDaily are welcome to believe whatever they wish about astronomical phenomena. Their interpretations of eclipses are their business, whether the beliefs seem amusing or not.
But I remain more interested in the political connections to WorldNetDaily than in the political connections to shadows on the moon.
There's been quite a bit of activity on raising the minimum wage recently, with Connecticut, Maryland, and Minnesota each recently approving wage hikes, and states like Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Vermont poised to do the same. As we discussed last week, all six of these states have something in common: they're all "blue" states governed by Democratic legislatures working with Democratic governors.
But then there's Alaska, which has a Republican governor working with a Republican legislature, but where a minimum-wage increase is nevertheless advancing. Reid Wilson reported:
What if they held a vote to increase the minimum wage and most of the Democrats voted no? That's what happened in Alaska on Sunday, where the vast majority of Democrats in the state House voted against a measure that would have given low-income workers one of the highest minimum wages in the entire country.
The state House voted by a 21-19 margin to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour on July 1, 2014, and to $10 an hour the following year. Twelve of the no votes came from Democrats, while just two voted to raise the wage.
If you're thinking there has to be more to this story, you're right.
"It's a strange vote, and it's going to be difficult to justify to my voters," state Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D) said during the debate. "I simply think this is a disingenuous piece of legislation."
And in this case, Kawasaki's concerns are well justified.
The Affordable Care Act is proving to be quite important nationwide, but it's been especially significant in Arkansas, where Medicaid expansion has brought coverage to more than 100,000 low-income Arkansans. Republicans in the state nearly blocked the policy, but there a compromise was reached: under the "private option," beneficiaries buying private coverage with Medicaid funds.
Because it's making such a difference in the lives of so many, the policy has left Arkansas Republicans in an awkward position: to oppose the private option and Medicaid expansion is to endorse taking coverage away from more than 100,000 Arkansans who need it. Or more to the point, to repeal "Obamacare" is to cut these struggling families off at the knees.
With this in mind, the Arkansas Times' David Ramsey asked U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R), currently a competitive U.S. Senate candidate, about his intention to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.
"We would repeal Obamacare and replace it entirely with many reforms for our health care program," Cotton said. I asked whether he had a specific replacement plan which would cover all the folks who would lose their coverage if Cotton succeeded in repealing the law. He trotted out some tried-and-true Republican talking points which would do no such thing, such as allowing insurance to be sold across state lines. "We want every Arkansan, we want every American, to have quality, affordable access to health care," Cotton said.
Really? Because if so, that's an interesting position for a Republican to lock himself into. In fact, GOP candidates and policymakers have generally avoided endorsing such a progressive goal because they realize guaranteeing affordable access to health care for "every American" is difficult -- and Republican proposals, when they exist, invariably fall short.
So, if Cotton supports giving everyone in the country access to medical care they can afford, why doesn't he support his own state's Medicaid expansion policy?
"The private option is a state-based issue," he said.
That's a nice try, I suppose, but it's not much of an answer. Cotton represents Arkansas constituents; he's running for statewide office in Arkansas, and he's being asked about whether Arkansas should accept federal resources for health care. Taking a pass on the question shouldn't be one of his choices.
The list of states working on new reproductive-rights restrictions got a little longer last week, when state lawmakers in Florida advanced a couple of new measures of their own.
Election-year politics and an assertive Republican majority passed two bills in the Florida House on Friday that are certain to score points with a conservative base.
One bill would tighten the state's already restrictive abortion laws. A second would add penalties to anyone convicted of a crime if the act harms a fetus. Similar legislation passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate when abortion-rights advocates argued it was intended to create "personhood" rights for fetuses.
As expected, the bills passed the state House late last week with members voting largely along party lines.
Under the proposed abortion restrictions, Floridians are already prohibited from terminating a pregnancy after 24 weeks, but this new measure would require doctors to conduct an exam and determine whether a fetus is sustainable outside the womb "through standard medical measures." In effect, the intention is to move the legal line from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.
As for the other bill, proponents cited a recent incident in which a Tampa Bay woman was tricked by an ex-boyfriend into taking pills that caused her to miscarry in order to justify new legislation. Democratic state Rep. Elaine Schwartz asked, "How are you going to know that the miscarriage was caused by some event, even months ago? This is much too broad. It's unenforceable and it's part of a war on women."
Nevertheless, this argument did not carry the day and the issue now goes to the state Senate.
But what struck me as especially interesting was, of all things, what lawmakers did with the legislative pages during the debate.
Following up on yesterday's item, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management backed off over the weekend at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch, deescalating a potentially dangerous situation. The underlying issues, however, haven't changed at all.
We're still looking at a situation in which in a rancher has been illegally grazing, ignoring federal laws, blowing off federal court rulings he disagrees with, and refusing to pay fines. Federal officials saw well-armed protestors and decided to scale back rather than risk bloodshed, but it wasn't long before everyone involved asked the same question: now what?
Nevada's senior senator, who also happens to be the Senate Majority Leader, weighed in late yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on the tensions in his state between rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management, saying, "It's not over."
"Well, it's not over," Reid told NBC's Nevada affiliate KRNV on Monday. "We can't have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it's not over."
And that makes sense. Even among those who may be sympathetic to Bundy's situation -- members of his family have been cattle ranchers in that area for generations -- most fair-minded folks would probably concede that Americans can't ignore laws they don't like and prevent laws from being enforced through the threat of possible violence.
By this reasoning, of course "it's not over." As we discussed yesterday, there's an obvious problem with establishing a precedent that says Americans can disregard court orders.
Meanwhile, Bundy is weighing in on where things stand, too.
The New York Times talked the other day with a Louisiana voter named Patsy Edmondson, who lives in Rep. Vance McAllister's (R) West Monroe district. Asked about her congressman's extra-marital dalliance, after pledging to "defend our Christian way of life" during his campaign last year, Edmondson rolled her eyes at her state's "history of tawdry politics."
But she also added an interesting point.
A number of voters here identified a double standard in the Republican state leadership for denouncing Mr. McAllister but issuing no such rebuke to Senator David Vitter during a 2007 prostitution scandal. Mr. Vitter apologized for "a very serious sin in my past" and said he had asked for and received forgiveness from his wife and from God. He was re-elected to the Senate in 2010 and is considered as a favorite to succeed [current Gov. Bobby Jindal] in the 2015 governor's race.
Ms. Edmondson said the place to judge Mr. McAllister would be at the ballot box. "If Jindal is going to ask him to resign, why is it not right for David Vitter to resign?" she said.
I've been wondering that myself. In fact, it's tough to reconcile the competing standards: two Louisiana Republicans run as family-values conservatives, one gets caught with prostitutes, one gets caught kissing a staffer. The former remains in his party's good graces, wins re-election, and is poised for a promotion; the latter is persona non grata among his ostensible allies.
I think there's a rational explanation for the disjointed reactions, but we haven't heard any leading Republican officials address the question head on.
To that end, it was good to see reporters ask Louisiana's Republican governor yesterday why he's coming down hard on McAllister, while giving Vitter a pass.
A reunion at the finish line one year after the Boston Marathon bombings. (Boston Globe) Ukraine says it has begun military operation in the East. (NY Times) Republicans try to address 'war on women' with an army of young volunteers. (Washington Post) Social Security will stop seizing tax refunds to collect old debt. (Time)
Kasie Hunt, NBC News political reporter, talks with Steve Kornacki about how the radically different elements of the Republican Party contrast with each other in state politics across the country. (Koch statement: http://on.msnbc.com/1p4PUNh) watch
Steve Kornacki reviews the recent wave of good news stories and positive indicators surrounding the implementation of Obamacare and wonders when Republicans will be forced by sheer weight of fact to change their position on the program. watch
It's not uncommon for conservative media to put a very different spin on current events than major news organizations. For example, news consumers who surround themselves with nothing but conservative media might believe right now that the Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral, the IRS "scandal" is heating up; the nation is facing a debt crisis; the Benghazi conspiracy will soon rock the White House; etc.
But once in a while, conservative media doesn't just put a unique spin on the news, it also identifies stories that exist largely below the radar. Over the last week, for example, far-right news consumers have been captivated with coverage of Cliven Bundy, while for much of the American mainstream, that name probably doesn't even sound familiar.
If you don't know the story, it's time to get up to speed.
U.S. officials ended a stand-off with hundreds of armed protesters in the Nevada desert on Saturday, calling off the government's roundup of cattle it said were illegally grazing on federal land and giving about 300 animals back to the rancher who owned them.
The dispute less than 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas between rancher Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had simmered for days. Bundy had stopped paying fees for grazing his cattle on the government land and officials said he had ignored court orders.
Anti-government groups, right-wing politicians and gun-rights activists camped around Bundy's ranch to support him.
By any fair definition, this was an intense standoff with a very real possibility of significant casualties.
But to understand how and why the crisis unfolded as it did over the weekend, we have to start with how it started in the first place.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly seems to understand that the gender gap isn't working in his favor right now, and so it's understandable that he'd look for opportunities to make inroads with women voters. But McConnell keeps turning to an incident from 20 years ago, which is probably a bad idea.
In Kentucky right now, there's a Democratic state senator, John Arnold, who was accused of sexual harassment. The state lawmaker was cleared by an ethics panel -- though most of its members voted to find him guilty -- so McConnell sees an opportunity.
McConnell contrasted the Arnold case to his own actions as head of the Senate Ethics Committee in the case of former Sen. Bob Packwood, who was accused to making unwanted advances toward Senate employees.
"I moved to expel him from the Senate," McConnell said."
The McConnell campaign has tried this before. The senator and his allies generally like to shy away from his legislative record -- McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, the Paycheck Fairness Act, etc. -- but believe his handling of Bob Packwood's scandal in the early 1990s shows that McConnell is capable of handling women's issues appropriately. He may be on the wrong side of recent legislative fights, the argument goes, but at least in one case two decades ago, McConnell took a stand for women's interests against the interests of one of his own GOP allies.
The trouble is, I remember the 1990s a lot differently.