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Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-OH) (R) cuts ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) off during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Issa vs. Cummings, Round XXVII

04/18/14 11:11AM

Poor Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). The hapless chairman of the House Oversight Committee came up with all kinds of creative ideas about the IRS and assorted "scandals," all of which turned out to be baseless -- and at times, kind of silly.
 
But hope springs eternal. Issa now has a brand new IRS-related attack, and this time, instead of taking the offensive against the White House or Obama administration officials, the California Republican is going after the ranking member of his own committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), whom Issa recently tried to literally silence during a faux hearing on the faux IRS controversy.
 
Issa asked conservative media to find his new scheme interesting and Fox News quickly obliged, making Cummings its "new punching bag."
Monday night, he and other Democratic members of the House Committee investigating the IRS over allegations that it targeted conservative groups took a pounding on Megyn Kelly's show over recently released emails.
 
Tuesday morning, the beatdown intensified on "Fox & Friends," which kept flashing headlines like: "Where's the Outrage? Media ignores Cummings role in IRS scandal."
 
"There's explosive new evidence," host Elizabeth Hasselbeck said, introducing a discussion of Cummings, "that he was leading the charge against conservatives the entire time" that he was part of a panel that was supposed to be investigating the IRS for allegedly treating conservative groups unfairly.
Just on the surface, when Republicans and their allies can't seem to decide on their Villain of the Week, it's usually a sign of desperation. In the IRS matter, the fact that the right keeps bouncing from one suspected bad guy to the next, as one claim after another gets debunked, doesn't inspire confidence in the integrity of the "scandal."
 
But more specifically, the larger problem with Issa and Fox turning their guns on Cummings is that the attack is demonstrably ridiculous.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during a news conference at the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, Va.,  Monday, March 24, 2014.

McAuliffe moves to restore voting rights

04/18/14 10:23AM

Given the sweeping voting restrictions being imposed by Republican policymakers in many states, it's heartening to occasionally see an official stepping up to expand voting rights for a change.
 
Ari Melber reported back in November on the "often invisible barrier to voting that is upending elections around the country." He was referring to more than 5 million Americans who are prohibited from voting because they have criminal records. In all, 48 out of 50 states impose some kind of restrictions on convict voting, and more than half bar former convicts from voting even after they are released from prison.
 
Virginia has some of the most punitive policies in the nation, disenfranchising roughly 350,000 adult citizens -- including a fifth of the state's black population.
 
To his credit, the commonwealth's Democratic governor is doing something about it.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list.
 
The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly.
 
In a series of changes to the state's restoration of rights process, McAuliffe wants to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list.
"Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible," McAuliffe said in a statement. "These changes will build on the process Virginia has in place to increase transparency for applicants and ensure that we are restoring Virginians' civil rights quickly and efficiently after they have applied and observed any necessary waiting period."
 
Note, this is quickly becoming a national issue.
People cast their ballots for the US presidential election at an early voting center in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2012.

Missouri GOP latest to push early-voting 'reforms'

04/18/14 09:42AM

Republican policymakers in Wisconsin and Ohio recently imposed new restrictions on early voting, and this week, GOP lawmakers in Missouri followed suit, though their efforts come with a bit of a twist.
The Missouri House has endorsed a pair of early voting measures, though some Democrats contend they could create confusion for a proposed initiative petition that seeks to go further in allowing advanced voting. [...]
 
Democratic critics say the House proposal is a "sham" and that politics are at play.
Fortunately, this is a knowable thing -- either the proposal is a sham or it's not -- so let's take a closer look.
 
The Republican plan in Missouri does not actually ban early voting, so much as it creates an unusual time frame in which early voting would be allowed. Under the proposal, there would be nine days of early voting, but the nine days couldn't come the week before the election and they couldn't include a Sunday, which happens to be a very popular day for early voting in states that allow it.
 
Saturday voting would be limited to four hours, and voting after 5 p.m. -- after many workers leave their jobs for the day -- would be prohibited.
 
What's more, all of this isn't just a proposed bill; it's actually a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which would make future reforms more difficult. What's more, the amendment comes with a built-in loophole: "If lawmakers don't appropriate money for early voting on any given year, it won't happen."
 
All of this coincides with a new voter-ID plan, leading the Kansas City Star to note in an editorial, "Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities. They're not even subtle about it."
 
And to think some Missouri Dems would be so cynical as to see this as a "sham."
Protesters fall back from the gates of the Bureau of Land Management's base camp where seized cattle, that belonged to rancher Cliven Bundy, were being held at near Bunkerville, Nevada April 12, 2014.

'They're nothing more than domestic terrorists'

04/18/14 08:41AM

It's been nearly a week since the U.S. Bureau of Land Management tried to enforce federal court orders at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch, only to back off in order to deescalate a potentially dangerous situation with heavily armed protesters.
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), who of course represents Nevada, said earlier this week, "We can't have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it's not over."
 
Yesterday, Reid went further.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Thursday called supporters of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy "domestic terrorists" because they defended him against a Bureau of Land Management cattle roundup with guns and put their children in harm's way.
 
"Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They're nothing more than domestic terrorists," Reid said during an appearance at a Las Vegas Review-Journal "Hashtags & Headlines" event at the Paris. "... I repeat: what went on up there was domestic terrorism."
The senator added that he's been in communication with Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI leaders, and Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, as well as the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, 'which has not backed Bundy's personal battle but has expressed concerns about access to public land."
 
There is, Reid said, a task force being set up to deal with the situation. "It is an issue that we cannot let go, just walk away from," he added.
 
One assumes Bundy's militia allies weren't impressed with the senator's comments, but Reid probably isn't foremost on their minds. Rather, many on this far-right fringe are contemplating their next move, embracing what they see as a new precedent established six days ago at the Bundy ranch.
President Barack Obama gives a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on March 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Will the GOP ever 'move on' from Obamacare?

04/18/14 08:00AM

They threw everything they had at it. Desperate to destroy the Affordable Care Act, Republican policymakers tried misinformation campaigns; they tried sabotage; and they tried repeal. The campaign did not, however, derail the law, the success of which is becoming increasingly obvious.
 
The next question is whether GOP officials actually care.
 
At his press conference yesterday, President Obama not only touted the new enrollment totals -- 8 million American consumers enrolled through exchange marketplaces during the open-enrollment period -- he also urged Republicans to end their preoccupation with the issue.
"I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been: they still can't bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working.
 
"They said nobody would sign up. They were wrong about that. They said it would be unaffordable for the country. They were wrong about that. They were wrong to keep trying to repeal a law that is working when they have no alternative answer for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions who would be denied coverage again, or every woman who would be charged more for just being a woman again.
 
"I know every American isn't going to agree with this law, but I think we can agree that it's well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about, and that continues to be the economy, because these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost. The 50 or so votes Republicans have taken to repeal this law could have been 50 votes to create jobs."
In all, during a fairly brief press conference, Obama used the phrase "move on" four times in reference to Republicans and the ACA.
 
And before the press conference was even over, the National Republican Congressional Committee declared, in response to the president's call to move on, "No, we can't."
 
And on the surface, congressional Republicans certainly seem to mean it. As the health care system grows stronger, GOP lawmakers are descending deeper into denial, conspiracy theories, and fairly transparent con jobs. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Republican leaders are committed to near-constant Obamacare bashing for the rest of the year, regardless of facts that may try to get in the way.
 
The stubbornness might be impressive if we weren't talking about a group of policymakers desperately trying to take health care benefits away from millions of American families for no particular reason.
 
But there are cracks in the facade. For all the bravado and chest-thumping about how they will never, ever, ever stop trying to destroy health care reform, Republicans are not a united front.

Ahead on the 4/17/14 Maddow show

04/17/14 07:17PM

Tonight's guests include: Nicolle Wallace, former senior advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign; Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC read more

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks about the Affordable Care Act as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) watches in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

8 million

04/17/14 04:36PM

Just five weeks ago, the Associated Press ran an article on the pace of Affordable Care Act enrollments. The White House, the piece said, "needs something close to a miracle to meet its goal of enrolling 6 million people by the end of this month." Congressional Republicans eagerly passed the AP's item around.
 
As of April 1, we already knew that miracle had arrived: the initial estimate pointed to 7.1 million Americans enrolling through exchange marketplaces. By last week, that total was revised to 7.5 million.
 
Today, there's a new number: 8 million consumers signed up for private coverage through exchanges.
President Barack Obama announced Thursday that eight million people have selected a private health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act.
 
"This thing is working," he said of the law during an announcement during a statement in the White House briefing room. The president also said that 35 percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.
As the president want on to explain at a press conference this afternoon, that's 8 million enrolled through exchanges, another 3 million young adults who've gained coverage through family plans, and another 3 million who've taken advantage of Medicaid expansion.
 
That's 14 million American consumers -- a number that would be more than 19 million if several Republican officials weren't deliberately blocking Medicaid expansion out of political spite.
 
Before new conspiracy theories sprout, I should note that these upward revisions do not come as a surprise.
Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif., March 27, 2014.

'We're not going to do anything to address health care'

04/17/14 03:38PM

It's been nearly three months since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declared, "This year, we will rally around an alternative to ObamaCare and pass it on the floor of the House." Last week House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the plan is being delayed "at least a month." A month from when? He didn't say.
 
ThinkProgress reports that Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) is telling his constituents that his party doesn't intend "to do anything" on this issue for the rest of the year.
CONSTITUENT: You've voted to repeal it approximately 50 times. Had zero votes on a replacement. So my question is, why do you think it is so good to deny seniors on Part D to make them pay more, about $4,000 more for medicine, and people with pre-existing conditions get denied insurance, have 26-year-olds have a harder time getting insurance because they can't get on their parents'? Why do you think those are good ideas?
 
ROSS: I don't. And let me tell you, I think one of the most unfortunate things my party did the last three years was not offer an alternative to health care. I've always felt that way. I think it's absurd when I tell people that this isn't what you should do, but I don't have an alternative for you.... I wish we had an alternative. For the next six months, we're going to go into an election knowing that we're not going to do anything to address health care. Because we've gone so far in the last few years saying "no" that we don't have an alternative to say "yes" to.
It's not too common to hear House Republicans referring to their own party's posture on health care as "absurd," which make Ross' comments fairly striking on their own.
 
There's also the news that Ross is apparently under the impression that his party won't bother with an ACA alternative at all in 2014, despite literally years of Republican promises to the contrary.
 
But perhaps most interesting of all was the two-word answer in response to the question from Ross' constituent: "I don't."
A woman holding a sign in support of the Affordable Care Act is seen as President Barack Obama's motorcade returns to his vacation compound from the gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 29, 2013 in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

The ACA on a winning streak

04/17/14 12:56PM

As a substantive matter, the nature of the debate over the Affordable Care Act has changed dramatically in just the past few weeks. On every metric that matters -- enrollment data, rate of uninsured, systemic costs, premiums -- there's been quite a bit of news, and all of it's heartening for those hoping to see the American system succeed.
 
But as the substance changes, the politics and broader impressions are changing with it. Democrats who were expected to avoid "Obamacare" at all costs as a campaign issue are starting to do the opposite. And Beltway media that talked up ACA peril is now conceding the system is "making a pretty impressive run."
The headlines about the Affordable Care Act have turned positive lately, and they're starting to pile up. The most dire predictions from the law's critics simply haven't panned out, and now Democrats are headed into another big health care fight -- the confirmation of a new Health and Human Services secretary -- with stronger real-world evidence than they've had before.
 
There's important information we still don't have about enrollment, and big risks loom on the horizon. Things could change. But right now, the tide seems to be turning in the White House's favor.
 
Narratives feed on themselves, and there was a time when Obamacare just kept losing.... But over the past few weeks, the news has started to roll in the other direction.... Now it's good news snowballing, and it's critics who increasingly seem to have missed the mark with their warnings of inevitable collapse.
So much for the "death spiral."
 
It's against this backdrop that House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued a brief report this morning, as part of the "House Obamacare Accountability Project." (House Republicans have actually created a formal project with its own name for their initiative to root for ACA failure.) The 1,100-word piece intends to "debunk" the encouraging news of late, but McCarthy's indictment doesn't actually disprove anything. It asks some questions and repeats some old, bogus talking points, but for those who've followed the debate closely, it's surprisingly pretty easy to debunk the House GOP's attempted debunking.
 
With this in mind, it's probably time to start thinking more about "Obamacare Derangement Syndrome."
People register at the Arlington Free Clinic for the healthcare lottery on November 12, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia.

Watching the birth of a conspiracy theory in real time

04/17/14 11:23AM

We saw the likely conspiracy theory coming, but as Andrew Rosenthal noted, it's nevertheless interesting to "actually see one being born."
For years now some on the right have speculated that the Obama administration is trying to politicize the national census. Yesterday, Noah Rothman argued on Mediaite that the theory was proven correct by a New York Times article about changes in the way the Census Bureau plans to ask about health insurance coverage.
 
The idea is that the new questions will show a reduction in the number of uninsured people starting in 2014, which may make it seem as though the Affordable Care Act is working better than it really is. The change in questions will also produce a "break in trend" within the census surveys and thus make it impossible to statistically compare 2013 and 2014 with earlier years.
 
Therefore, the White House must have ordered this sinister change to promote President Obama's signature domestic initiative.
Or so the argument went. Conservative media types weren't alone, of course. As Igor Volsky noted, congressional Republican offices soon followed. In an especially odd missive, House Speaker John Boehner's communications director, Rory Cooper, tweeted, "It never stops. Obama Administration now changing the CENSUS survey in order to hide failure of Obamacare."
 
It's unclear whether or not Cooper and his like-minded cohorts realize what they're saying is silly. Maybe they know how foolish this conspiracy theory is, but hope to keep irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act going, whether it makes sense or not. Or perhaps they just don't know enough about the substance of this to understand the policy they're publicly condemning.
 
Either way, to borrow a phrase, it never stops.
 
But so long as Republicans and conservative media intend to remain invested in this, it's probably worth taking a closer look at reality.
Sodomy laws still enforced in East Baton Rouge

Louisiana's bold stand against sodomy

04/17/14 10:48AM

The culture war's focus has narrowed quite a bit in recent years. Whereas the political combat over hot-button social issues used to include issues like school prayer, access to pornography, and Ten Commandments displays, the contemporary culture war tends to focus on sexual health (access to abortion and contraception) and gay rights (most notably marriage equality).
 
But once in a while, anti-sodomy laws return to the fore.
 
It was, after all, just last summer that Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli (R), at the time the state Attorney General, fought in support of an anti-sodomy measure that had already been struck down in the courts. This week in Louisiana, meanwhile, state lawmakers protected an anti-sodomy law that's already been deemed unconstitutional.
The Louisiana House of Representatives rejected legislation, on Tuesday, that would remove the state's symbolic ban on certain kinds of sodomy. The bill failed by a wide margin on a vote of 27-67, with 11 members not voting.
 
Louisiana's anti-sodomy law was overturned and declared unconstitutional in 2003, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling such state statutes could not be enforced. Still, the Legislature has been unwilling to officially strike the measure from state law, even though it can't be used as a cause for arrest.
 
A House Committee passed the legislation onto the body's floor by a vote of 9-6 last week. But one of the state's most powerful lobbying groups, the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum, opposes striking the sodomy ban.
And in this case, the Louisiana Family Forum won.
 
Keep in mind, everyone involved realizes that Louisiana's anti-sodomy statute cannot legally be enforced. It's effectively legal window dressing -- it's just sitting there, serving no practical purpose. But rather than removing unenforceable clutter from their books, Louisiana's state House, with the overwhelming support of its Republican majority, agreed with the Louisiana Family Forum's assessment that the unconstitutional anti-sodomy statute is "consistent with the values of Louisiana residents who consider this behavior to be dangerous, unhealthy and immoral."
Solar power coming on strong

Oklahoma moves to discourage solar power

04/17/14 10:14AM

In the final installment of a multi-part report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained that the climate crisis is intensifying quickly, creating a critical situation. We're approach a point of no return, requiring significant action over the next 15 years.
 
What kind of action? There's no easy fix, but the IPCC was encouraged by new measures that can reduce emissions without drastic lifestyle changes, including sharp reductions in the costs of solar and wind power.
 
Just two days after the IPCC's findings were made public, Oklahoma moved to make renewable energy more expensive, on purpose.
Utility customers who want to install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines could face extra charges on their bills after legislation passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday.
 
Senate Bill 1456 passed 83-5 after no debate in the House. It passed the Senate last month and now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin for her approval.
 
The bill was supported by the state's major electric utilities, but drew opposition from solar advocates, environmentalists and others. It sets up a process at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to establish a separate customer class and monthly surcharge for distributed generation such as rooftop solar or small wind turbines.
Just so we're clear, the climate crisis is getting worse; we'll have to act quickly to prevent a catastrophe; the use of renewable energy is an important part of the solution; and Oklahoma is poised to discourage consumers from using energy technologies that reduce emissions.
 
Sigh.
 
Away from Oklahoma, however, the White House is moving today in a more progressive direction.

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