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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.17.16

10/17/16 05:33PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mosul: "While Iraqi and Kurdish forces advanced on Mosul, the United Nations warned Monday that more than a million residents might try to get out before the fighting starts — and that ISIS could use them as 'human shields.'"

* Members of "the Crusaders" militia group were caught before they could kill anyone: "Three men accused of plotting to attack Somali immigrants in Kansas will remain in prison after being charged with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction."

* The prison population is now down to 60: "A longtime detainee at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who published a bestselling memoir of his treatment there was released on Monday, his lawyers and the Department of Defense said. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was sent back to his native Mauritania after 14 years of captivity, during which he was never charged with a crime."

* Hurricane Matthew: "Searchers found two more bodies inside vehicles submerged in floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina, increasing the death toll in the state to 26, Gov. Pat McCrory said on Saturday."

* Climate crisis: "Negotiators from more than 170 countries on Saturday reached a legally binding accord to counter climate change by cutting the worldwide use of a powerful planet-warming chemical used in air-conditioners and refrigerators."

* Guilty plea: "Retired Marine Gen. James 'Hoss' Cartwright was expected to plead guilty Monday to making false statements during a federal investigation into the leak of classified information about a covert U.S. cyber attack on Iran's nuclear program."

* Florida Supreme Court: "Florida's top court struck down part of the state's capital-punishment law by ruling that only a unanimous jury may recommend a death sentence, bringing the state in line with most of the country."

* An overdue shift: "The Obama administration on Friday lifted restrictions on how many cigars and bottles of rum Americans can bring back from Cuba, part of continuing efforts to mend more than five decades of strained relations between the nations."
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U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens during a news conference on the terror attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi Feb. 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

John McCain points to indefinite Supreme Court blockade

10/17/16 02:49PM

Remember that vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February? It was never filled. The high court still only has eight members, despite President Obama nominating a compromise choice who'd been recommended by Senate Republicans.

GOP senators -- sometimes with a straight face, sometimes while struggling to contain their snickering -- responded by saying their blockade, unprecedented in American history, would continue until after the 2016 presidential election, at which point they'd consider doing their constitutional duty.

Those talking points, however, were written when Republicans were still confident they'd control the White House in 2017. Now that the GOP is feeling pessimistic, those attitudes are starting to change. CNN reports today, for example, on Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) comments during a radio interview this morning in Philadelphia.
McCain promised that Republicans would be "united against any Supreme Court nominee" put forth by Clinton.

"I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up," McCain said. "I promise you...."
The radicalism of such a posture is hard to overstate. McCain is effectively vowing to leave his party's Supreme Court blockade in place indefinitely -- through 2020, at a minimum -- regardless of whom the American electorate chooses, regardless of the qualifications of the president's nominee.

The point of such a position isn't subtle: as far as John McCain is concerned, a Democratic president is, by definition, an illegitimate president. Advise and consent is a nice principle in our system of government, but to hear Arizona's senior senator put it, it's not nearly as important as raw, scorched-earth, partisan politics.
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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Why Obama's right to say democracy is 'on the ballot'

10/17/16 12:47PM

In a much-discussed speech last month at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event, President Obama told the audience, "If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake. All the progress we've made is at stake in this election. My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot."

This notion that democracy itself is facing a historic test resonated, and the president has started incorporating the line into other remarks.

But it's worth pausing to consider what the argument means, exactly. Why do Obama and other progressives believe democracy itself on the ballot in 2016? It's probably because Americans have arguably never seen a major-party presidential nominee as hostile towards democratic principles and institutions as Donald Trump.

The dynamic is actually getting worse as it appears more likely that the GOP candidate will lose. In recent weeks, voters have seen Trump call for the imprisonment of his rival candidate and her attorneys, condemn the free press and threaten to sue news organizations he disapproves of, attack the legitimacy of the American elections process, and suggest he may not concede the outcome of the presidential race. (This followed months in which Trump praised authoritarian regimes abroad.)

There is no precedent in the American tradition for a presidential hopeful to demonstrate quite this much hostility towards democratic norms -- and we haven't even gotten to Trump's calls for "poll monitoring." The Huffington Post noted yesterday that Trump "has explicitly and repeatedly warned of voter fraud -- and told his supporters to serve as poll monitors in precincts where illegal voting is most likely."
He's mentioned the issue on at least three occasions in rural or western parts of Pennsylvania, warning about the possibilities of cheating in Philadelphia. The argument has obvious racial overtones, since his audiences are almost entirely white, and Philadelphia, like most large cities, has a significant African-American population. [...]

[Mike] Pence, appearing on CBS "Face the Nation," also endorsed the call for poll monitoring, brushing off concerns that doing so might intimidate minority voters who would be more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton.
"People that are concerned about this election and about us preserving the one person, one vote that's at the very center of our American democracy, should become involved, should volunteer at their neighborhood polling place," Pence said. "That's how we ensure the accountability. Frankly, that's how we protect the integrity of the vote for Republicans, Democrats, Independents."

And what does this mean in practical terms? The Boston Globe talked to one Trump follower in Cincinnati who vowed to heed the candidate's call.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.17.16

10/17/16 12:00PM

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

* Mike Pence said yesterday that the Republicans' national ticket will "respect the outcome of this election." File that away for future reference.

* With three weeks remaining before Election Day, Donald Trump's campaign announced on Saturday that its state director in Ohio will no longer work with the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

* There's been quite a bit of speculation lately about whether or not Hillary Clinton's campaign will make an effort to win Arizona, and so it was of great interest this morning when Clinton's team announced First Lady Michelle Obama will headline a rally in Phoenix on Thursday.

* It's not just tweets that can provoke Trump; a comedy skit can do the same. Trump said over the weekend, "Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!"

* In what appears to be a first for a national major-party candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Clinton's running mate, delivered a campaign speech in Miami yesterday entirely in Spanish.

* The Clinton campaign released a new video yesterday, hoping to draw attention to one of Trump's more ridiculous allies. The video is called, "This is Alex Jones"

* As if Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) weren't facing enough trouble with his tough re-election fight, the longtime congressman is dealing with questions about his residency status in Missouri.

* The editorial board of the Charlotte Observer has been endorsing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in a variety of elections for 25 years. This year, however, it's recommending McCrory's gubernatorial opponent, state A.G. Roy Cooper (D).
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Pence, Trump find another key issue on which to disagree: Russia

10/17/16 11:27AM

One of the most memorable moments of the second 2016 presidential debate came when Donald Trump rebuked his own running mate. Co-moderator Martha Raddatz reminded the Republican nominee that Mike Pence, in the context of a discussion about U.S. policy in Syria, said "provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength."

After being reminded of the Indiana governor's argument, Trump said, "He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree. I disagree."

When it comes to Russia, this disagreement is part of a larger trend. Consider this on-air exchange between Pence and Fox News' Bret Baier yesterday:
BAIER:  Well, about the WikiLeaks e-mails, you know, I know you look at the substance of those and we've been covering the substance inside those emails as well, extensively here on FOX, but are you concerned at all about the fact that Russia, according to U.S. intelligence officials, has hacked into these computers and is, according to the intel officials, trying to influence this election in one way or another?

PENCE:  Well, I think there's no question that the evidence continues to point in that direction, and we should follow it where it leads.  And there should be severe consequences to Russia or any sovereign nation that is compromising the privacy or the security of the United States of America.
On "Meet the Press," Pence also told NBC News' Chuck Todd, "I think there's more and more evidence that, that implicates Russia. And there should be serious consequences."

Asked why his running mate disagrees, Pence changed the subject -- which may be understandable, but is also untenable.
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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) pauses while speaking to the media after closed-door meeting with House Republicans, on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

The Trump vs. Ryan bout goes another round

10/17/16 10:52AM

Donald Trump has spent much of the last few days trying to convince Americans not to trust the integrity of the election system, which the Republican presidential candidate believes without evidence is "rigged." The argument is so wrong, and so corrosive, that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) felt compelled to say he's "fully confident" the elections will be carried out fairly.

It was a subtle rebuke -- the Speaker's office didn't criticize the GOP presidential nominee specifically -- but Ryan's willingness to defend the American system of elections nevertheless seemed to infuriate Trump. The Republican presidential hopeful tweeted yesterday afternoon:
"The Democrats have a corrupt political machine pushing crooked Hillary Clinton. We have Paul Ryan, always fighting the Republican nominee!"
Trump added soon after:
"Paul Ryan, a man who doesn't know how to win (including failed run four years ago), must start focusing on the budget, military, vets etc."
Remember, in this case, all Ryan did was say, through a spokesperson, "Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the Speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity."

It was enough to reinforce Trump's case that Ryan -- the Republican leader who continues to endorse Trump's candidacy -- is an enemy. The candidate's offensive against the House Speaker began in earnest last week; it reached a new level when Trump accused Ryan of being part of a "sinister" conspiracy against the GOP ticket; and it includes Trump allies making some pretty bizarre allegations against the Wisconsin congressional leader.

Indeed, Sean Hannity, one of Trump's most enthusiastic media allies, publicly reiterated his belief on Friday that Republicans need to replace Paul Ryan -- with someone even more right-wing.
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A Washington Post newspaper box (L) stands beside the empty box of competitor Washington Times (R) outside the Washington Post on August 5, 2013 in Washington, DC, after it was announced that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had agreed to purchase...

Newspaper editorial boards back Clinton, but it's not a shutout

10/17/16 10:30AM

Presidential endorsements from newspaper editorial boards aren't generally a national political story, but as is true in so many ways, this isn't a normal year.

There are, to be sure, notable endorsements based on the strengths of their arguments. The Washington Post's case in support of Hillary Clinton -- who has "the potential to be an excellent president," the editors wrote -- is compelling and persuasive.

But some endorsements raise eyebrows because they're so unexpected. The editorial board of Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska, for example, hasn't backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1932, but it's nevertheless recommending Clinton this year.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, this is part of a trend: the Dallas Morning News endorsed the Democratic candidate for the first time since before World War II; the Cincinnati Enquirer backed Clinton despite nearly a century of uninterrupted Republican endorsements; the same is true of the Columbus Dispatch; the Arizona Republic, for the first time since launching in 1890, announced its support for a Democrat over a GOP nominee; and the San Diego Union Tribune endorsed a Dem for the first time in 148 years.

As it turns out, some Trump fans aren't pleased with newspaper editorial boards that dare to defy the Republican candidate. Some Arizona Republic readers, for example, contacted the paper with threats to burn down the building and kill its editors. Mi-Ai Parrish wrote a terrific piece responding to those who made the threats.
To the anonymous caller who invoked the name of Don Bolles -- he's the Republic reporter who was assassinated by a car bomb 40 years ago -- and threatened that more of our reporters would be blown up because of the endorsement, I give you Kimberly. She is the young woman who answered the phone when you called. She sat in my office and calmly told three Phoenix police detectives what you had said. She told them that later, she walked to church and prayed for you. Prayed for patience, for forgiveness. Kimberly knows free speech requires compassion.

To those who said we should be shut down, burned down, who said they hoped we would cease to exist under a new presidential administration, I give you Nicole. She is our editor who directs the news staff, independent of our endorsements. After your threats, Nicole put on her press badge and walked with her reporters and photographers into the latest Donald Trump rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz. She stood as Trump encouraged his followers to heckle and boo and bully journalists. Then she came back to the newsroom to ensure our coverage was fair. Nicole knows free speech requires an open debate.

To those of you who have said that someone who disagrees with you deserves to be punished, I give you Phil. Our editorial page editor is a lifelong Republican, a conservative and a patriot. He was an early voice of reason, arguing calmly that Donald Trump didn't represent the values of the party he loves. Phil understands that free speech sometimes requires bravery.
It continues from there and the piece is well worth your time.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump's latest accuser: 'He can't claim we're all liars'

10/17/16 10:00AM

When some women went on the record last week to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, many wondered if the published allegations would lead to additional accusers. They have, and the Guardian reported on the latest over the weekend.
On 7 October, as the political world convulsed from the revelation that Trump had bragged about kissing and groping women without their consent, Cathy Heller, 63, was sitting in her New York home fielding incredulous emails from a friend.

"I keep thinking about how he treated you," her friend wrote, hours after showing Heller the tape. "Obviously not an isolated incident."

It was a story Heller had told many friends and family members over the years, but is only now telling in public. Some 20 years ago, she claims, when she met Donald Trump for the first and only time, he grabbed her, went for a kiss, and grew angry with her as she twisted away. "Oh, come on," she alleges that he barked, before holding her firmly in place and planting his lips on hers.
Heller told the Guardian, in reference to the Republican presidential nominee, "He can't claim we're all liars," Heller said.

Trump and his campaign team continue to insist the GOP candidate did nothing wrong and his accusers' claims are unfounded. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Trump was recorded bragging about committing sexual assault, including boasts that he kisses women without their consent when he considers them attractive. "I don't even wait," Trump said in 2005, adding that he can get away with such behavior because of his public profile.

In other words, Cathy Heller's allegations appear consistent with Trump's description of his own behavior.

Accounts vary, but Heller appears to be the 10th woman to raise allegations against Trump over the last week, and NBC News has a rundown of the various claims.

Team Trump's pushback against the accusations hasn't gone smoothly.
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a fundraiser at the Civic Center Auditorium in San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 13, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Latest polls show Trump behind, Clinton in the 2016 driver's seat

10/17/16 09:30AM

Election Day is still 22 days away, and a lot can happen in three weeks, but in light of the latest polling in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton has to like her chances.
Hillary Clinton is ahead of Donald Trump by double digits with just over three weeks until Election Day, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted entirely after the second presidential debate.

In a four-way race, Democrat Clinton holds an 11-point lead over Republican Trump among likely voters, 48 percent to 37 percent, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at 7 percent and the Green Party's Jill Stein at 2 percent. In a two-way contest without Johnson and Stein, Clinton is ahead by 10 points, 51 percent to 41 percent.
Note, not every poll shows Clinton with an advantage nearly that large. Yesterday, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found a far more competitive race, with the former Secretary of State leading by just four points, with Trump drawing support from GOP partisans -- including many of those who believe he's guilty of sexually assaulting women.

Obviously, there's a pretty significant difference between a 4-point race and an 11-point race, which is why averages help paint a broader picture. Polling aggregators now put Clinton's lead between five and seven points. In the modern polling era, no candidate has ever overcome that kind of deficit in in an election's closing weeks.

Also of interest, the Wall Street Journal added, "The clearest dividing line in this year's presidential election now falls along educational lines: Whites without a college degree have consolidated behind Donald Trump and those with a four-year degree are tending to back Hillary Clinton." This is consistent across multiple surveys over the course of several months: the more formal education a voter has received, the more likely he or she is to support Clinton.
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For his next trick, Trump calls for candidate drug tests

10/17/16 09:00AM

Thirty years ago, during a heated re-election campaign, Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) faced a challenger who dared him to take a drug test. "I'll take a drug test if you take an I.Q. test," Hollings responded.

It's hard not to wonder if Hillary Clinton had a similar thought over the weekend.
Donald Trump took aim at the war on drugs on Saturday — by challenging Hillary Clinton to take a drug test.

"Athletes, they make them take a drug test," Trump said at a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, rally. "We should take a drug test prior to the debate because I don't know what's going on with her. But at the beginning of her last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning. And at the end ... she could barely reach her car."

"I'm willing to do it," he added.
This is ordinarily about the point at which I'd let readers know whether or not a candidate was kidding, but in all candor, I have no idea if Trump actually believes what he says. It's possible he doesn't know, either.

When we talk about trolls in the political discourse, we're not referring to small, mythical creatures who live under bridges; we're referring to people who intentionally say ridiculous things in order to get attention and rile those who disagree with them.

Donald Trump is the first major-party presidential nominee whose entire candidacy is an elaborate trolling exercise -- and his call for drug tests is only the most recent evidence.
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