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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.
Senator Ted Cruz pauses while speaking during the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville, S.C. on May 9, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

GOP candidates return money with white supremacist ties

06/22/15 03:34PM

Presidential candidates are generally in the habit of collecting, not giving away, as many campaign contributions as possible, but as msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported, there are exceptions.
Republican presidential candidates are returning donations tied to a white supremacist group purportedly cited by Dylann Storm Roof, the man authorities have charged with killing nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
 
Over the weekend, an online document emerged written by someone using the name Dylann Roof -- posting to a website registered using Roof's mother's home address -- with a lengthy, racist message. Of particular interest, the writer pointed to the Council of Conservative Citizens as a source of racist information.
That wouldn't be particularly relevant to electoral politics, were it not for the fact that the Council of Conservative Citizens' president, Earl Holt III, turns out to be a generous Republican donor. The New York Times reported this morning:
The leader of a white supremacist group that has been linked to Dylann Roof, the suspect in the murder of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns, including those of 2016 presidential contenders such as Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul, records show.
The story appears to have first been reported by The Guardian.
 
Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the GOP beneficiaries of Holt's contributions decided they didn't want anything to do with his financial support.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A new way to lead from behind

06/22/15 12:40PM

Asked about the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jeb Bush wants local policymakers to do the "right" thing, but he hasn't said what that is exactly. Ted Cruz, without a hint of irony, suggested the flag's critics are trying to "divide people." Scott Walker would prefer not to talk about it at all.
 
But to witness real evasiveness, turn your attention to Marco Rubio. Asked by Politico's Marc Caputo if South Carolina should move the flag, the Florida Republican delivered a lengthy, 211-word answer -- spanning 12 sentences -- that somehow managed to say very little.
"What's important to remember, because this is coming in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, is you have one individual with hate in his heart, who carried out an act motivated by racial hatred, And it's an atrocity. It's a horrifying instance. What I do think is important to remember is that the people of South Carolina have dealt with this issue before. They have found a bipartisan consensus over a decade ago on moving that flag to a new location. And I have confident in their ability to deal with that issue again.
 
"I think it's important to let the people of South Carolina move forward on it. They've shown an incredible ability to respond to these issues in the past -- as they've responded to recent events, not just this tragic murder that occurred by also the murder of a civilian by a police officer just a few months ago, And these communities are able to come together and deal with it. I've been impressed with the leadership of the state and the capacity of people to come together to take collective action. So this is an issue they should debate and work through and not have a bunch of outsiders going and them what to do about it."
So, Caputo tried again, asking whether or not he agrees with Mitt Romney's position. Rubio offered an 82-word response spanning seven sentences. And once again, the senator wouldn't answer the question directly.
 
Which led Caputo to try once more. Noting that Rubio said South Carolina policymakers will do the "right thing," the reporter asked, "Do you think the right decision is to take the flag down or moved to a new location?" But the senator wouldn't budge. He responded with an 89-word, five-sentence answer that again avoided taking a firm position.
 
When James Brown recorded, "Talkin loud and saying nothing," he didn't have Marco Rubio in mind, but he might as well have. Had the senator simply grunted and shrugged his shoulders, this would have conveyed just as much information as his actual response.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.22.15

06/22/15 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:
 
* In the new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Jeb Bush leads the Republicans' presidential field with 22% support, followed by Scott Walker with 17%. Marco Rubio is third with 14%, followed by Ben Carson at 11%. No other candidate reaches double digits. Remember, though national polls may seem unimportant at this stage, this year, they'll determine who gets to participate in primary debates.
 
* In the same poll, 75% of Republican voters said they could possibly see themselves supporting Bush in the GOP primaries. In March, that number was just 49%, which is a helpful reminder about the dubious reliability of early national polling.
 
* Campaigning in Iowa on Friday, Ted Cruz was comfortable already making gun jokes, telling an audience, "You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I'm pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas -- hitting what you aim at."
 
* If Democrats are going to win back the Senate in next year's elections, they're almost certainly going to need to win in Ohio. With this in mind, a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) by six, 46% to 40%.
 
* In Florida, where there will be an open-seat Senate race, Quinnipiac shows Democrats with an early advantage. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) has relatively comfortable leads over the likely Republican nominees in head-to-head match-ups.
 
* In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac offers Republicans some more encouraging news, with results that show incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) leading former Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by double digits, 47% to 36%.

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