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Image: Paul Ryan, Austin Smythe

Paul Ryan flubs family budgeting 101

04/14/14 11:43AM

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) turned to Twitter on Friday in the hopes of generating some support for his far-right budget plan. In the process, he pushed a very familiar line:
"Every family must balance its budget. Washington should too. Sign the petition to support a balanced budget."
Let's put aside for now the fact that Ryan's regressive budget plan doesn't actually balance in the way he claims. Let's instead focus on the first two-thirds of the congressman's message.
 
Long-time readers may recall that this is a frequent pet peeve of mine, but since we haven't covered it in a long while, let's review how very wrong Ryan is.
 
To be sure, I can appreciate the folksy appeal of the message -- the "every family must balance its budget" argument has a certain down-home, common-sense sort of quality to it. If American families and American businesses can't run massive deficits and borrow billions, the argument goes, why does the American government?
 
The point that generally gets lost is the detail that matters: families and businesses borrow money and run deficits all the time. Ryan may struggle with this, but it's a positive, not a negative, development.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the inaugural Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, New Hampshire April 12, 2014.

The desperate bid to keep the IRS 'scandal' alive

04/14/14 11:02AM

Back in November, a group of House Republicans talked up the idea of impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder. It was never altogether clear why, in their eyes, Holder deserved to impeached, but the half-hearted effort no doubt served as the basis for some nice fundraising appeals.
 
At the time, U.S. senators had the good sense of avoid the nonsensical anti-Holder nonsense, but that's apparently changed. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Sean Hannity that as far as he's concerned, impeaching the Attorney General would be a good idea. Why? Because of the IRS "scandal" that was discredited months ago.
"Among other things, Congress should impeach Eric Holder because Eric Holder is defying Congress and defying rule of law," Cruz said on Sean Hannity's radio show. [...]
 
The Justice Department is already investigating both Lerner and the agency, but their efforts have not gone far enough, Cruz said Thursday. "In the eight months that have transpired, not a single person has been indicted."
It's hard not to admire the logic. Holder launched an investigation to determine if the IRS violated the law, and so far, the Justice Department probe hasn't pointed to any wrongdoing. And if because Republicans just know the IRS did something wrong, it must be Holder's fault that no one's facing charges.
 
The possibility that this was always a trumped-up controversy based on nothing is never actually considered. If there's an investigation that turns up nothing, by definition, the investigation must have been wrong.
 
Making matters slightly more outlandish, Republicans believe they've uncovered a smoking gun that proves the IRS "controversy" is legitimate, but as is too often the case, the gun is shooting blanks.
 Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaks on a panel during the 41st annual Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center on March 8, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.

RNC unveils its '14 in '14' plan

04/14/14 10:20AM

When Democratic policymakers started a fight over the Paycheck Fairness Act, Republicans responded by dismissing it as a hollow, election-year stunt. Sure, it was a substantive policy response to a legitimate issue, but GOP officials said the debate itself was little more than a cheap political exercise -- which women voters would see through immediately.
 
And speaking of cheap political exercises that women voters will see through immediately...
The Republican National Committee plans to a new initiative, "14 in '14," to recruit and train women under age 40 to help spread the party's message in the final 14 weeks of the campaign. [...]
 
They are encouraging candidates to include their wives and daughters in campaign ads, have women at their events and build a Facebook-like internal database of women willing to campaign on their behalf.
I see. If Democrats push the Paycheck Fairness Act, they're cynically trying to give the appearance of helping women in the workplace. But if Republicans include more women in campaign ads, that's just quality messaging.
 
The "14 in '14" initiative, it's worth noting, is actually a fallback plan of sorts. The original strategy was to push "Project GROW," in which Republicans would recruit more women candidates to run for Congress in 2014. That project failed -- there are actually going to be fewer Republican women running for Congress in this cycle than in 2012.
 
Presumably, "encouraging candidates to include their wives and daughters in campaign ads" is intended to compensate for the misstep, while hoping voters overlook the GOP's opposition to pay-equity legislation and its preoccupation with issues such as restricting women's reproductive rights and access to contraception?
Former Arkansas Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee speaks at a GOP Freedom Summit, Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Manchester, N.H.

The Republican id, on full display

04/14/14 09:34AM

There will be plenty of cattle calls for Republicans with national ambitions in the coming months, but one notable event was held over the weekend in the nation's first primary state. The inaugural New Hampshire Freedom Summit, co-sponsored by the Koch brothers' Americans For Prosperity, Foundation*, drew quite a crowd of likely candidates: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Mike Huckabee, each trying to out conservative the other.
 
NBC's Mark Murray and Carrie Dann had a good piece on the event this morning, noting how clear it's become that today's Republican Party is "more distant from the Bush family" than at any point since early 2009.
At the [event] Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) delivered one of the more well-received lines at the conference when she criticized the Common Core education standards that Jeb Bush supports. "We need to replace Common Core with some common sense!" she said. In fact, NBC's Kasie Hunt says Common Core was the loudest applause line at the confab. The crowd also booed when another speaker, Donald Trump, mentioned Jeb Bush's recent remark that illegal immigration is an "act of love."
The Bushes support comprehensive immigration reform, but at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, immigration reform was a non-starter. The Bushes support Common Core education standards, but at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, Common Core is seen as a dangerous part of a government conspiracy. The Bush administration launched expansive government surveillance programs as part of a sweeping counter-terrorism agenda, but at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, the right has suddenly decided it finds such efforts outrageous.
 
Benjy Sarlin reported this jaw-droppper from Huckabee's speech: "My gosh, I'm beginning to think that there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States. When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position, people put hands all over me, and I have to provide photo ID and a couple of different forms and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane -- but if I want to go vote I don't need a thing."
 
Ordinarily, the right is content to compare contemporary life in the United States to Nazi Germany, so perhaps Huckabee's comparison of American policies to North Korea's dictatorship should be seen as progress?
 
That said, I don't recall the right raising similar concerns when the Bush/Cheney administration created many of these policies over a decade ago. Perhaps it's just a delayed reaction -- a very delayed reaction.
President Barack Obama addresses the National Action Network's 16th annual convention in New York, New York, April 11, 2014.

Obama calls out 'the real voter fraud'

04/14/14 08:35AM

It's easy to get inured to stories about voting restrictions. The imposition of new hurdles, intended to keep more Americans from participating in their own democracy, has been ongoing for about three years, and the tactics have become so common in so much of the country, maintaining a sense of outrage is simply exhausting.
 
But common or not, the outrageousness hasn't changed. The very idea that a major political party in a modern democracy has decided to give itself an electoral advantage by systemically and deliberately blocking voter access should be called what it is: a genuine national scandal.
 
Given this, it was heartening to see the issue get the spotlight by way of the president's bully pulpit.
The right to vote is under threat --  more now than any other point since the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965, President Obama announced Friday.
 
"The stark and simple truth is this -- the right to vote is threatened today -- in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," Obama said to the crowd at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference. [...]
 
The president condemned the recent surge in changes to voting laws and the Republicans leading the charge to curb access. Calling out voter ID measures, cuts to early and weekend voting, and restrictive laws on the books across the country, President Obama said the architects behind the changes are no longer operating under the pretext of battling voter fraud -- it's all partisan.
"[T]he real voter fraud," Obama said, "is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud."
 
The president added, "If your strategy depends on fewer people showing up to vote, that's not a sign of strength, it's a sign of weakness. What kind of political platform is that? Why would you make that part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?"
 
And in case that wasn't quite clear enough, Obama went on to say these efforts have "not been led by both parties. It's been led by the Republican Party."
 
The Republican response to the presidential criticism was disheartening.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) speaks during a news briefing after a House Republican Conference meeting January 14, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

On pay equity, if you're explaining, you're losing

04/14/14 08:00AM

During last week's debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, congressional Republicans insisted they were wholly unconcerned about facing a public backlash over killing the bill. In fact, they kept talking about how unfazed they were, over and over again, raising questions as to whether they were trying to convince us or themselves.
 
Over the weekend, perhaps unfamiliar with the phrase "doth protest too much," congressional Republicans continued to show just how unconcerned they are about the pay-equity debate by devoting their weekly national address to explaining themselves.
The House's highest-ranking female Republican sought to rebuff criticism over a move by Senate GOP lawmakers this week to block equal pay legislation.
 
"I have always supported equal pay for equal work," said Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in Saturday's weekly Republican address.
She added that existing laws are adequate in addressing wage discrimination before arguing, "[F]or women across American, it's not just about equal pay. It's about achieving a better life." The entirety of McMorris Rodgers' address is online here.
 
At this point, it appears the two sides of the debate are talking past one another. Democrats are saying, "Congress should approve remedies to prevent, discourage, and address unequal pay for equal work," to which Republicans keep replying, "We support equal pay for equal work."
 
But the asymmetry between them remains a problem. It's certainly nice that GOP policymakers support equal pay for equal work -- literally no one on Capitol Hill is running around publicly endorsing wage discrimination against women -- but the posture misses the point. The debate isn't about whether pay equity is worthwhile, but rather, how best to work towards the goal.
 
For Democrats, policies like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act -- two measures McMorris Rodgers and nearly all of her GOP colleagues voted to kill -- would represent important steps forward. Republicans, meanwhile, propose very little -- existing laws and the free market might someday work things out.

Feds blink and other headlines

04/14/14 07:51AM

Former KKK leader suspected in Jewish center attacks that killed three. (NBC News) Judge set to issue key Ohio gay-marriage ruling today. (USA Today) Feds ends standoff with Nevada rancher after armed militiamen take up his cause. (Reuters) Manhattan DA opens investigation into Port Authority, Christie administration. (NJ Star-Ledger) Geologists link small quakes in Ohio to fracking. (AP) read more

'You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way'

04/12/14 08:51PM

While the Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas this week drew a lot of attention for its commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, another significant civil rights milestone had an anniversary this week as well. This past Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of Marian Anderson's Easter performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Marian Anderson was already a famous singer when, in 1939, she was invited by Howard University to perform a concert. The university didn't have the space for the expected audience, so they asked the Daughters of the American Revolution if they could use Constitution Hall for the event.

But the Daughters of the American Revolution had a white-performers-only rule at the time, instituted in response to a previous black perfomrer who'd been offended by their segregated seating policy. So Anderson's recital was rejected.

Again, Anderson was quite popular at the time, world famous, and the outrage over her exclusion from the hall was considerable. Ultimately, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes agreed to allow Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. More than 75,000 showed up to hear her sing.

Meanwhile, among Anderson's fans was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who also happened to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The course of events so upset the first lady that she wrote the group's president general a withering letter, resigning her membership:

I am afraid that I have never been a very useful member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, so I know it will make very little difference to you whether I resign, or whether I continue to be a member of your organization.

However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obligated to send in to you my resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.

I realize that many people will not agree with me, but feeling as I do this seems to me the only proper procedure to follow.

After the jump, an image of a draft of the letter and a bit of video of Anderson's performance.

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Earth.

This Week in God, 4.12.14

04/12/14 09:04AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected controversy involving a group of folks who believe in something called "geocentrism."
 
For the last several centuries, people have generally understood that the Earth orbits our sun, along with several other planets that make up a solar system. This, in turn, is part of a larger galaxy, which is part of a vast universe with lots of galaxies. It's known as the heliocentric model.
 
But there's a group of religious activists for whom this doesn't sit well -- they believe the Bible puts the Earth as the center of the universe and argue that our sun orbits us. It is, to be sure, a small, fringe group of folks, but my friend Rob Boston reported this week that the "geocentrists" are making a movie, which caused a larger-than-expected stir this week.
[The geocentric] movement, led by an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic named Robert Sungenis, is making a play for the big time with a "documentary" they claim will soon appear in U.S. theaters.
 
The film is titled "The Principle," and you can watch a trailer here. You'll note that actual scientists like Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku -- both of whom I'm sure accept the heliocentric model -- appear in this film. I don't know how it happened, but I'm guessing that the producers didn't tell them upfront that it was a geocentricity film. (You'll note that the trailer doesn't either; very sneaky of them.)
By all appearances, the film is a pretty slick production, narrated by Kate Mulgrew (yes, Captain Janeway from "Star Trek: Voyager"). It wasn't long before lots of confused people started asking why notable figures from the worlds of science and entertainment would want anything to do with this fringe "documentary."
 
The answer, it turns out, is that they didn't do so knowingly. Krauss, for example, wrote a Slate piece this week explaining, "I have no recollection of being interviewed for such a film, and of course had I known of its premise I would have refused. So, either the producers used clips of me that were in the public domain, or they bought them from other production companies that I may have given some rights to distribute my interviews to, or they may have interviewed me under false pretenses, in which case I probably signed some release. I simply don't know."
 
Several other actual scientists featured in the film soon followed, saying they had been misled into participating in the project. For her part, Mulgrew this week issued a statement through Facebook, forcefully rejecting geocentrism and explaining that she'd been "misinformed" about the true nature of the film. The actor added that she "would most certainly have avoided" the project if she knew the truth about the filmmakers' intended agenda.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Tonight: An encore airing of Why We Did It

04/11/14 08:54PM

Tonight, as you likely know from having seen last night's preview, we present an encore airing of the Why We Did It documentary hosted by Rachel Maddow. Because this is technically an msnbc documentary and not a regular episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, we can't offer it in clips the same way. To watch the whole thing online, you can go through the msnbc iPhone app or through the episodes at Now.msnbc.com. And, of course, the Why We Did It site has a lot of extra video as well.

Now, if you're already seen Why We Did It and you're still looking for a Maddow fix, I've been holding onto a link for just this occasion...

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A woman casts' her vote at a polling station on Nov. 6, 2012 in Sugar Creek, Wis.

Why Petri's retirement matters

04/11/14 05:04PM

Something interesting always seems to come up late on a Friday afternoon. In the world of campaign politics, this qualifies.
Republican congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin says he will retire after more than 30 years in Congress.
 
In a statement on Friday, the congressman says he will make a formal announcement in his district on Monday on his plans not to seek re-election.
 
Petri is considered one of the more moderate Republicans in the House and was first elected in 1979.... He has easily won re-election in his Republican-leaning district in east central Wisconsin.
It's worth noting that Petri is actually quite conservative, but seems "moderate" in large part because his so many of his House Republican colleagues have moved to such an extreme. The Club for Growth scorecard, for example, gave him a 77% rating last year, leaving him further to the right than most GOP House members. Heritage Action awarded him a 68%, suggesting his voting record is slightly more conservative than Paul Ryan's.
 
A centrist he isn't.
 
That said, Petri's 6th district in Wisconsin is at least somewhat competitive -- Obama narrowly defeated McCain here in 2008 -- and it stands to reason the DCCC will make an effort to turn this into a legitimate race this fall, which wouldn't have happened if the incumbent sought another term.
 
What's more, the number of retirements is still steadily growing, and has nearly reached a two-decade high.
 
But that's not the interesting part. Rather, what stands out about Petri's announcement is the timing -- and his possible successor.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (C) (R-KY) answers questions following a weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2014 in Washington, DC

Picking the wrong fight over polls

04/11/14 03:24PM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) spokesperson turned to Twitter today to gloat about, of all things, a health care poll:
"We were told that #Obamacare would be popular after it passed, or implemented, or after open enrollment. Nope."
The tweet referred to a Gallup poll that shows approval of the Affordable Care Act climbing to 43%, which is five points higher than a few months ago, but which is still obviously short of a majority. As has been the case for years, the campaign to undermine support for "Obamacare" remains effective -- the law still isn't popular.
 
Of course, it's always best not to make too much of a fuss about any one poll, though in a case like this it doesn't much matter -- recent surveys show national ACA support anywhere from 37% to 49%. By any measure, it'd be silly to suggest the health care law is basking in the warm glow of Americans' undying love.
 
So, point for the Republicans. They've worked very hard to convince people not to like "Obamacare" and their efforts have paid dividends. The American mainstream tends to support the provisions within the law more than the law itself -- which casts some doubt as to just how much value these polls really have -- but for years of conditioning won't change overnight.
 
What's less clear is why in the world Mitch McConnell's office wants to pick a fight over polling and popularity.

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