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Extending a 'long, sad, and shameful tradition'

07/15/14 09:08AM

The Texas Observer had a report the other day quoting historian Charles Rosenberg's book, The Cholera Years. In it, Rosenberg noted that when Irish immigrants reached New York in the 1830s, they suffered disproportionately from cholera because they lived in poor and crowded neighborhoods.
Instead of working to help them, the report added, the medical profession blamed the disease on immigrants being "exceedingly dirty," and Irish people were routinely refused medical care.
Regrettably, as NBC's Maggie Fox explained yesterday, history sometimes repeats itself.
Doctors say they are concerned about false rumors and "hysteria" that the unaccompanied children coming across the border from Mexico into Texas are carrying diseases such as Ebola and dengue fever.
The rumors have been carried on anti-immigration websites but have made it onto some mainstream media sites and they've even caught the eye of a member of Congress.
Leading the charge is Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), who recently told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there have been "reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases," including the Ebola virus. The right-wing congressman also complained that many of the children "lack basic vaccinations."
Let's pause to note a few pertinent details that Gingrey, himself a physician by trade, might have missed.
Florida Gov. Scott Visits Opening Of Advanced Pharma Facility- 09/25/13

Rick Scott discovers the value of repetition

07/15/14 08:39AM

One of the first truly great examples of the phenomenon came to public light three years ago. British Labour leader Ed Miliband was being interviewed by the BBC about controversial public strikes, and Miliband managed to repeat the exact same phrases, word for word, over and over again, regardless of the question.
From a journalistic perspective, it was dreadful. From a political perspective, it was a rhetoricians' case study on how to stay on-message. After all, when someone is being interviewed for later broadcast, he or she has no idea which comment will actually reach the public. The only way Miliband could be absolutely certain his message will be aired was to offer only one message -- regardless of the question.
Since then, we've had some fun documenting similar examples. In 2012, for example, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) threw around some ugly anti-Obama rhetoric, questioning the president's birthplace and patriotism. Pressed for an explanation, Coffman talked on camera to a local reporter, but instead of answering the questions, the conservative congressman just kept repeating the same phrases ad nauseum until the reporter gave up.
Soon after, a far-right congressional candidate in Arizona named Jesse Kelly tried the same tack following revelations he'd received support from a group tied to white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
This week, it's Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) turn.
A police union official filed a complaint Thursday with the Florida Elections Commission, accusing Gov. Rick Scott of illegally coercing on-duty police officers to attend a campaign event in Tampa on Monday.
The complaint was filed by Jeff Marano of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a union supporting Scott's leading Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist. Marano is president of the PBA's Broward County chapter.
Under Florida law, it's a first-degree misdemeanor for a public official to "directly or indirectly coerce" any employee to engage in political activity, and employees are prohibited from doing so while working.
The Republican governor, of course, is in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, and it's not exactly helpful that Scott has been accused of coercing on-duty police officers to play the role of political props. Yesterday, he responded to questions about the flap.
A voter walks to an empty electronic voting booth at a Madison, Miss., precinct, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

Guns in the voting booth?

07/15/14 08:00AM

Voters in Alabama can head to the polls today, casting a ballot in several statewide, runoff primaries. And though none of the races has generated national attention, there is some interest in what Alabamans can bring with them into the voting booth. Michael Wines reported the other day:
When Jimmy Allen walked into the polling station at the Lakeview Volunteer Fire Department on June 3 to cast his ballot in Alabama's primary election, he had no idea that the .40-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P Pro Series C.O.R.E. pistol strapped to his side -- a weapon that fires 15 rounds from a single clip, plus the one already in the chamber -- would raise eyebrows.
Mr. Allen votes regularly, and no one had given his gun so much as a second glance before. But on this day, a polling official -- his Aunt Rita, actually -- took issue.
"She threw her hands in the air and said, 'No guns allowed!' " Mr. Allen recalled last week. "I laughed, because I thought she was being funny."
But Aunt Rita wasn't kidding. As the New York Times' report explained, the Alabama Sheriffs Association had encouraged each of the state's counties to ban unconcealed firearms from polling places, hoping to prevent voters from being frightened at their local voting precinct.
In this case, Jimmy Allen agreed to leave his loaded gun in his car, then returned to vote, and then left.
But as it turns out, that was the start, not the end, of the broader controversy.

Another Murrieta? and other headlines

07/15/14 07:57AM

White House looks at executive actions on immigration reform. (The Hill)

House GOP to unveil border plan today. (The Hill)

Will Arizona town block migrant children, Murrieta-style? (AZcentral)

V.A. cites progress on backlog; Congress disagrees. (AP)

Plaintiff in landmark campaign finance case wades into Mississippi Senate fight. (Politico)

Israeli security cabinet accepts ceasefire proposal. (NY Times)

Iraqi Parliament elects Speaker in effort to form new government. (NY Times)

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Ahead on the 7/14/14 Maddow show

07/14/14 07:56PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Alan Gomez, reporter covering immigration issues for USA Today
  • Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times columnist, co-host of Squawk Box on CNBC, and the author of "Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System, and Themselves"
  • David Boucher, capitol bureau chief for the Charleston Daily Mail

Here's executive producer Bill Wolff with tonight's preview:

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.14.14

07/14/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Honduras: "A group of families who crossed into the U.S. illegally were flown back to Central America Monday, beginning a wave of deportations that Department of Homeland Security officials said are expected to pick up in 'coming days and weeks.'"
* On the other hand: "The White House said Monday it was 'likely' that immigrant children facing mortal danger in their home countries would be allowed to stay in the United States."
* Crisis in Israel: "Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead."
* Afghan diplomacy: "After nearly 12 hours of often tense negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Saturday that Afghanistan would audit all eight million votes cast in a runoff presidential election last month as part of a deal to end a tense power struggle between the top two candidates."
* Libya: "The United Nations on Monday pulled its staff out of Libya where at least 13 people have been killed in fighting in the eastern city of Benghazi and in Tripoli, forcing the closure of the international airport."
* Ukraine: "Ukraine's top defense official said Monday that Russia may have shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane, an action that would represent a dramatic new step in the months-long conflict that has engulfed eastern Ukraine."
* Someone wants attention again: "North Korean leader Kim Jong Un flexed his military muscles again Monday as his country fired more than 100 rockets and artillery shells into the sea near the border with South Korea, just a day after firing two ballistic missiles over the peninsula."
* Wall Street: "Citigroup has agreed to pay $7 billion to settle with the Justice Department over accusations of misdeeds in the lead-up to the financial crisis, including what Attorney General Eric Holder is calling 'the largest penalty to date of its kind.' The settlement includes $4 billion in civil penalties, $2.5 billion in aid to consumers, and $500 million in restitution to the FDIC and five states that bought faulty mortgage-bond securities from the banking giant."
* This matters: "The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded seven small earthquakes shaking central Oklahoma in a span of about 14 hours. The temblors are part of an increase in earthquakes across Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas that some scientists say could be connected to the oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, and especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters, June 10, 2014.

Mitch McConnell's old, new agenda

07/14/14 04:48PM

The headline on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) USA Today op-ed came as something of a surprise: "Mitch McConnell: Unemployed Americans need action."
Why, yes, actually they do. Does that mean the Republicans' Senate leader is prepared to champion jobless benefits? No, McConnell doesn't mean that kind of action. Does it mean the GOP incumbent intends to fight for greater investment in infrastructure and education? No, he doesn't mean that kind of action, either.
As it happens, McConnell, who opposed even modest, bipartisan measures like the Family and Medical Leave Act, has a different platform in mind.
Today, millions of Americans remain unemployed. But even for those lucky enough to have a job, things have never seemed tougher. Outdated policies diminish opportunities in the workplace, leaving many torn between the demands of work and family. And between car payments, a mortgage, out-of-control tuition, and the rising energy and medical costs many face, there's often little left for anything else.
Easing this middle-class squeeze is a top priority for Republicans.
That all sounds quite nice, doesn't it? McConnell, who's made repealing health care benefits for working families a top priority, added that he wants to ease the middle-class squeeze by moving past "the failed policies of the past and toward the actual needs and realities of today's working families."
OK, but what kind of policy would address the actual needs and realities of today's working families?
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

'What's being done here is totally inconsistent'

07/14/14 03:49PM

To say that the Republican-led House is doing absolutely nothing isn't entirely fair. The GOP majority isn't just sitting around, waiting for time to elapse; it's also approving tax breaks without paying for them.
The House voted Friday to make permanent a temporary tax break that makes it easier for businesses to invest in new equipment, one of many expired tax breaks that Congress must deal with by the end of the year.
The tax break allows businesses to more quickly write off the costs of new equipment, making it popular among business groups. But the White House has threatened a veto because the bill would add $287 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade.
Final vote was 258 to 160. The roll call is online here.
At issue is a policy called "bonus depreciation," which was part of the bipartisan, 2008 economic stimulus measure, and which allows companies to quickly write off the cost of capital investments. The idea is to encourage businesses to buy property and/or equipment, knowing it can deduct more of the cost up front under the tax break.
The policy expired at the end of 2013. House Republicans don't only intend to bring it back, they also want to make it permanent, along with a handful of related tax measures, which combined cost about $287 billion over the next decade.
And how, pray tell, do GOP lawmakers intend to pay for this? That's the amazing part -- they don't even bother to try. When Democrats want to invest in infrastructure and jobless benefits, Republicans insist every penny be offset, but when the issue is permanent tax breaks, money is no object.
It fell to Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, to explain, "What's being done here is totally inconsistent."
Which is both true and an understatement.
Chris Christie

The absence of his convictions

07/14/14 12:41PM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) held a wide-ranging press conference yesterday at an event in Tennessee, inexplicably calling the Affordable Care Act a "failure" despite all the evidence to the contrary, and blaming violence in Israel on the Obama administration for reasons that don't make sense.
But those rhetorical shots were easy, and the fact that there were wide-ranging questions doesn't necessarily mean there were wide-ranging answers. Time's Zeke Miller reported that Christie is "making moves to prepare for a presidential run," but the governor does not "answer questions like a presidential candidate."
Sometimes the straight-talking governor of New Jersey doesn't talk all that straight. Gov. Chris Christie casts himself as a decider, steering his state through rough economic waters, while setting himself up for a run for the White House. At the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville on Saturday, Christie lambasted the Obama administration's Middle East policy and its inability to negotiate with Congress.
But he skipped as many issues as he took on. Just what he would do when faced with some of the nation's hardest policy challenges remains unclear.
Should lawmakers raise the gas tax to pay for transportation projects? Christie didn't want to give an opinion. Should unaccompanied minors from Central America be sent back? Christie said he's "not going to get into all that." Should the U.S. intervene militarily against Hamas? Christie dodged that, too.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it keeps happening. Christie presents himself as a bold trailblazer, ready to lead his party and his nation, but when asked for his opinions on current events, suddenly the tough-talking governor seems rather shy.
Traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 65 northbound as officials work to clear abandoned vehicles in Hoover, Ala. Jan.  29, 2014.

Good news, bad news on the Highway Trust Fund

07/14/14 12:01PM

Congress has just a few weeks remaining until the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money. To put it mildly, that would be extraordinarily bad for the economy -- the Highway Trust Fund finances nearly all federally-supported transportation infrastructure in the United States. If the fund is exhausted, 700,000 workers would no longer have a job and infrastructure projects nationwide would be abandoned -- before they're done.
Indeed, there's some evidence congressional delays have already undermined the economy, preventing the start of some construction projects that couldn't begin because local officials weren't sure if Capitol Hill would act on the highway bill before the deadline or not.
The good news is, Congress wants to restore Highway Trust Fund resources, preventing a disaster. The bad news is, lawmakers disagree about literally every other facet of the debate.
President Obama already sent a strong infrastructure package to Capitol Hill, which would give the economy an important boost, and which Republicans immediately said they would not pass. The Senate Democratic majority also prioritized a long-term extension for the Highway Trust Fund, which GOP lawmakers also rejected.
This, in turn, left lawmakers scrambling, looking at a variety of bad choices, none of which they have time to debate in earnest. And that has led Congress to once again turn to its old standby: a short-term fix, which will prevent a crisis while kicking the can down the road.
Of course, even short-term fixes have to be paid for. Josh Barro reports on the House Republicans' preferred approach.
The latest proposal, which passed the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, works like this: If you change corporate pension funding rules to let companies set aside less money today to pay for future benefits, they will report higher taxable profits. And if they have higher taxable profits, they will pay more in taxes over the 10-year budget window that Congress uses to write laws. Those added taxes can be diverted to the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
Unfortunately, this gimmick will also result in corporations paying less in taxes in later years, when they have to make up for the pension payments they're missing now. But if it happens more than 10 years in the future, it doesn't count in Congress's method for calculating budget balance. "Fiscal responsibility," as popularly defined in Washington, ignores anything that happens after 2024.
Many of you are probably thinking, "There has to be an easier way for the nation to build highways." And there is. It's just that Republicans don't like it, so it won't happen.

The marriage-equality wedge turns its blade

07/14/14 11:01AM

For quite a while, conservatives used marriage equality as a culture-war "wedge issue," taking advantage of the fact that the public was broadly opposed to equal-marriage rights.
Lately, however, the blade of the wedge has turned. Marriage rights aren't separating the mainstream from the left; they're separating Republicans from other Republicans.
While the Republican Party's religious conservatives continue to fight against same-sex marriage, its governors appear to be backing off their opposition -- in their rhetoric, at least.... "I don't think the Republican Party is fighting it," Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker said of gay marriage. He spoke with The Associated Press during an interview this weekend at the National Governors Association in Nashville.
"I'm not saying it's not important," continued Walker, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid should he survive his reelection test this fall. "But Republicans haven't been talking about this. We've been talking about economic and fiscal issues. It's those on the left that are pushing it."
If the point is that the left is "pushing" civil rights for same-sex families, then Walker's argument has some merit.
But the rest of the governor's pushback falls short. For one thing, a party emphasizing  opposition to reproductive rights, opposition to contraception, opposition to immigration, and impeachment can't claim to be "talking about economic and fiscal issues." It's just silly.
For another, Walker might have missed all the Republicans talking about same-sex marriage.
Senator John McCain , R-Ariz., talks to reporters after a closed meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 8, 2014.

The right's ahistorical look at global 'turmoil'

07/14/14 10:28AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made yet another Sunday-show appearance yesterday and offered some historical perspective that stood out as interesting. Asked about the disagreement over foreign policy between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), McCain replied:
"So I'm not particularly interested in getting between Senator Paul and Governor Perry, but I do believe that the things we're seeing in the world today, in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime, is a direct result of an absence of American leadership."
Now, for McCain, the "absence of American leadership" roughly translates to "we're not engaged militarily in enough foreign countries," so this is obviously easy to dismiss.
But to believe the world is in "greater turmoil" than at any time in McCain's lifetime is an amazing claim. I suppose there's some subjectivity to this -- one observer's turmoil may be another's unrest -- but John McCain was born in 1936.
I mention this because his lifetime includes the entirety of World War II and the beginning, middle, and end of the Cold War. McCain wants to talk about global "turmoil"? We can have a spirited chat about Hitler taking swaths of Europe while Japan invaded China. That's "turmoil." By comparison, today's global stage is almost tranquil.
McCain added in the same interview, "I would argue that given conditions in the Middle East, this might be more dangerous than any time in the past."
Really? Any time? Conditions are more dangerous now than during any Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian revolution, the Egyptian revolutions, every Islamic uprising and civil war of the 1970s, and the rise of al Qaeda?
This is not to say the Middle East is a model of stability right now, but to say that it's "more dangerous" than at "any time in the past" is a little over the top.