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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.25.15

11/25/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* Keeping a level head: "President Obama tried to reassure nervous Americans on Wednesday that the nation’s security services were ready for anything terrorists might throw at them. Speaking on the eve of Thanksgiving, Obama said law enforcement officials have received no credible reports of 'a plot on the homeland' like the horrific Nov. 13 massacre in Paris."
* Turkey's version of events is under scrutiny: "Russia's foreign minister called the shooting down of one of its warplanes a planned provocation Wednesday but said Moscow was not going to declare war over the incident. Sergey Lavrov said Russia has 'serious doubts' that Turkey's downing of the plane was 'an unplanned act.'"
* Waiting for the signing statement in response to a flawed bill: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a $607 billion defense policy bill despite his opposition to restrictions in the legislation that ban him from moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States and making good on a long unfulfilled campaign promise."
* Related news: "Fourteen peace activists from across the United States will begin a protest vigil and fast along the perimeter fence of the US military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday in an attempt to draw attention to what they consider to be ongoing human rights abuses at the prison."
* Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, a "white 14-year veteran of Chicago’s police force, has been accused of misconduct 17 times before, according to data from the University of Chicago and the journalism non-profit Invisible Institute."
* Better understanding a tragedy: "A U.S. warplane attacked a medical charity's hospital in Afghanistan last month after its crew mistook it for a nearby government compound taken over by the Taliban in a 'tragic mistake,' a U.S. official said Wednesday."
An inmate stands by his cell door. (Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

A major hurdle imperils criminal-justice reform

11/25/15 04:26PM

Over the course of a few days in July, President Obama (1) commuted the sentences of dozens of non-violent drug offenders; (2) delivered a striking address at the NAACP’s annual convention on the need for criminal-injustice reform; and (3) became the first sitting president to personally visit a federal prison, even meeting with a group of non-violent convicts. Obama was putting criminal-justice issues in the national spotlight in ways few presidents ever have.
And in general, his Republican critics said very little in response. As we discussed at the time, it used to be any Democratic talk about criminal-injustice reforms would be met with immediate, knee-jerk talking points about “soft-on-crime” liberals who want to “coddle” criminals, but now, GOP leaders are "absolutely" on board with major, bipartisan reforms.
Proponents of change have been cautiously optimistic, recognizing that the pieces are in place. But the New York Times reports today that legislators have run into some trouble.
[A]s Congress works to turn those goals into legislation, that joint effort is facing its most significant test -- over a House bill that Koch Industries says would make the criminal justice system fairer, but that the Justice Department says would make it significantly harder to prosecute corporate polluters, producers of tainted food and other white-collar criminals.
The tension among the unlikely allies emerged over the last week as the House Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support, approved a package of bills intended to simplify the criminal code and reduce unnecessarily severe sentences.
That may sound uncontroversial, but as the Times report added, some environmentalists are concerned "the real motive of Charles Koch ... in supporting the legislation is to block federal regulators from pursuing potential criminal actions against his family’s network of industrial and energy companies, a charge the company denies."
A Justice Department spokesperson added, “Countless defendants who caused harm would escape criminal liability by arguing that they did not know their conduct was illegal.”
If this measure is so problematic, why not remove it from the larger package of reforms? If only it were that simple.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks in Davenport, Iowa, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Rubio not done fighting against marriage equality

11/25/15 12:51PM

For a presidential candidate who's often preoccupied with his youth and reputation for looking forward, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) policy vision can be strikingly regressive.
Marriage equality, for example, is already the law of the land in the United States, but Right Wing Watch flagged Rubio's new interview with Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, where the senator made clear he's not done fighting against equal marriage rights, calling the status quo "current law," but "not settled law."
"If you live in a society where the government creates an avenue and a way for you to peacefully change the law, then you’re called on to participate in that process to try to change it -- not ignoring it, but trying to change the law.
"And that's what we’re endeavoring to do here. I continue to believe that marriage law should be between one man and one woman."
For most of the country, there's a realization that there is no credible proposal to turn back the clock. Rubio didn't elaborate on how, exactly, he wants to "change the law" to prevent same-sex couples from getting married, and if he tried, he'd likely fail.
But the key here is understanding just how far the Florida senator is willing to go with the culture war. For Rubio, it's still not too late to bring back discriminatory marriage laws.
And then, of course, there are reproductive rights, where Rubio still intends to be the most far-right major-party presidential nominee of the modern era.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.25.15

11/25/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Iowa, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Hillary Clinton maintaining a fairly comfortable lead over Bernie Sanders, 51% to 42%, which is largely the same as the results from a month ago. Martin O'Malley remains a distant third with 4%.
* NBC News' Katy Tur noted last night that Donald Trump's campaign is now requiring reporters to have "bathroom escorts at his rallies."
* New Hampshire's Ballot Law Commission voted unanimously yesterday to dismiss a challenge to Bernie Sanders' ballot eligibility. The chairman of the state Democratic Party acknowledged that Sanders is technically an Independent, but the state and national parties recognize him as a Dem and support him competing in the Democratic primary.
* In Maryland's competitive Democratic Senate primary, the latest Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll shows Rep. Chris Van Hollen leading Rep. Donna Edwards, 45% to 31%. If Rep. Elijah Cummings enters the contest, he would lead a three-way affair, but Cummings has not yet announced his plans.
* The chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota apologized yesterday after a local GOP affiliate said Minnesota Democrats have a "negro problem."
Republican presidential candidate former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Nov. 13, 2015 in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Huckabee: Obama may want people 'to memorize Koran verses'

11/25/15 11:22AM

When it comes to right-wing rejection of Syrian refugees, Mike Huckabee was ahead of the curve. Back in September, when most policymakers were debating how many -- not if -- the United States would welcome fleeing families, Huckabee asked, “Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?"
After the terrorist violence in Paris, the former Arkansas governor's posture took an even uglier turn. After Huckabee used the attacks as a rationale for scrapping the Iran nuclear deal -- he didn't seem to realize ISIS and Iran are bitter enemies -- he went on to say refugees should “end up in the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives” or perhaps the “dorm rooms” at the University of Missouri.
This week, however, Huckabee is shifting his focus, directing his ire away from the refugees and towards the president trying to show leadership on the issue. Politico reported:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee charged Monday that President Barack Obama's "new domestic terrorism plan probably requires Americans to memorize Koran verses."
That line -- which has no basis in fact -- came in a new op-ed the 2016 Republican presidential candidate penned for
"Why does the Obama administration express more outrage at conservatives than at radical Islamic terrorists? President Obama seems more interested in protecting the reputation of Islam than protecting the American people," Huckabee wrote.
The Republican added that the refugees would be "unchecked" and "unscreened," which is a brazen lie.
Note, the fact that this was written is no small detail. It's easy to say stupid things on the fly, without giving the comments forethought, but when a national candidate writes ridiculous arguments in a published piece, it reinforces the deliberate nature of the absurdity.
In other words, Huckabee didn't just blurt out nonsense in an interview, failing to think his argument through; he went to the trouble of thinking about it, writing it down, and making ridiculous claims on purpose.
Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

ACA plays 'remarkable' role in cancer detection

11/25/15 10:40AM

As the Affordable Care Act has taken root, there's been quite a bit of anecdotal evidence pointing to people whose lives were saved -- quite literally -- by the law's existence. But at this point, we're also able to measure the ACA's efficacy beyond just the anecdotes.
The New York Times reported on a substantial increase in the number of young women who've been diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer, and there doesn't seem to be much of a mystery to explain the trend. Because "Obamacare" covers young adults before their 26th birthday, the percentage of uninsured 19- to 25-year-olds has plummeted.
You can probably guess what that means: more young women are able to see a doctor, more doctors are able to do cancer screenings, and more exams are detecting cancer at early stages. From the Times' report:
Researchers from the American Cancer Society wanted to examine whether the expansion of health insurance among young American women was leading to more early-stage diagnoses. Early diagnosis improves the prospects for survival because treatment is more effective and the chance of remission is higher. It also bolsters women’s chances for preserving their fertility during treatment. And women with health insurance are far more likely to get a screening that can identify cancer early.
Researchers used the National Cancer Data Base, a hospital-based registry of about 70 percent of all cancer cases in the United States. They compared diagnoses for women ages 21 to 25 who had cervical cancer with those for women ages 26 to 34, before and after the health law provision began in 2010.
The results painted a striking picture of increased early-stage diagnoses among the younger group, with no meaningful change in the older group.
One of the researchers, Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, said the effect of the Affordable Care Act is hard to miss, leading to results he described as "very remarkable."
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz takes the stage at the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 20, 2015. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Cruz: ISIS has already entered the United States

11/25/15 10:00AM

About a year ago, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) insisted ISIS militants had already entered the United States through the Southern border. All available evidence suggested his claims were completely untrue -- even his fellow Republicans said they had no idea what Hunter was talking about -- and it quickly became apparent that the threat wasn't real.
Thirteen months later, Ted Cruz isn't going quite as far as Hunter, but he seems to have headed down a similar path. BuzzFeed reported yesterday on the senator's recent chat with Glenn Beck.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said ISIS is already in the United States and more are coming.
“Well look, you’re right, eight Syrians were picked up in Texas trying to cross over illegally, and this is the consequence of the president refusing to enforce the law,” Cruz told radio host Glenn Beck last week. “We have a serious national security risk because our southern border is not enforced.”
When the host asked Cruz if he believes ISIS terrorists are already in the United States. "Of course they are,” the Republican presidential hopeful responded, which is why he intends to "secure the border."
While Hunter claimed to have secret information that couldn't be substantiated, Cruz is simply making assertions that don't stand up well to scrutiny.
For example, asked about ISIS members, Cruz immediately referenced eight Syrians "picked up in Texas." What the senator neglected to mention is every relevant detail: those eight people were asylum seekers, not terrorists. The incident wasn't evidence of ISIS militants reaching American soil; it was evidence of ISIS victims pleading for safe harbor.
As for Cruz's insistence that the Obama administration is "refusing" to take border security seriously, I have a strong hunch the senator knows he's not telling the truth.
Marco Rubio speaks during Republican presidential debate at Milwaukee Theatre, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Morry Gash/AP)

Rubio juggles principles, desire to win Iowa

11/25/15 09:20AM

Marco Rubio has a dilemma. The Florida senator clearly wants to win the Iowa Republican caucuses, which would help propel him to his party's presidential nomination. He also wants to defend his far-right policy priorities, which means opposing the ethanol mandate and taking aim at the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
The trouble, of course, is that those two goals are occasionally in conflict. The RFS is quite popular in Iowa, but it's also plainly at odds with Rubio's conservative agenda.
Threading this needle isn't easy, and Radio Iowa reported this morning on the line the senator has come up with.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio says he supports the so-called ethanol mandate -- now that it’s in place, but he favors letting it expire seven years from now.
“The Renewable Fuels Standard is not something that I would have voted for had I been in the Senate, but it is now existing law and I think it would be unfair to simply yank it away from people that have made investments based on its existence,” Rubio says.
As pandering goes, this talking point is almost plausible. Rubio doesn't like the RFS and wouldn't have voted for it when Congress approved the policy in 2005 (five years before Rubio was elected). He realizes, however, that the policy exists; it's popular; people have come to rely on it; and it's not reasonable for a Republican administration to simply "yank" the policy away from Americans to satisfy an ideological goal.
But couldn't this same principle have broad applications?
Image: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton

What the pro-schmooze pundits fail to understand

11/25/15 08:40AM

It's not exactly a secret that President Obama and congressional Republicans fail to see eye to eye, but for several years, a variety of Beltway pundits have argued that the president is to blame. Obama hasn't forged personal relationships with his GOP foes, the argument goes, which makes cooperation impossible.
If only the president "schmoozed" more, the pundits have said, he'd have more legislative successes.
I hope these same observers take note of an interesting piece U.S. News published yesterday, highlighting remarks former House Speaker John Boehner made in Florida earlier this month. The Ohio Republican said the political climate in D.C. is so toxic, he sometimes felt the need to "sneak into the White House to see the president."
When Obama played golf with Boehner a few years ago, he was criticized for only playing with him once. But it turns out that wasn't his fault. Boehner told the Naples group they had a "nice" game but he declined a couple of subsequent invitations in order to avoid irritating his "band of renegades" (his description of some of his fellow Republicans).
The exchange with Obama went like this, according to Boehner: "You think it would be too much trouble if we played golf again?" "Yes, Mr. President, I think it would be." To the audience, he added, "You just can't believe the grief I got."
Think about that. The president, trying to cultivate a relationship with the then-House leader, played a round of golf, which couldn't be repeated because House Republicans were outraged.
It's one thing for GOP lawmakers to resist policy compromises with a White House they hold in contempt, but these guys didn't even want Boehner socializing with Obama.
To be sure, part of the problem in a case like this relates to Boehner's weakness: a stronger Speaker would have simply told his members it's just golf and they shouldn't freak out with such ease.
But there's a larger point to the story that the pro-schmooze pundits should pause to appreciate.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump whispers across to Dr. Ben Carson during a debate held in Milwaukee, Wis., Nov. 10, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Trump, Carson blame media for their bogus 9/11 claim

11/25/15 08:00AM

It looked as if Donald Trump's bizarre lie about 9/11 had run its course, but the Republican presidential campaign apparently wants to keep the discussion going a little longer -- even throwing in a conspiratorial twist.
To briefly recap, the GOP frontrunner insists he saw news reports from 9/11 that Trump believes show “thousands and thousands” of Jersey City residents of Middle Eastern descent cheering when the Twin Towers fell. Those reports do not exist, but that hasn't stopped Trump from repeating the claim, over and over again, in recent days.
Team Trump has had multiple opportunities to walk this back. As TPM noted, it's instead doing the opposite.
Donald Trump’s campaign manager on Tuesday accused the media of coordinating an elaborate conspiracy to deny the billionaire's claim that “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey residents cheered the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“For the mainstream media to go out and say that this didn’t happen is just factually inaccurate,” Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said in an interview with Breitbart News. “We know it happened.”
Right Wing Watch posted the audio of Lewandowski's comments, in which he pretends fiction is fact.
Trump's special counsel, Michael Cohen, added on CNN yesterday that his client's numbers may be off, but that shouldn't matter. "Whether it’s 'thousands and thousands' or a thousand people or even just one person, it's irrelevant," he argued, adding, "What's important is that there are bad people among us."
Except, that doesn't make any sense. Trump has argued, repeatedly, that he saw video footage of thousands of people in New Jersey celebrating a devastating terrorist attack. Now his lawyer is saying it could have been one guy and we shouldn't be too picky about the details, while his campaign manager continues to insist the imaginary video exists, even if no one can find it, and this is all part of a conspiracy to help elect an "establishment candidate," who'll be "controlled by the special interests.”
All of this is seen as necessary, of course, to justify Trump's vision of registering Muslim Americans and spying on houses of worship.
Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump's bogus claim before changing his mind a few hours later, is also trying to blame news organizations. Politico reported yesterday: