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An unidentified 11-year-old girl logs into Facebook on her iPhone at her home in Palo Alto, Calif. in 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

The 'iPhone party'?

04/21/14 10:14AM

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) delivered his party's weekly address on Saturday and introduced an interesting political frame.
"Just imagine if instead of mandating things for you to do, your government became a platform, just like your iPhone, enabling you to create a happier, safer, more prosperous life," Alexander said as he pushed for school vouchers and Medicaid block grants. [...]
 
"Republicans want to enable and empower you," Alexander said. "We want to be the iPhone party. We believe government ought to be a platform that gives you opportunity and freedom to create a happier, more prosperous, and safer life."
Alexander went on to tell his audience, "Imagine your government as your iPhone," adding, "Just imagine the Internal Revenue code, the Food and Drug Administration, or the Labor Department enabling you rather than ordering you around."
 
As a practical matter, I'm not sure who the senator's target audience is intended to be. If we were to ask 1,000 randomly selected Americans how many of them routinely feel as if the FDA and Labor Department "order them around," I suspect the number would be pretty tiny. In fact, I imagine for most folks, the FDA is largely in the background, looking after the safety of our food and medicine, but never actually telling us what to do.
 
Regardless, I'm intrigued by the Republicans' willingness to become "the iPhone party." People like smart phones, and "empowering" people certainly sounds nice, so if the GOP is gearing up for Rebranding Campaign Version 6.0, maybe this effort will resonate more than the others.
 
Or maybe not.
Protester Eric Parker aims his weapon next to the Bureau of Land Management's base camp where seized cattle are being held near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 12, 2014.

Heller sees Bundy, allies as 'patriots'

04/21/14 09:27AM

Last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to the standoff at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch in very forceful terms. "Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not," Reid said. "They're nothing more than domestic terrorists,"
 
A day later, Reid appeared alongside his fellow Nevada senator, Republican Dean Heller, for a joint appearance on Las Vegas' NBC affiliate. They apparently don't see eye to eye.
"What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots," GOP Sen. Dean Heller said during the rare joint appearance on KSNV-TV. "We have a very different view on this." [...]
 
"It's a pretty broad brush," Heller said Reid is using in making the "domestic terrorist" charge. "When you have boy scouts there, you have veterans at the event, you have grandparents at the event."
I think it's probably safe to say Reid, when raising the specter of domestic terrorism, was referring to well-armed militia activists who risked creating a violent incident at Bundy's ranch, not boy scouts.
 
Heller added, "I take more issues with BLM coming in with a paramilitary army of people, individuals with snipers, and I'm talking to people and groups that were there at the event, and to have your own government with sniper lenses on you, it made a lot of people very uncomfortable."
 
Note, when Heller complains about "a paramilitary army of people" and "snipers," the Republican senator isn't referring to the militia members; he's talking about U.S. officials and those helping enforce federal law.
 
In general, Republicans have avoided this sort of rhetoric.
Alena Yarmosky holds a sign outside the Supreme Court of the United States on March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Conservatives' exaggerated sense of contraception access

04/21/14 08:42AM

A couple of years ago, when conservative opposition to contraception access was starting to become more common, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was asked about the millions of American women who can't afford access to birth control. The Republican replied, "My wife actually went online here in Wisconsin and typed in, 'what if I can't afford birth control?' Came up, bam. If you can't afford it, you can get birth control in this country."
 
Asked what he meant, Johnson added, "You can get it. Go online, type it in. It's easy to get."
 
It seemed that in the senator's mind, women can go online and "bam," contraceptives are readily available for little or no cost.
 
Yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation," the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan sounded a similar note. After endorsing the Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court, which says employers can deny birth control coverage to employees because corporations are people with their own distinct religious belief, Dolan was asked about the dangers of a private company using religion to deny benefits to its employees.
"It could [set a dangerous precedent]. As you know, they're arguing that, and the Supreme Court, in the past, if I understand correctly, has said in general, the bias is on the side of the rights of conscience and religious liberty. There may be occasions when that is so detrimental to the common good that it will outweigh it.
 
"Is this one of them? I mean is the ability to buy contraceptives that are now widely available? By Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-Eleven or any shop on any street in America and have access to them."
Perhaps Cardinal Dolan and I go to very different kinds of convenience stores.
A U.S. Navy handout picture dated September 29, 2010 showing U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) conducting an operational tomahawk missile launch.

Foreign policy and the definition of 'manhood'

04/21/14 08:00AM

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded a deeply pessimistic note about Russian incursions into Ukraine. "I think we're going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it's going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occurs," Corker told David Gregory.
 
Naturally, the Republican senator blamed the Obama administration, complaining that U.S. foreign policy "is always a day late and a dollar short," adding that that Russia's actions are emblematic of the "era of permissiveness the U.S. has created around the world."
 
It was the New York Times' David Brooks, however, that took this same line of criticism to its "crude" limit.
"Basically since Yalta we've had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders and once that comes into question if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world all bets are off.
 
"And let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he's not tough enough."
As Ben Armbruster noted, Chuck Todd echoed the sentiment, adding, "By the way, internally, they fear this. You know, it's not just Bob Corker saying it, okay, questioning whether the president is being alpha male. That's essentially what he's saying: He's not alpha dog enough. His rhetoric isn't tough enough."
 
It's tough to know what to make of this, but it's clearly important so let's unpack it a bit.

Who are those masked men? and other headlines

04/21/14 07:59AM

Photos link masked men in East Ukraine to Russia. (NY Times)

VP Biden arrives in Ukraine today to meet with leaders. (WSJ)

How did the suspected Kansas shooter get his gun? (Kansas City Star)

Emotions run high for the Boston Marathon. (Boston Globe)

Justice Stevens says Justice Ginsburg sought his advice about retirement. (Huffington Post)

Why Republican donors and voters don't get along. (National Journal)

After Mount Everest disaster Sherpas contemplate a strike. (NY Times)

read more

Customers enter a Hobby Lobby store on March 25, 2014 in Antioch, California.

This Week in God, 4.19.14

04/19/14 09:12AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting faith-based dispute involving Hobby Lobby's corporate owner -- but it's probably not the dispute you've already heard about.
 
Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by Christian conservative Steve Green, is perhaps best known in political and legal circles for its pending Supreme Court case in which Green's attorneys believe corporations are people with their own religious beliefs. It's this corporate spirituality, the argument goes, that entitles Hobby Lobby to deny contraception coverage to its employees.
 
But as Sarah Jones reported this week, this isn't Green's only interest in church-state policy.
An Oklahoma school district has approved the use of a Bible curriculum designed by Steve Green, the controversial owner of Hobby Lobby. The Mustang public schools will begin offering the curriculum next academic year.
 
As reported by Religion News Service, Green's curriculum is designed to correspond with his planned Museum of the Bible, which is currently under construction in Washington, D.C. Jerry Pattengale, who heads the Green Scholars Initiative and is overseeing the curriculum's development, said the ultimate goal is put the curriculum in "thousands" of schools.
 
Little is known publicly about the details of the curriculum. However, in a 2013 speech he delivered to the National Bible Association, Green explained that it's divided into three sections: the history of the Bible, the story of the Bible, and the impact of the Bible.
It's worth emphasizing that public schools are legally permitted to offer classes related to religious history and religious texts, so long as the curricula is secular and objective. A scholarly, historical analysis of scripture is consistent with the First Amendment's separation of church and state; public-school evangelism is not.
 
What does Hobby Lobby's Green have in mind for public high-school students? The Green Scholars Initiative insists lesson plans will honor the law and remain religiously neutral, but in Green's 2013 speech, he specifically told his audience, "The history is to show the reliability of this book.... When you present the evidence, the evidence is overwhelming."
 
Now that Green's Bible curriculum has been embraced by an Oklahoma school district, don't be too surprised if Hobby Lobby's owner ends up in another major church-state court fight.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

Putting the GOP line on jobless aid to the test

04/18/14 04:49PM

When congressional Republicans explain their opposition to extended unemployment benefits, they don't say, "We dislike jobless Americans." They actually argue the opposite: they like the unemployed and want what's best for them, so GOP lawmakers have cut off benefits so jobless Americans will have no choice but to accept an available position, re-enter the workforce, and earn a paycheck worth more than a government check.
 
In effect, it's just tough love. The jobless will thank them later.
 
What's more, taking this argument one step further, congressional Republicans also believe they've been proven right. After the GOP cut off extended benefits a few days after Christmas, the job picture has been pretty good -- over 530,000 jobs were created from January through March -- and workforce participation has improved. "See?" Republicans replied, "we were right all along."
 
Except, as Ben Casselman noted, they really weren't.
The cutoff of federal unemployment benefits doesn't seem to be helping the long-term unemployed get back to work. [...]
 
So far, however, the evidence doesn't seem to support that theory. Rather than finding jobs, the long-term unemployed continue to be out of luck.... First, the short-term unemployed have a much better chance of finding a job than the long-term unemployed and always have. Second, the short-term unemployed are seeing a steady improvement in their prospects, but the long-term jobless are not. And third, there's been no major shift since the benefits program expired at the end of last year.
This shouldn't come as too big a surprise to anyone other than GOP lawmakers (assuming their talking points are sincere).

South Carolina town helps make the case for ENDA

04/18/14 03:00PM

Part of the problem with the debate over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is that much of the public assumes existing law is already adequate. Just a couple of months ago, a national survey found 75% of the country believes it's already illegal under federal law to discriminate against LGBT Americans in the workforce.
 
Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who presumably should know better, has refused to allow a simple vote on ENDA. Asked why, the Ohio Republican said in November, "I am opposed to discrimination of any kind in the workplace or anyplace else, but I think this legislation … is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits. People are already protected in the workplace."
 
We're occasionally reminded that people are not already protected in the workplace. Jennifer Bendery reported today:
The mayor of a tiny South Carolina town has triggered protests, prayer vigils and even a city council vote to weaken his powers after firing longtime police chief Crystal Moore, who is a lesbian and who some believe is a target of the mayor's homophobia. [...]
 
Latta Mayor Earl Bullard fired Moore on Tuesday soon after she received seven reprimands, which alleged that she had failed to maintain order and questioned authority, among other offenses, according to a report by WBTW News 13. The reprimands were the first Moore ever received after more than 20 years on the job. What's more, members of the city council said Bullard, who just became mayor in December, broke with protocol by not giving Moore a verbal or written warning for any wrongdoing, or discussing the matter with the council before taking action.
In a situation like this one, it's best not to jump to conclusions about why a fired employee was dismissed -- the new mayor didn't explicitly say Moore's ouster was the result of anti-gay animus -- but local reporting doesn't seem to leave much doubt as to what transpired in Latta, South Carolina.
David Perdue speaks during a forum in Atlanta, Jan. 27, 2014.

Georgia's Perdue may have an outsourcing problem

04/18/14 12:51PM

There are a variety of interesting primary races this year, but no contest is quite as competitive as Georgia's Republican U.S. Senate primary. The top five candidates are separated by just eight points, and just over the last few months, three different polls have shown three different candidates in the lead.
 
Recently, however, businessman David Perdue has begun to separate himself, at least a little, from the GOP pack. Perdue, a cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), has spent heavily on a television ad campaign, talking up his private-sector experience, background in creating jobs, and familiarity in international affairs thanks to his international business dealings.
 
But Benjy Sarlin reports on a potential wrinkle in Perdue's resume.
When Perdue arrived at Haggar Clothing Co. in 1994, the historic menswear company was struggling. Revenues were down, old reliable products like suits were in decline, and competitors like Levi's were muscling in on their department store sales.
 
As senior vice president, Perdue was in charge of international operations at Haggar and later domestic operations as well. Under his watch, the company did what so many clothing manufacturers did at the time: closed down factory lines in America and outsourced production overseas where labor was cheap and regulations were less restrictive.
Sarlin's report documents significant job losses through outsourcing, on top of factory closings, consolidations, and reduced work hours at U.S. facilities.
 
Perdue talked to Sarlin about the business decisions and the need to protect his company's financial interests. "We very definitely looked at trying to maintain as much volume as we could [in America]," the Senate candidate said. "The problem was if you looked at the cost sheet of a product made in Mexico versus a product made in South Texas ... the Mexican product had an advantage."
 
He added, "To politicians who have never been in a free enterprise system this sounds really easy. It is anything but easy. It's very messy."
 
As I suspect Mitt Romney can attest, that's true. When a business leader outsources jobs in the private sector and then seeks prominent public office, it can get "very messy," indeed.
Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-OH) (R) cuts ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) off during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Issa vs. Cummings, Round XXVII

04/18/14 11:11AM

Poor Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). The hapless chairman of the House Oversight Committee came up with all kinds of creative ideas about the IRS and assorted "scandals," all of which turned out to be baseless -- and at times, kind of silly.
 
But hope springs eternal. Issa now has a brand new IRS-related attack, and this time, instead of taking the offensive against the White House or Obama administration officials, the California Republican is going after the ranking member of his own committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), whom Issa recently tried to literally silence during a faux hearing on the faux IRS controversy.
 
Issa asked conservative media to find his new scheme interesting and Fox News quickly obliged, making Cummings its "new punching bag."
Monday night, he and other Democratic members of the House Committee investigating the IRS over allegations that it targeted conservative groups took a pounding on Megyn Kelly's show over recently released emails.
 
Tuesday morning, the beatdown intensified on "Fox & Friends," which kept flashing headlines like: "Where's the Outrage? Media ignores Cummings role in IRS scandal."
 
"There's explosive new evidence," host Elizabeth Hasselbeck said, introducing a discussion of Cummings, "that he was leading the charge against conservatives the entire time" that he was part of a panel that was supposed to be investigating the IRS for allegedly treating conservative groups unfairly.
Just on the surface, when Republicans and their allies can't seem to decide on their Villain of the Week, it's usually a sign of desperation. In the IRS matter, the fact that the right keeps bouncing from one suspected bad guy to the next, as one claim after another gets debunked, doesn't inspire confidence in the integrity of the "scandal."
 
But more specifically, the larger problem with Issa and Fox turning their guns on Cummings is that the attack is demonstrably ridiculous.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during a news conference at the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, Va.,  Monday, March 24, 2014.

McAuliffe moves to restore voting rights

04/18/14 10:23AM

Given the sweeping voting restrictions being imposed by Republican policymakers in many states, it's heartening to occasionally see an official stepping up to expand voting rights for a change.
 
Ari Melber reported back in November on the "often invisible barrier to voting that is upending elections around the country." He was referring to more than 5 million Americans who are prohibited from voting because they have criminal records. In all, 48 out of 50 states impose some kind of restrictions on convict voting, and more than half bar former convicts from voting even after they are released from prison.
 
Virginia has some of the most punitive policies in the nation, disenfranchising roughly 350,000 adult citizens -- including a fifth of the state's black population.
 
To his credit, the commonwealth's Democratic governor is doing something about it.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list.
 
The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly.
 
In a series of changes to the state's restoration of rights process, McAuliffe wants to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list.
"Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible," McAuliffe said in a statement. "These changes will build on the process Virginia has in place to increase transparency for applicants and ensure that we are restoring Virginians' civil rights quickly and efficiently after they have applied and observed any necessary waiting period."
 
Note, this is quickly becoming a national issue.
People cast their ballots for the US presidential election at an early voting center in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2012.

Missouri GOP latest to push early-voting 'reforms'

04/18/14 09:42AM

Republican policymakers in Wisconsin and Ohio recently imposed new restrictions on early voting, and this week, GOP lawmakers in Missouri followed suit, though their efforts come with a bit of a twist.
The Missouri House has endorsed a pair of early voting measures, though some Democrats contend they could create confusion for a proposed initiative petition that seeks to go further in allowing advanced voting. [...]
 
Democratic critics say the House proposal is a "sham" and that politics are at play.
Fortunately, this is a knowable thing -- either the proposal is a sham or it's not -- so let's take a closer look.
 
The Republican plan in Missouri does not actually ban early voting, so much as it creates an unusual time frame in which early voting would be allowed. Under the proposal, there would be nine days of early voting, but the nine days couldn't come the week before the election and they couldn't include a Sunday, which happens to be a very popular day for early voting in states that allow it.
 
Saturday voting would be limited to four hours, and voting after 5 p.m. -- after many workers leave their jobs for the day -- would be prohibited.
 
What's more, all of this isn't just a proposed bill; it's actually a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which would make future reforms more difficult. What's more, the amendment comes with a built-in loophole: "If lawmakers don't appropriate money for early voting on any given year, it won't happen."
 
All of this coincides with a new voter-ID plan, leading the Kansas City Star to note in an editorial, "Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities. They're not even subtle about it."
 
And to think some Missouri Dems would be so cynical as to see this as a "sham."

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