Show StoriesRSS

select from

E.g., 12/19/2014
E.g., 12/19/2014

Friday's Mini-Report, 12.19.14

12/19/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Retaliatory strikes: "Pakistani jets and ground forces killed 77 militants in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, the army said Friday, days after Taliban fighters killed 148 people -- most of them children -- in a school massacre."
 
* It's come to this: "Officials in Moscow confirmed Friday that North Korean despot Kim Jong Un may attend ceremonies next year commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It would be Kim's first public foreign visit since coming to power in December 2011."
 
* ISIS: "Kurdish forces, backed by a surge of American airstrikes in recent days, recaptured a large swath of territory from Islamic State militants on Thursday, opening a path from the autonomous Kurdish region to Mount Sinjar in the west, near the Syrian border."
 
* An important (and familiar) debate in Kenya: "Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law a controversial security bill which saw MPs trade blows in parliament. It was passed on Thursday during a chaotic parliamentary session, with opposition MPs warning that Kenya was becoming a 'police state." The government has said it needs more powers to fight militant Islamists threatening Kenya's security."
 
* Bergdahl: "The Army has concluded its lengthy investigation into the disappearance of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in eastern Afghanistan and must now decide whether Bergdahl should face criminal charges.... Based on the investigation, the Army must now decide whether Bergdahl should be charged with desertion or a lesser charge of being 'absent without leave,' AWOL."
 
* I know a few folks on the right who won't be pleased: "House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today sent a letter to President Obama formally inviting him to fulfill his duty under the Constitution to report to Congress on the state of the union. A Joint Session of Congress will be held to receive the president's address on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9:00 pm ET."
 
* According to Gallup, the U.S. Economic Confidence Index has now reached its second-highest point since the start of the recession in 2007.
President Barack Obama responds to a question at his end of the year press conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Obama on Sony: 'Yes, I think they made a mistake'

12/19/14 05:00PM

Given the White House's policy ambitions since the midterm elections, there's been ample talk lately about President Obama's newly liberated style. The Beltway expectations may have been that the president would have no choice but to accept a lesser, conciliatory status, but in the wake of Democratic defeats, Obama has adopted an unbowed posture.
 
As it turns out, that's reflected in his rhetorical posture, too. At his year-end press conference, the president seemed about as relaxed and upbeat as I can remember seeing him. Some of the highlights from his unguarded presser:
 
Asked about Sony Entertainment's decision to pull distribution of "The Interview," the president was willing to acknowledge his opinion on the studio's move.
"Sony's a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
 
"In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for attackers to engage in cyber assaults, both in the private sector and the public sector.... We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like.
 
"Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended."
The president added that he's sympathetic to a private company worked about liabilities, but he wishes "they had spoken to me first. I would've told them, 'Do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'"
 
As for North Korea's responsibility to the cyber-crime, Obama went on to say the United States "will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It's not something that I will announce here today at a press conference."
 
Incidentally, the first question came from Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, who's soon leaving for Europe. The president acknowledged her looming departure, adding, "I think there's no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico."
 
OK then.
Leading Conservatives Attend 40th Annual CPAC

Rubio, Paul, and the unofficial start of 2016

12/19/14 03:34PM

Republicans eyeing the 2016 presidential race were quick to condemn President Obama's new foreign policy towards Cuba, but there was one notable exception.
 
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said yesterday. He added, "In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea."
 
Last night on Fox News, Rubio responded to Paul's comments, saying, "Like many people who have been opining, he has no idea what he's talking about."
 
As of this morning, it was on. Benjy Sarlin explained, "The Cuba debate exploded into the nascent Republican presidential race on Friday -- and this time it's personal."
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the lone Republican 2016 prospect to back the White House's plans to restore relations with its neighbor 90 miles to the south, picked a high-profile fight with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the move's leading national critic, in a series of tweets. The exchange marked a new level of combativeness among the potential presidential field as GOP primary season approaches. [...]
 
Paul has made clear in recent speeches that if he runs he will press Republican voters to rethink their most basic assumptions about foreign policy and give his more noninterventionist philosophy a serious look. The new spat with Rubio, who hails from the party's traditional hawkish wing, shows just how eager he is for the debate to start.
As of a few minutes ago, Paul posted five tweets pressing Rubio, followed by a longer message on his Facebook page.
The Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex which will be used to produce the Jeep Cherokee in Toledo, Ohio July 18, 2013.

A rescue plan successfully runs its course

12/19/14 12:39PM

Ordinarily, the fact that the Treasury Department this morning sold its stake in something called "Ally" would hardly generate headlines, but Ally Financial is probably better known by its former name: General Motors Acceptance Corp (GMAC).
 
Yes, today's news means something rather important: the Troubled Asset Relief Program is now officially over, as is the rescue of the American auto industry.
The Obama administration declared a profitable end to the Wall Street and auto bailouts on Friday, saying a final sale of stock from what was once General Motors' finance arm had closed a turbulent six-year chapter of the financial crisis.
 
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said that while profit was not the motive to bail out Detroit and Wall Street, "it is important to note we recovered more than we disbursed."
According to Lew, the total profit for American taxpayers on TARP investments stands at $15.35 billion.
 
The NYT report added, "Less than $1 billion in taxpayer funds remain scattered in about 35 community banks around the country, but with the sale on Thursday of the government's last 54.9 million shares of Ally Financial ... the Treasury declared the bailouts done."
 
To be sure, as a matter of politics and public opinion, TARP probably is about as popular as it was when George W. Bush signed the program into law in late 2008 -- which is to say, not popular at all. The word "bailout" has taken on a sinister and menacing meaning in our discourse, to the point that it's effectively supposed to shut down debate on any idea that earns the label.
 
But there's still room for a credible debate about whether the program worked.
President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

A consequential president

12/19/14 11:31AM

In early January 1999, as President Clinton's penultimate year in office was getting underway, columnist George Will could hardly contain his "disgust" for the Democrat in the White House. He published a piece condemning Clinton -- one of many similar columns for the Washington Post conservative -- but he did so in a very specific way.
 
Clinton is "defined by littleness," Will said, adding, "He is the least consequential president" since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
 
It's arguably the harshest of all possible criticisms. All presidents quickly grow accustomed to a wide variety of rebukes, but no one ever wants to be dismissed as inconsequential. It's another way of saying your presidency is forgettable. It doesn't matter. History won't judge you unkindly because judgments require significance, and you're just ... irrelevant.
 
More than a decade later, President Obama has also received his share of criticisms, but it's probably fair to say "inconsequential" is an adjective that no one will use to describe his tenure.
 
We talked the other day about the remarkable stretch of successes the president has had just since the midterm elections, and it led Matt Yglesias to note the "incredible amount" Obama has accomplished over the last six years.
It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama's party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats' overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a "realigning" election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won't be.
I agree, though I'd go a bit further than just his two more recent predecessors and argue that Obama's record makes him a major historical figure in ways most presidents are not.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.

Jindal readies his own 'Response' in Louisiana

12/19/14 10:41AM

In August 2011, less than a week before launching a presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) partnered with a series of religious right groups to host a big prayer rally in Houston. It was called, simply, "The Response."
 
The event's website said at the time that "The Response" has adopted the American Family Association statement of faith, "including the infallibility of the Bible, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the eternal damnation that awaits nonbelievers." Organizers said non-Christians were welcome -- in the hopes that they would be convinced to convert to Christianity.
 
The event, like Perry's presidential campaign, proved to be underwhelming. But more than three years later, "The Response" is ready for yet another massive prayer rally, hosted once again by a far-right governor with national aspirations.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday defended his role as headline speaker at a prayer rally on Louisiana State University's campus next month that has drawn the ire of protesters who say the group hosting the event promotes discrimination and an anti-gay agenda.
 
The Jan. 24 prayer rally is expected to draw thousands of people to LSU's campus for what Jindal, a Roman Catholic, describes in an invitation as "a time of worship, prayer, fasting and repentance."
"Let's be clear about what this is. This is an opportunity for people across denominational lines to come together to pray," Jindal told reporters this week. "It's not a political event, it's a religious event."
 
Asked if he agrees with the agenda espoused by the American Family Association, an extremist group that's helping organize the event, the governor told reporters, "The left likes to try to divide and attack Christians."
 
First, that's ridiculously wrong. And second, notice how Jindal didn't answer the question.
Republican 2014 - 10/02/2013

The wrong argument at the wrong time from the wrong people

12/19/14 10:00AM

Conservative critics of President Obama's new Cuba policy are in a tough spot. The right can't argue in support of the old policy because it obviously didn't work. Republicans can't point to public attitudes because most Americans have supported a change for years. Conservatives can't say this will adversely affect the U.S. relationship with other countries because the exact opposite is true.
 
And so folks like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and others are instead making an argument based on Cuba's horrendous record on human rights. This case is certainly based on reality -- the Castro regime has been brutal and dictatorial -- but as Digby argued yesterday, it's hard not to marvel at the Republicans' timing.
[Y]ou have to wonder if any of these people have the slightest bit of self-awareness. Do they have any idea how hollow their words sound when just a week ago they were condemning our own government for releasing a report that documented America's own human rights abuses?
 
It's absolutely true that the most notorious prison camp on the planet is in Cuba — but it's run by the U.S. government. Guantánamo Bay is still open for business and its practices are still condemned the world over for its mistreatment of prisoners. And Ted Cruz's lugubrious hand-wringing over the Cuban government holding people without due process would certainly be a lot more convincing if Americans hadn't been holding innocent people for years in Cuba with no hope of ever leaving.
Referencing a Rubio tweet, Digby added, "To think that just last week the man who is preaching today about America's commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was exhorting us all to thank the people who used torture techniques like 'rectal feeding' on prisoners in American custody."
 
Those who condemn Castro's human-rights abuses are on firm ground. Those who also celebrate torture as a tool of U.S. national security are not.
Boehner arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

Boehner's job security not in doubt

12/19/14 09:25AM

It seems like every six months or so, there's a new round of chatter about House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) facing a threat from within his own ranks. The last flurry was in April, when there were widespread reports about conservative Republican lawmakers "showing the early signs of a speakership revolt."
 
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), one of the Speaker's fiercest foes, said at the time, "I think pretty well everybody's figured Mr. Boehner's going to be gone."
 
In reality, he's really not "going to be gone," though Andrew Kaczynski reported yesterday on the latest scuttlebutt from Boehner's intra-party critics.
Republican North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones says he and a group of 16 to 18 Republicans plan to challenge John Boehner during the next election to be Speaker of the House.
 
"Right now, I've been meeting with a small group, and we -- about 16, 18 -- and we're hoping to have a name of a sitting member of Congress that we can call out their name," Jones said on the North Carolina-based Talk of the Town radio program.
Though Jones wasn't specific, the North Carolina Republican claims he's met with "one individual" who might be willing to challenge Boehner for the Speaker's gavel. "We're gonna have a conference call the week after Christmas with our little group to see where we are," Jones added.
 
I think we already know where they are: in a position to lose a fight that serves no purpose.
Cuba And U.S. To Re-establish Diplomatic Relations

Obama wins raves in Latin America over Cuba shift

12/19/14 08:40AM

Many of President Obama's critics on the right routinely focus on the global stage as a basis of their rebukes. Obama's foreign policy, they argue, has rattled international confidence in the United States and weakened respect for us abroad. It's hard to lead the free world, the Republican argument goes, if we're not as respected or as admired as we once were.
 
The argument, in general, is nonsense. America's stature quantifiably slipped during the Bush/Cheney era, but there's ample evidence that Obama has helped repair our standing in recent years.
 
That said, even if we take the right's rhetoric at face value, conservatives should be absolutely thrilled with the White House this week -- with one big announcement, the president has apparently boosted the United States' reputation throughout an important part of the world. The New York Times had a fascinating report on this:
President Obama has been lambasted for spying in Brazil, accused of being a warmonger by Bolivia, dismissed as a "lost opportunity" by Argentina, and taunted in Nicaragua by calls for Latin America to draw up its own list of state sponsors of terrorism -- with the United States in the No. 1 spot.
 
But now Latin American leaders have a new kind of vocabulary to describe him: They are calling him "brave," "extraordinary" and "intelligent."
 
After years of watching his influence in Latin America slip away, Mr. Obama suddenly turned the tables this week by declaring a sweeping détente with Cuba, opening the way for a major repositioning of the United States in the region.
This is no small development. As Latin America has soured on the United States, China has sought to take advantage, expanding Chinese ties and influence in the region, and positioning itself as a long-term partner for countries throughout Central and South America.
 
With one breakthrough shift, years in the making, the Obama White House has taken an enormous step towards shaking off our imperialist reputation and vastly improving our standing.
Customers shop for "Green Friday" deals at the Grass Station marijuana shop on Black Friday in Denver, Colo. on Nov. 28, 2014. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Nebraska, Oklahoma take aim at Colorado's pot law

12/19/14 08:00AM

A couple of years ago, voters in Colorado and the state of Washington approved landmark drug laws, making recreational marijuana use legal for adults. The state measures were at odds with federal statutes, but the Obama administration gave Colorado and Washington its blessing to proceed.
 
Two years later, some of Colorado's neighbors are looking to the federal courts to undo what the states' voters did.
Two heartland states filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado's growing array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down.
 
The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, and asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and regulations surrounding retail marijuana.
According to the lawsuit, crafted by Republican state attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, Colorado created a "scheme" that circumvents federal law and allows pot to flow into neighboring states. This in turn undermines their prohibition laws, "draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."
 
The suit added, "The Constitution and the federal antidrug laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and licensed distribution schemes throughout the country."
 
In other words, far-right GOP state attorneys general want federal courts to order federal law enforcement to enforce federal laws, whether voters in the Centennial State like it or not.
 
It's always interesting to see where conservative governing principles start and end, isn't it?

Family searches for U.S. mystery spy, and other headlines

12/19/14 07:53AM

Obama plans to start lifting restrictions on Cuba as soon as next month. (New York Times)

U.S. businesses can't wait for Cuba gold rush. (Washington Post) 

Family says U.S. mystery spy released in Cuba has disappeared without a trace. (Miami Herald)

Kurds, backed by U.S. airstrikes, reverse an ISIS gain (New York Times)

Anti-union groups try changing local county laws. (New York Times)

Nebraska, Oklahoma AG's sue Colorado over legalized marijuana. (Tulsa World)

'Colbert Report' signs off (Hollywood Reporter)

Flares over Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, called normal but worry the neighbors (NBC Bay Area)

What are you reading this morning? Let us know in the comments, please.

read more

Cuba deal reached under cloak of secrecy

Cuba deal reached under cloak of secrecy

12/18/14 11:39PM

Rachel Maddow reports new details of how President Obama negotiated directly with Cuba's President Castro to remake U.S./Cuba relations, the role of Pope Francis, secret meetings, and the American spy returned to the U.S. in the deal. watch

US wary of North Korea war fantasy

US wary of North Korea war fantasy

12/18/14 11:38PM

Rachel Maddow reports on how the United States is weighing its options as it pieces together clues that North Korea is behind the hack of Sony Pictures and the threats against movie theaters, mindful that North Korea would like to draw the U.S. into war. watch

Pages