For much of President Obama's first term, the Republican line was pretty straightforward: there's a jobs crisis and the White House's agenda isn't lowering the unemployment rate fast enough.
In the president's second term, the GOP line has evolved: the unemployment rate may have dropped dramatically, but it doesn't count because the number has been manipulated.
Newly declared Republican presidential contender Ben Carson says you shouldn't trust the Obama administration when it says the nation's unemployment rate stands at only 5.5 percent.
"Many of these people buy -- hook, line and sinker -- the idea that our economy is getting much better and that the unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent," the famed neurosurgeon told supporters at Monday's campaign announcement in Detroit.
According to the retired right-wing neurosurgeon, if the nation's unemployment rate were actually 5.5 percent, "our economy would be humming," so the rate "obviously" isn't 5.5 percent -- it's just what "slick politicians and biased media" want Americans to believe.
Carson added, "[W]hat you have to know is that you can make the unemployment rate anything you want it to be based on what numbers you include and what numbers you exclude. You have to look at the labor force participation rate."
This comes up from time to time, invariably from Republicans who don't want Obama to get credit for a vastly improved economy. But it's important to understand the degree to which Carson's argument, and the point pushed by unemployment truthers in general, doesn't make sense.
Last month, the Federal Election Commission was planning to host an event honoring the agency's 40th anniversary. In a dispute that seemed perfectly emblematic of the FEC's dilemmas, Democrats and Republicans on the commission couldn't agree on where to hold the gathering -- or what to serve for breakfast.
The ostensible purpose of the FEC is to enforce the nation's federal election laws, imposing at least some limits on the role of money in the political process. But as the New York Timesreported, a combination of overlapping factors have created a Wild West-like environment in which the FEC struggles to complete basic tasks.
The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.
"The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim," Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. "I never want to give up, but I'm not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It's worse than dysfunctional."
In theory, the role of a watchdog agency like the FEC has never been more important than it is right now. In the wake of the Citizens United case, the proliferation of super PACs, and the domination of so-called "dark money," the public desperately needs some kind of cop on the beat, serving as a check against candidate excesses and billionaires who hope to shape the American electoral process to advance their own agenda.
But as the need for a functional FEC grows, the commission itself is effectively paralyzed. The agency is led by six commissioners -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- who respond to every dispute with a 3-to-3 tie.
The Times' report added, "Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted."
For her part, Ann Ravel, who led California's state ethics panel before joining the FEC two years ago, had high hopes of getting the agency back on track, confident that she could "bridge the partisan gap" with the FEC's Republican members. Ravel has since discovered that this goal is simply impossible. Left with no choice, the FEC chair is now hoping to shed a light on the commission's paralysis.
If proponents of the "Jade Helm 15" conspiracy theory hoped to generate more attention for their bizarre cause, they've succeeded -- it's become a national story. But as was obvious on "The Daily Show" last night, the attention isn't exactly positive for the fringe activists and their fringe paranoia.
As we discussed last week, right-wing conspiracy theorists fear the Obama administration is planning some kind of invasion of Southwestern states, and as the Houston Chronicle noted, the activists also believe "Walmart is in on it."
It's tough to understand as a coherent thought, but those who fear Obama-imposed martial law apparently suspect Walmart stores in Texas will be used to detain prisoners and/or serve as staging areas. "Secret underground tunnels" are also somehow expected to be involved.
It's all quite silly, but enough people have come to believe the nonsense that the retail behemoth actually issued a statement responding to the conspiracy theory. TPM reported yesterday:
Wal-Mart issued a statement Monday to TPM dismissing "rumors" that tunnels were being built by the U.S. military beneath closed stores in an attempt to launch a takeover of Texas.
"There's no truth to the rumors," Wal-Mart spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez told TPM via email.
Of course, there's an inherent falsification problem in a situation like this: those who are inclined to believe the crackpot ideas are equally inclined to reject official denials. "That's just what they want us to think," they say.
But reality-based officials are nevertheless doing their best. In addition to Walmart, a Pentagon spokesperson added yesterday that the uncontroversial training exercise "poses no threat to any American's civil liberties" and that the "wild speculation" is unfounded.
This, alas, will have no effect whatsoever on the "debate," such as it is, since the fringe conspiracy theorists assume the Defense Department is helping orchestrate the scheme.
Senator Bernie Sanders, newly declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, talks with Rachel Maddow about his campaign defying expectations and the issues that distinguish him from Hillary Clinton. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a suspected terror attack by Muslim extremists on an anti-Muslim "free speech" rally in Texas on Sunday, and the broader context of the fear-of-Muslims stoking industry populated by professional provocateurs. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a new bill passed by the Oregon legislature and headed for likely signature by Governor Kate Brown, expanding the requirement of background checks for sales and transfers of guns by private sellers, not just dealers and gun shows. watch
* We'll have more on the Texas shooting on tonight's show: "Texas police shot dead two gunmen armed with assault rifles who opened fire outside of a 'Draw Muhammad' contest organized in the town of Garland on Sunday."
* New York: "The NYPD officer who was shot in the head while sitting in an unmarked patrol car in Queens over the weekend has died. Officer Brian Moore, 25, died Monday afternoon after being taken off life support at Jamaica Hospital two days after the shooting in Queens Village."
* Baltimore: "Reports of a Baltimore police officer shooting a man Monday near the intersection that was at the heart of looting and riots last week are untrue, Baltimore police said."
* Wisconsin gun violence: "An Air Force veteran shot and killed three people, then himself, on a Wisconsin bridge on Sunday night, police said. Another person was critically injured."
* New Jersey, Part I: "Two of the Republican's former allies -- his ex-deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and his former top Port Authority official Bill Baroni -- pleaded not guilty.... Bail was set at $150,000 for both Baroni and Kelly and a trial date was scheduled for July 7."
* New Jersey, Part II: "The U.S. attorney for New Jersey has cleared three current and former officials in Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration of wrongdoing in an alleged scheme to cow the mayor of Hoboken into supporting a development project by withholding Hurricane Sandy relief funds."
* Oh, Albany: "Dean G. Skelos, the leader of the New York State Senate, and his son were arrested on Monday morning by federal authorities on extortion, fraud and bribe solicitation charges, expanding the corruption investigation that has already changed the face of Albany."
* Kudos to the New York Times for putting this on the front page: "[A large new study, based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children] finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere."
For "Star Wars" fans, May 4th is a fun, unofficial holiday of sorts, predicated on a pun: "May the Fourth be with you." Some get the joke better than others.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), for example, turned to Twitter to celebrate "Star Wars Day," complete with a Yoda-esque partisan message: "Hope for Republicans there still is."
The unannounced Republican presidential candidate included an image -- Yoda on one side, Walker in silhouette on the other -- with familiar dialog from the franchise. "That boy was our last hope.... No, there is another." The image includes the governor's name in the classic "Star Wars" font.
To be sure, it's just a fun little message intended to take advantage of an Internet meme, and there's no reason to take it too seriously. But if we were going to get a little nerdy -- OK, more than a little -- Walker's message was a little flawed, at least as far as "Star Wars" canon is concerned.
"That boy was our last hope" referred to Luke Skywalker, who -- spoiler alert -- was the triumphant hero of the franchise. In Walker's message, "that boy" refers to someone -- I guess President Obama? -- but that's not quite the message the Republican candidate is supposed to make here.
Indeed, "There is another" refers to Leia, who gets to go to a nice party with some Ewoks. In the analogy, Walker is apparently supposed to be Leia, with nascent, untrained force abilities? NARAL picked up on this, too, having a little fun at Walker's expense.
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Chuck Todd asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the recent unrest in Baltimore. The Republican leader blasted "50 years of liberal policies that have not worked to help the very people that we want to help."
On "Face the Nation," House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded similar notes, saying the United States has "the same poverty rates," despite "a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent." Ryan rejected the idea of "pumping more money into the same failed system."
The comments weren't exactly surprising. As developments in Baltimore grew more serious last week, plenty of conservatives saw the unrest through a specific lens: the city's crisis is Exhibit A in the case against progressive social-welfare policies.
Conservatives base this logic -- that the city somehow proves government investment and social programs are bad policy -- on a selective history of Baltimore, noting for instance that its residents have elected only one non-Democratic mayor since the 1940s. But Baltimore's problems stretch further back, to institutionalized racial discrimination in the early 20th century. Federal and local policymakers of the time redlined areas with "undesirable racial concentrations" to omit them from mortgage insurance programs.
And over the century, the same neighborhoods faced one destructive policy after another, from mass incarceration to the rise of predatory banks.
The argument that Democrats share responsibility is grounded in fact, but not in the way Republicans mean -- too often Dems, in the name of political expediency, went along with the conservative approach on issues like criminal justice, welfare reform, and generations of red-lining and segregation, which had a brutally detrimental impact on urban areas.
In other words, don't blame Democrats for being too progressive; blame them for not being progressive enough.
At first blush, developments in Idaho state government may seem entirely uninteresting: policymakers are struggling to deal with enforcement of the child-support system. But the great part of the story is the amazing conspiracy theory that's driving the problem.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called a special session of the Legislature [last week], his first in his three terms as governor, ordering lawmakers back to Boise on May 18 to address a crisis in the state's child support enforcement system.
"It's the deadbeat parent that we're after here, and it's our responsibility to hold them responsible," Otter declared.
As the Spokesman-Review article explained, the Republican-run state House was supposed to bring the state's child-support enforcement system in line with federal regulations, so that Idaho can receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal resources.
But GOP lawmakers balked, not because they oppose enforcing child-support laws, but because of a ridiculous conspiracy. The Idaho Statesmanhighlighted "a bizarre episode of toxic, conspiratorial anti-federalist/anti-United Nations/anti-religious fear-mongering," which "leaked like battery acid on a perfectly legitimate program."
President Obama's veto pen hasn't had much use in recent years. There was one veto in 2009 and another in 2010, but they were both technical objections, not evidence of a genuine conflict between Congress and the White House. From 2011 to 2014, when congressional productivity collapsed to historic low, Obama didn't have anything to veto -- in part because very few bills reached his desk at all.
This year, we've already seen two vetoes, but just as interesting is the number of veto threats. The president issued four such warnings last week, and the Washington Times' count puts the total for 2015 so far at 26 veto threats, "by far the most of any president at this point in a new legislative session," at least since political scientists started keeping track 30 years ago.
Republicans have taken aim at the president's reliance on veto threats, which usually are spelled out in official White House documents known as "statements of administration policy." GOP leaders say Mr. Obama has proved he's not interested in working with them on bipartisan goals and instead is intent on blocking Republicans' agenda at every turn.
"Despite Republicans reaching across the aisle to pass good legislation, the president has responded with veto threats President Obama has shown time and again that he is unwilling to work with Congress by threatening to veto bills before they even get a chance to reach his desk," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, wrote on his website last week. "The American people don't want vetoes. They want Washington to work. But it can only work if the President stops his obstruction and starts cooperating with Congress."
The House Majority Leader wasn't kidding -- he's actually accusing the White House of "obstruction." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Fox News have recently used similar rhetoric.
You can almost hear irony crying somewhere in a corner.
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.
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