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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.7.15

07/07/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Greece: "Greece's prospects for staying in Europe's currency union darkened on Tuesday after the new Greek finance minister showed up for an emergency meeting in Brussels without a specific new proposal, leaving European finance ministers aghast and unable to judge whether a deal for another bailout package was possible."
 
* In South Carolina, it's one chamber down, one to go: "The Senate voted 36-3 on the removal of the Confederate battle flag, sending the bill to the House for first reading, all while protesters continued to gather outside of the Statehouse."
 
* A deadly accident: "Two people were killed aboard a small private plane after it collided in midair with an Air Force F-16 fighter jet Tuesday morning over South Carolina, federal safety officials told The Associated Press."
 
* Cosby: "The prosecutor who investigated allegations that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004 says he is not surprised by new revelations that the embattled comedian admitted to acquiring sedatives to use on women. But Bruce Castor, the former district attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, believes the deposition released on Monday could support criminal perjury charges against Cosby."
 
* Encouraging economic news: "The number of job openings in the U.S. was little changed in May, remaining at its highest level on record, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Job openings ticked up slightly to 5.36 million in May, from a revised reading of 5.33 million the previous month.."
 
* An alarming increase: "Heroin use has dramatically increased across the U.S., spreading to groups it hadn't previously reached, and deaths from overdose have soared, according to a new federal report released Tuesday. Heroin deaths nearly quadrupled in the decade between 2002 and 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports."
 
* A bad idea quickly dies: "Senate Republicans appear unlikely to use the funding process to block President Obama's plan to open a U.S. Embassy in Cuba this month, despite initial vows to prevent the landmark policy change."
Pedestrians walk by a CVS store in San Francisco, Calif., Nov. 5, 2013.

CVS walks away from Chamber of Commerce

07/07/15 05:03PM

Early last year, CVS announced unexpectedly that its stores will no longer sell tobacco products. President Obama took note, applauding the company for setting "a powerful example" that will help "reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs."
 
By September, CVS followed through, letting the public know it had met its goal one month early.
 
Today, the drugstore chain took yet another striking step along the same lines. The New York Times reported:
The CVS Health Corporation said Tuesday that it was resigning from the United States Chamber of Commerce after revelations that the chamber and its foreign affiliates were undertaking a global lobbying campaign against antismoking laws.
 
"We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position on tobacco products outside the United States," David R. Palombi, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement. "CVS Health's purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose."
CVS's announcement follows last week's NYT reporting on the business lobby investing heavily in overseas efforts to combat smoking restrictions, despite the health care companies that serve on the Chamber's board.
 
The World Health Organization quickly condemned the Chamber's efforts. Around the same time, several Democratic U.S. senators called the Chamber's international tobacco lobbying "craven and unconscionable," adding that "member companies should be concerned that their good name is sullied in efforts to strike down public health protections worldwide."
 
It appears CVS noticed and reacted exactly as the senators suggested.
Textbooks, which are assigned and shared, in a classroom at Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas.

Be wary of Texas' lessons on social studies

07/07/15 04:12PM

We've known for some time that Texas' new social-studies textbooks would likely represent a step backwards. MSNBC's Zack Roth reported last fall on proposals to place books in public-school classrooms that blurred the line between history and "tea party manifestos."
 
"Don't blame the textbook writers -- including several major publishing houses -- for the right-wing political slant," Roth explained. "They were written to conform to standards approved in 2010 by the state Board of Education, after an organized conservative campaign to take over the board."
 
As a conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, "We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it."
 
With this backstory in mind, I suppose no one should have been too surprised by this discouraging Washington Post report yesterday.
Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state's guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.
 
And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by "sectionalism, states' rights and slavery" -- written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery's secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.
To be sure, these are not the only areas of concern in Texas' textbooks.
 
But with much of the country thinking anew about official support for the Confederate battle flag, the changes in Texas classrooms hardly represent an academic improvement.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, left, looks on as Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a news conference on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ted Cruz's unique spin on the 11th Commandment

07/07/15 12:40PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been one of Donald Trump's most vocal defenders in recent weeks, at least among the Republican presidential candidates, but of particular interest is how the Texas senator has made his argument. Consider, for example, what Cruz told NBC's Chuck Todd the other day on "Meet the Press."
"I like Donald Trump. He's bold, he's brash. And I get it that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I'm not going to do it. I'm not interested in Republican-on-Republican violence. [...]
 
"He has a colorful way of speaking. It is not the way I speak. But I'm not going to engage in the media game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans. I'm just not going to do it."
During a Fox News interview yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made clear how unimpressed he was with Cruz's rhetoric. "I find it ironic that Ted Cruz is giving lectures on Republican-on-Republican violence," the governor said. "The guy who put together a group that was sponsoring primary ads against Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is giving us -- the rest of us lectures on Republican on Republican violence. With all due respect, I don't need to be lectured by Ted Cruz."
 
He added, "Let's just not be hypocritical. Don't lecture as to Donald Trump but then attack Lamar Alexander. All I want is a little consistency."
 
Christie raises a fair point. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which Cruz has supported, is committed to electing the most far-right candidates possible to the Senate, and in some cases, that's meant backing primary challenges to incumbent GOP senators.
 
In fact, Christie's comments cast an important light on Cruz's posture. If the Texas Republican simply had a blanket, no-exceptions policy against criticizing all Republicans in all instances -- deferring to Reagan's "11th Commandment" -- his reluctance to criticize Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric would at least hold true to some kind of principle.
 
But Cruz's aversion to "Republican-on-Republican violence" is surprisingly selective.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.7.15

07/07/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* Some Democrats in the New Jersey legislature are so annoyed by Gov. Chris Christie's (R) absences that they're working on a controversial new bill. The plan would require any Garden State governor who runs for president to step down from their office.
 
* Marco Rubio hasn't yet announced his second-quarter fundraising numbers, but a tax-exempt group allied with the Florida Republican has already raised $15.8 million for the election cycle. The group, the Conservative Solutions Project, is already playing in a legally complex area -- it shares a name and some staff with Rubio's super PAC, but the tax-exempt entity can keep all of its donors hidden.
 
* If Carly Fiorina hoped her quarterly fundraising numbers would make her Republican presidential campaign seem more serious, she's probably disappointed right now. The former HP executive has raised about $1.4 million since launching her longshot bid two months ago.
 
* Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck agreed yesterday that the United States is facing "destruction." The host added, "So if we don't correct it now, we're done," to which the Republican presidential hopeful responded, "It is now or never." Good to know.
 
* Donald Trump apparently has a super PAC, called the Make America Great Again PAC, though its existence is limited at this point to a post-office box.
 
* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) presidential campaign isn't well positioned, at least not yet, but his super PAC hopes to give him a boost with a $700,000 investment in Iowa TV time. The ad campaign will stretch from July 13 to August 2.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19, 2015.

Boehner fibs again on immigration reform?

07/07/15 11:20AM

Exactly two years ago yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a specific, public vow on the issue of immigration reform: "It is time for Congress to act.... I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job."
 
Whether Boehner knew this at the time or not is unclear, but the Speaker's promise was hollow. The Republican leader first ignored the popular, bipartisan reform bill approved by the Senate and endorsed by business leaders, unions, the faith community, law enforcement, and reform advocates, and he then ignored his own stated commitment. The GOP-led House never even held so much as a hearing about a reform bill.
 
On the contrary, the only action Boehner was willing to take on immigration was threatening to cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security -- a threat that turned out to be about as serious as his promise that GOP members would "do our job."
 
But two years later, the Ohio Republican is saying something slightly different. Boehner was in Dublin late last week, addressing the Independence Day lunch of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. The Irish Times published this piece with a headline that read, "John Boehner pledge: Immigration reform top of agenda."
The speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner has told a Dublin audience of his determination to overcome Republican resistance to immigration reform. [...]
 
His remarks indicate he may yet move to confront opponents of reform within his own Republican party, which is in the vanguard of resistance to it and has a majority in the House.
Now, I haven't been able to track down a video of the Speaker's remarks, so it's hard to say with confidence exactly what Boehner said, but this report clearly suggests the Republican leader told his audience that he remains supportive of tackling immigration reform.
 
In other words, Boehner isn't just misleading American audiences on the issue; he's begun fibbing to foreign audiences, too.
Maine Governor Paul LaPage as guest speaker at the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce's regular Eggs & Issues discussion at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, May 8, 2013. (Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald/Getty)

The challenge facing Paul LePage's defenders

07/07/15 10:40AM

The controversy surrounding Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is still very much underway, with the threat of impeachment looming on the horizon. But for the beleaguered governor to be forced from office, LePage will have to lose the support of his fellow Republicans in large numbers. How likely is that?
 
The Bangor Daily News' Mike Tipping had a good piece yesterday noting that the Maine GOP hasn't quite made up its mind. Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R) has, to date, taken the matter seriously, saying that while he's still acquiring information, "I am very saddened by this situation and shocked by what is being alleged." Other GOP state lawmakers have already endorsed the investigation into LePage's alleged misdeeds.
 
But Tipping stressed an important detail that's worth remembering:
Others, the more stalwart of LePage allies, have attempted to carry the governor's water, but that has proven a difficult thing to do. Without any real defense for what LePage did, they're left instead attempting to smear House Speaker Mark Eves.
Ordinarily, when a politician is accused of wrongdoing, the defense from his or her backers is incredibly simple: they say the charges are baseless.
 
That doesn't work in LePage's case -- he's already admitted to doing exactly what he's accused of doing. The governor's supporters can't push back against the allegations when their hero has made no effort to deny the allegations' accuracy.
A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples.

The anti-gay bakery and the non-existent 'gag order'

07/07/15 10:13AM

There's something amazing about watching a bogus story spread like wildfire through conservative media. This week offered a rather classic example.
 
The story actually starts with a 2013 incident in which a lesbian couple in Oregon approached a local bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, about a cake for their commitment ceremony. The bakery's owners, Aaron and Melissa Klein, refused, citing their anti-gay beliefs.
 
The couple, taking advantage of Oregon's Equality Act of 2007, filed a complaint -- state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. State officials, not surprisingly, sided with couple and imposed a fine against Sweet Cakes.
 
But a few days ago, the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal published a report claiming that an Oregon labor commissioner had "placed an effective gag order" on the bakery. Which led the Weekly Standard to repeat the claim. National Review soon followed. From there, it was on to Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Fox News' website, and on Sunday, a Fox News broadcast.
 
The Weekly Standard's piece, in particular, told readers:
According to the state, the Kleins are now forbidden from talking about the ruling against them.
This isn't true. Before your uncle who watches Fox all day sends you an all-caps email expressing his outrage, let's set the record straight.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Madison, Wis. on July 1, 2015. (Photo by Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg/Getty)

The issue on which Bernie Sanders aims for 'the middle'

07/07/15 09:20AM

One of the biggest political stories of the summer is the reception Sen. Bernie Sanders is receiving on the presidential campaign trail. In a 2016 field filled with high-profile candidates, it's the Vermont Independent who's drawing the largest crowds.
 
This was evident yesterday in Maine, which came on the heels of similarly successful events in Iowa and Wisconsin last week. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Sanders is "having way more retail success on the campaign trail than anyone else in either party -- anyone."
 
Sanders' early success seems baffling to much of the political world, but let this be a lesson to observers: there are plenty of unapologetic liberals out there who are eager to celebrate Sanders and his vision.
 
But just away from the spotlight, there's still just one potential trouble area for the Vermonter. A few readers flagged this Facebook item yesterday from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which wasn't pleased with comments Sanders made in an interview on Sunday with CNN's Jake Tapper:
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders' characterization here of the National Rifle Association-drafted "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" that he voted for in 2005 is an utter fabrication. The bill has nothing to do with protecting upstanding gun manufacturers and dealers. Instead, it gives NEGLIGENT manufacturers and dealers blanket immunity from civil lawsuits. This law is THE REASON why two parents who lost their daughter in the Aurora shooting had their suit thrown out and are now being ordered to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees to gun companies that armed James Holmes.
 
It is an immoral law that denies victims and survivors their day in court -- a fundamental democratic right -- and Sanders' position is totally unacceptable. A big thanks to Jake Tapper for holding him accountable.
Sanders hasn't taken much heat from the left since launching his campaign, so it's worth pausing to appreciate what this is all about.
Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference on May 21, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

The magical, disappearing Scott Walker conversation

07/07/15 08:47AM

The chief economist at the Heritage Foundation is itself an awkward title -- the Republican think tank has moved away from its pretense of rigorous policy analysis -- but the job belongs to Stephen Moore. Earlier this year, after Moore published a bizarre piece criticizing the Affordable Care Act, Paul Krugman described the conservative as "a guy who has a troubled relationship with facts."
 
Krugman added at the time, "I don't mean that he's a slick dissembler; I mean that [Moore] seems more or less unable to publish an article without filling it with howlers ... in a way that ends up doing his cause a disservice."
 
This assessment came to mind last night, reading this New York Times report on a bizarre incident involving Moore and a leading Republican presidential candidate.
Last Wednesday, Stephen Moore, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who is an outspoken supporter of an immigration overhaul, described a recent telephone call with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, in which he said Mr. Walker had assured him he had not completely renounced his earlier support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
 
"'I'm not going nativist, I'm pro-immigration,'" Mr. Walker said, according to Mr. Moore's account of the call to a reporter for The New York Times.
 
On Sunday, after three days of pressure from Mr. Walker's aides, Mr. Moore said that he had "misspoken" when recounting his call with Mr. Walker -- and that the call had never actually taken place.
This one's a doozy, so let's back up for a moment and consider how we got to this point.
Donald Trump speaks during the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa on May 16, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Donald Trump finds a shovel, keeps digging

07/07/15 08:01AM

After his xenophobic comments in his campaign kickoff, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has become quite the lightening rod. It's been challenging to keep up with all of the businesses that no longer want anything to do with the controversial candidate, though the list continues to grow -- ESPN broke off its Trump ties yesterday.
 
Given the circumstances, it's tempting to think the GOP candidate would start to walk back his anti-Mexican rhetoric, for financial reasons if no other, but yesterday, he did the exact opposite. As Bloomberg Politics reported, Trump issued a 900-word statement yesterday afternoon, telling the world how right he was when he accused Mexican immigrants of being drug-carrying rapists.
"I don't see how there is any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the statement I made on June 16th during my Presidential announcement speech," Trump wrote. [....]
 
Trump then turns his focus to Mexico. "I have great respect for Mexico and love their people and their peoples' great spirit," he wrote. "The problem is, however, that their leaders are far smarter, more cunning, and better negotiators than ours."
Even when bashing immigrants, Trump remembered how important it is to slam President Obama, too.
 
The lengthy statement included the relevant excerpt from his campaign kickoff, which Trump followed with, "What can be simpler or more accurately stated?" It was a rhetorical question, of course, though it's probably worth reemphasizing that Trump has no idea what he's talking about.
 
What's more, as Rachel noted on the show last night, towards the end of the written tirade, Trump argued, "After the speech was made, there were numerous compliments and indeed, many rave 'reviews' -- there was very little criticism. It wasn't until a week after my announcement that people started to totally distort these very easy to understand words. If there was something stated incorrectly, it would have been brought up immediately and with great enthusiasm."
 
Perhaps Trump wasn't paying close enough attention to the news in mid-June.

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