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Image: Sam Brownback

Kansas' Brownback apologizes for the wrong kind of failure

12/29/14 10:51AM

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) spent much of his first term failing so severely, even his critics were surprised. Most notably, the far-right governor launched an economic "experiment" -- pushing massive tax breaks his state obviously couldn't afford -- which led to disastrous results, including debt downgrades, weak growth, and state finances in shambles.
 
Kansas being Kansas, Brownback managed to win a second term anyway, and as the governor gets ready to start his second term -- and somehow clean up the mess he created -- the Republican is willing to reflect a bit on his missteps.
Fresh off a re-election bid that he nearly lost because of the disastrous impact of his massive income tax cuts, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback now says he regrets his triumphant prediction that the tax cuts would be a "shot of adrenaline" to the state's economy.
 
"I probably would have chosen words better at different times, because you go through a campaign where you've got to eat the words you inartfully said," Brownback told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
I don't mean to sound picky, but Brownback's contrition is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of recent events. The governor enacted a radical economic experiment, which he said would give Kansas' economy a "shot of adrenaline." It quickly became a fiasco, and Brownback now regrets using the phrase.
 
He did not, however, express regret for pursuing an agenda that didn't work.
 
In other words, the failure of Brownback's rhetoric is a mild annoyance, but it's trivial compared to the failure of Brownback's policy.
 
The governor's remorse is welcome, but if the Kansas Republican believes his word choice was the real problem, he's badly missing the point. Indeed, given the scope of the state's challenges -- Kansas' budget shortfall is even bigger than previously realized, and GOP policymakers still don't have a credible plan to fix it -- it's a little alarming that Brownback's apologies are limited to his phrasing.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2014. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Jeb Bush severs Obamacare connection

12/29/14 10:12AM

By some accounts, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) hurried into the 2016 presidential race in part because he was concerned about questions surrounding his private-sector work. But at this point, those questions are apparently getting louder.
 
Two weeks ago, for example, the likely Republican candidate was eager to criticize President Obama's breakthrough on U.S. policy towards Cuba, but Bush's condemnations proved problematic when the public was reminded that Barclays reportedly paid Bush more than $1 million a year, even while the financial giant was being accused of violating Cuban sanctions.
 
Late last week, as Jason Millman reported, a similar problem popped up.
The for-profit hospital chain Tenet Healthcare announced on Christmas Eve that Jeb Bush would be stepping down from its board of directors by the end of the year. Bush, who has served on the board of Tenet since 2007, is starting to cut his business ties as he explores a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And there's one obvious reason why keeping Tenet on his resume might not look so good politically: Tenet has benefited greatly from the Affordable Care Act, which much of the GOP base is still committed to repealing.
 
Bush is giving up a lucrative board post. He earned $128,500 in cash plus $170,000 in stock last year for a total of $298,500 according to Tenet's 2013 proxy statement.
Just so we're clear, Jeb Bush isn't accused of doing anything wrong during his tenure on the company's board.
 
He's resigning, however, because as Politico put it, "Bush's involvement with Tenet could give ammunition to conservatives in the GOP who view him as too moderate -- particularly those who despise the Affordable Care Act."
 
It's worth appreciating just how odd these circumstances are. A for-profit health care company made money through the for-profit American health care system. One of its board of directors earned quite a bit by way of the company's success. So, good for him? Actually, no, that's bad for him because Republican primary voters hate the American health care system and those who profit from it.
President Barack Obama waves to guests as he arrives for a speech on Oct. 2, 2014 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

A tale of two election theses

12/29/14 09:15AM

In the immediate aftermath of this year's midterm elections, Democrats and Republicans had an interesting disagreement about the nature of the results. Everyone could see the wins and losses, and everyone could read the exit polls, but the parties had wildly divergent interpretations about voters' attitudes.
 
For Republicans, the 2014 elections reflected a center-right nation reasserting itself, strenuously objecting to President Obama's agenda. For the GOP, this couldn't be more obvious: Republicans nationalized the cycle, President Obama was effectively on the ballot, and Dems lost big. Ergo, the American mainstream wants to see conservative governance going forward.
 
For Democrats, most notably at the White House, this year's midterms were about something very different: the public's disgust with inactivity. Washington spent the last two years spinning its wheels, accomplishing nothing, and by Election Day, voters weren't rejecting liberalism so much as they were expressing contempt for political paralysis.
 
With these assumptions in mind, President Obama has been extremely busy lately, announcing a series of major policy breakthroughs. Congressional Republicans seem dumbfounded. "Didn't he see the election results?" GOP lawmakers keep asking. "Doesn't he realize he lost?"
 
But for Obama and his team, the election results are precisely the reason to aggressively pursue the administration's agenda -- if the public is hungry for change Americans can believe in, the president has been eager to give them exactly that.
 
And at this point, the Democrats' assumptions about voters' attitudes look pretty smart.
Improving views of the economy have helped hike President Barack Obama's approval rating to a 20-month high, a new CNN/ORC poll showed Tuesday, as markets climbed to record levels at news of an economy in overdrive.
 
More Americans still disapprove of the job Obama is doing as President. But at 48%, Obama's approval rating is at its highest point in CNN polling since May 2013.
This is just one poll, of course, but Gallup's daily tracking put Obama's approval rating at 41% at the start of the month, before climbing to 47% last week.
 
And all things considered, a presidential approval rating in the mid-to-high 40s isn't too shabby for a guy who's ostensibly ignoring the results of the midterm elections, at least according to his Republican detractors.
The bronze 'Charging Bull' sculpture that symbolizes Wall Street is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, in the financial district of New York.

If Obama's a socialist, he's really bad at it

12/29/14 08:35AM

The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped the 18,000 mark for the first time in its history last week, prompting Matt O'Brien to reminisce about "the worst op-ed in history."
On March 6, 2009, former George W. Bush adviser Michael Boskin offered whatever the opposite of a prophecy is when he said that "Obama's Radicalism Is Killing the Dow."
 
Now let's set the scene. Obama had been in office for less than two months at that point, and in that time, stocks had admittedly fallen a lot as markets worried that the big bank bailout known as TARP wouldn't actually be enough to save the banks. It got so bad that Citigroup briefly became a penny stock.
 
Boskin, though, didn't think that this once-in-three-generations financial crisis was to blame for the market meltdown. Instead, he blamed it on Obama for ... talking about raising taxes?
Yep. On the day President Obama was inaugurated, the market closed at 7,949.09. By mid-March 2009 with the economy still spiraling, the Dow sunk even lower, shedding another 1,500 points.
 
And it was at this point that Boskin, the chair of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, decided to blame President Obama's agenda for Wall Street's woes. His timing was atrocious -- soon after Boskin's op-ed was published, the market started to recover, and Wall Street gains under the Obama presidency have been extraordinary.
 
As E.J. Dionne Jr. joked this morning, "It's odd that so many continue to see Obama as a radical and a socialist even as the Dow hits record levels and the wealthy continue to do very nicely. If he is a socialist, he is surely the most incompetent practitioner in the history of Marxism."
 
The point, of course, is not to snicker at a misguided Wall Street Journal op-ed several years later. Rather, there's a larger salience to all of this.
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) bow their heads during a ceremony marking the end of ISAF's combat mission in Afghanistan at ISAF headquarters in Kabul on Dec. 28, 2014. (Photo by Shah Marai/AFP/Getty)

America's longest war comes to an end (sort of)

12/29/14 08:00AM

The U.S. war in Afghanistan began in October 2001 and it became the longest war in American history several years ago. In at least one way, that conflict ended yesterday, and President Obama marked the occasion with a statement heralding the war's "responsible conclusion."
"For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan," Obama said in a statement that came hours after the United States and NATO formally ended the war with a ceremony Sunday at a military headquarters in Kabul.
 
Obama said the ceremony marked a milestone for the nation and thanked U.S. troops and intelligence personnel for their "extraordinary sacrifices." Approximately 2,200 American troops were killed in Afghanistan in a war that cost the U.S. $1 trillion since the initial invasion in 2001.
The Associated Press' report noted that there was "a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul" yesterday "in front of a small, hand-picked audience at the headquarters of the NATO mission." If this sounds familiar, a similar ceremony was held a few weeks ago when American and NATO troops closed their operational command center, marking the formal end of the "combat mission."
 
But note the language President Obama added to his statement: "Compared to the nearly 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when I took office, we now have fewer than 15,000 in those countries. Some 90 percent of our troops are home."
 
It's that remaining 10 percent that serves as an important caveat -- and suggests the end of the war isn't really the end of the war.

Missing plane and other headlines

12/29/14 07:34AM

Missing AirAsia flight likely on 'bottom of the sea,' search official says. (NBC News)

The NSA's Christmas Eve news dump. (Bloomberg)

Pres. Obama talks about 2015. (NPR)

Twenty states will raise their minimum wage on January 1. (Washington Post)

California gears up for migrant driver's licenses. (AP)

GOP learns lessons from KS Gov. Brownback's tax scare. (Politico)

Bob McDonnell's downfall is wife Maureen's fault, daughter says. (Washington Post)

The Wall Street Journal reads Jeb Bush's email. (WSJ)

In North Dakota, a tale of oil, corruption and death. (NY Times)

The last 'radium girl' dies at 107. (NPR)

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican Convention in Grand Island earlier this year. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

This Week in God, 12.27.14

12/27/14 09:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a specific kind of invitation extended to far-right evangelical leaders by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).
 
As we talked about last week, Jindal, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016, is set to host a massive prayer rally called "The Response" next month in his home state. The event is not without controversy in light of the religious extremists, including the American Family Association, which are helping sponsor the evangelical event.
 
Jindal has so far been publicly indifferent to the hullabaloo and this week, according to the conservative Washington Times, the GOP governor reached out to church leaders to encourage their participation in the upcoming rally (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
In a letter distributed to pastors, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal calls on them to consider public service, as part of his invitation to a gathering scheduled to take place a day before a highly-publicized prayer event Jan. 24 at Louisiana State University.
 
The letter, which begins with "Pastor ..." invites recipients to consider being a guest at a pastors' briefing hosted by the American Renewal Project, which is to take place the night before "The Response: Louisiana" will take place at LSU.
Much of the letter was unremarkable, though the correspondence specifically told pastors, "As we make an appeal for leaders of faith to rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values, we are trusting you will hear God's call on your life for this mission.... The time has come for pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance."
 
The notion that church leaders -- as opposed to public officials elected by the American public -- would "lead the way and reset the course of American governance" seemed like an odd sentiment in a secular democracy. Indeed, given that the separation of church and state is a bedrock principle in the American system of government, it's rather alarming that a governor and likely presidential hopeful is looking to pastors -- presumably, ministers who share his beliefs and agenda -- to establish the course for public policy.
 
Given that so many of Jindal's allies are on the extreme fringe, this is all the more problematic.
 
With about a month remaining before "The Response" event kicks off, look for protests to continue. If you missed it, Rachel's segment from earlier this week is well worth your time.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lights the plaza, New York City, December 11, 2013.

Holiday Open Thread, 2014

12/24/14 08:01AM

It's likely to be pretty quiet here at MaddowBlog for the next couple of days, so readers should expect a light-to-nonexistent posting schedule. That said, I'll be around in case there's breaking news of interest, and there will be a new installment of "This Week in God" on Saturday morning.
 
We'll return to a normal posting schedule on Monday morning.
Librarians volunteer to help out in Ferguson

Librarians volunteer to help out in Ferguson

12/23/14 11:13PM

Rachel Maddow reports on volunteer librarians who are using their holiday time off to travel to Ferguson, Missouri to help the local library there sort through the abundance of books donated in the wake of protests over the Michael Brown grand jury... watch

Showings scheduled for Sony's 'The Interview'

Showings scheduled for Sony's 'The Interview'

12/23/14 09:49PM

Rachel Maddow reports on Sony Pictures reversing course and distributing 'The Interview,' which depicts the assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong Un, in defiance of threats from hackers believed by the U.S. to be backed by North Korea. watch

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