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In conservative circles, scams abound

01/29/15 11:32AM

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has used his mailing list as a lucrative tool for many years, and it's a habit he's apparently reluctant to break. Even after the Arkansas Republican gave up his Fox News program, apparently to pursue another White House campaign, Huckabee continued to send out emails with "really questionable ads."
 
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) isn't running for anything, but as discovered last week, he's also using his list to send out spam-like messages that appear to be scams.
 
It's against this backdrop that Kenneth P. Vogel had a great piece this week on the rise of "scam PACs" that target conservative donors.
Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them. Combining sophisticated targeting techniques with fundraising appeals that resonate deeply among grass-roots activists, they collect large piles of small checks that, taken together, add up to enough money to potentially sway a Senate race. But the PACs plow most of their cash back into payments to consulting firms for additional fundraising efforts.
 
A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million -- 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs.
I'm reminded of a line Chris Hayes used a couple of years ago, which continues to ring true: "[M]uch of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks."
Arkansas' General Assembly

Arkansas sticks with Robert E. Lee holiday

01/29/15 10:49AM

Just last week, Americans celebrated a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., but in parts of the Deep South, the day coincided with a very different kind of holiday. In Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, however, on the exact same day, it was also a statewide holiday honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's birthday.
 
The combination of the two, largely opposite historical figures seemed hard to reconcile, and in Arkansas, some suggested it's time for the state to end the Lee commemoration. Yesterday, Arkansas' Republican-led legislature rejected the recommendations, citing the importance of "Southern heritage."
The proposal called for designating Nov. 30 as "Patrick Cleburne - Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day," a state memorial day but not a legal holiday. Cleburne was a Confederate general who lived in east Arkansas. The legislation also would have repealed a state law declaring June 3 as a state memorial day in honor of former Confederacy President Jefferson Davis' birthday.
 
"This bill is not a bill meant to disregard heritage or to downplay history. It is not a bill to cause division of conflict," said Rep. Charles Blake, D- Little Rock, who presented the measure to the panel. "The spirit of this bill is to allow Arkansans to honor our heritage and honor our progress without them being in conflict with each other."
 
But opponents of the measure packed the committee hearing room, with several saying the Legislature was insulting their heritage.
The Associated Press piece noted local attorney John Crain, who told lawmakers that removing the Lee holiday would effectively tell him "my ancestry and my heritage is not worth honoring."
 
As hard as this may be to believe, Crain went to argue, "I think Martin Luther King, if he were here today standing beside me, would tell you, 'Why can't we celebrate a birthday of two men, one of color and a white man?'"
 
I'm going to hope it's not necessary to point out why speaking for Dr. King this way is problematic.
Image: 83409718

When a far-right fraud wears out her welcome

01/29/15 10:17AM

On his Fox News program this week, Sean Hannity asked former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), "Did the teleprompter go down?"
 
It was, to my mind, the most confrontational question the host has ever asked one of his Republican allies. Indeed, the question itself was loaded with an unstated assumption: Palin's speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend was so truly wretched that there had to be some other explanation beyond her own personal incompetence.
 
As for Palin's response to Hannity's pointed question, according to the transcript, she replied, "No, you know, I don't know. I received a standing ovation throughout, and at the end of the speech, so I don't know."
 
Well, that ought to clear things up.
 
Much of the political world has seen Palin struggle badly through public appearances and media interviews since her national debut as a national Republican candidate in 2008, but in the wake of her incoherent rambling in Iowa on Saturday night, something has clearly changed. Even Palin's fellow conservatives seem to realize, at long last, that the right-wing personality is less of a hero and more of a fraud.
 
Matt Lewis, for example, conceded yesterday that his years of support for Palin were misplaced. He's not alone.
Sarah Palin's odd, rambling speech last weekend before an audience of committed conservative activists in Des Moines has many influential voices on the right saying that the time has come to acknowledge that the romance has gone cold and the marriage is dead.
The pushback included criticisms from prominent media conservatives, including Byron York, Charles C.W. Cooke, and even msnbc's Joe Scarborough, who described Palin's Iowa speech as "a tragedy."
 
The Weekly Standard, which has long championed Palin, published a "defense" yesterday, which wasn't entirely supportive -- the article said she "has proven she's not a major intellectual," though it proceeded to blame the media for Palin's many shortcomings.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Cruz & Co. launch doomed bid to derail Lynch

01/29/15 09:25AM

Those tuning into the first day of Loretta Lynch's confirmation hearings, looking for high drama, were probably disappointed. President Obama's nominee to succeed Eric Holder as the nation's Attorney General not only seemed unflappable, but Republicans didn't seem all that interested in pressing her with tough questions.
 
On the contrary, GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemingly unaware of the point of an A.G. confirmation hearing, spent much of the day "venting" about their disagreements with Holder. As the day progressed, it seemed increasingly obvious that Lynch will receive majority support in the chamber.
 
That's not to say her confirmation will be unanimous.
Sen. Ted Cruz called attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch's immigration views "dangerous" Wednesday and questioned whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., should even have the chamber consider her nomination.
 
"That is the decision the majority leader is going to have to make. I believe we should use every constitutional tool available to stop the president's unconstitutional executive action. That's what Republicans, Republican candidates all over the country said over and over again last year," the Texas Republican said in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call as the daylong Judiciary Committee hearing on Lynch's nomination neared conclusion.
For the right-wing Texan, the strategy appears to be built around two main points: (1) Cruz opposes Lynch because of her own views, including her belief that President Obama's immigration policy is permissible under the law; and (2) Cruz's belief that if the Senate refused to confirm any nominee for the post, maybe the White House would give in and destroy its own immigration measures.
 
"For several months now, I've called for us to use every constitutional check and balance we have to rein in the president's illegal action. That includes using the confirmation power given by the Constitution as a direct check on the executive," Cruz added yesterday.
 
I think it's safe to say this isn't going to work. Indeed, it's probably going to fail spectacularly.

Jobless claims improve to 14-year low

01/29/15 08:45AM

Labor Department reports on initial unemployment claims have been a little discouraging lately, but the data has come with an important caveat: volatility shortly after the holiday season is common. The question was whether the figures would improve once there the holidays were in our rear-view mirror.
 
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits plunged 43,000 to 265,000 in the week that ended Jan. 24, hitting the lowest tally in 14 years, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The decline, the biggest since November 2012, was much larger than expected. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to tick down to 296,000 in the most recent weekly data from 307,000 in the prior week. [...]
 
The department said there were no special factors in the report but noted that the reference week was shortened by the federal Martin Luther King holiday.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 17 of the last 20 weeks.

AFA ousts Bryan Fischer as group spokesperson

01/29/15 08:00AM

For those unfamiliar with Bryan Fischer, the right-wing religious right leader is practically a real-life caricature of an evangelical radical. Fischer, a prominent voice for the American Family Association for many years, makes ugly and ridiculous comments -- about minority faiths, about gays, about Democrats, et al -- on a nearly daily basis.
 
But going forward, Fischer will no longer make ugly and ridiculous comments in his capacity as a spokesperson for the AFA. Rachel reported on the show last night that the AFA has fired Bryan Fischer from his post:
"Fischer has been their director of issue analysis, the director of issue analysis for the American Family Association forever. He's basically quoted everywhere for years now as the organization's spokesman. [...]
 
"The president of the American Family Association telling us tonight, that as of today, Bryan Fischer should no longer be described as the director of issue analysis for that group, he should not be quoted as a spokesman for the group. As of today, the American Family Association tells us that Bryan Fischer is, and I quote, 'just a talk show host.'"
When "The Rachel Maddow Show" asked AFA President Don Wildmon what prompted Fischer's ouster, Wildmon specifically referenced Fischer's bizarre assertions connecting Nazis and homosexuality. Fischer, of course, originally made these remarks years ago, and has repeated related comments in the years since, but talking to us last night, Wildmon now says, "We reject that."
 
As of last night, Fischer's bio page on the AFA website has been removed.
 
The timing of this unexpected shakeup is probably not a coincidence: the American Family Association, despite years of right-wing extremism, is partnering with Reince Priebus and members of the Republican National Committee on a trip to Israel, which created an awkward dynamic. Why would the RNC team up with a group whose spokesperson says things like, "Counterfeit religions, alternative religions of Christianity have no right to the free exercise of religion"?
 
Nearly 100 RNC members are scheduled to participate in the AFA-sponsored Israel trip, which begins this weekend. It's against this backdrop that, all of a sudden, Fischer is no longer the religious right group's spokesperson.

Citations for the January 28, 2015 TRMS

01/29/15 01:09AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Jeffrey Rosenlaw professor at George Washington University, president of the National Constitution Center
  • Debra Nussbaum Cohen, she is a reporter for Ha'aretz Daily, and contributing editor at Forward.com.

Tonight's links are listed after the jump...

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Nuns see Super Bowl as charity opportunity

Nuns see Super Bowl as charity opportunity

01/28/15 09:58PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the nuns of Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in West Phoenix renting out their monastery to visiting football fans in town for the Super Bowl, with the proceeds of the rental to go toward the nuns' charity. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.28.15

01/28/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Israel: "Two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven were wounded in a missile attack Wednesday as they drove in a disputed zone along the Lebanese border, Israel said, in the most serious flare-up in the area in years. Hezbollah claimed responsibility."
 
* This afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court "granted a stay of execution for three Oklahoma death row inmates until the justices rule on a separate challenge involving the controversial sedative midazolam, NBC News' Pete Williams reported."
 
* Those hoping to see President Obama's A.G. nominee fail should probably start lowering expectations: "U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch sought to distance herself from outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder in the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, emphasizing that the Constitution would be her guide if she becomes the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General."
 
* ISIS: "The Jordanian government agreed on Wednesday to release a convicted terrorist in exchange for the freeing of an air force pilot captured by Islamic State militants in Syria a month ago, according to a statement released on Jordanian state television just before a deadline set by the extremists."
 
* Tax-reform retreat: "President Obama, facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties, will drop his proposal to effectively end the popular college savings accounts known as 529s, but will keep an expanded tuition tax credit at the center of his college access plan, White House officials said Tuesday."
 
* An excellent take from Paul Waldman on the lesson from the White House's reversal: "Don't mess with government giveaways to the well-off."
 
* The Fed sounds optimistic: "In its most upbeat economic assessment since the recession, the Federal Reserve cited 'solid' economic growth and 'strong' job growth in a statement issued Wednesday that suggested the Fed remains on course to raise its benchmark interest rate as soon as June."

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