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Muslim-American men offer evening prayers after breaking their day-long Ramadan fast on Aug. 24, 2011 at Islamic Center of Bay Ridge in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Peter King still backs NYPD 'Demographics Unit'

04/16/14 04:23PM

As a mayoral candidate, New York City's Bill de Blasio (D) last year endorsed a "full review" of NYPD surveillance efforts, but civil libertarians weren't sure whether the so-called "Demographics Unit" would persist.
 
As Adam Serwer reported this morning, however, the once-secret unit devoted to surveillance of local Muslim communities is no more.
"Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair," New York City Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys."
 
Referred to as the "Demographics Unit," the unit, advised by an official from the Central Intelligence Agency, had engaged in broad surveillance of Muslim communities, such as neighborhoods, mosques, businesses in New York and New Jersey, without specific evidence of criminal behavior. Testifying under oath, an NYPD official admitted that the program had not lead to a single terrorism investigation.
Despite this track record, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who stands a reasonably good chance of becoming the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee next year, told msnbc this morning he feels "strongly" that the surveillance program that didn't lead to a single counter-terrorism lead "worked."
 
"The reality is the threat is going to come from the Muslim community," King added. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of Muslims are good Americans, but the fact is the Islamic terrorist threat comes from the Muslim community and good detective work is knowing who is in that community."
 
The "Islamic terrorist threat comes from the Muslim community"? Well, I suppose that's true to the extent that an Islamic terrorist threat wouldn't come from some other community, but if King still believes that the most meaningful terrorist threat in the country comes from Muslims, the congressman might want to check out Rachel's A block last night.
Abortion-rights advocates demonstrate during a rally outside a civic center in Fargo, N.D.

Court finds North Dakota abortion ban unconstitutional

04/16/14 02:54PM

Lawmakers in North Dakota went further than most in banning abortion last year, approving a state law that would prohibit terminating pregnancies after six weeks of pregnancy. In July, a federal court blocked implementation of the law, deeming it unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny.
 
Today, the judge finished the job, striking down the law as unconstitutional.
A federal judge has struck down one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, ruling that a North Dakota ban on abortions after as early as six weeks is unconstitutional.
 
In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland wrote of the state's push to end abortions after a month and a half, "The United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability."
 
The law, which would have prohibited abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, passed last year and was immediately challenged. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed suit on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic, the only abortion provider in North Dakota.
"The controversy over a woman's right to choose to have an abortion will never end. The issue is undoubtedly one of the most divisive of social issues. The United States Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on this emotionally-fraught issue but, until that occurs, this Court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent," Hovland said.
 
It’s the latest in a series of legal setbacks for opponents of reproductive rights, following related defeats in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona and Idaho.
American political consultant Karl Rove and Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah share a word at the Republican National Convention on August 27, 2012.

Conservative Victory Project wins by losing

04/16/14 01:00PM

In 2010 and 2012, Democrats successfully defended their Senate majority, but they had a little help from far-right primary voters. In races in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, and elsewhere, more electable Republican candidates likely would have won, but they never made it to the general election -- the GOP base instead backed fringe candidates who lost.
 
In February 2013, just a few months after Democrats enjoyed another strong cycle, Karl Rove announced he had a plan to prevent future fiascos: the Conservative Victory Project would help ensure more competitive Republican candidates stopped losing to extremists.
 
Whatever happened to the project? A year later, Ben Dimiero discovered that Rove's hyped solution barely exists.
After debuting in 2013 to major media coverage and virulent opposition from conservative activists, Karl Rove's Conservative Victory Project political group is seemingly defunct. According to FEC filings, as of March 31, the group has $667 cash on hand after taking in only $2,214 in the first quarter of 2014.
 
Rove's Conservative Victory Project was announced in a 2013 New York Times article, which explained that the Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official was joining forces with "the biggest donors in the Republican Party" to create a group which would "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts." The Times reported that the "project is being waged with last year's Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin's comment that 'legitimate rape' rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country."
As the time, many conservatives were apoplectic, fearful that the Republican establishment was poised to respond to 2012 defeats by moving closer to the mainstream, using vehicles like the Conservative Victory Project to crush far-right candidates in GOP primaries. With primary season already upon us, it appears groups like Club for Growth didn't have too much to worry about after all.
 
But let's not lose sight of the larger circumstances: Rove's project appears to have flopped in large part because it's not needed. The Conservative Victory Project lost, insofar as it's a non-entity in electoral politics, but in practical terms, it also won -- the problem it sought to address isn't seriously plaguing the party in 2014.

Rand Paul doesn't remember the 1980s very well

04/16/14 11:30AM

At the inaugural "Freedom Summit" in New Hampshire over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said President Obama's economic policies mirror the "failed" policies of the 1970s: "Out-of-control spending, taxes, and regulation produced the exact same misery and stagnation." The remarks were well received, though none of Cruz's claim is true.
 
But as Bill Scher noted, Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) attempts at the same event to combine recent history with economic analysis were arguably worse.
"When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan ... Did he say, 'Oh let's just cut taxes for low-income people?' No, he said forthrightly, 'Let's cut everyone's taxes' ... The top rate was 70% ... he lowered it ... to 28% ... and 20 million jobs were created."
OK, senator, you asked for this.

In health care, making an effort matters

04/16/14 10:38AM

The Affordable Care Act has obviously become a major part of a national health care system, but as is now obvious, the implementation of the policy is hardly uniform nationwide. Some states have made a concerted effort to embrace reforms and implement the ACA as effectively as possible, while others made a deliberate effort to do nothing, regardless of consequences.
 
And as it turns out, those consequences matter quite a bit. Gallup reports today:
The uninsured rate among adults aged 18 and older in the states that have chosen to expand Medicaid and set up their own exchanges in the health insurance marketplace has declined significantly more this year than in the remaining states that have not done so. The uninsured rate, on average, declined 2.5 percentage points in the 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have implemented both of these measures, compared with a 0.8-point drop across the 29 states that have taken only one or neither of these actions.
This is important. It's not just that states that have made an effort now enjoy a lower uninsured rate, it's also that these states have done proportionately better at making progress. (Note, in the above chart, lower numbers are better.)
 
In other words, Americans living in states that haven't bothered to create an exchange marketplace and have rejected Medicaid expansion are worse off, and adding insult to injury, insurance conditions are getting better in those states slower than if they lived in areas where officials tried to make the system work.
 
Those officials who want to see "Obamacare" work effectively for the public are more likely to implement the law well, to their constituents' benefit. And at the same time, those officials who want the ACA to struggle can create their own self-fulfilling prophecy.
File Photo: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File)

Sandoval steps up on jobless aid

04/16/14 09:54AM

It took four months of effort, but the Senate finally approved a bipartisan compromise last week on extended unemployment benefits. The bill's prospects in the Republican-led House are, at least for now, non-existent -- as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) put it, "I don't think there is a great sense of pressure on our members."
 
Putting aside whether lawmakers should only act when "pressured" to do the right thing, the debate took an interesting twist yesterday when two governors -- one from each party -- began trying to compel the House to vote on the pending jobless aid.
The governors of the two states with the highest unemployment rates are urging Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to take up the Senate's unemployment extension bill.
 
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat, wrote to  Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. D-Calif., asking that the House take up the Senate-passed bill.
In their letter, Sandoval and Chafee wrote, "As you know, long-term unemployment remains unacceptably high despite the fact that our economy has been recovering from the worst recession in generations. When our country has experienced similar rates of long-term unemployment in the past, Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits."
 
That true, Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits, especially when the jobless rate is as high as it is now. But that was before the current crop of House GOP lawmakers took power.
 
In the larger context, House Republicans obviously find it easy to condemn Democratic ideas. But on jobless aid, House Republicans now want the public to believe everyone is wrong: several Republican senators, Republican voters, at least one Republican governor, the Congressional Budget Office, the White House, independent economists, etc.
Phyllis Schlafly speaks during an interview in her office Wednesday, March 7, 2007 in Clayton, Mo.

Who wants to increase the pay gap between men and women?

04/16/14 09:21AM

During the recent debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act, Republican opponents carefully stuck to some specific talking points, intended to sound palatable to the American mainstream. They're against wage discrimination, GOP officials said, and support equal pay for equal work, but don't want to bother "job creators" with pesky measures like these.
 
In other words, for Republicans, it's not that the pay gap is a good thing, but rather, legislative remedies to address the pay gap are more trouble than they're worth.
 
As Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch noted yesterday, however, Phyllis Schlafly, a long-time Republican activist and leader in the religious right movement, is bringing an entirely different perspective to the debate.
Given [her anti-feminist] outlook, it is not surprising that Schlafly opposes things like the Paycheck Fairness Act and efforts to close the gender pay gap, arguing in an op-ed published in The Christian Post that closing the pay gap will actually harm women.
 
As Schlafly sees it, women want to marry a man who makes more money than they do.  As such, if women and men make the same amount, then women will be less likely to get married because they will be "unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate."
 
The solution, obviously, is to increase the pay gap so that men will earn more than women so that women, in turn, will have a better opportunity to find husbands.
There was no indication that Schlafly was kidding. On the contrary, she specifically wrote that if the pay gap between men and women were eliminated, "simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate."
 
And who wants to argue with simple arithmetic?
 
In Schlafly's vision, women will benefit economically after men get better jobs: "The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap."
 
To be sure, Schlafly isn't quite as powerful a political player as she used to be, but it's worth noting that as recently as 2012 -- less than two years ago -- she was a member of the platform committee at the Republican National Convention.
Nevada Rancher And Federal Gov't Face Off Over Land Use Battle

'And then you go, 'Uh oh''

04/16/14 08:43AM

As became clear late last week and over the weekend, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has a core group of supporters, many of whom happen to have weapons they're willing to bring to a protest. Bundy, who's been ignoring federal laws and court rulings for many years, also has his champions among conservative media personalities.
 
But David Nather noted that there seems to be a ceiling on Bundy support among conservatives who ordinarily enjoy railing against "big government," but who fail to see a "powerful rallying cry" in this story.
"It's like, really, Glenn Beck? This is the issue you want to get behind?" said one Nevada conservative activist who has followed the story for years. "People who aren't in tune with the story just jumped all over it. And then you go back and read the facts of the story, and then you go, 'Uh oh.'"
Uh oh, indeed. The new right-wing cause celebre is a man who doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, and whose supporters appeared prepared for a confrontation -- a potentially violent confrontation -- with American law enforcement.
 
The Politico report noted that Republicans and Tea Partiers are eager to talk about the Affordable Care Act and the IRS, but took a pass on Bundy: "Officials at the top Republican campaign organizations, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, didn't respond to requests for comment. Top lawmakers were silent. And a spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots said there was no one available to talk about the rancher issue on Tuesday."
 
I suppose that's preferable to the alternative -- GOP leaders cheering Bundy on -- but the silence isn't altogether comforting, either.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin speaks to the media in Oklahoma City, September 3, 2013.

Oklahoma's regressive approach to the minimum wage

04/16/14 08:00AM

Several states from coast to coast have given up waiting for Congress to act on the minimum wage and are instead acting on their own. Connecticut, Maryland, and Minnesota each recently approved wage hikes, while Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Vermont are poised to do the same.
 
Oklahoma, meanwhile, is also implementing a new statewide law on the minimum wage. But in this case, the Republican-led state is a very different approach. As Ned Resnikoff reported:
Oklahoma cities are now banned from raising their own minimum wages above the state level, thanks to a law signed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin on Tuesday. The law will also prevent cities in Oklahoma from crafting their own mandatory paid sick day laws.
 
Oklahoma's minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. The new law would stymie labor's attempts to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City, where activists have been organizing around a proposed ballot initiative to raise the city-level minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
In contemporary conservatism, "local control" is an important principle. The right tends to believe the government that's closest to the people -- literally, geographically -- is best able to respond to the public's needs.
 
Except, of course, when local government considers progressive measures Republicans don't like, at which point it's time to intervene and snuff local control out.
 
Wait, it gets slightly worse.

NRA challenge and other headlines

04/16/14 07:58AM

Bloomberg plans a $50 million challenge to the NRA. (NY Times) The backpacks dropped at the Boston Marathon finish line contained a hoax bomb and equipment belonging to the news media . (NBC News) Ukraine suffers setback in bid to confront pro-Russian militias. (NY Times) AZ Gov. Brewer signs bill on surprise abortion-clinic inspections. (Arizona Republic) Duke Energy presents plan for coal-ash spill cleanup. (Greensboro News & Record) read more

Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaks to reporters in the briefing room at the Pentagon on Oct. 26, 2006 in Arlington, Va.

Rumsfeld and a 'sad commentary on governance'

04/15/14 05:03PM

Though at first this seemed like an odd joke, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently sent a 310-word harangue to the Internal Revenue Service today, complaining about the difficulty he has completing his tax returns. On Twitter, Rumsfeld described it as his "annual letter" to the IRS.
 
If I've transcribed it correctly, the entirety of the letter reads as follows:
I have sent in our federal income tax and our gift tax returns for 2013. As in prior years, it is important for you to know that I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and our tax payments are accurate. I say that despite the fact that I a college graduate and I try hard to make sure our tax returns are accurate.
 
The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know I cannot have any confidence that I know what is being requested and therefore I cannot and do not know, as I suspect a great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their tax returns are accurate. As in past years, I have spent more money that I wanted to spend to hire an accounting firm to prepare our tax returns and I believe they are well qualified.
 
This note is to alert you folks that I know that I do not know whether or not my tax returns are accurate, which is a sad commentary on governance in our nation's capital.
 
If you have any questions, let me know and I will ask our accounts to be in touch with you to try to provide any additional information you may think you need.
 
I do hope that at some point in my lifetime, and I am now in my 80s, so there are not many years left, they U.S. government will simply the U.S. tax code so that those citizens who sincerely want to pay what they should, are able to do it right, and know that they have done it right.
 
I should add that my wife of 59 years, also a college graduate, has signed our joint return, but she also knows that she does not have any idea whether or not our tax payments are accurate.
Well then.
Ted Yoho

'Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?'

04/15/14 04:20PM

For the better part of a generation, there was broad agreement within the American mainstream about the legitimacy and utility of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It wasn't until quite recently that some prominent Republican lawmakers began approaching the landmark law in a very different way.
 
Perhaps the most striking example came in 2010, when then Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-Ky.) initially said he disagreed with parts of the Civil Right Act. In one especially memorable exchange, Rachel asked Paul on the air, "Do you think that a private business has the right to say, 'We don't serve black people'?" Paul replied, "Yes."
 
Four years later, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) wasn't willing to go quite this far, but Scott Keyes noted that the congressman isn't convinced the Civil Right Act is legally permissible.
Last week, former presidents and dignitaries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which bans many forms of employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters, among other things. This week, a Republican congressman declared that he's not sure if the Civil Rights Act is even constitutional.
 
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a freshman congressman aligned with the Tea Party, held a town hall Monday evening in Gainesville where he fielded a wide range of questions from constituents. One such voter was Melvin Flournoy, a 57-year-old African American from Gainesville, who asked Yoho whether he believes the Civil Rights Act is constitutional.
The correct answer is, "Of course it is." Regrettably that's not what Yoho said.
 
"Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?" the Florida Republican replied. "I wish I could answer that 100 percent. I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional, but I know it's the law of the land."
 
The "law of the land" reference presumably suggests Yoho doesn't intend to repeal the Civil Rights Act, but the congressman is nevertheless unsure of the law's constitutional legitimacy.

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