* Afghanistan: "The Taliban attacked the Afghan Parliament on Monday just as lawmakers were convening for their third attempt to confirm a defense minister, while in northern Afghanistan a second district fell to Taliban insurgents."
* South Carolina: "The judge who oversaw a bond hearing for a man accused of fatally shooting nine people at a historic black church in Charleston was previously reprimanded for using a racial slur while on the bench. Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell Jr., who presided over confessed gunman Dylann Roof's bond hearing on Friday, made the comments in a courtroom over a decade ago."
* Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Part I: "[Maryland] Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday he's been diagnosed with a 'very advanced and very aggressive' cancer. The governor said he learned of the illness last week after returning from a trade mission to Asia. He said the cancer had spread to multiple parts of his body, but he expected to fight and beat the disease."
* Best wishes for speedy recovery, Part II: "Sen. Angus King will undergo surgery this week to address a prostate cancer diagnosis he received earlier this year. The Maine independent said the prostate cancer was detected early, as was skin cancer some 40 years ago from which he fully recovered. 'And once again, early detection during an annual physical put me on the path to wellness.'"
* A lead: "DNA from at least one of the two escaped New York prisoners was found at a burglarized cabin in a rural town about 20 miles from the prison, sources told NBC News on Monday. The search for the men, Richard Matt and David Sweat, focused on the town of Owls Head after the DNA was found on Saturday."
* He's obviously correct: "In an interview released Monday, President Barack Obama said that combating racism didn't end with making racial slurs impolite."
* Middle East: "A U.N.-backed commission presented findings Monday suggesting that both Israelis and Palestinians violated international law and committed possible war crimes during the Gaza war last summer that left thousands dead and wide swaths of the coastal enclave in ruins."
In the face of growing public pressure, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced this afternoon that she wants the Confederate battle flag to be taken down from the capitol grounds. The Republican governor's announcement comes five days after a white gunman murdered nine African Americans at a historic Charleston church. MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin reported:
"It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds," Haley said to loud applause at a press conference, amid mounting pressure to remove the controversial flag following the massacre, which authorities have called a hate crime. Haley appeared at a press conference alongside other South Carolina leaders, including U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, all of whom reportedly support the removal of the flag.
"By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven," Haley added.
Of particular interest is the legislative procedure that will unfold. Not only is South Carolina's legislature in recess, but under state law, it would take a two-thirds majority in both the GOP-led state House and the GOP-led state Senate to remove the flag.
The governor, however, is calling for immediate action. Lawmakers are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss an unrelated budget matter, but they'll also consider a special session to address the flag issue specifically. Depending on the appetite for change, and the governor's sway with members, that session could come very quickly.
As for the broader political context, Haley has done the Republican presidential field an enormous favor.
Presidential candidates are generally in the habit of collecting, not giving away, as many campaign contributions as possible, but as msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported, there are exceptions.
Republican presidential candidates are returning donations tied to a white supremacist group purportedly cited by Dylann Storm Roof, the man authorities have charged with killing nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Over the weekend, an online document emerged written by someone using the name Dylann Roof -- posting to a website registered using Roof's mother's home address -- with a lengthy, racist message. Of particular interest, the writer pointed to the Council of Conservative Citizens as a source of racist information.
That wouldn't be particularly relevant to electoral politics, were it not for the fact that the Council of Conservative Citizens' president, Earl Holt III, turns out to be a generous Republican donor. The New York Timesreported this morning:
The leader of a white supremacist group that has been linked to Dylann Roof, the suspect in the murder of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns, including those of 2016 presidential contenders such as Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul, records show.
The story appears to have first been reported by The Guardian.
Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the GOP beneficiaries of Holt's contributions decided they didn't want anything to do with his financial support.
Asked about the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jeb Bush wants local policymakers to do the "right" thing, but he hasn't said what that is exactly. Ted Cruz, without a hint of irony, suggested the flag's critics are trying to "divide people." Scott Walker would prefer not to talk about it at all.
But to witness real evasiveness, turn your attention to Marco Rubio. Asked by Politico's Marc Caputo if South Carolina should move the flag, the Florida Republican delivered a lengthy, 211-word answer -- spanning 12 sentences -- that somehow managed to say very little.
"What's important to remember, because this is coming in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, is you have one individual with hate in his heart, who carried out an act motivated by racial hatred, And it's an atrocity. It's a horrifying instance. What I do think is important to remember is that the people of South Carolina have dealt with this issue before. They have found a bipartisan consensus over a decade ago on moving that flag to a new location. And I have confident in their ability to deal with that issue again.
"I think it's important to let the people of South Carolina move forward on it. They've shown an incredible ability to respond to these issues in the past -- as they've responded to recent events, not just this tragic murder that occurred by also the murder of a civilian by a police officer just a few months ago, And these communities are able to come together and deal with it. I've been impressed with the leadership of the state and the capacity of people to come together to take collective action. So this is an issue they should debate and work through and not have a bunch of outsiders going and them what to do about it."
So, Caputo tried again, asking whether or not he agrees with Mitt Romney's position. Rubio offered an 82-word response spanning seven sentences. And once again, the senator wouldn't answer the question directly.
Which led Caputo to try once more. Noting that Rubio said South Carolina policymakers will do the "right thing," the reporter asked, "Do you think the right decision is to take the flag down or moved to a new location?" But the senator wouldn't budge. He responded with an 89-word, five-sentence answer that again avoided taking a firm position.
When James Brown recorded, "Talkin loud and saying nothing," he didn't have Marco Rubio in mind, but he might as well have. Had the senator simply grunted and shrugged his shoulders, this would have conveyed just as much information as his actual response.
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:
* In the new national NBC News/Wall Street Journalpoll, Jeb Bush leads the Republicans' presidential field with 22% support, followed by Scott Walker with 17%. Marco Rubio is third with 14%, followed by Ben Carson at 11%. No other candidate reaches double digits. Remember, though national polls may seem unimportant at this stage, this year, they'll determine who gets to participate in primary debates.
* In the same poll, 75% of Republican voters said they could possibly see themselves supporting Bush in the GOP primaries. In March, that number was just 49%, which is a helpful reminder about the dubious reliability of early national polling.
* Campaigning in Iowa on Friday, Ted Cruz was comfortable already making gun jokes, telling an audience, "You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I'm pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas -- hitting what you aim at."
* If Democrats are going to win back the Senate in next year's elections, they're almost certainly going to need to win in Ohio. With this in mind, a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) by six, 46% to 40%.
* In Florida, where there will be an open-seat Senate race, Quinnipiac shows Democrats with an early advantage. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) has relatively comfortable leads over the likely Republican nominees in head-to-head match-ups.
* In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac offers Republicans some more encouraging news, with results that show incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) leading former Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by double digits, 47% to 36%.
At first blush, cases about patent law probably seem pretty dull to anyone who isn't a patent lawyer. But Justice Elena Kagan appreciated the fact that Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment offered a unique opportunity, which she took full advantage of.
The case itself, I'll concede, is a little dry. USA Todaypublished a good summary:
The justices turned thumbs down on an effort by the inventor of a Spider-Man toy to pocket royalties beyond the expiration of his patent. The wristband toy, which shoots foam string, became the basis for Marvel Enterprises' popular Web Blaster. [...]
In the end ... a majority of justices ruled that the precedent -- however flawed -- should be upheld. If royalties should be allowed to accrue after a patent expires, the court said, Congress could address it.
A very small number of people are likely to actually read the decision, which is a shame in a way because Kagan, a comics fan, went out of her way to include quite a few not-so-subtle Spider-Man references in the opinion.
Earlier this year, soon after Rick Perry (R) stepped down from Texas' gubernatorial office, he acknowledged his state's high uninsured rate, but said it didn't matter.
"Texas has been criticized for having a large number of uninsured," Perry said, "but that's what Texans wanted."
Of course, the notion that Texans "wanted" the worst uninsured rate in the nation seems a little hard to believe. As we talked about at the time, why exactly would anyone, anywhere actually want their state to have an uninsured rate above 20%, leaving millions of families without access to basic medical care, one serious ailment away from bankruptcy?
Yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace pressed Perry further on this point. The Republican presidential candidate's response was pretty amazing, even by Perry standards (thanks to Xenos for the heads-up).
WALLACE: One more question about Main Street or looking out for the little guy. When you were governor of Texas, your state had the highest uninsured rate in the country. One in five, more than one in five Texans didn't have health coverage, and yet you refused to set up a state exchange under Obamacare. You refused to expand Medicaid. Is that looking out for the little guy when 21 percent of Texans didn't have health insurance?
PERRY: If how you keep score is how many people you force to buy insurance, then I would say that that's how you keep score.
After the former governor emphasized the increase in the number of licensed physicians in Texas during his tenure, Wallace asked the right question: "[D]on't you, as the governor for 14 years, don't you feel some responsibility when 21 percent of the people in your state didn't have health insurance?"
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, host Chuck Todd asked Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau chief, about the inherent challenges President Obama faces when discussing issues of race. "I've talked to people close to him," Todd noted. "The president is self-aware that when he talks about race he thinks it polarizes the conversation and therefore he can't -- it defeats the purpose that he wants to have."
It's a perfectly fair point. The way in which the president approaches these issues is complex, and it's not unreasonable to think the White House addresses these debates differently, in part because of expectations surrounding public reactions.
But something Seib said in response stood out for me:
"Yeah, and this is the great irony I think of the first African-American president. In some ways, he finds it harder to talk about race because he carries, you know, his own background into it obviously. He's not seen necessarily as a neutral observer."
This got me thinking: who gets to be a "neutral observer" on matters of race? And why can't President Obama be one?
If the point is that the president, as an African-American man, is shaped by his experiences and background, all of which contribute to his personal feelings about race, I'll gladly concede the point. But therein lies the rub: aren't we all shaped by our experiences and background? Is it not true that every American, regardless of race or ethnicity, draws conclusions about these issues based on what we've seen, felt, and lived?
I'm sure Seib didn't intended for his comment to be controversial, but his remark raises some obvious questions that deserve serious answers: are any of us neutral observers when it comes to race in America? Does our lack of neutrality matter or make our perspectives less valuable? Or more?
Though some Republicans were initially reluctant to connect the massacre in Charleston to racism, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) addressed the issue with clarity. "I want to make it abundantly clear that I think the act, the crime that was committed on Wednesday is an act of racism," the Republican presidential hopeful said.
Got it. Would Walker be equally clear about the Confederate battle flag still flying at the South Carolina Statehouse? No, he wouldn't. On Twitter, the Wisconsin governor wrote:
"RE: confederate flag in SC, it's a state issue & I fully expect SC leaders to debate this after the victim's families have time to mourn."
Welcome to June 2015 -- the point at which "It's a state issue" becomes the new "I'm not a scientist."
It's true, of course, that it will be up to South Carolina to decide how and whether to consider changes. There will be no federal proposal on this, and it won't be up to any president or out-of-state governor. Scott Walker will not have a direct say in the outcome.
But he, like all Americans, can have an opinion. Indeed, there's an expectation that presidential candidates will speak their minds, especially on controversial issues, letting the electorate know where they stand on the major issues of the day.
Yes, this may be a state issue, but one need not be in the state to draw a conclusion. South Carolina still officially endorses and celebrates the Confederate battle flag at its state Capitol. Is that right or wrong? Is this a policy that should change or endure? The Republican Party's 2012 nominee wants the flag to come down; do you agree or disagree?
Walker doesn't want to talk about it. He could take this opportunity to lead, but he doesn't want to -- and if this dynamic seems familiar, that's because this isn't the first time it's come up.
The political reactions to last week's mass shooting in Charleston were, in too many instances, woefully inadequate. Much of the Republicans' 2016 field, for example, has not only spent the last several days clumsily dodging questions about the Confederate battle flag, but has been equally cautious discussing the shooter's racist motives.
But among high-profile White House hopefuls, not everyone was prepared to sit quietly on the sidelines. MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported over the weekend on Hillary Clinton stepping up in ways her GOP rivals would not.
In the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina massacre at a historically black church this week, Hillary Clinton vowed Saturday to fight for new gun control laws despite the overwhelming opposition. She also said America must address lingering racism exposed by the shooting. [...]
In a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, Clinton said it "make no sense" that Congress has failed to pass simple gun control laws, like universal background checks. She vowed to keep fighting and promised to achieve reform if elected president.
Amidst caution and reticence from so many national candidates, former Secretary of State did the exact opposite, delivering candid, almost aggressive remarks on matters of race and gun violence.
On the latter, Clinton didn't endorse specific policy measures, so much as she offered support for the kind of reforms the right refuses to even consider. From the transcript made available by the Democratic campaign:
If Republican presidential candidates are hoping the debate over state-endorsed Confederate battle flags will fade away soon, they're probably going to be disappointed.
State Rep. Doug Brannon, a South Carolina Republican, talked to msnbc's Chris Hayes on Friday night, and the host asked if he's prepared to sponsor a bill to take the flag down. It led to this exchange:
BRANNON: That's correct.
HAYES: That's pretty remarkable. What made you want to do that?
BRANNON: I had a friend die Wednesday night for no reason other than he was a black man. Senator Pinkney was an incredible human being.
Note, the debate won't begin right away. In the interview, Brannon went on to say that his plan is to pre-file the proposal in December, so that the bill will be ready when state lawmakers' return to work in January for their 2016 session.
Again, just to clarify, Brannon is a Republican, which raises the prospect of a bipartisan bill generating quite a bit of attention next year -- just in time for South Carolina's GOP presidential primary on Feb. 20, 2016.
That's almost certainly not what the Republicans' White House hopefuls want to hear. On the contrary, in the face of repeated questioning and considerable public discussion, exactly zero GOP candidates have explicitly called on the state to remove the controversial flag from its Statehouse. Mitt Romney, to his credit, said it's time for the flag to come down -- one of the few positions he's been consistent on for many years -- but Romney, of course, is not a candidate.
First up from the God Machine this week is the annual Southern Baptist Convention, held this week in Georgia, where attendees declared "spiritual warfare" on marriage equality in advance of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling. The Atlanta Journal Constitutionreported:
The Baptists acknowledged that the court seems likely to legalize same-sex marriage when it rules in the next two weeks, but leaders urged the faithful to stand fast and, indeed, lead the nation in opposition.
"We are in spiritual warfare," said convention president Rev. Ronnie Floyd. "This is not a time for Southern Baptists to stand back."
As a rule, "spiritual warfare" is one of those phrases that should make Americans uncomfortable.
Of course, Floyd was just getting started. If you saw Tuesday's show, you saw this clip of the Southern Baptist leader telling convention attendees, "I want to say to every pastor today of the United States who believes the word of God, this is a Bonhoeffer moment for every pastor if the United States. While some evangelicals -- while some evangelicals may be bowing down to the inception of the inclusiveness of same-sex marriage, or marriage in their churches, we will not back down, nor will we be silent."
For the record, "a Bonhoeffer moment" refers to a German pastor who participated in a plot to kill Hitler during World War II. In other words, as Rachel put it, the head of the Southern Baptists this week said pastors "are going to have an assassinate-Hitler moment if the Supreme Court says that gay people can be married."
As for Floyd's specific plans, he went on to say, "I declare to everyone today as a minister of the gospel, I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies. I completely refuse."
I suppose anything's possible, but I'd remind Rev. Floyd that he's unlikely to receive many invitations to officiate at same-sex weddings, so his refusal seems like a moot point. Call it a hunch.
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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