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GOP candidates back religious freedom policy

GOP candidates back religious freedom policy

04/03/15 09:00PM

Steve Kornacki talks to New York Times political reporter Nick Confessore about how republican presidential candidates have voiced support for the religious freedom bill in Indiana, and whether it will help or hinder their bid for the White House. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.3.15

04/03/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The day after in Kenya: "Rescuers removed bodies of students from college dormitories in this town in eastern Kenya on Friday and airlifted injured survivors to the capital, one day after al-Shabab Islamist militants stormed the dorms and killed at least 147 people, most of them sleeping college students."
* Iran: "As word made its way around the globe that an understanding had been reached with the United States and other powers to limit Iran's nuclear program, Iranians themselves greeted the news with optimism and skepticism on Friday. While the political climate remained uncertain, the government was allowed to promote the deal at Friday Prayer, a sign that the plan was broadly supported by Iran's establishment."
* This may not be a constructive demand right now: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Iranian recognition of Israel's right to exist be written into an emerging nuclear deal, as he convened top officials for talks on Friday."
* President Obama today launched "a new initiative to expand the nation's solar industry workforce during a visit to Utah's Hill Air Force Base.... The Energy Department will seek to train 75,000 people -- including veterans -- to enter the solar workforce by 2020, increasing the goal it set in May 2014 by 25,000."
* Ferguson: "City officials in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday evening released the full, unredacted content of racially charged and religiously insensitive e-mails sent by the city's former court clerk as well as two former supervisors in the police department."
* Arizona's step backwards: "While other places have turned to bans and fees to discourage the use of plastic bags, Arizona is headed in a different direction. On Thursday, the State Legislature here sent a bill to the governor that would ban the bans."
* Quite a scene in Maine: "Gov. Paul LePage's town hall-style forum came to a chaotic end Thursday night when a former Democratic state lawmaker was hauled away by state police after she angrily confronted the governor, shouting that his budget proposals were harming low-income Mainers."
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Michael Hayden testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, on Deb. 5, 2008. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Not everyone on the right balks at Iran deal

04/03/15 04:37PM

For the most part, commentary and analysis of the preliminary nuclear deal with Iran falls along predictable lines. On the one hand, we see President Obama's policy backed by the American mainstream, many congressional Democrats, a variety of foreign policy experts, and most of our allies.
On the other hand, we see congressional Republicans, their media allies, and prominent neoconservative voices.
But to assume that every conservative is outraged by the framework that blocks Iran's nuclear-weapons program isn't quite right. Just minutes after the president wrapped up his remarks, for example, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly offered tacit support for the administration's approach. "You don't want a war with Iran," the Fox host said, adding, "[I]f you can get something that's decent, you give it a shot. I think that's a legitimate point."
Today, a prominent figure in the Bush/Cheney national security team was vaguely complimentary, too.
Gen. Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush's director of the NSA and CIA, told Fox News on Friday morning that he was "heartened" by the tentative deal the Obama administration and its international partners have reached with Iran in an effort to contain its nuclear program.
"In terms of what it is we think we know, I have not yet found anything in the contract, so to speak, that I find disqualifying," Hayden said. "It's more than I thought we would demand, so in that sense I'm heartened."
In fairness, Hayden did not explicitly endorse the framework, and he acknowledged the details that still need to be worked out, but the former NSA and CIA director also said "there are no good alternatives" to the White House's diplomatic approach. "I'm willing to give this thing some time," Hayden concluded.
Haaretz, a major, left-leaning Israeli newspaper, ran a piece this morning that said even Benjamin Netanyahu and his administration "will have a hard time fighting this agreement, or portraying it as bad."
US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AFP/Getty)

A foreign policy legacy takes shape

04/03/15 03:19PM

We're still a year and a half from the next Election Day, but there's already quite a bit of chatter of "legacies" in the air. Politico, for example, yesterday said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) "came to power envisioning shrinking government and slashing budgets, but foreign policy has emerged as a central element of his legacy."
A day later, I'm still not sure what Politico was talking about. Boehner has never shown particular interest in, or demonstrated any knowledge of, international affairs, and after more than four years with the Speaker's gavel, the Ohio Republican has not contributed to American foreign policy in any constructive way. If this is a "central element" of Boehner's legacy, the Speaker's in big trouble.
Of course, after a preliminary international agreement was reached over Iran's nuclear program, interest quickly shifted to the White House. The New York Times quoted Cliff Kupchan, described as an Iran specialist at a consulting firm, saying this about President Obama: "Right now, he has no foreign policy legacy. He's got a list of foreign policy failures. A deal with Iran and the ensuing transformation of politics in the Middle East would provide one of the more robust foreign policy legacies of any recent presidencies."
The second half of the sentiment is more compelling than the first. A sweeping international nuclear agreement with Iran would, to be sure, represent one of the more transformative foreign policy victories in a generation. But the notion that President Obama "has no foreign policy legacy" is highly dubious. Ryan Grim noted some of the notable recent breakthroughs:
The deal with Iran comes two months after Obama announced a warming of relations with Cuba, another longtime U.S. foe. [...]
In November, Obama, during a trip to China, surprised observers with a bilateral climate change deal that puts China on a path to reduced emissions. American opponents of acting to stave off climate change have long used China as a reason not to act, arguing that whatever the U.S. does will be overshadowed by the coal-heavy nation.
Breakthroughs on U.S. policy towards Iran and Cuba are themselves future entries in history books, and the progress on climate talks with China have the potential to be literally life-saving.
But as Obama's foreign policy legacy takes shape, the list of successes continues.
Nuclear Iran Talks in Lausanne, Switzerland (Photo by Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA)

The familiar, reflexive anti-agreement posture

04/03/15 12:54PM

As observers around the world digest the details of the preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the striking aspects of the reactions is how pleasantly surprised some proponents are. There's a large contingent of experts saying this morning, "I was ready to live with an unsatisfying deal, but this is a bigger win for America than I could have imagined.
Fred Kaplan, for example, said the framework "turns out to be far more detailed, quantitative, and restrictive than anyone had expected." Max Fisher called the blueprint "astonishingly good," adding that it's "almost astoundingly favorable to the United States" and "far better than expected."
It's against this background that congressional Republicans screamed bloody murder. "Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a statement.
Obviously, these are not the comments of someone who wants to be taken seriously by adults. Indeed, I can't help but wonder how many GOP critics already had their furious press releases -pre-written, waiting for an agreement to be announced, so they could start whining before reading it.
But Jon Chait recently noticed the broader problem.
[T]he conservative case against the Iran deal is hard to take seriously because the right has made the same case against every major negotiation with an American adversary since World War II.
The right opposed every nonproliferation treaty with the Soviets. The right opposed Nixon going to China. The right condemned the SALT treaty and the START treaty.
As Peter Beinart explained a while back, Reagan and Clinton were both confronted with ugly Munich comparisons from far-right ideologues -- many of whom are literally the same people furious with Obama for curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions now.
This is no small detail. In fact, it's one of the more important aspects of the entire debate.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.3.15

04/03/15 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:
* At least one likely presidential candidate had something positive to say about the international nuclear framework with Iran: Hillary Clinton called it an "important step," adding that while "the devil is always in the details" in such negotiations, "diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed."
* Ted Cruz isn't just the first White House hopeful to formally announce; he's also the first to hit the airwaves. The far-right senator has "reserved time during 'Killing Jesus,' a documentary-style adaptation of Bill O'Reilly's book that will run four times this weekend on Fox News." Team Cruz has also purchased airtime in all of the early primary and caucus states for Sunday -- during NBC's "A.D.: The Bible Continues."
* Speaking of Cruz, he appears to have benefited from "several taxpayer-funded excursions" that may not have been entirely related to Senate business.
* Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who's up for re-election next year, became the second Democratic senator to distance himself from Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-N.J.) financial support. Bennet said yesterday he'll donate to charities in Colorado the money he's received from Menendez's political action committee.
* Though Jeb Bush is arguably the GOP frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race, the new Quinnipiac poll shows the former governor with lukewarm support in his home state of Florida, and struggling even more in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Walker eager to thumb his nose at U.S. allies

04/03/15 11:21AM

In recent years, Republicans have been preoccupied with a curious criticism of President Obama: under his leadership, the United States isn't as respected as it once was.
As a quantifiable matter, we know the argument is demonstrably wrong. As a political matter, I often wonder whether Republicans remember what it was like at the end of the Bush/Cheney era, when America's reputation had taken an actual, severe hit.
For quite a while, we were associated with torture and launching disastrous wars based on brazen lies. Our credibility and respect was suffering abroad in ways unseen in many years. It was not uncommon for Americans in the Bush/Cheney era to look for Canadian flags to sow onto backpacks for fear of having to defend Bush's failures and what he'd done to America's name. It was President Obama, fortunately, who helped turn the nation's reputation around.
But GOP presidential candidates continue to say the opposite. Jeb Bush, for example, routinely complains that America has "lost the trust and confidence of our friends." Scott Walker and Donald Trump recently commiserated over "how poorly" the United States is "perceived throughout the world."
It's against this backdrop that many of these same presidential candidates seem desperate to infuriate America's allies and ignore our international commitments. Greg Sargent yesterday flagged a radio interview with Scott Walker, in which he was asked about the preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran.
HOST: You have said that you would cancel any Iranian deal the Obama administration makes. Now would you cancel that even if our trading partners did not want to re-impose the sanctions?
WALKER: Absolutely.
Marco Rubio recently made an identical vow, saying he would "absolutely" defy American allies by scrapping an Iran deal.
This is more than a little crazy.
Senate Holds Hearing On Obama Administration Climate Action Plan

GOP suddenly wants to talk about climate science

04/03/15 10:42AM

Last year, the climate crisis left congressional Republicans in an awkward position. If GOP lawmakers accepted the science, they'd have to do something to deal with the catastrophe, and they simply didn't want to. If GOP lawmakers denied the science, they'd look like fools.
So they eagerly embraced a poll-tested dodge: "I'm not a scientist." It was a convenient way to avoid any responsibility at all. It was also a cowardly and ridiculous posture that exacerbates a crisis that continues to intensify.
Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Republicans can't seem to stick to their own position on willful ignorance. Consider, for example, the GOP senators who this week began pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to justify its climate models in more detail.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wrote the letter after a March hearing at which he challenged EPA head Gina McCarthy to answer specific questions about whether the models her agency uses have correctly predicted various climate events.
"Although questions regarding the impacts of climate change were clear and straightforward, none of the questions received direct answers, and many responses contained caveats and conditions," Sessions wrote in the Wednesday letter, which was also signed by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which hosted the hearing.
I understand the basic point of the letter. The four far-right senators want to compare previous EPA projections against actual climate results. If there are inconsistencies -- for example, if global warming proved to be even worse than previously believed -- the Republican lawmakers will conclude that the EPA models are unreliable and a poor basis for future policymaking.
But all of this is predicated on a bizarre assumption the senators themselves don't believe: they're willing to consider legitimate evidence and shape public policy accordingly.
Or put another way, why would Sessions, Inhofe, Wicker, and Barrasso even ask the question to the EPA when the EPA's answer won't make any difference with them?
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. (Photo by Michael Conroy/AP)

Indiana's Pence only partially resolves discrimination fight

04/03/15 10:08AM

Exactly one week after signing a controversial discrimination measure into law, and touching off a week of national controversy, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a new bill yesterday intended to bring some clarity to the debate.
Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a proposed fix to the week-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on Thursday amid uncertainty as to whether the move would ease intense criticism plaguing the Hoosier State.
"There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, 'What is best for Indiana?'" Pence said in a statement.
The announcement in Indiana coincided with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signing a scaled-back version of a related right-to-discriminate proposal.
There tends to be a trajectory to stories like these. There's an action, followed by a backlash, followed by a weak defense, followed by a resolution. Pence signed a bad bill into law, which quickly turned into a fiasco. The governor said he wouldn't change the law, then he changed his mind, and it's likely the political world will now start to move on, satisfied that a wrong has been corrected.
But in this case, that's arguably a shame, not because there's value in belaboring the point, but because the "fix" in Indiana is not a genuine resolution.
Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Ind.

The right tries, fails to connect Indiana and Iran

04/03/15 09:23AM

Much of the political world's attention was divided yesterday between two important developments. On the same afternoon, President Obama announced a preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran, curtailing the country's nuclear ambitions, while in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence (R) scaled back his state's new right-to-discriminate law.
Some on the right seemed eager to connect the two stories into one deeply odd narrative. Laura Ingraham tweeted yesterday:
"If only the secular Left put as much trust & faith in the people of Indiana as they do in the rulers in Iran."
Rush Limbaugh tried to raise a similar complaint, decrying the "hypocrisy" of companies that complained about Indiana's discrimination statute also selling products to Iranians.
If Apple vowed to sell to consumers in Tehran, but not Indianapolis, the comparison might be more coherent.
But even putting that aside, the right's desire to connect the two unrelated news stories is a spectacularly bad idea. The "secular Left" doesn't want Americans facing discrimination in Indiana. The "secular Left" also doesn't want Americans facing the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. Yesterday brought policy advances that brought us closer to both goals.
To see these two priorities in conflict is to misunderstand the basics of current events.

March job totals fall short, hot streak cools

04/03/15 08:46AM

Clearly, we were getting a little spoiled. After 12 consecutive months of very strong job numbers, an unemployment rate that was falling fast, and the strongest domestic job market since the 1990s, it was tempting to assume the economy would stay on a hot streak indefinitely.
Those assumptions were wrong. The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added just 126,000 jobs in March, well below projections and below recent averages. The overall unemployment rate remained at 5.5%, which is still a seven-year low.
Making matters slightly worse the revisions from January and February were lowered, too. The news wasn't all bad -- wages are up, which is encouraging -- but on balance, this is the worst jobs report since late 2013.
All told, the U.S. has added 3.13 million jobs over the last 12 months. The streak of 12 consecutive months of job growth over 200,000 has been snapped. That said, March was the 54th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 59th consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
US President Barack Obama pauses as he makes remarks at the National League of Cities annual Congressional City Conference in Washington, March 9, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Obama, Iran, and the unseen anger translator

04/03/15 08:00AM

For those hoping to see international diplomacy succeed, President Obama's remarks yesterday at the White House were a welcome development -- preliminary agreement is now in place to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
But listening to Obama's address, it seemed if there was a text and a subtext. There's the message we heard, coupled with the message lurking just below the surface.
The sketch comedy show "Key & Peele" has an amazing recurring bit in which Americans hear from Obama, played by Jordan Peele, and his "Anger Translator" Luther, played by Keegan Michael Key. The idea is simple: the president will state a simple truth, which Luther will then repeat in an aggressive, confrontational, no-holds-barred sort of way. (Here's a sample.)
And while the president's pitch yesterday was quite compelling, I also found myself looking for Luther, telling us what the president wishes he could have said.
There's what Obama said ....
"Today, the United States -- together with our allies and partners -- has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
... and there's what Obama probably wanted to say:
"All of those folks who say they don't want Iran to have nukes? They haven't done anything. I did. You're welcome."
There's what Obama said ....
"This has been a long time coming. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades."
... and there's what Obama probably wanted to say:
"I'm referring of course to all of those other presidents who were here before me. You know, those folks talked a lot without acting."
There's what Obama said ....

Congress on Iran and other headlines

04/03/15 07:57AM

Congress demands the right to review the Iran nuclear deal. (New York Times)

Menendez indictment could alter Congress's role on Iran. (New York Times)

Dozens rescued as severe storm brings tornadoes, rain to Missouri and Kentucky. (NBC News)

Little-known immigration program seeks to reunite Central American families in the U.S. (Washington Post)

Kenya attack survivor says gunmen had scouted the campus. (AP)

This is the only state Obama has never visited as President. (Time)

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Citations for the April 2, 2015 TRMS

04/03/15 12:51AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Joe Cirincione, a member of Secretary Kerry's International Security Advisory Board, president of Ploughshares Fund
  • Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for The Huffington Post

Tonight's links:

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Decryptomaddowlogical #125

04/02/15 11:12PM

Last night Rachel reported on a new development in the severe drought in California. News that the mountain snowpack is historically low forced the state to adopt unprecedented mandatory restrictions on water use. The water crisis is so dire that activities like lawn watering will likely be eliminated. State authorities are making clear that even the slightest wasted dribble is no game. It's more like...

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