Last year was the first in generations in which North Carolina had a Republican governor working with Republican majorities in both the state House and state Senate. They quickly starting making up for lost time.
At a breakneck pace, GOP policymakers in the state cut unemployment benefits, imposed the most sweeping voting restrictions anywhere in the United States, blocked Medicaid expansion; repealed the Racial Justice Act; and imposed harsh new restrictions on reproductive rights. Rachel described it on the show as "conservatives gone wild."
But North Carolina Republicans had some ideas on education, too, including the creation of a new voucher system, using public funds from taxpayers to subsidize private schools. As of today, that system is on hold following a new court order.
The legislature's plan to give parents taxpayer money to send their children to private schools suffered a setback Friday when a Superior Court judge granted opponents' request to freeze the program.
Lawyers representing taxpayers, the N.C. School Boards Association and local school boards argued that the state constitution prohibits using public money to pay private K-12 school tuition.... The program would give about 2,400 students who leave public school up to $4,200 each to pay tuition at a private school.
The suit was filed three months ago by a diverse group of 25 plaintiffs that included parents, teachers, clergy, a prominent civil-rights advocate, and a former state schools superintendent.
And from this layman's perspective, they appear to have rather plain language in the state Constitution on their side.
Four Republican senators have sent FBI Director James Comey a letter regarding conservative author and political commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was indicted for campaign finance fraud last month.
In the letter, Sens. Charles Grassley, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee quote Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz as saying, "I can't help but think that [D'Souza's] politics have something to do with it.... It smacks of selective prosecution."
"To dispel this sort of public perception that Mr. D'Souza may have been targeted because of his outspoken criticisms of the President, it is important for the FBI to be transparent regarding the precise origin of this investigation," the senators write.
Last April, I laid out the flight plan, showing the trajectory of these theories: they start with the off-the-wall fringe, then get picked up by more prominent far-right outlets, then Fox News, then congressional Republicans.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) spoke at a Republican fundraising event this week and told a rather brazen falsehood.
"We need to have an answer of when the Secretary of Defense had assets that he could have begun spinning up. Why there was not one order given to turn on one Department of Defense asset? I have my suspicions, which is Secretary Clinton told Leon [Panetta] to stand down, and we all heard about the stand down order for two military personnel. That order is undeniable.
"They were told not to get on -- get off the airplane and kind of standby -- and they're going to characterize it wasn't stand down. But when we're done with Benghazi, the real question is, was there a stand down order to Leon Panetta or did he just not do his job? Was there a stand down order from the President who said he told them to use their resources and they didn't use them? Those questions have to be answered."
When it comes to rhetorical excesses, Issa is known as a politician who's comfortable taking liberties with reality, but this Benghazi rhetoric is spectacularly wrong. Indeed, it's insultingly wrong -- for the California Republican to repeat such as outlandish fictions in public suggests a certain contempt for one's audience. Issa, in this case, just didn't seem to respect the Republican donors at this fundraiser enough to be honest with them.
Glenn Kessler already published a rather comprehensive takedown of Issa's shameless claims on the subject -- the Washington Post writer said Issa "is crossing a line" -- but there's an even larger context to this that's worth keeping mind.
First, Issa's version of events isn't just at odds with reality, it's even at odds with Republicans' version of reality. As Hayes Brown noted, Issa's GOP colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee released a Benghazi report just last week, "which explicitly denied the existence of the order Issa claims happened. 'There was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi,' the report says within its first few pages."
Issa told Republican donors, "That order is undeniable." Then why, from Issa's perspective, do House Republicans deny what is undeniable? Are his own allies in on the conspiracy? Are we to see Issa as the last honest man in Washington?
With a crisis in Ukraine, violence in Syria, and diplomatic talks underway with Iran, Sen. John McCain (R) is deeply unhappy - and he's eager to let everyone know about his dissatisfaction.
On various areas of foreign policy and the Obama administration, McCain sees an "abysmal failure" and a "disgrace." He doesn't know "what planet" Secretary of State John Kerry is on. When it comes to developments in Kiev, McCain believes President Obama is guilty of "stunning naivete" adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "played us so incredibly" and Obama is "the most naive president in history."
What's all of this based on? Well, that's less clear. Apparently McCain is outraged that the Obama administration tried to improve U.S. relations with Russia five years ago. McCain also believes, for reasons that appear to be imaginary, that Russia may try to seize control of parts of Ukraine, presumably through some kind of invasion.
[I]f you had to sum up John McCain's foreign policy beliefs in a single word, that word would probably be "Grrrr!" Whatever the situation is, McCain's view is always that we should be tougher than whatever the White House is doing. [...]
That is, I promise you, the extent of the sophistication of McCain's foreign policy thinking. Despite the fact that he is regularly lauded by the reporters who have worshipped him for so long as an "expert" in foreign policy with deep "knowledge" and "experience," I have never heard him say a single thing that demonstrated any kind of understanding of any foreign country or foreign crisis beyond what you could have gleaned from watching a three-minute report on the Today show.
In the case of Ukraine, McCain's latest outrage leads him to believe the U.S. should impose sanctions -- a position that's entirely in line with the Obama administration, which McCain is publicly condemning apparently for the sake of public condemnation.
When it comes to policymakers imposing new restrictions on reproductive rights, a fierce national push has been underway since 2011, but arguably no state has gone further than Texas.
As Katie McDonough explained yesterday, the status of reproductive healthcare in Texas "had been dire long before conservative lawmakers passed the omnibus measure to shutter reproductive health clinics, restrict safe abortion services and leave thousands of women without access to necessary care," but it's certainly worse now than a few years ago, thanks to sweeping new laws and budget cuts.
It's against this backdrop that Texas officials decided to host a hearing yesterday to recognize their own "achievements" in the area of women's health. Tara Culp-Ressler noted:
On Thursday, a panel of Texas lawmakers convened a hearing to discuss how to build on the state’s “previous legislative achievements in women’s healthcare.” The Senate committee invited two men — the executive commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services and the commissioner of the Department of State Health Services — to testify about women’s access to preventative health services.
State Sen. Jane Nelson (R), who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, told the Texas Tribune that the hearing is intended to discuss the “progress” in running the new Texas Women’s Health Program.
The new "program" was the result of Texas' policy defunding Planned Parenthood.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn't really a senator anymore, at least not in any kind of practical sense. He's more of an activist-personality-provocateur with voting privileges in the world's most deliberative body. Cruz hasn't actually passed any meaningful bills and doesn't seem to have any intention of developing a legislative record of any kind -- being a "senator" isn't really the point.
And with Cruz's antics in mind, a variety of labels come to mind that could be used to describe the Texas Republican, but "statesman" isn't one of them. It's what makes stories like these all the more amusing.
Fresh off forcing fellow Republicans into a painful vote on the debt ceiling -- solidifying his status as the most loathed member of the caucus and a hero to conservative activists -- Sen. Ted Cruz will head to Sarasota tomorrow to be honored as "statesman of the year."
The Sarasota GOP says more than 1,700 people have said they will attend the rally.
Of course, Sarasota Republicans don't seem entirely serious when bestowing their annual honor. Previous winners of the "statesman of the year" award include Donald Trump and Sean Hannity.
In other words, this appears to be some combination of a joke and a fundraising stunt, organized by some folks with a strange sense of humor. Cruz is no more a statesman than I am an astronaut. He's a far-right agitator who rejects compromise, embraces an extreme worldview, and peddles strange conspiracytheories.
But the faux award got me thinking: whatever happened to the existence of actual Republican statesmen and women?
When a bad idea pops up in a state legislature, it's about as common as the sunrise. When the same bad idea pops up in 10 state legislatures at the same time, something odd is going on.
At issue are proposals to make anti-gay discrimination easier for social conservatives under the guise of "religious liberty." Kansas, for example, recently generated national headlines for a bill that would have given those with "sincerely held religious beliefs" license to discriminate practically everywhere -- restaurants could deny gay couples service; hotels could deny gay couples rooms, even public-sector workers could refuse to provide services to LGBT Kansans.
Kansas' right-to-discriminate bill was derailed, but as Adam Serwer reported yesterday, very similar proposals have drawn attention in Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. My colleague Laura Conaway found a related measure in Maine.
"Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword," Nick Worner of the Ohio ACLU said, paraphrasing George H.W. Bush appointed federal Judge Carol Jackson. "It's not religious freedom when you're using it to hurt someone else."
For proponents of civil rights, the good news is that these proposals are faltering in nine states. The bad news is, a bill in Arizona's Republican-led legislature actually passed yesterday.
The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner's right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.
The state Senate passed it on a straight party-line vote, 17 to 13. The House followed suit, 33 to 27, with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition.
This is no modest effort to accommodate religiously motivated discrimination.
What does Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) have to say about this week's revelations, stemming from the release of documents unsealed in the case of a convicted former aide? So far, not a whole lot.
His spokesperson told reporters yesterday that the governor hasn't scheduled any media availability to answer questions about this or any other subject. In fact, Walker is actually leaving town -- the Wisconsin Republican is headed to D.C. for a National Governors Association event. He'll return on Monday, five days after the release of the materials.
The editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state's largest newspaper, doesn't see this as a sustainable position, arguing that Walker "must" answer questions.
Gov. Scott Walker needs to talk. He should hold a news conference to explain how much he knew about a secret email system as Milwaukee County executive. And he needs to let reporters ask as many questions as they want.
Why wouldn't the governor want to clear up questions raised by the release Wednesday of 27,000 pages of emails related to a John Doe investigation into links between his county government staff and his gubernatorial campaign staff in 2010? [...]
The longer he dodges questions, the more he undercuts his reputation as a straight-shooter. There are questions that need answering that only the governor can answer. The people of Wisconsin deserve those answers.
[Updated below with a response from the McCrory administration]
For creationists, fossil fuels tend to pose a tricky dilemma. On the one hand, they want to believe the Earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. On the other hand, fossil fuels are millions of years old. You see the problem.
To solve the riddle, some on the far-right fringe have come up with some pretty creative theories. World Net Daily's Jerome Corsi, for example, has argued that Nazis discovered that oil is an infinite natural resource; the Soviet Union learned this; but some nefarious officials in the U.S. hid the truth from the public.
Now, there's nothing especially surprising about fringe people adopting fringe ideas. In fact, it's largely inconsequential -- World Net Daily occasionally influences politicians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), but in general, most sensible folks have some rudimentary understanding of where oil comes from. Weird extremists have a very limited ability to influence public policy.
But consider this recent exchange between WRAL's Laura Leslie in North Carolina and John Skvarla:
LESLIE: I'm thinking about what you're saying about natural gas and that's true. You know, obviously, it's very cheap right now. You know, on the flip side, it's a finite resource and fossil resource. I mean, is there --
SKVARLA: There are some people who disagree with you. The Russians, for instance, have always drilled oil as if it's a renewable resource. So far, they haven't been proven wrong. There's a lot of different scientific opinion on that.
And who, exactly, is John Skvarla? He's the guy North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) chose to lead the Department of Environment & Natural Resources.
In other words, John Skvarla thinks fossil fuels may be an infinite natural resource, and North Carolina's Republican governor put him in charge of environmental policy in the state.
Chris Christie will be in DC this weekend, but will skip a dinner at the White House. (CNN) Leader of the Port Authority Police union to reduce his role amid scandal. (NY Times) Port Authority revises its explanation of that $1 parking lot deal (again). (Bergen Record) Ohio Republicans move to curb early, absentee voting. (Washington Post) Detroit's plan to emerge from bankruptcy expected today. (Detroit Free Press) read more
Today's edition of quick hits:* Crisis in Ukraine: "Ukraine descended into a deeper spiral of violence on Thursday as both protesters and riot police officers used firearms in the deadliest day so far, and fear intensified that President Viktor F. Yanukovych would declare a state of emergency, a move that could herald the deployment of the military."http://www.nytimes. read more