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Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market in Los Angeles, Calif on July 11, 2014. (Photo by David McNew/Reuters)

Alaska joins small group of states where pot is legal

02/24/15 10:11AM

Colorado and the state of Washington broke new legal ground when they legalized use of marijuana, but they haven't had much company. Voters in the District of Columbia soon followed, though congressional Republicans, ignoring their own principles about local control, had other ideas.
 
Today, however, the very small pot club gets a third member. The Alaska Dispatch News reported this morning:
Feb. 24, 2015, is a historic day in the Last Frontier: Alaska becomes the third state in the U.S. in which recreational cannabis use is legalized. [...]
 
State and local governments are tasked with redefining the parameters of marijuana as it is brought out of the shadows and into well-lit, regulated territory. Much remains to be seen.
There was a period of transition and confusion in Colorado and Washington after state laws changed, and it's likely Alaska, which legalized pot by popular referenda, will have similar short-term issues. Broadly speaking, though, the bottom line is pretty straightforward: Alaskans who are 21 and over can legally "possess, transport and display up to 1 ounce of marijuana and accompanying accessories." They can also "possess, grow, process and transport up to six marijuana plants, three of which may be flowering."
 
There are restrictions on sales, quantities, driving under the influence, and partaking in public. Private businesses can, if they choose, still impose drug tests on employees and fire those who test positive.
 
A public-education campaign is already under way to "encourage responsible consumption" -- the tagline:  "With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility" -- and in the coming months, the state intends to develop a state agency responsible for regulating commercial production and sales. Marijuana businesses, such as those in Colorado and Washington, will soon follow.
 
As for which state may be next, keep an eye on Vermont, where legislation is already pending. It's not likely to be voted on until next year, but the Green Mountain State, if it moves forward, would be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process.
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott responds to a question during a gubernatorial debate against Democrat Charlie Crist on Oct. 10, 2014, in Miramar, Fla. (Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP)

Florida governor talks up healthcare plan: Nothing

02/24/15 09:25AM

There's a very real possibility that Republican justices on the Supreme Court will gut the Affordable Care Act later this year. Every state without their own exchange marketplace -- in other words, every state where consumers have enrolled through healthcare.gov -- would suddenly have millions of families unable to afford their own insurance because of the Supreme Court.
 
There's no shortage of questions as to what would happen at that point, but chief among them is what states would do to help their own residents.
 
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), for example, said last week that if the Supreme Court took benefits away from 500,000 of his constituents, "we'd have to look at" setting up a state marketplace to prevent hardship.
 
But note how other Republican governors are weighing their options.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican, said the potential of an abrupt stop to the subsidies is Washington's doing. It's not his job to find a solution.
 
"This is a federal program, it's a federal problem," he said at the American Action Forum on Friday.
In a practical sense, the far-right governor -- who used to run a health care company -- is mistaken. Florida, if it wanted to, could have an exchange in which private insurers compete for Floridians' business. That's not up to Washington; it's up to Tallahassee.
 
What's more, let's also not forget that when it came to enrollments through "Obamacare" this year, Florida ranked #1 in the nation with a whopping 1.6 million enrollees, of which 90% received subsidized coverage through the ACA.
 
Rick Scott, confronted with the possibility of suffering constituents and a massive loss in revenue has a plan: do nothing. The governor fully intends to just sit back and watch while hundreds of thousands of Florida families lose access to basic medical care.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office from the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

McConnell looks for a way out of DHS mess

02/24/15 08:40AM

In early January, shortly after the terrorist violence in Paris, much of the political world wondered aloud whether Republicans would follow through on their threats to shut down parts of the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent an unmistakable signal: the public need not worry.
 
Referencing DHS, the Republican leader told reporters, "[A]t the end of the day we're going to fund the department, obviously."
 
That was seven weeks ago, and Republican intentions are far less "obvious" now. On the contrary, GOP lawmakers appear to have fallen into a trap they set for themselves, and are at odds with one another about how to climb out before Friday's deadline.
 
To his credit, McConnell doesn't want his party to shoot the hostage it took without forethought, and as of late yesterday, the Kentucky lawmaker signaled support for a new strategy.
The Kentucky Republican offered a standalone bill focused on the 2014 immigration actions alone after Democrats for the fourth time filibustered the House-passed DHS bill, this time on a 47-46 vote, 13 shy of the 60 needed to advance.
 
"It isn't tied to DHS funding. It removes their excuse," the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor.... Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed McConnell's latest maneuvering.
The basic outline of McConnell's remedy is pretty straightforward. Under the current Republican strategy, funding for Homeland Security is tied to a GOP plan to scrap President Obama's immigration policy. In effect, the party's ransom note reads, "Undo the White House's protections for immigrants or the Department of Homeland Security gets it."
 
McConnell's new tack intends to decouple the demands -- Congress would fund Homeland Security at the agreed upon levels, and then lawmakers would also vote on separate legislation going after the president's executive actions on immigration.
 
So, in this ridiculous game of chicken, McConnell blinked first? Yep, that's pretty much what happened last night.

GOP lawmaker flunks Anatomy 101

02/24/15 08:00AM

When it comes to Republicans, anatomy, biology, and reproductive health, the last few years have not been kind. Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly been confused, for example, about the basics of birth control. Former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), during his failed Senate campaign, had a certain "shut that whole thing down" incident.
 
But as Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest GOP misstep is a doozy.
An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.
 
The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.
 
Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.
To appreciate the absurdity of the situation, watch the video below to hear the laughter in the committee room following the exchange.
 
Barbieri, who has a history of far-right views and activism, sits on the board of a so-called "crisis pregnancy center," which tries to dissuade women from terminating pregnancies. Presumably, the Republican state lawmaker should be a little more familiar with human anatomy, particularly in the area of reproductive health.
 
The unfortunate exchange occurred during a hearing on legislation intended to "ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine" -- a practice that does not currently exist in Idaho. The state committee approved the bill on a party-line vote in the Republican-dominated legislature, and it now heads to the state House floor.

Iran nuke deal taking shape and other headlines

02/24/15 07:34AM

Negotiators weigh plan to phase out nuclear limits on Iran. (New York Times)

Activist groups say ISIS has kidnapped 70 Assyrian Christians. (AP)

Pot is legal in Alaska today. (Washington Post)

House Republicans urge AG nominee's rejection. (The Hill)

GOP gets bad news from the Senate Parliamentarian about Obamacare repeal plan. (The Hill)

Georgia set to execute first woman in 70 years. (NBC News)

V.A. secretary sorry he claimed to serve in special forces. (USA Today)

read more

Democratic plan targets GOP gerrymandering

GOP gerrymandering targeted in new Democratic plan

02/23/15 09:50PM

Rachel Maddow reports on an assessment by the Democratic National Committee of lessons the party should take from recent political losses, with an emphasis on increasing input on redistricting to counter the GOP's gerrymandered advantage. watch

Citations for the February 23, 2015 TRMS

02/23/15 09:28PM

Tonight's guests:

  • John Stanton, DC bureau chief for Buzzfeed
  • Spencer Ackermannational security editor for The Guardian

Statement from the Chicago Police Department on the Guardian’s reporting:

The allegations in this instance are not supported by facts. The vast majority of our officers serve the public with honor and integrity, and alleged actions of one individual decades ago are in no way indicative of the hard working men and women who put their lives on the line each day to protect residents.

The Chicago Police Department has zero tolerance for misconduct, and has instituted a series of internal initiatives and reforms, to ensure past incidents of police misconduct are not repeated.

Over the past three years, CPD created and implemented procedural justice training, which is mandatory for all police officers, built around understanding, fairness and respect.  CPD strengthened Internal Affairs, adding accountability measures to their work, adding more investigators, bringing Sergeants into investigations and giving the Bureau of Internal Affairs priority in selecting staff. Additionally, CPD has worked to ensure we have the right supervisors in place, and provided new training that reflects the values we hold, not just as a department but as a community. At the same time, we have made community policing the foundation of our policing philosophy and we have fostered stronger partnership with community leaders, faith leaders and residents. 

From the Guardian:

Guantánamo Diary exposes brutality of US rendition and torture

Bad lieutenant: American police brutality, exported from Chicago to Guantánamo

Evidence from Chicago detective's cases re-examined for multiple exonerations

How Chicago police condemned the innocent: a trail of coerced confessions

The rest of tonight's links:

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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.23.15

02/23/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* What a story: "Turkish police searched Monday for three missing British schoolgirls believed to be headed to Syria to join the Islamic State extremist group as their frightened families issued urgent pleas begging the girls to return home."
 
* The new Pentagon chief's first trip abroad: "A more hopeful outlook for Afghan democracy is the key reason the Obama administration is considering slowing down its troop withdrawal and rethinking the scope of its counterterrorism mission here, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Saturday."
 
* Protecting consumers from dubious financial advice: "The White House on Monday plans to throw its full weight behind a Department of Labor proposal to make it harder for brokers to push higher-fee mutual funds or other expensive products on people saving for life after work. The plan would require brokers to act in a customer's best interest, a change that could limit the earnings of financial advisers."
 
* Keep an eye on this one: "CIA Director John O. Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency's cyber espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said."
 
* Ukraine: "Pro-Russian rebels celebrated their recent victory at Debaltseve with a festive rally on Monday in Donetsk, the main city they control, where soldiers received medals in Lenin Square and the crowd cheered and waved Soviet flags."
 
* A big win for Perez: "Obama's ports gamble paid off. A bitter nine-month dispute between shipowners and dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports ended Friday night after Labor Secretary Tom Perez helped broker a tentative new contract. If the deal is approved by rank and file members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, activity will return to normal at the ports, which are responsible for about $1 trillion in cargo annually."
 
* Nuclear talks: "Iranian and American officials ended a round of high-level nuclear talks here on Monday considering a proposal that would strictly limit for at least 10 years Iran's ability to produce nuclear material, but gradually ease restrictions on Tehran in the final years of a deal."
Reverend Dr. Luis Leon (R) looks on as United States President Barack Obama (C) prepares to leave St John's Episcopal Church after an Easter service, in Washington, 31 March 2013. Photo by: Drew Angerer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Pointless scrutiny of Obama's church attendance

02/23/15 04:54PM

President Obama is a Christian. His wife is a Christian. They've baptized their children as Christians. The Obama family were members of a Christian church in their hometown of Chicago. At his inauguration, Obama was sworn in on a Christian Bible, and as president, he's proceeded to speak many times with pride about his Christianity.
 
And yet, Byron York asked over the weekend, "Why are Americans confused about Obama's religion?"
[W]hen it comes to confusion, or wrong information, about Obama's religion, Scott Walker is far from alone. Polls have long shown many Americans know little about the president's faith.
That's true. As best as I can tell, since the dawn of modern polling, no modern president has had his faith questioned the way President Obama has, and as such, there are no polling points of comparison. That said, there's considerable, independent data suggesting a chunk of the population is unsure about Obama's faith.
 
If the president's far-right detractors hoped to persuade Americans to be skeptical about the president's personal religious beliefs, it would appear those critics have had some success. One can speculate about why Obama, and none of his modern predecessors, has been subjected to such attacks, but whatever the reason, they've had some effect on public attitudes.
 
York, meanwhile, suggests the president himself bears some responsibility: "For one thing, few people see Obama openly practicing any religious faith. After the president did not attend church on Christmas 2013, the New York Times, citing unofficial White House historian Mark Knoller, noted that Obama had attended church 18 times in nearly five years in the White House, while George W. Bush attended 120 times in eight years."
 
I assume those statistics are accurate, though I'm not sure how helpful they are in understanding the broader dynamic.
Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 8, 2014.

GOP leader's new whopper: Obama doing 'nothing' about ISIS

02/23/15 03:23PM

It's alarming to think members of Congress have no idea that the United States launched a military offensive against ISIS six months ago, but the evidence of this widespread ignorance is hard to ignore.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, claimed in an interview on the Family Research Council's "Washington Watch" radio program this weekend, that President Obama isn't taking the threat of the Islamic State "seriously" and is doing "nothing" to stop the extremist group because he believes that "America's not exceptional."
 
When Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the host of the program, asked Smith why the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan are "responding in a more direct and authoritative way to these attacks of ISIS than our own president," Smith responded, "That is true. Other countries seem to be doing more or taking it more seriously."
As Right Wing Watch reported, the far-right Texas congressman and committee chairman went on to say, "He was going to 'degrade and destroy.' Well, I don't see any evidence of degrading and I don't see certainly any evidence of destroying ISIS. Other countries are moving better than we are. And we certainly ought to get other countries engaged without any doubt, but we cannot just sit around and do nothing, all it does is embolden our enemies."
 
Smith added that "one might hope" that President Obama "would be a little bit more responsive and a little bit more assertive and, frankly, trying to assert American power and provide weapons to those who are our allies, for example, or take actions to stop the atrocities that are occurring, or support other nations that are doing more than we are. But the president is doing none of these things. He's decided in effect that America's not exceptional, that we don't have a role to play in the world, and that he's not going to be concerned about it."
 
When it comes to national security, counter-terrorism, and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, there's ample room for spirited debate. Indeed, one is long overdue. It's complicated; it's scary; it's a matter of life and death; and the right answers are rarely obvious.
 
That said, we know with some certainty that just about every sentence Lamar Smith uttered is completely bonkers -- and fits into an alarming pattern of partisan ignorance.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker laughs as he is introduced prior to his speech at Chatham House in central London, Feb. 11, 2015. (Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Walker connects union-busting to his foreign policy

02/23/15 12:51PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was in New York City last week, hosting a series of meetings and events, though one gathering became infamous following the remarks of a certain former mayor.
 
The Republican governor's remarks were largely overlooked in the uproar, which is a shame -- what Walker told the crowd was nearly as outlandish as what Rudy Giuliani said at the same event.
...Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
The next morning on CNBC, Walker added, "When [Reagan] fired the air-traffic controllers early in his presidency, there's not a person, not just an American, but around the world, that as an ally didn't know we were serious and would stand with them. But equally, if not more importantly, in -- in USSR at that time and the Soviet Union, now Russia, and Iran, and elsewhere, they knew not to mess with us."
 
Look, the governor's anti-union efforts have paid political dividends for him. When Walker went after labor in Wisconsin, he delighted the right. When unions launched a recall campaign, the governor not only prevailed, he collected contact information for anti-labor donors nationwide, who were eager to defend Walker and keep him in office, and created a foundation he'll exploit throughout 2015 and 2016.
 
But if the Wisconsin Republican seriously believes an anti-labor agenda is part of an effective foreign-policy posture, he's delusional.

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