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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.8.16

02/08/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Fighting the Zika virus: "President Barack Obama will ask the U.S. Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States and other countries, the White House said on Monday."
 
* Good advice: "President Obama sought to assure Americans that the spread of the Zika virus should not evoke the panic that has accompanied past public health scares."
 
* North Korea "launched a long-range rocket Sunday, drawing stern condemnation from the U.S., Japan and the United Nations. While Pyongyang said the rocket carried a satellite, the launch was widely viewed as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology -- in defiance of United Nations sanctions."
 
* Related note: "The United Nations on Sunday condemned North Korea's satellite launch as a 'dangerous and serious' violation of international restrictions, and threatened new sanctions aimed at dissuading the rogue nation from building missiles capable of delivering weapons against distant adversaries, including the United States."
 
* It's not just Saudi Arabia: "A top official in the United Arab Emirates said Sunday that his country is prepared to send ground troops to Syria to fight Islamic State militants as part of an international coalition."
 
* Taiwan: "A powerful earthquake struck southern Taiwan Saturday, killing at least 14 people and leaving more than 150 people missing in one building alone, officials said."
 
* North Carolina: "Federal judges struck down late Friday two majority black congressional districts in North Carolina, saying race was the predominant factor in drawing those lines but state legislators lacked justification in using that practice."
Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) holds a town hall meeting in the Londonderry High School cafeteria Feb. 7, 2016 in Londonderry, N.H. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Rubio's clumsy case against Obama and 'change'

02/08/16 04:50PM

Marco Rubio's debate debacle Saturday night, whether it hurts his campaign or not, was one of the more cringe worthy moments in modern debate history. The Florida senator did the one thing a candidate should never do -- Rubio confirmed an unflattering caricature -- and he did so on a widely seen national television event at a key juncture in the campaign.
 
But just as important as the Floridian's panic-induced repetition was the point Rubio kept repeating, word for word: "Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country."
 
Today, the senator practically bragged about the source of his embarrassment. The New York Times reported:
"I'm going to say it again," Mr. Rubio said in front of a crowd of about 1,000 people who packed a high school cafeteria here, one of his largest New Hampshire audiences. "Barack Obama is the first president, at least in my lifetime, who wants to change the country. Change the country -- not fix it. Not fix its problems. He wants to make it a different kind of country."
It may seem like a strange thing for Rubio to whine about. In 1985, Ronald Reagan said he intended to "change America forever," and the Republican icon had some success on this front. Bill Clinton ran on a "change" platform, and he too delivered on a series of changes.
 
George W, Bush, for good or ill, changed the country. Barack Obama, love him or hate him, changed the country. People very rarely seek national office because they intend to leave things exactly as they are. On the contrary, would-be leaders seek powerful offices because they're not satisfied with the status quo.
 
Not to put too fine a point on this, but a President Rubio "wants to change the country," too -- by taking away families' health care benefits, ending efforts to combat climate change, turning back the clock on marriage equality, giving the wealthy a massive tax break the country can't afford, etc.
 
All of which leads to a rather basic question: why in the world is Rubio complaining so incessantly about President Obama being an agent of change? If you've misplaced your right-wing decoder ring, there's an actually an underappreciated answer to all of this.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Rochester Opera House campaign town hall meeting in Rochester, N.H., Jan. 22, 2016. (Photo by Faith Ninivaggi/Reuters)

Clinton responds to rumors about a staff shake-up

02/08/16 03:23PM

A report from Politico has caused quite a stir in the political world this afternoon, quoting unnamed figures close to the Clinton campaign who said Hillary and Bill Clinton are "so dissatisfied with their campaign's messaging and digital operations they are considering staffing and strategy changes" following a likely defeat in the New Hampshire primary.
 
In her only national interview before Granite State Democrats head to the polls tomorrow, Clinton sat down with Rachel Maddow, who asked about the scuttlebutt.
MADDOW: Politico dot com, just this afternoon, just published something that says that there's changes in the works, and there's always these sort of campaign gossip stories but they say they are citing a half dozen people with direct knowledge of the situation. ... Are you planning some sort of shakeup like that?
 
CLINTON:  Yeah somebody showed that to me. I have no idea what they're talking about or who they are talking to. We're going to take stock but it's going to be the campaign that I've got. I'm very confident in the people that I have. I'm very committed to them; they're committed to doing the best we can. We're going to take stock, what works, what doesn't work. We're moving into a different phase of the campaign. We're moving into a more diverse electorate. We're moving into different geographic areas. So, of course it would be malpractice not to say, "OK, what worked? What can we do better? What do we have to do new and different that we have to pull out?"
So, given these comments, it would seem the kind of shake-up Politico described is unlikely, though some changes in direction are probably in store.
Donald Trump speaks at the Republican presidential candidate debate sponsored by ABC News and the Independent Journal Review at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Feb. 6, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Latest polls offer hints about nation's first primary

02/08/16 12:40PM

The recent track record for Republican polling in the New Hampshire primary is quite good. In 2008, polling showed John McCain ahead by about 4 points and he won by about 5 points. In 2012, the survey data found Mitt Romney with a 20-point lead and he won by about 16 points.
 
And with one day remaining before the first-in-the-nation primary, where do things stand? The final New Hampshire poll from Monmouth University, conducted almost entirely before Saturday night's debate, has the race shaping up this way.
 
1. Donald Trump: 30% (down from 32% a month ago)
2. John Kasich: 14% (unchanged)
3. Marco Rubio: 13% (up from 12%)
3. Jeb Bush: 13% (up from 4%)
5. Ted Cruz: 12% (down from 14%)
6. Chris Christie: 6% (down from 8%)
 
A Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll conducted over the same period produced some different results:
 
1. Donald Trump: 31% (down from 38% in late-January)
2. Ted Cruz: 16% (up from 13%)
3. Marco Rubio: 15% (up from 10%)
4. John Kasich: 11% (up from 8%)
5. Jeb Bush: 10% (unchanged)
6. Chris Christie: 5% (unchanged)
 
A CNN/UNH/WMUR tracking poll, meanwhile, found a different set of results:
 
1. Donald Trump: 33% (up from 28% from earlier in the week)
2. Marco Rubio: 16% (down from 17%)
3. Ted Cruz: 14% (up from 13%)
4. John Kasich: 11% (down from 13%)
5. Jeb Bush: 7% (down from 9%)
6. Carly Fiorina: 6% (up from 5%)
7. Chris Christie: 4% (unchanged)
 
And finally, UMass Lowell has its own tracking poll, which has the race shaping up this way:

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.8.16

02/08/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* The day before the New Hampshire primary, how many polls show Bernie Sanders with a comfortable lead over Hillary Clinton? All of them. FiveThirtyEight gives the Vermont independent a greater than 99% chance of winning.
 
* Bill Clinton took on an attack-dog role yesterday, blasting Sanders at a New Hampshire rally, insisting the senator's message was "hermetically-sealed" from reality.
 
* Add Jeb Bush's campaign to the list of folks creating an ad out of Rick Santorum's inability to think of any Marco Rubio accomplishments.
 
* Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has recorded a robocall for John Kasich's presidential campaign.
 
* I didn't realize that when Rubio talks to reporters, his aides "select the reporters who can ask questions, often shutting down follow-ups."
 
* The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal is generally quite complementary towards Rubio, but it wrote today that "his gutting by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Saturday was as complete as any we've seen." The same editorial board concluded it was foolish for Rubio to condemn President Obama's speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore.

Republican debate draws large television audience

02/08/16 11:20AM

If your favorite Republican presidential candidate had a rough time in Saturday night's debate in New Hampshire, I have some bad news: quite a few folks saw it. Politico reported:
ABC's Republican primary debate on Saturday night attracted 13.2 million viewers.
 
The network also reported 1.3 million livestream views. It was the network's best performance on a Saturday night with non-sports programming in over 14 years.
Going into the event, there was some chatter that the combination of "debate fatigue" and a three-hour gathering the day before the Super Bowl might depress ratings a bit. Evidently, that wasn't the case.
 
How did the audience for this debate stack up against the others? The above chart helps provide some context.
Republican Presidential candidates arrive for the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate on Feb. 6, 2016 at St. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

The test of 'extremism' on reproductive rights

02/08/16 10:40AM

Last week, it came as a bit of surprise when Chris Christie criticized Marco Rubio from the left on the issue of reproductive rights. The New Jersey governor noted that he opposes abortion rights, but unlike the Florida senator, he also supports rape and incest exceptions. Referring to Rubio's more extreme position, Christie said in an MSNBC interview, "I think that's the kind of position that New Hampshire voters would be really concerned about."
 
In Saturday night's debate, Jeb Bush touched on a similar point. After boasting about his own far-right record on the issue, the former governor added, "But I think we have to be cognizant of the fact there's a lot of people that are concerned about having a pro-life position without any exceptions."
 
All of this may seem counterintuitive in a GOP primary, but as we talked about the other day, surveys suggest a plurality of New Hampshire Republicans are actually pro-choice.
 
For his part, Rubio argued, "I would rather lose an election than be wrong on the issue of life." The senator added that, as far as he's concerned, Hillary Clinton and Democrats "are the extremists when it comes to the issue of abortion."
 
Of course, "extremism" is a matter of perspective. The morning after the debate, Rubio talked to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who asked about the rights that should be available to women impregnated by rapists. The senator reiterated the same position he's maintained for years: the government, under a Rubio administration, should have the authority to force those women to take the pregnancies to term, whether they want to or not.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) answers questions during a campaign town hall meeting at the Crossing Life Church Feb. 2, 2016 in Windham, N.H. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Cruz's 'carpet bombing' plan still doesn't make sense

02/08/16 10:00AM

It's been a few months since Ted Cruz first vowed to "carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion," testing whether "sand can glow in the dark." When veteran foreign policy experts, inside the Republican Party and out, express disappointment with what's become of the GOP's approach to national security, they generally cite Cruz's quote as Exhibit A.
 
But as scrutiny has increased, so too has the senator's commitment to the idea -- or at least the idea as he understands it. In Saturday night's debate, ABC's Martha Raddatz asked Cruz to explain how his carpet-bombing idea "would work against an unconventional terrorist group that is now hiding" in areas with large civilian populations. The candidate argued:
"[W]hen I say saturation carpet bombing, that is not indiscriminate. That is targeted at oil facilities. It's targeted at the oil tankers. It's targeted at command and control locations. It's targeted at infrastructure. It's targeted at communications. It's targeted at bombing all of the roads and bridges going in and out of Raqqa. It's using overwhelming air power."
This is actually a helpful reply insofar as it highlights the key problem: Ted Cruz says he wants saturation carpet bombing, but he doesn't know what that means.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Clinton endorses progressive approach to Social Security

02/08/16 09:20AM

At first blush, the idea of a Democratic presidential candidate voicing strong support for Social Security may not seem like a noteworthy development, but Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had an interesting exchange the other day that led to an important substantive point of agreement.

In most of the major debt-reduction plans put forward in recent years -- the Grand Bargain, Simpson-Bowles, et al -- Democrats have been asked to accept some Social Security cuts as part of a broader compromise. For many on the left, such a provision is not only a deal-breaker, it's also backwards, since they believe Social Security should be expanded, not cut.
 
And with this in mind, many progressive activists are looking for commitments from the presidential candidate: are Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton prepared to rule out Social Security cuts if elected? Sanders wasted no time in making that vow, tweeting on Friday, "I urge Sec. Clinton to join me in saying loudly and clearly that we will never cut Social Security."
 
As the Huffington Post reported, the senator didn't have to wait too long for Clinton's response.
Hillary Clinton promised on Friday that she would not cut Social Security benefits, winning praise from progressive groups that had pressured her to take such a stance -- but drawing questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who challenged her commitment to the issue.
 
"I won't cut Social Security," Clinton wrote in an initialed tweet that included a link to her campaign website's Social Security page. "As always, I'll defend it, & I'll expand it. Enough false innuendos."
For many Beltway debt hawks, this was no doubt a disappointment, but for progressive activists who pushed the candidates to make exactly this commitment, it was a victory for the left and for Social Security itself.
Republican U.S. presidential candidates businessman Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz pose together before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Dec. 15, 2015. (Photo by David Becker/Reuters)

The GOP's pro-torture posture comes into sharper focus

02/08/16 08:40AM

Going into Saturday night's Republican debate, an alarming number of GOP presidential candidates had already voiced support for returning to torture policies banned by the Obama administration. On the debate stage and after the event, some took the pro-torture posture even further.
 
The New Republic's Gwyneth Kelly noted:
Finally, a cause to unite a fractured party. Ted Cruz refused to say that he would support torturing terrorism suspects, only because waterboarding, the torture technique he was asked about, isn't torture. Cruz said that waterboarding is merely "vigorous interrogation" that doesn't "meet the generally recognized definition of torture."
 
He is wrong.
What makes this especially noteworthy is that, as recently as December, Cruz's approach to the issue was far less ridiculous.  "We can defend our nation and be strong and uphold our values," the Texas Republican told the Associated Press just two months ago. "There is a reason the bad guys engage in torture. ISIS engages in torture. Iran engages in torture. America does not need to torture to protect ourselves."
 
What he neglected to mention is that, in Cruz's book, actual torture policies don't fall under his narrow definition of "torture."
 
Of course, Cruz wasn't alone. In the same debate, asked about torture, Marco Rubio argued the question itself missed the point. "Here's the bigger problem with all this: we're not interrogating anybody right now," he said. (Add "interrogations" to the list of issues about which Marco Rubio is badly confused.)
 
But leave it to Donald Trump to effectively endorse a campaign platform based on war crimes.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio pauses while answering a question at Nashua Community College in Nashua, N.H., Jan. 7, 2016. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Rubio faces new risks following debate debacle

02/08/16 08:00AM

Everything appeared to be falling into place. Marco Rubio's standing in the polls was on the upswing. Donors were rushing to the senator's corner, as were some of his former presidential rivals and Capitol Hill colleagues, pushing his endorsement totals to unrivaled heights.
 
Prediction markets showed Rubio as a prohibitive frontrunner. The senator's staff somehow convinced the media to pretend Rubio won Iowa, despite his third-place finish, and his lock on the GOP nomination was starting to look inevitable.
 
All the Floridian had to do was turn in another strong debate performance -- pundits, as a matter of course, declare Rubio the winner of every debate, sometimes without regard for merit -- and the Rubio Bandwagon could continue without interference.
 
Oops.
 
It was the debate debacle that launched a thousand memes. The Marcobot Moment. The Marco Malfunction. Rubot. Marcosoft. RubiOS. Marco Roboto.
 
In the unlikely event you're just learning about this story, Rubio struggled badly in Saturday night's debate in New Hampshire, getting caught panicking and using the same phrase repeatedly:
"[L]et's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing."
Under pressure, Rubio repeated this phrase soon after, almost word for word. Then he said it again. And then again. If you heard it was bad, but haven't seen the video, take a moment to watch it -- because the breakdown was even worse than it sounds.
 
The larger question now is whether, and how much, it'll matter.
Technicians and scientists check out one of the Webb telescope's first two flight mirrors in the clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

Week in Geek - Mirror mirror edition

02/07/16 05:46PM

This week NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) passed a major milestone - the complete assembly of its primary mirror. No small feat when that mirror is comprised of 18 hexagonal sections which, when put together, measure over 21 feet in diameter. In fact, each segment is about the size of a coffee table and weighs over 80 pounds!

JWST is slated for being launched in October 2018. It is primarily an infrared telescope (as opposed to optical like Hubble) and will study high-redshift (i.e., uber far) galaxies as well as dust disks around newly formed/forming stars where planets may be taking shape. These objects emit the majority of their radiation at infrared wavelengths: high-redshift galaxies because the expansion of the Universe between us and the galaxies stretches the light out, and dust because infrared wavelengths are smaller than dust grains so the light can pass through them and reveal what they may or may not be hiding.

When fully assembled, JWST has a footprint the size of a tennis court. If you're wondering how to launch a tennis court into space, you're not alone. Engineers had to figure out a way to fold-up the telescope, almost origami style, and have it unfold itself once it reaches its orbit. If all goes as planned, this is what should happen...

As insane as it may seem to have all those steps (which must all work perfectly), remember NASA's landed a ballistic projectile on Mars just over three years ago using pyrotechnics and a freaking sky crane.

To stay up to date on the remaining construction of JWST, you can follow along via webcams in the clean room at Goddard Space Flight Center (where JWST is headquartered).

Here's some more geek from the week:

read more

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks during the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, Feb. 6, 2016 at St. Anselm's College Institute of Politics in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

With the pressure on, Robotic Rubio has a breakdown

02/07/16 10:23AM

One of the persistent criticisms of Marco Rubio's presidential candidacy is that he's an overly scripted, unprepared rookie who can't think on his feet and can't say anything beyond the memorized talking points some handler told him to repeat.
 
With this kind of reputation, the Florida senator is tasked with a simple challenge: prove the detractors are wrong. Last night in New Hampshire, he did the exact opposite.
 
As this clip from MSNBC's coverage last night shows, Rubio, under pressure, kept saying the same thing, over and over again. For those who can't watch clips online, early on in the debate, the senator said:
"[L]et's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country...."
Soon after, in response to a different question, Rubio said:
"Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country."
Later, in response to another question, Rubio added:
"Here's the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he's doing."
And soon after, mocked by Chris Christie for repeating his talking points, Rubio once again said:
"We are not facing a president that doesn't know what he's doing. He knows what he is doing."
Just to be absolutely clear, this isn't a joke. All of the above quotes are exact, word-for-word excerpts from the debate transcript.
 
I've watched more debates over the years than I care to admit, but I've never seen anything like this. When it comes to cringe-worthy moments, the only rival that comes to mind is Rick Perry's "oops" moment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivers a speech at the Library of Congress, Dec. 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

This Week in God, 2.6.16

02/06/16 07:55AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a reaction from a leading Republican lawmaker to the "thoughts and prayers are not enough" argument in response to mass shootings.
 
President Obama has been a leading proponent of the idea that well wishes in the response to gun violence are welcome, but are ultimately inadequate. After one mass shooting last fall, the president argued, "[T]houghts and prayers are not enough.... It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple of months from now."
 
Two months later, after even deadlier mass shooting, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) took the sentiment a little further. "Your 'thoughts' should be about steps to take to stop this carnage," the senator said. "Your 'prayers' should be for forgiveness if you do nothing -- again."
 
This week, Congress' leading Republican offered his response to the argument. The New York Daily News reported:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday blasted critics who say prayer isn't an adequate response to mass shootings and defended his rifle-loving party's do-nothing approach to gun violence.
 
"The attitude in some quarters these days is, 'Don't just pray; do something about it,"' Ryan said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. "The thing is, when you are praying, you are doing something about it. You are revealing the presence of God."
As part of the same set of remarks, but outside of the context of gun violence, the Wisconsin congressman added, "It says a lot about our country that people of both parties -- and all faiths -- will drop everything and pray for their fellow Americans. What it says is, we believe in the dignity of the individual. And that is why prayer should always come first."
 
As for mass shootings, the GOP leader did not elaborate on what should always come second.
 
President Obama, as he does every year, delivered his own remarks at the event, including an interesting and compelling exploration of "fear" on a theological level.
 
"For me, and I know for so many of you, faith is the great cure for fear," he said. "Jesus is a good cure for fear. God gives believers the power, the love, the sound mind required to conquer any fear. And what more important moment for that faith than right now? What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts, pointing us towards what matters.... And so like every President, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear. But my faith tells me that I need not fear death; that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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