* Peter Theo Curtis: "Held for nearly two years in a prison run by an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria, an American freelance writer was unexpectedly freed on Sunday, following extensive mediation by Qatar, the tiny Gulf emirate and United States ally that has successfully negotiated the release of numerous Western hostages in exchange for multimillion-dollar ransoms."
* Earthquake: "Residents of Napa, Vallejo and other places hit hard by a 6.0-magnitude earthquake took stock of the damage and cleaned up Monday as many schools remained closed and some of the more than 200 people who were injured recovered in hospitals."
* Baghdad: "Iraq's prime minister-designate called Monday on the country's numerous Shiite militias and tribes to come under government control and stop acting independently, as violence killed at least 58 people in areas where the Muslim sect dominates."
* Libya: "An alliance of Islamist militias said it wrested control of Tripoli's international airport from a rival force after weeks of fighting that triggered an exodus of foreigners and threatened to plunge Libya deeper into chaos."
* And speaking of Libya, this is a surprise: "Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly teamed up to launch airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation between the supporters and opponents of political Islam."
* Ukraine: "Russia hopes to send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to east Ukraine sometime this week, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said on Monday, just days after the border crossing of the first convoy drew international condemnation."
* Gen. Martin Dempsey in Kabul: "The Pentagon has developed plans that would allow American forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year if the contested presidential election drags on and a security agreement isn't signed soon, the top U.S. military officer said Monday."
* Fort Lee shooting: "An all clear was given by Fort Lee officials after an "active shooter incident" was reported at the U.S. Army base in Virginia early Monday morning. U.S. military and law enforcement officials confirmed to NBC News that the shooting incident was an apparent suicide."
* No one seems to know how this happened: "A 55-gallon drum of nuclear waste, buried in a salt shaft 2,150 feet under the New Mexico desert, violently erupted late on Feb. 14 and spewed mounds of radioactive white foam. The flowing mass, looking like whipped cream but laced with plutonium, went airborne, traveled up a ventilation duct to the surface and delivered low-level radiation doses to 21 workers."
* French shake-up: "France was thrown into fresh crisis on Monday as President Francois Hollande told his prime minister to form a new government after damaging splits within the ruling Socialist party burst into the open."
Since Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9, there's been all kinds of political commentary, some of it profound, some of it heartbreaking, and some of it just kind of dumb. Joan Walsh today flagged some analysis that, I have to confess, I never saw coming.
Fox has peddled every allegation of wrongdoing by Mike Brown from the beginning of the story. On Fox and Friends Monday morning, Linda Chavez argued that the media should stop calling the teenager "unarmed" because "we're talking about an 18-year-old man who is 6-foot-4 and weighs almost 300 pounds, who is videotaped just moments before the confrontation with a police officer strong-arming an employee and robbing a convenience store."
So Mike Brown can't be considered unarmed because ... he had arms?
Oh good, we've reached the point of the national conversation at which the right wants to parse the meaning of the word "arms."
Just 10 days ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) complained that President Obama and his national security team aren't talking enough about ISIS.
Just five days ago, Bill Kristol complained that President Obama and his national security team are talking about ISIS, but the rhetoric isn't satisfactory.
And today, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) complained that President Obama and his national security team are talking about ISIS, and the rhetoric is satisfactory, but it's still not good enough.
"Until President Obama articulates and implements a comprehensive strategy against ISIS across Iraq and Syria, we will continue to see more savage executions, more killing of religious minorities, more humanitarian disasters like Mount Sinjar, and more enslavement and abuse of women and girls," Inhofe said on Saturday. "Obama talks a big game but his actions tell a different story."
Inhofe, by the way, is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The far-right senator went on to complain about "the president's inaction" and "Obama's failure to acknowledge the reality of the threat."
It's times like these when I wonder if Republicans are watching the same world events as everyone else.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) seemed to get the ball rolling in mid-July, telling the Centers for Disease Control unaccompanied migrant children from Central America may be carrying "deadly diseases," including the Ebola virus.
Gingrey's fear-mongering was easily dismissed as nonsense, but it helped touch off a fair amount of ugly demagoguery. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) also raised the specter of an Ebola outbreak caused by migrant children -- remember, there is no Ebola virus in Central America -- and Republican congressional candidates like Arizona's Andy Tobin have raised related fears.
Governors are apparently getting into the game, too. Emma Jacobs reported [important correction below].
Immigration experts are questioning statements by Gov. Tom Corbett that child migrants from Central America could cause "health issues" in Pennsylvania.
Speaking on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA on Friday, the governor said he wanted children to remain in border stations in Texas and Arizona until they can be screened for communicable diseases.
Specifically, the Republican governor, in the middle of a very tough re-election fight, said during the interview, "Measles is one that comes to mind very quickly and whatever other diseases that they may or may not have," he said.
That "may or may not have" line is especially interesting, since Corbett is effectively conceding his fears are based on nothing. The governor just wants to engage in reckless speculation for the sake of reckless speculation.
As the local report explained, all of this comes in the wake of a plan from The Holy Family Institute, a Roman Catholic group in Pittsburgh, that hopes to provide temporary housing for about 40 children under the age of 12. Corbett sees the move as an "imposition."
Whatever imposition there may or may not, let's set the record straight on the nature of the health risk.
As Michael Brown's funeral continues this morning at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, it comes against the backdrop of a policy argument that's just beginning to take shape. The recent crisis in Ferguson is a combination of so many factors, but one of the more straightforward issues policymakers can address is the militarization of local police forces.
With this in mind, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced late last week that she will lead a Senate hearing in September to examine the militarization of local police departments. The Missouri Democrat is the chair of Senate Homeland Security's panel on contracting oversight, which she'll use to "examine federal programs that enable local police departments to acquire military equipment, such as the Defense Department's 1033 program for surplus property and grants made through the Department of Homeland Security."
As msnbc's Benjamin Landy reported over the weekend, McCaskill isn't alone in her interest.
President Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that help state and local law enforcement acquire military equipment, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News on Saturday. The review comes amid national outrage at what many see as the growing militarization of policing in America. [...]
Obama has directed the review to assess whether those programs are appropriate, and whether police are receiving the necessary training to use the equipment correctly. It will also look at whether the federal programs are being audited sufficiently.
The White House-directed review is expected to be formally announced today, and will involve the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Treasury Department.
It is, as the New York Timesput it, a "comprehensive review of the government's decade-old strategy of outfitting local police departments with military-grade body armor, mine-resistant trucks, silencers and automatic rifles."
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 a new ad, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) boasts that "more than 100,000 people" in the state have "gotten a job since we took office." That's true, though it's less than half of the 250,000 new jobs Walker guaranteed voters he'd create in his first term.
* It was incredibly close, but Rep. Scott DesJarlais has survived his Republican primary challenge, prevailing by just 38 votes. His challenger, state Sen. Jim Tracy, has conceded.
* Though most polling in Georgia's U.S. Senate race shows David Perdue (R) leading, the latest Landmark Communications poll shows Michelle Nunn up by seven, 47% to 40%. Beware of polling outliers.
* Late Friday in Florida, a state judge ruled that the new congressional-district map can be used from 2016 to 2020, though the previous map used in the last election cycle will be used in this year's 2014 elections. The ruling will be appealed.
* Over the weekend, Democratic National Committee members approved their 2016 presidential nominating calendar, which will begin with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, 2016. As was the case in 2012, Iowa will be followed by the New Hampshire primary, South Carolina primary, and Nevada caucuses, in that order.
* Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who never showed much of an appetite for retail politicking, surprised many recently by hitting the trail in support of Iowa Democratic candidates. Let the presidential speculation begin.
According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), he recently traveled to Central America where he, among other things, met with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina for 45 minutes and discussed politics with the foreign head of state. By his own account, the senator not only condemned President Obama for the recent humanitarian crisis along the U.S./Mexico border, Paul also hoped to undermine U.S. foreign policy during his discussion with Molina.
For reasons I don't fully understand, this generated very little attention in the political world. American norms dictate that U.S. officials, when traveling abroad, don't trash the United States while on foreign soil. For that matter, the notion of an American elected official conducting his own freelance foreign policy, working against the U.S. position while meeting with a foreign head of state, seems ridiculous on its face.
Similar controversies in the Bush/Cheney era were considered scandalous in Republican circles, but Paul's conduct barely caused a ripple. That said, the senator's office did respond to Democratic criticism with an interesting take.
Responding to the DNC's comments, Paul's senior adviser Doug Stafford said the senator "did in Guatemala what he does every day in the United States -- speak the truth. Career politicians and political parties don't get that, but the American people do."
"If the DNC and the White House don't see that their shredding of the Constitution and abdication of responsibility for securing our border is the problem, they are the only ones," he added.
Let's unwrap this a bit, because it's a pretty remarkable perspective.
Remember the government shutdown? Last fall, House Republicans thought it'd be a good idea to shut down the federal government for reasons no one, including them, can fully explain. It apparently had something to do with some ill-defined hostage strategy in which GOP lawmakers wanted to take health care benefits away from Americans, but the whole scheme was a fiasco.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reflected on the disaster in his new book, telling readers, "In short, the strategy our colleagues have been promoting was flawed from beginning to end. It was a suicide mission, but a lot of members were more afraid of what would happen if they didn't jump off the cliff."
It led to an interesting exchange yesterday between Ryan and CBS's Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation."
SCHIEFFER: I guess I would ask you first, why didn't you say that back then?
RYAN: Because I want party unity. I don't think it was constructive for conservatives to be carping at each other.
This is a curious argument. Ryan had a choice: support a misguided government shutdown that damaged the economy or support party unity. By his own admission, the Wisconsin congressman decided to prioritize the latter.
Ryan didn't think it was constructive for Republicans to be divided, though apparently it was constructive for Republicans to shut down the federal government.
I feel like this sentiment comes up more often than it should. Reflecting on the recent fight over a border bill, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said, "Before now, our leadership was looking at what can pass in the Senate. That's not my concern. I want the most conservative piece of legislation that can pass the House."
Right, because governing isn't important; Republican unity is important. The job of the House majority isn't to help shape federal law, but rather, to keep GOP lawmakers together, regardless of the consequences.
And speaking of government shutdowns, aren't we approaching another deadline?
When this Congress ends in January, it will mark the end of an era for some truly remarkable members of Congress. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) have given voice to some bizarre and twisted ideas in recent years, but each will be absent when the next Congress takes the oath of office in early 2015.
But before anyone gets too optimistic about a more reasonable House of Representatives, it's worth appreciating an unnerving fact: the far-right torch is being passed to a new generation of extremists.
In Wisconsin's 6th congressional district, for example, state Sen. Glenn Grothman was originally declared the winner of last week's Republican primary, but that announcement was rescinded when the tallies turned out to be closer than expected. Late Friday, however, Grothman was named the primary victor after all.
After the 11 counties in the district verified their vote counts Wednesday, Grothman maintained his lead by 219 votes, or 0.47 percent, but it was unclear whether the second place finisher, state Sen. Joe Leibham, would call for a recount.
Leibham announced Friday that he would not request a recount, despite the small margin. [...] Grothman will face Democrat and Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris in the fall. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Safe Republican.
At first blush, this may seem like a fairly obscure race, but it's worth appreciating just how far to the right Glenn Grothman really is.
Running against health care is proving to be far more challenging than Republicans hoped in 2014. Last week, for example, the New York Timesasked Joni Ernst, the far-right U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa, about her intention to cut domestic spending. The Republican candidate said there are "a number of things that need to be trimmed across the board," before turning her attention to social-insurance programs.
"What we have to do is protect those that are on Medicaid now; those that are on Social Security now. That, we need to protect. We have made promises to these people," Ernst said. For emphasis, she added, "[T]hose that are already engaged in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, we need to protect that for them."
There is. of course, a problem: Ernst is a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act, which she wants to repeal. In practice, if the Republican candidate has her way, roughly 120,000 Iowans who "are on Medicaid now" would lose access to medical care. In effect, Ernst is trying to have it both ways -- she wants to honor the "promises" made to people who rely on social-insurance programs, but she also wants to repeal the ACA (while privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher scheme).
But Ernst's position is almost coherent compared to former Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) latest pitch in New Hampshire.
Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown on Thursday touted his votes for Romneycare, the Massachusetts health care plan adopted under former Gov. Mitt Romney, at a forum held to criticize Obamacare.
In remarks to about 10 seniors, Brown said he shouldn't be speaking about what he did as a state senator in Massachusetts, but the Massachusetts health plan he voted for in 2006 addressed problems with the uninsured. "We addressed pre-existing conditions. We addressed catastrophic care," Brown said.
Hmm. So Scott Brown opposes "Obamacare" and wants to see the federal law scrapped. At the same time, Scott Brown supports "Romneycare," which is effectively the same thing.
It led Jed Lewison to ask whether Brown now believes "people in his old state deserve all the benefits of Obamacare, but not the people in his new state."
For all the current and former Republican governors facing serious scandals -- Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, et al -- let's not forget about Gov. Scott Walker. The Wisconsin chief executive is in the middle of a tough re-election fight -- which he'll have to win to move forward with his presidential plans -- and a lingering controversy is making his task more difficult.
To briefly recap, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. When Walker faced a recall campaign, however, he and his team may have directly overseen how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources.
Late Friday night, the allegations surrounding the governor's office appear to have grown far more serious. Consider this report from Madison's Wisconsin State Journal.
Gov. Scott Walker personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls, which prosecutors cited as evidence the governor and his campaign violated state campaign finance laws, records made public on Friday show.
Among the groups that donated money to Wisconsin Club for Growth during that time was Gogebic Taconite, which contributed $700,000, according to the records. The company later won approval from the Legislature and Walker to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
In an April court filing unsealed briefly on Friday, a lawyer wrote, "Because Wisconsin Club for Growth's fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker's agents at the time of Gogebic's donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited."
I think it's safe to say these revelations do not cast Walker and his team in a positive light. On the contrary, Friday's night's evidence appears quite damning.
More than a week after Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was indicted on two felony counts, the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan shared her concerns about the case on national television yesterday. The exchange was one of my favorite of any Sunday show this year.
NOONAN: I think, yes, it was local Democratic overreach. It's just a dumb case. I don't think it should have been brought. Naturally he looks like someone who is...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the prosecutor is a former Republican, I think.
NOONAN: That may be. But when you look at this case, it just looks crazy.
Of course, this is less about what "may be," and more about what is. In this case, the Republican columnist had nine days to get the basic details straight, but Noonan nevertheless raised the specter of "local Democratic overreach" -- despite the fact that local Democrats had literally nothing to do with the indictment.
Told that her key complaint was based on a falsehood, Noonan didn't acknowledge her error, deciding instead to say the indictment "looks crazy" anyway. Wayne Slater joked that the Wall Street Journal pundit "looked confused" by the details she should have known but didn't.
For the record, Democratic officials in Travis County recused themselves from the case, and the prosecutor in this case, Michael McCrum, worked in the Bush/Quayle administration. What's more, McCrum, who enjoys a solid reputation as a credible attorney, was appointed to oversee this case by a Republican judge. To see this as "local Democratic overreach" is to simply not understand what happened.
It is, however, this kind of confusion that has created an amazing political environment. The Dallas Morning Newsreported late last week that Perry is so encouraged by the political reaction to his indictment that his political action committee "is selling T-shirts with his mug shot on the front. On the back is the mug shot of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg."
Remember, in this case, the reference to Perry's "mug shot" is literal.
The political world's preoccupation with President Obama's vacation is excessive, but it also obscures a more salient point. Republicans and pundits may be outraged that the president took some time off and played some golf, but Congress is in the middle of a much longer break -- and lawmakers have some work to do.
In his latest Sunday-show appearance, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) complained bitterly about the White House's foreign policy before turning his attention to ISIS. "There is no boundary between Syria and Iraq," McCain told Fox News. "One of the key decisions the president is going to have to make is airpower in Syria."
There's certainly ample room for debate about the merits of airstrikes in Syria, but the part of McCain's comments that stood out for me was the notion that this is a "key decision" that "the president is going to have to make."
I hate to sound picky, but there's an institution popularly known as "Congress." Under our system of government, it's supposed to play a role in these "key decisions," too.
Indeed, around the same time as McCain's comments, House Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) talked to ABC's George Stephanopoulos about lawmakers' role.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Congressman, if you get the kind of expansion [into Syria] you and General Allen then are talking about, won't that require a new authorization from Congress? The 2001 authorization targeted al Qaeda, not ISIS. It would be a real stretch to put this under the Iraq authorization of 2002. So won't Congress have to act here?
MCCAUL: We believe that the administration should be in consultation with Congress. So far, they have, under the War Powers Act. But once that period of time expires, we believe it's necessary to come back to the Congress to get additional authorities and to update, if you will, the authored use of military force.
As my colleague Mike Yarvitz noted, when McCaul says "we believe" it's not entirely clear who he's referring to -- is this the position of the House Republican leadership? -- but his comments nevertheless point to a possible congressional vote on the horizon.