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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.19.15

03/19/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Unimpressed: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Thursday tried to walk back his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, but his new assertions appeared to do nothing to assuage an infuriated Obama administration."
* Climate crisis: "In his ongoing effort to combat climate change both at home and abroad, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Thursday to reduce the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions by 40%."
* Iran: "Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said that negotiators were still grappling with difficult issues in the talks on limiting Iran's nuclear program, but that they had made some headway."
* Tunisia: "Tunisian authorities arrested nine people Thursday in connection with a terrorist attack that killed or wounded dozens of foreign tourists at a renowned museum, an assault for which the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility."
* Yemen: "Intense clashes erupted Thursday in southern Yemen between forces loyal to the beleaguered president and the Shiite rebels whose assaults have pushed the Arabian Peninsula country into chaos."
* House GOP budget: "House fiscal conservatives took the upper hand -- for the moment -- Thursday in their struggle with Republican defense hawks for control of the GOP's 2016 federal budget proposal. After 24 hours of uncertainty and stops and starts, the House Budget Committee voted along party lines, 22-13, to send a leaner spending plan to the House floor for a vote."
* Another veto on deck: "The House voted Thursday to scrap a rule from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would speed up union elections."
* Martese Johnson: "Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday called for an investigation into the arrest of a black college student that left him bleeding from the head and sparked campus protests."
* Texas: "Businesses and officials in Austin, Texas, want to identify the culprit behind offensive stickers plastered on at least six shops this week. The labels, slapped on various storefronts, say: 'Exclusively for white people. Maximum of 5 colored customers, colored BOH (Back of House) staff accepted.'"
* Mississippi: "A black man was reportedly discovered hanging from a tree in Claiborne, Miss. on Thursday, sparking a local and federal investigation into the death. Port Gibson Sheriff Marvin Lucas told local station WJTV that authorities discovered the man hanging on Old Rodney Road. Both Mississippi law enforcement and the FBI have opened investigations."
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 3, 2015 the New Hampshire Statehouse is seen in Concord, N.H.

NH Republicans deliver a rough message to 4th graders

03/19/15 04:50PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) got into a little trouble recently, not for making a series of false claims, but for telling a three-year-old New Hampshire girl her "world is on fire." Even in 21st-century politics, there's an expectation that when elected officials are delivering messages to children, they'll show some restraint.
As it turns out, she wasn't the only kid in the Granite State last week hearing tough talk from Republican politicians.
Fourth graders from Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls received a warm welcome at the State House last Thursday. They and their teacher, James Cutting, were guests in the Gallery.
That reception quickly turned chilly as students got a glimpse of the cold, harsh realities of politics in the Granite State.
The idea seemed pretty straightforward. The fourth-grade class, made up of nine- and 10-year-olds from the southeast corner of the state, worked on a proposal to make the Red Tail Hawk the official state raptor of New Hampshire. The kids and their teacher brought their proposal to the state capitol, and it was approved by the Environment and Agriculture Committee.
But as the report from's Shari Small makes clear, on the floor of the state House, the children ran into unexpectedly fierce Republican opposition. The kids heard one GOP lawmaker argue, for example, in reference to the Red Tail Hawk, "It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood."
Those comments, from state Rep. Warren Groen (R), were apparently the harshest of the debate, but he wasn't alone. In fact, the Republican-led New Hampshire state House killed the proposal from the 4th graders on a 133-to-160 vote.
What better way to inspire young people about the vitality of American civic affairs than to have far-right politicians mock and defeat an innocuous bill written by children?
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon March 17, 2015.

Netanyahu tries to re-open door to two-state solution

03/19/15 03:16PM

When this week got underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently thought he was going to lose his re-election bid. This fear led the Israeli leader to adopt some desperate measures.
"I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today, and evacuate areas, is giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the State of Israel," Netanyahu said Monday. "This is the true reality that has been created in past years," he added, vowing to increase settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
Asked if that meant Netanyahu intended to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state if he remained prime minister, he replied, "Indeed."
This was no small exchange. Netanyahu had previously committed to a two-state solution, and this seemed like a wholesale reversal. Just as important, the prime minister appeared to also be abandoning a bipartisan U.S. position. In fact, Obama administration officials have invested considerable energy in recent years telling officials throughout the Middle East that Israel is serious about a two-state solution, which led the White House to see Monday's comments as a betrayal.
Today, in his first American interview since his victory, Netanyahu adopted a very different posture with msnbc's Andrea Mitchell.
"The premises in your question are wrong. I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. [...]
"I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change."
This is quite a nuanced walk-back. As Zack Beauchamp explained, Netanyahu is effectively arguing "that he wasn't abandoning in-principle support for a Palestinian state -- he just doesn't think the Palestinians are interested and capable of setting up a peaceful one anytime soon."
Whether anyone, anywhere finds this persuasive remains to be seen.
Carts are seen outside of a Target store in Miami, Florida.

Target hikes minimum wages, joins a growing club

03/19/15 12:53PM

Though polls show broad public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, political progress on the issue is non-existent. Congress' Republican majority has ruled out the possibility of a wage hike, while a growing number of GOP presidential hopefuls suggest the federal minimum wage shouldn't exist at all.
Outside the political realm, however, many Americans are getting a raise anyway. As we talked about last month, some of the nation's largest retailers -- Gap, Ikea, and Wal-Mart, among others -- have already raised their company's minimum wages, as did TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods.
Today, Target joined the club.
Target Corp next month will raise the minimum wage for all of its workers to $9 an hour, matching moves made by rivals including Wal-Mart Stores Inc and TJX Cos, a source familiar with the matter said.
The move comes in the face of pressure from labor groups and allies calling for a "living wage" at retailers and fast-food companies across the country, as well as the lowest unemployment rate in more than six years.
It's worth emphasizing that Target executives have not formally announced the change, so these reports remain unofficial, though the company has reportedly told employees about the wage hike, indicating it will take effect across all of its U.S. stories in the spring.
As we talked about after the TJX announcement, anytime there's news of more Americans getting a bigger paycheck, it's an encouraging sign of broader economic trends. But it's even more heartening to appreciate the recent shift in the larger context.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.19.15

03/19/15 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:
* If Hillary Clinton's Twitter feed is any indication, she sees great value in running against a Republican Congress. Don't be surprised if this becomes a key Democratic message next year: Americans will be asked whether they really want Republicans running the entire federal government.
* Though former First Lady Barbara Bush said last year that there had been "enough Bushes" in the White House and she hoped her son Jeb wouldn't run, yesterday she launched a fundraising appeal for Jeb Bush's political operation.
* Florida lawmakers have approved a measure moving the state's presidential primary to March 15. Under Republican Party rules, it's the earliest possible day for Florida to host its election. Two GOP Floridians, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, are likely to be the leading contenders in the contest.
* And speaking of the Sunshine State, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has reportedly begun telling supporters that he's thinking about running for the U.S. Senate in 2018. He would ostensibly take on incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who, ironically, is rumored to be interested in running for governor.
Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Photo by Reuters)

Congress taking a pass on authorizing ISIS mission

03/19/15 11:32AM

President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in August 2014. He publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission in December 2014. He used part of his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act in January 2015. At Congress' insistence, the White House even sent draft legislative language to Capitol Hill in February 2015.
But nearly eight months after Obama ordered military strikes, it seems increasingly clear that Congress has no intention of ever doing any work on the U.S. mission. Politico reports:
If anyone wanted further evidence that Congress is stalled in its effort to pass a separate resolution authorizing military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a House hearing Wednesday provided plenty of signs.
The House Armed Services Committee advertised its testimony with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey as a discussion of the so-called Authorization for the Use of Military Force, but the issue hardly came up.
To be sure, this is not the result of pure legislative laziness. On the contrary, there's a real, substantive policy disagreement at the core of the inaction -- some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn't go far enough.
Lawmakers could try writing their own resolution -- in other words, the legislative branch could try actual legislating -- but that wouldn't resolve the underlying difference.
And so, nothing has happened; nothing is happening; and chances are, nothing will happen.
Does this mean Obama's military offensive against ISIS will have to end? Actually, no, and that's ultimately the root of the problem.
US conservative Ben Carson addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, DC on Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Carson stumbles on 'little details'

03/19/15 11:02AM

By all appearances, Ben Carson, a retired right-wing neurosurgeon, wants to be treated like a legitimate, competitive candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. He has an exploratory committee; he's raising money; he's hiring staff; and he's engaging the media, just like his GOP rivals.
But giving the appearance of a presidential candidate isn't quite enough. If Carson, who's actually quite competitive in many recent polls, wants to be seen as a viable presidential contender, he can't crumble when treated like an actual candidate.
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon poised to seek the Republican presidential nomination, appeared not to realize Wednesday that the Baltic states are members of the NATO alliance. He also claimed that the rage being expressed by radical Islamist groups dates back to Old Testament days.
Those were among several odd answers from the first-time candidate as he defended his lack of foreign policy chops during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator who will moderate a GOP presidential debate later this year.
As the Politico report noted, Hewitt asked a perfectly fair question: does Carson believe the United States should be prepared to go to war if Russia encroaches on Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania -- the way Putin entered Ukraine.
The unannounced candidate said the U.S. must "convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO."
It fell to Hewitt to remind Carson that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are already in NATO.
In the same interview, Carson said he's been reading up on violent radicals in the Middle East and he's concluded that people "have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years, really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau."
When Hewitt noted that Islam didn't exist at the time of the Old Testament, Carson again seemed confused. "I'm just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years," he said. "This is not anything new, is what I'm saying."
This, of course, isn't quite right, either.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 18, 2014. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House GOP leaders struggle with their one job

03/19/15 10:15AM

As Internet memes go, "you had one job" is my personal favorite. The basic idea is finding examples of people who are given one, fairly simple task to complete, but who manage to screw it up in embarrassing fashion. There's no shortage of funny incidents to document the phenomenon.
Less fun, however, is watching members of the House Republican leadership fail at their one job. Roll Call reported overnight:
A marathon markup of House Republicans' proposed 2016 federal budget ended after midnight Wednesday with no resolution between the two GOP factions -- defense hawks on one side, fiscal conservatives on the other -- determined to put their own, seemingly incompatible stamps on the largely symbolic spending plan.
Members and aides weren't immediately sure early Thursday if or when the House Budget panel would reconvene to try again to move the budget out of committee and onto the floor.
The chaos signaled a minor vote-counting crisis had escalated into another full-scale meltdown between GOP leaders and fiscal conservatives.
The process is supposed to be much easier than this. Last year, for example, the chairman of the House Budget Committee -- Paul Ryan, at the time -- unveiled his blueprint, which was soon after embraced by the committee's GOP majority. The plan was on the floor and clearing the chamber soon after.
Last night, however, the process broke down, with Republicans fighting among themselves. One faction is desperate to use budget tricks and gimmicks to increase defense spending, while a rival contingent wants lower spending on everything, including the military. (Senate Republicans are also divided and represent their own distinct clique.)
The funny part, however, came late last night when GOP leaders showed up to "fix" the problem.
President Barack Obama votes next to Aia Cooper at the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Center in Chicago, Ill. on Oct. 20, 2014.

Obama talks up 'transformative' idea: mandatory voting

03/19/15 09:15AM

In dozens of states, the recent push to curtail voting rights and block Americans' access to the polls has been deeply discouraging. But there are still some leading officials pushing back in the other direction.
That includes Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), who talked to Rachel last night about automatic voter registration, and it also includes President Obama, a longtime voting-rights champion who floated a provocative idea yesterday.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday suggested that if American voters want to "counteract" the role of money in politics, it may be worth making voting mandatory.
"It would be transformative if everybody voted," Obama said during a town hall event in Cleveland, Ohio. "That would counteract (campaign) money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country."
The president noted a detail that's true, but not widely known: the voting public often does not reflect the American public at large. Those who exercise the franchise tend to be older, wealthier, and whiter than the broader national population. This is, of course, compounded by voter-suppression tactics, embraced by many Republican policymakers at the state level, which disproportionately affect young people, lower-income adults, and racial and ethnic minorities.
"There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls," Obama told his audience yesterday.
Note, the president's comments weren't an explicit endorsement of a radical change to voting rights, but it wasn't an offhand remark, either. Indeed, Obama seems to have given this some thought, reminding the Ohioans in attendance that Australia is one of many modern democracies to have embraced compulsory voting.
The likelihood of a dramatic change to American voting laws along these lines is remote, at least for now, but the president's unexpected comments nevertheless raise a question worthy of debate: is mandatory voting an idea with merit?

Jobless claims level off in mid-March

03/19/15 08:40AM

There's nothing especially wrong with initial unemployment claims leveling off, so long as the plateau is below the key thresholds.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-March remained below the key 300,000 threshold that signals a much improved labor market. Initial jobless claims edged up by a scant 1,000 to 291,000 in the seven days from March 8 to March 14. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, rose by 2,250 to a still-low 304,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 21 of the last 27 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 in 5 of the last 10 weeks.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during an event on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, La. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Santorum backer: Obama tried to 'nuke' Charleston

03/19/15 08:00AM

When Frank Gaffney, a prominent right-wing conspiracy theorist, hosted the South Carolina National Security Action Summit last week, it was easy to predict the rhetoric would get pretty nutty. It turns out, however, that the gathering was even more radical than expected.
A few unannounced Republican presidential candidates -- Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal -- participated in the "summit," no doubt eager to curry favor with the far-right activists in the early primary state. But it seems the most memorable remarks came from an audience member, not a White House hopeful.
A woman who identified herself as a retired school teacher posed this question to Santorum:
"Why is the Congress rolling over and letting this Communist dictator destroy my country? Y'all know what he is and I know what he is. I want him out of the White House; he's not a citizen; he could have been removed a long time ago...
"Ted [Cruz?] told me I've got to wait for the next election. I don't think the country will be around for the next election. Obama tried to blow up a nuke in Charleston a few months ago! And the three admirals, and generals. He has totally destroyed our military. He's fired all the generals and all the admirals that said they wouldn't fire on the American people."
To be sure, it's not fair to blame candidates for ridiculous comments from supporters, though Santorum didn't seem particularly eager to disagree with the audience member. The former senator said he can "absolutely agree" about the "complete lack of leadership" from the White House. Specifically on immigration policy, Santorum said "the word 'tyrant'" comes to mind to describe President Obama.
But even putting the Republican's underwhelming reaction aside, there was part of the woman's tirade that stood out for me. Most of the harangue was familiar -- too many on the right have convinced themselves that the president is a Communist dictator who isn't a citizen -- but "Obama tried to blow up a nuke in Charleston a few months ago"?
I pay pretty close attention to the news, and I like to think that if the president was prepared to detonate a nuclear weapon in an American city, I would have heard something about it. So what's this all about?

Tunisia death toll climbs and other headlines

03/19/15 07:45AM

Death toll in attack on Tunisian museum rises. (AP)

GOP floats possible deal in abortion fight. (The Hill)

Pres. Obama to order government to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (AP)

Christie administration deal with Exxon was years in the making. (New York Times)

U.S. revisits unconditional support of Israel. (Political Wire)

Deaf immigrant was jailed for 6 weeks with no access to interpreter. (AP)

That one-way flight to Mars could keep you waiting. (Washington Post)

read more

Stolen phone hunt takes man around the world

Stolen phone hunt takes man around the world

03/18/15 09:57PM

Rachel Maddow reports on an adventure being undertaken by Buzzfeed staffer Matt Stopera, who figured out that his stolen cell phone had ended up in China and traveled there to meet and share good times with the people who ended up with it. watch


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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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