Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has had quite a year, but as we were reminded yesterday, the year's not over yet. The conservative jurist reflected on gay-rights decisions while speaking to first-year law students at Georgetown. The New York Timesreported:
“What minorities deserve protection?” he asked. “What? It’s up to me to identify deserving minorities?”
He said those decisions should generally be made by the democratic process rather than by judges. He also allowed that the First Amendment protects political and religious minorities but suggested that there was no principled way for courts to make further distinctions based on the text of the Constitution. “What about pederasts?” he asked. “What about child abusers?”
“This is a deserving minority,” he said sarcastically. “Nobody loves them.”
Just to be clear, Scalia wasn't advocating protections for pedophiles and child abusers.
The high-court justice was, however, drawing a parallel between pedophiles, child abusers, and gay people.
Just in my own personal life, talking to people who have nothing to do with my work, I know folks who've told me in recent days that they're not entirely comfortable with Syrian refugees on American soil. Each of these people tend to look at the world through a center-left lens.
I thought of them reading Kevin Drum's piece this morning, urging liberals to consider the refugee debate from a mainstream perspective -- Republicans are desperate to exploit public fears for political gain, largely because they realize those fears exist.
"Here's the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country," Kevin wrote. "We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees."
I get it. If the United States welcomes 10,000 refugees, and even just 10 of them -- that's 0.1% -- are secret ISIS militants, 10 terrorists can do a lot of harm to a lot of people. The safe move, much of the country assumes, is to not take any chances.
With this in mind, those of us who believe welcoming refugees is the smart and responsible course should approach the debate with the understanding that, for much of the country, the public's perspective is driven primarily by fear.
Knowing how best to overcome fear is tricky, though some facts might help. The typical American may not understand, for example, that the vetting process for refugees is actually strict and lengthy. The average person may not know that one of ISIS's goals is turning the West against refugees, so when we give into fear, we actually help the people we're trying to hurt.
The typical U.S. voter may not know that half of the Syrian refugees brought to American soil have been children. The average person may not realize that the refugees are actually ISIS's victims and it's in our interests to show the world our compassion towards those whose lives have been uprooted by terrorists.
And the typical person probably hasn't seen this piece in The Economist, a center-right magazine, which was published a month ago.
Refugees apply for resettlement at American embassies or through the United Nations. If they pass that first hurdle, they are screened by outposts of the Department of State all over the world. They undergo investigations of their biography and identity; FBI biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counter-terrorism Centre and by American and international intelligence agencies. The process may take as long as three years, sometimes longer. No other person entering America is subjected to such a level of scrutiny.
Refugee resettlement is the least likely route for potential terrorists, says Kathleen Newland at the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank. Of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th, only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq.
That's two men out of 745,000 refugees in the post-9/11 era -- or roughly 0.0003%.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* With only four days remaining in Louisiana's gubernatorial race, the latest statewide poll shows John Bel Edwards (D) holding onto a double-digit lead over Sen. David Vitter (R), 51% to 35%.
* On a related note, Vitter hopes to rescue his struggling campaign by exploiting voters' fears of Syrian refugees, driven from their homes by ISIS.
* Marco Rubio is going after Ted Cruz on a timely issue: Cruz voted to limit the scope of the security state, which Rubio now considers a problem. The fact that the Florida senator is going after Cruz at all suggests Team Rubio is starting to worry about the threat Cruz poses.
* On the campaign trail last week, Rand Paul told a college audience, "[Y]ou don't have a right to a chair, you don’t have a right to shoes, you don’t have a right to pants, you don’t have a right to health care, you don’t have a right to water -- you have a right to be free.” Good to know.
* Facing increasingly long odds, Martin O'Malley's cash-strapped presidential campaign is "reallocating resources to reduce the size of its headquarters staff and focus on the early presidential nominating states, especially Iowa, according to sources."
* Bernie Sanders has unveiled his family-leave plan, which would extend three months of paid leave to new parents. The policy would be paid for through a small payroll tax increase.
There's a short list of words Jeb Bush should probably go out of his way to avoid. "Quagmire" is one of them.
The National Memoreported yesterday on the Republican presidential hopeful's latest appearance on "Fox & Friends," where Bush shared his thoughts on defeating ISIS.
“It means a strategy -- we don’t have a strategy right now. This president is incrementally getting us into a quagmire, without having a strategy to defeat ISIS. This is a threat to Western civilization, a threat to our own country. We need to be merciless in this effort.”
I mean, really, what's a poor blogger supposed to do in a situation like this? George W. Bush's brother, who has surrounded himself with his brother's national security team, feels justified in complaining about President Obama "getting us into a quagmire," without a strategy for success? Is Jeb purposely pretending the entirety of the Bush-Cheney era didn't happen?
For that matter, given that Obama continues to oppose the deployment of thousands of U.S. ground troops to fight in Syria's civil war -- a conflict in which we're opposed to both sides -- isn't the current policy in no way similar to "getting us into a quagmire"?
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz was asked yesterday about his counter-terrorism strategy. It's "simple," the Texas Republican replied. "We win. They lose."
The obvious problem is that Cruz wasn't describing a strategy. His little phrasing may make a fine bumper-sticker, and it may even describe an end result, but at least for adults, there's a difference between saying you intend to win a conflict and having a strategy to achieve your goal.
In other words, sloganeering is not a substitute for a responsible national-security policymaking. It's a point President Obama emphasized at yesterday's press conference at the G-20 Summit in Turkey.
"We'll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it's entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate.
"But what I'm not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of 'American leadership' or 'America winning,' or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I'm too busy for that."
Almost immediately, right-wing pundits expressed outrage -- or at a minimum, faux-outrage -- over the president's dismissal of hollow slogans. TPM's Josh Marsall noted, "Republican politicians and conservative pundits took a truncated version of the quote to say that the President had just declared he was 'not interested' in 'America winning.'"
All of this comes the day after GOP politicians and pundits reached for the fainting couch after hearing Obama say, in reference to ISIS militants, "[F]rom the start our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria, they’ll come in, they’ll leave. But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain.”
All of this, by the way, happens to be entirely true, conservative hysteria notwithstanding.
Over the last few days, it almost seems as if Republican presidential hopefuls launched a behind-the-scenes contest: which one of them could offer the most ridiculous response to terrorist violence in Paris?
It's obviously a subjective matter, but I'd argue Mike Huckabee is a leading contender in this little competition. It was the former Arkansas governor who, just a day after the attacks, called for the cancellation of the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- seemingly unaware of the fact that Iran and ISIS are bitter enemies.
Yesterday, as BuzzFeed reported, Huckabee sunk to new depths on a far-right talk-radio show.
“And if you think about it, we would be bringing people in who lived in the desert their entire lives, and they would be completely disrupted, not only in terms of their culture, their language, their religion, my gosh even in terms of their climate,” Huckabee said. “Can you imagine bringing in a bunch of Syrian refugees who’ve lived in the desert their whole lives that are suddenly thrown into an English speaking community? Where it’s maybe in Minnesota where it is 20 degrees below zero? I mean just I don’t understand what we possibly can be thinking.”
First, we can give refugees coats.
Second, obviously resettlement would "disrupt" their lives, but -- and this is key -- we're talking about refugees who literally ran for their lives, driven from their communities by ISIS terrorism and a deadly Syrian civil war. They're looking for some semblance of safety, and up until a few days ago, there was some modicum of bipartisan support for treating them with compassion.
Huckabee went on to say in the same interview that refugees should "end up in the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives" or perhaps the "dorm rooms" at the University of Missouri.
Remember, Huckabee is a former Christian minister.
About five years ago, while his national profile was still fairly low, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) shared his concern about "terror babies." As the Republican congressman described it, he envisioned a scenario in which pregnant terrorists planned to come to U.S. soil, have babies, and take advantage of birthright citizenship.
The terror babies may look harmless in their cribs, but "20, 30 years down the road," Gohmert said, these home-grown terrorists will "help destroy our way of life."
Five years later, it's obviously difficult to take Gohmert seriously on practically any issue, but it appears that the right's fear of small children hasn't entirely gone away. Just ask Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie.
Christie, for his part, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday that even “orphans under five” should be barred from entry into the United States.
“I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point. But you know, they have no family here. How are we going to care for these folks?”
Note, Mitt Romney said yesterday that he supports blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States, though he'd consider some flexibility for "women, children, and the elderly." For Christie, that's far too liberal -- if a three-year-old ISIS victim is seeking refuge and has no parents, the governor believes the sensible thing to do is turn him or her away.
The effects of a Republican primary campaign on a person's judgment and character can be rather alarming.
There are 75 days remaining before the Iowa caucuses, and with an unsettled polling picture, Republican presidential hopefuls are looking for every possible advantage. For much of the GOP field, that's meant wooing Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of Congress' most ardent anti-immigration voices, and a highly influential figure among right-wing voters in the Hawkeye State.
By most accounts, roughly a half-dozen Republican contenders were in the mix for King's support, but as MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported yesterday, only one came out on top.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz scored a major prize in the first-in-the-nation nominating state Monday: An endorsement from one of Iowa’s chief kingmakers, Rep. Steve King.
“Ted Cruz has the positive conservative vision for the country that we need to correct the failures of the Obama Administration,” said King in a statement. “When I survey the challenges facing our country, and the slate of individuals who have stepped forward to offer to lead, one man stands out as the courageous conservative whom I believe can restore the soul of America. That man is Ted Cruz.”
The endorsement was accompanied by a YouTube video in which the far-right congressman sings Cruz's praises.
Not all endorsements are created equal, and I think it's fair to say King's announcement matters more than most. Not only does this give Cruz a boost going into the home stretch before the Iowa caucuses, it also gives Cruz's campaign access to King's state-based network of conservatives.
Just as importantly, last week, Cruz had an unfriendly confrontation with rival Marco Rubio over immigration policy, with the latter questioning the Texas senator's right-wing bona fides. Steve King's endorsement effectively settles the dispute: if Cruz wasn't the real anti-immigration hardliner, he couldn't have received the congressman's backing.
In mid-September, shortly after hearing about President Obama's plan to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. over the next year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) had an unexpected response: “I support that."
The Republican president hopeful said -- on Fox News, no less -- that in the face of an international crisis, "America needs to be part of this solution.”
Two months later, Kasich, who earned plaudits for standing with the White House, decided he no longer agrees with his own position. "The governor is writing to the president to ask him to stop [accepting Syrian refugees], and to ask him to stop resettling them in Ohio," Kasich's spokesperson said yesterday. "We are also looking at what additional steps Ohio can take to stop resettlement of these refugees.”
No Profile in Courage Award for you, gov.
As MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin explained, Kasich is hardly alone.
A tidal wave consisting almost entirely of Republicans swept into the national debate on Monday, with governors and presidential candidates alike demanding that the U.S. stop accepting Syrian refugees. [...]
At least 22 GOP governors have announced that they either oppose accepting Syrian refugees or will not allow any more -- either temporarily or permanently -- into their states, even as the Obama administration says it will continue to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. Critics, meanwhile are decrying the move as fear-mongering at its worst.
The critics are saying that, of course, because this is fear-mongering at its worst. It also happens to be exactly what ISIS wants to see happen.
The obvious question, though, is whether governors have any choice in the matter. Do states have the option of simply blocking refugees because they fear ISIS's victims?
Rachel Maddow shows how a series of planned, thwarted, and successful terror attacks in Europe, including the deadly attacks in Paris, all have connections to a single Belgian man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is already well known to authorities. watch
Senator Chris Murphy talks with Rachel Maddow and Richard Engel about how the United States should react to the terrorist attacks in Paris, and how the U.S. role fits into the complicated political situation in the region. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, describes the rigorous screening process for admitting refugees into the United States, which is not only objectively thorough, but contrasts starkly with the situation in Europe. watch
Malcolm Nance, former U.S. counter-terrorism and intelligence officer, talks with Rachel Maddow and Richard Engel about the particular explosive used in the vests of the Paris terrorists and what the forensics of that explosive can tell investigators who hope to trace the evidence to the maker. watch
Rachel Maddow reports that while all of the Republican presidential candidates have moved to take advantage of the fear among voters on the right of immigrants, Muslims, and Syrians, Ted Cruz is the first to try to exploit that fear with a piece of stunt watch
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