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Ahead on the 8/11/14 Maddow show

08/11/14 08:39PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Christopher Farley, senior editorial director at the Wall Street Journal where he oversees the "Speakeasy" culture blog
  • Henry Winkler, actor, director and author, played Fonzie on "Happy Days" when Robin Williams' career exploded in 1978
  • Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department
  • Gloria Browne-Marshall, civil rights attorney and constitutional law professor at John Jay College

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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.11.14

08/11/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* A different kind of Iraqi crisis unfolds: "Iraq's president formally nominated a candidate on Monday to replace Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The step broke a monthslong political deadlock, but it also seemed to take Iraq into uncharted territory, as Mr. Maliki gave no signal that he was willing to relinquish power."
 
* The White House hasn't left much doubt that it supports the Iraqi president, Fuad Masum, nominating a new prime minister. In this case, it's Haider al-Abadi, a member of Maliki's Shiite Islamist Dawa Party.
 
* Another ceasefire: "As a new temporary truce took hold, negotiators from Israel and the Hamas militant group resumed indirect talks Monday to reach a long-term cease-fire in the Gaza Strip."
 
* Kurds: "The U.S. government has begun to funnel weapons directly to Kurdish forces fighting Islamist militants in northern Iraq, deepening U.S. involvement in a conflict that the Obama administration had long sought to avoid."
 
* Related news: "With American strikes beginning to show clear effects on the battlefield, Kurdish forces counterattacked Sunni militants in northern Iraq on Sunday, regaining control of two strategic towns with aid from the air."
 
* Ukraine: "NATO said on Monday there was a "high probability" that Russia could launch an invasion of Ukraine, where the government said its troops have been closing in on Donetsk, the main city held by pro-Russian rebels."
 
* The right predicted double-digit increases. They were wrong: "Premiums on ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges will rise by an average of 7.5 percent next year, according to a new analysis."
 
* Was the Obama administration wrong to pursue its high-speed rail initiative? No, as Michael Grunwald explained, it wasn't wrong at all.
 
* The New York Times, at the urging of its reporters, will start calling torture "torture," rather than the "enhanced interrogation" euphemism preferred by many on the right.
Image: Ferguson shooting

FBI to open probe into Michael Brown shooting in Missouri

08/11/14 04:56PM

The specific details surrounding Saturday's events in Ferguson, Missouri, remain unclear. We know that in this St. Louis suburb, an unarmed, 18-year-old African American named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer. As Adam Serwer explained, there are conflicting accounts about what led to the violence.
The circumstances surrounding Brown's death remain murky. Local police claim he tried to steal an officer’s gun. Witnesses have told the press that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot. Ferguson residents have been protesting over the shooting since Saturday, by Sunday night some protesters had turned to looting and vandalism
This morning we learned that the shooting will be investigated both by local law enforcement and by federal officials from the FBI.
 
In fact, the seriousness of what transpired in Ferguson rose to the level of U.S. Attorney General, with Eric Holder issuing a statement this afternoon, noting that investigators will work together with attorneys from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
 
"The federal investigation will supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities. At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right," Holder said in a written statement. "I will continue to receive regular updates on this matter in the coming days. Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."
U.S. Sen. John McCain

McCain's misplaced boast: 'I predicted what was going to happen in Iraq'

08/11/14 04:18PM

It's hardly a secret that the Sunday shows extend invitations to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) with almost comical frequency. Yesterday, however, CNN's Candy Crowley took a moment to explain why.
 
As her latest interview with the senator was just getting underway, the host said, "Senator McCain, lots of people, when we have you on, often say, 'Why do you have him on so often?' And we say because he answers our questions, because he expresses his views quite clearly."
 
I suppose that's true, though this seems to set an awfully low bar. There are 534 other members of Congress, nearly all of whom were elected after answering questions and expressing their views clearly to voters. As of yesterday, only two House Republicans have received more Sunday-show appearances. That's 532 members of Congress that have received fewer invitations.
 
Nevertheless, when it came time for the Arizona Republican to express his views quite clearly, Crowley asked whether there's anything President Obama could do on foreign policy that McCain might approve of. The senator said he supported "a number of things" the president has done -- he didn't specify -- before immediately condemning him again.
"If I look at the world in January of 2009, and I look at the world today, I can tell you this, Candy. It's very, very different. And I believe that's because, when the United States of America withdraws from leadership from the world, it creates a vacuum, and bad things happen.
 
"And, by the way, I predicted what was going to happen in Iraq.... This is turning into, as we had predicted for a long time, a regional conflict which does pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, and launching three strikes around a place where a horrible humanitarian crisis is taking place, meanwhile, ISIS continues to make gains everywhere, yes, is clearly very, very ineffective, to say the least."
I can appreciate why McCain seems like an easy target -- perhaps too easy -- for ridicule, but so long as he's going to boast about the value of his Iraq "predictions," while being praised for the "clarity" he brings to foreign-policy debates, it's probably worth revisiting the senator's abysmal track record.
Former Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin speaks to the crowd in Sevierville, Tenn. on Thursday, June 26, 2014.

Palin discovers that humor is hard

08/11/14 02:40PM

We've all seen some cringe-worthy Sarah Palin moments in recent years, but hearing former half-term governor talk about fast-food wages may be the most painful clip to date.
 
To provide a little background, the Alaska Republican launched a new Internet channel recently -- existing news organizations weren't giving her enough attention? -- to help her offer "common-sense, conservative" takes on the issues of the day. The failed vice presidential candidate charges supporters $100 a year to hear her unique perspective.
 
On Friday, Palin decided to respond to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who recently stood up for striking fast-food workers during an appearance at the Netroots Nation conference. The former governor was apparently unimpressed and posted this message on her online channel. For those who can't watch clips online, here's a transcript, as best as I could put this word salad together.
"We believe, wait, I thought fast food joints, don't you guys think that they're like of the devil or something? Liberals, you want to send those evil employees who would dare work at a fast food joint that you just don't believe in, I thought you, I dunno, wanted to send them to purgatory or something. So they all go vegan. And wages and picket lines. I dunno, they're not often discussed in purgatory are they? I dunno, why are you even worried about fast food wages?

"Well, we believe, an America where minimum wage jobs, they're not lifetime gigs, they're stepping stones to sustainable wages. It teaches work ethic."
Oh my.
 
It's hard to know where to start with something like this.
U.S. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at an event hosted by the Iowa GOP Des Moines Victory Office on August 6, 2014 in Urbandale, Iowa.

Libertarian principles, 'though only up to a point'

08/11/14 12:42PM

Robert Draper had a lengthy piece yesterday asking whether the "Libertarian Moment" has arrived. The premise will likely be familiar: to thread the political needle and address its demographic difficulties, Republicans may need to undergo a libertarian-style shift, mixing laissez faire economics with an end to the right-wing culture war.
 
For a variety of reasons, I'm skeptical about the arrival of this "Libertarian Moment," though there was one part of Draper's piece that stood out for me.
During our conversation, Paul made a point of characterizing libertarianism as being "moderate" rather than liberal on social issues. Movement leaders would likely object, but Paul's preoccupation is with swaying the center-right.
 
"The party can't become the opposite of what it is," he told me. "If you tell people from Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia, 'You know what, guys, we've been wrong, and we're gonna be the pro-gay-marriage party,' they're either gonna stay home or -- I mean, many of these people joined the Republican Party because of these social issues. So I don't think we can completely flip. But can we become, to use the overused term, a bigger tent? I think we can and can agree to disagree on a lot of these issues. I think the party will evolve. It'll either continue to lose, or it'll become a bigger place where there's a mixture of opinions."
 
In effect, Paul was saying that the way for Republicans to win was to become more libertarian -- though only up to a point.
It's a curious perspective. On the one hand, Rand Paul sees himself as a leader of a libertarian movement predicated on free markets and free people, free of government regulations. On the other hand, Rand Paul also believes that the government should place harsh restrictions on American women's reproductive rights, and supports using the power of the state to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
 
It's what constitutes social-issue "moderation," apparently.
 
Part of the problem with this approach, of course, is the cold ideological calculation. Sure, libertarians could endorse equality, but according to the Republican senator, treating all Americans with human decency shouldn't factor into the equation. Why not? Because he doesn't want some voters in Alabama, Mississippi, or Georgia to "stay home" on Election Day.
 
Say hello to the Libertarian Moment, circa 2014 -- it's libertarian, "though only up to a point."
 
But then there's the other problem.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.11.14

08/11/14 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:
 
* Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) was crushed in a Democratic primary over the weekend, losing by about 35 points to state Sen. David Ige. Ige will take on Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona (R) in the fall.
 
* On a related note, Hawaii held a Democratic U.S. Senate primary the same day and preliminary results showed appointed incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz narrowly leading Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. Complicating matters is hurricane damage -- two voting precincts were closed during balloting -- and affected voters will still be able to participate.
 
* In Montana, where Democrats need a U.S. Senate candidate, party officials and activists will gather this Saturday, Aug. 16, to pick a replacement for appointed Sen. John Walsh (D), who bowed out last week. Rep. Steve Daines (R) is now the heavy favorite to win the seat.
 
* In Connecticut's very competitive gubernatorial race, Republican Tom Foley refuses to give his opinion on gun-safety reforms approved after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. "I don't have the staff available to prepare an alternative bill and we're talking about something that happened several years ago," he said while avoiding the subject last week. "I'm looking down the road. I'm looking ahead. I'm looking at jobs and the economy. I'm not governor and I wasn't governor at the time."
 
* In Texas, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), hoping to make up ground in her gubernatorial race, has released a very aggressive new ad, hitting state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) for a dissenting vote he cast in 1998 while on the Texas Supreme Court.
 
* Both parties are starting to take Iowa's U.S. Senate race more seriously, and late last week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee reserved $1.9 million worth of TV airtime to give far-right state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) a boost.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014.

The Speaker in Wonderland

08/11/14 11:20AM

The headline, at first blush, doesn't seem amusing. House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) latest op-ed -- a 700-word piece for Politico -- begins, "Do Your Job, Mr. President."
 
It gets funnier, though, once the piece gets going. Boehner (or whoever writes these pieces for him) falsely claims, for example, to have "sent more than 40 jobs bills to the U.S. Senate." He also claims the president "rewrote the law" by helping Dream Act kids, which isn't at all what happened.
 
But the crux of the piece is about tax policy. "Our tax code, like our immigration system, is badly broken," Boehner argues. "Because we have the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, American companies have an incentive to relocate their headquarters overseas to lower their tax bill."
 
That's not quite right. We have a relatively high corporate tax rate, which corporations don't actually pay thanks to holes in the tax code. President Obama has proposed cutting the rate while closing existing loopholes as part of a broader tax-reform package.
 
Republicans have refused, which made this part of Boehner's op-ed plainly ridiculous, even for him.
...President Obama is hinting that he may act unilaterally in an attempt to supposedly reduce or prevent these so-called "tax inversions." Such a move sounds politically appealing, but anything truly effective would exceed his executive authority. The president cannot simply re-write the tax code himself.
 
The right choice is harder. President Obama must get his allies on Capitol Hill to do their job. Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, pay lip service to tax reform, but they have utterly failed to act.
It sometimes seems as if Boehner lives in an entirely different reality -- one in which the Speaker sees basic current events in the reflection of a fun-house mirror.
 
Let's briefly review reality in the hopes of refreshing Boehner's memory.
Sen. Lindsey Graham talks with reporters after stepping off the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 21, 2013.

Lindsey Graham lays down a terror marker

08/11/14 10:48AM

That Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appeared on a Sunday show to complain about President Obama was not surprising. What was jarring, however, was rhetoric like this.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, sharply criticized the limited scale of President Obama's military response to ISIS on Sunday, and called on the president to be clearer about the threat the militants pose to the United States.
 
"If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL, whatever you guys want to call it, they are coming here," Mr. Graham said on "Fox News Sunday." "This is just not about Baghdad. This is just not about Syria. And if we do get attacked, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages."
This style of argument comes from time to time, and it always strikes me as odious.
 
In this case, Graham seems to be laying down a marker: if members of the Islamic State, at some point in the future, execute some kind of terror strike on Americans, Lindsey Graham wants us to blame President Obama -- because the president didn't stick to the playbook written by hawks and neocons.
 
The senator's on-air comments are also a reminder of how little has changed, at least rhetorically, over the last decade. Graham didn't literally say, "We have to fight them over there so we don't fight them over here," but that certainly seemed to be the gist of his argument.
Julian Gomez explains Obamacare to people at a health insurance enrolment event in Commerce, Calif.

Senate Republicans eye ACA repeal vote if given majority

08/11/14 10:02AM

Under the circumstances, too much focus on what might happen in a Republican-led Senate is probably premature. The 2014 elections are still three months away and it's hard to say with confidence how various close contests will break.
 
That said, it's only responsible for Americans to consider the consequences of electoral outcomes. If the public rewards congressional Republicans with control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2006, what can voters expect? Carl Hulse reported that the GOP majority, if it exists, would focus on deficit reduction, the Keystone XL pipeline, and, well, this.
Even as they talk about pragmatic achievable solutions, though, Republicans also say they are likely to take an early symbolic vote on repeal of the health care law, which would face a certain veto by Mr. Obama. After that showdown, Republicans say, they could move on to more realistic proposals and changes in the law.
This is presented in a rather matter-of-fact way, but it's worth appreciating how pathetic it is. House Republicans have voted several dozen times to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act, for reasons they can't explain, and without an alternative solution of their own. The House GOP's obsession has become a national punch-line -- these lawmakers know they can't repeal the reform law, but kept doing it anyway, ignoring real work to make themselves feel better.
 
Senate Republicans have watched this unfold and are now eager to do the exact same thing. GOP senators know they can't eliminate the law, but they want to hold the vote anyway, just to scratch an itch. The party wants power, but still can't quite tell the difference between governing and self-indulgent posturing.
Voters stand in line before sunrise to cast their votes at a polling precinct in Apex, N.C.

North Carolina's voting restrictions cleared by federal court

08/11/14 09:21AM

Since 2011, Republican policymakers in much of the country imposed sweeping restrictions on voting, but arguably no state was quite as ferocious on this front as North Carolina. Led by Gov. Pat McCrory, GOP policymakers slashed early voting, placed new limitations on voter-registration drives, made it harder for students to vote (and even register to vote), ended same-day registration during the early voting period, and made it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters.
 
All of these measures, according to the state's own numbers, disproportionately affect African-American voters.
 
Voting-rights advocates hoped the courts would intervene to block implementation of the new restrictions, but Rachel Kleinman and Zack Roth reported that this effort has, for now, come up short.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder on Friday ruled that two provisions of North Carolina's controversial voting law -- which challengers argue infringe the democratic process -- will remain in effect until the law goes to trial in 2015. The same judge, meanwhile, also struck a blow against the state, rejecting its request to avoid a full trial.
 
The ACLU and other civil rights groups are challenging North Carolina's sweeping voting law, specifically taking aim at sections that eliminate a week of early voting and end same-day registration, claiming those provisions violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by placing an undue burden on the right to vote and discriminating against African-American voters.
The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). Judge Schroeder is a George W. Bush appointee.
 
It's worth noting that if the entirety of the Voting Rights Act were in effect, these voting restrictions wouldn't have been approved in the first place, but a narrow Supreme Court majority gutted the civil-rights-era law last summer.
 
Also keep in mind that Friday's ruling was not an endorsement of the state's new barriers to the ballot box, but rather, a ruling that said the controversy will go to trial, at which time the judge will consider the case on the merits.
 
The problem, of course, is that there will be statewide elections between now and then.
Bobby Jindal

Louisiana's Jindal aims low

08/11/14 08:50AM

President Obama spoke a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City, and briefly abandoned his prepared remarks while chiding Congress' ineptitude.
 
"Some of the things we're doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit," the president said. "Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hatin' all the time. Come on. Let's get some work done together."
 
Obama's critics weren't pleased. It wasn't the president's concerns about Congress that drew complaints, but rather, his use of the phrase "hatin' all the time" -- without the "g." Peggy Noonan got a column out of it, and Rich Lowry used it as Exhibit A that Obama is "the callow president."
 
The right's outrage was pretty silly. George W. Bush's use of language was routinely cringe-worthy, but conservatives were convinced his poor grammar and syntax made him "folksy." But Obama drops a "g" in an unscripted moment and we're supposed to believe, as Lowry put it, the president is "glib without being eloquent"?
 
Of course, if Obama's brief departure into casual slang was enough to generate conservative ire, I'll look forward to the columns on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) rhetoric. Dave Weigel reported over the weekend on the governor's efforts to connect with Republicans in Iowa.
Seriously, Jindal was rolling. "I know that folks have been sort of teasing John Kerry about being in Nantucket and riding sort of a girl's bike," said Jindal. "Maybe Israel's safer if he spends more time in Nantucket, windsurfing or riding a girl's bike or whatever it is in Nantucket."
If the right wants to talk about callow political rhetoric, let's start with Jindal's juvenile jabs.
 
It seems like ages ago, but shortly the 2012 elections, it was Jindal who said his party needs to "stop being the stupid party" and move away from "dumbed-down conservatism."
 
Nearly two years later, this, apparently, is what he's come up with.
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters look on as smoke billows from the town Makhmur, about 280 kilometres (175 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants on Aug. 9, 2014.

GOP blames withdrawal policy for Iraq crisis

08/11/14 08:00AM

As the conditions in Iraq continue to grow more serious, the Republican foreign-policy argument has taken shape: we never should have left.
 
President Obama made public remarks on Saturday morning, characterizing the future of Iraq as a "long-term project." He added, "Wherever and whenever US facilities are threatened, it's my obligation as Commander-in-Chief to make sure they're protected. We're not moving our embassy any time soon, we're not moving our consulate any time soon. We're going to maintain vigilance and make sure our people are safe."
 
Prominent Republicans, meanwhile, pushed a very different message. In Iowa, for example, far-right Senate hopeful Joni Ernst (R), who inexplicably believes Saddam Hussein may have had secret WMD, told ABC, "I can say is, what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer, and perhaps we wouldn't have this situation today."
 
Similarly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent much of the weekend complaining that U.S. airstrikes are inadequate -- he called the limited offensive "almost worse than nothing" -- before making another Sunday-show appearance and blaming Iraq's mess on our absence.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), known for his aggressive foreign policy views, slammed President Obama's approach to the Islamic state militants in Iraq.
 
On CNN's "State of the Union," McCain blamed the deteriorating situation in Iraq on America's failure to leave forces behind in Iraq. The senator said Obama's targeted strikes in Iraq aren't enough.
If only the U.S. had been willing to commit to an indefinite war, the argument goes, then everything would be fine.

Arming the Kurds and other headlines

08/11/14 07:44AM

U.S. sending arms to Kurds in Iraq. (AP)

Kurds retake Iraqi towns. (NY Times)

U.S. warns Maliki against clinging to power in Iraq. (Washington Post)

2016 Republican field offers Obama advice on Iraq. (National Journal)

The race for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Hawaii is too close to call. (Politico) 

Hawaii's Governor becomes the first to lose a reelection primary. (MSNBC)

Republicans looks to control more state legislatures. (NY Times) (UPDATED)

Koch brothers reach out to Hispanics. (AP)

read more

Pope Francis poses with youths during a meeting with the Piacenza diocese in Saint Peter's Basilica, AUg. 28, 2013.

This Week in God, 8.9.14

08/09/14 09:26AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story about a symbolic congressional resolution that's run into some unexpected trouble. The Hill reported:
A popular piece of legislation that seeks to honor Pope Francis is stuck in Congress.
 
With time running out on the Capitol Hill calendar, the lawmakers who crafted the bipartisan measure are getting impatient with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
 
The resolution, written by Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), congratulates Francis on his March 2013 election and recognizes "his inspirational statements and actions." The seemingly innocuous resolution was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which hasn't acted on it.
The symbolic measure -- the sort of thing that usually passes the House without incident -- has 221 co-sponsors, but there's a stark partisan imbalance, with 202 Democratic supporters. One House Republican lawmaker said the GOP considers the pope is "too liberal."
 
The unnamed Republican, who supports the resolution, said GOP lawmakers have complained that Pope Francis is "sounding like Obama" because he "talks about equality." What's more, the pope has blasted "trickle-down economics," rhetoric that many conservatives consider "politically charged."
 
A Religion News Service report added, "[N]early half of all simple resolutions introduced in the last two years were passed, so it's notable that one praising Pope Francis couldn't even make it out of committee in this Congress."
 
To be sure, very little seems to happen in this Congress, but in the case of this resolution, it appears there may be more than routine gridlock at play.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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