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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.19.16

07/19/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Oh my: "The highly contagious norovirus appears to have hit the Republican National Convention. A dozen California Republican Party staff members, who arrived last week in Ohio ahead of the state's delegates, have fallen ill with the virus, said Jim Brulte, chairman of the state GOP."
 
* Turkey: "The Turkish authorities extended their purge of state institutions on Tuesday, suspending more than 15,000 employees of the education ministry for suspected links to a failed military coup last week."
 
* Tragic violence in Kansas: "A Kansas City, Kan., police captain who was shot Tuesday afternoon has died, authorities announced at a press conference. Capt. Robert Melton was shot at 22nd and Haskell in Kansas City, Kan. and by 2:45 p.m. one person was in custody and police had detained another person."
 
* Someone wants attention again: "North Korea fired three ballistic missiles on Tuesday which flew between 300-360 miles into the sea off its east coast, South Korea's military said, the latest in a series of provocative moves by the isolated country."
 
* Climate crisis: "This June has joined every other month of this year so far in setting an all-time monthly record for global temperatures, according to two separate federal science agencies -- though the globe was not as extremely warm last month as it was earlier in the year."
 
* VW: "Three attorneys general on Tuesday directly challenged Volkswagen's defense over its emissions deception, calling the decision to thwart pollution tests an orchestrated fraud that lasted more than a decade, involved dozens of engineers and managers and reached deep into the company's boardroom."
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention on July 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Team Trump falls in a ditch, but keeps digging

07/19/16 04:52PM

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was willing to acknowledge this morning that Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama. He said, however, this incident wasn't her fault, and if it were up to him, Priebus would "probably" fire the speechwriter.
 
Just a couple of hours later, however, the RNC apparently switched gears. This BuzzFeed article may seem like a joke, but it's very real.
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer on Tuesday quoted My Little Pony in a bid to prove Melania Trump's convention speech did not plagiarize First Lady Michelle Obama. [...]
 
"Melania Trump said, 'The strength of your dreams and willingness to work for them," [Spicer told CNN's Wolf Blitzer]. "Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony said, 'This is your dream. Anything you can do in your dream you can do now.'"
 
The quote comes from the 2015 My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Do Princesses Dream Of Magic Sheep?".
Um, OK, but those two excerpts aren't identical. Melania Trump's speech included several phrases that were word-for-word copies of Michelle Obama's speech from eight years ago.
 
I'm not sure what's more peculiar: watching the Republican National Committee's spokesperson quoting "My Little Pony" on national television or watching him pretend not to understand what "plagiarism" means.
 
But even putting that aside, the mind-numbing partisan pushback has changed the nature of the controversy. What began as an obvious example of lazy, clumsy plagiarism has suddenly become a story about a Republican test of how effectively they can create their own reality -- and convince the political world to play along.
 
A spokesperson for Donald Trump, for example, told The Hill, "These are values, Republican values by the way, of hard work, determination, family values, dedication and respect, and that's Melania Trump. This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd."
President Barack Obama gives a thumbs up after his speech at the Rota naval airbase, near Cadiz, Spain, July 10, 2016. (Photo by Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters)

Republicans accidentally boast about Obama-era economy

07/19/16 04:03PM

On "60 Minutes" the other day, Donald Trump eventually took a break from talking about himself and offered some praise for his new running mate. "Unemployment? What a great job he did," Trump said of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R).
 
Trump made a similar comment during his VP announcement speech on Saturday: "Indiana, their unemployment rate has fallen, when he was there, when he started, 8.4% when he was governor, when he took over, to less than 5% in May of 2016."
 
The problem with this rhetoric, of course, is that by Trump's reasoning, President Obama has also done "a great job" with the U.S. economy -- which saw the unemployment rate reach 10% during the Great Recession, only to fall below 5%.
 
In fact, while Indiana's economy has done very well in the Obama era, the unemployment rate in the Hoosier State is actually slightly higher, not lower, than the national average. If Pence has done a great job producing economic results, by Trump's own reasoning, it's hard not to consider Obama an amazing success.
 
Of course, it's not just Indiana. Politico's Michael Grunwald reported today that tonight's Republican National Convention theme is "Make America Work Again" -- a curious choice in a country with 4.9% unemployment -- but as he found talking to delegates in Cleveland, convention attendees think the economy in their area is actually terrific.
Just as most Americans say they hate Congress but routinely vote for their local congressmen, most Republicans seem to detect a national economic malaise while -- with some exceptions in places like coal country and the oil patch -- touting the economic progress in their local communities.
 
They square that circle in a variety of ways -- crediting their Republican mayors and governors, accusing Obama of manipulating data, or citing legitimate weaknesses in the recovery from the Great Recession. But with unemployment down from 10 percent to below 5 percent since late 2009, one of Trump's many challenges will be persuading non-Republicans that America isn't working even though nearly 15 million more Americans are.
Grunwald talked to a South Carolina delegate who said, "Actually, we're doing great." A New Hampshire state legislator added, "Oh, yeah, unemployment is way down." A GOP county chair in Ohio said her local economy is so "wonderful" that employers "can't fill all the job openings."
 
Behold, the nightmare of the economy in the Obama years.
US-POLITICS-ECONOMY-TREASURY-LEW

Trump may have a controversial Treasury Secretary in mind

07/19/16 03:02PM

The roll-out of Donald Trump's running mate didn't go as smoothly as planned, which may have something to do with rumors about the Republican candidate "rolling out the names of potential cabinet members" as a way of recapturing some hype.
 
And who, pray tell, does the presumptive GOP nominee have in mind? Fortune reports today that Trump already has his eye on a prospective Treasury Secretary.
Donald Trump has told prospective donors that, if elected president, he plans to nominate former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin for U.S. Treasury Secretary.
 
That's according to Anthony Scaramucci, a high-profile hedge fund manager and Trump fundraiser. Mnuchin, who is a former donor to Hillary Clinton, spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, where his father also had been a prominent executive.... Earlier this year, the 53-year-old Mnuchin joined Donald Trump's campaign as national finance chairman.
Obviously, this is a long way from being definite, and Fortune's report hasn't been independently confirmed by NBC News. That said, if Mnuchin is Trump's idea of the ideal Treasury Secretary, his nomination would be the subject of considerable controversy.
 
We know, for example, that Trump has spent months bashing politicians in both parties for being overly cozy with Wall Street. Trump nevertheless made Mnuchin, "who spent 17 years working for Goldman Sachs before launching his own hedge fund," as the chairman of his campaign's national finance team.
 
This was itself a departure from Trump's alleged principles. The candidate last year slammed hedge-fund managers as "paper pushers" who are "getting away with murder." Mnuchin is precisely the kind of guy Trump claims to have no use for.
 
But that's really just part of what makes this story unique.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., July 5, 2016. (Photo by Gerry Broome/AP)

Team Trump confronts questions about its competence

07/19/16 01:04PM

NBC News' First Read did a nice job summarizing Donald Trump's campaign troubles from just the last five days.
[T]hink about all of the campaign-related errors over the last five days. The botched VP rollout. The awkward "60 Minutes" interview. The fact that Trump and Mike Pence never hit the campaign trail to capitalize on the VP announcement. And then last night. What you are seeing is the culmination of a campaign put together by gum and shoestrings.
Note, "last night" was a reference to Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama, but that wasn't the only problem that emerged during the first night of the Republican National Convention. The party gathering, intended to help the GOP put its best foot forward, was ostensibly organized by members of Trump's team, who failed to prevent all kinds of opening night mistakes -- which even included the benediction.
 
Stuart Stevens, a leading strategist for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in 2012, added this morning on Twitter, "These past few days ... is forecast of what happens when you try to run presidential campaign without a campaign."
 
For months, there's been speculation about just how far a candidate can go with a campaign based on celebrity, resentment, and racial animus. The line from Trump's allies isn't necessarily wrong: the amateur candidate has exceeded everyone's expectations so far, despite having a skeleton staff, weak fundraising, and no idea what he's doing.
 
Even now, Trump's candidacy may seem like the punch-line to a bad joke, but as his nominating convention got underway, he only trailed Hillary Clinton by a few points nationally.
 
But many have wondered whether or not there's a point at which Trump's amateurishness and inability to oversee a functioning operation start to catch up with him. As of this morning, it's not unreasonable to think that point is now.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.19.16

07/19/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* As if the first day of the Republican National Convention weren't messy enough last night, note that many party activists tried to force a roll call on party rules, only to find their efforts crushed by party leaders. They weren't pleased.
 
* The latest Monmouth University poll, released yesterday, showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump nationally by only two points among likely voters, 45% to 43%, with third-party candidates in the mix.
 
* The Trump campaign's new director of African-American outreach is a reality-show personality who appeared on "The Apprentice."
 
* Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio built up sizable voter lists during their respective presidential campaigns, and as of this week, not one of them has turned over his list to the Republican Party to help with the 2016 effort.
 
* In the spring, Republican consultant Brian Seitchik said Trump's candidacy could prove "disastrous" to the GOP's down-ballot candidates. This week, Brian Seitchik became the Trump campaign's new state director in Arizona.
 
* The Tampa Bay Times put together an interesting report that found Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) missed "20 of 23 classified Intelligence Committee meetings" between October 2015 and March 2016, despite the senator publicly insisting in the fall, "We do all the intelligence briefings."
 
* Former President George W. Bush recently spoke to a group of former officials from his administration who gathered for a social event in Dallas. According to Politico, Bush told attendees, "I'm worried that I will be the last Republican president."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton Speaks at the Old State House in Springfield, Ill., July 13, 2016.

The GOP's preoccupation with imprisoning Clinton isn't normal

07/19/16 11:20AM

At any major party's national convention, partisans aren't going to use kid gloves when going after the other party's nominee. It stands to reason that when Republicans target Hillary Clinton in Cleveland this week, they're going to use every possible line of attack they can think of. It's just how the game is played.
 
But Vox's Andrew Prokop picked up on GOP messaging from the first night of the Republican National Convention that goes much further than anything Americans are accustomed to.
One of the most striking recurring suggestions of the Republican convention's first day was that Hillary Clinton should be sent to prison.
 
During retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's speech, the delegates began to chant, "Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!" Soon, Flynn agreed, saying, "Lock her up, that's right! It's unbelievable!"
After noting some other speakers who called for Clinton's imprisonment, Prokop's piece added, "To me, all this seemed like a new crossing of a line and an ugly degradation of a norm in American politics."
 
He's not the only who thought so. Independent Journal Review's Justin Green, a conservative journalist, added, "Plagiarism is bad, but it's remarkable that the headline news today isn't that speakers at the RNC called for jailing the opposing nominee."
 
It's no small detail. In the American tradition, partisans will blast rivals on every front, but voters are not accustomed to hearing calls for the incarceration of the other party's presidential candidate.
 
This year, in other words, radicalized Republicans are breaking new ground in ways the American mainstream should find alarming.
Paul Manafort, campaign manager to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, is surrounded by reporters in Cleveland, Ohio, July 14, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Team Trump shows how not to respond to a controversy

07/19/16 10:45AM

Obviously, the story of the morning is the controversy surrounding Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama in her convention speech, which creates an interesting test for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. A professional operation knows how to deal with incidents like these effectively,
Paul Manafort responded to the controversy on CNN on Tuesday morning, saying "there is no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech."
 
"These were common words and values, and she cares about her family," Manafort said.
In case this weren't quite bonkers enough, Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, added, "This is, once again, an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down."
 
Yes, Melania Trump's speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama without attribution, but in Trump Land, (a) reality has no meaning; and (b) this is all Hillary Clinton's fault. Say hello to the party of personal responsibility.
 
I especially love the assertion that Melania Trump used "common words." Well, sure, I suppose the individual words are themselves "common," but in spoken languages, the order in which words appear matters -- and in this case, the candidate's wife used whole phrases that had been previously used by someone else.
 
Unless Paul Manafort is doing his best Baghdad Bob imitation, he may need to come up with some other line of defense.
The Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, is prepared for the upcoming Republican National Convention, July 13, 2016.

At this convention, even the benediction sparks controversy

07/19/16 10:00AM

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who leads a congregation that includes Ivanka Trump and her family, had been scheduled to deliver the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention. As the New York Times reported, however, late last week, he bowed out.
 
"The whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended," Lookstein said in a statement. "In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation."
 
He was replaced with Pastor Mark Burns, who frequently appears with Donald Trump, and who told Bloomberg Politics he would focus on "coming together as a nation." Burns added a few days ago, "I will be talking about unity and love. We must not be focused on our divisions. We are one people."
 
Sounds great. So, how'd that turn out? The Huffington Post reported:
Mark Burns, a pastor from South Carolina, on Monday delivered perhaps the most politically charged benediction ever heard at a national convention.
 
Burns warned the prayerful delegates at the Republican National Convention that "our enemy is not other Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party."
 
"Let's pray together," he said, before denouncing again "the liberal Democratic party."
Note, plenty of speeches at the Republican National Convention included rhetoric like this. It is, after all, the Republican National Convention. We should expect biting, partisan attacks.
 
But this was a pastor delivering the benediction. The guy had just promised not to "focus on our divisions," shortly before describing Americans from the other political party as his "enemy."
Rep. Steve King

Steve King raises eyebrows with racially charged comments

07/19/16 09:20AM

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is no stranger to racial controversies, but his appearance on MSNBC yesterday afternoon managed to even surprise his critics.
Defending his party's reputation of consisting mainly of "old, white people," Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa on Monday questioned where "any other subgroup of people" contributed more to society than in Western civilization.
 
"This 'old, white people' business does get a little tired," King said on MSNBC Monday, hours before the first speaker would take the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. "I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about -- where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"
When MSNBC's Chris Hayes, taken aback, asked, "Than white people?" the right-wing congressman kept going, adding that he believes the greatest contributions of civilization have come from "Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Unites States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world."
 
Just so we're clear, the Republican Party has a demographic problem: in a country of increasing racial and ethnic diversity, the GOP relies overwhelmingly on older, white voters. Asked to reflect on his party's challenge, Steve King told a national television audience that white people are awesome.
 
In fact, as far as the Republican congressman is concerned, there's nothing wrong with ranking groups of people and then determining which one reigns supreme based on their contributions to civilization.
 
Did I mention that King, who's from Iowa, keeps a Confederate flag on his desk? Because he does.
Pat Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith, speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016.

RNC manipulates the pain of a grieving mother for partisan gain

07/19/16 08:40AM

I've been watching major-party conventions for a long time. This was probably the lowest point a party has reached in my lifetime.
The mother of an American killed in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, said she personally blames Hillary Clinton for her son's death.
 
"She deserves to be in stripes," [Pat] Smith said of Clinton.... "I personally blame Hillary Clinton for the death of my son," Smith said while fighting back tears.
The convention soon after turned over the stage to two veterans who proceeded to blatantly lie about assorted Benghazi conspiracy theories -- each of which contradicted the findings of the Republicans' own investigations.
 
It was a spectacle so offensive, it was hard to even comprehend. Obviously, basic human decency requires sympathy for Pat Smith, Benghazi victim Sean Smith's mother, who's had to endure the kind of pain few of us can imagine. That doesn't change the fact, however, that her claims last night simply weren't true. We know her arguments defy reality because Republicans launched multiple probes of the 2012 Benghazi attack -- no event in American history has received more congressional scrutiny -- and have concluded that the conspiracy theories are wrong.
 
GOP officials searched desperately for many years to uncover any kind of evidence to bolster their beliefs and partisan attacks. They found nothing. So why put a grieving mother on the convention stage to say things that are obviously wrong? Because the party's rabid base needed some red meat to chew on?
 
NBC News' Richard Engel explained on the air last night that the Republican convention appears to have offered "a manipulation of someone's grief," which meant "going to a very dark place."
 
And therein lies the larger point. Modern, major political parties, hoping to govern in a global superpower, probably shouldn't choose to deliberately take their televised national convention to "a very dark place."
Melania Trump, wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, walks to the podium at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Plagiarism controversy jolts Republican convention

07/19/16 08:00AM

At first blush, the strangest thing about Melania Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention last night might have been her introduction. Donald Trump, standing in silhouette, with "We Are the Champions" playing in the background, created a spectacle that transformed the RNC stage into a WWE-style appearance. It was ... odd.
 
But this was soon overshadowed by the fact that the possible future First Lady blatantly plagiarized the current First Lady in her remarks.
A chunk of Melania Trump's Republican National Convention speech appears to have been lifted from Michelle Obama's address at the 2008 Democratic convention. [...]
 
A two-paragraph section of Trump's speech about family values bears nearly identical phrasing to Obama's 2008 address, which was seen as a breakout moment for the future first lady and a humanizing moment for her husband.
We're not talking about a few words here and there that seemed similar; Melania Trump's speech took whole sentences, at times word for word, from Michelle Obama's speech eight years ago. There's no ambiguity about the theft. (You can even play both simultaneously, and it works surprisingly well.)
 
And while it seems safe to assume that Trump did not write her own remarks, it doesn't help that she told NBC's Matt Lauer yesterday, in reference to the speech, "I read once over it, and that's all. Because I wrote it ... with as little help as possible."
 
After journalists began noticing the problem and looking for some kind of explanation, Donald Trump's campaign team issued a statement that was almost as baffling as the plagiarism itself: "In writing her beautiful speech, Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking. Melania's immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success."
 
How this is supposed to address the underlying controversy is a mystery.

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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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