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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.1.15

05/01/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Baltimore: "Hundreds of people spilled into the streets of a riot-torn neighborhood in Baltimore on Friday after the city's chief prosecutor announced criminal charges against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray."
 
* The former Chris Christie aide who wrote the "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email now wants everyone to know how innocent she is.
 
* The death toll in Nepal has reportedly surpassed 6,000.
 
* Nigeria: "Nigeria's military on Thursday vowed to free more hostages from Boko Haram after nearly 500 were released from atrocious conditions this week in the group's Sambisa Forest stronghold."
 
* This may be a very big deal: "[Tesla Motors] announced that it is offering a home battery product, which people can use to store energy from their solar panels or to backstop their homes against blackouts, and also larger scale versions that could perform similar roles for companies or even parts of the grid."
 
* A start: "Instances of sexual assault among U.S. service members have fallen over the past year, a new report suggested on Friday, but Pentagon officials said more work remains to be done on preventing retaliation against those who report abuse."
 
* Important safety rules: "The Obama administration imposed tougher safety regulations Friday for trains carrying crude oil, responding to growing alarm about a series of fiery derailments that killed dozens of people in a small Canadian town and have rattled U.S. communities from North Dakota to Alabama to Virginia."
 
* $10.10 is so last year: "Top Democrats laid down their minimum-wage marker on Capitol Hill on Thursday, setting up their party's middle-class-focused economic message heading into the 2016 elections campaigns. Their pitch: '$12 by '20' -- a $12 per hour federal minimum wage by 2020, which they say will give a pay raise to nearly 38 million Americans."
A registered nurse in New York, demonstrates putting on personal protective equipment (PPE) during an Ebola educational session for healthcare workers in New York, Oct. 21, 2014. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Ebola travel ban wasn't necessary after all

05/01/15 04:58PM

A Senate panel held a hearing with officials from the National Institutes of Health this week, and nearly two hours into the discussion, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) noticed something interesting: no one had mentioned Ebola at all.
 
It was just last fall when much of the political world was experiencing a election-season breakdown over the virus, and now, even in discussions with NIH officials, it's relegated to an afterthought.
 
Sam Stein's report added that it's a good thing the Washington Democrat broached the subject, because "the news that the NIH had to share was decidedly positive."
"From a public health standpoint, the number of cases in West Africa has diminished dramatically," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "There hasn't been a case in Liberia in almost 40 days, which means that the country of Liberia very likely will be declared Ebola-free very soon." [...]
 
Researchers running trials on vaccines, Fauci said, were seeing promising results: The vaccine was proving safe, and the outcomes were similar to those of earlier monkey trials. But because cases of Ebola were on the decline, he added, "it might be difficult to actually prove on an incident basis that the vaccine does actually work."
Fauci acknowledged there are challenges elsewhere, most notably in Guinea, but it's easy to feel encouraged about the progress and the efficacy of the U.S. response.
 
It was just last October when Republican pundits, including Peggy Noonan, said that if the Obama administration failed to impose a travel ban, she was "certain" that Ebola cases in the United States would grow. That same week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced plans to introduce legislation imposing such a policy, banning U.S. visas for nationals from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
 
President Obama ignored Rubio and Noonan, choosing instead to listen to actual experts. In retrospect, that was apparently a good idea.
A view of the state capitol on March 6, 2015 in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

There's still a 'Confederate Memorial Day'?

05/01/15 04:31PM

Back in January, it was unsettling to learn that on the same day the nation honors Martin Luther King Jr., three states -- Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi -- also celebrate a statewide holiday honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's birthday.
 
When Arkansas lawmakers considered a proposal soon after to end the Lee commemoration, the Republican-led legislature rejected the recommendations, citing the importance of "Southern heritage."
 
This week, it was equally interesting to learn that Confederate Memorial Day still exists in parts of the deep South.
One city block and 150 years from the first White House of the Confederacy, descendants of Confederate soldiers gathered outside the Alabama Capitol on Monday to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.
 
In Montgomery, the first official capital of the Confederacy, nearly 100 convened for the commemoration.
One of the organizers told the local Sun Herald that in the years since the Civil War, "the why and for what Confederate soldiers fell has undergone a dramatic change in this country at the feet of the new unholy trinity of political correctness, multiculturalism and diversity."
 
The same report added that Alabama isn't alone: Mississippi and Georgia also recognize Confederate Memorial Day.
 
In fact, all three states recognize Confederate Memorial Day as an official state holiday, in which state offices are closed.
Mortgage Bankers Hold Nat'l Conference in S.F

Karl Rove's alarming mental block

05/01/15 04:08PM

Without any hint of irony, Karl Rove, still a prominent figure in American media, devotes his latest Wall Street Journal column to complaining about President Obama leaving behind "messes" for his successor to clean up in 2017.
 
Even at face value, Rove's missive is hard to take seriously. Economic growth has improved under Obama, but Rove complains the growth has been too slow. Job growth has soared under Obama, but Rove complains it's not enough. The deficit has shrunk under Obama, but Rove complains about the size of the debt. Medicare's finances are on far stronger footing thanks to Obama, but Rove complains about "squandered" opportunities at "reforms."
 
How, oh how, Rove wonders, will Republicans "clean up the mess Mr. Obama will leave."
 
Rove's column makes no reference -- literally, not one -- to the fact that his old boss left the biggest mess in modern American history for President Obama to clean up. Jon Chait wonders if the poor GOP strategist is suffering from some kind of "post-traumatic shock" stemming from his failures in the Bush/Cheney White House.
[Rove is] the victim of a severe psychological trauma that has rendered him unable to recollect anything that transpired between January 2001 and 2009, when he masterminded one of the most disastrous presidencies in American history, an ordeal that is the possible source of his trauma. Thus, Rove wanders the Earth in a haze, experiencing hazy flashbacks to a history he cannot recall and expressing his anguish in the form of op-ed columns.
Quite right. The delicious irony of Rove's complaints -- the detail that makes him a truly great performance artist, blind to his own genius -- is that each of his complaints focus on an area of economic policy that George W. Bush made considerably worse (and Obama has made better).
 
In other words, the strategist's entire column, when considered in context, is one of the more amusing possible rebukes of the Obama presidency: Karl Rove isn't satisfied with the speed with which Obama has improved upon Bush's failures.
 
But Chait's response, though compelling, overlooks a key detail: Rove's breathtaking failures of self-awareness are part of a chronic condition that's become quite alarming.
Senate Chairman Of Transportation Committee Calls For Investigation Into George Washington Bridge Lane Closures

'A lot more will come out'

05/01/15 03:10PM

We talked earlier about Gov. Chris Christie's (R) longtime ally, David Wildstein, pleading guilty this morning to two counts of conspiracy, stemming from his role in the "Bridgegate" scandal. Wildstein's court appearance shed considerable light on the controversy, including the fact that Team Christie crippled Fort Lee on purpose -- deliberately choosing the first day of school -- to punish a local mayor for failing to endorse the governor's re-election campaign.
 
Soon after Wildstein's court appearance, however, another shoe fell when his co-conspirators from Team Christie were indicted on federal criminal charges.
At the federal court [in Newark], David Wildstein acknowledged conspiring with Bill Baroni, Christie's then-top Port Authority appointee, and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. [...]
 
At a press conference, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Baroni and Kelly were charged by a federal grand jury in a nine-count indictment unsealed Friday. Fishman said Wildstein and Baroni executed a political "vendetta" against Sokolich. Among other charges, they are each accused of conspiring to misuse -- and actually misusing -- property of an organization receiving federal benefits, conspiring to commit wire fraud, conspiring to injure and oppress certain individuals' civil rights.
Their arraignment is scheduled for Monday morning.
 
And then, of course, there's still the matter of Christie himself.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, on Feb. 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Former Christie aide pleads guilty in 'Bridgegate' scandal

05/01/15 12:44PM

After dominating headlines for a while last year, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) "Bridgegate" scandal seemed to largely fade from public view. The Republican governor liked to pretend the story was over, and he said the abuse scandal shouldn't undermine his presidential ambitions
 
But the investigation didn't end, and today, it snared a top former Christie ally.
A former ally of Gov. Chris Christie pleaded guilty Friday to helping to engineer traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and concocting a cover-up along with two other officials with close ties to Christie. [...]
 
Wildstein, an official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the tie-ups, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy.
We learned this morning that Wildstein and his co-conspirators from Team Christie deliberately chose to cripple Fort Lee, New Jersey on the first day of school in September 2013. The idea was to maximize the impact of their scheme, and choosing the day in which schools opened meant exacerbating the traffic gridlock.
 
Wildstein also admitted this morning that he ignored calls for relief from Fort Lee's mayor.
 
As for the lingering questions as to why, exactly, the governor's aides sought to punish the community so severely, WNBC's report noted that Wildstein "told a judge the intent of the lane closures ... was political retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for failing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid."
 
That was why it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.1.15

05/01/15 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:
 
* Hillary Clinton published a tweet yesterday welcoming Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to the race for the Democratic nomination, and included a friendly message: "I agree with Bernie. Focus must be on helping America's middle class. GOP would hold them back."
 
* A Sanders adviser said the senator intends to focus on "fighting economic inequality, climate change and money in politics" as a national candidate.
 
* In Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) has struggled badly of late, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg (D) announced yesterday that he'll take on the governor next year. If Gregg wins his party's backing, it will be a rematch of the 2012 race, which Pence won by about three points. Also this week, State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz (D) said she's considering the race as well.
 
* Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is still facing questions as to why he skipped the vote on Loretta Lynch's attorney general nomination to attend a campaign fundraiser. The senator said yesterday by failing to show up, it was "the equivalent" of voting no, which doesn't really make sense.
 
* Mike Huckabee was in Houston this week, where he spoke to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "I do not come to you tonight with the ability to speak Spanish," the former governor said. "But I do speak a common language: I speak Jesus."
 
* In Missouri's gubernatorial race, state Sen. Mike Parson (R) had thrown his support to Tom Schweich's (R) campaign, but in light of Schweich's suicide in February, Parson has decided to run for governor on his own.
Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby speaks in Baltimore, Md. on May 1, 2015. (Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Gray's death ruled a homicide, officers to face charges

05/01/15 11:31AM

In the two weeks that have passed since Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore, local officials told the public that an official investigation was underway as to what happened, but few details have been available. The first tidbit of information was a leaked document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, that suggested Gray's injuries may have been self-inflicted.
 
Those allegations were, of course, very hard to believe, but we'd heard nothing else from the investigation. This morning, that silence took a rather dramatic turn. David Taintor reported for msnbc:
All six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray have been criminally charged, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Friday at a press conference. Warrants have been issued for their arrest. Mosby's announcement was met with cheers from those in attendance. [...[
 
Officials have ruled his death a homicide.
In her remarks this morning, Mosby added that Gray's arrest was itself illegal and that the young man had committed "no crime." There have been reports that Gray was carrying a switchblade, but the state attorney told reporters this morning that Gray's knife was not a switchblade and was lawful under Maryland law.
 
WBAL's report added that the officer driving the police van that transported Gray will face the stiffest criminal charge -- second-degree murder -- while the other officers will face charges of "involuntary manslaughter, assault and illegal arrest."
Image: FILE PHOTO: The Pill Turns 50: A Look Back At Contraception

Colorado GOP blocks successful birth-control program

05/01/15 11:14AM

Colorado launched a health initiative a few years ago with a specific target: reducing teen-birth rates. To that end, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) implemented a program that provided tens of thousands of contraceptive devices at low or no cost.
 
The results were amazing: teen-birth rates dropped 40% in just five years. This week, the state even won an award from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, celebrating Colorado's success story.
 
Ironically, the award came the same week Colorado Republicans chose to scrap the effective policy.
Republicans on a Colorado Senate committee Wednesday killed an effort to set aside money for a birth-control program that provides intrauterine devices, or IUDs, to low-income, young women. [...]
 
The legislation would have provided $5 million to expand the Colorado Family Planning Initiative program that health officials say lowered the teen birth rate in Colorado by an impressive 40 percent.
As one local report noted, "Opponents of the bill worried that increasing access to birth control would not have a net public health gain because it would increase promiscuity." One GOP lawmaker accused the policy of "subsidizing sex." Another said of the program, "Does that allow a lot of young women to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places?"
 
The amazing thing to remember here is that Colorado wasn't talking about experimenting with a new policy measure; state lawmakers were considering whether to keep an existing policy in place. That's important because, in this case, Colorado already knows the program was working.
 
In other words, Republican critics of the idea raised concerns that the policy might fail -- which might be a credible point were it not for the fact that the policy has been in place for five years, offering real-world proof that those concerns are unfounded.
 
I half expected to find quotes from GOP lawmakers saying, "Sure, the idea works in practice, but does it work in theory?"
John Kasich

Kasich accused of 'hiding behind Jesus to expand Medicaid'

05/01/15 10:13AM

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) isn't the only Republican governor to embrace Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, but few have been quite as enthusiastic about it. Kasich has said the policy "makes great sense," adding that he believes Obamacare has made "real improvements in people's lives."
 
The governor, who frequently presents his policy priorities in moral terms, has even suggested his Christianity has led him to embrace the ACA policy. Molly Ball reported this week that Kasich's posture has apparently annoyed some of his Republican brethren.
Majorities of voters support expanding Medicaid, but many conservatives revile it as a costly expansion of government -- and they aren't fond of being lectured by Kasich about their supposed heartlessness. "He likes quoting the Bible -- 'Thou shalt expand Medicaid,' I keep looking for that verse," John Becker, a conservative member of the Ohio House of Representative, told me.
 
At a closed-door donor forum in Palm Springs hosted by the Koch brothers, Kasich was attacked by two fellow Republican governors, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, for, in the words of a source who attended the event, "hiding behind Jesus to expand Medicaid." The source added, "It got heated."
As best as I can tell, there is no recording of the closed-door donor forum, so there's no way to say with certainty whether Kasich was blasted by Haley and Jindal for "hiding behind Jesus," but if so, that's quite a charge for Republicans to make against one of their own.
 
It's also a reminder of the kind of rhetoric we're likely to hear if, as expected, Kasich enters the Republican presidential race.
Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott speaks to member of the media following a meeting with President Barack Obama and newly elected governors at the White House on Dec. 5, 2014. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Texas Republican decries 'pandering to idiots'

05/01/15 09:45AM

Over the summer, the U.S. military is launching a training exercise called "Jade Helm 15," which ordinarily wouldn't generate any headlines at all. It's a series of training drills throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California, for about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs.
 
In some right-wing circles, however, "Jade Helm 15" is the basis for an extraordinary conspiracy theory. The idea gets a little convoluted -- fringe theories often are -- but the unhinged activists apparently believe the Obama administration, in conjunction with the U.S. military and Wal-Mart, is planning to impose martial law on much of the country. As they see it, the plan also includes gun confiscation and "secret underground tunnels."
 
The whole thing is pretty nutty, even by 2015 standards, but the conspiracy theory has been so widely disseminated that some Republican policymakers feel the need to take it seriously. This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered the Texas Guard to "monitor" the military exercises -- just in case.
 
The Dallas Morning News reported late yesterday that one former GOP lawmaker is not amused.
A 16-year Republican veteran of the Legislature wrote Gov. Greg Abbott saying he is appalled that the governor has given credence to a fringe group that fears the U.S. military would stage a take-over of Texas. [...]
 
In his letter to the governor, Todd Smith of Euless, who retired from public office in 2013, said he is "horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn't have the backbone to stand up to those who do."
Smith decried the governor's willingness to "pander to idiots," adding that this week's developments are "embarrassing." It's important to "rational governance," the former lawmaker told Abbott, "that thinking Republicans call you out on it."
 
He added, "Is there anybody who is going to stand up to this radical nonsense that is a cancer on our state and our party?"
 
It's unclear, at least for now, whether Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to "monitor" the drills because the governor because he takes the conspiracy theory seriously or because so many of his right-wing constituents contacted his office that Abbott felt the need to placate them.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 28, 2015. (Photo by Ricardo Arduengo/AP)

Jeb Bush touts Charles Murray's work

05/01/15 09:08AM

Republicans are talking about term limits and a balanced-budget amendment. The Clintons are dominating the political conversation. Unemployment is falling.
 
And in case these 1990s throwbacks weren't quite enough, suddenly Charles Murray's name is in the news again.
Asked to elaborate on his concerns about family formation, [former Gov. Jeb Bush] twice praised author Charles Murray, best known for his highly controversial 1994 book which touches on racial differences in I.Q., for his later research into the rise of single motherhood. 
 
"My views on this were shaped a lot by Charles Murray's book," Bush said.
The Republican presidential hopeful added, "I like Charles Murray books to be honest with you, which means I'm a total nerd I guess."
 
As it happens, "nerd" isn't the first word that comes to mind.
 
It's important to emphasize that Bush, while praising Murray, did not applaud "The Bell Curve" specifically. He was probably referring to the controversial author's other work.
 
That said, as Benjy Sarlin noted on Twitter, it's a tough pitch for a national candidate: "Say, have you read this guy's book? No not the one about racial IQ's, the one about white America...."
U.S. Republican Presidential candidate and Senator of Texas Ted Cruz speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's forum in Waukee, Iowa, April 25, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Cruz walks a provocative line on panhandling

05/01/15 08:32AM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took his presidential campaign to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this week, where he raised a provocative point about, of all things, panhandling. Benjy Sarlin reported:
"If you look at the values that resonate in our community, they are faith, family, patriotism, hard work," he told host Javier Palomarez, the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
 
"Some years ago I was having lunch with a Hispanic entrepreneur in Austin and he asked me a question: He said, 'When was the last time you saw a Hispanic panhandler?' It's a great question.... I'm not sure I've ever seen a Hispanic panhandler and the reason is in our community it would be shameful to be begging on the street."
It wasn't a slip of the tongue -- the far-right senator made similar remarks on Fox News a few years ago.
 
Cruz's comments stood out for a few reasons, some of which are arguably more obvious than others. Note, for example, that the senator referenced "our" community, connecting him directly to Hispanics in general. Though Cruz "rarely refers to himself as Hispanic," at this event, the Republican frequently used words like "us" and "we" when talking to this audience.
 
As for whether there are simply no Hispanic panhandlers at all, that's a rather bold statement that's hard to substantiate.
 
But then there's the flip side to Cruz's argument: if the GOP presidential candidate believes Hispanics never panhandle because "it would be shameful to be begging on the street," what exactly does the Texas senator believe about non-Hispanic groups that do panhandle?

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