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Obama admin waives privacy law after Orlando massacre

06/13/16 11:22AM

There was a point yesterday morning in Orlando when family members showed up at local hospitals, hoping to get an update on the health of their loved ones who were victims of the mass shooting. There was, however, a procedural problem: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes strict safeguards on patients' medical privacy.
 
Even if hospital officials wanted to give people updates, patient information is closely guarded, usually for very good, entirely defensible reasons.
 
We learned midday, however, that those private safeguards had been temporary set aside, because of the crisis, by order of President Obama. This got me thinking: can the administration do that? Slate reported, the answer is yes.
[T]he White House applied a unique waiver to HIPAA. In declaring the situation in Orlando a national emergency, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell made it easier for family and friends to gain quicker access to information -- the right move in such a circumstance.
 
That's because the individual patient is not the only stakeholder when it comes to health information. In fact, HIPAA was specifically written to ensure public well-being -- something that becomes very relevant in cases of emergency, when panicked people are waiting in a hospital for critical news. While the original law does allow physicians to share information with a patient's family, friends, or other health care providers if a "reasonable inference" could be made based on the circumstances, this is generally approached with great caution and most doctors err on the side of maintaining silence. Which is why it's so critical that Obama was able to invoke a revision of the Social Security Act (Section 1135), which was enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, and explicitly authorizes health care providers broad exemptions from the normal privacy safeguards relating to sharing a patient's protected health information -- especially with friends and loved ones in the event of an emergency.
Note, ordinarily under HIPAA, if a patient can't communicate his or her wishes, a hospital will only share medical information with a spouse or next of kin. In Orlando yesterday, this wasn't adequate: parents and siblings showed up at emergency rooms, only to hear, at least initially, that the hospitals legally weren't able to give them an update.
Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), flanked by his family, speaks at a primary night rally on March 15, 2016 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Angel Valentin/Getty)

How Marco Rubio hopes to avoid a debate over guns

06/13/16 10:56AM

After learning of the massacre in Orlando, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) traveled to the area and met with many of his constituents. The far-right lawmaker, who's reportedly ready to abandon his promise not to seek a second term, had a quick response yesterday afternoon to an obvious question.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters in Orlando who asked about guns and terrorism: "The issue isn't the weapons they are using. The issue here is ideology."
I'm pretty sure this is exactly backwards. There can be plenty of people with dangerous ideologies, but if they lack the tools necessary to commit mass murder, the threat to society is far less severe.
 
This point is not lost on the terrorists themselves. The Washington Post reported yesterday, "Terrorist groups have taken note of the widespread availability of assault rifles and other guns in the U.S. In 2011, al-Qaeda encouraged its followers to take advantage of lax guns laws, purchase assault-style weapons and use them to shoot people."
 
Speaking in English, an al Qaeda spokesperson said in that 2011 video, "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"
 
By Rubio's reasoning, all of this is irrelevant, and U.S. policymakers should pay it no mind.
 
What's more, FiveThirtyEight published an interesting report yesterday: "Although terrorism still accounts for a negligible share of all gun deaths in the U.S. -- since 1970, fewer than five deaths most years -- from 2002 to 2014, 85 percent of people killed by terrorists in the U.S. were killed using guns, according to our analysis. Every terrorist attack in the U.S. last year in which someone other than the perpetrator was killed involved guns, according to a preliminary list provided by Erin Miller, who manages the Global Terrorism Database."
 
In case this isn't obvious, building and acquiring the materials necessary for a bomb isn't easy. Hijacking airplanes to use them as missiles has become practically impossible. But getting a gun and killing random innocents has a low barrier to entry. To genuinely believe the issue here "isn't the weapons they are using" is to willfully ignore every piece of relevant information.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty)

Cruz sees Orlando massacre as possible wedge issue

06/13/16 10:09AM

When President Obama addressed the massacre in Orlando yesterday, he took time to recognize "all our friends -- our fellow Americans -- who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender." Hillary Clinton's statement did the same, noting, "The gunman attacked an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month. To the LGBT community: please know that you have millions of allies across our country. I am one of them."
 
Congressional Republicans, by and large, chose to overlook this relevant detail. GOP officials, including staunch opponents of gay rights, were eager to condemn the mass shooting, but most were silent on the fact that the gunman targeted not just Americans in general, but LGBT Americans specifically.
 
In an interesting twist, though, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was a notable exception. The right-wing Texan is a fierce opponent of expanding civil rights to the LGBT community, but note how his statement yesterday referenced the Orlando gunman's targets.
"For all the Democrats who are loud champions of the gay and lesbian community whenever there is a culture battle waging, now is the opportunity to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians.
 
"ISIS and the theocracy in Iran (supported with American taxpayer dollars) regularly murder homosexuals, throwing them from buildings and burying them under rocks. This is wrong, it is evil, and we must all stand against it. Every human being has a right to live according to his or her faith and conscience, and nobody has a right to murder someone who doesn't share their faith or sexual orientation.
 
"If you're a Democratic politician and you really want to stand for LGBT, show real courage and stand up against the vicious ideology that has targeted our fellow Americans for murder."
Got that? Republicans in general were loath to mention the role of anti-LGBT attitudes in the Orlando attack, but Cruz saw an opportunity -- not because of his sympathies, but because the slayings might be a wedge issue.
 
Follow Cruz's logic here:
Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., June 12, 2016. (Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Debate over guns, terror watch list to begin anew

06/13/16 09:23AM

NBC News reported this morning, "How does a man investigated by the FBI for possible links to terrorism buy an assault-style weapon in America? Easily."
 
In the case of Omar Mateen, the apparent gunman in the worst mass shooting in American history, the Floridian legally bought an AR-15-style weapon and a semiautomatic pistol recently, despite the fact that the FBI was aware of him and looked into him twice.
It was not immediately clear what if any watch list [the apparent shooter] was on at the time of the Orlando massacre -- though he had come across the FBI's radar on more than one occasion.
 
He first came to the FBI's attention in 2013 after co-workers reported he'd made "inflammatory" comments to them about radical Islamic propaganda. A year later the FBI looked into him again because of his ties to an American who traveled to the Middle East to become a suicide bomber.
Information is still coming together as part of the investigation. There's more than one terrorist watch list and we don't yet know if the Orlando shooter was on any of them.
 
But the detail that's newly relevant is that even if the gunman was on all of them -- even if he couldn't legally purchase a plane ticket anywhere in the United States -- it wouldn't have made a difference when he tried to purchase the weapons he used to murder 49 people.
 
The NBC News report added, "That suspected terrorists can legally purchase weapons in the U.S. has been a fierce point of contention in Congress and among gun-control advocates."
 
And that debate is poised to begin anew.
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the massacre at a Orlando nightclub during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 12, 2016. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Trump suggests President Obama may be terrorist sympathizer

06/13/16 08:46AM

Yesterday, Donald Trump responded to the mass shooting in Orlando in indefensible ways. This morning, as Politico reported, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee actually managed to make matters slightly worse.
"He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other," Trump said of Obama on "Fox & Friends," speaking on the phone. "And either one is unacceptable." [...]
 
And Trump again implied that the president was not a trustworthy leader when it comes to fighting terrorism. "We're led by a man who is a very -- look, we're led by a man that either is, is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind," Trump said. "And the something else in mind, you know, people can't believe it. People cannot -- they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable."
There isn't much in the way of ambiguity here. As Politico's Blake Hounshell summarized, "This morning, Trump implied President Obama is a terrorist sympathizer." Politico's Jake Sherman added, "The Republican Party’s nominee for president seems to be saying its possible the POTUS is in cahoots with terrorists."

Update: On NBC's "Today," Trump added, "Well there are a lot of people that think maybe [the president] doesn't want to get it."

Obviously, crackpot rhetoric from a presidential candidate the day after the worst mass shooting in American history is indefensible, but I'm curious: what do Trump's Republican supporters and enablers think about this?
Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Va. on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

After Orlando massacre, Trump faces leadership test -- and flunks

06/13/16 08:00AM

In the wake of the brutal murders in Orlando, President Obama delivered a somber address from the White House, asking Americans to consider what kind of country we want. The massacre, he said, is "a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."
 
His remarks followed a related, measured statement from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. "This is a time to stand together and resolve to do everything we can to defend our communities and country," she said.
 
And then there was Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who seemed quite eager to talk about Donald Trump. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Trump, however, boasted that he had predicted the attack and thanked supporters for giving him credit for his achievement.
 
"Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance," Trump tweeted on Sunday morning. "We must be smart!" He posted a similar statement on Facebook.
 
He kept up the self-proclaimed victory lap in a longer statement that afternoon, again demanding recognition for noticing the threat of Islamic terrorism. [...] "Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen -- and it is only going to get worse," Trump said.
Here's a good general rule: if you learn about the slaughter of 49 innocent civilians, and the first three words you're eager to share with the public are, "Appreciate the congrats," perhaps a career in public service isn't for you.
 
Indeed, it's hard not to wonder about the mindset of an individual who, in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in American history, seems a little too eager to effectively declare, "Told you so!"
 
This is especially true given the inconvenient fact that Donald Trump did not, in reality, tell us so.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., asks a question during a House Rules full committee meeting on the Iran nuclear program deal in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015.

This Week in God, 6.11.16

06/11/16 08:25AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at some of the more striking comments from the "Road to Majority" conference, which kicked off yesterday in D.C., sponsored by former lobbyist Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition.
 
The annual gathering always offers an interesting peek into the state of the religious right political movement, and the conference's high-profile speakers -- Republicans looking for social conservatives' support are a staple of these events -- rarely miss the opportunity to feed theological red meat to the ravenous audience.
 
But Right Wing Watch flagged one quote -- along with a notable video clip -- that stood out for me.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., devoted her speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority conference [Friday] to telling activists not to lose faith in the political process and to remember that elected officials -- or, more specifically, Republican elected officials -- know that America needs a "moral and spiritual foundation in order to survive and thrive."
 
She had a message for those who think that "politics is a dirty business": "If people of faith are not involved in political life, then you're leaving it to the Philistines. And I'm not willing to leave it to the Philistines."
Let's note for the record that there's no meaningful argument underway about whether or not "people of faith" should be "involved in political life." Among the nation's senators, governors, and congressional representatives, the grand total of self-identified atheists is currently zero. Religious people are not exactly struggling for representation in powerful elected offices.
 
But even putting that aside, Philistines? Let's assume the right-wing congresswoman wasn't referring to ancient Palestinians.
 
Instead, it's probably safe to say Foxx was complaining about those who are "smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, and aesthetic refinement." As she sees it, social conservatives have to engage in culture wars in order to prevent uninformed, uncultured secularists from dominating in the political sphere.
 
The kind of lessons one learns at the "Road to Majority" conference are simply without rival.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
How running mates are vetted

How running mates are vetted

06/10/16 09:20PM

Bob Shrum, Democratic strategist who advised the Kerry and Gore campaigns, talks with Rachel Maddow about the considerations that go into a candidate selecting a running mate. watch

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

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