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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.12.15

11/12/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* Beirut: "Two explosions in a busy area of Beirut’s southern suburb killed at least 37 people and wounded 180 more, the Lebanese Red Cross told NBC News, as ISIS claimed responsibility for the bloodshed."

* Canada: "The Canadian government is forging ahead with its pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, honoring an audacious campaign promise made by newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau."

* Iraq: "Kurdish forces aided by thousands of lightly armed Yazidi fighters captured a strategic highway on Thursday in northern Iraq in the early stages of an offensive to reclaim the town of Sinjar from the Islamic State, which seized it last year and murdered, raped and enslaved thousands of Yazidis."
* Utah: "For the last three months, April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce have raised their foster child like their own. Now they claim that a Utah judge has ordered the baby to be removed from their care, not because of anything they've done, but because they are lesbian women."
* Medal of Honor: "Retired Capt. Florent A. Groberg on Thursday became the nation's newest Medal of Honor recipient -- and the 10th living service member to be recognized with America's highest valor award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Groberg received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Aug. 8, 2012, in Afghanistan. President Obama presented the award to Groberg during a ceremony at the White House."
* Missouri: "The University of Missouri's governing board on Thursday appointed a recently retired administrator to be the school's interim president. The Board of Curators announced that Michael Middleton, 68, will lead the four-campus university system until it finds a permanent replacement for Tim Wolfe, who resigned Monday under pressure from students who criticized his administration's response to a series of racial incidents."
* Florida: "The plainclothes Florida officer who shot and killed musician Corey Jones last month has been fired, the city of Palm Beach Gardens said Thursday."
Republican presidential candidates John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul take the stage before the Republican presidential debate, Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

The economic question Republicans face, but can't answer

11/12/15 04:21PM

It was arguably the most important question asked in any Republican presidential debate so far this year. Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal, presented Carly Fiorina with a line of inquiry she probably wasn't expecting:
"[I]n seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you'll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?"
Fiorina, as is her wont, pretended that reality has no meaning and responded, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats” -- which contradicted the accurate question and made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
But Baker's observation presents Republicans with a challenge for which the party has no solution.
Before proceeding, let's note that Baker's question actually understated the case. The figure for President Obama was roughly accurate, but it included the horrific job losses from early 2009, when he took office in the midst of a global catastrophe he inherited from his predecessor. If we exclude his first year, Obama's average increases to about 180,000 jobs per month -- which makes George W. Bush's job totals slightly worse.
What's more, if we look back over the last quarter-century, the totals for H.W. Bush, who averaged annual job growth roughly in line with his son's totals, look even worse still for Republicans. The right will be quick to note that the employment picture was vastly brighter under Reagan, which is true, but on a per-year basis, Reagan's job growth fell short of Clinton's -- and even Carter's.
And this isn't limited to job creation. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, in the post-World War II era, economic growth and Wall Street returns have also been better under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. The New York Times recently published a piece from CNBC’s John Harwood, who noted that Republicans “have a data problem”: for quite a while, GOP claims about the economy have consistently been wrong, and at times, completely backwards.
Pressed for an explanation, Republicans have ... literally nothing. Some pretend not to understand the question. Others pound the table. Many recite pleasant-sounding platitudes that their party's base finds compelling, hoping no one will notice they simply can't answer the question.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at a campaign event, Oct. 8, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Rubio's faith outreach director raises eyebrows

11/12/15 01:03PM

During any national campaign, the country looks for evidence of what kind of president the various candidates would be. And as part of the exercise, we can go through all kinds of areas, including the candidates' records, speeches, and proposals.
But it's always a good idea to keep an eye on who presidential hopefuls surround themselves with, because this, too, offers a hint about the candidates' intentions. The fact that Jeb Bush, for example, has hired so many members of his brother's foreign policy team speaks volumes about the kind of approach to international affairs we can expect to see if the former governor is elected.
With this in mind, the Huffington Post ran an interesting piece this week on Eric Teetsel, who'll serve as the director of faith outreach for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign.
A prominent young voice among evangelicals, Teetsel was the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 manifesto declaring the "sanctity of life" and marriage signed by more than 550,000 people.... In June, after the Confederate flag came down on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol in the same week the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal in all 50 states, Teetsel lamented on Twitter that the U.S. "traded one symbol of illiberalism and sweeping cultural sin for another."
Teetsel expanded on his thoughts after the court ruling, warning that gay Americans would experience "suffering" unless Christians point them "toward the better way."
It's true, of course, that candidates and their top aides don't always agree on literally every issue, and it'd be unfair to argue that everything Teetsel has ever said or written necessarily enjoys Rubio's endorsement.
But it's also true that when Rubio brings on a new member of his team with a lengthy paper trail, and gives that person a prominent position, it says something relevant about the candidate's platform.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.12.15

11/12/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Though the Koch brothers have hosted some events for leading Republican presidential hopefuls, they haven't settled on a candidate. “I have no plans to support anybody in the primary now,” Charles Koch told USA Today yesterday.
* Bernie Sanders picked up an endorsement today from the American Postal Workers Union, which has roughly 200,000 members.
* The latest Gallup poll found Congress' approval rating dropping to just 11%. It's the second lowest on record, barely beating the 9% rating the institution received in November 2013.
* A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll shows Ted Cruz and Donald Trump tied at 27% each among Republicans in the Lone Star State. Ben Carson is third in the poll with 13%, followed by Marco Rubio's 9%.
* The same poll showed Hillary Clinton with the backing of 61% of Texas Democrats, well ahead of Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley.
* Chris Christie this morning blamed President Obama in part for recent, racially charged controversies on some college campuses. Yesterday, the New Jersey governor also said he would refuse to consider meeting with Black Lives Matter activists.
A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

Ted Cruz's jobs boast comes up short

11/12/15 11:29AM

The "Romney Standard" has slowly become the stuff of legend. About six months before the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney sat down with Mark Halperin, who pressed the GOP nominee for specifics about the economy. The Republican nominee bragged that if he's elected, a Romney administration could "get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, perhaps a little lower" by the end of 2016 -- "by virtue of the policies that we put in place."
Romney lost that election, of course, and yet the unemployment rate nevertheless fell below 6 percent in September 2014 -- more than two years faster than Romney projected -- and fell to 5 percent in October 2015. By Republican standards, in other words, President Obama has done extremely well.
The Romney Standard came to mind this week when Ted Cruz boasted in a debate about the projected effects of his proposed tax cuts.
"I have rolled out a bold and simple flat tax: 10 percent for every American that would produce booming growth and 4.9 million new jobs within a decade."
And while 4.9 million new jobs certainly sounds great, I can't help but wonder if President Obama, in addition to beating the Romney Standard, has already surpassed the Cruz Standard, too.
Traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 65 northbound as officials work to clear abandoned vehicles in Hoover, Ala. Jan.  29, 2014.

A whole new (and far worse) approach to U.S. infrastructure

11/12/15 10:54AM

It didn't generate a lot of attention, but the House did something entirely unexpected last week: it actually passed an important bill without a lot of drama. The nation's Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money on Nov. 20, pushing Congress to do something before the infrastructure deadline, and in his first tangible victory, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) advanced a six-year package, carrying a $340 billion price tag.
The final vote was surprisingly lopsided: 363 to 64. Most of the opponents were far-right lawmakers, but they didn't come close to derailing the bill. The Ryan honeymoon is apparently real.
It's not yet a done deal -- the House bill will have to be reconciled with a related Senate bill -- but given the usual crisis atmosphere on Capitol Hill when a deadline nears, it's refreshing to see a process go relatively smoothly, at least for now.
But in an interesting twist, some Republican presidential candidates are watching these developments with a wary eye, arguing that Congress shouldn't be investing in infrastructure much at all.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is backing a plan to cut the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax, which pays for most federal transportation projects, by about 15 cents. 
"We need to get the federal government out of this infrastructure business, other than vital economic highways," the former Pennsylvania senator said [in Tuesday's undercard debate]. "It has been said that if we cut the gas tax to three to five cents and send the rest back to the states, and just take care of the federal infrastructure that's vital for our economy," he continued, "we don't need the federal government in the road business that it is today."
A little context is probably in order. The Highway Trust Fund, which plays a central role in financing infrastructure projects, is financed through a federal gas tax that hasn’t changed in two decades. The result has been a disaster for much of the country -- the resources simply don't exist anymore to keep up with the nation's infrastructure needs. U.S. investments have dropped to levels unseen in generations, at least in part because congressional Republicans won't increase the gas tax.
Santorum's idea is to decrease the gas tax to almost nothing, and dramatically curtail the federal role in infrastructure investments across the board.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. "Sure, Santorum is saying this, but so what? The guy is at roughly 0% in the polls." That's true. But he's not the only one making this argument.

Private sector jobs soar under 'Obamacare'

11/12/15 10:00AM

At this week's debate for the Republican presidential candidates, Carly Fiorina, who's dabbled at times with demonstrably false talking points, proudly declared, "Obamacare isn't helping anyone." Even for her, it was unsettling to hear Fiorina deny the existence of tens of millions of Americans who've benefited from the Affordable Care Act.
But aside from the garden-variety nonsense, the debate's audience also heard a more specific claim from Marco Rubio: "[W]e have a crazy health care law that discourages companies from hiring people." To which the reality-based community responded, "We do?"
The oddity of the criticism is how easy it is to recognize how wrong it is. We know, for example, that in 2014 -- the first full year of ACA implementation -- the job market in the United States had its best year since the late 1990s. Indeed, hiring in 2014 was so strong, it surpassed literally any single year in either Bush presidency, and even many of the years in the Clinton era.
How do "Obamacare" critics explain this? As best as I can tell, so far, they don't even try.
But we can go a step further with this. Riffing off a great observation Dan Diamond made in Forbes, I made the above chart, noting private-sector employment in the United States over the last eight years. The red line shows the final two years of the Bush/Cheney era, as the private sector shed jobs; the light blue line shows the first year of the Obama era, when the Great Recession started to end; and the hard blue line shows March 2010 through the present.
And why is March 2010 of particular significance? Because private-sector employment bottomed out in February 2010, and then started to recover in March 2010. It hasn't looked back since.
March 2010 is the month President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. In other words, America's private sector started hiring again, not around the same time as "Obamacare," but quite literally the exact month the president put pen to paper and made the ACA the law of the land.
President Barack Obama speaks during an event in Newark, N.J., on Nov. 2, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Obama White House throws support behind Equality Act

11/12/15 09:20AM

President Obama this week became "the first sitting president to be photographed for the cover of an LGBT publication," appearing on the special OUT 100 issue with the caption, “Our president: Ally. Hero. Icon.” But the day the magazine hit newsstands, the Obama White House also announced a related policy position that shouldn't go overlooked. The Washington Post reported:
The White House endorsed legislation Tuesday that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, plunging into the next front in the national battle over LGBT rights.
Speaking to reporters, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration has been reviewing the bill “for several weeks.” “It is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act,” he said, adding that it would advance the civil rights of “millions of Americans.”
If the announcement left you wondering what the Equality Act is, you're probably not alone. It's an important piece of legislation, but because it faces fierce Republican opposition -- and because Republicans control Congress -- it's been largely overlooked.
And that's a problem the White House's endorsement should help correct.
A US Secret Service Agent stands guard as Republican President candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at Liberty University, on Nov. 11, 2015 in Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Carson brings his message to Falwell’s Liberty U

11/12/15 08:40AM

Fresh off his latest odd debate performance, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson traveled to Virginia yesterday, where he spoke to a crowd of nearly 12,000 at Liberty University, an evangelical school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
And while the bulk of Carson's remarks were about his background, faith, and vision, the retired right-wing neurosurgeon also reportedly took aim at, of all things, Bernie Sanders' higher-ed plan. The Hill reported yesterday:
“If people are not well informed, they just [listen to] unscrupulous politicians and news media and off the people go in the completely wrong direction, listening to all kinds of propaganda and inculcating that into their way of thinking,” the GOP White House hopeful said.
“It becomes easy to swallow things. If you don’t understand our financial situation and someone comes along and says, ‘free college for everybody,’ they’ll say, ‘oh how wonderful,’ and have no idea they’re talking about hastening the destruction of the nation.”
First, I'm not sure Carson should be giving lectures on the importance of people being "well informed."
Second, Sanders' plan, while ambitious, would cost about $75 billion per year over the course of the next decade, which in turn would make college tuition effectively free (the way we already make K-12 education free).
If implemented, American students would be able to graduate without crushing debts, bringing them in line with young adults in many other advanced democracies.
One may see this as worthwhile or not, but a $75 billion investment in higher-ed would not "destroy" anything.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., accompanied by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Rubio's rivals take aim at his biggest vulnerability

11/12/15 08:00AM

In early December 2007, about a month before the Iowa caucuses, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was still a top-tier candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. In some surveys, he was even the frontrunner. There was, however, a small problem with his candidacy: as actual voting drew closer, rank-and-file Republicans were just starting to learn about his positions on the issues.
His rivals subtly let GOP voters know, "By the way, Giuliani is pro-choice and supports marriage equality," and the mayor's candidacy collapsed soon after. Republicans thought they loved Giuliani, right up until they realized how much they disagreed with him on a major issue the GOP base took seriously.
Eight years later, to put it mildly, it'd be a stretch to equate Giuliani with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- the former held several centrist positions, while the latter is extremely conservative on almost everything. But like Giuliani, Rubio has been at odds with his party over an issue the GOP base considers important, and like Giuliani, the Florida senator's rivals are starting to remind Republicans about this as the early nominating contests draw close.
The issue, of course, is Rubio's partnership with liberal Democrats on an immigration reform package that conservatives consider "amnesty." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, said over the weekend, "It was a Rubio-Schumer bill. So, he does have to explain it."
As MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported last night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who's been waiting for the clear Republican establishment candidate to emerge, is hitting even harder.
“It is not complicated that on the seminal fight over amnesty in Congress, the Gang of Eight bill that was the brainchild of Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama, that would have granted amnesty to 12 million people here illegally, that I stood with the American people and led the fight to defeat it in the United States Congress,” Cruz said.
He added that nominating a clear “amnesty” opponent was essential to Republican chances for victory, since conservatives won’t turn out for a candidate they view as weak on the issue.
“In my view, if Republicans nominate for president a candidate who supports amnesty," Cruz added, 'we will have given up one of the major distinctions with Hillary Clinton and we will lose the general election -- that is a path to losing."
In fairness to Rubio, it's worth emphasizing that he dramatically flip-flopped on the immigration issue, betrayed his former allies, and now rejects the very proposals he helped write just two years ago. Maybe that will satisfy Republican voters, maybe not.
But his Texas rival is starting to draw the contrast with greater clarity: Rubio partnered with the left on immigration, while Cruz battled the left on immigration.

Battle for Sinjar and other headlines

11/12/15 07:19AM

Iraqi Kurds reach Sinjar road in Iraq, cutting ISIS supply line. (AP)

College students confront subtler forms of bias. (Los Angeles Times)

A bit of housekeeping removes a Confederate flag in a U.S. Capitol building. (New York Times)

Graham on Putin: "I would shoot his planes down" in Syria. (BuzzFeed)

There's an oil tanker traffic jam off the Texas coast. (Reuters)

Researchers say there may be an undiscovered tomb at the Great Pyramid of Giza. (New York Times)

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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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