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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.9.15

04/09/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Deals like these are never easy: "Iran's supreme leader on Thursday challenged two of the United States' bedrock principles in the nuclear negotiations, declaring that all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed and that military sites would be strictly off limits to foreign inspectors."
 
* Yemen: "Houthi insurgents in Yemen defied Saudi airstrikes and enlarged their territory Thursday, Al Jazeera reported, seizing an important eastern provincial capital in the increasingly unstable country."
 
* ISIS: "Canada conducted its first airstrike in Syria on Wednesday, after its government voted last week to expand its mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and extend it for another year."
 
* Iraq: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered an upbeat assessment of the battle against Islamic extremists in Iraq on Thursday, saying the government in that country was making 'significant and growing' progress with help from the United States and its allies in the region."
 
* South Carolina: "In the five days since North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager allegedly fatally shot Walter Scott in South Carolina, information provided by civilians and authorities has clarified some questions about the incident. But there are still several unknown facts."
 
* Cuba: "A review of the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring countries that puts Cuba in company with Iran, Syria and Sudan is completed, President Barack Obama said hours before he was to head to Panama for a gathering of Western Hemisphere countries."
 
* Secret Service: "The U.S. Secret Service suffered another embarrassing blow on Wednesday, when it was revealed that Xavier Morales, a senior supervisor in the agency, has been placed on leave and suspended amid allegations of sexual misconduct."
The White House seen from the South Lawn in Washington. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

'We the People' gets results on so-called 'conversion therapy'

04/09/15 05:01PM

One of the Obama White House's more successful online innovations is the "We The People" petition process, which has long struck me as a good idea. It works like this: regular people can submit questions and/or ideas online; the public can vote on its favorites; and if enough people endorse the petition, the administration will offer an official response -- and quite possibly take official action.
 
Last year, the White House raised the threshold for minimum number of votes -- to get a response, an idea needs 100,000 endorsements -- in order to help weed out more trivial questions.
This was not a trivial question. On the contrary, it's another step forward on an important issue.
In yet another bold move in support of LGBT rights, the Obama administration announced late on Wednesday that it would support efforts to end so-called "conversion therapy" for gay and transgender youth. The decision comes in the wake of the tragic death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, who referenced attempts by religious therapists to make her identify as a boy in her suicide note.
 
The White House released a lengthy statement on its website, penned by longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, calling for a ban on therapy which claims to "repair" LGBT youth. The statement supports a petition that has received over 120,000 signatures in the last few months.
"The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm," Jarrett said. "As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

When fake guns are banned and real guns are protected

04/09/15 03:32PM

Three years ago, Tampa was getting ready to host the Republican National Convention, and local officials took a variety of steps to improve public safety for those attending the event. Among the items prohibited in the area outside the convention center? Water guns -- but not real guns. The former was deemed a possible threat to public safety, while the latter was protected by state law.
 
A similar issue came up recently in Tennessee.
The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill Monday night that makes it illegal to take a squirt gun -- but not a real gun -- within 150 feet of a school.
 
The new ban was included in a larger bill that would nix any local laws prohibiting people with gun permits from taking guns to parks.
The headline in The Tennessean read, in all seriousness, "House bill bans fake guns -- not real guns -- near schools."
 
What's especially striking about this story are the circumstances that led state lawmakers to take a look at gun policy in the first place.
Republican 2014 - 10/02/2013

So much of politics is just showing up

04/09/15 12:53PM

In retrospect, Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee hearing attendance one of the centerpieces of their 2014 election messages.
Kentucky. Sen Rand Paul has skipped most Homeland Security hearings since 2014, a review of videos and documents related to the hearings show. BuzzFeed News was only able to verify Paul's attendance at five out of 73 hearings since last January, less than ten percent overall.
No, really, Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee hearing attendance one of the centerpieces of their 2014 election messages.
While Sen. Marco Rubio was on a big fundraising swing through California, he missed a top secret intelligence briefing on ISIS from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and two closed Intelligence Committee briefings from that period, according to records. [...] The Intelligence Committee also shows two closed briefings from the week in which Rubio was on his fundraising haul.
Seriously, Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee hearing attendance one of the centerpieces of their 2014 election messages.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.9.15

04/09/15 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:
 
* To the delight of the DSCC, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) kicked off her U.S. Senate campaign yesterday, hoping to succeed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The retiring senator has already thrown his support to the former state A.G.
 
* Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) announced yesterday she will not run for re-election next year. It's generally considered a reliable "blue" district and Democrats are optimistic about keeping the seat.
 
* A wide variety of Republican presidential hopefuls will address the NRA's annual convention this weekend, but as Rachel noted on the show last night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky will not be there -- because they weren't invited.
 
* The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Jeb Bush among Hispanic voters by nearly a three-to-one margin, 71% to 26%. A new msnbc/Telemundo poll added that even Latino voters who consider themselves politically conservative have soured on the Republican Party.
 
* In New Jersey, a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows Gov. Chris Christie's (R) approval rating dropping further among his constituents. A 54% majority now say they disapprove of the governor's overall job performance, while 41% approve.
 
* In advance of his presidential kickoff on Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) now has an allied super PAC on his side. Conservative Solutions PAC launched today.

GOP candidates eye vouchers for veterans

04/09/15 11:21AM

On Veterans' Day 2011, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in South Carolina, visiting with roughly a dozen veterans, and raised the prospect of privatizing VA care.
 
"Sometimes you wonder," the Republican said, "would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them."
 
Almost immediately, a spokesperson for Veterans Of Foreign Wars announced its opposition to the idea: "The VFW doesn't support privatization of veterans health care." That was that -- Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn't intend to pursue.
 
Four years later, however, the idea is apparently increasingly popular among the new crop of Republican presidential candidates.
[Former Gov. Jeb] Bush, sitting in front of an untouched breakfast at an IHOP in Colorado Springs, told a group of veterans that he favors transferring some elements of veterans' care to private hospitals from government-run Veterans Affairs facilities.
 
"This is where I think empowering people with the equivalent of a voucher that gives you the same economic benefit of receiving care inside of a clinic or a hospital," Mr. Bush said in a video of the public event recorded by the Democratic firm American Bridge. "If you had a chance to go to another place where the money followed the patient, it would give the veterans — you wouldn't have these kind of hostile reactions, my job is protected for life, don't mess with it."
The Florida Republican made a similar comment last month, telling a New Hampshire audience, "I know it has a pejorative for some, but I'm all in on the voucher thing."
 
The Wall Street Journal report added that Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have also voiced support for expanded privatization of veterans' care, which is also a top priority for a conservative group called Concerned Veterans for America, which is backed by the Koch brothers.
US President Barack Obama walks from Marine One to Air Force One, April 29, 2014.

Why Obama went to Jamaica

04/09/15 10:50AM

President Obama will meet this week with leaders from throughout the Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas, hosted this year in Panama, where attendees are expected to cover quite a bit of ground on energy policy, security, and economic measures.
 
But before the U.S. leader reaches the Central American country, Obama is making some stops, including a visit yesterday to Jamaica. It was his first visit as president, and only the second sitting president to visit the Caribbean nation since its independence.
 
It does raise the question, though, of why Obama made the trip, if there was no official reason to stop in Jamaica. The White House characterized it as little more than a goodwill excursion in which the president played tourist, but I think there's a little more to it.
 
The New York Times published a piece exactly three years ago this week about international affairs that continues to be of great interest.
A brand new $35 million stadium opened here in the Bahamas a few weeks ago, a gift from the Chinese government.
 
The tiny island nation of Dominica has received a grammar school, a renovated hospital and a sports stadium, also courtesy of the Chinese. Antigua and Barbuda got a power plant and a cricket stadium, and a new school is on its way. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago can thank Chinese contractors for the craftsmanship in her official residence.
 
China's economic might has rolled up to America's doorstep in the Caribbean, with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.
And this most definitely includes Jamaica, where a Chinese company has invested heavily in sugar estates, and where the Chinese government has loaned Jamaica several hundred million dollars in loans for infrastructure.
 
We are, of course, far removed from a Cold War environment in which two global superpowers battled for influence and alliances around the globe, but the broader dynamic is not dissimilar -- it's clear that China sees itself as a 21st-century power, and it's eager to make inroads just about everywhere, including the Caribbean.
 
This is a part of American foreign policy that isn't often discussed, which Republicans tend to ignore, and which the White House cares deeply about in a very quiet way.
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water on July 30, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland.

Wisconsin also stifles 'climate change' talk

04/09/15 10:04AM

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) recently generated national headlines after officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claimed they were ordered not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in any official communications.
 
As is turns out, Florida isn't the only state hoping to narrow the scope of the climate discourse.
Discussing climate change is out of bounds for workers at a state agency in Wisconsin. So is any work related to climate change -- even responding to e-mails about the topic.
 
A vote on Tuesday by Wisconsin's Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a three-member panel overseeing an agency that benefits schools and communities in the state, enacted the staff ban on climate change.
Matt Adamczyk, the Republican state Treasurer who sits on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, said concerns about the climate crisis fall outside the board's "mission."
 
The Bloomberg Business report added that the new policy, banning the phrases GOP officials don't like, leaves staffers at the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands "in the unusual position of not being able to speak about how climate change might affect lands it oversees."
 
Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas La Follette (D), said this week, "Having been on this board for close to 30 years, I've never seen such nonsense.... We've reached the point now where we're going to try to gag employees from talking about issues."
President Barack Obama speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, on Feb. 5, 2015. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Obama's Easter prayer event riles far-right critics

04/09/15 09:18AM

President Obama's Easter prayer breakfast this week generated a little national news with a lighthearted moment. The president, straying slightly from his prepared text, told attendees, "On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that's a topic for another day." The audience laughed and applauded.
 
Obama quickly added with a smile, "I was about to veer off. I'm pulling it back." Attendees laughed again.
 
The bulk of the president's remarks, however, were devoted to Obama giving witness, testifying to his Christian convictions. From the official transcript:
"For me, the celebration of Easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior. We reflect on the brutal pain that He suffered, the scorn that He absorbed, the sins that He bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that He gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that He endured so that we might receive God's light.
 
"And yet, even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus's sacrifice, on Easter we can't lose sight of the fact that the story didn't end on Friday. The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our Savior.... Today, we celebrate the magnificent glory of our risen Savior. I pray that we will live up to His example. I pray that I will live up to His example. I fall short so often. Every day I try to do better. I pray that we will be strengthened by His eternal love. I pray that we will be worthy of His many blessings."
By any fair measure, this is some of the most overtly theological language Americans will hear from any president, and it makes those who question the president's Christianity sound that much more ridiculous.
 
But what makes Obama's Easter prayer event at the White House that much more striking is the truly unhinged reaction from the far-right, which was unexpectedly disgusted by his remarks.

Jobless claims jump, but beat expectations

04/09/15 08:40AM

After the discouraging March jobs report last week, many hoped to see some more encouraging news this morning on initial unemployment claims. That's not quite what happened.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits climbed by 14,000 to 281,000 in the seven days from March 29 to April 4, but the low level of initial claims shows that few workers are getting laid off even as job creation appears to have slowed. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims to increase to a seasonally adjusted 285,000 from a revised 267,000 in the prior week. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dropped by 3,000 to 282,250 and touched the lowest level since June 2000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
 
The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 24 of the last 30 weeks.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. arrive to a cheering and photo taking crowd for his announcement of the start of his presidential campaign, Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Rand Paul's first day as a candidate doesn't go as planned

04/09/15 08:00AM

Presidential candidates generally want to get their national campaigns off on the right foot. The White House hopefuls and their teams take weeks, if not months, planning their introduction to the country, realizing that they don't get a second chance at a first impression.
 
So, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), how was your first day running to be the next leader of the free world?
Rand Paul and Debbie Wasserman Schultz spent the Kentucky senator's first day on the presidential campaign trail fighting about abortion.
 
Early Wednesday, Paul refused to tell the Associated Press whether he would support exceptions for abortions in instances of rape, incest or if the birth of a child would risk the mother's life.
The Republican senator managed to generate quite a bit of conversation about his new candidacy yesterday, with much of the focus on Paul's combative and argumentative responses to journalists' questions. Around this time yesterday, the Kentucky lawmaker was rude towards NBC's Savannah Guthrie, effectively telling her how he'd like to be interviewed, and a few hours later, he grew "testy" with an Associated Press reporter, telling him what to publish.
 
While I have no doubt that media professionals can handle pushback from an intemperate politician, all of this matters in an electoral context because it speaks to Rand Paul's temperament -- if the guy bristles at fair questions on his first day as a candidate, he's not only going to lose, he's also going to be miserable for the next several months.
 
He's long been thin-skinned and easily irritated by reporters who dared to ask questions he disapproves of, and Rand Paul acknowledged his "short-tempered" tendencies yesterday. That's not a sustainable character trait in a competitive presidential campaign.
 
But as the fight over abortion policy also made clear yesterday, the senator's troubles are not limited to style. They're also substantive.

Rand Paul's first day and other headlines

04/09/15 07:47AM

Rand Paul raises cash and ruffles feathers. (New York Times)

Oklahoma set to join Kansas in banning abortion procedure. (Reuters)

California lawmakers advance bill requiring vaccines. (Wall Street Journal)

Former Ferguson court clerk speaks after termination over racist emails. (KTVI)

Secret service manager put on leave during probe of alleged assault. (Washington Post)

Iran's top leader stops short of endorsing nuclear deal. (AP)

read more

TN tweaks gun laws ahead of NRA convention

TN tweaks gun laws ahead of NRA convention

04/08/15 10:27PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the NRA convention that will take place in Tennessee this week, and how attendees will be allowed to carry loaded weapons in the same room that the presumptive Republican presidential candidates will give their speeches. 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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