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Decryptomaddowlogical #105

02/13/15 05:21PM

Millions of gallons of toxic brine spilled from a rupture in a brand new pipeline in North Dakota that had never been inspected, revealing a problem the state is having staffing inspector positions. The Rachel Maddow Show formally requested to see the applications submitted for the open pipeline inspector jobs in the state of North Dakota. Even though 21 applications had been submitted, the state says they do not have enough qualified applicants, and furthermore can't keep the inspectors they do hire because they can't pay them enough to keep them from leaving for employment in the oil industry. Whether you accept the validity of that explanation, it's also important to...

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Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber is surrounded by cameras and reporters as he makes a statement in Portland, Ore., Oct. 10, 2014. (Photo by Don Ryan/AP)

Scandal forces Oregon governor to resign

02/13/15 04:22PM

Over the last couple of years, there's been no shortage of governors embroiled in some pretty serious scandals. To varying degrees of severity, controversies have surrounded and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
 
In Texas, former Gov. Rick Perry (R) is facing a felony indictment, while in Virginia, former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has already been convicted of multiple felonies.
 
But despite all of this, to find the only governor in recent years to actually resign from office, you'll have to look much further west.
Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon announced his resignation Friday amid an ethics scandal involving his fiancée -- ending a bizarre few days of uncertainty over his fate.
 
"I have always had the deepest respect for the remarkable institution that is the Oregon Legislature; and for the office of the Governor," Kitzhaber said in a statement. "And I cannot in good conscience continue to be the element that undermines it. I have always tried to do the right thing and now the right thing to do is to step aside."
 
"I understand that I have become a liability to the very institutions and policies to which I have dedicated my career and, indeed, my entire adult life," the 67-year-old governor added.
The four-term Democratic governor also chastised the media, but as we discussed yesterday, Kitzhaber's biggest problem was the loss of confidence from legislative leaders from his own party.
 
Oregon has no lieutenant governor's office, which means Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) will be sworn in as the state's 37th governor.
James Inhofe (R-Okla.) listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2012. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/The New York Times/Redux)

Inhofe helps set a falsehood in motion

02/13/15 03:26PM

At first blush, yesterday seemed to offer another unfortunate example of a conservative media outlet screwing up another story. But upon closer inspection, there's a little more to it.
The pictures of tanks, armored personal carriers, and mutilated bodies zinged around the conservative Twittersphere on Wednesday after they were published by the Washington Free Beacon as proof that the United States should intervene in Ukraine. In reality, however, many of the photos seem to date back several years and to several different conflicts.
So far, so good. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online outlet, thought it had a big scoop -- photographic evidence of Russian troops entering Eastern Ukraine "on T-72 tanks and Russian-made BMPs." The same report highlighted photos of "the remains of Ukrainian soldiers killed by Russian troops and weapons."
 
The report was wrong. It's not that the photos were manipulated, but rather, the images were years old and documented entirely different conflicts.
 
And if that's where the story ended, we could just chalk this up to another ignominious failure for a conservative media outlet, of which there have been far too many of late.
 
But there's a related problem just below the surface: the Washington Free Beacon says it received the information from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). In fairness to the Free Beacon, I have to admit that if I heard from a U.S. senator's office -- a veteran lawmaker, a committee chairman, and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- offering me a scoop with photographic evidence involving Russia and Ukraine, I might have been inclined to believe it, too.
 
The Free Beacon could have done more to verify the evidence, but the conservative site falsely assumed Inhofe's office was a reliable source for accurate information. It wasn't.
 
But that leads to the next question: where'd Inhofe get the bogus story?
Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks about the costs of illegal immigration in his state during a press conference at the Republican governors conference in Boca Raton, Fla., Nov. 19, 2014. (Photo by J Pat Carter/AP)

Perry boasts about Texas' uninsured rate

02/13/15 12:47PM

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), freed from the burdens of a day job, has hit the campaign trail with great vigor recently, touting his still-unannounced presidential bid. And this week, this meant a swing through the first primary state: New Hampshire.
Perry proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which he called "another example of one-size-fits-all coming out of Washington, D.C." And he noted that Texas chose not to participate in Medicaid expansion.
 
"Texas has been criticized for having a large number of uninsured," he said, "but that's what Texans wanted. They did not want a large government program forcing everyone to purchase insurance." But he said Texans passed in 2003 a constitutional amendment that brought "the most sweeping tort reform in the nation. And the result of that is that there are now 35,000 more licensed physicians in Texas."
 
"And the access to health care exploded," he said.
Hmm. Where to begin.
 
First, the Affordable Care Act isn't really a "one-size-fits-all" model. States can set up their own exchange marketplaces, working with their own insurers, which can offer consumers a variety of coverage options.
 
Second, it's true that the number of physicians in Texas grew after "tort reform," but the connection between the two is sketchy. Other states saw an increase in licensed doctors, too, regardless of liability laws. What's more, the number of Texas' doctors grew, but so did its population.
 
None of this means expanded "access to health care" for those who have no insurance.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives the annual State of the State address on Jan. 13, 2015 in Trenton, N.J.

Christie struggles with 'home-state haters'

02/13/15 12:00PM

As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) shifts his attention to the presidential campaign trail, he's losing something important: the support of his own constituents.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's approval ratings have hit an all-time low, according to a new poll.
 
In a Rutgers University-Eagleton poll released on Friday, 53 percent of New Jersey voters view Christie unfavorably and just 37 percent hold a favorable view of the governor -- down 7 percentage points in two months.
The same poll found the Republican governor's approval rating at 42%, down six points since December. Only 35% of New Jersey residents support the way in which Christie has handled education, while only 31% back his economic record.
 
This is, obviously, only one poll, but the Rutgers-Eagleton survey is not the only one in recent weeks that shows Christie's support in the Garden State evaporating. The more the governor tells voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, "I want to do for the nation what I've done for New Jersey," the more the governor's constituents seem to say, "We don't know what you're talking about."
 
Just last week, a statewide poll in New Jersey found that in a hypothetical match-up against Hillary Clinton, Christie loses his home state by 26 points. That's not a typo.
 
In the larger context, there's an interesting phenomenon unfolding that Alex Isenstadt called "home-state haters."

Senate GOP pushes pro-Netanyahu resolution

02/13/15 11:32AM

If congressional Republican wanted to make the ongoing controversy surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu even more of a partisan food fight, this is clearly the way to do exactly that.
Senate Republicans on Thursday moved to officially welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. ahead of his planned speech to Congress next month, the latest development in a saga that has roiled politics in both countries.
 
Almost all GOP senators were listed as co-sponsors of a resolution by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) saying the Senate "eagerly awaits the address of Prime Minister Netanyahu before a joint session of the United States Congress" and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to standby Israel in "times of uncertainty."
 
"During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States should be unequivocal about our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies," Mr. Cornyn said in a statement.
How subtle.
 
If Cornyn is expecting unanimous support for his resolution, he's likely to be disappointed. As of last night, 22 congressional Democrats -- 19 in the House and three in the Senate -- have announced they will not attend the Israeli prime minister's scheduled speech on March 3, and that number continues to steadily grow.
 
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), meanwhile, argued yesterday Democrats will send an unwelcome signal to "the terrorists in all parts of the world" if they stay away from Netanyahu's speech, adding just a little toxicity to an already depressing debate. (It's been a while since the far-right rolled out a "if Democrats do _____ the terrorists win" argument, but some demagoguery apparently never goes out of style.)
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky gestures at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md. on March 14, 2013. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rand Paul bedeviled by Kentucky law

02/13/15 11:03AM

On the one hand, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is a stickler for the rules and legal limits. "We can't be for the rule of law at our own convenience," the senator has said.
 
On the other hand, laws sometimes get in Rand Paul's way.
Requesting help to avoid a "costly and time-consuming legal challenge," U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is asking members of the Republican Party of Kentucky to create a presidential caucus in 2016 that would happen well ahead of the May primary election.
 
In a letter dated Feb. 9, Paul told GOP leaders that an earlier presidential preference vote would give Kentuckians "more leverage to be relevant" in the wide-open competition for the Republican presidential nomination.
But as the senator conceded, the goal here is not solely about improving Kentucky's "relevance"; this is about helping him advance his personal ambitions.
 
While some states allow candidates to seek more than one public office at a time, the Bluegrass State does not. Next year, that poses a problem for Kentucky's junior senator -- Rand Paul wants to run for president, but he also wants to run for re-election. He could give up his Senate seat to pursue the White House, but given his odds at winning a national campaign, there's a pretty good chance Paul would find himself unemployed in January 2017.
 
The Republican lawmaker pushed for the state legislature to change the statute, but Kentucky Democrats balked, leaving Paul to explore new options for circumventing an inconvenient law.
 
"We can't be for the rule of law at our own convenience," but apparently we can be for loopholes when the law proves to be annoying.
James Comey

FBI chief offers 'hard truths' on race, law enforcement

02/13/15 10:23AM

Simmering tensions between law enforcement and minority communities reached alarming new levels in recent months, in the wake of tragic deaths of unarmed civilians. And as the national discussion about these crises  has unfolded, Americans have heard from a variety of leaders, including President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
 
But it was a thoughtful, engaging speech yesterday from FBI Director James Comey that stood out as especially important, in part because of its substance, but also because of the reaction to it. Trymaine Lee reported yesterday:
In a rare move by a top Justice Department official, FBI Director James Comey on Thursday addressed the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and many African Americans, acknowledging "hard truths" about the current state of race relations and policing.
 
Comey, during a speech at Georgetown University, drew largely on the lessons of Ferguson, Missouri, saying that police must come to terms with a longstanding culture of racial bias.
If you missed it, a full transcript of the FBI director's speech is online, and no matter what one's perspective about the larger debate, this is well worth your time. Comey's remarks were candid and personal, and we don't usually hear speeches like these from officials in positions of authority.
 
In one especially memorable moment, he even quoted the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from the Broadway show: "Avenue Q": "Look around and you will find, no one's really color blind.. Maybe it's a fact we all should face. Everyone makes judgments based on race."
 
There was also a substantive element to Comey's remarks, with the FBI director calling for better data collection to improve biases in the system. "Not long after riots broke out in Ferguson, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African American. They couldn't, and it wasn't their fault," he said. "Demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings is not consistently reported to us through our Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Because reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable."
 
But nearly as interesting as the speech was the reaction to it -- or more accurately, the lack of a reaction.
US Capitol Police stand guard in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Republicans rediscover their opposition to filibusters

02/13/15 09:34AM

Sometimes, when a party makes a transition from the minority to the majority, it's perspective undergoes a radical transformation.
Well, that didn't take long. As House Republicans grapple with how they can force Senate Democrats to take up their version of a Department of Homeland Security funding bill, some conservatives are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to turn toward the so-called nuclear option.
 
"Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate," Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Thursday at a panel discussion with conservative lawmakers. "And this is important enough for Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate."
Roll Call's report added that Labrador, who never seemed to have a problem with the filibuster when his party was in the Senate minority, now believes the nation is facing a "constitutional crisis."
 
Let's pause to note the nation is not facing a "constitutional crisis." What the nation is facing is a familiar political circumstance -- one that that drove Democrats batty many times in recent years when they were in the majority.
 
A far-right anti-immigrant provision would pass the Senate -- and be vetoed by President Obama -- if the chamber operated by majority rule. But GOP senators, when they were in the minority, effectively created a new normal in which literally every bill of any consequence would need a 60-vote majority to overcome routine filibusters. No supermajority means no passage.
 
And so long as Harry Reid was the Senate Majority Leader, Republicans thought this dynamic was fantastic since it practically guaranteed perpetual gridlock and effectively made it impossible for President Obama to advance much of his agenda.
 
But now that the cloture vote is on the other foot, and Democrats are playing the game the way Republicans did, the GOP's filibuster freak-out is underway.
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House John Boehner at the conclusion of his State of the Union speech before in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty)

GOP flips the script, endorses executive overreach

02/13/15 08:40AM

The good news is, six months after President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East, Congress is starting to debate the U.S. mission. The bad news is, the debate is off to a ridiculous start.
President Barack Obama should be asking for more power to wage war against Islamic State extremists, some Republicans on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs committee said. [...]
 
While Republicans have repeatedly accused Obama of executive overreach in areas such as immigration, several lawmakers at the hearing questioned why he wasn't seeking broader authority this time.
You've probably heard that the GOP is outraged by the White House's proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), but it's important to understand why.
 
About a year ago, the Republican condemnation of President Obama shifted -- "he doesn't lead enough" was out, "he leads too much" was in. The more Obama's policy agenda succeeded in practical terms, the more the GOP argued the president is a lawless, out-of-control tyrannical dictator, hell bent on limitless power without regard for the Constitution.
 
This week, however, Republicans are disgusted by Obama's lack of executive overreach. GOP lawmakers are suddenly convinced the tyrannical dictator needs even more sweeping powers to act unilaterally in matters of life and death.
 
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who occasionally pretends to believe his party's talking points, expressed dismay yesterday that the president's AUMF would "tie his hands even further." Congress' top lawmaker apparently hopes for a more diminished role for Congress.
 
This isn't so much an example of Republicans temporarily putting aside their principles for the sake of convenience. Rather, it's fresh evidence that the principles themselves have always been a mirage.
Milton Persinger, left, and Robert Povilat wait for a marriage license at the Mobile County Probate office, Feb. 10, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Photo by Sharon Steinmann/AP)

Judge reminds Alabama: court rulings are not suggestions

02/13/15 08:00AM

Alabama found itself facing untenable legal circumstances this week. Federal courts ruled that the state's ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional, and same-sex couples seeking to wed could do so effective Monday, Feb. 9. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), however, issued a decree ordering local judges to ignore the federal courts.
 
The result was a bizarre patchwork: some Alabama counties honored the court rulings, some listened to Moore, and some stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.
 
Yesterday brought some clarity to the matter.
The same federal judge who struck down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban last month has ordered a probate judge to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The action, marriage equality advocates hope, will settle days of confusion across the state over whether same-sex couples can receive marriage licenses in all of Alabama's 67 counties.
In an eight-page court order, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade, appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, explicitly told Alabama judges that this matter is not optional.
 
At one point, with just a hint of annoyance, Granade's order said, "[T]he court once again makes the following declarations...." Left unsaid , "Maybe you guys didn't understand me the first time."
 
In theory, this should bring the matter to a close, but given recent events, I say that with some trepidation. After all, if this week has made one thing clear it's that some officials in Alabama simply don't care about federal courts or the supremacy of federal law over state law. One local judge specifically said this week, "I'm not worried about following the U.S. Constitution."
 
That said, after yesterday's federal court order, those in Alabama who refuse to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples have to realize that their defiance will likely lead to contempt charges.

GOP infighting and other headlines

02/13/15 07:55AM

GOP infighting grows over Homeland Security funding. (The Hill)

Timeline of the ethics issues surrounding OR Gov. John Kitzhaber. (AP)

Liberals' secret Koch strategy. (Politico)

Rand Paul asks KY GOP to help him run for Senate and President at the same time. (Wall Street Journal)

Jeb Bush wasn't the only one who posted those Florida emails containing personal information. (AP)

Military approves hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning. (USA Today)

Boko Haram attacks spread to neighboring Chad. (Reuters)

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'50 Shades' a hit in religious right's home

'50 Shades' a hit in religious right's backyard

02/12/15 09:55PM

Rachel Maddow reports that the movie "50 Shades of Grey" is particularly popular in Southern, Bible Belt states, and especially so in Tupelo, Mississippi, the backyard of the very disapproving religious right group, The American Family Association. watch

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