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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.10.14

11/10/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Nigeria: "A suicide bomber dressed as a student killed at least 48 people at a school assembly in northeastern Nigeria on Monday, a hospital official said. Most of the victims were students. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Potiskum in Yobe State, a territory that has been hit by Islamist Boko Haram rebels during a five-year insurgency."
* Afghanistan: "Three blasts on Sunday morning punctured months of relative calm in Kabul, with the Taliban carrying out at least two attacks, including a suicide bombing inside the city's heavily fortified Police Headquarters that reportedly targeted senior officials there. The toll from the attacks, which took place over the course of a few hours, appeared limited, with Afghan officials saying the sole person killed was a senior police official, and that at least seven people had been wounded."
* If he's recovered, there are zero confirmed Ebola cases in the United States: "Craig Spencer, the New York City doctor who became the first person in the city to test positive for Ebola, is being released from Bellevue Hospital Center on Tuesday morning, people familiar with his treatment said on Monday."
 * The death toll climbs: "A fourth victim shot by a classmate at Marysville-Pilchuck High School has died at Harborview Medical Center. Andrew Fryberg, 15, died Friday evening. He had been in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Harborview in Seattle since the shooting two weeks ago."
* ISIS: "It's still not clear whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, was hit over the weekend by an airstrike in Iraq. But the uncertainty raises a question: What would the militant organization look like without its savvy, shadowy man in charge?"
* State Department: "President Obama will nominate longtime Democratic national security staffer Antony J. Blinken to be the No. 2 official at the State Department, the White House said Friday. Blinken will replace William J. Burns, a senior diplomat, as deputy secretary of state. Blinken, 52, was a top aide to Vice President Biden in the White House and for years before that in the Senate. He has most recently served as deputy national security adviser."
* Oklahoma: "An armed man took at least two people hostage in an office building in Norman, Oklahoma, on Monday, prompting dozens of workers to flee for safety, police said."
* Aren't conservatives supposed to be against running to court over disputes like these? "Rush Limbaugh is hopping mad at the Democratic Party -- but this time he's threatening to do more than just talk about it on the radio. The conservative pundit is threatening to sue the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a series of fundraising e-mails that suggested Limbaugh was condoning campus rape in comments he made on his widely syndicated program on Sept. 15."
* To his credit, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has decided to step down from the No Labels board. Because some corners of the political world are a little too predictable, he'll be replaced by Joe Lieberman.
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

It's like Obamacare for ...

11/10/14 03:29PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn't pleased with President Obama's announcement on net neutrality.
"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
As Matt Yglesias, in an uncharacteristically light touch, noted in response to Cruz, "What, if anything, that phrase means is difficult to say."
It is, indeed. Apparently, the right-wing senator believes we've reached the point at which comparing something -- anything, really -- to the Affordable Care Act is so damning that Americans should be reflexively repulsed.
The fact that net neutrality is in no way similar to the ACA apparently is irrelevant. The fact that the Affordable Care Act is succeeding by every metric matters even less.
Cruz's problem has always been surprisingly simple: he's not dumb, he thinks you're dumb.
But there's larger pattern to all of this. Republicans are so preoccupied with their irrational disgust for the Affordable Care Act that they've become preoccupied with the "[Policy X] is the Obamacare of [Subject Matter Y]."
President Barack Obama uses a laptop computer to send a tweet during a "Twitter Town Hall" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 6, 2011.

Obama goes big on net neutrality

11/10/14 02:13PM

When we last checked in on the future of net neutrality, there was quite a bit of uncertainty. In January, a federal court struck down the FCC's net-neutrality policy, leaving Obama administration officials looking for a new way to guarantee that all online content will be treated equally.
A few months later, in April, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled a possible alternative, which was quickly condemned by net-neutrality proponents. In May, he tried again with his so-called "fast lane" policy -- no online content would be deemed less accessible based on service providers' corporate arrangements, but telecoms could charge some companies, such as Netflix, more to deliver their content faster.
For proponents of net neutrality, the fear has been that President Obama, a longtime ally, would break with his previous commitment. He's actually done the opposite -- the White House this morning made the announcement net-neutrality supporters were eager to hear.
U.S. President Barack Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to set the 'strongest possible rules' to protect net neutrality as agency writes new Internet traffic regulations. Obama urged the FCC to prohibit so-called paid prioritization, deals in which content providers would pay Internet companies to ensure smooth delivery of traffic. He said the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service to be regulated more like a public utility.
I can appreciate why this may seem overly technical, but when it comes to the future of the Internet, Obama's new position is a very big deal.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul prepares for a television interview at U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's election night event on Nov. 4, 2014 in Louisville, Ky.

Rand Paul can't keep his ISIS story straight

11/10/14 12:52PM

The U.S. mission against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria continues to intensify, with reports over the weekend of an airstrike hitting a gathering of ISIS leaders. Iraqi officials believe the strike killed a number of top militants.
The news came just days after President Obama authorized "the deployment of up to 1,500 additional troops to help train, advise and assist Iraqi government and Kurdish peshmerga forces in their fight" against ISIS, nearly doubling the U.S. military presence in the country.
It's against this backdrop that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argues today that the military offensive is "illegal" and it's up to the legislative branch to act (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
I believe the president must come to Congress to begin a war. I also believe the War Powers Act is misunderstood; President Obama acted without true constitutional authority even before the 90 days expired, since we were not under attack at that time.
But in either case, this war is now illegal. It must be declared and made valid, or it must be ended.
Congress has a duty to act, one way or the other.... Taking military action against ISIS is justified. The president acting without Congress is not.
To be sure, that's not a bad argument. On the contrary, Paul's position is very much in line with a sensible approach to national security and the use of military force abroad. When Obama announced a larger deployment, it was exactly the sort of development that cries out for congressional oversight -- which Congress has been unwilling to consider even as the military confrontation has grown more serious.
But the problem for Rand Paul emerges when we look at the trajectory of the senator's arguments on the issue.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.10.14

11/10/14 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:
* With Republican Ed Gillespie officially having conceded in Virginia's U.S. Senate race, the only unresolved Senate contests are in Alaska and Louisiana. Republicans are favored to win both.
* On a related note, in Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee decided to cancel $2 million worth of ad buys in the state. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, on the other hand, in addition to Rep. Bill Cassidy's (R) campaign resources, and aligned far-right groups, are investing more than $8 million in the runoff.
* Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) may be on her own, but she has resources of her own, and her new ad characterizes Cassidy as "incoherent."
* There's one less outstanding U.S. House race, with Carl DeMaio (R) conceding his close California race to incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters (thanks to reader R.S. for the heads-up).
* And speaking of U.S. House races in California, Rep. Mike Honda (D) ended up prevailing over Ro Khanna, with the latter conceding the race late Friday.
* Two years after the RNC's autopsy, the DNC is working one of its own: "Democrats are planning an extensive review of what went wrong in the 2014 and 2010 elections, hoping to find ways to translate success in presidential campaigns into future midterm contests. A party committee will conduct a 'top-to-bottom assessment' of the Democrats' performance in recent midterm elections and try to determine why they have struggled to turn out its core voters in nonpresidential elections."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Nov. 24, 2013.

Obama's willing to take a chance on Iran

11/10/14 11:30AM

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting scoop: President Obama "secretly wrote" to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in mid-October, describing "a shared interest in fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria."
The same report noted that Obama's letter stressed to Khamenei "that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran's nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline."
The point of the correspondence seemed pretty obvious: the U.S. president wants to keep nudging Iran closer to a nuclear deal, while at the same time, taking full advantage of the fact that Iran and ISIS are enemies.
Republicans were "outraged." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) complained to msnbc's Andrea Mitchell that the White House is "playing footsie" with Iran. Failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, always a font of wisdom on foreign policy, said he was "stunned" and "astonished" that Obama would "legitimize" Iran -- as if international talks with Iranian leaders hadn't already sent that signal -- before adding that the letter was "an enormous error."
Trita Parsi argued persuasively that Obama's letter "just points out the obvious: that Iran and the United States share a common interest in defeating the Islamic State and that real cooperation cannot take place until the nuclear issue is resolved."
The real outrage is that communicating with key players in the Middle East in order to advance U.S. security is still considered outrageous in far too many policy and political circles in Washington.  [...]
The United States cannot and should not shoulder the responsibility for stopping the Islamic State alone. Nor can U.S. bombs alone pave a path out of the Middle East's perilous situation. Real cooperation and coordination is needed between key players. Iran -- the Middle East's second-largest country by population and a major influence on the Shiite Muslim world -- is one of these key players. Moreover, Iran shares 900 miles of border with Iraq and has good relations with governments in both Baghdad and Damascus. Like it or not, Iran is an unavoidable player in the fight against the Islamic State.
Parsi added that Obama has "his eye on a longer-term strategy -- certainly far more than Bush did" -- that includes leveraging Iran's concerns about ISIS, which is a threat to Iranian stability, but which Iran can't fight alone.
A voter casts her ballot at a polling site during early voting for Georgia's primary election in Atlanta on May, 16, 2014.

The turnout statistic Republicans hate most

11/10/14 10:56AM

In his post-election press conference, President Obama mentioned in his opening remarks, "[T]o everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too."
Republicans were furious. By noting that two-thirds of the public didn't bother to show up for the midterm elections, the president was subtly suggesting the Republicans' victories were less impressive.
The trouble is, Obama was correct. Jose DelReal reported this morning:
General election voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was the lowest it's been in any election cycle since World War II, according to early projections by the United States Election Project.
Just 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots as of last Tuesday, continuing a steady decline in midterm voter participation that has spanned several decades. The results are dismal, but not surprising -- participation has been dropping since the 1964 election, when voter turnout was at nearly 49 percent.
The last time voter turnout was so low during a midterm cycle was in 1942, when only 33.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
In 1942, the nation had just entered World War II.
To be sure, voter turnout in midterm elections is always lower than in presidential elections, so no one was expecting impressive vote totals last week.
But 36.4% is practically the punch line to a bad joke. There were broad assumptions in recent months that Americans simply didn't much care about these elections, and it now appears those assumptions were correct. Indeed, even pessimists didn't expect turnout to drop to a 72-year low.
That's not, however, what Republicans want to hear.
People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., April 10, 2013.

GOP needs a reason to oppose executive action on immigration

11/10/14 10:08AM

It hasn't even been a week since Election Day 2014, but already the incoming congressional Republican majority has focused on one specific message: President Obama cannot rely on his executive-branch powers to act on immigration.
Unfortunately, GOP officials haven't made much of an effort to explain why not.
President Barack Obama and Republican leaders are stuck on an immigration collision course following a lengthy bipartisan meeting at the White House on Friday afternoon.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and newly empowered Senate Republicans urged the president not to move forward with executive action on immigration policy, warning repeatedly that unilateral immigration policy reforms through the White House would inflame partisan tensions after Tuesday's sweeping GOP win, according to sources in both parties briefed on the meeting.
By all accounts, President Obama isn't the least bit intimidated by Republican posturing, and the White House appears very likely to move forward with its plans by year's end.
The fact remains, however, that Republicans have invested far more energy in complaining about a policy that hasn't been announced than explaining why inaction is so important to them. The stated reasons don't make a lot of sense:
1. Republicans want a "fresh start" with the White House, and that'd be impossible if they have a big, partisan fight over immigration.
That's a nice talking point, but GOP leaders, just one day after the election, recommitted the party to repealing the Affordable Care Act, which is pretty much the opposite of a "fresh start."
2. Controversial actions that antagonize the other party are counter-productive.
This explanation may be true, in an ontological sort of way -- action on the issue would make Republicans upset because they're upset by action on the issue -- but it's not a substantive argument. Congress is going to do some things Obama won't like; Obama is going to do some things Congress won't like. It's what happens when different parties control different branches, and it's not a rationale for inaction.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

Collateral damage in a political war

11/10/14 09:15AM

Americans are no longer confronted with a debate over health care reform, per se. Whether or not reform's opponents are prepared to admit it, that debate is effectively over -- a package of reforms was approved by Congress, signed by the president, and endorsed by the Supreme Court. The system is being implemented, and by every metric, it's performing very well.
What we instead have is a group of people whose sole goal is to cripple the American system as part of a political war. Proponents of this war realize that many American families will suffer as a result of their efforts, but the right is prepared to treat these victims as collateral damage in their partisan combat.
Whether or not you find that offensive depends largely on the condition of your moral compass.
But as is always the case in any conflict, the victims aren't just numbers on a page; they're real people. And before Republicans accept these families' losses as the price of their political war, it's worth getting to know some of them personally. Take David Tedrow, for example, of Durham, North Carolina.
The Obamacare subsidies saved my life. Now, I'm scared the Supreme Court is going to gut them.
In 2010, at 54, I was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis (end-stage liver disease). It's debilitating, and a transplant is the only cure.
Tedrow published a powerful piece in the Washington Post, detailing the severity of his illness, the treatment that saved his life, and the unavoidable fact that the Affordable Care Act is directly responsible for saving his life.
Tedrow is now aware of the fact that Republicans on the Supreme Court may gut the American health care system because of the perception of a minor drafting error in the legislation's text -- and he's terrified.
"After my year-long recovery is complete, I'm hoping to go back to work," he wrote. "I've had three careers -- in higher education, in biomedical engineering sales and as a small-business owner. Because of my insurance, I'm able to contemplate my future. And I'm really frightened that the Supreme Court might cut the subsidy for me and so many others. For me, the subsidy is the difference between life and death."
Stories like these are familiar because there are many Americans whose lives have been saved by "Obamacare." It's a simple, unavoidable fact -- when we talk about the future of the law as a matter of life and death, we're not being melodramatic. We know with certainty that if Republicans gut or repeal the law, many will no longer have access to affordable medical care, and as a consequence, they may pay with their lives.