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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.8.14

09/08/14 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Iraq: "Early Monday, ISIS forces attacked Sunni tribal fighters north of Baghdad, killing at least 17 people. Using an explosive-laden Humvee, apparently captured from the Iraqi Army, the militants assaulted an entrance to the town of Dhuluiya, according to local tribal leaders."
 
* Some Iraqi political progress: "Iraq swore in a new government on Monday to try to bridge the violence-ravaged country's deep divisions. The late-night vote in parliament got underway after Kurdish lawmakers, who had threatened to boycott, joined from the cafeteria an hour and a half late. But key positions, including the defense and interior chiefs, were left open amid controversy over who would fill the roles."
 
* Ukraine: "With a fragile truce barely holding in eastern Ukraine, President Petro O. Poroshenko visited the port city of Mariupol on Monday, not far from where Ukrainian forces suffered severe losses in recent days, and declared that his government would never relinquish territory that some separatists claim historically belongs to Russia."
 
* What will Congress say? "President Obama is pushing congressional leaders to authorize a broad counterterrorism relief fund that could be used to support operations against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. Doing so might allow the White House and congressional leaders to avoid a tough vote to either authorize or fund military action before the midterm elections and still achieve the 'buy in' the president has said he wants from Congress."
 
* Ebola: "The Pentagon will send a 25-bed field hospital to Liberia to help provide medical care for health workers trying to contain the fast spreading Ebola virus that has killed 2,100 people in West Africa."
 
* This could get ugly: "The presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah once more brought Afghanistan's troubled electoral process to the brink on Monday, insisting that he had won the disputed vote and vowing to reject any government formed on the basis of it."
 
* Hey, look, bipartisanship: "The bonhomie was flowing between former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Monday morning at an event to announce a new scholarship program run jointly by their presidential centers."
 
* While President Obama assembles an international coalition to respond to ISIS, Iran's role is well worth watching. Joshua Keating had a good piece explaining why,
 
* Net neutrality: "The Federal Communications Commission should ban 'fast lanes' on the Internet by regulating broadband companies like traditional phone companies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Monday."
 
* Overdue: "Democrats are demanding the Obama administration update its policy to allow gay men to donate blood, tissue and organs."
 
* Another NBA owner? "Another basketball team will go up for sale thanks to racist statements. Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson will sell his stake in the team over a 2012 email that included disparaging statements about the team's African-American fans."
Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens sits on the bench against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of their preseason game on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.

Ray Rice video generates outrage, suspension

09/08/14 05:03PM

We don't usually cover sports stories, but some controversies have a cultural and societal impact that extends well beyond the game. The Ray Rice story, for example, is about far more than one athlete caught on film in an incident of brutal domestic violence.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL and terminated by his team after the celebrity gossip website TMZ released disturbing new footage Monday of the star player striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in February.
 
This unprecedented move by the NFL and the Ravens comes just weeks after the league instituted a stronger policy to combat domestic abuse by personnel on and off the field.
The public was already aware of the incident, though up until very recently, the available video had previously only shown the aftermath of Rice's assault. The NFL, for example, issued a brief, two-game suspension for the player in July in response to footage of Rice dragging this unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator.
 
The tepid response from the league drew widespread condemnations and caused the NFL to increase the penalty and overhaul its approach towards players accused of domestic violence.
 
The newly released video, however, was so shocking that the previous reactions were immediately deemed inadequate all over again. It led Rice's team to cut him this afternoon, an announcement that coincided with the indefinite league suspension.
 
There's no shortage of questions that still deserve answers. Did the NFL see the entire video sooner than league officials now claim? Why was the initial video not sufficient for a meaningful response from the league and the Ravens? By what justification was the NFL largely indifferent towards domestic violence up until very recently?
 
And while we're at it, what in the world was Fox News thinking this morning?
A sign is posted in front of a Panera Bread restaurant on June 3, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Panera Bread latest to push for gun-free dining

09/08/14 03:25PM

In the spring, some national restaurant chains, including Chipotle, Chili's, and Sonic, issued statements on a pressing national issue: going forward, their customers should not bring loaded firearms into their establishments.
 
As Michele Richinick reports, the list of chains following suit keeps growing.
In a move unlike any other management persuaded by national campaigns to alter their gun policies, the CEO of Panera Bread is asking customers to leave their guns at home. Throughout the past year, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have influenced various corporations to ban armed individuals from entering stores. The companies typically respond promptly to the petitions by asking clients to refrain from possessing firearms while dining or shopping at the various locations across the country.
 
A spokesperson for the pro-reform gun group said the moms and Panera management had discussed the possibility of a firearms prohibition in the months prior to the CEO's ultimate choice on Monday. But CEO Ronald Shaich proactively adopted new regulations, unprompted by a national campaign against his stores.
In a statement to msnbc, Panera Bread said, "Within our company, we strive to create Panera Warmth. This warmth means bakery-cafes where customers and associates feel comfortable and welcome. To this end, we ask that guns not be brought into this environment unless carried by an authorized law enforcement officer. Panera respects the rights of gun owners, but asks our customers to help preserve the environment we are working to create for our guests and associates."
 
The new policy applies to all North American locations and takes effect immediately.
 
The Panera Bread announcement also comes just a month after Target unveiled a policy asking that its "guests not bring firearms to Target -- even in communities where it is permitted by law." Similar no-firearms policies have been announced this year by Costco, Toys "R" Us, Babies "R" Us, Whole Foods Market, and IKEA.
 
What I continue to find amazing is that these policies have become quite necessary.
In this March 19, 2014 photo, Oregon Republican Senate candidate, Monica Wehby speaks at a candidate forum in Lake Oswego, Ore.

Koch brothers' network starts narrowing its 2014 sights

09/08/14 12:48PM

It didn't get too much attention at the time, but in mid-August, the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners network quietly made an announcement. The conservative operation had purchased $1.1 million in television time in Michigan, apparently in the hopes of boosting Terri Lynn Land's (R) Senate campaign, but the group "abruptly canceled the ads."
 
The unspoken message wasn't subtle: the Kochs and their fellow financiers are going to have to start making investment decisions as Election Day draws closer, and if it looks like a race isn't going to go well for Republicans, the conservative benefactors will cut their losses. In Michigan, that apparently means the Kochs don't see Terri Lynn Land prevailing.
 
The political group linked to the conservative Koch brothers has canceled television ad time reserved in October for the race between Sen. Jeff Merkley and Republican challenger Monica Wehby.
 
Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis confirmed the decision Friday.
 
Politico reported Wednesday that Freedom Partners officials acknowledged the possibility of canceling October ads if polling didn't show Wehby making headway.
In fairness, it's worth noting that the Koch brothers' operation still has attack ads on the air in Oregon, going after Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) for a variety of perceived misdeeds, but it's now clear that Freedom Partners no longer sees Wehby as especially viable. As the race enters the final stretch, the Republican won't have the support she was hoping for.
 
I've seen some Democrats point to this as an encouraging development for their side of the aisle. I'm not so sure.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.8.14

09/08/14 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:
 
* In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, the new NBC/Marist poll found Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) with a surprisingly large, eight-point advantage over Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), 47% to 39%. Nearly all other recent polling shows McConnell with a much smaller lead.
 
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, the new NBC/Marist poll shows incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D) with a six-point lead over Rep. Cory Garnder (R), 48% to 42%.
 
* In Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, the new NBC/Marist poll has Rep. Tom Cotton (R) leading incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D), 45% to 40%.
 
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, a brand new Loras College poll shows Rep. Bruce Braley (D) with a five-point lead over state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), 45% to 40%.
 
* As of late last week, no one had any idea who was running Sen. Pat Roberts' (R) re-election campaign in Kansas. Over the weekend, Republican operative Corry Bliss took over "day-to-day operations" of the team. The election is eight weeks from tomorrow.
 
* A Louisiana judge on Friday threw out a residency challenge to Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) re-election campaign. The suit had been filed by a Republican state representative.
 
* Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D), her party's gubernatorial hopeful, "breaks what is still a major taboo in her forthcoming memoir by telling her abortion stories -- one an ectopic pregnancy, another a severe fetal anomaly."
People rally in support of a $15 minimum wage at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington March 15, 2014.

'SeaTac is proving trickle-down economics wrong'

09/08/14 11:18AM

The community of SeaTac, Washington, home to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, this year became the first in the nation to approve a $15 minimum wage law.
 
It's been more than eight months since the policy took effect, and Dana Milbank highlighted the results over the weekend.
As fast-food workers demonstrate nationwide for a $15 hourly wage, and congressional Republicans fight off a $10 federal minimum, little SeaTac has something to offer the debate. Its neighbor, Seattle, was the first big city to approve a $15 wage, this spring, but that doesn't start phasing in until next year. SeaTac did it all at once. And, though there's nothing definitive, this much is clear: The sky did not fall.
 
"SeaTac is proving trickle-down economics wrong," says David Rolf, the Service Employees International Union official who helped lead the $15 effort in SeaTac and Seattle, "because when workers prosper, so do communities and businesses."
In fairness, SeaTac is a small community and the number of affected workers is quite modest, making this a difficult test case. Still, as Milbank's piece noted, the owner of a SeaTac hotel, who had strongly opposed the minimum-wage increase during the 2013 debate, said the hike would invariably lead to local layoffs and eliminated jobs.
 
That was last year. This year, with the $15 minimum wage in effect, the hotel is moving forward with a multi-million dollar expansion anyway.
 
And what of Seattle, which will soon have easily the highest minimum wage of any major U.S. city?
The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Ariz., March 29, 2013.

Arizona incident highlights dangers of militiamen

09/08/14 10:53AM

Imagine you're a scientist conducting research on public land in the United States. Then imagine armed men coming at you, shouting, because they're not sure about your citizenship status.
Three scientists who were studying bats in a cave near the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona were confronted by heavily armed militiamen who mistook them for illegal border-crossers or smugglers. [...]
 
The Arizona researchers reportedly told a sheriff's deputy they were walking back to their campsite on Aug. 23 when a group of men who later identified themselves as a militia group shone a spotlight and started shouting at them in Spanish, the Nogales International reported.
The militiamen -- who are not law enforcement and have no more legal authority than any other citizen -- were reportedly "riding ATVs, wearing camouflage and brandishing weapons when they came upon the group of scientists."
 
In this case, the scientists made clear they were not smugglers or undocumented immigrants, and the initial confrontation ended. But the militiamen apparently approached the researchers again at their campsite, and as Juan Gastelum's report noted, an "aggressive" argument ensued.
 
The CBS affiliate in Tucson talked to Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said of the militiamen, "We really don't want them here.... Things could have gone terribly wrong. They really don't accomplish anything. They really don't. With about 1,000 Border Patrol Agents here in Santa Cruz County, a little group of any militiamen are not going to make any difference at all. As a matter of fact, they're going to get in the way and they could get hurt. Or they could hurt somebody else."
 
That last point, about the potential for someone getting hurt, seems especially noteworthy, because it seems like stories like these keep popping up.
Chris Christie

Chris Christie's downgrades start to pile up

09/08/14 10:10AM

As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) didn't have enough troubles, in the spring, political conditions for the scandal-plagued governor deteriorated further. New Jersey's debt was downgraded for the sixth time since Christie took office, right around the time the governor scrapped his state pension-reform plan, once considered Christie's "landmark achievement."
 
Late Friday afternoon, the news got just a little worse.
Wall Street analysts at Fitch Ratings today downgraded New Jersey's bond rating for the second time this year, citing the state's poor economic performance, Gov. Chris Christie's rosy revenue forecasts -- which failed to materialize -- and his decision to plug the resulting budget gap by cutting $2.4 billion in funding for the state's strained pension system. [...]
 
"New Jersey's economic performance continues to lag that of the nation and a multitude of long-term spending demands are expected to prolong the achievement of sound financial operations," the analysts wrote. Fitch is keeping a "negative outlook" for New Jersey, meaning an upgrade of the state's credit rating is unlikely.
This was the second time Fitch downgraded New Jersey's debt, but the Garden State faced similar judgments from Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's. All told, since Christie took office, New Jersey has faced seven downgrades -- and as the Star-Ledger's report noted, that's "the most under any New Jersey governor."
 
Of course, Christie has only been in office five years. Presumably he still has time to break his own record.
 
What's more, as we talked about in May, it's hard to even imagine what Christie will say when he launches his presidential campaign about his only experience in elected office. He can't talk about his management skills, or his jobs record, or his fiscal record, or his legislative accomplishments -- and bluster does not a national campaign make.
Alena Yarmosky holds a sign outside the Supreme Court of the United States on March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The GOP's contraception solution is no silver bullet

09/08/14 09:30AM

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling was a mixed blessing for far-right Republicans in Congress. On the one hand, the case turned out exactly as conservatives had hoped, thanks to the high court's five Republican appointees.
 
On the other hand, the decision also created a political headache in an election year: many GOP officeholders and candidates were stuck celebrating an unpopular ruling that makes it harder for many Americans to access birth control. It's the kind of position that was likely to make the gender gap even worse -- while boosting turnout from the Democratic base.
 
What anti-contraception Republicans needed was a way to thread the needle: a position that allows them to applaud the Hobby Lobby precedent while also maintaining some semblance of mainstream credibility. Sandhya Somashekhar highlighted their apparent solution.
Several Republican candidates for Senate have embraced an unorthodox issue as the midterm election approaches -- support for the over-the-counter sale of birth-control pills. [...]
 
Their endorsement of easier, drugstore access to contraceptive medications marks a new front in an ongoing political battle over women -- one that has seen Democrats more often gain the upper hand. This issue could give GOP candidates a way to push back against the perception that their party holds outdated notions about women and sex.
Well, it "could," though the closer one looks at the Republican pitch, the more problematic it becomes.
Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.

What 'taking ISIS seriously' looks like

09/08/14 08:34AM

In his latest Sunday-show appearance, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told ABC News yesterday that he's convinced President Obama "has not demonstrated that he's taking ISIS seriously." (This, in turn, "increases" his "interest" in a national campaign, the right-wing senator added.)
 
Reality, however, paints a very different picture. Indeed, I'm not sure how much more Obama could do to "demonstrate that he's taking ISIS seriously." Over the weekend, for example, the U.S. military launched "a fresh series of airstrikes" on ISIS targets near the strategically significant Haditha Dam.
Near the dam, American warplanes pounded ISIS armored vehicles and antiaircraft artillery late Saturday and early Sunday while Iraqi ground troops attacked villages held by ISIS fighters. It was exactly the kind of operation that President Obama described at a news conference in Wales on Friday when he talked about how the United States and its allies could fight ISIS: Use American warplanes to drop bombs while coordinating with local ground troops to reclaim and hold territory.
And for a leader who's not taking ISIS seriously, Obama seems to have invested considerable energy in creating an international coalition to respond to the terrorist group.
President Obama escalated the American response to the marauding Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Friday, recruiting at least nine allies to help crush the organization.... Obama said the effort would rely on American airstrikes against its leaders and positions, strengthen the moderate Syrian rebel groups to reclaim ground lost to ISIS, and enlist friendly governments in the region to join the fight. [...]
 
Diplomats and defense officials from the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark huddled to devise a two-pronged strategy: strengthening allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria, while bombing Sunni militants from the air.
The significance of such a coalition goes well beyond practical and logistical considerations. As Rachel explained on Friday's show, "ISIS desperately wants itself to be at war with the United States. They want a one-on-one bilateral fight where they're the Muslim side and America is the other side. They want America to be at war with them. Instead of giving them what they want, President Obama is instead basically pulling a Poppy Bush and Colin Powell a la Gulf War I, basically trying to organize the whole world for a unified action against ISIS as a universally reviled threat."
 
It's the sort of thing a U.S. leader does if he's "taking ISIS seriously."
President Barack Obama participates in an event on immigration reform in San Francisco, Calif. on Nov. 25, 2013.

'Back to the drawing board' on immigration? Maybe not

09/08/14 08:00AM

If President Obama had said a few months ago that he'd unveil new executive actions on immigration by the end of the year, there'd be no controversy. But since he said to expect an announcement by the end of the summer, the news over the weekend caused a considerable stir.
 
As had been rumored, the White House said early Saturday that Obama will delay his new immigration policy until the midterm elections, effectively pushing back the announcement date from September to November.
 
Explaining the shift in the political schedule, Obama made no effort to deny what was plainly true: election-year politics influenced the rollout of the administration's policy,
In an exclusive interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, President Barack Obama defended his decision to delay executive action on immigration, saying the summer's surge of unaccompanied children at the Mexican border changed the politics of the issue.
 
"The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem," Obama said in the interview, which will air on Sunday's Meet the Press on NBC. "I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy."
There's ample room for debate about the electoral implications, but it's worth noting that there was a rare agreement among partisans on both sides of the aisle. Senate Democrats, many of whom have been begging the president for a delay, have said repeatedly in recent weeks that a pre-election announcement would put them on the defensive, make conditions even more difficult for vulnerable red-state incumbents, and light a fire under the Republican base.
 
And as it turns out, congressional Republicans believed the exact same thing.
Republicans had been licking their chops for weeks, hoping President Barack Obama would actually carry through on his immigration promise.
 
They had polled the issue in a handful of key races and come to a clear conclusion: If Obama circumvented Congress and acted alone this summer on immigration, conservative and independent voters would finally have an issue to rally behind and give the GOP a clear opportunity to nationalize the midterms in states where the president is deeply unpopular.
We can argue about whether or not the partisans and their assumptions were correct, but there's no doubt that both sides saw similar data and read the landscape the same way. It obviously influenced the West Wing's thinking. Indeed, it's very likely the president and his team concluded that Republican gains following executive actions would create the perception of a connection -- Obama acted on immigration; the GOP won several seats; therefore immigration suffered a public repudiation.
 
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), arguably Congress' most ardent reform advocate, said in response to the news that he intends to "go back to the drawing board." That may not, however, be entirely necessary.

ISIS plan and other headlines

09/08/14 07:56AM

Pres. Obama to outline game plan against ISIS. (Reuters)

Congress comes back today. House leaders say they will move quickly to keep the government running. (BuzzFeed)

Losing among women voters, NH Senate candidate Scott Brown offers them awards. (Time)

Republicans build cushions in key Senate races. (Wall Street Journal)

In atypical approach, grand jury in Ferguson shooting receives full measure of case. (Washington Post) 

What Maureen McDonnell told her manicurist. (Washington Post)

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This Week in God, 9.6.14

09/06/14 09:21AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at an incident in Florida, involving a local resident who didn't want to stand for the city commission's official prayer.
 
Josh Israel reported this week on developments in Winter Garden, where the mayor forced an American -- one of the mayor's own constituents -- to leave a public meeting because he declined to stand during the invocation and pledge to the flag.
Winter Garden Mayor John Rees, a nonpartisan official leading an Orlando suburb of about 37,000, was caught on video demanding that an audience member stand for a prayer, which thanked God for "allowing us to live in a country where we're free to believe, think, and pray."
 
The audience member responded, "I don't believe I have to do that, thank you." After the prayer, Rees again instructed the constituent, identified by the Orlando Sentinel as Joseph Richardson, to stand for the pledge to the flag as "children have to in school." Richardson again politely declined.
 
"Okay. I asked him to either stand or please be escorted out as we do the Pledge," Rees says in the video. "It's just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir."
By order of the police, the local dissenter left as instructed.
 
The problem, of course, is that the mayor had no idea what he was talking about. Whether an American sits or stands for government-endorsed prayer has nothing to do with the troops overseas. For that matter, children are not legally required to stand for Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.
 
In fact, there's a fascinating Supreme Court ruling from 1943 called West Virginia v. Barnette in which the court majority said the exact opposite. Writing for the court, Justice Robert Jackson warned, "[T]hose who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."
 
In light of the Winter Garden controversy, local officials yesterday adopted a new, more inclusive policy: the city commission will open their meetings with "a moment of silence rather than a prayer," and it will be clear that "no one has to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance" if they don't want to.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Cocktail Moment: Happy Football Season Spurious-But-Delicious Michelada

09/05/14 11:13PM

I rushed through the cocktail moment on the air tonight, in order to make sure you got to prison on time. Here’s a more orderly explanation of what I was trying to do.

(This is a slight variation on a recipe published by Texas Monthly here.) -- I’ve always liked mine a little saltier.

OK, here goes:

1. Use a pint glass

2. If your doctor will let you, pour coarse salt into a saucer. Then, use a wedge of lime to moisten the rim of the glass. Then roll the moistened outer rim of the glass in the coarse salt. If your doctor won’t let you do that, don’t worry, it will still be great.

3. Into that (salted or unsalted) glass, add:

4. Juice of one lime

5. Two teaspoons of hot sauce -- like Cholula

6. One teaspoon of worcestershire sauce

7. One teaspoon of Maggi mystery goo

8. Fill glass with ice

9. Then, add Negra Modelo or another delicious Mexican Beer

10. Grind some black pepper on top

11. Stir a few times with a bar spoon, just to mix up the drink.

12. Garnish with another lime wedge or two.

13. Serve! Cheer for the health of Rob Gronkowski’s forearms!

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