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President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington,D.C. on Sept. 26, 2014.

Krugman: Obama among the most 'successful presidents in American history'

10/13/14 11:44AM

Paul Krugman would never be mistaken for an Obama cheerleader. When President Obama was riding high, enjoying broad support and high poll numbers, it was Krugman who was discouraged, offering substantive criticism and words of caution. In late 2007, the then-senator's campaign team was so irritated with Krugman that Obama's aides dropped an oppo document on him.
 
Six years later, it's interesting to see how much the roles have reversed. The president's support has clearly faltered. Much of the country either blames him for tumultuous events, refuses to credit him for national progress, or both. But it's Krugman who's come around -- much of the American mainstream has turned on Obama, for reasons that may not be entirely rational, but it's the Nobel laureate offering a spirited defense of the president in a Rolling Stone cover story.
... Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn't deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. [...]
 
This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don't care about the fact that Obama hasn't lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn't quite say, a big deal.
Krugman's piece goes into considerable detail -- on the economy, on health care, on Wall Street reform, on climate -- but the broader takeaway is that the New York Times columnist is saying what much of the country is not: that Obama's presidency has been a great success. The praise is qualified at times, but it's nevertheless enthusiastic.
 
Indeed, Krugman sat down yesterday with ABC's Jonathan Karl, arguing that in his "ranking of consequential presidents, at least in modern history," he would put FDR on top, followed by LBJ, then Obama, then Reagan.
 
"Bill Clinton is an incredibly gifted politician," Krugman added. "Bill Clinton, in a room, and it doesn't matter how many people are in the room, you think he's talking to you. But in fact Bill Clinton was not a consequential president. And Obama, although clearly not the natural politician, he is a consequential president."
Joni Ernst

Ernst: there's 'no sense' in a congressional vote on ISIS

10/13/14 11:06AM

It's been over two months since the United States started launching airstrikes against Islamic State targets, and the preliminary results aren't encouraging. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the military offensive "has gotten off to a rocky start, with even the Syrian rebel groups closest to the United States turning against it, U.S. ally Turkey refusing to contribute and the plight of a beleaguered Kurdish town exposing the limitations of the strategy."
 
These might ordinarily be the sort of developments that would warrant scrutiny from Congress. Is the U.S. policy effective? Is there a smarter approach? What can the public expect in the way of results in the short- and long-term future?
 
But that scrutiny, at least for now, is nonexistent. Congress gave itself another 54-day vacation, and members have never authorized the military campaign that's currently underway -- a detail that most lawmakers seem to find irrelevant. Maybe Congress will have a debate during the lame-duck session in November, but as far as the House GOP leadership is concerned, it can wait.
 
To their credit, a small group of lawmakers has said Congress should promptly return to session in order to meet its constitutional obligations. Indeed, at a Senate debate in Iowa over the weekend, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) argued, "I think Congress should go back into session and have a broader and longer conversation about the nature of our involvement" in the Middle East.
 
Joni Ernst's (R) response was amazing, even by Joni Ernst standards:
"Yes, we knew this threat was there months and months and months ago and this decision could have been made earlier this year so there's no sense in calling Congress back now when this decision could have been made several months ago."
The quote comes by way of a Democratic group that recorded the debate.
 
It's the sort of comment that raises serious questions about Ernst's basic competence as someone seeking an important federal office. If the right-wing state lawmaker had said she's confident President Obama already has the legal authority he needs, so Congress does not need to hold a debate or a vote, there would at least be a degree of substantive consistency to the position.
 
But Ernst is making a very different argument. The far-right Iowan believes "there's no sense" in having lawmakers meet their obligations under the Constitution now, because they could have met their obligations months ago and didn't.
A view of Capitol Hill on Oct. 3, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Republicans won't 'temper their policies' following success

10/13/14 10:20AM

In late 2010, after the midterm elections but before far-right Republicans took office, a variety of pundits made confident predictions about GOP modesty. Americans need not fear Republican extremism, many commentators said at the time, because GOP officials realized they would have no choice but to be constructive and open to compromise.
 
Shortly after the 2010 midterms, for example, David Brooks insisted that Republicans were feeling "cautious." They're "sober," the center-right columnist said, adding that the GOP wouldn't "overreach." The same week, Jacob Weisberg made a similar prediction, arguing that GOP leaders "will feint right while legislating closer to the center." These Republicans, he added, "don't think working with Democrats is evil. On the big picture tax and budget issues, they plan compromise with President Obama."
 
We now know, of course, that these predictions were painfully inaccurate, and the 2010 elections helped propel Republican politics to radicalism unseen in the United States since the 19th century. But some in media are reluctant to learn the appropriate lessons.
 
Take, for example, the Denver Post's endorsement of far-right Rep. Cory Gardner (R) in Colorado's U.S. Senate race.
If Gardner wins, of course, it could mean the Senate has flipped to Republicans. However, that doesn't mean it will simply butt heads with President Obama as the Republican House has done. As The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib recently pointed out, "A look back shows that eras of evenly divided power -- Congress fully controlled by one party, the presidency by the other -- have turned out to be among the most productive" because both sides temper their policies.
The Denver Post's editorial is among the strangest pieces of political analysis published in 2014. The paper's editorial board included sloppy factual errors; it glossed over the issues on which the editors are convinced the congressman is wrong; it lamented Washington gridlock while choosing to ignore Gardner's role in making matters worse; and it complained about Sen. Mark Udall (D) pointing to aspects of Gardner's record that happen to be true.
 
But it's this notion that radicalized Republicans will become less extreme once voter reward them that stands out as genuinely bizarre.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Republican party of Wisconsin State Convention Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Milwaukee.

Walker struggles to defend Wisconsin voting restrictions

10/13/14 09:30AM

Wisconsin's voter-ID law is such a fiasco, it's hard not to wonder sometimes how anyone could defend it. In a debate on Friday night, Gov. Scott Walker (R), who fought to impose voting restrictions before his re-election bid, made his best case.
Walker said that the voter ID law, which the U.S. Supreme Court just blocked from being enforced, is worthwhile if it stops one person from fraudulently casting a ballot.
 
"It doesn't matter if there's one, 100 or 1,000," Walker said. "Amongst us who would be that one person who would like to have our vote canceled out by a vote that was cast illegally?"
This isn't a good argument, but it's important to evaluate in the context of the Republican "war on voting" in general.
 
Walker realizes that there are no documented incidents in modern Wisconsin history of a voter committing voter fraud, at least not in a way that could be prevented by a voter-ID law. The Republican governor also realizes that independent estimates suggest more than 300,000 legal, eligible Wisconsin voters could be disenfranchised by this voter-ID law, which addresses a problem that doesn't exist.
 
But note the calculus Walker makes: disenfranchising 300,000 legal voters is a price he's willing to pay to ensure that one -- not one percent, just one literal individual -- fraudulent-but-hypothetical vote isn't cast. Wisconsin's governor is prepared to create the worst election-related chaos in the nation, on purpose, regardless of the costs or consequences, if it means one individual who might cast a fraudulent vote is prevented from doing so.
 
If this is the best argument Walker can come up with, voter-suppression proponents really need to come up with new talking points.
A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples in West Hollywood, Calif., July 1, 2013.

Alaska's ban on marriage equality struck down

10/13/14 09:00AM

Just seven days ago at this time, marriage equality was legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. It's occasionally surprising what can happen in a week.
 
Take last night, for example, where Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal court. Emma Margolin reported:
The nation's oldest voter-approved amendment banning same-sex nuptials has fallen. On Sunday afternoon, a federal judge struck down Alaska's 1998 amendment defining marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. [...]
 
Alaska's was the first ban of its kind, soon replicated in state legislatures across the country, and now the latest casualty in an unprecedented wave of pro-marriage equality rulings, set off by the Supreme Court's decision last year to invalidate the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The Alaska ruling, which is available online here (pdf), was issued by U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, who was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush.
 
What's more, let's also not forget that late Friday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy lifted the temporary stay he'd imposed in this week on marriages in Idaho. This, in turn, allowed an appeals court ruling to go into effect, striking down Idaho's ban against same-sex marriages.
 
And right around the same time, District Court Judge Max Cogburn Jr. struck down North Carolina's gay-marriage ban, clearing the same for immediate same-sex unions in the state.
 
As the dust settles on this extraordinary seven-day stretch, what does the marriage landscape look like now?
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks to reporters after a closed door briefing June 4, 2014.

McCain hitches his wagon to a czar

10/13/14 08:30AM

The problem emerged in earnest nearly two weeks ago. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) condemned the Obama administration for failing to appoint an Ebola "czar" to help coordinate U.S. officials' response. Left unsaid was the fact that Kingston sponsored legislation in 2009 to scrap these "czar" policy coordinators from the executive branch altogether.
 
A week later, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) wrote a joint letter to President Obama, insisting that the White House name an Ebola czar. In 2009, however, both Moran and Wolf co-sponsored Kingston's anti-czar legislation.
 
Yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the parade, making these on-air comments to CNN's Candy Crowley.
"[F]rom spending time here in Arizona, my constituents are not comforted. There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don't know exactly who's in charge. There has to be some kind of czar."
This would be the same John McCain who, in May 2009, complained that President Obama had already appointed too many czars. Indeed, the Arizona Republican argued on Twitter that the president "has more czars than the Romanovs -- who ruled Russia for 3 centuries."
 
There's more than one angle to this story. The first is the obvious hypocrisy of Republicans who desperately want the president to have fewer czars, except when they want him to have more. There's also the fact that a U.S. Surgeon General could certainly play a key leadership role at a moment like this, but a wide variety of senators, including McCain, are blocking a qualified nominee.
 
As for McCain's observation that "we don't know exactly who's in charge," it's unclear what McCain means by "we." Administration officials have already made it quite clear which agencies are focused on responding to the Ebola virus, and Lisa Monaco, a homeland security adviser, is serving as the point person in charge of "interagency response." McCain should probably know that by now.
 
But stepping back, all of this is helping expose a related political problem.
U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland speaks at the Democratic Convention Friday evening, June 27, 2014 in Yankton, SD.

GOP reverses course, invests in South Dakota

10/13/14 08:00AM

Last week, in the wake of new polling showing South Dakota's three-way Senate race becoming surprisingly competitive, Republicans said they were unconcerned. Even as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reversed course and purchased $1 million in airtime, GOP officials insisted their polls showed former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) "with a low double-digit lead of 11 to 14 percentage points over independent Larry Pressler and Democrat Rick Weiland."
 
It didn't take long for Republicans' confidence to disappear.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is buying more than $750,000 in ads in South Dakota as they work to counter a $1 million investment from their Democratic counterparts, Politico reports.
 
The money will try to help Republican nominee Mike Rounds' chances in a tight multi-way Senate race -- though it's unclear whether the ads will boost Rounds, attack Democrat Rick Weiland or independent Larry Pressler, or a mix.
It's a timely reminder: there is no bluffing in campaign politics at this point. It doesn't matter what party operatives say; it matters what they do -- or more to the point, where they send the checks. The fact that Republicans are making these expenditures removes all doubt about what the party thinks about this race.
 
The ads, which have not yet been released publicly, will begin airing tomorrow -- just 21 days before Election Day. It will coincide with another pro-Republican ad buy from the American Chemistry Council, which is investing $205,000 in the race, and which will also have commercials hitting South Dakota airwaves starting tomorrow.
 
The interest isn't hard to explain: Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take over control of the U.S. Senate, and when it comes to flipping seats from "blue" to "red," the seats appear to be within the GOP's grasp. But nearly all forecasts pointing to Republican success include a GOP victory in South Dakota -- which was supposed to be one of the year's easiest victories for Republicans, but which is now at risk of slipping away.

More Ebola in TX and other headlines

10/13/14 07:56AM

Confirmation of second Ebola case rattles Dallas. (Dallas Morning News)

Ebola vaccine would likely have been found by now if not for budget cuts: NIH Director. (Huffington Post)

House Democrats pull money from Colorado district that has been a top target. (National Journal)

U.S. says Turkey OKs use of its bases against ISIS. (AP)

A federal judge strikes down Alaska's ban on gay marriage. (Alaska Dispatch News)

State Department ends transgender exclusion from health plan. (Washington Post)

Boston bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev allegedly knew his brother Tamerlan was involved in a triple homicide in 2011. (Boston Globe)

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This is a temperature map of the "hot Jupiter" class exoplanet WASP 43b. The white-colored region on the daytime side is 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The nighttime side temperatures drop to under 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Week in Geek: Hot Jupiter edition

10/12/14 12:00PM

There are a lot of things we still don't know about the planets around other stars that astronomers have now found by the thousands. We can learn a lot about their host stars because they give off a ton of light thanks to the fusion going on in their cores. However, the planets around them only block, reflect, or absorb and reradiate small fractions of this light. Detecting the presence of the planet is the easy part, but determining what the planet is actually like is a lot more challenging.

A planet orbiting a star will transit (or cross in front of) the star and astronomers can measure the small dip in the star's light to infer the planet's existence. That's how WASP-43b was first discovered in 2011, over 260 light years away from Earth. The "creative" name for this planet is because it was the 43rd planet candidate found by the SuperWASP (Super Wide Angle Search for Planets) survey. The star around which the planet was detected was therefore designated WASP-43 and the planet is given the suffix 'b'. Any subsequent planets discovered will be named 43c, 43d, etc.

Further analysis of how much of its star's light WASP-43b blocks, and how it makes that light shift due its tug on its star enabled astronomers to estimate its size and mass. WASP-43b is roughly the same size as Jupiter, but twice as massive and flying around its star once every 19.2 hours (for comparison Jupiter takes over 11 years to go around our Sun once). Large, Jupiter-sized planets found so close to their stars are termed "Hot Jupiters." And planets that close in and that large are perfect laboratories of sorts for astronomers to learn more about the composition and therefore the formation of planets around other stars. With such a short orbital period, astronomers had the unique opportunity to observe three consecutive "years" on WASP-43b with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Using spectroscopy, scientists were able to determine how much water was present on WASP-43b and at what temperature. It turns out the planet is so hot, that all water is vaporized and held in the upper atmosphere. Furthermore, by seeing the planet rotate, they were able to map the distribution of water vapor from pole to pole on the planet. The amount of water detected on WASP-43b tells us more about the likely composition of the gaseous nebula that it and its star likely formed from. By studying as many planetary systems as possible in this way, astronomers hope to better constrain their understanding of planet formation which could eventually lead to the ability to predict which stars are likely to host the most Earth-like (i.e., habitable) planets.

Here's some geek that took place recently on our planet:

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A Noah's Ark exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. An extensive portion of the museum explains Noah's Ark and how the great flood wiped out the majority of dinosaurs and shaped the land today.

This Week in God, 10.11.14

10/11/14 09:02AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Kentucky, where a religious theme park has sought and received taxpayer support, which may now evaporate as its owners discover that public funds come with public accountability (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
 
At issue is a theme park called Ark Encounter, created by the creationist group Answers in Genesis, which will feature a 510-foot reproduction of Noah's Ark. To help bolster the attraction, state officials in Kentucky agreed to $18 million in tax subsidies to help Ark Encounter's finances.
 
Those tax incentives, however, are suddenly in doubt.
The developer of a Noah's Ark-based theme park in Kentucky said on Wednesday he would fight for his religious rights after state officials warned he could lose millions in potential tax credits if he hires only people who believe in the biblical flood.
 
Ark Encounter, which is slated to open in 2016 in Williamston, Kentucky, is not hiring anyone yet, but its parent company Answers in Genesis asks employees to sign a faith statement including a belief in creationism and the flood.
 
State officials and Ark Encounter lawyers have exchanged letters in which the state threatened not to proceed with tax incentives for the park if there was discriminatory hiring practices, a state official confirmed on Wednesday.
Specifically, all Ark Encounter employees are required to sign a "statement of faith," in which workers agree that the planet is only 6,000 years old.
 
The truly amazing part, as Simon Brown reported this week, is not just that Ark Encounter's management wants to discriminate in hiring based on applicants' religious beliefs, even while receiving tax incentives from the state. Just as striking is the fact that Ark Encounter's owners have suggested they have a First Amendment right to receive the financial assistance.
 
Indeed, Reuters' report noted that Ark Encounter's executive president, Mike Zovath, "said that if tax incentives for the project are withdrawn because it does not give written assurances the state now seeks, it would violate the organization's First Amendment and state constitutional rights."
 
This would be a very tough sell in court. The religious theme park is not entitled to tax subsidies under the Constitution, and if it expects financial support from the people of Kentucky, it's hardly outrageous for the state to insist that attraction agree not to discriminate against those same Kentucky taxpayers.
 
Brown added that if Answers in Genesis "has a problem with that policy, it doesn't have to take Kentucky's $18 million and it can build the ark itself. Really, that should have been the case all along."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Ebola patient's care scrutinized after death

Ebola patient's care scrutinized after death

10/10/14 10:46PM

Emily Schmall, correspondent for the Associated Press, talks with Steve Kornacki about the still-emerging details of the diagnosis and care of Dallas Ebola patient Eric Thomas Duncan, and 1400 pages of newly released medical records in his case. watch

Weiland, Pressler to join Kornacki on Up

Weiland, Pressler to join Kornacki on Up

10/10/14 10:43PM

Steve Kornacki alerts viewers that he will have South Dakota Democratic candidate for Senate, Rick Weiland, and Independent candidate Larry Pressler on his show, Up with Steve Kornacki, this Saturday morning. watch

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