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Confederate flag plates lack support at Supreme Court

06/18/15 11:02AM

As the Supreme Court nears the end of its term, some high-profile cases on health care, marriage, and capital punishment have not yet been decided. But today was a surprisingly busy day at the high court, which handed down six this morning, including an underappreciated case called Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
 
NBC News' Pete Williams reported:
The US Supreme Court ruled that Texas cannot be required to allow the Confederate flag on car license plates. The case dealt with how much control state governments can exert over slogans and messages on vehicle license plates.
 
In the 5-4 ruling, the court said "just as Texas cannot require (Sons of Confederate Veterans) to convey 'the state's ideological message ... (the Sons of Confederate Veterans) cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates."
The full ruling in the case is online here (pdf).
 
A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans asked Texas to approve a specialty plate, featuring a confederate battle flag surrounded by the words, "Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896." The state declined, telling the organization that "many members of the general public find the design offensive," and associate the flag "with organizations advocating expressions of hate."
 
The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, saying the rejection was a violation of the group's free-speech rights. The state disagreed, arguing that because license plates come from official government agencies, the Sons of Confederate Veterans had effectively asked Texas to endorse its logo. The public would see the Confederate battle flag on Texas license plates and perceive it as a message with official state backing.
 
The lower courts were split, and in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court sided with Texas -- the state wasn't obligated to approve the group's request.
 
But the really interesting part was how the justices were divided.
Pope Francis arrives to his Wednesday's General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City on Dec. 3, 2014. (L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO/EPA)

Pope Francis makes a powerful case on climate

06/18/15 09:56AM

Though much of Pope Francis' encyclical on global warming leaked to the media before its release, the official unveiling of the document adds weight and depth to a powerful case from the Roman Catholic leader. From the Associated Press report:
In a sweeping manifesto aimed at spurring action in U.N. climate negotiations, domestic politics and everyday life, Francis explains the science of global warming, which he blames on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that he says harms the poor most. Citing Scripture and past popes' and bishops' appeals, he urges people of all faiths and no faith to undergo an awakening to save God's creation for future generations.
 
It's an indictment of big business and climate doubters alike.
"It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress," he writes. "Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress."
 
The religious leader added that there is no doubt "most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity."
 
Francis went on to say the climate crisis "represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day."
 
As for the argument, embraced by some Christian conservatives, that the planet was created for us to use as we please, the pope said some Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and "must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures."
 
The political pushback from American conservatives is growing more intense.
A general view of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, Dec. 30, 2014. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Why David King's indifference matters

06/18/15 09:11AM

Sometime before the end of the month -- and quite possibly as early as this morning -- the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in King v. Burwell. It's an extremely important case, and the health security of millions of American families hangs in the balance.
 
Those of us who follow health care closely have explored the litigation in great detail, weighing the case on the merits, examining the potential consequences, even recognizing the degree to which the court's legitimacy is arguably on the line. But what about the plaintiffs? Who's the King in King v. Burwell?
 
There are actually four plaintiffs in the case -- a Virginia man named David King is listed first, so the case bears his name -- and one of the four suggested earlier this year that she hopes her side loses so Americans don't have to suffer. It's quite a case.
 
But the New York Times today takes a closer look at David King himself, who's confident of a court victory, and seems completely indifferent to the consequences of success.
...Mr. King said that he was not really worried about the outcome of the case, King v. Burwell, because as a Vietnam veteran, he has access to medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
 
If he wins, Mr. King said, "the left will blow it out of proportion and claim that eight million people will lose their health insurance." But he said lawyers had assured him that "things are in play to take care of the problem."
There's something oddly perfect about this.
 
The man who hates "Obamacare" so much that he put his name on a genuinely ridiculous federal lawsuit is eager to take a sledgehammer to the American health care system. But he's unconcerned about whether gutting the Affordable Care Act will hurt him personally -- because King can take advantage of taxpayer-financed, government-run health care.

Jobless claims improve, remain near 15-year low

06/18/15 08:40AM

Economists expected initial unemployment benefits to tick a little higher in mid-June. Fortunately, the opposite happened.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 to 267,000 in the seven days from June 7 to June 13, keeping initial claims near a 15-year low. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 279,000.
 
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dropped by 2,000 to 276,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
n terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 34 of the last 40 weeks.
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Massacre in South Carolina church leaves nine dead

06/18/15 08:00AM

There's heartbreaking news this morning out of South Carolina, where a mass shooting has left nine dead in at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported from the scene:
A gunman shot to death nine church members who had gathered for Bible study and prayer Wednesday night at one of the nation's oldest black churches. Among the dead was beloved pastor Clementa Pinckney, a longtime state senator who spent the earlier part of the day campaigning in the city with Hillary Clinton.
The suspected gunman has not been identified by name, but surveillance footage released to the media point to as a 5'9" white male, early- to mid-20s, with sandy blond hair. He remains at large.
 
Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen told reporters this morning that he believes this was a hate crime, adding, "This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience. It is senseless. It is unfathomable that somebody in today's society would walk into a church, when people are having a prayer meeting, and take their lives."
 
The full list of victims and their ages has not yet been released, though police said three males and six females were murdered.
 
Though NBC News has not yet confirmed this detail, the local Post and Courier reported this morning, "Mullen confirmed that the shooter was in the church for almost an hour attending the prayer meeting with the group before shooting."

Hunt for church shooter and other headlines

06/18/15 07:38AM

Suspected white gunman kills 9 during a prayer meeting at a historic black church in South Carolina. (Charleston Post and Courier) Here's a good place to check for the latest updates. (AP)

Victims include the church's pastor, who was also a state Senator. (NBC News)

Jeb Bush cancels Charleston visit after church shootings. (Politico)

Rand Paul to detail flat tax plan. (New York Times)

Pope Francis releases his encyclical on climate change. (New York Times)

Texas set to execute its 9th prisoner this year. (NBC News)

Australia issues arrest warrant for doctor who appears in ISIS recruitment video. (Sydney Morning Herald)

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Citations for the June 17, 2015 TRMS

06/18/15 02:07AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Angelo Carusone, the activist who first alleged that Donald Trump hired actors to pose as supporters at the launch of his presidential campaign.
  • Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Tonight's links:

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New studies sound alarm on world water supply

New research sounds alarm on global water supply

06/17/15 09:36PM

Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, talks with Rachel Maddow about new research using satellites to detect underground water around the world and finding startling deficiencies in the global water supply. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.17.15

06/17/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* A flaw in the Iraq plan: "Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. is having a tough time finding credible and capable allies to fight in both Iraq and Syria."
 
* Poland: "Warships. Tanks. Helicopters. Rapid reaction forces. Thousands of NATO troops are on the move this month in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, air lifts and assaults. The massive maneuvers on NATO's eastern flank that began in early June include the first-ever training by the new, rapid reaction 'spearhead' force, and are NATO's biggest defense boost since the Cold War."
 
* A valiant effort: "The House voted resoundingly Wednesday to keep troops stationed abroad fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) despite the absence of a formal congressional authorization for military action against the group. In the first vote of its kind since the Obama administration began airstrikes ten months ago, the House defeated a resolution requiring the president to remove troops within the next six months. The vote was 139-288."
 
* FCC: "The Federal Communications Commission slapped AT&T with a $100 million fine Wednesday, accusing the country's second-largest cellular carrier of improperly slowing down Internet speeds for customers who had signed up for 'unlimited' data plans."
 
* A trail gone cold: "Hundreds of law enforcement officers have combed thousands of acres. Investigators have looked at more than 1,300 tips. Police and helicopters have swarmed toward what looked like promising leads. And yet, more than a week and a half after killers Richard Matt and David Sweat sawed and shimmied their way out of Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, there has still been no confirmed sighting of the fugitives."
 
* South Carolina:  "Hillary Clinton called the police shooting death of Walter Scott a 'terrible tragedy' Wednesday at a meeting with rural leaders in Orangeburg, just ahead of forum here in the city where Scott was killed in April."
 
* Russia: "In a sprawling park 30 miles outside Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin welcomed the country's first high-tech military exposition on Tuesday, announcing in his opening remarks that Russia would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear stockpile this year." The problem, of course, is that Russia can't actually afford that.
 
* Seems fair: "At least two clever Texans sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) pieces of foil "for your hat" after he ordered the Texas State Guard to "monitor" the U.S. military's training exercise known as Jade Helm 15, Gawker reported on Tuesday."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker laughs as he is introduced prior to his speech at Chatham House in central London, Feb. 11, 2015. (Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Walker learns an obvious lesson after UK dustup

06/17/15 04:52PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week claimed he had proof that foreign leaders aren't satisfied with President Obama's leadership. One our closest allies, the Republican candidate said, told him so.
 
"I heard that from David Cameron back in February earlier when we were over at 10 Downing," Walker told a group of GOP donors.
 
Soon after, the British leader made clear that Walker was wrong. "The Prime Minister did not say that and does not think that," a Cameron spokesperson told Time magazine.
 
For a governor with national aspirations, it was the latest in a series of foreign-policy missteps. Not only was Walker blabbing about a private conversation he had with a close U.S. ally, but he was also apparently misquoting the British prime minister in the hopes of attacking the American president.
 
Today, Walker was asked to explain himself. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he won't be talking anymore about private meetings with world leaders after British Prime Minister David Cameron disputed how Walker had characterized his comments.
 
"I'm just not going to comment on individual meetings I had with leaders like that, be it there or anywhere else," the White House hopeful told reporters when asked about Cameron's comments.... Walker said he had learned from that incident and wouldn't do it anymore.
Speaking from Canada -- one of Walker's many recent foreign trips -- the Wisconsin Republican added, "What I learned best from that is I should leave discussions like that that aren't done in front of the media to be treated privately, whether it was there or anyone else. You're right; I haven't. That's something I'm not going to do going forward for precisely that reason."
 
And I suppose that's a start. The unannounced presidential candidate apparently didn't realize until very recently that when you have a private conversation with a foreign head of state, it's unwise to share the details of that conversation at a fundraiser.
 
But that doesn't quite resolve the underlying problem.
Business mogul Donald Trump gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty)

RNC: Trump's immigration rhetoric 'not helpful'

06/17/15 04:09PM

When it comes to immigration policy, Republican politicians tend to be unyieldingly conservative, but they're far more circumspect when talking about the issue. GOP officials realize that there's little upside to party rhetoric that condemns immigrants -- Republicans are comfortable voting like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa); they just don't want to sound like him.
 
With this in mind, it was quite striking to hear GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump argue, during his surreal kickoff speech in New York yesterday, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."
 
Trump talked to msnbc's Kasie Hunt after the event, and the Republican stuck to the same line.
KASIE: In your speech today, you said that "some rapists are coming across the border from Mexico."
 
TRUMP: Absolutely.
 
KASIE: What did you mean by that?
 
TRUMP: Well you have rapists, they're sending us not their finest people. And it's people other than Mexico also. We have drug dealers coming across, we have rapists, we have killers, we have murderers. What, do you think they're gonna send us -- I mean it's common sense -- do you think they're gonna send us their finest people? Their answer is no.
Trump is apparently under the impression that Mexico, among other countries, are dispatching immigrants, picking and choosing who gets "sent" to the United States.
 
In case it's not obvious, this really isn't what Republican officials want Americans to hear from Republican candidates. In fact, during Trump's speech yesterday, I saw quite a few people joking on Twitter about how deeply sorry they felt for RNC Chairman Reince Priebus -- Trump's apparent xenophobia undermining all of Priebus' efforts to improve his party's image.
 
But more specifically, what does the RNC have to say about Trump's antics?

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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