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SCOTUS poised to rule on consequential cases

SCOTUS poised to rule on consequential cases

02/16/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow discusses how the Supreme Court wields breathtaking power on a myriad of issues, and how judicial appointments are some of the most important decisions that presidents make during their time in office. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 2.16.15

02/16/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The latest from Cairo: "The Egyptian military said on Monday that it had carried out airstrikes in Libya in retaliation for the beheading of more than a dozen Egyptian Christians by a branch of the Islamic State extremist group there."
 
* On a related note, keep in mind that this was Egypt's "first confirmed foreign military intervention" since the first Gulf War nearly 25 years ago.
 
* Copenhagen: "Danish police said they killed a man early Sunday who they think was responsible for killing two people and injuring five in shootings at a freedom of speech event and a synagogue in Copenhagen. The attacks came one month after a deadly terror spree in Paris which left 20 people dead -- including three gunmen."
 
* Related news: "Danish officials have charged two people with helping the gunman believed to be responsible for killing two and injuring five in attacks at a freedom of speech event and at a synagogue in Copenhagen over the weekend, police said on Monday."
 
* A serious derailment: "A train carrying crude oil derailed in Fayette County in the [West Virginia] community of Adena Village near Mount Carbon and Deep Water. Adena Village and part of Boomer were evacuated because of the fire."
 
* What a mess: "A meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Greece's debt crisis broke up in acrimony Monday evening, further dimming hopes of a speedy resolution to problems that could result in the new Greek government's soon running out of money."
"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.

Anti-healthcare Supreme Court past the point of no return

02/16/15 03:30PM

There's a certain irony underpinning the anti-healthcare case pending at the Supreme Court: as oral arguments in King v. Burwell draw closer, optimism among those hoping to see the lawsuit succeed is going up, even as the credibility of the case itself goes down.
 
When we last checked in on the breathtakingly dumb litigation, one of the plaintiffs in the case seemed to suggest she hopes her side loses. Upon further inspection, it seems none of the plaintiffs have standing, raising the possibility that the case itself should be thrown out and reinforcing the impression that the entire ACA challenge is turning into "an absurdist comedy."
 
But given all of the latest developments, that's really just the start. Congressional Republicans have quietly let the Supreme Court know that the justices can gut the ACA system with impunity because far-right lawmakers will step in with legislative fixes to ensure families don't suffer. Last week, however, GOP members of Congress reversed course, accidentally telling the truth.
When asked on Friday at a meeting with reporters, House Ways & Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), a key figure overseeing U.S. health policy, said there was no desire among Republicans to tweak the law to defuse the case.
 
"No," Ryan said.... "The idea is not to make Obamacare work better," he said, adding that the goal would be to give states more freedom "to get out of Obamacare."
Let's not rush past this too quickly. If Republican justices start the fire, we now know with certainty that Republican lawmakers are content, if not eager, to simply watch the system burn. All the chatter from the GOP about the party acting quickly if consumer subsidies vanish was meaningless.
 
Indeed, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who's fiddled with a woeful, far-right alternative to the Affordable Care Act, recently conceded that his party wouldn't coalesce around an official GOP plan until, at the earliest, 2017. That many families would suffer in the interim apparently wouldn't affect the timetable. Other Republican senators have offered similar assessments.
Gene Alday, R-Walls, listens to a collegue during a hearing  in Jackson, Miss., Oct. 2, 2012. (Photo by Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

GOP lawmaker condemns blacks on 'welfare crazy checks'

02/16/15 02:39PM

Mississippi's public education system has struggled of late with reforms pushed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R), and at the end of the school year, more than 28% of the state's third graders will likely have to repeat the grade. Some school districts are scrambling to hire more educators in the hopes of giving the kids a boost, but by all accounts, it's an uphill battle.
 
It's against this backdrop that one Republican state lawmaker offered a unique take on investments in education.
A Mississippi state lawmaker is now admitting he opposed putting more money into elementary schools because he came from a town where "all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call 'welfare crazy checks.' They don't work."
 
In an interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Republican state Rep. Gene Alday says he doesn't see the value in increasing funding to improve elementary school reading scores. Alday implied that increasing education funding for children in black families would be an exercise in futility.
According to the Clarion-Ledger piece, Alday, a former mayor of a small Mississippi town and a former police chief, added, "I don't see any schools hurting."
 
As for his views on race, Alday went on to share an anecdote about his trip to a local emergency room. The local newspaper quoted him saying, "I liked to died. I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots."
 
This appears to have caused a bit of a stir in the Magnolia State.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

The Voting Rights Act's precarious future

02/16/15 12:45PM

More than two years have passed since conservative Supreme Court justices undermined the Voting Rights Act, effectively telling members of Congress to overhaul the law in order to save it. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a proposed fix, the "Voting Rights Amendment Act," but far-right House Republicans refused to consider the conservative compromise.
 
Last week, to his credit, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) formally unveiled the same bill to be considered in the new Congress, though proponents seem to realize they face long odds. In theory, the pieces are in place for success -- the VRA's 50th anniversary is coming up, and the Republican majority, which used to support the law, could use some good p.r. on civil rights -- but most of the GOP just won't budge.
 
And with this in mind, consider this unnerving report from Alice Ollstein late last week.
Just weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of the violent clashes in Selma that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, lawmakers introduced a bill to restore that law's power to protect voters against discrimination. Alabama's newly sworn in Secretary of State John Merrill told ThinkProgress at a DC conference on Wednesday that he believes the new law should not cover his state, saying it's time to "forgive people" for past voter suppression and "move on."
 
Civil rights groups and some lawmakers are already sharing concerns that Alabama -- whose racially motivated redistricting case led to the gutting of the law in the first place -- is not covered by the new version of the Voting Rights Act. But Merrill said he agrees with the authors of the bill that his state should not fall under the updated coverage formula.
Alabama's Secretary of State specifically told ThinkProgress, "I say, at some point in time, you've got to forgive people. If they've shown they are responsible and doing things the right way and have an extended period of success, then to me that ought to indicate that the strength is there, the desire is there, and you've got to move on."
 
The problem with the sentiment, no matter how sincere, is all of the recent evidence pointing in the opposite direction.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.16.15

02/16/15 12:03PM

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 Iowa, a new NBC/Marist poll shows a very competitive race for the Republican presidential nomination, with former Gov. Mike Huckabee at 17, former Gov. Jeb Bush at 16%, and Gov. Scott Walker at 15%. No other candidate reaches double digits.
 
* In New Hampshire, the same NBC/Marist poll shows a four-way contest in the GOP presidential primary, with Bush at 18%, Walker at 15%. Sen. Rand Paul at 14%, and Gov. Chris Christie fourth with 13%.
 
* In South Carolina, the same poll showed home-state Sen. Lindsey Graham leading  in the presidential primary with 17%, followed by Bush at 15%, Walker at 12%, and Huckabee and Ben Carson tied for fourth with 10% each.
 
* On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoys one-sided support in all three early nominating states in the NBC/Marist poll.
 
* Digging through the NBC/Marist poll, an interesting Senate tidbit jumped out: if New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) challenges Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) next year, the Democrat would stand a pretty good chance -- she leads by four, 48% to 44%, in a hypothetical match-up.
 
* In honor of Valentine's Day, Rand Paul created a fake Pinterest page to mock Hillary Clinton. The senator apparently thought Benghazi jokes would be funny in this context.
Paul LePage

GOP eyes tax increases on low-income workers

02/16/15 11:20AM

Republicans are not, strictly speaking, a party obsessed with cutting taxes. The caricature is rooted in fact, but it's incomplete -- Republicans are actually a party committed to cutting taxes on the wealthy.
 
This has been an underappreciated aspect of the GOP vision for several years. Indeed, it was part of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" problem a few years ago -- the Republican presidential hopeful complained, among other things, about the millions of families who "pay no income tax." A wide variety of GOP officeholders, candidates, and pundits have made related complains about the poor not having "skin in the game" because their tax burdens simply aren't significant enough.
 
It's against this backdrop that Shaila Dewan reported the other day that some Republican-led states are "considering tax changes that in many cases would have the effect of cutting taxes on the rich and raising them on the poor."
Conservatives are known for hating taxes but particularly hate income taxes, which they say have a greater dampening effect on growth. Of the 10 or so Republican governors who have proposed tax increases, nearly all have called for increases in consumption taxes, which hit the poor and middle class harder than the rich.
 
Favorite targets for the new taxes include gas, e-cigarettes, and goods and services in general.... At the same time, some of those governors -- most notably Mr. LePage, Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina and John R. Kasich of Ohio -- have proposed significant cuts to their state income tax. They say that tax policies that encourage business growth provide more jobs and economic benefits for everyone.
Kansas has already experimented with shifting tax burdens downward -- away from the wealthy and towards those with lower incomes -- and the results have been pretty disastrous.
 
As an economic matter, this GOP approach is discredited nonsense. As a political matter, I'm not sure how Republican politicians are going to be able to sell, "We want to ask less of the wealthy and more from the poor."
President Obama Delivers Statement On Legislation Authorizing Military Force Against ISIS (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Far-right skeptical of Obama's offensive against ISIS

02/16/15 10:40AM

At a right-wing forum last week, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said he feels "duty bound" to authorize the use of force against Islamic State targets, but he's conflicted. The far-right lawmaker argued, out loud, that he fears President Obama may be "working collaboratively with what I would say is the enemy of freedom and individual freedom and liberty and Western civilization and modernity."
 
It sounded an awful lot like the Republican congressman was accusing the war-time Commander in Chief of being some kind of traitor.
 
The Pennsylvania lawmaker added that he wasn't sure how he could vote to give the president the "power to take action" when he knows in his heart "he won't." On the contrary, Perry said. Obama might use his power "to further their cause."
 
A day later, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) argued, "I don't believe that the president really wants to prosecute a war that would truly destroy ISIL, I don't think he has any intention of doing that it."
 
Yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lent credence to these bonkers perspectives.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Sunday that he doubted the administration's "commitment to dealing" with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). [...]
 
Corker said, "I think there is a lot of skepticism about the administration's commitment to dealing with ISIS or Daesh or ISIL or whatever you want to call them."
It's become increasingly difficult to understand which reality congressional Republicans have been living in the last several months.
John Boehner rebukes conservative groups who oppose the pending bipartisan budget compromise, Dec. 12, 2013.

Republicans harden partisan lines over Israel

02/16/15 10:01AM

Just when it seemed the political dispute surrounding the Republican/Netanyahu partnership couldn't get any uglier, the GOP leader who instigated the fight managed to make matters worse.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday defended his decision to invite Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress, despite vocal opposition from the White House.
 
Boehner said he purposefully instructed Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, not to tell the White House about the invitation. "I wanted to make sure there was no interference," he told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."
The context is almost amusing, in a macabre sort of way. The Speaker of the House decided to partner with a foreign government to help undermine the foreign policy of the United States, and he did this in secret because he didn't want "interference" from those responsible for shaping U.S. foreign policy. The follow-up question I desperately wanted Wallace to ask Boehner was, "Do you even hear yourself?"
 
For that matter, Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, added yesterday, "Boehner's remarks contradict the earlier claim by him and his staff that he gave the White House sufficient warning about the Netanyahu invite."
 
Correct. The House Speaker not only went behind the president's back in the hopes of sabotaging American diplomatic efforts, he now also appears to have been caught fibbing about it.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul address attendees during the Republican National Committee spring meeting at the Peabody hotel in Memphis, Tenn., on May 9, 2014. (Photo by William DeShazer/The Commercial Appeal/AP)

Rand Paul vs. the '90s

02/16/15 09:20AM

One could very easily create an entire blog devoted exclusively to chronicling the deeply strange things Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says about the economy. Just last week, the Republican senator repeatedly emphasized his concerns about the Federal Reserve -- ostensibly one of his signature issues - with arguments that can charitably be described as gibberish.
 
Paul soon after followed up that rhetoric with silly conspiracy theories about monetary policy and a bizarre thought experiment about companies creating their own currencies.
 
But while all of that was alarming nonsense from a likely presidential candidate, it was Rand Paul's take on the 1990s that was kind of hilarious.
Rand Paul, speaking yesterday to a conservative group (his remarks were generously provided by Dave Weigel), explained his view on the proper formula for economic prosperity: tax cuts, and plenty of 'em.
 
"When we dramatically lowered tax rates in the '80s, we got an enormous boom in our country, probably for two decades," explained the 2016 presidential candidate. "Many of us believe that the '80s and the '90s, once the boom began, had a lot to do with lowering the tax rates."
Jon Chait labeled this "pure cookery," which is more than fair, though it's important to understand why.
Then-US President George W. Bush is introduced by his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, at a fundraiser in Orlando, Fl. Feb. 17, 2006. (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

Jeb Bush reluctant to 're-litigate' his brother's failures

02/16/15 08:40AM

For Jeb Bush, his family legacy comes with certain advantages and disadvantages. The Florida Republican, for example, was able to parlay his last name into becoming a governor. He's also been able to take full advantage of family connections to advance his ambitions, and he's currently able to raise all kinds of money from some of the same donors who contributed to his brother and father.
 
But there's also a catch. Jeb Bush is the grandson of a senator, and the son and brother of presidents, and that leaves him with an awkward inheritance: he's been able to use the family name to boost his career, but that arguably means some ownership of the unflattering family legacy.
Jeb Bush doesn't want to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started by his brother, former President George W. Bush.
 
Asked at an event Friday about a foreign policy speech he's planning to give next week, the former Florida governor replied, according to Bloomberg News: "I won't talk about the past."
The former governor added, "I'll talk about the future. If I'm in the process of considering the possibility of running, it's not about re-litigating anything in the past."
 
Obviously, this is more than unsatisfying. It's also unacceptable.

Boehner, GOP poised to gut Homeland Security funding

02/16/15 08:00AM

As a result of a truly ridiculous budget scheme congressional Republicans cooked up for themselves, current funding for the Department of Homeland Security will be exhausted literally next week. John Harwood noted yesterday that avoiding a shutdown is a "rock-bottom, de minimis test of GOP governance."
 
It is a test Republicans are poised to fail on purpose.
House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday he's "certainly" willing to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to lapse in less than two weeks.
 
The Ohio Republican called on Senate Democrats to act on funding legislation the House passed earlier this year, indicating that his chamber won't produce an alternative measure.
The beleaguered Speaker's feeble talking point is, "The House has acted. We've done our job." Boehner surely knows his argument is absurd -- the lower chamber passed a right-wing bill that House Republicans knew couldn't pass the Senate and couldn't earn President Obama's signature. In other words, the GOP majority "acted" by passing a bill that everyone knew was doomed to fail.
 
Boehner went on to say the Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate can't fund Homeland Security because of Democrats "are the ones putting us in this precarious position," which really is as pitiful as it sounds.
 
In the immediate aftermath of terrorist violence in Paris last month, the Speaker reassured Americans, saying, "I don't believe that the funding of the [Department of Homeland Security] is in fact at risk." As of yesterday, the hapless Republican leader appears to now believe the exact opposite.
 
Of course, there's still plenty of time for lawmakers to work something out, right? Well, it's a funny story.

Egypt v. ISIS and other headlines

02/16/15 07:58AM

Egypt strikes Islamic State in Libya after video of mass beheadings. (Los Angeles Times)

2 arrested on suspicion of helping Danish gunmen who killed 2 in possible terror attacks in Copenhagen. (AP)

House Speaker Boehner tells why he didn't involve the White House in his invitation to Netanyahu. (AP)

Boehner also blames Senate Democrats for a possible partial government shutdown. (Politico)

Barbara Bush: 'I changed my mind' about Bush dynasty. (Washington Post)

CIA is said to have bought and destroyed old chemical weapons in Iraq. (New York Times)

Hundreds protest shooting death of rock-throwing man at the hands of police. (NBC News)

Utah House votes to resurrect firing squads. (USA Today)

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The cast model for a proposed monument for Satanists for the Oklahoma State Capitol.

This Week in God, 2.14.15

02/14/15 09:17AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Florida, where a local school district was confronted with an awkward dilemma.
 
When we last checked in with the fine folks in Orange County, home to Orlando among other communities, the school board had already agreed to allow an evangelical Christian group to distribute Bibles to school children. The Satanic Temple heard about the arrangement and asked for equal treatment -- they had some Satanic coloring books they wanted to share.
 
If the board members refused, the Satanic Temple would sue and almost certainly win -- the Supreme Court has already said public schools can't discriminate based on religious viewpoints. If the doors were open to an evangelical group to distribute Bibles, then Orange County would seem to have no choice but to open the doors a little wider to accommodate every other religious group.
 
This week, Ian Millhiser explained the school board decided it's time to close the doors altogether.
The school district, in other words, could allow Christians and Satanists alike to distribute literature to students. Or it could exclude both. But it cannot discriminate against the Satanists because it disagrees with the Satanic viewpoint. At a school board meeting Tuesday night, the board decided to go with a version of option B. Under their new policy, some literature may still be distributed, "but nothing that is religious, political or sectarian," according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Every time these kinds of controversies arise, the underlying principle is always the same: when it comes to religion and public affairs, the government can't play favorites. First Amendment principles demand that no American is treated as a second-class citizen.
 
The ideal solution, it would seem, is for public officials to stay out of the religion-promotion business altogether.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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