Rachel Maddow reports on the thousands of miles of pipeline in North Dakota and very few people whose job it is to inspect them, and follows up on earlier reporting to look into why open inspector positions aren't being filled. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a massive plume of toxic orange smoke rising into the sky in northwest Spain, the result of an accidental explosion at a chemical plant, and a reminder of the danger of industrial hazards. watch
Oregon State Senator Diane Rosenbaum talks with Rachel Maddow about the strange series of events that have seized the office of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in scandal, and prompted his political friends to call for his resignation. watch
* A step in the right direction: "World leaders announced on Thursday a cease-fire to the violence in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 5,000 lives and forced hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes. The truce, set to kick in midnight on Saturday."
* On the other hand: "[W]hile the agreement may succeed in establishing a cease-fire by mid-February, it is likely to leave Russia and the separatists it supports holding the upper hand in eastern Ukraine for months, if not longer."
* Confirmed: "The Senate on Thursday easily approved President Barack Obama's pick to head the Pentagon, confirming the fourth secretary of defense in six years. In a 93 to 5 vote, the Senate approved Ashton Carter to head the Department of Defense to help lead the U.S. response to Islamic extremists, Russian-back militants in Ukraine, and an end to the war in Afghanistan."
* An overdue law: "President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act Thursday that will provide $22 million to help boost programs that look to reduce the veteran suicide rate that has climbed to 22 veterans each day."
* More on this in the morning: "The same federal judge who last month struck down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban has ordered a probate judge to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples."
* Afghanistan: "That night the Afghans and Americans got their man, Abu Bara al-Kuwaiti. They also came away with what officials from both countries say was an even bigger prize: a laptop computer and files detailing Qaeda operations on both sides of the border."
* An important speech: "In a rare move by a top Justice Department official, F.B.I. Director James Comey on Thursday addressed the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and many African Americans, acknowledging 'hard truths' about the current state of race relations and policing."
If Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D is forced to resign from office, which seems increasingly likely, Oregon has no lieutenant governor and it would be up to Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) to serve out the remainder of the governor's term.
It was of great interest, then, when Kitzhaber asked Brown on Tuesday to return to Oregon from D.C., where she was attending a conference. The Secretary of State told The Oregonian this morning that the governor urged her to return "as soon as possible," which seemed to at least raise the possibility of the governor's resignation. Brown explained:
"I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.
"This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation."
That assessment seems more than fair under the circumstances. Local reports indicate that the embattled Democratic governor, re-elected a few months ago to an unprecedented fourth term, "decided to resign Tuesday but then changed his mind."
As of this afternoon, it seems the governor may not have much of a choice about his future. Just a few hours ago, the state Senate president and House Majority Leader -- both Democrats -- met with Kitzhaber and "told him it was time to resign."
Around the same time, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler also called on the governor to step down, describing the current situation as "untenable."
Every major presidential candidate, at least in modern times, has come to expect a thorough review of their background. It just comes with the territory, and while occasionally unpleasant, it's arguably a valuable part of the process.
And if part of a candidate's background is particularly unusual, it stands to reason that this will be of particular interest to political reporters looking for something interesting to say about candidates. For example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn't have a college degree, a detail noted in an interesting Washington Post report yesterday.
I get the sense the right is feeling a bit defensive about this, for reasons that seem wholly unnecessary. RedState, for example, had this item last night (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the heads-up):
I fully understand and even approve of the need to vet candidates who are running for the highest office in the land, or any office for that matter. The public needs to know the character of the person who will represent their will. But, the media chose not to do that for Barack Obama, and they are maliciously slinging mud against a man who hasn't officially announced it yet. The bias is plain as day and, sadly, it's unsurprising.
I honestly have no idea what this is supposed to mean. For one thing, Obama's life was under the microscope for two years in the 2008 campaign and we learned about his background in granular detail. If he didn't graduate from college, I imagine the Washington Post would have done a piece about that, too.
For another, noting that a top-tier Republican presidential hopeful didn't graduate is hardly evidence of "malicious mud-slinging." Indeed, read the Post piece -- it doesn't mock the governor's lack of a degree so much as it tells readers about the fact that Walker went to Marquette for a few years before dropping out.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a message to supporters yesterday, warning of a real threat to Social Security. By any fair measure, she's right.
"We've known for years that Social Security Disability Insurance is set to run low in 2016, and most people assumed that another bipartisan reallocation was coming," the senator wrote. "But now, thanks to the Republican ideological war on our most important national safety net, disabled Americans could suddenly face a 20% cut in their Social Security checks next year."
Let's recap for those just joining us. The Social Security system provides disability payments to Americans who want to work but can't for health reasons. For generations, when the disability-insurance program runs short on funds, Congress transfers money from elsewhere in the Social Security system to prevent benefit cuts. The solution, sometimes called "reallocation," has never been especially controversial -- in fact, it's been done 11 times over the last seven decades.
But last month, congressional Republicans adopted a rule change that makes it almost impossible to approve the usual, straightforward fix. GOP lawmakers seem to want to create the conditions for a crisis.
Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner for the Social Security Administration, urged senators to act first to avert the crisis at hand and then begin serious negotiations on finding a longer-term solution. She said the threatened cut in disability payments -- about 19 percent -- would be a "death sentence" for many of the poorest recipients, but time and again, she refused to opine on more concrete options going forward.
When Colvin read aloud the president's six principles for future reforms, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was scornful. "That's a set of principles that makes sure we do absolutely nothing meaningful," Graham said. "If that's the president's plan, we'll never get there."
And by "meaningful," it appears Graham and other Senate Republicans are waiting for the White House to propose cuts to Social Security. (Ironically, President Obama was open to modest Social Security cuts as part of a grand bargain with GOP lawmakers, but Republicans have refused to consider any possible concessions and effectively ruled out the possibility of a compromise.)
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:
* The Democratic National Committee announced this morning that Philadelphia will host the party's national convention next year. Philly beat out the other two finalists, Brooklyn and Columbus, Ohio. The convention begins on July 25, 2016.
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a stir yesterday, refusing to say whether he believes in evolution when asked at a forum in London. Responding to the flap, the far-right governor said on Twitter, "Both science & my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith & science are compatible, & go hand in hand." That's still not an answer to the question.
* On a related note, it's worth emphasizing that during Walker's trip to England, a trip intended to bolster his standing on foreign affairs, the Wisconsin governor refused to discuss foreign affairs.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich's (R) name has already been part of the 2016 presidential conversation, but the Republican governor raised the volume on the chatter yesterday by announcing a trip to South Carolina next week. South Carolina, of course, is one of the early nominating states.
* The National Republican Congressional Committee will host a big fundraising dinner next month, headlined by former Vice President Dick Cheney. By some accounts, Cheney was apparently the NRCC's second choice -- Mitt Romney was invited to deliver the event's keynote, but he turned the party down.
* The "signature cause" of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) presidential campaign will be his opposition to Common Core education standards. Jindal, you'll recall, spent several years supporting Common Core until he learned the GOP base hated it.
One of my favorite Dick Morris stories comes from September 2011, when he wrote a column for The Hill about the Affordable Care Act. The Republican strategist noted that a recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that "the economy lost 30,000 healthcare jobs" the previous month, which Morris said was proof that the health care industry "is traumatized and terrified by the impact of ObamaCare."
There was just one problem: the economy had added 30,000 health care jobs the previous month. Morris was confused and read the report wrong, basing an entire column on a statistic that was the opposite of reality. (The Hill never ran a correction.)
This came to mind the other day looking at the remarkable recent growth in health care jobs.
If there was a direct impact of the ACA on the labor force, you'd expect to see it in the health care space. Health care's always gaining jobs, but the sector just had its best month in history: 51,200 jobs in November 2014, a new record by 12%.
You can see the effect by diving into the sector, too. Hospitals, for example, lost jobs in 2013. But in 2014, hospitals bounced back, adding about 36,000 jobs. That makes sense — if any sector was going to reap the benefits of coverage expansion, with more insured patients, it would be hospitals.
All told, over the last 12 months, America's health care sector has added 342,000 jobs in the past 12 months -- the best totals for the sector in nearly a decade.
So much for the argument that the health care industry has been "traumatized and terrified by the impact of ObamaCare."
All of this, of course, is being felt at the state and local level, at least in those areas that have implemented the ACA effectively. The Santa Fe New Mexican published this report the other day:
Writing at the American Conservative late last week, Rod Dreher reflected a bit on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) national ambitions. "I keep telling my friends in the national media that if you think Bobby Jindal has a chance in hell of becoming president, send a reporter down to spend a few days in Louisiana, seeing what condition he's leaving his state in," Dreher said.
With this in mind, the far-right governor couldn't have been pleased with this headline from the Associated Press yesterday: "Jindal to leave Louisiana's next governor with budget mess."
Year after year, Louisiana didn't have enough money to cover its expenses, yet Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to roll back income tax cuts or ever-increasing corporate tax breaks. Instead, he raided reserve funds and sold off state property.
Jindal suggested job growth from his economic development wins would replenish those assets once the recession ended. It hasn't -- and money from the lucrative oil industry has taken a nose dive with crude prices. Now, the Republican is running out of short-term patches and is struggling to plug a $1.6 billion budget hole just as he tries to build support for a possible 2016 presidential run.
Funding for higher education and health care services will almost certainly be subject to cuts deeper than what they already have endured in recent years, and Jindal's successor will have to repay a string of debts and IOUs.
Just in case this wasn't quite brutal enough, note that when Jindal became governor seven years ago, he inherited a healthy, $900 million budget surplus from his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
In other words, Jindal, in Bush-like fashion, quickly transformed a good situation into a bad one by imposing a failed conservative economic agenda, leaving a big mess for his successor to clean up.
Six months after President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East, Congress hasn't done any actual work on the subject. On the contrary, there's been an ongoing rhetorical tug of war between the White House and lawmakers as to who should write a resolution authorizing the mission that began in August.
President Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for new war powers to go after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the brutal terror group that has beheaded American journalists and aid workers and has menaced the Middle East. The president's request would replace the 2002 legislation that authorized the Iraq War but leaves in place a very broadly worded resolution passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"This is a difficult mission, and it will remain difficult for some time," Obama said at the White House, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry. But "ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose," Obama added, using an alternative acronym for the terror group.
In terms of the substance of the proposal, Rachel's segment last night is well worth your time, and pay particular attention to the detail about Obama putting an expiration date on the resolution -- something that didn't happen in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Some other worthwhile analyses are available from Bruce Ackerman and Greg Sargent.
But in terms of the politics of the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force), the president's language was notwellreceived on Capitol Hill -- many Democrats said the resolution, as written, is too broad and includes too few restrictions, while most Republicans said it's too narrow and includes too many restrictions. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), demonstrating his trademark wit, called the proposed language "utterly stupid."
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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