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Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Arvada, Colo. (Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP)

Controversy over history curriculum goes national

09/26/14 10:59AM

In mid-August, it seemed as if the controversy popped up out of the blue. Members of the Republican National Committee gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting, but instead of the expected election-year efforts, RNC members voted to condemn Advanced Placement U.S. History classes for presenting a "consistently negative view of American history."
 
By way of an example, the RNC said the AP curriculum portrays early U.S. colonists as "oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country." Republicans said they want the classes to put a more deliberately patriotic spin on history.
 
As culture-war issues go, this one was barely on anyone's radar, though Right Wing Watch explained that the RNC's interest wasn't a fluke: activists in the religious right movement, most notably groups like the Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, have been steadily pushing the issue for a while.
 
It seems the Republican National Committee's interest had its intended purpose: the story went national. GOP lawmakers in Tennessee immediately took a keen interest in AP history classes, and soon after, Republicans in Texas followed suit. Conservative media piled on, with National Review calling AP history "an attempt to hijack the teaching of U.S. history on behalf of a leftist political and ideological perspective."
 
This week, it's contributed to an especially contentious fight in Colorado.
A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that "encourage or condone civil disorder." In response, hundreds of students, teachers and parents gave the board their own lesson in civil disobedience.
 
On Tuesday, hundreds of students from high schools across the Jefferson County school district, the second largest in Colorado, streamed out of school and along busy thoroughfares, waving signs and championing the value of learning about the fractious and tumultuous chapters of American history.
The dispute in Colorado is multi-faceted, but as the New York Times' report noted, the ongoing controversy stems from a proposed review committee that would be tasked with -- you guessed it -- "evaluating Advanced Placement United States history."
In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Va. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S....

Voter-ID laws continue to wreak havoc

09/26/14 09:57AM

For supporters of voting rights, the traditional knock on voter-ID laws is that they're intended to solve a problem that doesn't exist. Republican policymakers who insist on creating this new hurdle, forcing voters to show identification they never needed before to cast a ballot, argue that the laws are necessary to prevent "voter fraud," which largely exists in their imagination.
 
But these barriers to the ballot box aren't just a solution in search of a problem; they're also a policy creating a problem. The Washington Post, for example, reported overnight on a potential voting crisis in the commonwealth of Virginia.
About 450,000 voters in Virginia may lack the proper identification needed to cast a ballot in the November midterm elections, the Virginia State Board of Elections said Thursday.
 
Under a state law that took effect this year, Virginia voters must present a driver's license or some other form of photo identification at their polling stations before they cast a vote.
According to the report, 457,931 Virginia voters don't have a driver's license. Under the Republican-imposed law, there are acceptable alternatives that will allow a Virginian to cast a ballot -- a U.S. passport, a photo ID issued by the federal government, etc. -- but no one seems to have any idea how many of the 457,931 people have one of these other forms of identification. [Important update: The Washington Post now says the correct number is 457,931 voters who don't have driver's licenses, but "about 200,000 voters" lack the other kinds of ID alternatives.]
 
If they try to vote anyway, Virginia will allow them to fill out of a provisional ballot, which may or may not be counted later.
 
And if this problem were just affecting Virginia, it'd still be awful. But as recent news from across the country makes clear, voter-ID laws are wreaking havoc elsewhere, too.

Economic growth improves to eight-year high

09/26/14 09:08AM

When economic growth in the first quarter of 2014 looked awful, it was widely seen as a fluke and all projections pointed to a big improvement in the second quarter.
 
Those projections were correct. The preliminary figures on second-quarter GDP looked good; the revised tally looked better; and the final report looks even better still.
The U.S. economy grew at a 4.6% annual pace in the second quarter, matching the best performance since the recession ended in mid-2009. The increase in real gross domestic product was revised up from 4.2%, mainly because of higher exports and business investment, the Commerce Department said Friday. Americans also spent more on health care, but the gain was offset by lower spending on other services.
 
Economists polled by MarketWatch had predicted GDP would be revised up to a seasonally adjusted 4.7%. Consumer spending, the main source of economic activity, was unchanged at 2.5% growth. The biggest gains came in business investment, a good sign for the economy in the months ahead.
To provide some additional context, 4.6% growth is tied for the best quarter since the start of the Great Recession. The last time we saw GDP growth stronger than this was the first quarter of 2006 -- more than eight years ago, long before the start of the downturn and the 2008 crash.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Tom Cotton and the era of post-truth politics

09/26/14 08:38AM

A couple of years ago, Mitt Romney developed a bad habit. As part of his national campaign, the Republican nominee would attack President Obama over some perceived failing. Then the attack would be fact-checked and be proven wrong. Romney, confronted with proof that he was lying, would repeat the claim anyway, convinced that it didn't matter whether he told the truth or not. It happened over and over and over again.
 
It underscored a dangerous development: the era of post-truth politics.
 
Two years later, the phenomenon hasn't gone away. In Arkansas last week, Rep. Tom Cotton (R), his party's U.S. Senate nominee, was caught in one of the most brazen lies of the 2014 campaign season. The right-wing congressman claimed he voted against this year's Farm Bill because President Obama "hijacked" it, "turned it into a food-stamp bill," and added "billions more in spending."
 
As a factual matter, literally none of this is even remotely true, and fact-checkers came down hard on such shameless dishonesty -- all of which might matter if Cotton gave a darn. But as Peter Urban reported yesterday, the congressman just doesn't care about getting caught.
Rejecting criticism of its latest TV ad, Republican Senate hopeful Tom Cotton plans to keep running the "Farm Bill" message beyond its current ad buy.
 
"We've gotten such great feedback from farmers, taxpayers, and supporters that we're actually going to increase the size of the ad buy," said David Ray, a spokesman for the Cotton campaign.
In a local interview this week, Cotton said he's "proud" of his demonstrably dishonest commercial, adding that the fact-checkers didn't spend time "growing up on a farm," so he knows "a little bill more about farming than they do."
 
As defenses go, Cotton's argument is gibberish. One need not grow up on a farm to recognize the basic tenets of reality. The congressman told a lie, he knew it was a lie, he got caught telling a lie, and instead of doing the honorable thing, Cotton has decided he likes this lie.
A General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon jet belonging to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force performs during the Dubai Airshow on Nov. 18, 2013, in Dubai. (Photo by Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty)

U.A.E. pilot helps make history over Syrian skies

09/26/14 08:00AM

When U.S. military forces began targeting Islamic State terrorists in Syria this week, they were not entirely alone. As Obama administration officials have been eager to note, five Arab partner nations -- Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- "participated in or supported" the airstrikes,
 
The role of the U.A.E. has been of particular interest because of Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri. As Ishaan Tharoor reported yesterday, she's "the first female fighter pilot in the history of the United Arab Emirates," and this week, she helped lead her country's "bombing raids over Syria."
 
And while this is certainly a great story worthy of the international attention it's received, let's pause to note the discussion about al-Mansouri on Fox News on Tuesday.
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: Hey, ISIS, you were bombed by a woman. Oh, yes, hell came down on ISIS in Syria, because guess what? The first female pilot, piloting for the UAE -- there she was, leading the strikes -- dropped the bombs on ISIS on Monday night. This is really incredible. [...]
 
GREG GUTFELD: The problem is, she just bombed it. She couldn't park it.
 
GUILFOYLE: Now, did you really have to ruin my moment?
 
GUTFELD: I salute her.
 
ERIC BOLLING: Would that be considered boobs on the ground or no?
For those unfamiliar with Bolling, I should probably mention that he's actually a grown man, not a prepubescent child trying to be funny.
 
Laura Clawson added, "Wow, guys. Way to prove that no woman is ever immune to the particular sexism of the 12-year-old boy. A woman serving as a fighter pilot bombing the people you want bombed and you're still aiming not one but two different kinds of crude sexism at her."
 
But if we look past the Fox hosts' cheap and ugly rhetoric, the story of Mariam al-Mansouri is quite inspiring.

Great Debate and other headlines

09/26/14 07:57AM

Right now: British parliament is debating whether to join U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS. (BBC)

Ferguson Police Chief's attempt to meet with crowd results in arrests. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Obama mulls replacements for Holder. (Time)

DoD policy will allow some undocumented immigrants to serve in the military. (Military Times)

450,000 in Virginia may lack proper I.D. to vote. (Washington Post)

Byron York: Romney 2016 is for real. (Washington Examiner)

Walmart's play for the unbanked. (The New Yorker)

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President Truman reviews the District of Columbia military police, 1946.

A Salute to the Enduring Terribleness of Politifact/Punditfact

09/25/14 07:43PM

Yesterday, I got a note from the folks at Punditfact, an outgrowth of a thing called “Politifact,” which markets itself as a civic-minded fact-checking operation, but it’s not.  Fact-checking is a crucially important part of civic discourse and therefore citizenship, so I've long felt that it's a real shanda that the outfit that markets itself so aggressively as the brand-name provider of fact-checking, is in fact not doing that at all.  We need good fact-checking in this country, but we do not need these guys.  As the outfit persists, and indeed metastasizes, I worry that they’re giving a bad name to the whole otherwise-noble enterprise of checking facts.

In their note yesterday, the folks at Punditfact let me know that they wanted to fact-check a claim from my book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, because it had been cited (by a blogger) in a discussion about President Obama saluting with a coffee cup in his hand the other day. 

The relevant portion of the book is from this bit (from pp. 36-37) about the Reagan presidency:

“Consequently, White House military aides saw a lot of the president, which perhaps bred a certain amount of familiarity, which could be why one aide, John Kline, wondered aloud if maybe Ronald Reagan was doing something out of line.  Kline noticed that his boss was saluting members of the armed forces.  Soldiers were supposed to salute their president; the president was not supposed to salute the soldiers. No modern president, not even old General Eisenhower, had saluted military personnel. It might even be, well, sort of, improper. Reagan seemed disappointed at the news. Kline suggested he talk to the commandant of the United States Marine Corps and get his advice, and the commandant’s advice ran something like this: You’re the goddamn President. You can salute whoever you goddamn well please. So Ronald Reagan continued saluting his soldiers, and he encouraged his own vice president and successor, George H. W. Bush, to do the same. And every president since has followed.”

So, this is about Reagan starting a new White House tradition of regularly saluting military personnel, something no president had done before. Reagan wrote about making the change in his memoirs. Punditfact even published a portion of a speech in which Reagan talked about his deliberate decision to change that tradition, to become the first president to start saluting military personnel as a matter of course.

So, what I wrote is true. Punditfact found it to be true. They published an amusing presidential speechmaking anecdote that not only shows that it’s true, but makes you feel all warm-hearted about its being true.  And then gave their rating:  “Mostly False”.  Ta-daa!

Usually, I ignore these guys.  Yesterday, I made the mistake of responding to their letter, which I regret. Don’t feed the trolls.  They included a line from my response to them in their rating, which I realize now may create the impression that I participated in this enterprise as if it was a real thing.  It’s not a real thing: it’s Politifact.  It’s terrible.

But in the interest of trying to spread the gospel of their terribleness, I thought I should share the whole note that I actually sent them, not just the bit they quoted:

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Ahead on the 9/25/14 Maddow show

09/25/14 07:41PM

Tonight's show:

  • Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • Kasie Hunt, MSNBC Political Correspondent 

Check out a preview of tonight's show after the jump.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.25.14

09/25/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Iraq: "A prominent female Iraqi human rights lawyer and campaigner has been publicly executed days after posting anti-ISIS messages on her Facebook page, the U.N. said Thursday. Samira Salih al-Nuaimi was killed by a masked firing squad in a public square in the city of Mosul, an act described as 'horrifying' by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights."
 
* More ISIS: "FBI Director James Comey said Thursday he believes the bureau knows the identity of the masked executioner in ISIS propaganda videos. He declined to say who it is or where the man is from.... He also said the FBI is working hard to identify two people in ISIS videos who appear to have American or Canadian accents."
 
* Terror threat: "A wide range of U.S. intelligence sources told NBC News that there is no evidence of any current threat against the subways, after Iraq's prime minister told reporters that ISIS is plotting an imminent attack."
 
* Ebola: 'Seeking to speed the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, President Obama delivered a blunt warning on Thursday at a high-level United Nations meeting devoted to the health crisis: the world was doing too little and moving too slowly."
 
* A welcome tone: "The runner-up in Afghanistan's bitterly disputed presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, struck a conciliatory note toward President-elect Ashraf Ghani in a speech on Thursday in which he confirmed that he would join the government as its chief executive officer."
 
* Yemen: "The US State Department on Thursday ordered some of its diplomats and other government workers at the US embassy in Yemen to leave the country because of deteriorating security amid unrest and sectarian clashes that have left Shia rebels in control of the capital."
 
* This took a while: "Police Chief Thomas Jackson apologized to the family of Michael Brown and to protesters in a video released today. In the video released by a public relations firm representing the city of Ferguson, Jackson apologized directly to Brown's family and to protesters who felt the police mishandled the protests that followed the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson."
 
* Good move: "President Obama will use his legal authority Thursday to create the world's largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, demonstrating his increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda without the need for congressional approval."
 
* Progress: "Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that for the first time since 1980, the federal inmate population has fallen, rather than risen. At the end of the 2014 fiscal year next week, the federal prison population will show a drop to about 215, 000 inmates -- about 4,800 fewer than a year ago. The attorney general called the change a major breakthrough for advocates who have sought to shorten strict sentences for non-violent offenders."
 
* More progress: "Enough young Latinos got health insurance under new Obamacare provisions to lower the uninsured rate by 20 points, researchers reported Thursday. Last year, 43 percent of Latinos aged 19 to 34 went without health insurance; by spring of this year that number fell to 23 percent, the Commonwealth Fund found."
Jeb Bush speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, May 12, 2014, in New York.

The challenge of being Jeb Bush

09/25/14 05:01PM

Like plenty of other possible 2016 aspirants, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is doing lots of traveling, sharing ideas, kicking around possible planks in a platform, making campaign appearances with candidates who might need a hand, and picking up chits for later use.
 
With this in mind, it seemed entirely normal to see Bush in North Carolina this week, campaigning alongside Republican Thom Tillis, who's taking on incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D). Except, as Jonathan Martin reported from Greensboro, the former governor is quickly discovering that hitting the campaign trail is easier said than done.
In one of his first public appearances of the 2014 campaign, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida had a vivid preview Wednesday of the challenges he would face with his party's conservative base should he seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
 
Standing alongside Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker and Republican Senate candidate, Mr. Bush outlined his views on two of the issues he cares most passionately about: immigration policy and education standards. But as Mr. Bush made the case for an immigration overhaul and the Common Core standards, Mr. Tillis gently put distance between himself and his guest of honor, who had flown here from Florida on a dreary day to offer his endorsement in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate.
Keep in mind, Bush hasn't served in public office in nearly eight years, and his party, which was pretty far to the right during his tenure, is even further to the right -- and more attuned to breaks with ideological orthodoxy -- now.
 
For that matter, Bush ran two fairly easy, primary-free statewide campaigns in Florida in 1998 and 2002; he worked with Republican majorities in the state legislature that took good care of him; and he's the son and brother of former presidents. Bush probably isn't accustomed to having to worry about Republicans distancing themselves from him and his agenda while he tries to help get them elected.
 
And yet, Thom Tillis has made opposition to "amnesty" and Common Core key elements of his campaign ... which is the opposite of what Jeb Bush believes ... which made it problematic when Bush talked about how great immigration reform and education standards are during his appearance with Thom Tillis.

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