* Rising death toll: "Four Israeli soldiers and 10 Palestinian militants were killed inside Israeli territory Monday morning, Israeli military officials said.... As diplomatic pressure for a cease-fire mounted on the conflict's 14th day, the Palestinian death toll topped 500 and the number of Israeli soldiers killed hit 25, more than twice as many as in Israel's last Gaza ground operation in 2009. Two Israeli civilians have also died from rocket and mortar fire."
* Ukraine: "After days of obstruction, Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine reached an agreement with Malaysia on Monday to surrender the flight recorder boxes of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner downed by a surface-to-air missile last week, and allowed the bodies of the victims to be evacuated by train."
* UN: "The United Nations Security Council, increasing pressure on Russia over the downing of a jetliner of Ukraine, adopted a resolution Monday calling for investigators to have unfettered access to the crash site and demanding a cease-fire in the area."
* Related news: "Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms, the UN nuclear agency says."
* Good question: "In Ukraine, American and other foreign investigators have thus far been unable to secure the access they need. 'Separatists are removing evidence from the crash site,' Obama said. 'All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?'"
* Giving diplomacy more time: "Iran, the United States and the five other countries negotiating the future of the Iranian nuclear program have agreed to a four-month extension of the talks, giving them more time to try to bridge major differences over whether Tehran will be forced to dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure, according to a statement released early Saturday in Vienna by all seven nations."
* Border crisis: "The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in recent weeks appears to be dropping substantially, the White House said Monday. While an average of 355 unaccompanied children crossed the Rio Grande every day in June, an average of 150 migrant children per day were apprehended crossing the border over the first two weeks of July, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said."
* Gun violence: "An 11-year-old girl in Chicago was shot and killed late last week when a stray bullet flew through a window and struck her in the head during a sleepover at a nearby friend's house.... In addition to [sixth grader Shamiya Adams], 21 other people were shot in a 12-hour span from Friday afternoon to early Saturday morning."
* More on this on tonight's show: "The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Saturday that Arizona must divulge information about the drugs and executioners it will use to put a man to death Wednesday or the execution will not go forward."
It wasn't too long ago that Russia was fairly popular in the minds in the American mainstream. The latest poll from CNN suggests that's changed rather dramatically.
Most Americans say Russia is directly or indirectly responsible for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine, and unfavorable opinions of Russia have surged, according to a new national poll. [...]
According to the poll, just 19% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Russia, down from 41% in February. Fifty-seven percent of the public saw Russia in a positive way in a 2011 CNN/ORC survey. Seventy-eight percent of those questioned say they have an unfavorable opinion of Russia, a surge of 23 percentage points since February.
That's almost impressive, in a way. It takes real effort to go from 41% to 19% favorability in the course of five months.
But what stands out for me is a CNN poll from a few weeks ago that said Congress has a 14% approval rating.
Let's pause to appreciate what this is telling us.
Politico's latest poll focused exclusively on voters in states and districts with the most competitive Senate and House races, and on foreign policy, voters' attitudes lean heavily in one direction.
Amid deepening violence across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Americans are recoiling from direct engagement overseas and oppose U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine by large margins, according to a POLITICO poll of 2014 battleground voters.
Asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, just 17 percent answered in the affirmative.... More than three-quarters of likely voters say they support plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. Only 23 percent oppose the plan.
Forty-four percent of likely voters favor less involvement in Iraq's civil war, versus 19 percent who favor more involvement and 23 percent who say the current level of involvement is appropriate.... Likely voters prefer less involvement in Syria's civil war over more involvement, 42 percent to 15 percent.
The results aren't even close. The public heard quite a bit from Dick Cheney, and John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, and a cavalcade of Republican lawmakers who seem to dominate the airwaves -- but voters are running in the other direction.
Less than a fifth of these "battleground" voters are buying what McCain & Co. are selling. We're looking at an electorate that wants less of a confrontation in Iraq, less of a presence in Afghanistan, less engagement in Iraq, and less involvement in Syria.
And yet, the exact same poll also included this result: "On the issue of foreign policy specifically, voters say they trust Republicans over Democrats by 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent."
Got that? Americans clearly reject the Republican foreign policy on Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Americans also say they're inclined to trust Republicans on foreign policy.
You can almost hear the staffers at the DNC banging their heads against their desks. Americans agree with Democrats on foreign policy, but trust Republicans on foreign policy. If that doesn't seem rational, that's because it isn't.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, after already having passed the Senate, has 206 co-sponsors in the House, including lawmakers from both parties. It's tough to argue against the bill -- under federal law, employers can legally fire employees if they're gay, or even if they think the employees are gay. ENDA would make such discrimination illegal, and with 206 co-sponsors, all that's needed is a floor vote.
But that's not going to happen. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not allow the House to express its will on the legislation, falsely claiming, "People are already protected in the workplace."
A month ago, President Obama got tired of waiting for GOP leaders to allow a vote and directed his staff to craft an executive order to advance ENDA's goals with federal contractors. Today, he made policy by signing it.
Six years after promising to do so, President Barack Obama added his signature on Monday to an executive order barring LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. He also went further and formally amended a separate executive order to include workplace protections for transgender employees of the U.S. government.
"I know I’m a little late,” said Obama, referring to the near-30 minute delay of Monday’s signing ceremony (though some might argue that it was a delay of six years and 30 minutes). “Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day come.”
The Washington Post's report added, "The universe of workers potentially affected by the order is at once wide-reaching and narrow. 'Obama's executive order will apply to the 24,000 companies designated as federal contractors whose 28 million workers make up a fifth of the country's workforce,' writes Jonathan Capeheart. On the other hand, 92 percent of the largest contractors already have some sort of protection for sexual identity, and 58 percent already have protection based on gender identity."
By any measure, this is no small change. It does, however, lead to the Hobby-Lobby-related question: if a private corporation's executives support discrimination for religious reasons, are they exempt from the new Obama administration policy?
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:
* CNN, citing "leading GOP sources," reported yesterday that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson is "promising to help Republicans target a dozen [Senate] seats now held by Democrats, with the ultimate goal of picking up at least six." A net gain of six would give Republicans control of the chamber.
* In New York's gubernatorial race, a new Siena poll suggests Gov. Andrews Cuomo (D) is headed for a landslide victory, leading Republican challenger Rob Astorino, 60% to 23%.
* In Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), who still hasn't given up on his U.S. Senate primary despite having lost, is now pushing for the Republican Party to "purge" anyone who accuses a fellow Republican of racism.
* In Florida, after Gov. Rick Scott (R) questioned climate change, a group of state university scientists offered to give the governor a briefing on the issue in the hopes of changing his mind. Scott initially balked, saying only that he would send aides to meet with the scientists. But after his rival, Charlie Crist, said he'd gladly meet with the group of experts, Scott changed his mind.
* In Wisconsin's 6th congressional district, four Republican candidates participated in a forum last week in advance of their primary, and all four expressed support for impeaching President Obama. They had varied rationales, though one cited the IRS "scandal," which doesn't actually exist.
* Speaking of primaries, don't forget that tomorrow is the Republican runoff primary in Georgia's U.S. Senate race. David Perdue won the first round, but recent polling suggests Rep. Jack Kingston is well positioned to win the nomination.
Kansas, one of the reddest of the nation's red states, elected Republicans policymakers to dominate state government, and in 2012, they got to work slashing taxes. The goal was simple: cutting taxes, GOP officials said, would send Kansas' economy soaring.
The experiment failed miserably. Kansas' job growth has lagged behind neighboring states; it's facing a profound budget shortfall; the promised growth hasn't materialized, and the state's bond rating was downgraded in part due to tax breaks Kansas can't afford.
About 1,200 miles to the West, California offers a very different kind of case study. David Cay Johnston published a fascinating item in the Sacramento Bee over the weekend:
Dire predictions about jobs being destroyed spread across California in 2012 as voters debated whether to enact the sales and, for those near the top of the income ladder, stiff income tax increases in Proposition 30. Million-dollar-plus earners face a 3 percentage-point increase on each additional dollar.
"It hurts small business and kills jobs," warned the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, and Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.
So what happened after voters approved the tax increases, which took effect at the start of 2013?
Well, let's put it this way: Kansas is probably looking longingly at California's numbers.
E.J. Dionne Jr. reflects today on the impact of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the degree to which tragedies "concentrate the mind," or at least should. Of particular interest was E.J.'s point about our domestic debate: "The horror has been widely described as 'a wake-up call.' It's not yet clear if our dysfunctional, foolishly partisan and petty political system will even pick up the phone."
Partisanship -- defined as vigorous, principled disagreement -- has an honored place in democracy. We are in the midst of such a debate over foreign policy in both parties. [...]
That's good. What's not good is the habit of Obama's foes to make every foreign policy crisis about him, whether it is or not.
Agreed. This phenomenon has become a little too common, a little too reflexive, and in response to developments in Ukraine last week, a little too caustic.
In 1984, during the Republican National Convention, Jeane Kirkpatrick delivered a speech that included a catchphrase she repeated five times: "They always blame America first." In reference to Democrats, she went on to condemn the "blame America first crowd."
It was an ugly line of attack, but it caught on and became a favorite of the right, still embraced by prominent Republicans a generation later.
There's no point in casually throwing around such obnoxious attacks on other Americans' patriotism. That said, contemporary Republicans should pause to realize that the more they instinctively blame U.S. leaders for every international crisis, the more they open the door to the very criticism they once reserved for their rivals.
It was just a few years ago that congressional Republicans, for the first time in American history, pushed the nation to the brink of default, holding the debt ceiling hostage and threatening to crash the economy on purpose unless President Obama met their demands. GOP leaders said the self-imposed crisis was absolutely necessary: the deficit was dangerously large, they said, so they felt compelled to prioritize deficit-reduction measures, by any means necessary.
It was a weird time. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), taken seriously by much of the Beltway, ran around arguing that Obama had created a "debt crisis." GOP lawmakers routinely hit the Sunday shows, pointing to the deficit and crying that the president was turning the United States into Greece. Mitt Romney hit the campaign trail with a campaign-made "giant, green, glowing debt clock," in order to focus voters on "the most pressing issue right now."
It really wasn't that long ago. And yet, here we are now, with Al Kamen asking a good question: "So whatever happened to the deficit?"
So what happened? Simple answer, of course, is that the deficit is way down and, for now, no longer a big problem.
This week's Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate for the fiscal 2014 deficit is $492 billion, or 2.8 percent of gross domestic product, which is pretty much where it was back in the early part of the Bush II administration -- though it's expected to rise sharply in coming years.
Asked for comment, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO director and top economic policy adviser to the McCain/Palin campaign, told Kamen, "Collectively, Washington has done essentially nothing, unless you count stopping making it worse."
After the public learned last week that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 had been shot down, killing all 298 people on board, it wasn't long before an obvious comparison came to mind: in September 1983, a Russian fighter jet shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007. The attack left 269 passengers and crew dead, 62 of whom were American, including a member of Congress.
Olivia Kittel noted that for many Republicans, President Obama should not only follow Ronald Reagan's example from 31 years ago, but also that Obama is already falling short of the Reagan example.
In the wake of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner crash, Fox News has rushed to conveniently rewrite history to disparage President Obama by drawing false comparisons to former President Ronald Reagan's response to a 1983 attack on a Korean airliner.
After Fox News said Obama wasn't Reagan-esque enough, plenty of other conservatives soon followed.
Let's take a brief stroll down memory lane in case some have forgotten what actually happened in 1983.
After the Soviet pilot killed 269 people on a civilian airliner, Reagan's aides didn't bother to wake him up to tell him what happened. When the president was eventually briefed on developments, Reagan, who was on vacation in California at the time, announced he did not intend to cut his trip short. (Reagan's aides later convinced him to return to the White House.)
Last week, Obama delivered a public address on the Malaysia Airlines plane about 24 hours after it was shot down, calling the incident an "outrage of unspeakable proportions." Reagan also delivered stern words, but in contrast, he waited four days to deliver public remarks.
The debate over raising the minimum wage is generally pretty straightforward: proponents, mainly on the left, argue that raising the minimum would help alleviate poverty and boost buying power, which in turn helps the broader economy. Opponents, mainly on the right, argue that higher wages discourages hiring and stunts growth.
It's led to a spirited dispute, but the resolution of the argument can be nearly as straightforward if we consider the evidence.
New data show that the 13 states that raised the minimum wage this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.
State-by-state hiring data released Friday by the Labor Department reveal that in the 13 states that boosted minimum wages at the beginning of this year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January to June. The average in the other 37 states was 0.61 percent, the Associated Press reports.
President Obama and congressional Democrats have fought consistently for a higher minimum wage, but have been unable to overcome opposition from congressional Republicans. But as we've discussed many times, GOP-imposed gridlock on Capitol Hill hasn't meant an end to the debate; it's simply shifted the debate to state capitols.
With this in mind, a variety of states, mostly under Democratic control, have approved wage increases, well beyond the floor set by federal law. In each instance, there were critics on the right in those states insisting that if their state passed a higher minimum wage, it would put their state at a competitive disadvantage. The result, conservatives argued, would mean weaker local economies.
Except, now we know they were wrong. States that raised their minimum wage have added more jobs than states that didn't.
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry concluded his appearance with a big-picture assessment: "[T]he American people ought to be proud of what this president has done in terms of peaceful, diplomatic engagement, rather than quick trigger deploying troops, starting or engaging in a war of choice. I think the president's on the right track -- and I think we have the facts to prove it."
Soon after, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appeared on the same program and called Kerry's perspective "ridiculous and delusional." The Republican senator added, "It scares me that he believes the world is in such good shape."
There's a lot of this going around. Many U.S. observers look at the world -- war in Ukraine, deadly violence in Israel, deteriorating conditions in Central America forcing unattended children north, civil war in Syria -- and see a planet unraveling. The turmoil, they insist, is not only terrifying, but also unlike anything Americans have seen in recent memory.
Indeed, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said last week that there's "greater turmoil" in the world now than at any time "in my lifetime." McCain's lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War.
There's no denying that the tumult is scary, and for those affected and confronted with bloodshed first hand, heartbreaking. That said, for those arguing that the entire world is unraveling before our eyes, some context is in order. This exchange on ABC yesterday between George Stephanopoulos and The New Republic's Julia Ioffe rang true:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Julia Ioffe, I was struck by a piece you wrote this week, where you said it was somewhat egotistical, I think it was our word, for us to focus on how great the turmoil is in the world right now. We have to put it in context.
IOFFE: That's right. You know, I talked to a bunch of historians. Every generation has this moment that they believe that they're the ones able to identify a moment of great change and great turmoil that is unique and different and worse than all other moments of turmoil and change that came before. I mean, just look at what happened in 2001, you had the second intifada in Israel-Palestine, you had the September 11 attacks, had the invasion of Afghanistan, that was a pretty bad year, too. And we're still alive. We're still here. We're still kicking.
First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of our nation's capital, where the prospect for a new museum is raising eyebrows.
Currently, the National Mall and its surrounding area offer a wide variety of history museums, science museums, and art museums. Is it time for a Bible museum? Hobby Lobby's corporate owners apparently believe it is.
The evangelical Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby, the chain of craft stores, made history two weeks ago when the Supreme Court overturned the Obama administration's mandate that family-owned companies must provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.
Now, the family is looking to build a permanent presence on the Washington landscape, by establishing a sprawling museum dedicated to the Bible -- just two blocks south of the National Mall.
It's a reminder of the Oklahoma-based Green family's broad ambitions. What started as a national arts-and-crafts chain has now ventured into legal and educational efforts, which includes school curricula and now a possible D.C. museum.
Some of the details of the museum plan are murky, but Hobby Lobby president Steve Green reflected last year on the ostensible goal, telling an audience last year, "This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it. If we don't know it, our future is going to be very scary."
The reported target date for opening the Bible museum is 2017. As the New York Times' report added, the Green family's Museum of the Bible nonprofit organization bought a 400,000-square-foot space for the facility in 2012 for $50 million.