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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.28.15

07/28/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* More on this on tonight's show: "Convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard will be released from prison on Nov. 21 under an order issued Tuesday by the U.S. Parole Commission. The only U.S. citizen ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for an American ally, Pollard will be freed after serving 30 years of a life sentence for passing U.S. intelligence secrets to Israel."
* An important pickup for agreement proponents: "Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member now in Congress, said Tuesday he would support the Iran nuclear accord, lending a hefty voice of approval in a chamber deeply skeptical of the deal."
* Related news: "Seven former U.S. diplomats and State Department officials sent a letter Monday to leaders in Congress urging them to support the nuclear deal with Iran.... Former ambassadors to Israel -- James Cunningham, William Harrop, Daniel Kurtzer, Thomas Pickering and Edward Walker Jr. -- signed the letter."
* Scouts evolve: "Facing declining membership, legal threats, and -- likely, above all -- 'rapid changes in society,' the top policy-making body of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) on Monday voted 45-12 to formally end its longstanding blanket ban on openly gay adult leaders."
* Hacked: "Planned Parenthood, already a target of an anti-abortion group alleging illegal activity and congressional Republicans bent on defunding it, has confirmed that hackers have attempted to breach its systems." [Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood.]
* Avoiding an infrastructure shutdown: "Senate leaders said Tuesday they would take up legislation the House plans to move this week that would extend funding for the nation's highways, bridges and roads for another three months. "
* Good for Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.): "A bill to eliminate the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba will be introduced Tuesday by an unlikely member of Congress: a Republican in the House of Representatives."
(Photo by Carlos Barria/Pool/AP)

More information leads to more support for Iran deal

07/28/15 04:46PM

Before the international nuclear agreement with Iran was announced, U.S. polls consistently found the same results: Americans approved of the process. Despite skepticism about Iran, the U.S. mainstream repeatedly said it supported the Obama administration's efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
But now that an agreement has been reached and announced, polling data isn't quite as consistent. The Washington Post/ABC poll found that most Americans support the deal, while CNN found that most Americans don't support it. Public Policy Polling and Pew Research also released results pointing to contradictory public attitudes.
So, what do people really think? And why do the polls suddenly point in unhelpful directions?
Part of the issue here is that most Americans don't follow these issues closely, so gauging public opinion can get a little tricky. How pollsters word the question -- how much information Americans are given by the poll itself -- makes a big difference. Note, for example, how PPP presented the issue:
"The US and other countries have reached an agreement to place limits on Iran's nuclear program in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. In exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Iran would receive gradual relief from US and international economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor Iran's facilities and if Iran was caught breaking the agreement, the current economic sanctions would be imposed again. Would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program?"
That's a pretty fair summary for someone who doesn't know much about the debate, and PPP found that a 54% majority either "strongly" or "somewhat" supports the agreement.
Other pollsters, however, provide respondents with little or no information. A Vox report concluded, based on the four most recent national polls, "the more information the pollster provided, the more likely the respondents were to support the deal."
That's probably a good sign for the merits of the agreement.
Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif., March 27, 2014. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

'Obamacare' thrives in nation's largest blue state

07/28/15 03:26PM

Many U.S. consumers have no doubt seen reports about the Affordable Care Act and predictions of significant increases in premiums in the very near future. Those worried about the projections should take note of the latest developments in California. The L.A. Times reported:
Defying dire predictions about health insurance rate shock across the country, California's Obamacare exchange negotiated a 4% average rate increase for the second year in a row.
The modest increase for 2016, announced Monday, may be welcome news for many of the 1.3 million Californians who buy individual policies through the state marketplace, known as Covered California.
California's rates are a key barometer of how the Affordable Care Act is working nationwide, and the state's performance is sure to be hotly debated among supporters and foes of the healthcare law, including the current crop of presidential candidates.
In case it's not obvious, a 4% average rate increase is tiny, and a small fraction of recent reports pointing to skyrocketing premiums. It's also much smaller than the kind of rate hikes that were common before "Obamacare" was signed into law.
What's more, as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum reported, with subsidy values also climbing a bit, and the even-more-modest increases in silver plans through the ACA, a lot of consumers are about to see their premiums shrink, not grow.
"I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News," Kevin added.
That's a good line, but let's not brush past the underlying point too quickly.
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 twists and turns of Missouri's gubernatorial race

07/28/15 12:51PM

Earlier this year, the Missouri's open gubernatorial race took a tragic turn when state Auditor Tom Schweich (R) committed suicide. Soon after, state Sen. Mike Parson (R), who had vowed to skip the race, threw his hat into the ring, only to recently drop out again.
In the meantime, one of the five Republicans still in the race, state Sen. Bob Dixon, is claiming to be a former gay person. TPM reported yesterday:
Dixon, who is now married to a woman and had three children with her, revealed in 1991 that he had identified as gay for five years until a "religious experience" led him to be straight again, according to a 1992 report from the Springfield News-Leader, which was resurfaced last week by the Riverfront Times. [...]
In 1991, Dixon told attendees at a Springfield, Mo., city council meeting about his time as a gay man, but did not elaborate on his "religious experience," which he said happened in October 1988, according to the News-Leader.
Dixon is now running on a statewide platform that includes opposition to marriage equality.
Missouri's Springfield News-Leader reported late yesterday that Dixon says he was abused as a child, "and this abuse led to the confusion he felt about his sexuality," leading him to identify as gay for five years.
In a statement, the Republican lawmaker added, "I have put the childhood abuse, and the teenage confusion behind me. What others intended for harm has resulted in untold good. I have overcome, and will not allow evil to win."

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.28.15

07/28/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In New Hampshire, a new Monmouth poll shows Donald Trump with a surprisingly large advantage in the Republican presidential primary, leading Jeb Bush by a two-to-one margin, 24% to 12%. No other candidate reaches double digits, though Scott Walker and John Kasich are tied for third with 7% each.
* Asked about Mike Huckabee's offensive Holocaust rhetoric yesterday, Jeb Bush positioned himself as the grown-up in the GOP field. "The use of that kind of language is just wrong," he told reporters. "This is not the way we're going to win elections and that's not how we're going to solve problems. So, unfortunate remark -- not quite sure why he felt compelled to say it."
* Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker will be in Southern California this week, presenting themselves "to the Koch brothers and hundreds of other wealthy conservatives planning to spend close to $1 billion in the run-up to the 2016 election." Carly Fiorina will also be there, and while Rand Paul was invited, his attendance appears unlikely.
* Who'll be eligible to participate in next week's GOP debate? NBC's First Read team believes John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki will fail to make the cut.
* In Florida, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows two wide-open Senate primaries. On the Democratic side, Alan Grayson has a small lead over Patrick Murphy, 33% to 32%, though "undecided" leads them both. On the Republican side, David Jolly appears to have the early edge, though he only has 16% support in the crowded GOP field.
* In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) has an unfortunate habit of giving "plum state positions, including judgeships," to his friends from high school.
Republican Mike Huckabee speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, in this Jan. 24, 2015 file photo. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Huckabee ignores critics after Holocaust uproar

07/28/15 11:35AM

Mike Huckabee's repulsive comments on nuclear diplomacy and the Holocaust were tough to defend, but the far-right Republican candidate told NBC's Matt Lauer  that "Jewish people" liked what he had to say, so there's no real problem here.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says if he was president, he would use the same language when referring to potential deals with Iran -- and that the response from Jewish people to his controversial comments has been "overwhelmingly positive."
"We need to use strong words when people make strong threats against an entire group of people as the Iranians have made toward the Jews," the former Arkansas governor said Tuesday in an interview with Matt Lauer.
Huckabee added, "The response from Jewish people have been overwhelming positive."
Remember, the GOP candidate said President Obama, by working with our allies and partners on an agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, would "take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven."
I really have to hand it to the GOP -- only Republicans could argue that President Obama is both Hitler and Chamberlain at the same time.
Faced with bipartisan criticism yesterday, Huckabee refused to apologize. I'm curious, though, whether he's seen the criticism from Israel. USA Today reported:
In this July 14, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Walker puts EPA in the crosshairs

07/28/15 11:05AM

Republican hostility for the Environmental Protection Agency isn't exactly new, but it was nevertheless striking to see a leading Republican presidential candidate explain his plans yesterday to effectively eliminate most of the EPA's responsibilities.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) talked to the conservative Washington Examiner yesterday, and began by talking generally about shifting powers from the federal to the state level on "everything from Medicaid to transportation, workforce development, environmental protection, education." The Republican presidential hopeful then got more specific:
"All 50 states have the equivalent of an Environmental Protection Agency. In my state, it's called the Department of Natural Resources. Other states have different names, but again, I'd shift that power and that money out of Washington and basically just leave in place an umbrella organization that really is limited to mediating interstate conflicts over, say, where a body of water or a piece of land goes through multiple states.
"Other than that, I'd leave those requirements and those responsibilities to the state government, where the people making those decisions have to live with them. And I think that's part of the balance."
Asked if he'd consider eliminating the environmental agency altogether, the Wisconsin governor added he would "essentially take their responsibilities and send them back to the states."
If there was a "dispute" between states -- your neighboring state allows toxic chemicals to be dumped in rivers, for example, but those rivers reach your state -- the EPA in a Walker administration would be able to mediate, if it chooses to.
This probably won't get as much attention as Donald Trump calling Mexican immigrant "rapists," but Walker's vision is every bit as radical. As the AP report on this added:
US President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa on July 28, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Obama says he 'could win' a theoretical third term

07/28/15 10:26AM

It's surprisingly common to hear two-term U.S. presidents, mid-way through their seventh year, start to talk openly about their desire for a third term. Eisenhower did it, as did Reagan and Clinton.
So perhaps it shouldn't have come as too big a surprise to see President Obama, speaking this morning to the African Union, reflect on his willingness to serve.
"I am in my second term. It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to serve as the president of the United States. I cannot imagine a greater honor or a more interesting job. I love my work, but under our Constitution, I cannot run again. I can't run again.
"I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't. So there's a lot that I'd like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law, and no one person is above the law, not even the president."
The context, of course, is important. Obama wasn't signaling his disappointment with the 25th Amendment, so much as he was rebuking those African leaders who refuse to relinquish power, regardless of their country's laws or popular will. Listening to the president's speech, there is no doubt Obama's remarks were directed at those presidents who should transfer power to a lawful successor, but who choose not to.
Keep this in mind when you get an all-caps email from your uncle who watches Fox all day, demanding to know whether the White House is going to suspend American elections so Obama can stay in office indefinitely.
But before we move on, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol whined this morning that it's "embarrassing" to hear "an American president saying this while abroad." Bill, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.
Image: 114881043

Would the ADA pass today?

07/28/15 09:34AM

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) was on Capitol Hill yesterday for a bipartisan event celebrating this week's 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law, which has done so much to improve the lives of millions of Americans, is "the sort of big bipartisan triumph of yore that now seems unimaginable," the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted this morning.
This truth did not elude Dole, the 92-year-old war hero now bound to a wheelchair, who's occasionally candid about his disappointment in today's radicalized Republican Party. Referring to the dozens of congressional Republicans who simply refuse to compromise, Dole said yesterday, "I don't know what they are."
But it's against this backdrop that The New Republic's Brian Beutler considered whether the Americans with Disabilities Act would pass in Congress "if it were introduced as new legislation today."
In general, and whether it's true or not, Republicans tend to oppose federal regulation on the grounds that regulation imposes heavy burdens on businesses. In 1990, opponents to the ADA, such as they were, made precisely this argument. And they weren't wrong! Requiring places of business to accommodate disabled people is an obviously worthy undertaking, but it isn't necessarily a cheap or easy thing to do.
It's not that the burdensome-to-business objection is a red herring exactly, but the ADA shows that once upon a time not too long ago, Republicans in Congress were happy to override that objection if they viewed the underlying regulatory goals as particularly worthy. 
Well said. The arguments against the ADA were rooted in fact -- requiring businesses to spend money accommodating the needs of people with disabilities is expensive -- but a quarter of a century ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed that it was a burden worth imposing on the private sector.
In contemporary politics, for purely ideological reasons, GOP lawmakers tend to think any government-imposed burden on business is offensive, if not literally unconstitutional. It's the difference between a center-right party in 1990 and a radicalized party in 2015.
Indeed, the evidence is hard to deny. Consider what happened in 2012.
This photo taken March 22, 2013, shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington.

House Republicans pretend IRS 'scandal' still exists

07/28/15 08:45AM

It's been about two years since Republicans and much of the Beltway media thought it had finally uncovered a real White House "scandal." According to the narrative, the Obama administration used the Internal Revenue Service to "target" conservatives, which represented an outrageous abuse of power.
For about a week, it looked like a serious, proper controversy, worthy of outrage. Soon after, however, the whole thing collapsed -- the tax agency scrutinized liberal, conservative, and non-ideological groups, effectively ending the story. Every allegation, including conspiracy theories about White House involvement, evaporated into nothing. For two years, GOP lawmakers looked for evidence of wrongdoing, and for two years they found no proof to bolster their apoplexy.
It came as a bit of a surprise, then, to see 21 House Republicans hold a press conference late yesterday, trying anew to breathe life into a discredited story. The Washington Post reported:
Twenty-one House Republicans on Monday called for the firing of IRS Commissioner John A. Koskinen after they said he failed to cooperate with their inquiry into the targeting of conservative groups by tax investigators.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee made those charges in a 29-page letter to President Obama that follows two years of wrangling with IRS officials over documents and testimony related to the targeting allegations.
At the press conference, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), burdened by a few real and unfortunate scandals of his own, actually argued that the IRS controversy "surpasses Watergate." He didn't appear to be kidding.
Just so we're clear, these House Republicans still haven't uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn't accuse Koskinen of having any role in "targeting" anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn't done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.
Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a "scandal" that never really existed in the first place.
There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen's job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It's been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they're arguably overdue.

State faces showdown over church, state

07/28/15 08:00AM

It's been about a month since the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a state-sponsored Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds violates the state Constitution. As regular readers know, it wasn't a close call -- the justices ruled 7-2 that the six-foot-high, stone Christian display is at odds with the law that requires state government to be neutral on matters of religion.
The state Attorney General's office responded by filing an appeal ... to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. If that sounds odd, there's a good reason -- Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt effectively told the justices, "I know you just ruled on this, but I want you to take another look at it."
As the Oklahoman reported late yesterday, this didn't turn out well for state officials.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected a last ditch attempt by the state to keep a Ten Commandments monument next to the Oklahoma Capitol.
Monday, the court turned down a request from the state to reconsider its June 30 ruling calling for removal of the 6-foot granite statue. This sets the stage for it to be taken down within a few weeks, said Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, which filed the lawsuit.
So far, so good. Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution says public funds or property can't be used to benefit or support any "sect, church, denomination, or system of religion," either directly or indirectly. There's no real wiggle room here. Republican lawmakers have threatened to impeach the justices upholding the state Constitution, but the state Supreme Court saw no reason to back down.
The tricky part is what happens next, because it's not altogether clear officials are prepared to follow the law.
Sanders, Trump defy conventional wisdom

Sanders, Trump campaigns defy conventional wisdom

07/27/15 11:03PM

Rachel Maddow note that the Beltway conventional wisdom about the campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both turned out to be wrong, with neither turning out to be a flash in the pan, and Trump apparently bound by no rules of gaffe. watch

Busted ship delays Shell's Arctic drilling

Busted ship delays Shell's Arctic drilling

07/27/15 09:59PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the icebreaker support ship that is part of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling operation having to return to Oregon for hull repairs, and the activists who hope to help delay the mission as long as possible. watch


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