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E.g., 8/28/2014

Ahead on the 8/26/14 Maddow show

08/26/14 08:15PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Senator Tim Kaine, Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Hannah Rappleye, Investigative Unit reporter, NBC News

And here's Cory Gnazzo with a look at what's coming up:

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.26.14

08/26/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Cease fire: "Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday reached a long-term cease-fire after seven weeks of fighting, according to officials on both sides, halting the longest, bloodiest battle either side has experienced in years -- but without resolving many of the bigger issues underlying the conflict."
 
* Well, this complicates things: "Ukraine said Tuesday its forces detained a group of Russian paratroopers who crossed the border into eastern Ukraine, and the U.S. ambassador to Kiev warned of a possible "Russian-directed counteroffensive" by pro-Moscow separatists, raising tensions between the two countries as their presidents attended a regional summit."
 
* ISIS: "President Obama on Tuesday vowed to address the threat posed by the 'barbaric terrorists' of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as the administration weighs the possibility of expanding U.S. airstrikes to target militants operating in Syria. Airstrikes are already taking place in Iraq."
 
* Syria: "The battle in itself seemed tragically normal. Two Syrian opposition groups fought and there were heavy casualties on both sides. Then victorious rebels rifled through the pockets of the dead. One contained about $800 in cash -- and an American passport. Douglas McAuthur McCain, of San Diego, California, was killed over the weekend fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), according to the Free Syrian Army."
 
* On a related note: "President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a precursor to potential airstrikes there, but a mounting concern for the White House is how to target the Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar al-Assad."
 
* Congress has some work to do: "The Obama administration must get congressional approval before carrying out airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Tuesday. 'We should certainly authorize this,' Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on MSNBC."
 
* A lot of the early reporting on this turned out to be wrong: "Investigators found no conclusive proof that delays in medical care caused patient deaths at the Phoenix VA Health Care System."
 
* Climate: "Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of 'severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts' over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report."
 
* Ebola: "That makes five. The first was Guinea. Then, three days later on March 27, the World Health Organization reported that there were 'suspected' cases of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Months passed before the disease, which has now killed 1,427 people across West Africa, reached Nigeria in early August. Now it's the Democratic Republic of Congo."
 
* On a related note, much of this isn't rational: "According to a Harvard School of Public Health/SSRS poll, 68 percent of the US population believes Ebola spreads 'easily.' Four in 10 are worried there will be a large outbreak in the United States. And a quarter of Americans are afraid the virus will infect them or someone in their families."

Speaker Boehner, monkeying around

08/26/14 04:46PM

If you heard jokes this morning about House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) releasing a video of himself with a toy monkey, it's worth noting that those jokes were true.
 
In one of the more unexpected things to come out of Boehner's office in a long while, the Speaker's official blog posted an item of a toy monkey that's apparently become something of an unofficial mascot.
It all started in the fall of 2011, when Speaker Boehner joked in an interview that some days he felt like a windup toy because his jam-packed scheduled kept him so busy. So, as a light-hearted token of appreciation (and a less-than-subtle reminder to not use that metaphor again), Speaker Boehner's staff brought the monkey to the U.S. Capitol.
 
The Speaker got the joke, and as seen in the video above, the monkey has been eavesdropping and photobombing from the comfort and convenience of his home on the Speaker's coffee table ever since.
In the video, the Speaker says to the camera, "My staff gave it to me.... Every 15 to 30 minutes, they come in and wind me up and I do my thing."
 
The video also shows Boehner telling some children in his office, pointing to the monkey that mindlessly bangs cymbals together over and over again, "That's what I do all day." In a voice-over, the Speaker adds, apparently in reference to the toy, "This is me."
 
For what it's worth, I'm not inclined to criticize lighthearted videos like these. Everyone has their diversions -- Speaker Boehner has a toy monkey in his office; I have Monty Python figures in mine -- so there's no judgment here.
 
But watching the video, a couple of things occurred to me.
The Internal Revenue Service building, Washington DC.  
(Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

The latest IRS 'shocker' isn't very shocking

08/26/14 03:43PM

Remember the IRS "scandal"? It ran out of steam quite a while ago when literally every allegation fell apart, but it appears that some conservatives continue to hold out hope.
 
A far-right group called Judicial Watch, which continues to pursue the discredited controversy, touted the "discovery" yesterday of computer backups that may uncover missing emails from Lois Lerner. The New York Observer ran an "IRS Shocker" headline, and soon after, all the major far-right blogs had run with the story, as had Fox, Breitbart, Glenn Beck's The Blaze, et al.
 
I received some emails from conservative readers convinced that this time, after over a year of false starts, the story really will gain traction. There may be, the new argument goes, some heretofore unmentioned back-up tapes of government emails that may have IRS messages, which may include Lerner emails, which may have damning evidence.
 
[A]n administration official with knowledge of Friday's conversation said Judicial Watch's statement, which runs counter to months of statements from a variety of administration and IRS higher-ups, was off-base. The administration official said Justice Department lawyers had dropped no bombshells last week, and Judicial Watch was mischaracterizing what the government had said.
Kevin Drum's summary rings true.
[B]ackup tapes are routinely recycled and written over, but it's possible that some of the tapes weren't entirely written over. There's a chance that old emails might still be at the tail end of some of the tapes and could be recovered. And who knows: maybe some of them were Lerner's. This is, as you can imagine, (a) the longest of long shots, and (b) a pretty difficult forensic recovery job even if some parts of the backup tapes contain old messages. It's certainly not a jaw-dropping revelation.
And just to add to this line of thought, there's nothing to suggest Lois Lerner's emails are all that interesting anyway.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

The 'libertarian moment' may need to wait a bit longer

08/26/14 12:40PM

Robert Draper recently generated some interesting discussion in the political world, asking, "Has the 'Libertarian Moment' finally arrived?" There's fresh evidence that the answer is, "Probably not."
 
The Pew Research Center's Jocelyn Kiley published a report yesterday that found while many Americans don't really know what "libertarian" means, the more striking detail is that Americans who self-identify as libertarian don't have views that differ much from the rest of the public.
Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues. [...]
 
In some cases, the political views of self-described libertarians differ modestly from those of the general public; in others there are no differences at all.
As Ed Kilgore noted, the Pew Research Center's report focused on the views of actual libertarians -- those who self-identify as adherents and know what the term means -- which meant stripping away some Americans who think they're libertarians but aren't. (Some respondents apparently confused the word with "Unitarian," which struck me as kind of hilarious.)
 
Regardless, the results were unexpected. Nearly four-in-ten libertarians see government aid to the poor as worthwhile. A slightly higher percentage believe government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest. A slightly higher percentage still agree that "it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs."
 
In some cases, self-identified libertarians are less in line with libertarian principles than the public at large, which suggests we're looking at a political movement with a coherence problem.
 
It reminded me of a recent quote from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), arguably the highest-profile member of the GOP's libertarian wing.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.26.14

08/26/14 12:00PM

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:
 
* It's Primary Day in Arizona, Florida, and Vermont, in addition to Oklahoma, which is hosting primary runoffs today. None of the races have a national profile, though as Rachel noted on the show last night, the Republican primary in Arizona's 1st congressional district features an interesting cast of characters.
 
* The Republican Governors Association appears increasingly concerned about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) re-election effort, as evidenced by the new RGA attack ad targeting Paul Davis (D). The commercial accuses the Democratic candidate of supporting higher taxes. (Kansas' state finances have been a disaster in recent years thanks to Brownback's tax cuts.)
 
* In Massachusetts, a new Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll shows a closer-than-expected Democratic gubernatorial primary, with Martha Coakley's lead over Steve Grossman slipping to 12 points, 42% to 30%. Most recent polling has shown Coakley with a much larger advantage.
 
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invested heavily to help Thom Tillis win a Republican primary, but Tillis has nevertheless announced his opposition to the Export-Import Bank -- a top Chamber priority.
 
* In Georgia, Senate hopeful David Perdue (R) reflected yesterday on his state's 7.8% unemployment rate, far higher than the national average. "I agree with whoever said ... don't worry about that unemployment number," Perdue said. The Senate hopeful used to say the opposite when going after President Obama.
 
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, Joni Ernst (R) has endorsed eliminating the federal Direct Loan program for college students. It's the basis for a new offensive launched by Rep. Bruce Braley (D), Ernst's Democratic opponent.
 
* In Virginia's U.S. Senate race, the NRA is throwing support to Ed Gillespie (R), whose campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Warner (D) has struggled. No one's sure whether the NRA's backing will help Gillespie or hurt him.
Image: Former U.S. senator Scott Brown speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas in this file photo

Scott Brown pulls off a rare climate reversal

08/26/14 11:19AM

Running for re-election in Massachusetts two years ago, then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was eager to highlight issues on which he disagreed with his party. Asked in 2012 whether he believes in global warming, for example, Brown said in a debate, "Yes, yes I do. I absolutely believe that climate change is real and I believe there's a combination between man-made and natural."
 
Now, however, Brown is running in a new state, New Hampshire, where he's adopted a new position.
During a GOP primary debate on Saturday, Brown was asked if he believed that "the theory of man-made climate change has been scientifically proven." The former Massachusetts senator, who hopes to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), responded, "Uh, no." [...]
 
NextGen Climate, a group backed by billionaire financier and climate activist Tom Steyer working to elect Democrats, said Brown "can't make up his mind about what he believes" on climate change, immigration, health care or women's rights. "New Hampshire voters see Scott Brown for what he is: someone more interested in his own political career than in the issues that matter to Granite State voters," said Pete Kavanaugh, the New Hampshire director for NextGen.
The criticism is well grounded, though what strikes me as the most significant angle is the direction of Brown's reversal.
 
There are, to be sure, plenty of climate deniers, especially in contemporary Republican politics. There are also plenty of climate skeptics who grudgingly came to terms with reality in the face of overwhelming evidence.
 
But the universe of people who considered the evidence, accepted reality, and then changed their minds after the fact is quite small. In fact, I can't think of any other politician in Congress or on the national stage who started with the contention that climate change is absolutely real, but who then later added, "On second thought, maybe I'm not convinced after all."
 
To this extent, Scott Brown isn't just wrong, he's wrong in a special kind of way.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

McCain walks away from his immigration bill (again)

08/26/14 10:55AM

When it comes to immigration reform, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has taken a rather unique journey.
In George W. Bush's second term as president, McCain helped champion a comprehensive immigration reform bill, working with Democrats on a bipartisan package that enjoyed the support of the Republican White House. In January 2008, however, McCain abandoned his effort as a presidential candidate, declaring publicly that he would vote against his own bill.
 
Six months later, McCain changed his mind again, saying the reform bill he wrote, but then opposed, would be his "top priority" if elected president. At that point, however, the Republican senator wasn't especially credible on the issue.
 
In 2013, McCain returned to where he started, working on a bipartisan, comprehensive reform package, comparable to the one he'd helped champion in 2007. Yesterday, however, the Arizona senator once again backed away from his own handiwork. Sahil Kapur reported:
"We need to assure the American people that the border is secure. People in Arizona are so cynical about the promises that have been made about a secure border," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on KPNX 12 News' "Sunday Square Off."
 
He called for "90 percent effective control" before any other reforms are made to the immigration system. That's what many opponents of a comprehensive overhaul have said throughout the debate since last year, but it's a nonstarter for Democrats and Latino advocates, who are key stakeholders in the debate.
 
"I think it's going to have to [come first]," McCain said of border security.... Asked if his new position changes the discussion, McCain said, "To a certain degree."
If this seems vaguely familiar, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also recently distanced himself from the same, bipartisan legislation. That said, Rubio has a more obvious excuse -- he, unlike McCain, is gearing up for a national race and has a far-right base to pander to -- and the Florida Republican hasn't changed his mind quite as often as McCain.
 
Regardless, any way you slice this, McCain's new-and-not-improved position is a complete mess.
A Burger King sign and a Tim Hortons sign are displayed in Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

Burger King draws flame-broiled criticism

08/26/14 10:17AM

It's not every day that a U.S. senator questions the patriotism of a fast-food chain, but yesterday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) went after Burger King with a vengeance.
 
"Burger King's decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders," the Ohio Democrat said in a statement. "Burger King has always said 'Have it Your Way'; well my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven't abandoned their country or customers."
 
What's the cause behind Brown's ire? This is.
Burger King confirmed Tuesday that it struck a deal to buy Canadian coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons for about $11 billion. [...]
 
The deal, which has been approved by both company's boards, could help give Burger King a stronger foothold in the coffee and breakfast market to challenge McDonald's and Starbucks. Burger King and Tim Hortons said the chains will continue to be run independently and that Burger King will still operate out of Miami.
For those unfamiliar with Tim Hortons, it's Canada's largest fast-food chain, though it has international locations.
 
At face value, these kinds of deals are not uncommon -- big chains buy smaller chains all the time. But what makes this politically controversial is the fact that Burger King made the move in the hopes of reducing its tax bill. The idea, as Danny Vinik explained, is the latest high-profile example of tax inversion in which the U.S. fast-food giant would "switch its official tax jurisdiction" to Canada, which has a lower corporate tax rate.
State Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters at a primary election night rally, June 3, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowa's Ernst sees federal minimum-wage law as 'ridiculous'

08/26/14 09:46AM

Just last week, National Journal ran a piece noting that some Republican officials have started to "worry" about Joni Ernst, their party's U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa. Her record of extremist positions and far-right comments "could sink Ernst's campaign," the piece noted.
 
Take the minimum wage, for example.
 
Ernst raised eyebrows last week when the very conservative state senator said a $7.25 minimum wage is "a great starter wage for many high school students." Ernst was apparently unaware of the fact that most Americans who work for the minimum wage are adults.
 
Yesterday, Ernst went further, arguing the federal minimum should be $0 and states should set their own.
 "The minimum wage is a safety net. For the federal government to set the minimum wage for all 50 states is ridiculous," Ernst said Monday.
 
"The standard of living in Iowa is different than it is in New York or California or Texas. One size does not fit all," she said.
Ernst may not realize this, but the minimum wage varies by state. The federal government establishes a floor which states may not drop below, but Congress does not "set the minimum wage for all 50 states."
 
Iowa may not have raised its minimum above $7.25, but plenty of other states have. Washington established one minimum standard, but states with higher living costs are welcome to raise their minimum wage to whatever they want.
 
It's not clear what part of this Ernst considers "ridiculous."
Former New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allan Weh seen here campaigning for governor of New Mexico in 2010 is the New Mexico Republican nominee for Senate to run against Democratic Sen. Tom Udall in 2014.

Lines of decency that shouldn't be crossed

08/26/14 09:02AM

In modern campaigning, it's tempting to think "anything goes" when creating attack ads, but I still hope fair-minded people will agree that some messages simply go too far.
The masked man who beheaded journalist James Foley appears in a web video created in support of New Mexico Republican Senate candidate Allen Weh.
 
The ad, released by the New Mexico Republican Party, is a combination of clips of President Barack Obama golfing and smiling paired with violence. The video also features Weh's opponent, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).
In the minute-long video, Foley's murderer is shown for a few seconds. Foley himself is not seen in the clip.
 
The video ends by telling viewers that "to change Washington, you must change your senator."
 
It's probably worth emphasizing that Allen Weh, a figure in the Bush/Cheney U.S. Attorney purge scandal, is generally considered a long-shot candidate. Facing tough odds, maybe Weh and his team decided a provocative message would shake up the race and boost his name recognition.
 
But there is such a thing as bad publicity.
 
Let's say you're a candidate for a major public office. And then let's say you come across ISIS's propaganda video in which terrorists murder an innocent American. If your first thought is, "Excerpts from that terrorist propaganda video would look great in a campaign clip," maybe a career in public service isn't for you.
Former White House adviser Karl Rove in Oklahoma City, May 17, 2010.

When Rove's Crossroads moves sharply to the left

08/26/14 08:39AM

Last week, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS operation launched a curious attack in Arkansas, accusing incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) of being too conservative. This week, as Greg Sargent reported yesterday, Rove's group is at it again, this time in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.
Now Rove's Crossroads is back with another ad that does pretty much the same thing, this one hitting Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina over Social Security's retirement age. The spot, which is backed by more than $1 million, says Hagan is a "big believer" in a "controversial plan" that "raises the retirement age," while the words "raises Social Security retirement age" flash on the screen. It also claims the plan Hagan supports "increases out-of-pocket Medicare costs."
 
Yes, it appears Rove's Crossroads is attacking Hagan for saying nice things about the Simpson Bowles debt reduction plan, which squeezes seniors by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.
In reality, Hagan really did say, "I am a big believer in what Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson did on their fiscal commission." In context, the senator appears to have supported the commission's goals, more so than its specific recommendations, but it's not as if Crossroads simply made up the attack out of whole cloth.
 
But that doesn't make it any less strange -- Rove's attack operation has basically positioned itself  in this case as aggressive liberals.
 
The Simpson/Bowles commission fell apart when its Republican members decided the chairmen's deficit-reduction plan was simply too liberal (actual liberals disagreed). Soon after, however, Republicans -- and much of the political media -- excoriated President Obama and congressional Democrats for largely ignoring the plan Simpson and Bowles came up with.
 
I realize this doesn't make rational sense, but the debate about deficit reduction rarely does.
 
As time progressed, a sort of Beltway litmus test emerged: Democrats who were sympathetic to Simpson/Bowles were necessarily considered "serious" by David Brooks and Sunday-show bookers. Hagan, no doubt eager to demonstrate her bona fides as a red-state centrist, offered the bipartisan commission some rhetorical support.
 
And for her trouble, along comes Karl Rove's group, accusing her of ... not being liberal enough.

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