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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.29.15

04/29/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Baltimore: "Out of the 209 people who were arrested in Baltimore during the immediate hours after violence erupted in the city on Monday afternoon, 111 remain in jail without having been charged."
* A surprising win for campaign-finance limits: "The US Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that states can prevent judicial election candidates from soliciting campaign contributions." Rick Hasen explains just how big a deal this is.
* Nigeria: "Nigerian defense authorities say that 200 girls and 93 women have been rescued from Boko Haram captors in the country's Sambisa Forest.... It's not yet clear whether any of the Chibok captives were among those rescued during the operation that was just announced."
* This has not yet been confirmed by NBC News, but if true, it's a pretty big deal: "David Wildstein, a former ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is set to plead guilty this week, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, suggesting he may be cooperating with prosecutors probing traffic jams he ordered near the George Washington Bridge."
* Taking the climate crisis seriously: "California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Wednesday directing the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, the toughest proposed cuts of any state in the nation."
* It's almost as if vaccinations are effective in eradicating dangerous diseases: "Rubella, a disease with terrible consequences for unborn children, has finally been eliminated from the Americas, a scientific panel set up by global health authorities announced on Wednesday."
* On this, I hope McCain succeeds: "Sen. John McCain is planning to shift the CIA's secretive drone program to the Defense Department through the National Defense Authorization Act, setting the stage for a fight later this year with Senate Intelligence leaders and making him an unlikely ally of President Barack Obama."
The gurney used to restrain prisoners during the lethal injection process is shown in the execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo by Pat Sullivan/AP)

'Suppose we said we're going to burn you at the stake...'

04/29/15 04:54PM

With the justices hearing oral arguments yesterday on marriage equality, much of the attention surrounding the Supreme Court this week has been on Obergefell v. Hodges. But there's another case, argued this morning, that's worth watching for a very different reason.
The state of Oklahoma has experimented with a three-drug cocktail when killing its prisoners, sometimes with horrific consequences.
All of which set the stage for an important Supreme Court case. Amanda Sakuma reported this afternoon:
Supreme Court justices sparred along ideological lines during oral arguments Wednesday as they openly questioned a knotty hypothetical: If certain lethal injections feel like "being burned alive from the inside," then what standards of drug cocktails must be met -- if any -- to ensure that death row inmates don't suffer cruel and unusual punishment when being put to death?
After a series of botched executions in the last year brought increased scrutiny to how the U.S. carries out capital punishment, the Supreme Court on Wednesday heard a challenge to a potential source of the problem: a sedative called midazolam, the first in a three-drug cocktail used in several executions that went horribly awry. The challenge, brought by three convicted killers in Oklahoma, argues that midazolam does not effectively guarantee that an inmate is unconscious for the remainder of the execution. Attorneys for the prisoners say this creates a substantial risk of causing severe pain to the point of violating the Eighth Amendment.
Justice Elena Kagan, noting that one of the chemicals amounted to "being burned alive from the inside," posed a hypothetical to the state's lawyer: "Suppose we said we're going to burn you at the stake, but before we do, we give you an anesthetic with unknown effects."
Well, sure, when you put it that way, it almost sounds like cruel and unusual treatment.

Economic growth struggles in first quarter

04/29/15 03:40PM

Going into this morning, the expectation was that U.S. economic growth in the first quarter -- January through March -- would be quite weak. Those projections were largely correct.
U.S. economic growth braked more sharply than expected in the first quarter as harsh weather dampened consumer spending and energy companies struggling with low prices slashed spending, but there are signs activity is picking up.
Gross domestic product expanded at an only 0.2 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.... A strong dollar and a now-resolved labor dispute at normally busy West Coast ports also slammed growth, the government said.
This is, of course, a preliminary tally, which will be revised twice over the next two months, though few seem to think a major upward revision is likely.
That said, that's not the only caveat that matters. Anemic economic growth is never a good sign, but reports like these don't cause too much anxiety because the relevant details aren't quite as discouraging as the top-line number.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers the keynote address at the 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University in New York

Clinton eyes the end of 'the era of mass incarceration'

04/29/15 12:46PM

We've grown quite accustomed to thinking about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, but the truth is she's only been an official candidate for about two weeks. In that time, the Democrat has begun to sketch out some policy goals and priorities, but the former Secretary of State hasn't spoken to the media much and she hadn't given any major speeches on any subject.
That changed today, when the Democratic frontrunner tackled one of the nation's most pressing challenges. Alex Seitz-Wald reported this morning on Clinton's remarks at a policy forum at Columbia University, where she "made it clear that criminal justice reform will be a priority of her campaign."
Clinton began by addressing the violence in the streets of Baltimore this week following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died from injuries sustained while in police custody. The "violence has to stop," she said, but Clinton also acknowledged that it came in response to legitimate grievances.
Ticking off the names of African Americans who have been killed by police in the past year, Clinton said the "patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable."
And citing statistics illuminating the disproportionate policing burden borne by black men, she said something is "profoundly wrong" with our criminal justice system. "Everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law," she continued.
Noting a familiar statistic -- the United States has nearly 25% of the world's prison population, but only 5% of the world's overall population -- Clinton said this morning, "It's time to change our approach. It's time to end the era of mass incarceration. We don't want to create another incarceration generation."

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.29.15

04/29/15 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:
* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will reportedly launch a Democratic presidential campaign tomorrow, becoming Hillary Clinton's first official primary rival. More on this tomorrow.
* In Iowa, PPP shows Scott Walker as the early frontrunner in the Republican presidential caucuses, leading the field with 23% support. Marco Rubio is second with 23%, followed by 12% for Jeb Bush. Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul are the only other candidates to reach double digits, with each garnering 10% support.
* Speaking of the Wisconsin governor, Walker's spokesperson said yesterday journalists are not invited to join him on his trip to Israel next month. "Gov. Walker's trip to Israel will be a listening tour," AshLee Strong said.
* Chris Christie was asked this week about his deteriorating standing in public-opinion polls in his home state of New Jersey. Rather than accepting any responsibility at all for his troubles, the Republican governor said it's news organizations' fault: "If you're going to have relentlessly negative coverage from the media, it's going to affect your poll numbers."
* Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee attendance a campaign issue in 2014: "Republican Sen. Marco Rubio missed a closed Intelligence briefing in January to attend a New York City fundraiser, according to records."
* Jeb Bush traveled to, of all places, Puerto Rico yesterday, in an apparent attempt to "reconnect with the Hispanic voters who have overwhelmingly rejected his party in the past two presidential elections." Puerto Rico's presidential primary isn't until March 13, 2016.

GOP presidential hopefuls rally behind Norquist pledge

04/29/15 11:19AM

Several years ago, Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform came up with a clever tactic that came to be known as "the pledge." Republican candidates, up and down the ballot, were asked to sign a promise never to support raising any tax on anyone by any amount for any reason.
In time, the pressure on GOP candidates took root -- Republicans who expected to win, especially in a primary, understood that there's now an expectation within the party. Sign the pledge or lose.
The more popular the tactic became, the more bipartisan policymaking became practically impossible, especially at the federal level. It wasn't long before Norquist's pledge developed a reputation as a mindless, knee-jerk obstacle to good governance.
But at the national level, Republicans keep signing it.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has signed Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge to oppose any efforts to raise taxes if elected president, the group said Tuesday.
Grover Norquist, president of ATR, pointed out that Mr. Rubio signed and kept the pledge as a state representative in Florida and in his capacity as a United States Senator.
So far, only three Republicans have officially kicked off their presidential campaigns: Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. As of yesterday, each of them has signed the pledge.
They probably won't be the last: as the Washington Times' report noted, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee "have all previously signed the pledge in some capacity," and are expected to do so again this year.
The brazen pandering, of course, matters, especially when it comes to Rubio -- the far-right Floridian keeps presenting himself as a new, forward-thinking Republican, willing to take a fresh look at partisan orthodoxy, but he keeps acting like an old, backward-thinking Republican, eager to stick to the same stale positions GOP partisans have embraced for years.
But just below the surface, there's actually more to this.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) listens to questions from the press after a meeting at the White House on Dec. 5, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The perils of political paranoia in Texas

04/29/15 10:42AM

In too many parts of the country, what's true is far less important than what far-right paranoia tells people might be true. Take the latest out of Texas, for example, where the Dallas Morning News published this strange report yesterday.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor federal military exercises in Texas after some citizens have lit up the Internet saying the maneuvers are actually the prelude to martial law. [...]
Radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been sending out warnings for weeks regarding the exercise, saying it is the U.S. military positioning itself to take over the states and declare martial law. Abbott apparently has heard the concern and ordered the Guard to monitor the training and U.S. military personnel.
At issue is a military exercise called "Jade Helm 15," which will reportedly include about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs, conducting training drills throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California.
According to right-wing conspiracy theorists, however, the exercise is a secret scheme to impose martial law. According to the Houston Chronicle, the unhinged activists believe "Walmart is in on it," and "secret underground tunnels" are somehow involved.
The uproar from the fringe grew loud enough to generate an official response from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, trying to set the public's mind at ease. It didn't work -- the conspiracy theorists, of course, believe Special Operations Command is on the scheme.
Indeed, every time officials try to explain to the public this is only a training exercise, the right-wing fringe perceives a smokescreen.
Pope Francis arrives to his Wednesday's General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, on Dec. 3, 2014. (L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO/EPA)

The Pope vs. Climate Deniers

04/29/15 10:01AM

Late last year, Pope Francis said he intended to invest considerable energy in 2015 urging Catholics around the globe to help combat climate change. He wasn't kidding.
The pope, joined by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, hosted a summit on the issue yesterday, and the name of the gathering was itself intended to get attention: "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development." The event organized panels on relevant "scientific, moral and economic issues" surrounding global warming.
All of this is designed to coincide with ongoing international talks, but also the summer release of Francis' encyclical on the climate crisis. The New York Times reported yesterday that the pope's activism is "alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in."
In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared with the participation of some Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.
But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.
While Koch-financed operations usually aren't shy about taking the offensive against perceived opponents, the far-right Heartland Institute seems to realize attacking the pope is a little more complicated.
In a statement, the group's president said he fears the "Holy Father is being misled," despite Francis' heart being "in the right place."
Yes, the politics of climate denial are getting a little tricky. In a few months, this will get a little more complicated.
Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to SeaLand shipping lines new Intra-Americas headquarters on Jan. 23, 2015 in Miramar, Fla.

New ACA lawsuit makes matters worse in Florida

04/29/15 09:15AM

In theory, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) finds himself in a pretty good position. He somehow won a second term last fall, and the far-right Republican governor is governing alongside a state legislature run by his own party. Putting aside whether his agenda has merit, Scott should find it easy to do as he pleases.
It's just not working out that way.
Florida's Legislature collapsed into chaos Tuesday as the House unilaterally ended the annual session with more than three days left, leaving dozens of major bills dead and escalating tensions between the House and Senate over their healthcare stalemate. [...] It marked the first time in Florida's modern history that one chamber shut down and went home on a different day than the other in a regular session.
At the heart of the dispute is, of all things, the Affordable Care Act. The Republican-run state Senate wants to accept Medicaid expansion, bolster state finances, extend coverage to 850,000 low-income Floridians, and clear the way for another tax cut. The Republican-run state House, meanwhile, wants to oppose "Obamacare" because, well, it's "Obamacare."
It sounds like the sort of thing some gubernatorial leadership might help resolve, but Rick Scott's attention yesterday wasn't on the legislature, per se. Rather, the governor had the courts on his mind.
Gov. Rick Scott followed through Tuesday on his promised lawsuit against the federal government over its threat to withhold hospital charity-care funding if Florida doesn't expand Medicaid. [...] His office announced the filing shortly after the Florida House of Representatives adjourned its legislative session ahead of schedule, amid its budget stalemate with the Senate over healthcare.
Jonathan Cohn recently described the ridiculous lawsuit as a "tantrum," and it's worth understanding why.

GOP fails to persuade on Iran, diplomacy

04/29/15 08:33AM

President Obama announced nearly a month ago that a diplomatic framework is now in place to curtail Iran's nuclear program, which drew condemnations from most of the White House's Republican critics. A domestic public-relations race quickly took shape: which side of the divide would the American mainstream believe? Those celebrating an international breakthrough or those convinced the deal represents dangerous appeasement?
There's usually no denying the efficacy of the GOP message machine, but despite its best efforts, Republicans just aren't having any luck persuading most Americans.
A solid majority of American voters back President Barack Obama's interim nuclear deal with Iran, a poll by Quinnipiac University showed Monday.
Some 58 percent of voters back the outline deal, which would curb Iran's atomic program for more than a decade and subject Tehran to tough inspections.
After months of fierce criticisms from the right -- along with sabotage stunts and an unprecedented partnership with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail American foreign policy -- this poll found that only a third of the public opposes the preliminary agreement. And despite repeated calls from far-right hawks for a military confrontation with Iran, the same survey found that 77% of Americans prefer "a negotiated settlement to the nuclear crisis rather than military intervention."
In these divisive times, 77% of the country doesn't agree on much, especially on contentious issues involving national security, but that's the percentage of Americans who now disagree with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Bill Kristol, John Bolton, and their cohorts.
Obviously, no one poll should be considered the definitive take on public opinion, but this new Quinnipiac data is consistent with three other major independent polls released over the last month or so.
The fight over public opinion may be effectively over -- the right is losing -- but the broader political dynamic remains unresolved.
A protester sits in front of riot police minutes before a mandatory, city-wide curfew of 10 p.m. near the CVS pharmacy that was set on fire yesterday during rioting after the funeral of Freddie Gray, on April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Md.

Relative calm returns to Baltimore streets

04/29/15 08:00AM

As the 10 p.m. curfew began in Baltimore , there were some skirmishes between local residents and law enforcement, but the night was largely peaceful, especially as compared to the violence seen in much of the city the night before. MSNBC's Joy Y. Wang had this report overnight:
After a tense night in a city recently devastated by violence, major intersections in Baltimore were cleared by police officers who advanced on crowds shortly after the city's 10 p.m. curfew fell Tuesday. Ten arrests were made through the course of Tuesday evening -- in contrast to more than 200 arrests stemming from Monday's violence. Armored National Guard vehicles and phalanx of law enforcement were the primary presence on the streets as the night wore on.
Tuesday's flash point came shortly after the curfew, when about 100 people remained at the major intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. Some threw bottles and rocks at officers outfitted in riot gear. Police deployed smoke bombs and pepper balls against those who remained, and a group described as "criminals" started a fire outside a library, according to the Baltimore police Twitter feed. By 11 p.m., however, most protesters had dispersed.
NBC News confirmed that of the 10 arrests last night, seven were for breaking the curfew, one was for disorderly conduct, and only two were for looting.
The curfew ended this morning at 5 a.m. and the streets "were still." Public schools, which were closed earlier this week, will reopen this morning.
At a press conference shortly before midnight, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said, "Tonight, I think the biggest thing is that the citizens are safe, the city is stable. He added that he was "very pleased with the community, with the citizens, with the residents," and that the curfew was "working."

Baltimore emerges from curfew and other headlines

04/29/15 07:38AM

Baltimore Police Commissioner: the city is stable. (USA Today)

Supreme Court to hear arguments in challenge to drug used in Oklahoma executions. (Tulsa World) 

Hillary Clinton to call for end to 'mass incarceration.' (Los Angeles Times)

TX Gov. orders state guard to monitor military exercises over fears of federal takeover. (Dallas Morning News)

Relief starts reaching Nepal villages. (BBC)

North Korea's Kim ordered 15 executions this year: South's spy agency. (Reuters)

Russian spacecraft spinning out of control in orbit. (AP)

read more


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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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