Tonight's citations are listed after the jump.
Viewers of this show, careful or otherwise, will know that we are obsessed with the grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef, off the Philippines. More specifically, we are obsessed with the removal of the USS Guardian, which the Navy documented in glorious YouTube detail. Below, in order, you can see them cutting away the bow, the hull and the stern.
Tonight's guests include:
Mayor Darren Rozell of Forney Texas, the closest town to the unincorporated area where district attorney McLelland and his wife were killed
State Sen. Donald McEachin, (D) Virginia, Senate Democratic caucus chair
State Sen. Donald Williams, (D) Connecticut, president of the Connecticut state senate
And here's executive producer Bill Wolff with a preview of tonight's show:
Some people might be able resist to a story about a group of smart brave kids banding together to help save their beloved local state park from budget cuts. I am not one of those people. This documentary, "How the Kids Saved the Parks," follows students from Grass Valley Charter School in California on their quest to save the gorgeous South Yuba River State Park. According to Grist:
The kids put together a Mobile Media Action Team, and met with John Laird, the California Secretary for Natural Resources. They explained to Laird why they thought South Yuba Park should not close, and also gathered more than 10,000 signatures urging the state to keep the park open. In short, they did a lot of difficult, adult stuff, and because of their efforts, the community managed to find a way to keep the park open (with a $3 to $5 entry fee, but still).....The entry fee alone won’t generate enough revenue to keep the park open, but officials say that the groundswell of support insures it will not close.
Even though California is making something of a comeback, it's no secret that its state parks are in deep financial trouble. The Wall Street Journal reports: "California lawmakers should outsource management of some state parks to cope with chronic under funding, advised an influential state commission, which found that the state had expanded its park system without providing adequate income to support it."
Last week the state's Little Hoover Commission released a report entitled "Beyond Crisis: Recapturing Excellence in California's State Park System." In it, member Virginia Ellis advocates a major overhaul. "Without a bold, new course equal to the vision that created the state park system, California risks a replay of closing parks that the state can no longer afford to operate," she says.
Solutions will require creativity, perseverance and guts. Maybe California could put the Grass Valley Charter School kids on retainer.
Today's edition of quick hits:
* As the U.S. Navy shifts a guided-missile destroyer in the Pacific to waters off the Korean peninsula, NBC's News Jim Maceda reports live from South Korea.
* More on this Texas story on tonight's show: "Deputies escorted some Kaufman County employees into the courthouse Monday, two days after the district attorney and his wife were found shot to death in their home in an attack that stirred fears that other public employees could be targeted by assassins."
* Kenya's Supreme Court upheld the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as the country's president, setting aside questions of voter fraud.
* Michigan Republican Dave Agema, a member of the national Republican National Committee, will not back down or apologize for promoting the argument that "part of the homosexual agenda is to get the public to affirm their filthy lifestyle." Good luck with the rebranding, Reince.
* A sweeping scandal: "The former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools and nearly three dozen other administrators, teachers, principals and other educators were indicted Friday in one of the nation's largest cheating scandals."
* If you heard that teen-pregnancy rates are getting worse, you heard wrong.
* It's terribly disappointing that the New York Times published that ridiculous David Stockman piece yesterday.
* Rush Limbaugh's latest, noted without comment: it "may well be the case" that Obama "inspires racism" in others.
* And sometimes, presidential duties include calming a crying child at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R)
When we last checked in with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R), he was offering some strange and inaccurate reasons to turn down Medicaid expansion in his state, where it's badly needed. The Republican governor, ignoring his own insurance commissioner from his own party, wouldn't budge.
What about Mississippi's rate of uninsured, one of the worst in the nation? According to Bryant, they should just rely on the most inefficient system of socialized medicine possible: emergency-room care.
Over the weekend, Democrats in Mississippi's legislature, unsatisfied with the governor's intransigence, decided to play a little hardball (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the tip).
House Democrats on Sunday night blocked passage of the $840 million Medicaid budget, a move to try to force a vote on expanding the program and to block Gov. Phil Bryant from running it by executive order.
"The federal government is offering venture capital to expand the largest industry we've got in this state, and we can't even get a vote and debate on it," said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. "So we're doing what we have to do. We are going to have an up-or-down vote on Medicaid expansion -- it may be in a special session -- or we are not going to have Medicaid."
It's a gutsy move. Remember, the way Medicaid works is that it's a federal-state partnership, with both sides making an investment. Mississippi Democrats are blocking the state from participating in Medicaid altogether unless they're given a chance to fight for Medicaid expansion.
Remember, as a substantive matter, there's no doubt the Medicaid portions of the Affordable Care Act are an excellent deal for a state like Mississippi. It's why the state's Republican insurance commissioner, the Mississippi Hospital Association, AARP Mississippi, and state budget experts all want Bryant and the GOP to put partisan considerations aside and do the right thing.
The governor doesn't want to, so Democrats are exploring alternatives to force his hand. It's a story worth watching.
Sen. Bob Casey (D) of Pennsylvania
There are 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, and of this morning, 47 of them have now publicly declared their support for marriage equality. The latest is Pennsylvania's Bob Casey.
Sen. Bob Casey told The Morning Call on Monday he now supports same-sex marriage. [...]
In a statement Casey said he wrote over several days, the senator asks, "If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way? At a time when many Americans lament a lack of commitment in our society between married men and women, why would we want less commitment and fewer strong marriages?"
As we talked about last week, with each similar announcement, the pressure rises on the remaining eight Senate Democrats who have not yet endorsed marriage equality: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tom Carper of Delaware, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Of those nine, Tom Carper is the only Democrat from a reliably "blue" state who remains on the fence.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, the news is less encouraging.
My colleague Cory Gnazzo flags this item out of Arizona, where Republican Rep. Matt Salmon refuses to reevaluate his position, despite his own family.
In a recent interview with 3TV, Salmon said that while he has a son who is gay, he's not a supporter of same-sex marriage.
"I'm just not there in believing in my heart," said Salmon, adding, "My son is one of the most important people in my life. I love him more than I can say."
When a political ideology directs lawmakers to support discrimination against their own kids, it demonstrates a real commitment to a particular worldview.
Protesters in the rotunda at the Wisconsin State Capitol in February 2011
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) realizes that his record on job creation is a bit of a mess, but he has an explanation he hopes voters will buy: don't blame him; blame those rascals who didn't like him.
"The first year we had a lot of protests in the state," Walker said, during an appearance in Milwaukee to promote business growth in the city. "We had two years', almost, worth of recalls. A lot of employers here I think can relate to the fact (that) uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges for employers big or small or anywhere in between. There was a lot of uncertainty. The good news is that's passed."
So, let me get this straight. Wisconsin ranks 44th in private-sector job growth, a ranking that's been getting worse, not better -- as recently as 2010, the year before Walker took office, it ranked 10th. What's more, Wisconsin ranks 41st in personal income growth, which is what his critics predicted would happen after he essentially ended collective bargaining rights for most public employees in the state.
Asked for a defense, Walker blames ... protests? As far as the governor is concerned, if only Wisconsin had let him gut collective bargaining in peace, the state economy would be better?
There are a few relevant angles to this, each slightly worse than the last.
The first is that, as economic argument, Walker's pitch is ridiculous. The private sector is always dealing with uncertainty, in Wisconsin and everywhere else, so it's a woefully unpersuasive excuse.
Second, for a governor to blame protestors -- who happened to be right -- for the failures of his own policies is pretty weak for a guy who claims to have presidential ambitions. Perhaps if Walker hadn't broken his word on collective bargaining, the protests wouldn't have been necessary.
And finally, I'm curious how comfortable Walker and his allies would be about applying his talking points to the national landscape. The governor blames his poor record on the fact that there were "a lot of protests" in 2011. If President Obama were to say the same thing, saying job creation in 2011 struggled due to "a lot of protests" from his critics, would the right find this persuasive?
A pair of Republican lawmakers want to make it harder to get a divorce in North Carolina by making estranged couples wait longer and go to counseling.
The Healthy Marriage Act would extend to two years the current one-year waiting period in order for a divorce to be finalized. During that time, the couple would have to complete courses on improving their communications skills and conflict resolution.
If the couple has children, they would have to take at least a four-hour class on the impact of divorce on children.
At a certain level, there's at least some intellectual consistency to efforts like these. For all the Republican rhetoric about "protecting" the institution of marriage, it stands to reason that such policymakers should worry a little less about same-sex couples who want to make a life-long commitment to one another, and worry a little more about opposite-sex couples who want to stop making a life-long commitment to one another.
But let's also go ahead and call this what it is: using the power of government to engage in social engineering. That's not applying a value judgment, per se, so much as it's recognition of a phenomenon the right is often reluctant to admit.
Rick Santorum believes the tax code should be used to encourage Americans to have more children. Sam Brownback has endorsed taxpayer grants for counseling that encourages unwed parents to marry. The proposed "Healthy Marriage Act" in North Carolina seeks regulate divorce.
The merit of the various policy ideas certainly matters, but for much of the 1990s, Republicans decried "social engineering" as outrageous.
Americans must be a free people, the argument went, free to make their own decisions -- using the power of the state to encourage folks to engage in certain behaviors favored by politicians, as part of a larger societal agenda, was deemed ridiculous. If the values of "limited" government mean anything, they mean rejecting the notion of using levers of governmental power to alter how people can and will behave.
But under the big-government conservatism, we're occasionally reminded that much of the right likes "social engineering" more than they let on.
In my adopted new hometown in a very Italian city in Northern New Jersey, I have discovered a new word for what I have always heretofore called a "knit cap" or a "winter hat." It's a word everyone here knows how to say, but no one I've asked knows how to spell. It sounds like "goobalini."
I had a friend who owns the Dictionary of American Regional English look it up, and she found nothing. So my three questions are: 1. How do you spell it? 2. What is its origin? 3. Where else do they say this?
Can anyone help?
It's been nearly two years since the Obama administration announced that under the Affordable Care Act, contraception would be covered as preventive care without a co-pay. Though this initially didn't cause much of a stir, the right eventually freaked out -- employers, the GOP argument went, shouldn't subsidize birth control they consider morally offensive.
The White House has tried to accommodate the concerns. A year ago, President Obama unveiled a compromise: religiously affiliated institutions won't be required to pay for birth control directly, but women who work for these employers will still have access to the same preventive care as everyone else. The right said that wasn't enough, so there was another compromise: separate insurance plans for contraception.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine signed a letter this week to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, urging that an exemption to the coverage mandate extended to certain nonprofit religious organizations be broadened to include private employers who object to contraception for religious reasons.
DeWine said last night that requiring business owners to include prescriptions such as the morning-after pill, which critics say are abortive, as an employee insurance benefit could be a "direct contradiction" to the religious beliefs of some employers.
DeWine, a U.S. senator before his 2006 defeat, argued, "They're being forced to provide insurance coverage that violates their religious beliefs. They're being forced to provide insurance coverage for a form of abortion. To me, it's a religious-freedom issue."
Catch that use of the "a" word in there?
According to Ohio's attorney general, birth control, including the morning-after pill which prevents pregnancies, is "a form of abortion."
And as such, it makes sense, according to DeWine, to empower employers to deny the women who work for them access to contraception as part of their health care plans -- even if employers aren't being asked to pay for the birth control directly, and even if it's covered under a separate insurance plan that the employer isn't paying for.
The Republican interest in combating contraception access did not end in 2012.
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:
* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this morning launched a new ad campaign targeting 17 Republican lawmakers over their votes for Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) far-right budget plan. This sample targets Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.). The ads, at least for now, are part of an online campaign, and not set to be aired on television.
* On a related note, the DCCC also believes there are 50 to 60 House Republican seats "in play" in the 2014 midterms. That strikes me as wildly optimistic, but time will tell.
* South Carolina's special congressional election Republican runoff is tomorrow, and though former Gov. Mark Sanford remains the favorite, Curtis Bostic received help over the weekend from Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter, and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
* Though there had been some speculation that Sen. Mark Warner (D) would give up his seat to run for another office, the Democratic senator's office said late last week that Warner will, in fact, seek re-election.
* On a related note, a Quinnipiac poll released last week found that Warner remains the most popular politician in the Commonwealth.
* Speaking of Virginia, state Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli (R) has a new problem, in light of reports he "failed to disclose for nearly a year that he had substantial stock holdings in a company, even though disclosure is required by law and his office was defending the state in a tax lawsuit filed by the company."
* And in Pennsylvania, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have not yet formally launched their campaigns, but there's some early evidence of a contentious primary between Rep. Allyson Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord.
We talked briefly on Friday about President Obama speaking in Miami on the need for infrastructure investments, which was encouraging. Indeed, given all the talk about sequestration and debt reduction, any discussion about job growth is welcome.
But over the weekend, I took a closer look at the plan, which the White House calls the "Rebuild America Partnership," and I think it'd be a mistake to just dismiss this as another speech. Congress notwithstanding, Obama's plan is the sort of infrastructure agenda that should, in theory, enjoy broad support.
To be sure, the rhetoric is familiar.
"When you ask companies who brought jobs back to America in the last few years they'll say, if we upgrade our infrastructure, we'll bring even more. So what are we waiting for? There's work to be done; there are workers who are ready to do it. Let's prove to the world there's no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America, and let's get started rebuilding America."
This is true, but it's a message we've heard before. The president explains the economic value of infrastructure investment; Republicans decry public investments and accuse him of wanting to throw money at a problem; and nothing happens -- except maybe the sequester, which makes matters worse, not better.
But what struck me as noteworthy about Obama's infrastructure agenda is that it's not just about throwing money at the problem.
The President is continuing to call for Congress to enact a National Infrastructure Bank capitalized with $10 billion, in order to leverage private and public capital and to invest in a broad range of infrastructure projects of national and regional significance, without earmarks or political influence. [...]
The President's new America Fast Forward Bonds program will build upon the successful example of the Build America Bonds program, broadening its use to include the types of projects that can be financed with qualified private activity bonds while also making the combined program more flexible. In addition, the Administration is proposing changes to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) aimed at enhancing the attractiveness of investment in U.S. infrastructure and real estate to a broader universe of private investors.
Frankly, I'd be on board with a plan in which Obama simply said we're going to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure, right away, and borrow all of it. The economy needs the boost, borrowing costs are low, and our crumbling infrastructure needs the help.
But the White House's plan is a more moderate approach intended to garner broader support.
The infrastructure bank, which relies on public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure projects, used to enjoy a modicum of bipartisan support, before GOP lawmakers decided otherwise. There's no reason Congress couldn't give this another look.
The second point is of even greater interest. As the New York Times explained, "America Fast Forward Bonds" would "help state and local governments borrow money for projects, while foreign pension and retirement funds would have a tax penalty eliminated so they could invest in infrastructure in the United States on a similar basis as American funds."
It's a serious approach to a serious issue. It was quick ignored, and generated exactly zero discussion on the Sunday shows, but for those who still consider economic investment and job creation an important national issue right now, the president's plan has real merit.
If our politics made more sense, this would not only be a bigger deal, it'd also be the sort of agenda that would generate real discussion on Capitol Hill. That won't happen, of course, but it should.
The Republican Party's outreach to Latino voters was a tough sell before last week, but Rep. Don Young's (R-Alaska) use of a racial slur made matters considerably worse. For GOP leaders, it's imperative for the party to begin using smarter rhetoric when reaching out to minority communities, and Young's bigoted language was a real setback.
What Republican need to realize, however, is that policy matters, too, and this is a problem that will be tougher for the GOP to fix.
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently published its latest national report on the Affordable Care Act and public attitudes, and among other findings, it highlighted a sharp difference of opinion along racial and ethnic lines. I put together this chart to note the "Obamacare" differences between whites and Latinos.
As the L.A. Times' Noam Levey reported today, "As Republican leaders try to woo Latino voters with a new openness to legal status for the nation's illegal immigrants, the party remains at odds with America's fastest-growing ethnic community on another key issue: healthcare."
There's no great mystery here. Latino have the lowest rates of health coverage in the country, and strongly believe public access to affordable care should be a basic societal guarantee.
In other words, most Latinos believe the exact opposite of most Republicans. The GOP wants to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in its entirety; Latino voters want it protected. Republicans want to gut Medicare and Medicaid; Latinos see both programs as critical.
"This is going to hurt Republicans," Matt Barreto, cofounder of Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan national polling firm, told Levey. "When Republicans keep saying they will repeal the health law, Latinos hear the party is going to take away their healthcare."
Since the 2012 election, we've heard repeatedly from Republicans that Latinos are a natural constituency for the GOP and, if the party could only use more effective language, Latino voters would gravitate to the conservative party. And yet, the evidence to the contrary is increasingly overwhelming.
Indeed, as Greg Sargent explained this morning, "A Pew poll last year [found] that 75 percent of Latinos want a 'bigger government providing more services.' And a Univision poll found that 55 percent of Latinos think the best way to help the economy grow is for government to 'invest resources in federal projects to stimulate the economy,' while only 31 percent favor lowering taxes. Yet the GOP remains ideologically tethered to the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would not only repeal Obamacare but would also deeply cut spending, dramatically rolling back the safety net and other government programs."
The Republican National Committee could muzzle Don Young and somehow get its officials to stop using "illegal" as a noun, but so long as the party favors a policy that makes it difficult for Latino families to afford a trip to the doctor's office, the GOP's pitch is a tough sell.
Let's also not overlook the electoral salience to this. Congressional Republicans have voted 39 times (and counting) to repeal "Obamacare," and have vowed to keep this up indefinitely, effectively telling many Latinos with every vote, "We're desperate to take away your health care benefits."
It's created an interesting dilemma for Republicans -- on the one hand they think they can ride anti-ACA attitudes to electoral victories, while on the other hand, they're alienating the fastest-growing segment of the electorate with this agenda.
Sue Everhart, the chairwoman of the Georgia Republican Party, has an argument in opposition to marriage equality that's rarely heard in American politics, but is nevertheless rather familiar (via Tom Kludt).
Everhart said while she respects all people, if same sex marriage is legalized across the country, there will be fraud.
"You may be as straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow," Everhart said. "Say you had a great job with the government where you had this wonderful health plan. I mean, what would prohibit you from saying that you're gay, and y'all get married and still live as separate, but you get all the benefits? I just see so much abuse in this it's unreal. I believe a husband and a wife should be a man and a woman, the benefits should be for a man and a woman. There is no way that this is about equality. To me, it's all about a free ride."
Everhart added that she believes homosexuality itself is "not natural."
If the Georgia GOP chair's argument seems vaguely familiar, there's a reason for that: it was the basis for a 2007 movie called "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry." I suppose I should avoid spoilers for those who still want to see it, but the gist is pretty straightforward: Adam Sandler and Kevin James play straight firefighters who pretend to be gay and enter a same-sex civil union for benefits purposes.
It was not, by the way, a documentary or a how-to guide for those hoping to commit fraud.
But what really gets me about Sue Everhart's argument is its broader applicability.
As she sees it, two consenting adults could marry in order to expand access to health care benefits. This could happen, she says, even if you're "straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow."
This may be tough for Everhart to fully appreciate, but here's the follow-up question: if this is an argument against same-sex marriage, isn't it also an argument against opposite-sex marriage? After all, what's to stop a man and a woman who are friends from pulling the same scam? Or, I don't know, perhaps using marriage to help a friend with his or her immigration status?
If avoiding fraud is paramount, does the chairwoman of the Georgia Republican Party want to prohibit all marriages?
It's difficult to say with confidence whether, and to what extent, to take seriously North Korea's latest tantrum. The dictatorship's belligerent saber rattling will wax and wane, and often coincides with new South Korean leadership, and the recent escalations may be inconsequential posturing.
It'd be irresponsible, however, to dismiss the seriousness of recent events. In the wake of North Korea's most recent nuclear test, international tensions have spiraled quickly, including an announcement from Kim Jong-un late Friday that his country is now in a "state of war" -- an ominous declaration with an ambiguous meaning.
It's against this backdrop that Ari Fleischer, a prominent Republican voice and former press secretary for the Bush/Cheney White House, seemed a little defensive the other night, worrying that President Obama might "blame George Bush" for the burgeoning crisis.
Why would Fleischer be defensive about this? Perhaps because the Bush/Cheney administration let North Korea get nuclear weapons.
The Clinton administration negotiated an Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, which was successful in "bottling up North Korea's nuclear program for eight years," and which eased the crisis on the peninsula. In March 2001, Colin Powell said Bush/Cheney would pick up where Clinton/Gore had left off.
The Bush White House immediately rebuked Powell, forced him to walk back his position, and rejected the Agreed Framework. Kim Jong-il hoped for a new round of negotiations, but the Republican administration refused. As Dick Cheney once put it, "We don't negotiate with evil -- we defeat it." The Republican president instead added North Korea to an "axis of evil."
By 2002, North Korea unlocked its fuel rods, kicked out international weapons inspectors, and became more aggressive in pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In response, "Bush didn't take military action, he didn't call for sanctions, nor did he try diplomacy" -- instead focusing his energies on selling the United States on the need for a disastrous war in Iraq.
Indeed, Bush argued at the time that the U.S. had to hurry up and invade Iraq before it could acquire nuclear weapons, effectively telling North Korea that the way to avoid an invasion was to advance its nuclear program as quickly as possible -- which it did.
As a result, North Korea became a nuclear state on Bush's watch, and paid no price for its actions. The world is left with an isolated dictatorship, craving attention, and playing with the most dangerous weapons the world has ever known.
No wonder Ari Fleischer is worried about his former boss getting blamed for another foreign policy fiasco.
Republican strategist Ed Gillespie
On Fox News yesterday, Chris Wallace reminded Republican strategist and former RNC Chief Ed Gillespie that the pendulum is swinging against his party when it comes to marriage equality. Gillespie replied, "I don't see the Republican Party or most Republicans, obviously, changing in terms of believing that marriage is between one man and one woman."
The host pressed further, asking, "But looking at the polls, and, particularly, looking at where younger people are going, would you have any problems in 2016, with a Republican Party platform saying that marriage is between a man and a woman?" Gillespie noted that the platform currently calls for a federal constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and going forward, "there may be a debate about that."
I suppose this is what qualifies as social progress for today's GOP.
But before the discussion moved on Gillespie added this:
"I don't think you would ever see the Republican Party platform saying we are in favor of same sex marriage."
Never? Gillespie may well be right, but I'd remind the Republican establishment that forever is a long time. Republicans can resist the American mainstream for now, if they intend to keep this up indefinitely, they're asking for trouble.
On the flip side, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) appeared on "Meet the Press," and was asked, "Could you support a Republican presidential candidate someday who supported same-sex marriage?"
The senator replied, "Oh, I think that's inevitable. There will be one, and that I think he'll receive Republican support, or she will. So I think that yes, that the answer is yes."
Maybe he should chat with Ed Gillespie about what the party's future holds.