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March 28, 2015 5:38 PM Odds & Ends

Earlier today I wrote about how the Obama administration has strengthened the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. This week they made some big announcements:

*A four-count indictment against Independence, Missouri police officer Timothy Runnels for “violating the constitutional rights of a minor who was in his custody and obstructing the subsequent investigation into the incident.”

*An indictment against Graeme Phillip Harris on “one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African American students because of their race or color” when he hung a noose around the neck of the James Meredith statue on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

*An indictment against Madison, Alabama police officer Eric Sloan Parker who injured an Indian grandfather by slamming him to the ground.

Yesterday Ed Kilgore wrote about the confusion Scott Walker’s pronouncements have created over the use of the word “amnesty” amongst conservatives. Apparently Walker isn’t the only one that has people scratching their heads over this one.

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s office on Friday indicated the Texas senator remains open to a path to legal status for undocumented workers, putting him at odds with conservatives who deride such a position as unacceptable “amnesty.”…

The idea anyone could get to the right of Cruz on immigration, who has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government to defund Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” might come as a surprise. But by the terms of the immigration debate set out so far, his bona fides could absolutely come into question. Many conservatives, including the leading anti-immigration groups, consider any policy that falls short of deportation “amnesty.”…
This lack of an clear definition of amnesty, beyond “thing conservatives don’t like,” can create a lot of confusion in trying to tease out candidate’s positions.

As we look toward the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, Mexico is the latest country to get on board with a plan to cap greenhouse emissions.

Astronauts Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka made it to the space station for their #YearInSpace.

The crew will support several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth. Data and samples will be collected throughout the year from a series of studies involving Scott and his twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly [Gabby Gifford’s husband]. The studies will compare data from the genetically-identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight.

Finally, I’ve decided to adopt a focus for my musical postings. Over the next few months I’m going to highlight some of my favorite feminist songs. Of course there will be a few obvious choices. But stick around…some may surprise you (like my song choice this morning). Also, feel free to suggest what you think I should include.

For today, here is a brand new cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” by Grace (featuring G-Eazy). It’s good to know that the young folks still respect this feminist anthem.

March 28, 2015 4:17 PM Free Eric Holder

This one’s good for a smile.

A new fashion trend is sweeping the halls of the Justice Department for spring - “Free Eric Holder’’ wristbands, an inside joke among Attorney General Eric Holder‘s top aides and supporters about the months-long political standoff over his successor.

The black rubber bracelets were the idea of Molly Moran, a senior Justice Department official, according to people who have received them. The wristbands, like the kind people wear to support various charities or causes, started appearing on staffers’ wrists a couple weeks ago, when it became clear there was no end in sight to the standoff over the nomination of Loretta Lynch…
Staffers have paid for the bracelets with their own money - not taxpayer funds - and have talked about making Free Eric Holder T-shirts as well.
“We’re hoping for a day we don’t have to wear these bracelets anymore, even if it takes a charity album,’’ joked one.

One of the best ways to deal with the kind of insanity we’re seeing from Congressional Republicans over things like the Loretta Lynch nomination is to simply point and laugh. Good job on that front Molly!

March 28, 2015 2:41 PM The GOP’s Repudiation of Bipartisan Precedents

If you’re like me, you probably grew up occasionally hearing the phrase “politics stops at the water’s edge” when it was time for American politicians to put their differences aside on the global stage and show a united front. It set a precedent for not airing our dirty laundry in public.

But I never knew the history behind that phrase. So I decided to look it up. In 1948, the Truman administration was working on what would become the North Atlantic Treaty at a time when the Senate was controlled by Republicans. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) worked with Truman’s State Department to craft the Vandenberg Resolution, which paved the way for the United States to negotiate an agreement with our European allies.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he [Vandenberg] asserted that “politics stops at the water’s edge” and cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support.

I am reminded that our current Senate Majority Leader has a different view about the value of bipartisan support.

“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan.”

That was Senator McConnell’s rationale back in 2009 for his strategy of total obstruction to any domestic proposals from President Obama and Democrats. It was a complete rejection of what David Frum suggested would be a more productive approach. Much like Senator Vandenberg, Frum thought Republicans should work with Democrats to produce bipartisan legislation that at least incorporated conservative ideas. That path was rejected by McConnell.

Now, with Speaker Boehner’s move to go behind the President’s back to invite Netanyahu to address Congress and Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran undermining his negotiations, we see that same approach to foreign affairs. It is a complete repudiation of Vandenberg’s principle that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

This is one of many bipartisan precedents Republicans have repudiated. Others include things like requiring a super-majority to pass most any bill through the Senate, using a vote on the debt ceiling as a hostage, and now - using the Social Security Disability Fund as a hostage.

A top adviser to President Barack Obama on Friday slammed a House Republican maneuver aimed at forcing a showdown on Social Security as early as next year, signaling that it won’t fly with the White House.

“The House provision was un-constructive and at odds with how this issue has been addressed time and time again in a bipartisan manner,” Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president, told reporters at a breakfast downtown hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “It is just not tenable to walk away from what has been a very clear bipartisan approach to addressing the [disability fund] issue.”…
The remarks set up a potential battle if Republicans seek to pass binding spending bills that forbid a reallocation. Congress has transferred funds between the program’s retirement and disability funds 11 times, most recently in 1994.

These precedents are not written into the Constitution, so there is nothing illegal about recent Republican moves to abandon them. On occasion, it is probably a good thing to review historical precedents to determine if they continue to be useful and/or productive.

But the precedents the GOP has abandoned all have to do with guidelines our elected officials have established to work together - despite their differences - for the good of this country. Regardless of who is right or wrong on those differences, their approach is hurting us all.

March 28, 2015 12:39 PM A President and a Prophet

For years now I’ve been saying that David Simon is the most powerful prophet of our time. As a former beat reporter for the Baltimore Sun, he has gone on to show us a face of America that many of us want to ignore, through the medium of a television series called “The Wire.”

Here is how Simon described the message of that show back in 2007.

I am wholly pessimistic about American society. I believe The Wire is a show about the end of the American Empire. We are going to live that event. How we end up and survive, and on what terms, is going to be the open question.

We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts…
As for the characters on the program, their lives are less and less necessary. They are more and more expendable. The institutions in which they serve are indifferent to their existence…
The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity at the expense of profit and capitalism and greed, which are inevitabilities, and if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed. It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take. But I know that every year America is going to be a more brutish and cynical and divided place.

Following President Obama’s re-election in 2012, Simon sounded a bit more optimistic in his predictions.

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance…

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem.

Now…imagine if the President of the United States sat down with such a prophet and started off by saying that he was a “huge fan of The Wire” and that it was “one of the greatest pieces of art in the last couple of decades.”

Yeah, that happened.

I would have loved for this interview to go on another hour or two. But the fact that it happened at all is profound. Ultimately, it raised a question for me: Why would President Obama choose to do it now? I suspect that he’s setting the stage and laying the groundwork…somethin’s up.

March 28, 2015 10:41 AM Congress Has Abdicated Its Role on Foreign Policy

I have to admit to a fair amount of eye-rolling when liberals insisted that Congress get involved in approving a new Authorization For the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS or when they take a stand against fast-tracking trade authority on things like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Of course I have the same reaction to conservatives who insist that Congress weigh in if/when a deal is negotiated on Iran’s nuclear program.

In a world where Congress can actually function, those demands would make sense. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we currently live in. Case in point: the ISIS AUMF.

More than a month after the White House sought Congress’ blessing for the expanding war against the terrorist group, congressional action has gotten bogged down in partisan rancor and divergent viewpoints over what the war should try to accomplish, how long the administration should be authorized to wage it, and what level of force will be required. Some say that the liberals who insisted the White House include extra conditions, such as a deadline and limits on ground troops, overplayed their hand, undercutting potential Republican support.

“I just don’t hear many people standing up for what the president has proposed, so I think we’re kind of moving beyond that,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), told reporters Wednesday.

Neither side gets a pass here. The Republicans insisted that President Obama’s proposal wasn’t “tough enough.” But Thronberry is right - a lot of Democrats didn’t like it either. As Steve Benen put it:

…some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough.

I don’t mean to suggest that I take this lightly, but the first thing I thought of when I read that was the story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Essentially what we have is a group of people playing small-ball with their ideologies and special interests. And its nothing but a food fight. Meanwhile, someone has to be an adult and take charge. That task has been left to President Obama.

Over the long term, that’s a pretty big problem for our democratic institutions. But right now I don’t see a reasonable alternative.

March 28, 2015 8:38 AM The Power of the Executive Branch to Bring Change

A comment someone made on Facebook after President Obama’s speech in Selma has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a while now. I’m not going to link to it because my purpose is not to call out the individual. But it captured some things we’ve heard before.

Basically this person was criticizing the President for not talking more specifically about how racial issues manifest themselves today or proposing policies that address them. Here’s just a bit of it:

On such a stage as he had yesterday, I feel it would have been prudent for him to address the particular issues that we face. To detail the real world problems that the “long shadow” of racism has created and to bring to the table real policy positions that could address our present reality.

Instead, I feel, he offered only hopeful language and dazzling rhetoric.

Regardless of whether you think the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Selma was the place for such specifics (I don’t), that comment points to the way in which too many of us assume that change only happens in this country via Congress or the Courts. The reason I say that is because this person obviously has not paid attention to how the actions of the Executive branch of government have addressed those issues.

Just one example I would point to is what has happened at the Department of Justice - specifically with the Civil Rights Division (created in 1957 to enforce Civil Rights laws). Some people might remember how that division was corrupted during the Bush/Cheney administration. Everything about the division became politicized - including hirings, firings and prosecutions. Here’s how Joseph Rich, chief of the Voting Rights section from 1999 to 2005, described it in 2007:

Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

But it wasn’t just voting rights. Stephen Rushin, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, has studied the implementation of the portion of the 1991 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that gave the Civil Rights Division of DOJ the authority to investigate systemic problems within law enforcement departments and implement reforms. He found that - rather suddenly in 2005 (when Gonzales became Attorney General) - the number of investigations declined sharply. His research found that, at that time, the division quit working with civil rights organizations (who often initiated the investigations) and instead simply offered voluntary technical assistance to law enforcement units.

What we see is that on at least two issues that are of primary importance in maintaining civil rights in this country - voting rights and investigating police misconduct - the Executive branch of our government purposefully dropped the ball.

All of that changed with the Obama administration. At a speech in 2010, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez, said this:

In case you haven’t heard, the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business. Our job is to enforce the civil rights laws - all of the laws - and to do so fairly, thoroughly and independently.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made the restoration and transformation of the Civil Rights Division a top priority. The Attorney General has called the Division the “crown jewel” of the Justice Department. As a result of the President and Attorney General’s leadership, and the support of Congress, the Division has received one of the largest infusions of resources in its history.

That talk was backed up by plenty of walk. It all began with the Civil Rights Division hiring attorneys with actual civil rights experience. The Division has been aggressive in defending voting rights and investigating police misconduct. On the latter:

The Obama administration has used its power aggressively to take on widespread problems of police brutality, discrimination and other abuse in local jurisdictions, negotiating more settlement agreements than either the Clinton or George W. Bush administrations.

I would simply note that the Civil Rights Division of DOJ started an investigation of the Cleveland Police Department more than a year before Tamir Rice was killed.

That summarizes the importance of leadership in the Executive branch of our government by looking at just one department. We could note similar changes in, for example, the fact that under Bush the Department of Education stopped collecting racial data from public schools. When the practice was re-instituted in the Obama administration, the information provided the impetus for investigations and disciplinary reforms that disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

By focusing only on Congress and the Courts, we completely neglect the power of the Executive branch to implement change (either good or bad). It’s true that with his “pen and phone strategy,” President Obama is beginning to open our eyes to this oversight. But really…its been happening all along.

March 28, 2015 7:52 AM Daylight Video

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox has taken Meghan Trainor’s fun song, “All About That Bass” and made it even more fun. Enjoy!

March 27, 2015 5:00 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

My church is having a “Silent Retreat” tomorrow where attendees “fast from speaking” for eight hours. Don’t know if I’ll make it this year. After a week in front of the computer, the doctor would probably order some social interaction.

Here are some remains of the day:

* At long last, White House documents on Dick Cheney’s shooting of Texas lawyer Harry Whittington are about to be released. Maybe it will keep him from snarling about terrorism.

* Greg Sargent expands on the vagueness of GOP positioning on “amnesty” that’s causing so much confusion right now.

* At Religion Dispatches Patricia Miller notes that Jeb Bush hasn’t traditionally been the kind of Catholic prone to widespread culture warfare, despite Terri Schiavo.

* At Ten Miles Square, Seth Masket argues Ted Cruz would have a better chance of winning a polarized general election than of winning the GOP nomination.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer says it’s hard to prove Jeb Bush did or didn’t have a lot to do with school improvements in Florida, but they did happen.

That’s it for Friday. Nancy LeTourneau will be in for Weekend Blogging tomorrow. On this, the penultimate Friday of Lent, let’s close with a traditional Palm Sunday piece, Allegri’s “Miserere,” as performed by the choir of that incomparable choral chamber, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Selah.

March 27, 2015 4:30 PM James Baker: Not a Republican Any More

So this is an understatement, I’d say, from Peter Baker in the New York Times:

When former Secretary of State James A. Baker III accused Israel’s leader this week of undermining the chances of peace in the region, he said nothing more than the kinds of things he had said at times when he was in office a quarter-century ago.
But the instant backlash from fellow Republicans that prompted Jeb Bush, the son of Mr. Baker’s best friend, to distance himself underscored just how much their party has changed on the issue of Israel. Where past Republican leaders had their disagreements with Israel, today’s Republicans have made support for the Jewish state an inviolable litmus test for anyone aspiring to national office.
“If you’re a Republican and you hedge on your support on Israel, it’s viewed as having a flawed foreign policy,” said Ron Bonjean, a party strategist who has worked for Republican leaders in Congress. “It’s a requirement for Republicans these days to be very strong on Israel if they’re going to be taken seriously by primary voters.”

It’s really been that way at least since 2012, when Ron Paul’s arms-length attitude towards Israel drew a lot more criticism from other Republicans than his deflationary monetary policy views or his many other eccentricities. This time around, of course, the Paul family candidate for president won’t be caught dead criticizing Bibi Netanyahu.

Baker’s piece is a good reminder that this is a relatively new thing, though, and not just because James Baker, the man who supervised George W. Bush’s audacious power grab in 2000, and was Treasury Secretary for the Sainted Ronald Reagan, is now considered a pariah for saying the same things about the Middle East he has always said.

Republican presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon and the first President Bush were not always seen as unequivocally supportive of Israel. For decades, throughout the Cold War especially, Republican leaders were viewed as close to anti-Communist Arab allies and the oil industry. They presided over a predominantly Protestant electoral base while Democrats assembled a more urban coalition with lopsided support from American Jews. Even when Republican presidents supported Israel and its security, they also openly quarreled with its leadership at times, much as Democratic presidents did.
Eisenhower pressured Israel to withdraw from Egypt after it sent troops into Sinai in 1956 with the support of Britain and France in an effort to secure the Suez Canal and topple the government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Yeah, can you imagine a Republican president now siding with the Russians to force the Israelis to cough up war gains from an Arab country?

President Ronald Reagan defied Israeli objections to sell Awacs reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia and supported a United Nations resolution condemning Israel after it bombed a nuclear plant under construction in Iraq without telling the United States first. His successor suspended $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel after it expanded housing settlements in occupied territories.

Keep in mind, too, that today’s Israeli government barely bothers to pay lip service to U.S. foreign policy views, and it’s that government—not Israel as a country—to which Republicans are pledging allegiance.

But here’s the most interesting, and terrifying, idea in the piece from—you guessed it—Bill Kristol:

Mr. Kristol, emailing from Israel where he was meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, described the shift as a result of broader underlying trends in American politics as the political left grows more “European” and the political right grows more “Reaganite.” He added that “the conservative belief in American exceptionalism is akin to Zionism.”

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “Zionist,” you have to admit the Jewish experience through the centuries in and beyond the Middle East gives a pretty hearty justification for the idea this particular people needs a place where their interests come first. What’s our excuse here in America? Is anyone with the remote capacity of doing so trying to push us into any of the seas we control?

March 27, 2015 3:16 PM Reid and the Federal Judiciary

I mentioned this morning that Harry Reid could well be remembered as the man who finally reversed the arrows on what had become a suffocating expansion of the filibuster. At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin explains what that meant in practice:

When Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he had a long agenda—mending a collapsing economy, transforming health care, and ending two wars, to name just the top items. Nominating judges to the federal judiciary was low on the list. The President filled two quick vacancies on the Supreme Court with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As for the dozens of vacancies on the federal circuit and district courts, Obama’s attention was fleeting. He didn’t even submit nominees to fill many judicial vacancies, including on the D.C. Circuit, which is generally regarded as the second most important court in the country….
When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 elections, the President’s chances for pushing through meaningful legislation vanished. But the Senate, which is responsible for confirming judges, remained in Democratic hands—and in 2013, Reid took charge of the issue. The Senate had confirmed only five Obama appointees to the federal appeals court in the election year of 2012, but Reid moved to double the pace in 2013. Republicans responded by filibustering almost every judicial appointment to the appeals court and slow-walking appointments to the district court, which had been routine and uncontroversial under earlier Presidents. Reid fought back, and kept pushing the President’s nominees. In time, though, Reid came to a crossroads.
Reid had fifty-five Democrats in the Senate—enough for a majority but not enough to beat back Republican filibusters. So, in December, 2013, Reid invoked what became known as the nuclear option. With Reid’s blessing, Senate Democrats changed the rules so that only a majority would be required to move lower-court judgeships to a vote. Freed from the threat of filibusters, Reid pushed through thirteen appeals-court judges in 2013 and 2014, a group of exceptional quality. They included Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins on the D.C. Circuit. For the first time in decades, that court now has a majority of Democratic appointees. Other confirmations included such luminaries as Pamela Harris (a noted professor and advocate) on the Fourth Circuit, Jill Pryor (a career public defender) on the Eleventh, and David Barron (a Harvard law professor and Obama Administration lawyer) on the First. None received more than sixty votes, meaning that they would not have been confirmed had Reid not changed the rules. In future decades, many of these judges will be candidates for promotion if a Democratic President has a Supreme Court vacancy to fill. At the same time, Reid pushed through more than a hundred district-court judges in his last two years as majority leader. Of course, almost all of these judges will serve long after Barack Obama and Harry Reid have left office.

That Reid, a big-time Senate traditionalist, let himself be convinced this harvest of judges was worth the trouble and controversy of changing the rules on filibusters was a sign he understood his particular challenge and met it.

March 27, 2015 2:36 PM What Should the Left Do About HRC?

Since each day lowers the already very poor odds a viable challenger like Elizabeth Warren is going to take on Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, there will be plenty more of the already abundant talk about how self-conscious progressives can “keep Hillary honest,” or in the words of Haley Sweetland Edwards’ new piece at TIME, “nudge Hillary Clinton to the left.”

Haley runs through the options, mostly involving (beyond praying for Warren to run after all) keeping certain ideas “out there” and promoting them in other venues like Congress. But I have a somewhat different suggestion: the Left should focus on promoting Hillary’s adoption of progressive ideas—and rejection of non-progressive ideas—she is likely to have the power to enact if she wins. That means a greater emphasis on, say, banking and environmental and labor regulations, and a more pacific foreign policy, and maybe less emphasis on Expanding Social Security or Single-Payer Health Care or other proposals that will require congressional action. Truth is, it’s very unlikely Democrats will come out of 2016 with anything like the kind of congressional majorities they won in 2008, and you saw how hard it was to get a lot done even then. Probably the best-case scenario for the Left is to hope Hillary outrages conservatives with her “imperial” executive actions as much as Obama does now.

Now I know, I know, some people believe that “moving the Overton window” of acceptable policy ideas is very important, and thus so too is promoting legislative concepts that have no immediate prayer of adoption. But as Michael Tomasky notes in an important piece on what he calls “lesser-evilism,” the top consideration for progressives really ought to be how a particular administration is going to affect the people who rely on the thousands of decisions made way down the food chain every day. In the meantime, the Left should also be building a “bench” so that in 2020 or 2024 they are not having this same discussion.

March 27, 2015 2:04 PM Lunch Buffet

To the commenter who upbraided me yesterday for disloyalty to the SEC because I was not rooting for the Kentucky Wildcats, I will note they clearly do not need my support. I’ll cheer for them in football (when they are not playing Georgia!).

Here are some Friday midday news/views snacky snackies:

* Reid endorses Schumer to succeed him as Senate Democratic Leader.

* So pretty clear post-9/11 rules on cockpit access made it possible for Germanwings co-pilot to lock out other crew and crash plane.

* Taking into account the high number of “independents” who are really partisans, looks like reaction to “email scandal” as measured by CBS mostly tracks preconceived attitudes towards HRC.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman mocks Jeb Bush for pretending not to be a Times-reading elitist.

* More Paul Waldman at the Plum Line: opposition to payday lender rules shows GOP’s lack of interest in “equal opportunity.”

And in non-political news:

* British magazine ranks Russell Brand fourth on a list of “influential world thinkers,” just ahead of Paul Krugman.

As we break for lunch, here’s Andy Bown performing “Another Shipwreck,” shortly after parting musical ways with Peter Frampton, who got very rich and famous and now does funny commercials.

March 27, 2015 1:28 PM The Senate Budget Votes

I wouldn’t make too big a deal about this, since it’s just one chamber’s version of a non-binding budget resolution, but the Senate did pass one 52-46, taking the “defense hawk” approach (also pursued by the House) of boosting defense spending through a “contingency fund” gimmick that avoids the need for offsets. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz voted against it in protest against the “gimmicks,” preferring even deeper domestic spending cuts than the cool $5 trillion in the resolution.

It was interesting that Republicans were split on a Democratic amendment to set up a limited paid family and medical leave experiment. Dave Weigel has the story:

The amendment retooled the Healthy Families Act, a bill that faces a steep hill in a Republican Congress. Yet unlike most of the Democrat’s amendments this one was agreed to, picking up every member of Murray’s party and 16 Republicans. From the Republican side: New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, Arizona Senator John McCain, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey.
All are up for re-election in 2016; Ayotte, Kirk, Portman, and Toomey are up in states that voted twice for President Barack Obama. Of Republicans up in 2010, the senators from reliable red states were “no” votes, including Arkansas Senator John Boozman, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter. Of the senators being challenged by Democrats, only Missouri Senator Roy Blunt voted against the amendment.
Also singing in the Republican “no” chorus: All of the senators considering 2016 presidential bids. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio all opposed the Murray amendment.

Nope, Republicans running for president cannot be on Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton’s side of much any issue.

March 27, 2015 1:01 PM Whatever Amnesty Is, They’re Agin’ It

The thing about flip-flopping is that it doesn’t work too well unless it is executed cleanly. If you find yourself issuing “clarifications” or encountering very different interpretations of where you’ve landed after flipping and flopping, you may still be in mid-air. Then you start sounding like one of those weaselly Ivy-League Elitist Lawyer-Politicians, even if you’re Scott Walker and didn’t finish college at Marquette and avoided Shark School.

So you have to wonder what he’s doing in overtly, with a “Hey Look At Me I’m Changing My position” gesture, flip-flopping on immigration policy and then leaving as much confusion as ever about what he actually thinks.

In his original flip-flop, Walker mainly wanted everybody to know he used to favor “amnesty” but didn’t any more. That was assumed to be a position that ruled out any “path to citizenship” reforms for the 11 million undocumented Americans. And if Team Walker was bothered when observers contrasted his position with Jeb Bush’s—which is yes to legalization but no to citizenship—they didn’t rush out to contradict it.

Now, as you may have heard, according to Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal some New Hampshire Republicans are claiming Walker confused everybody again at a private dinner in New Hampshire:

[D]uring the March 13 private dinner, organized by New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn at the Copper Door Restaurant in Bedford, N.H., Mr. Walker said undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be deported, and he mocked 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s suggestion that they would “self-deport,” according to people who were there.
Instead, they said, Mr. Walker said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to “eventually get their citizenship without being given preferential treatment” ahead of people already in line to obtain citizenship.
“He said no to citizenship now, but later they could get it,” said Bill Greiner, an owner of the Copper Door. Ken Merrifield, mayor of Franklin, N.H., who also attended, said Mr. Walker proposed that illegal immigrants should “get to the back of the line for citizenship” but not be deported.

Walker’s people promptly denied the account, but all they’d say is that yes, he opposes “amnesty.”

Now some observers seem to think that if the WSJ account is correct he’s gone back to his original “path to citizenship” position, or never actually abandoned it. But opposition to what is usually meant by a “path to citzenship” doesn’t require a lifetime ban on legal immigration, which is what Walker seemed to be talking about in NH. On the other hand, it sure does appear (again, if the account is correct) he’s ruling out (a) the “cattle-car option” of forced deportation for all 11 million undocumented people, or (b) the idea of making them so miserable they “self-deport.” Unless I’m missing something, the only position left is somewhere pretty close to Jeb’s.

What this incident shows is how slippery the concept of “amnesty” really is. The dictionary definition of the word connotes forgiveness—something above and beyond what the law allows, usually applied categorically, not individually. Now you can make the argument that the kind of “path to citizenship” contemplated in comprehensive immigration reform proposals isn’t strictly speaking “amnesty” because it involves the payment of fines and back taxes and learning English; it’s more like a reduced sentence subject to some conditions. But clearly, most GOP nativists still consider that “amnesty.” A “path to legalization,” on the other hand, typically denies the reward of citizenship perpetually—unless, of course, the person in question qualified for legal immigration, which usually involves leaving the country first. Without question, some conservatives think anything other than deportation—or maintaining the threat of deportation—is amnesty.

So Walker—and really the whole field—need to clarify which definition of “amnesty” they oppose, and what, exactly, is going to happen to the 11 million after the border is sealed and so on and so forth. It’s worth remembering that some people oppose “amnesty” only because it’s supposedly a “magnet” to further illegal border crossings. If that’s not happening any more, is there any reason not to give the 11 million a break? Or will only cattle cars do?

Let’s get this all cleared up.

March 27, 2015 10:55 AM The Devil Came Down to Georgia And Paid Off Judas

In some startling, if preliminary, good news from Georgia, members of a state House committee, including three Republicans, “gutted” a religious liberty bill by adding language foreswearing any preemption of anti-discrimination laws. Proponents of the bill quickly moved to table it for the session, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Aaron Gould Sheinin:

The stunning move to table Senate Bill 129 came after Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, succeeded in amending it to make clear that the bill would protect against “discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state or local law.”
“I take at face value the statements of proponents that they do not intend discrimination with this bill,” Jacobs said. “I also believe that if this is the case, we as the General Assembly should state that expressly in the bill itself.”

Ha ha! Good one!

But “religious liberty” fans are not amused by having their own words quoted back to them. Erick Erickson, who often treats Georgia politics like his own personal dominion, pitched a hissy fit that’s extreme even by his porous standards, focusing on two Republicans who appeared to switch sides by voting with Jacobs, and a third who didn’t vote on the amendment.

Yesterday, I encouraged everyone to call Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard to tell them thank you. They had stood with Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and people of faith. They fought off attempts to gut the religious liberty legislation in Georgia.
After you had taken the time to call them, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard stabbed you in the back.
A week before we remember the anniversary of Judas selling out our Lord for 30 pieces of silver, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard have sold out people of faith.
The very amendments they stopped that would have gutted the religious liberty bill, they put back in yesterday. They saved RFRA in a subcommittee only to kill it in full committee. And they did it after you had thanked them for sparing the legislation.
This is a serious betrayal. They stabbed you in the back as you were thanking them for defending your faith.

Whoa, Erick, remember you’re supposed to be the fearful, persecuted victim here, not a raging vengeful homophobe. Start tossing around references to Judas and you might find yourself tempted to lead one of those medieval-style Good Friday pogroms if you are not careful (as the AJC pointed out this morning, the prime mover in “gutting” the bill, Mark Jacobs, is Jewish).

What the incident makes clear, of course, is that the whole point of “religious liberty” legislation is to sanction discrimination. These people fully intend to discriminate, and demand the right to do so, because they’ve convinced themselves (by conflating traditional secular culture with Christianity, and then finding a few lifted-out-of-context references in Scripture that seem to back it up) that God wants them to discriminate against gay people as unclean. They want their own tidy little Jim Crow zone of discrimination where they benefit from the laws and policies they approve of but are allowed to disregard the others.

But as Erickson demonstrates, the really hard thing for them is to reconcile the appropriate appearance of Christ-like suffering at their terrible victimization with the fury they clearly feel at losing control of the political and legal system, if only for a moment.

One other reason the Freedom to Discriminate coalition is angry is that it is being “betrayed” not just by RINO legislators, but by the business community, which in Georgia and elsewhere, doesn’t want to sacrifice convention business in order to let people defy anti-discrimination laws.

These in Erick’s analogy are the equivalents to the Jewish priests who paid off Judas to turn over Christ to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the conspiracy apparently is even wider: Erickson points to Gov. Nathan Deal—a hard-core Christian Right pol—for allegedly being on the brink of appointing the chief betrayer of the faithful, Mark Jacobs, to a judgeship.

Having repeatedly appropriated to himself the right to determine who is and is not a “Christian,” ol’ Erick clearly needs to do some more purging of the Republican ranks to make the GOP safe for people who want to appropriate the right to determine which laws to obey.

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