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Jobless claims improve to eight-year low

07/24/14 08:39AM

The last time the Labor Department published a report on initial unemployment claims this good, the Great Recession hadn't even started yet.
The number of people who applied for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits in the week that ended July 19 tumbled by 19,000 to 284,000 -- the lowest level since February 2006 -- signaling that companies have further slowed down the pace of layoffs and are letting go of few workers, according to government data released Thursday.
 
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected initial claims of 310,000 in the most recent weekly data. The average of new claims over the past month declined by 7,250 to 302,000 -- the lowest level since May 2007, the U.S. Labor Department reported.
Regular readers know I run the above chart every Thursday morning, highlighting initial unemployment claims since January 2007, the year the Great Recession started. Look closely, however, and you'll notice that today's report is the best since before the chart began.

Montana's Walsh caught up in damaging plagiarism controversy

07/24/14 08:00AM

Appointed Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana is running for a full term this year, and by all estimates, faces long odds. One recent analysis found the decorated Iraq war veteran stands about a 6% chance of success. Recent polling suggests Walsh has narrowed the gap against Rep. Steve Daines (R), but everyone agrees the senator has a tough road ahead.
 
A road that now looks even tougher, following this New York Times report.
On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.
 
But one of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh's 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh's master's degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors' works, with no attribution.
The incident occurred seven years ago, before Walsh was serving in elected office, but it can't be dismissed as a youthful indiscretion -- he was 46 at the time. What's more, the extent of the plagiarism wasn't just the result of sloppy editing; large chunks of others' work was presented as his own.
 
Walsh acknowledged late yesterday that he made a "mistake," adding, "I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor. My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."
 
Time will tell the degree to which Montana voters hold this against him, but it raises a larger question about why some politicians can overcome plagiarism controversies and some can't.

Witness to botched execution and other headlines

07/24/14 07:56AM

Arizona execution witness describes gruesome scene. (Arizona Republic)

Gaza death toll tops 700. (L.A. Times)

European court says CIA ran a secret jail in a Polish forest. (Reuters)

Democrats stand by Senator Walsh amid plagiarism claim. (AP)

ID Gov. declares he won't take migrant kids into his state (though nobody has asked him to). (Spokesman-Review)

Marine biologist v. teenager. (Washington Post)

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An undated Arizona Department of Corrections handout showing Joseph Rudolph Wood.

Update: Arizona execution takes nearly two hours

07/23/14 11:50PM

Tonight on the show, we covered the breaking news of an execution in Arizona that took nearly two hours to complete. The Arizona Department of Corrections used a new cocktail of drugs, including one -- midazolam -- that has been linked to other executions that did not go as planned.

Witnesses to the execution today describe the prisoner as gasping for air more than 600 times. One compared it to watching a fish that had been thrown on shore, opening and closing its mouth. The execution lasted so long that lawyers for the prisoner asked the courts to stay the execution in progress. "He is still alive," they told the court.

They did not get that order. But they did get a court order requiring the county medical examiner to preserve tissue from the body and to take blood samples by 11 P.M. Eastern tonight. On the show, attorney Dale Baich told us the local medical examiner had said he would not comply with a court order to draw blood from the executed prisoner by that deadline. From the interview:

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Ahead on the 7/23/14 Maddow show

07/23/14 07:51PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Mauricio Marin, reporter for CBS's Tucson affiliate KOLD TV. He witnessed the execution today.
  • Dale Baich, attorney for Joseph Wood, witnessed botched execution today
  • Thomas Kaplan, reporter for the New York Times

Here's executive producer Bill Wolff with a video preview of a show you should not miss:

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.23.14

07/23/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Ukraine: "Two Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jets were shot down on Wednesday in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. The planes were downed in an area of heavy fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, near where a Malaysia Airlines jet was blown out of the sky on Thursday, killing 298 people and drawing international dismay."
 
* Unimaginable: "Parents who lost three young children and their grandfather when Flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Putin rebels revealed that they now 'live in a hell beyond hell.'"
 
* Middle East: "Israel faced new political and economic pressures on Wednesday to negotiate a halt to the 16-day-old Gaza war, with its rising toll of death and destruction, as cease-fire talks ground forward and the Israeli tourism industry was upended as major foreign airlines extended their suspension of flights over fears of Palestinian rocket fire."
 
* U.N.: "The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to establish an inquiry into human rights violations in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories at a special session on Wednesday in which the top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said Israel and Hamas had likely committed war crimes with indiscriminate attacks on civilians."
 
* Intelligence released: "The Obama administration, detailing what it called evidence of Russian complicity in the downing of a Malaysian airliner, on Tuesday released satellite images and other sensitive intelligence that officials say show Moscow had trained and equipped rebels in Ukraine responsible for the attack."
 
* A career-ender for Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.)? "An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh's master's degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors' works, with no attribution."
 
* House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is blasting President Obama for supporting a 2008 human trafficking law. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is blasting President Obama for opposing the same 2008 human trafficking law. Hmm.
 
* Confirmation now appears certain: "The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved President Obama's pick to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs Department, sending his nomination to the full chamber. Senators voted 14-0 for former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald to run the agency, which has been rocked by a scandal over falsified reports over how long veterans were waiting for care."
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivers remarks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition "Road to Majority" policy conference in Washington, June 19, 2014.

At the intersection of Ted Cruz and bad charts

07/23/14 05:01PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) really wants to deport Dream Act kids. I mean, he desperately wants to deport them. The far-right senator knows these young people have been living, working, and studying in the United States for most of their lives. And he knows America is the only home they've ever known.
 
But the Texas Republican has nevertheless made kicking these young people out of the country his "top priority." Cruz is approaching this with a zealotry that's rather unnerving, and he's urging other GOP lawmakers to do the same.
 
This is no excuse, however, for bad charts.

Fox hosts blast 911 calls from immigrants

07/23/14 04:00PM

There's obviously no point in getting too excited about every foolish remark uttered on "Fox & Friends," but this story by way of Emily Arrowood, is pretty extraordinary, even by Fox standards.
On July 23, Fox & Friends centered a discussion on how undocumented immigrants in Brooks County, Texas are "bombarding" the police department with 911 calls. Host Brian Kilmeade ... suggested Brooks County emergency response services might be strained because, "not only are they understaffed and lacking resources, now they've got to deal with illegal immigrants who have no business being here."
 
As an example, the program aired two emergency calls from Spanish speakers each identified on-screen as "Immigrant." In the first, a distressed male requests emergency assistance for his cousin, whom the man described as "turning blue." Another call featured a man and woman explaining to the 911 operator that they have not had access to water in three days.
During the on-air interview, Kilmeade asked the deputy, "So those calls, you have to respond to, even though for the most part, when you get there you realize, they're not even American citizens?"
 
Co-host Steve Doocy added his concerns about "a small Texas town" that's "forced to answer 911 from stranded illegals in Spanish."
 
How the show knows that Spanish-speaking people in Texas who call 911 are "illegal immigrants who have no business being here" is unclear. Maybe they're Spanish-speaking Americans with an emergency. Maybe they're tourists.
 
More important, though, is what "Fox & Friends" would recommend as a remedy to this perceived problem. Should there be some kind of test in which 911 operators check callers' citizenship status before dispatching first responders?
 
Let's pause for a quick refresher on the point of 911 operations.
Mothers from Honduras traveling with their children prepare to get into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services agent's truck after crossing the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, July 3, 2014.

What is the 'working group' working on, exactly?

07/23/14 12:50PM

It's been a few weeks since President Obama presented Congress with a pretty credible package to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. Congressional Republicans have made clear that they don't like the White House's proposed solution, though they have no alternative of their own.
 
At least, not yet. Robert Costa reports that House Republicans are nearly ready to present their own proposal, which would mandate deploying National Guard troops for no particular reason, and require reforms to the Bush/Cheney law that provides a legal process for these unaccompanied Central American children.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), who led the House GOP "working group" tasked with tackling the issue, planned to share her team's recommendations during the closed-door weekly House Republican meeting. On her way in, carrying a binder of papers and pamphlets, Granger said a vote on her proposals "should happen right now."
 
"Every day that we delay, thousands more come across the border," she said.
Actually, no. That's incorrect. "In the first 14 days of July, Customs and Border Protection officials apprehended an average of 150 unaccompanied children per day in the Rio Grande Valley -- a figure that has plunged from about 355 per day in June," we learned yesterday.
 
Presumably, if an elected member of Congress is tasked to lead a "working group" on the border crisis, he or she would not only have access to detailed information, but would also know that claims such as "every day ... thousands more come across the border" aren't true.
 
It's important to have this policy debate, but it'll be a more constructive debate if policymakers stick to the facts.
 
And the facts tell us that despite the recent crisis, illegal immigration is actually down sharply.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.23.14

07/23/14 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* In North Carolina's closely watched U.S. Senate race, incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) continues to hold on against state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), with PPP showing her up by seven points, 41% to 34%. In May, PPP shows Hagan up by five.
 
* In related news, the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners has reportedly made a $2.8 million ad buy in North Carolina in order to try to bring Hagan down.
 
* In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) leading incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) by five, 45% to 40% in a head-to-head match-up. When Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie is added to the mix, Crist still leads, but his advantage slips to just two points.
 
* In Colorado, PPP now shows Sen. Mark Udall (D) with a narrow, one-point lead over Rep. Cory Gardner (R), 44% to 43%.
 
* The same PPP poll out of Colorado shows an equally close gubernatorial race, with incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) also leading former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), 44% to 43%.
 
* In Iowa, Republicans are going after Rep. Bruce Braley's (D) Senate campaign, attacking him for having missed a VA hearing in 2012. In an amusing twist, it turns out that Braley was in "Fast & Furious" hearing at the time, making this an odd thing for the GOP to complain about.

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