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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.24.14

10/24/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The latest on Dr. Craig Spencer: "The Manhattan doctor diagnosed with Ebola is in stable condition in a hospital isolation unit, city officials said Friday.... His fiancee and two friends are also under quarantine but are not sick."
* More safeguards: "In the wake of the first patient to test positive with the Ebola virus in New York City, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced Friday afternoon that they were enhancing the screening at airports in their states and ordering all people who had contact with Ebola patients to be quarantined."
* A success story: "Nina Pham walked out of the hospital and into the White House. Two weeks after she tested positive for Ebola, the Dallas nurse was declared free of the virus Friday and discharged from the Washington-area hospital where she had been treated in a special containment unit. A short time later, she was in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama, who hugged her."
* Mockery: "The White House says it would be more concerned over House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) criticism of the federal Ebola response if the California lawmaker could correctly pronounce the virus's name."
* Egypt: "A militant attack on a security checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt on Friday left at least 26 soldiers dead, according to Egyptian security officials. It was the deadliest attack on the Egyptian military in many years."
* North Korea "may be capable of fielding a nuclear-armed missile that could reach U.S. soil, but because it has not tested such a weapon the odds of it being effective are 'pretty darn low,' the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea said Friday."
* Iran: "Thousands of Iranians took to the streets of the historic city of Isfahan on Wednesday to protest several acid attacks on women. The attacks had coincided with the passage of a law designed to protect those who correct people deemed to be acting in an 'un-Islamic' way."
* A.G. news: "Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel who had been a top candidate to succeed Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, has asked President Obama to be taken out of the running for the job, a White House official confirmed on Friday."
People embrace in front of school busses at a church, Oct. 24, 2014, where students were taken to be reunited with parents following a shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Wash. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP)

Deadly shooting in Seattle-area high school

10/24/14 05:00PM

The details of the violence are still coming together, but the latest information available to msnbc and NBC News points to a terrible scene in a Seattle-area high school today.
A student gunman opened fire Friday morning in the cafeteria of Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle, killing one person and critically wounding at least four others before turning the gun on himself, according to police. [...]
Just before 11 a.m. local time, officers responded to reports of shots fired inside the school, located about 40 miles north of Seattle. Police said they believe the gunman, a freshman at the high school, acted alone. Law enforcement officials completed their search of the building by the early afternoon hours, then began looking around the campus.
Students were evacuated to a nearby church. Helicopter footage of the school showed students -- led by armed police -- exiting the building with their arms raised in the air. 
In the most recent press briefing, Marysville Police PIO Cmdr. Robb Lamoureaux was not prepared to officially confirm whether the other person shot and killed was a student or staff member.
Today's school shooting comes just four months after a school shooting at a high school in Troutdale, Oregon. At the time, that was the 74th school shooting in the United States since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., suggesting today's gun violence was the 75th such shooting.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a meeting of university officials in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 1, 2013.

It's always nice to be noticed

10/24/14 04:18PM

We talked yesterday about Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who launched a highly provocative new campaign ad that includes footage from an ISIS propaganda video. Many, including me, questioned the propriety of a politician airing footage from Islamic State terrorists to advance his personal ambitions.
To my surprise, this appears to have annoyed a Fox News contributor, who referenced my piece on the air this morning.
"Just yesterday an MSNBC producer for the Rachel Maddow show named Steve Benen wrote a lengthy piece making fun of Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton. He's making fun of Tom Cotton for calling out and showing how radical ISIS is and so it's this idea that if you confront it, if you talk about it, you're gonna inflame it. And I think it's actually the opposite...."
While it's certainly nice to be noticed, let's take a moment to clarify matters, because the conservative who complained about my piece on Fox News may have missed its meaning.
Readers are obviously welcome to read the piece for themselves, but I didn't "make fun" of the far-right congressman for "showing how radical ISIS is." Instead, I hoped to make an entirely different point, which may have been too subtle for some of our friends at Fox.
So let's make this plain:
Drivers crowd a gas station in the Tenleytown section of Washington, D.C., June 30, during a massive power outtage resulting from a powerful storm late Friday.

'Full credit or blame' on gas prices

10/24/14 03:30PM

It was just a couple of years ago that Republicans positioned gas prices one of the nation's most important political issues. Mitt Romney, during his failed presidential bid, argued President Obama "gets full credit or blame for what's happened in this economy, and what's happened to gasoline prices under his watch."
The argument was always a little silly. Gas prices were extremely low when Obama first took office in early 2009 because there was a global economic crisis underway, weakening demand and pushing prices at the pump much lower. Consumers were paying more in 2012 than 2009, but that was because the economy had recovered.
But if Romney was correct, and the president deserves "full credit" for the price of gas, Republicans must be awfully impressed with Obama right now.
The average cost of filling up at the gas pump will soon be less than $3 a gallon across the U.S., according to projections from AAA on Friday.
The auto group said that the average price of gas may drop below $3 "sometime in the next couple of weeks" for the first time in four years.
About half of all U.S. gas stations are now selling gasoline for less than $3 per gallon. The most common price is $2.99 per gallon, AAA said.
This is easily a three-year low for gas prices, largely the result of weaker foreign demand.
Just so we're clear, I'm not arguing that Obama deserves the credit for lower prices. He doesn't. I'm arguing that it was lazy dumb for Republicans to argue that Obama deserved the blame for higher prices, and the right shouldn't try to have it both ways.
Indeed, let's not forget that Republicans actually spent a fair amount of time in the president's first term arguing that Obama was deliberately trying to raise the price at the pump as part of a specific environmental agenda.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.

'Just not many' jobs in the GOP jobs plan

10/24/14 12:50PM

A couple of weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tweeted the House Republicans' five-point jobs plan, which, regrettably, was left entirely blank. It was obviously just a mix-up -- Boehner wasn't trying to embarrass his party on purpose -- but it underscored an important truth about the lack of ideas from GOP lawmakers on the nation's #1 issue.
Boehner and most congressional Republicans, of course, don't see it that way. Mention the word "jobs," and GOP lawmakers have an immediate and reflexive talking point: House Republicans passed "more than 40 jobs bills" in this Congress, but those rascally Senate Democrats refused to pass them.
Reality tells a different story. Those who actually read the list of the "more than 40 jobs bills" notice that several of the measures aren't related to job creation at all. What's more, Jackie Calmes this week sought out economists, including plenty of conservative economists, for their impressions of the Republicans' agenda.
''Some of those things will help,'' Matthew J. Slaughter, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, said after reviewing nearly four dozen measures that House Republicans have labeled ''jobs bills.'' He cited some business tax cuts, for example, even as he cautioned about the cost of such actions.
''But,'' added Mr. Slaughter, who served on President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, ''it just struck me as sort of a compendium of modest expectations. If you ask me, 'What's your ballpark guess for how many jobs are going to be created?,' it's just not many.'' [...]
While private sector analysts say that the varied Boehner list is not suitable to their computer models, Joel Prakken, a founder of the St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers, said, ''I don't think you would get a rush of hiring from passing these bills.''
In 2011, President Obama presented Congress with a package called the American Jobs Act, which independent analysts said would have added about 150,000 jobs per month to the economy, every month for a year. Republicans refused to even a hold a vote on the president's proposal, despite public demand for policymakers to address the jobs crisis.
But the ensuing challenge from Democrats to GOP lawmakers was specific: if you don't like Obama's plan, present an alternative, allow independent analysts to scrutinize the preferred Republican approach, and provide an estimate of how many Americans jobs it would create.
Republicans never even tried to meet this challenge, and the reason why is pretty obvious: the GOP alternative, if it existed, would look pretty ridiculous when compared to the White House's plan. Republicans keep screaming "more than 40 jobs bills!" in the hopes that (a) no one will look too closely at the bills themselves; and (b) voters won't notice that the GOP jobs bills won't actually create jobs.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.24.14

10/24/14 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:
* Nearly all recent polling in Georgia's U.S. Senate race shows Michelle Nunn (D) leading David Perdue (R), including a new CNN poll that shows Nunn up by three, 47% to 44%.
* On a related note, the latest Insider Advantage poll also shows Nunn leading, 47% to 45%, and also found Georgia's gubernatorial race tied up, with Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Jason Carter (D) each getting 44%.
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, the new Quinnipiac poll shows Rep. Cory Gardner (R) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D) by five, 46% to 41%. Last week, Quinnipiac showed the far-right congressman up by six.
* There's considerable interest in South Dakota's three-way U.S. Senate contest, but Senate Majority PAC, which exists to help give Senate Democratic candidates a boost, is staying out of the race, focusing its resources on Kentucky and Georgia.
* In Maine's gubernatorial race, PPP's new survey shows Gov. Paul LePage (R) and Mike Michaud (D) tied at 40% each. Independent Eliot Cutler, whose candidacy LePage recently described as "an early Christmas present," is a distant third with 17%.
* The Republican Governors Association appears quite concerned about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) race, and the group is investing another $1 million in the state in hopes of giving the incumbent a boost.
* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, the latest UMass-Lowell poll shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) with a three-point advantage over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 49% to 46%.
People arrive to vote in Phoenix, Arizona.

Arizona voting scandal isn't scandalous after all

10/24/14 11:20AM

Once in a while, the word "apparently" can carry a heavy load in a sentence.
Conservatives are outraged over what they claim, mistakenly, to be evidence of massive voter fraud being perpetrated in Arizona, The Daily Dot reports.
In the video -- which was posted at Glenn Beck's The Blaze under the headline, "Surveillance video apparently catches guy doing something at the ballot box that left Republican monitor stunned" -- Ben Marine can be seen entering the lobby of the polling station in a Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA) shirt and delivering absentee ballots he had collected.
Well, it's a funny story, actually. When Glenn Beck's website says the video "apparently" caught a young man doing something wrong, it "apparently" didn't check to see what's permissible under Arizona election law. 
A.J. LaFaro, the chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, told the Arizona Daily Independent, "I believe it's inconceivable, unacceptable, and should be illegal for groups to collect hundreds, if not thousands, of voters' ballots and return them to the elections offices or polling locations."
And though LaFaro is certainly welcome to call for changes to state election law, the fact remains that it's perfectly legal to collect absentee ballots and deliver them to a polling station -- making this controversy pretty foolish.
This photo taken March 22, 2013, shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington.

Conservative lawsuit against IRS falls far short

10/24/14 10:52AM

When a conservative group called True the Vote, which describes itself as a "voter-integrity" organization, applied for tax-exempt status, it ran into a little trouble. The Internal Revenue Service, aware of the group's controversial tactics, scrutinized True the Vote's request, before ultimately granting the organization the tax status it requested.
The conservative entity's leaders filed a lawsuit anyway, claiming mistreatment. The case didn't go well.
A federal judge on Thursday dismissed two lawsuits against the Internal Revenue Service related to the agency's treatment of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, ruling that no remedy was necessary because the groups' applications were ultimately approved.
"The allegedly unconstitutional governmental conduct, which delayed the processing of the plaintiff's tax-exempt application and brought about this litigation, is no longer impacting the plaintiff," Judge Reggie B. Walton, of the United States District Court in the District of Columbia, wrote in a 23-page decision. He was referring to the lead plaintiff, True the Vote, a Tea Party-affiliated group.
"Unless an actual, ongoing controversy exists in this case, this court is without power to decide it," Judge Walton added.
Judge Walton, in case you're curious, was a Republican appointee, first put on the bench by President Reagan.
The outcome, though not surprising to anyone except far-right activists, does raise a dilemma for proponents of the underlying conspiracy theory. There were organizations -- on the right, left, and center -- whose applications were subjected to additional scrutiny by the tax agency, but no conservative groups were actually denied a tax-exempt status.
It's one of the details that makes the IRS "scandal" a joke with no punchline.
That said, though the controversy largely evaporated over a year ago, it's likely to generate ample attention in the next Congress, especially if Republicans successfully take the Senate.
Martha Coakley, the leading Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts, speaks at a meet and greet in Salem, Mass., June 9, 2014.

A Bay State blowout?

10/24/14 10:06AM

Massachusetts is home to one of the nation's most competitive gubernatorial races, though the latest Boston Globe poll, which is getting all kinds of attention, suggests it may not be that competitive after all.
Republican Charlie Baker has opened up a 9-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley, 45 percent to 36 percent, according to a new Globe poll that depicts a far more comfortable advantage than either candidate for governor has enjoyed in months. [...]
"There is just positive movement in every single metric we can ask around Baker," said pollster John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., which conducts the weekly poll for the Globe. "The more voters have gotten to know him, the stronger he performs."
To be sure, a nine-point lead this close to Election Day suggests the Democratic gubernatorial candidate is in real trouble.
But I've been watching the Boston Globe's polling, and there's something about the results that gives me pause. I put together this chart, showing the results from just this pollster since June:
Chris Christie

Christie wants GOP control of voting rules, election officials

10/24/14 09:25AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) stunned voting-rights advocates this week, arguing that Republican governors should control "voting mechanisms" in order to help the party win the 2016 presidential election.
In remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey governor said, "Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?"
Political scientist Norm Ornstein paraphrased Christie's comments this way: "How can we cheat on vote counts if we don't control the governorships?"
The good news is, the Garden State governor decided to clarify his remarks yesterday. The bad news is, Christie made things worse.
"Everybody read much too much into that," he said. "You know who gets to appoint people, who gets to decide in part what the rules are, I'd much rather have Republican governors counting those votes when we run in 2016 as Republicans than I would have Democrats. There was no specific reference to any laws."
Christie noted that he was specifically talking about electing Republican governors and that it is state legislatures that are passing voter identification requirements.
According to another local account, the governor added, "What I was talking about was, who's going to be in charge of the state when the votes are being counted."
As Rachel noted yesterday, "That's the kind of 'clarification' that makes things worse, not better."
Indeed, taking the two sets of Christie comments together, it's difficult to think of a charitable interpretation.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the 2014 National Urban League Conference July 25, 2014  in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Rand Paul reflects on people 'vomiting all over you'

10/24/14 08:42AM

When it comes to improving the public's understanding of the Ebola threat, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) isn't helping. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is coming up short in even more dramatic fashion.
The trouble started in earnest three weeks ago, when the Republican senator and likely presidential candidate started making appearances on right-wing radio programs, questioning Ebola assessments from the experts, blaming "political correctness," and raising threats that seemed plainly at odds with the facts. Last week, Paul went further, asserting without proof that public officials are deliberately misleading Americans about the virus.
In the face of criticism, the Kentucky lawmaker is undeterred. Paul has since said scientists are wrong about the disease being transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, and yesterday, Rosie Gray reported on the senator's latest efforts to scare the bejesus out of the public.
That Ebola virus can only be transferred through bodily fluids, Paul said, is "the same description that was given for AIDS. But no health workers in this country have gotten AIDS from handling linens."
"They just changed the protocols a day ago," Paul said, seemingly referring to the CDC's tightening of Ebola protocols this week. "They've admitted they were wrong. Obviously they're flying by the seat of their pants."
"If this was a plane full of people who were symptomatic, you'd be at grave risk of getting Ebola," Paul said. "If a plane takes 12 hours, how do you know if people will become symptomatic or not?" he said. There would be grave risk, he said, if "they're vomiting all over you or they're coughing all over you."
There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks about politicians making remarks that may be considered "disqualifying." Some, for example, have said dodging questions about votes in the 2012 presidential election is a deal-breaker for candidates seeking public support.
But at a certain point, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether Rand Paul's very public, very aggressive campaign to convince Americans to ignore public-health experts is itself a disqualifying development for a man who apparently wants to help lead the free world.
Peter King

Stay calm, carry on, and don't listen to Peter King

10/24/14 08:00AM

With a confirmed case of Ebola in New York City, the relevant officials and agencies, who have prepared extensively for these circumstances, are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing. Some anxiety is understandable, but the public can have confidence in the public-health system.
And while they're at it, Americans should probably ignore a certain Republican congressman from NYC.
Republican Rep. Peter King thinks the doctors are wrong on Ebola, suggesting the deadly virus might have mutated and gone airborne in an interview with Long Island News Radio last week.
"You know my attitude was it's important not to create a panic and it's important not to overreact and the doctors were absolutely certain that this cannot be transmitted and it was not airborne and yet we find out the people who have contracted it were wearing all protective gear," said King.
The Republican lawmaker, who made the comments before learning about the new diagnosis, added, "I think the doctors have been wrong. I don't think it was any conspiracy, I think they have been wrong.... It's time for the doctor's to realize that they were wrong and figure out why they were wrong. Maybe this is a mutated form of the virus."
To understate matters, King isn't helping. First, it's true that some nurses in Dallas became infected while caring for a patient, but the CDC has concluded that a breach in protocol with the protective gear was responsible. This does not mean Ebola is "airborne."
Second, while it's possible for medical professionals to be wrong, there's no evidence whatsoever -- from King or anyone else -- that the doctors have been wrong about Ebola.
The congressman, in other words, is just throwing around reckless opinions, based on nothing but fear, and making bogus assertions that may scare people for no reason. It's the exact opposite of what responsible public figures, communicating with the public, should be doing right now. Peter King has no background in science or medicine, and there's simply no reason for him to tell Americans that doctors "were wrong" about Ebola when the evidence suggests the exact opposite is true.

Ebola on the Hill and other headlines

10/24/14 07:59AM

House Oversight Committee holds its Ebola hearing today. (NY Times)

Tracing Ebola patient's possible contacts creates host of challenges for NYC. (NY Times)

Scott Brown, Jeanne Shaheen spar over Ebola, ISIS in heated debate. (Huffington Post)

Where did the Ottawa Parliament shooter get his gun? (CBC)

Missouri police preparing for grand jury decision on the shooting of Michael Brown. (AP)

The Duggars campaign for Pat Roberts in Kansas. (Washington Post)

Facing lawsuit, California oil train terminal to shut down. (McClatchy)

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