Virginia Republicans haven't had it easy lately. The trouble seemed to start in earnest during last year's elections -- GOP candidates lost all of the statewide races -- and went downhill from there.
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) was indicted on corruption charges. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) was thrown out of office by his own party in a shocking primary. Party leaders hoped to make this year's U.S. Senate race in the commonwealth a key battleground, but have so far failed miserably.
This week, the intra-party fights took a turn for the worse, to the point that msnbc's Tim Noah said it looks like "the entire Virginia GOP is having a nervous breakdown." Jenna Portnoy reported yesterday:
The battle for control of the Republican Party of Virginia continued to rage this week with revelations of new discord between three prominent elected officials and a group of increasingly powerful conservative activists.
The conflict centers around a request from three of Virginia's Republican congressmen to state GOP leaders urging them to postpone a meeting last Saturday that was widely expected to feature a contentious showdown over control of party leadership posts.
I can appreciate why a dispute between congressmen and local party leaders over leadership posts may not seem important, but let's not forget that a dispute like this was a precursor to Cantor's stunning defeat earlier in the summer.
And given that Virginia is one of the nation's key swing states, the fact that its state GOP is suffering through "growing rancor and division," as the congressmen put it, may very well carry consequences down the road.
As of a few months ago, the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas, one of the nation's most competitive contests, looked fairly predictable. On health care, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) would generally avoid the Affordable Care Act, while Rep. Tom Cotton (R) would run far to the right, base much of his platform on destroying the law, and promise to eliminate benefits for millions.
As of this week, those expectations have been shaken up rather dramatically. Indeed, what's playing out in Arkansas is emblematic of the changing nature of the debate everywhere.
Pryor, for example, supported the Affordable Care Act that has helped Arkansans enormously, and as Greg Sargent reported yesterday, the conservative Democrat is no longer afraid to tout his record.
In what may be the first, and certainly the most ambitious, such effort of the year, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas is going up with a new and emotional ad that is focused solely on presenting his vote for health reform as a positive:
The ad is backed by a significant, six-figure statewide buy, I'm told. The spot tells the story of Pryor's own battle with cancer, and features the Senator sitting alongside his father, David Pryor.
Note, Pryor doesn't mention the law by name -- or its nickname -- but he doesn't have to. Instead, the senator emphasizes the popular benefits the Affordable Care Act provides for those who need it. "No one should be fighting an insurance company while you're fighting for your life," he tells viewers. "That's why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions."
As striking as this is, the larger context is just as important. While Democrats in red states start boasting about ACA benefits, Republicans are moving away from their health care attack ads and struggling to answer questions about Medicaid expansion.
Earlier this year, all of this was supposed to be impossible. Republicans, we were assured, would stay on the offensive, attacking "Obamacare," while Democrats desperately hid from the issue. And yet, here we are, watching the conventional wisdom get turned upside down. Indeed, Pryor's ad is a reminder that while voters say they don't like the reform law, they love what's in the reform law -- even in a red state in the Deep South.
The politics have become so topsy turvy that Cotton's far-right allies have begun attacking Pryor for not being liberal enough.
As we discussed earlier this month, since the start of the Great Recession, the very idea of initial unemployment claims dropping below the 300,000 threshold seemed rather fanciful. But the latest data from the Labor Department shows that it's now happened three times in the last five weeks.
The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell below 300,000 for the third time in five weeks, signaling once again that layoffs remain at a post-recession low amid an uptick in hiring in most major U.S. industries. Initial jobless claims fell by 14,000 to 298,000 in the week of Aug. 10 to Aug. 16, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to drop to 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, climbed by 4,750 to 300,750. Although that's a four-week high, the monthly average is still near the lowest level in eight years.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 21 of the last 24 weeks.
In recent years, it's easy to think of instances in which American servicemen and women are sent on a dangerous mission, which has gone very well. The mission to free Richard Phillips from his captors in 2009, for example, was a great success. So was the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. More recently, the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged ringleader of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, went off without a hitch.
The Pentagon attempted a rescue operation to free James Foley and other U.S. hostages held in Syria by Islamist militants, but the mission failed because the hostages weren't where U.S. planners thought they were, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.
The attempted rescue occurred early this summer when Special Operations forces in helicopters, under air cover from U.S. fighter jets, swarmed a compound and were engaged by enemy forces, U.S. officials told NBC News.
An American helicopter pilot suffered a minor injury, but that was the full extent of the U.S. casualties. On the other hand, Defense Department officials said "many ISIS fighters were killed" during the raid and subsequent gunbattle.
The hostages, however, simply weren't there.
A New York Timesreport added some additional details, including the fact that the mission was carried out by a team of two dozen Delta Force commandos, dropped by helicopter into Syria, who raided an oil refinery in the northern part of the country.
Lisa Monaco, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a written statement that the administration had an opportunity and acted on "what we believed was sufficient intelligence," but the raid was too late.
"Given the need to protect our military's operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation," Monaco added. "But the President could not be prouder of the U.S. forces who carried out this mission and the dedicated intelligence and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts. Their effort should serve as another signal to those who would do us harm that the United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable."
Rachel Maddow reports on the White House reaction to the murder of American James Foley by the ISIS terrorist group and notes the concern of western security experts that the person on the propaganda tape apparently has a London accent. watch
Mike Jones, senior policy advisor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effect of Eric Holder's presence in Ferguson and the involvement of the Justice Department in reforming police departments. watch
Mike Jones, senior policy advisor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, former chief of staff to the mayor of St. Louis, former Deputy Mayor for Development and currently sits on the State Board of Education. He has lived in, and served St. Louis county his entire life.
Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes"
* More on this on tonight's show: "Federal prosecutors briefed Attorney General Eric Holder about the civil rights investigation into the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, during Holder's trip to Ferguson on Wednesday."
* Making a connection: "Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday told a group of black college students here that he had been a victim of racial profiling."
* One of the key angles to watch: "St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch presented preliminary evidence Wednesday to a grand jury in the investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown, kicking off a process that could help ease tensions in this still uneasy community. But ... the calls for McCulloch to step aside aren't dying down."
* You may have seen the video: "The situation in Ferguson ... seemed particularly tense for one police officer on Tuesday night, who aimed his rifle at protesters while shouting obscenities and death threats before being told to calm down by what appear to be fellow officers." He's reportedly been relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely.
* Clashes in Liberia: "Liberia's halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent on Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a neighborhood here that had been cordoned off by the government."
* So close to basic human decency for same-sex couples in the commonwealth: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped Virginia officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, putting on hold a lower court ruling that said the unions could start on Thursday."
* Scary conditions in Iceland: "The risk of an eruption at Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano has increased, after a series of earthquakes in the region.... The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days, affecting more than 10 million people."
* Settlement: "Bank of America has reached a record $17 billion settlement to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, officials directly familiar with the matter said Wednesday."
* Ukraine: "After nearly a week of inaction, a Russian aid convoy destined for the besieged, rebel-controlled Ukrainian city of Luhansk rumbled to life on Wednesday, with 16 of its trucks passing through a Russian border checkpoint."
* ALEC loses a high-profile backer: "Microsoft announced Tuesday that it's cutting ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative public-policy lobbying group. It appears this decision was made due to ALEC's lobbing efforts to block the development of renewable energy."
President Obama spoke today on the ISIS murder of photo journalist James Foley, and the president's condemnation of the terrorist group was as broad as it was explicit. For all the Beltway chatter about Obama's willingness to emote, the president seemed genuinely angry about Foley's slaying.
"Jim Foley's life stands in stark contrast to his killers," Obama said in his address. "They abduct women and children, subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They've murdered Muslims -- Sunni and Shia -- by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes and murdering them when they can."
"People like this ultimately fail," he continued. "They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy, and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him."
Obama added, "ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.
Soon after, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil. [ISIS] and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable."
And it was right around this time that the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, whose track record for being hilariously wrong about practically everything has become the stuff of legend, decided to start complaining about the Obama administration's indifference towards ISIS.
One of the key leadership figures in the Ferguson crisis has been Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. It's a shame, then, that Soraya Nadia McDonald had to explain that Johnson has not been photographed flashing gang signs with members of the community.
To reiterate: Capt. Johnson is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity that was formed in 1911 at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the hand sign you see in the pictures below is a Kappa greeting. The Kappas are part of the Divine Nine or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically black fraternities and sororities that include Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta, none of which are gangs.
The gesture -- which looks a bit like an A-OK sign turned on its side -- is obviously harmless. It's evidence of membership in a fraternity, not membership in a gang.
But that didn't stop a variety of conservatives from pushing the line that Johnson was somehow involved directly in gang activity.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claims to have beheaded an American photojournalist and has threatened the life of another American journalist if President Obama doesn't stop airstrikes in Iraq.
A graphic video obtained by NBC News purportedly shows James Wright Foley, a freelance reporter for the U.S.-based news service GlobalPost who was kidnapped while reporting from Syria two years ago, reciting threats against America before he is executed by an ISIS militant. The militant heard in the video speaks in English.
As for the authentication of the video, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said this morning, "The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic. We will continue to provide updates as they are available."
As Rachel noted on the show last night, Foley went missing in late 2012, and his official whereabouts were unknown until yesterday. ISIS described its murder of Foley effectively as payback for recent U.S. military operations against ISIS in Iraq.
Last night, Foley's parents released a statement that read in part, "We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the sufferings of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person."
He was just 40 years old. President Obama is expected to speak publicly about the murder any minute now.