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Ahead on the 10/20/14 Maddow show

10/20/14 07:41PM

Tonight's guest:

  • Emily Schultheis, National Journal Political reporter
  • Dr. Zeke Emanuel, University of Pennsylvania Chair of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and MSNBC Contributor

Check out a preview of tonight's show after the jump read more

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.20.14

10/20/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Texas: "More than three dozen people who were monitored for the last three weeks for possible contact with the Ebola virus were cleared Monday to return to work or school, leaving 133 others still being watched for symptoms of the disease, Dallas County officials said."
* The so-called Ebola Cruise: "In the end, there was never any risk of the Ebola virus aboard what became known as the Ebola Cruise."
* Ugh: "In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, a crowd of parents pulled their middle school students from class Friday after learning that the school's principal recently had traveled to attend a family funeral in Zambia, which is in southern Africa and about 3,000 miles from the outbreak in West Africa."
* Turkey "will allow Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as pesh merga, to cross its border with Syria to help fight militants from the group called the Islamic State who have besieged the Syrian town of Kobani for more than a month, the Turkish foreign minister announced Monday."
* Iraq: "Militants unleashed a flurry of deadly attacks against Shiite targets in Iraq on Monday, including a quadruple car bombing near two of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam and a suicide attack inside a mosque, officials said."
* Syria: "The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists."
* Impressive results in Nigeria: "The World Health Organization declared Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, officially free of Ebola infections on Monday, calling the outcome the triumphal result of 'world class epidemiological detective work.'"
* Maybe we should do something: "The Earth is getting hotter. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released a new report Monday that showed the planet is on track to have its hottest year on record. The temperatures from January through September of this year tied with the highest period on record, previously reached in 1998."
* Try not to be surprised: "If Republicans gain the Senate majority in November, President Barack Obama could face pressure from Congress to send ground troops into Iraq and Syria. 'Frankly, I know of no military expert who believes we are going to defeat ISIS with this present strategy,' Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at a Pacific Council on International Policy conference on Saturday."
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at the Defending the American Dream Summit sponsored by Americans For Prosperity at the Omni Hotel on Aug. 29, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. (Mike Stone/Getty)

Did Peripatetic Perry 'miss the moment'?

10/20/14 04:56PM

Whenever any kind of important national incident unfolds, an odd sort of expectations springs up around President Obama.  A crisis in Ukraine, according to the new, unwritten rules, means the president isn't supposed to golf. A crisis in Israel, the rules now dictate, means no traveling to fundraisers. And so on.
But it now seems possible that the rules won't just apply to Obama. Katie Glueck reported the other day on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) facing similar questions about his travel schedule.
Ebola came to Texas. And Rick Perry went to Europe.
Now the Republican governor, a likely presidential contender, is back in Austin and scrambling to avoid a damaging perception problem like the "oops" moment that doomed his first shot at the White House.
On Oct. 12, the governor left for a long-planned trip to Europe, and soon after, two cases of Ebola were confirmed in his home state. After Perry's aides told reporters he didn't intend to cut the trip short, the governor scrapped his schedule and returned to Texas.
Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist with deep Texas ties, told Glueck, "Crisis management is actually something Perry has done pretty well in the past. But, in this case when the national spotlight was on Texas, Perry was missing in action. And based on pure politics, this is a situation where he could have taken command and control and looked presidential. He's trying to jump back on stage now, but at the very least, he missed the first act because he was in Europe."
McKinnon added that it's "likely" Perry "missed the moment."
Actually, it's arguably worse than that. The Politico piece was good, but it overlooked an important detail: this wasn't the first time.
George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative American newspaper columnist, journalist, and author.

George Will stumbles as an Ebola truther

10/20/14 04:02PM

Science has long been a problem for conservative columnist George Will, as evidenced by his bizarre series of pieces on climate change. But on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, the syndicated writer went further, questioning the science of Ebola, too.
"The problem is, the original assumption was that with great certitude, if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids with someone, because it's not airborne. There are now doctors who are saying, we're not so sure that it can't be in some instances transmitted by airborne. [...]
"In fact, there are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious?"
Even Will's fellow panelists -- on Fox, no less -- tried to guide him away from such rhetoric, but the conservative columnist seemed as eager to be an Ebola truther as a climate denier.
Pressed for an explanation for saying the exact opposite of scientists, public-health advocates, and subject-matter experts, Will added later in the show, "[T]he University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease, Research and Policy has issued a report saying, quote, there is scientific and epidemiological evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients."
Is that true? Well, it's a funny story, actually.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott answers a question during the Rio Grande Valley Gubernatorial Debate in Edinburg, Texas on Sept. 19, 2014. (Gabe Hernandez/The McAllen Monitor/Pool/AP)

Texas' Abbott balks at question on interracial marriage

10/20/14 03:18PM

The Wisconsin attorney general's race was recently roiled by some unexpected comments: Republican Brad Schimel said "he would have reluctantly defended a ban on interracial marriage had he been attorney general in the 1950s."
It's not that Schimel supports prohibition against interracial marriage, it's just that he believes a state A.G. has to fight to uphold all state laws, whether the laws have merit or not. "It might be distasteful to me ... but I've got to stay consistent with that," he said. "As the state's lawyer, it's not my job to pick and choose."
Democrats blasted Schimel, though it appears the Republicans' gubernatorial nominee in Texas missed the story entirely.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is vigorously defending Texas' same-sex marriage ban in court, says he's unsure whether he would have defended a similar prohibition on interracial marriage had he been in office 50 years ago.
"Right now, if there was a ban on interracial marriage, that's already been ruled unconstitutional," Abbott told the San Antonio Express-News editorial board.  "And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me ... The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down."
Political reporter Peggy Fikac, added, "When I said I wasn't clear if he [Abbott] was saying he would have defended a ban on interracial marriage, he said, 'Actually, the reason why you're uncertain about it is because I didn't answer the question. And I can't go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.'"
Why has this question become so difficult?
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) speaks an event on Capitol Hill, Sept. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Congressman uses Ebola for fundraising pitch

10/20/14 02:06PM

When public fears surrounding the Ebola virus subside, and we're able to reflect on which public officials acted responsibly and which acted poorly, we'll regrettably have ample fodder for the latter category.
And near the top of the list will be Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who actually distributed a fundraising letter through the far-right Conservative Action Fund, exploiting public anxiety for cash. Jennifer Haberkorn reported over the weekend:
"I've joined with the Conservative Action Fund and started the Stop Ebola Petition to ensure the safety of Americans and demand Congress end all commercial flights from ebola stricken nations," Broun wrote in a message sent to the group's email list. "Ebola travels fast -- this petition has to travel faster."
The email, marked by two black blocks with bright red lettering, is titled "Stop Ebola from reaching you." Its appeal continues, "If you can ... please chip in $5 or $10 to the Conservative Action Fund to help us distribute this petition to literally millions of American citizens."
Let's put aside the fact that a travel ban is a bad idea. While we're at it, let's overlook the minor detail that a "Stop Ebola Petition" will not actually affect public policy in any way.
The more pressing question, I'd argue, is about basic propriety. Who sees a deadly virus and growing public fears, and thinks, "You know, this would look great in a fundraising letter"? Who tries to profit off a disease with political nonsense?
What's more, note that Broun isn't using Ebola as a way to raise cash for himself -- Broun is leaving Congress this year, following a failed U.S. Senate bid -- but rather as a way to help the Conservative Action Fund, the group founded by Shaun McCutcheon of McCutcheon vs. FEC fame.
As unseemly as this is, the broader concern is that anxiety about the virus appears to be bringing out the worst in the Republicans' instincts. The nation faces a real public-health challenge and the public needs officials ready to rise to the occasion, showing that when the going gets tough, they're made of sterner stuff.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.20.14

10/20/14 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 Iowa's U.S. Senate race, Public Policy Polling's latest survey shows Bruce Braley (D) inching past Joni Ernst (R), 48% to 47%. Nearly all other recent polling shows Ernst with a narrow lead.
* Some statewide Democratic candidates are still eager to campaign with President Obama, which was evident yesterday with events in Maryland and Illinois.
* Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, continues to campaign for Democrats who are less eager to be seen with Obama, as was clear at an event for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in Louisiana yesterday.
* It didn't take long for the Florida Democratic Party to create a new ad, poking fun at Gov. Rick Scott (R) for hiding backstage before last week's debate over a small electrical fan.
* It seems hard to believe, but a new Suffolk poll in New Hampshire shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) with a narrow lead over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 49% to 46%.
* In Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, Martha Coakley (D) declined to participate in a debate last week against Charlie Baker (R), which apparently had the effect of giving Baker "a full hour on the largest network affiliate in the Springfield broadcast TV market."
Seth Moulton at a Democratic Party unity breakfast Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, in Boston.

Congressional hopeful downplays military heroism

10/20/14 11:29AM

Recent history offers plenty of examples of politicians exaggerating their accomplishments, using embellishments to advance their ambitions. In 2012, Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) exaggerations were pretty embarrassing for the far-right congressman, and two years earlier, Mark Kirk's (R-Ill.) exaggerations very nearly ended his career.
It is a rare and welcome treat, then, to see a congressional candidate exaggerate in the opposite direction. The Boston Globe reported over the weekend on Seth Moulton, whose military heroism is even more impressive than he's been willing to admit.
The American political graveyard has more than a few monuments to politicians and public officials who embellished details of their military service, in some cases laying claim to medals for heroism or other military honors they never received.
And then, uniquely, there is Seth W. Moulton, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the Sixth Congressional District, a former Marine who saw fierce combat for months and months in Iraq. But Moulton chose not to publicly disclose that he was twice decorated for heroism until pressed by the Globe.
In 2003 and 2004, during weeks-long battles with Iraqi insurgents, then-Lieutenant Moulton "fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire" while leading his platoon during pitched battles for control of Nasiriyah and Najaf south of Baghdad, according to citations for the medals that the Globe requested from the campaign.
The Globe apparently did extensive research into Moulton's career, and noticed some omissions -- the Democratic candidate hadn't bragged nearly enough. Moulton earned the Bronze Star medal for valor and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal for valor, but hadn't even told his staff -- or his parents.
After covering this campaign cycle closely all year, this might be my favorite story of them all -- the candidate who thinks it's inappropriate to talk about the amazing feats of bravery he performed for his country.
Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva on Nov. 24, 2013.

Obama looks to steer clear of Congress on Iran deal

10/20/14 10:54AM

Just last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that a nuclear deal with the West is likely. According to Iranian broadcaster Press TV, Rouhani told his constituents, "We will find a solution to the nuclear subject and we believe that the two sides will certainly reach a win-win agreement."
Obama administration officials have been far more circumspect when it comes to setting expectations for the nuclear talks, but most accounts suggest there's reason for cautious optimism -- at a minimum, the negotiations appear to be moving in the right direction.
But there is a complication: any deal that requires Congress to govern in any meaningful way should necessarily be considered suspect. The White House knows this all too well, and David Sanger reports today that officials are acting accordingly.
No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.
Even while negotiators argue over the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to spin and where inspectors could roam, the Iranians have signaled that they would accept, at least temporarily, a "suspension" of the stringent sanctions that have drastically cut their oil revenues and terminated their banking relationships with the West, according to American and Iranian officials. The Treasury Department, in a detailed study it declined to make public, has concluded Mr. Obama has the authority to suspend the vast majority of those sanctions without seeking a vote by Congress, officials say.
And for the administration, that would at least move the process forward. That said, Sanger notes that Congress has approved sanctions that would remain in place without additional action from lawmakers -- action that seems impossible, at least for now.
Negotiators realize this, and hope to work into the deal a lengthy process that would delay the need for legislation for years.
If this dynamic sounds familiar, there's a good reason for that.
The White House seen from the South Lawn in Washington. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

The case against the case against Ron Klain

10/20/14 10:00AM

The trajectory of the Republicans' "czars" argument has been a sight to behold. In the first couple of years of the Obama presidency, GOP lawmakers were absolutely convinced that these policy coordinators, common in the Clinton and Bush administrations, were an outrageous and unconstitutional abuse. Over the last few weeks, however, Republicans changed their minds, demanded that the president name an Ebola "czar" without delay.
So, the president did just that on Friday, introducing Ron Klain as the official who'll help oversee the federal response, prompting a brand new round of GOP complaints.
At this point, we can point to four specific areas of concern raised by the right since Friday afternoon.
1. Klain is not a scientist or medical professional.
2. Klain is a political "operative," comparable to Karl Rove.
3. Klain helped implement the Recovery Act.
4. We don't need an Ebola czar at all.
I can't say with any confidence what will happen next when it comes to the U.S. response to Ebola, but if these are the best complaints the right can come up with, conservatives are going to need some better talking points.
Let's take these one at a time.
Scott Brown, Mitt Romney

Scott Brown sees Mitt Romney as an Ebola repellent

10/20/14 09:10AM

Ordinarily, candidates for major public offices get better as campaigns progress. The improvements tend to be organic -- politicians do more interviews, make more appearances, deliver more speeches, and answer more questions, and the process hones their skills. Practice makes perfect.
Scott Brown, however, is one of those rare candidates who defies the odds. As the only politician in the country who's run in three separate U.S. Senate campaigns in four years, one might assume he'd be the sharpest and most pitch-perfect candidate in America.
And yet, the Republican is arguably getting worse. Brown has gone from suggesting terrorists will strike by sneaking through Mexico with Ebola to arguing that Mitt Romney could stop Ebola with his amazing Romney-esque talents.
Scott Brown told Fox News' Brian Kilmeade Friday that Ebola wouldn't be a problem for America if Mitt Romney had won in 2012.
"Gosh can you imagine if Mitt was the president right now?" Brown said. "He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy. And I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now and, you know, worrying about our foreign policy screw ups."
Clearly, all of our assumptions about candidates getting better with practice need to be revised. Brown's on-air comments may position him to lead the Mitt Romney Fan Club in whichever state Brown ends up living in next, but they're not the words of a sensible political observer.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, Feb. 4, 2014, in Washington, DC.

GOP blames Obama for obstruction on Surgeon General

10/20/14 08:30AM

Last week, as public anxiety over Ebola grew, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) issued a statement demanding that the White House withdraw Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination to be Surgeon General. "Now more than ever, our nation needs to have an experienced and effective Surgeon General to help coordinate the government's Ebola strategy," the GOP senator argued. "It has been clear for almost a year that the president's nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is not the right person for this consequential job.
Except, it's not "clear" at all." Congressional Republicans seem to agree that it's in the nation's interests to have a Surgeon General, but they don't want to take responsibility for derailing a qualified nominee. On the contrary, they now seem eager to blame President Obama for their knee-jerk obstructionism.
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, for example, Chuck Todd asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about the vacancy in the Surgeon General's office. "This seems to be politics," the host noted. "The NRA said they were going to score the vote, and suddenly everybody's frozen. That seems a little petty in hindsight, does it not?"
Blunt replied, "Well, you know, if the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly, then we should confirm them."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went even further during an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY: Do you think it would have helped ... had there been a surgeon general in place to kind of calm what has become the fear of Ebola?
CRUZ: Look -- look, of course we should have a surgeon general in place. And we don't have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti- gun activist.
To hear the Texas Republican tell it, Dr. Vivek Murthy isn't even a "health professional," which is the exact opposite of reality.
A voter shows his photo identification to an election official at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas on Feb. 26, 2014.

Supreme Court clears Texas voter-ID law

10/20/14 08:00AM

It was just 10 days ago that voting-rights advocates had reason to celebrate developments in Texas. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos had eviscerated the Lone Star State's voter-ID law, issuing a powerful ruling condemning the restrictions imposed by Texas Republicans without cause. Among other things, the district court concluded that the measures violated both the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the constitutional prohibition against poll taxes.
The success for voting supporters, however, was short lived. On Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals re-imposed the restrictions for this year's elections, and over the weekend, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, Zach Roth reported on Saturday:
The Supreme Court has approved Texas's strict voter ID law for use in the upcoming election. The decision, which clears a path for a law, which this month was deemed a poll tax by a federal judge, that could put thousands of Texas voters in danger of being disenfranchised.
The brief order was released early Saturday morning, with Justices Scalia filing the majority opinion, and Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsburg issuing a strong dissent.
It's worth emphasizing that the appeals focused largely on a procedural question: the so-called "Purcell principle" discourages judicial intervention on elections laws close to the election itself. There was some debate, however, about what constituted the actual change -- the imposition of a pointless voter-ID law, requiring Texans to show documentation they've never needed to show before, or the move away a voter-ID law that was expected to be in place for the 2014 elections.
Lyle Denniston's report added, "This apparently was the first time since 1982 that the Court has allowed a law restricting voters' rights to be enforced after a federal court had ruled it to be unconstitutional because it intentionally discriminated against minorities."
Roth went on to note that "more than 600,000 Texas voters, disproportionately minorities, don't have the kind of ID required under the law." According to the district court, Texas Republicans deliberately crafted the law to discriminate against minority communities, though the conservative appellate judges were unmoved by the findings.
Early voting in Texas begins this morning.
Of particular interest in this case was the six-page dissent from Justice Ginsburg, who seemed eager to condemn the majority's findings.

TX voting starts today and other headlines

10/20/14 07:48AM

Early voting starts today in Texas, after the Supreme Court allows the state's new voter ID law to apply to November's election. (Texas Tribune)

Pres. Obama casts his early ballot in Illinois today. (NY Times)

Both parties poured big money into early voting. Who has the edge? (Washington Post)

New military medical team to begin training to help with Ebola in the U.S. (AP)

CDC to revise Ebola protocol. (AP)

U.S. drops weapons to Kurds fighting to save Syrian city from ISIS. (NBC News)

Police officer in Ferguson, MO is said to recount a struggle with Michael Brown (NY Times) while authorities say Michael Brown's blood was found on the gun, inside the police car. (Washington Post)

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Week in Geek: Mars gets company today, from Comet Siding Spring

10/19/14 10:35AM

There's a high-speed flyby taking place today, but not here on Earth -- on Mars. At 2:27 P.M. Eastern, a comet going over 125,000 mph will buzz by Mars at less than a third the distance between the Earth and the Moon, just under 90,000 miles. The comet is named Comet Siding Spring, a first-time visitor to the inner Solar System from the Oort Cloud (like Comet ISON was last year).

As I've mentioned before, comets from the Oort Cloud are thought to be remnants of the formation of the Solar System. Any opportunity to study them up close and personal gives us more insight into how our planet formed and how other planets around other stars might be forming. Not only will many Earth-based telescopes be observing the comet's close approach today, but so will several of the instruments we've sent to the Red Planet. The Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will be watching from the surface, while the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and MAVEN satellites will observe it from orbit.

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