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Campaign workers and volunteers walks past an early voting polling place in Little Rock, Ark., Monday, Oct. 18, 2010.

Arkansas Supreme Court rejects GOP voting restrictions

10/16/14 10:13AM

Early last year, with Republicans taking control of the Arkansas' General Assembly for the first time since the 1870s, the new GOP majority got right to work -- quickly tackling new voting restrictions. Gov. Mike Beebe (D) vetoed a needlessly harsh voter-ID bill, but Republicans overrode the veto and imposed the voter-suppression policy on the state.
 
Conservative lawmakers cannot, however, easily circumvent a ruling from the state Supreme Court. Zach Roth and David Taintor reported last night:
The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state's voter ID law Wednesday evening, meaning it won't be in effect for the impending midterm elections.
 
The court's majority upheld an appeals court ruling that found that by requiring ID, the law added an additional voter "qualification," which violates the state's constitution.
Initial analyses suggest the ruling blocks enforcement of the voter-ID law in this year's elections, which may have an important effect -- Arkansas is home to several competitive statewide elections this year, including U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.
 
The entirety of the 20-page ruling is available online here (pdf). There theoretically could be an appeal to the federal courts, but given that the case deals with the state Constitution, it seems unlikely.
 
It's worth re-emphasizing that the Arkansas Constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, guarantees voting rights in a rather explicit way, and by adding new restrictions on citizens' access to participate in elections, legislators made it easy for the courts to reject the new law.
 
In fact, Republicans in the state were rather brazen about it, imposing restrictions that were even more outlandish than voter-suppression efforts elsewhere.
Senatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), left, gestures during a debate with incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, (D-Colo.), in Denver on Oct. 6, 2014. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Cory Gardner and 'the willing suspension of the facts'

10/16/14 09:31AM

Rep. Cory Gardner's (R-Colo.) "personhood" problem long ago stopped being simply about his support for a radical piece of legislation. As his U.S. Senate campaign has unfolded in Colorado -- a race the far-right candidate is now actually favored to win -- Gardner has instead been dogged by questions about his integrity, his character, and his competence, all because of this key issue.
 
To briefly recap, the Republican congressman has spent much of his career supporting personhood, which would ban all abortions and common forms of birth control. Gardner dropped his longtime support for the policy at the state level, but continues to champion the policy at the federal level. Asked to explain, the right-wing Coloradan routinely says there is no federal personhood bill -- though our eyes and reality say differently -- and that the legislation does not say what it plainly says.
 
Last night, Kyle Clark, a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Denver, pressed Gardner on this in ways no one else has:
"You continue to deny that the federal Life Begins At Conception Act, which you sponsor, is a personhood bill to ban abortion, and we are not going to debate that here because it's a fact. Your co-sponsors say so; your opponents say so; and independent fact-checkers say so.
 
"So let's instead talk about what this entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly. It would seem that a charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you're wrong, and a less charitable interpretation is that you're not telling us the truth. Which is it?"
Gardner dodged the question, saying the federal legislation is "simply a statement that I support life." This claim, unfortunately, is a rather brazen lie.
 
The reporter, aware of reality, pressed further. "Why does no one else think that?" Clark asked. "That's what we're getting at." Gardner dodged again, insisting he's already answered these questions.
 
Clark, to his credit, stuck with it. "What I'm asking you about here is what appears to be the willing suspension of the facts. People who agree with you on the issue of life think you're wrong about how you describe the bill. Everybody seems to have a cohesive idea about what this is -- with the exception of you. And I'm wondering, what should voters glean from that?"
 
Gardner dodged again, saying people have different opinions about reproductive rights, which is true, but completely unrelated to what he was asked.
 
This matters. A lot.

Jobless claims reach lowest level in 14 years

10/16/14 08:38AM

If you've watched Wall Street lately, you know global tumult has rattled investors. But if anyone's looking for encouraging economic news, look no further than the new figures from the Labor Department on initial unemployment claims.
The number of people who applied for U.S. jobless benefits fell 23,000 to 264,000 in the week that ended Oct. 11, hitting the lowest level since April 2000, showing that employers are laying off few workers, according to government data released Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to bump up to 289,000 in the latest weekly data from 287,000 in the prior week.
 
The four-week average of new claims, a smoother barometer of labor-market trends, fell by 4,250 to 283,500, also reaching the lowest level since 2000, the U.S. Labor Department reported.
That's not a typo -- jobless claims have improved to a level unseen in 14 years,
 
That said, 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.
Former Florida Governor and challenger, Charlie Crist, appears alone for the first few minutes of a their gubernatorial debate, as Florida Governor Rick Scott delays taking the stage on Oct. 15, 2014.

Fanning the flames in Florida's race for governor

10/16/14 08:00AM

It's easy to remember political debates in which a candidate performed so poorly, it helped ruin his or her career. It's also not hard to think of some debate performances that were so impressive, they are remembered as an important part of a politician's legacy.
 
But last night in South Florida was something altogether different: the most memorable moment in a televised gubernatorial debate occurred when one candidate hid backstage, briefly refusing to participate.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist stood alone on stage for a visibly awkward four long minutes as Republican Gov. Rick Scott refused to come out, claiming that the small fan below his opponent's podium violated debate rules.
 
CBS Miami moderators fumbled over their words, announcing initially that both candidates were "not stepping up on the stage" due to "an extremely peculiar situation." They then quickly introduced Crist, who walked out and took his spot behind the podium.
The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo noted that Scott supporters "privately" said that the moment the governor refused to go onstage "was the moment he lost the election."
 
For context, it's worth noting that the high yesterday in South Florida was, quite literally, 90 degrees with high humidity. I don't care what your politics are -- if you're wearing a suit on a hot day in the subtropics, getting ready to stand under stage lights for an hour, a small fan seems like a rather modest, sane idea.
 
But according to Scott and his team, fans were against the rules, prompting the governor to throw an odd tantrum.
 
The Democratic challenger seized the opportunity to stand alone on the stage. "Are we really going to debate about a fan? Or are we going to talk about education, and the environment and the future of our state?" Crist asked. "I mean, really."
 
The former governor added Scott's absence was "the ultimate pleading of the Fifth I ever heard" -- a brutal reference to the Republican taking the Fifth 75 times during a deposition in which Scott didn't want to talk about his company's Medicare fraud.
 
The incumbent governor eventually realized his absence was hurting his cause, but after Scott emerged, his explanation for his behavior was just as strange as his conduct.

TX nurse talks and other headlines

10/16/14 07:59AM

Dallas nurse tells NBC her hospital 'never talked about Ebola' before Duncan arrived. (Today.com)

Fox News' Shepard Smith dismantles Ebola panic. (New York Magazine)

The backstory behind last night's stunning Florida debate moment: Charlie Crist and his podium fans. (Washington Post)

Larry Pressler says he was 'misquoted' about Social Security. He wasn't. (National Journal)

The NRA goes after independent Kansas Senate candidate Greg Orman. (New York Times)

Grand jury witness adds new perspective to Ferguson shooting. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ACLU lawyer given Justice Department civil rights post. (AP)

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On Ebola, 'It is better to know'

On Ebola, 'It is better to know than to not know'

10/15/14 11:01PM

Rachel Maddow provides a detailed description of the pathology of Ebola, from the nitty-gritty of its symptoms to its development in a person over time, as a means to understanding the protocols for its handling and the likelihood of its spreading. watch

Moe the otter learns to swim

Moe the otter learns to swim

10/15/14 10:57PM

Rachel Maddow takes a break from dark and disturbing Ebola headlines to appreciate some video of a mother river otter teaching Moe, the river otter pup, how to swim at the Oregon Zoo. watch

Ahead on the 10/15/14 Maddow show

10/15/14 07:54PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Dr. Adam Levine, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University and member of the International Medical Corps' Emergency Response Team
  • Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Judge

After the jump, executive producer Cory Gnazzo gives us a look at what's coming...

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.15.14

10/15/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Ebola: "A second nurse at a hospital here tested positive for Ebola on Wednesday, the third case of disease confirmed in Dallas in the span of 15 days and the first to heighten fears far beyond the city."
 
* Related news: "The latest Dallas nurse to contract Ebola boarded a plane in Cleveland two days ago with a slight fever and should not have flown, federal health officials said Wednesday. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters that the nurse had a temperature of 99.5 degrees before she got on the plane on Monday."
 
* Nurses' union: "Nurses responding to Ebola in the United States have been poorly trained and provided with inadequate equipment, the nurses' union National Nurses United (NNU) alleged during a heated conference call on Wednesday."
 
* Texas: "Hours after officials confirmed that a second health care worker had tested positive for Ebola in Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry said that he would cut his pre-scheduled European trip short and return to his home state tomorrow, his office confirmed to NBC News Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Perry's spokesman said the governor had no plans to return early 'at this point.'"
 
* ISIS: "Fighters from the Islamic State were mustering with tanks, armored vehicles and heavy weapons on Wednesday near a strategically located rural town about 25 miles west of Baghdad in the embattled province of Anbar, local officials said."
 
* Wall Street "had for the most part shrugged off a recent slide in global stock markets, viewing the declines as an adjustment that was bound to take place after so many years of uninterrupted gains. That complacent view was upended on Wednesday."
 
* The final, official tally: "The government says the deficit for the just completed 2014 budget year was $483 billion, the lowest of President Barack Obama's six years in office. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says it's an indication the economy is far healthier than when Obama became president in January 2009. The deficit is at its lowest since 2008. When the deficit is measured against the size of the economy, it's below the average deficits of the past 40 years."
Doctor Vivek Murthy stands among other bystanders during the first day of legal arguments over the Affordable Care Act outside the Supreme Court in Washington March 26, 2012.

A Surgeon General nominee 'tied up in politics'

10/15/14 04:54PM

There's a fair amount of public anxiety about the Ebola virus, and it's important to have U.S. officials communicating clearly and effectively with the public so Americans understand the nature of the problem. That might ordinarily be the job of the U.S. Surgeon General, but as of now, we don't actually have one.
 
As regular readers may recall, President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to the post nearly a year ago, and at first blush, this seemed like a no-brainer -- Murthy is an impressive medical professional with sterling credentials. He's an attending physician, an instructor, and a public-health advocate, so when Obama nominated him for the post, no one questioned his qualifications.
 
But Murthy, like so many in his field, also sees a connection between gun violence and public health, which meant Republicans and the NRA decided to destroy his nomination. Senate Democrats could have confirmed him anyway, but red-state Dems got election-year jitters, which means. at least for now, Murthy has been temporarily derailed and the Surgeon General's office is empty during a public-health scare.
 
It's against this backdrop that Fox News' Steve Doocy told his audience something interesting yesterday:
"You would normally think that in something like this, the Surgeon General would be in charge, but right now at this point oddly, the United States of America does not have a Surgeon General. His nomination is tied up in politics."
Well, yes, I suppose that's true, though it only tells part of the story -- and it conveniently obscures Fox News' role in trying to tear Murthy down during the confirmation process.
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Fitchburg, Wis.

Opening a Pandora's Box on campaign coordination

10/15/14 04:27PM

This federal district court ruling hasn't received too much attention over the last 24 hours, which is a shame because its scope is pretty significant.
A federal judge Tuesday blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin election law that's at the center of an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups.
 
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa granted the request to block the law from the Milwaukee-based group Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates while the conservative group's underlying lawsuit challenging its constitutionality goes forward.
Let's back up for a minute, because there's an important context to all of this.
 
As regular readers may recall, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his team have been accused of breaking these laws by directly overseeing how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources during the governor's recall campaign.
 
When Judge Randa, a Republican appointee active in far-right judicial/political circles, first heard the case involving Walker, he ruled in the governor's favor -- not because Walker was innocent, but because the judge believed the law against coordination is effectively impossible to break. For Randa, the law was intended to prevent bribery and explicit corruption, which means so long as politicians are coordinating with groups that agree with them, anything goes.
 
As Alec MacGillis explained in June, "This is a striking claim, reminiscent of the Supreme Court's recent rulings against limits on campaign contributions -- that limits can only be justified as bars against explicit attempts to bribe politicians to change their stances on issues."
 
Under Randa's reasoning, it doesn't matter if allegedly non-partisan non-profit groups exert influence over an election, so long as the groups don't exert influence over an elected official.
 
The consequences of such thinking have the potential to be quite broad.
Ryan speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas

Paul Ryan's forceful rejection of climate science

10/15/14 03:53PM

The official Republican line on climate change has spread far and wide: "I'm not a scientist." The poll-tested response threads a needle -- it's intended to avoid straight-up denial of science and evidence, while at the same time, keeping the GOP's far-right base satisfied.
 
But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has his own take, which not only involves ignoring science, but taking the next step of questioning what the science actually says. Jane C. Timm reported yesterday:
A full 97% of researchers taking a stance on climate change say it's man-made, as do 97-98% of the most frequently-published climate scientists. But according to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, they're all wrong.
 
When asked during an election debate Monday if he believed humans cause climate change, the former Republican vice presidential nominee joined the growing number of Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are influencing the Earth's climate. "I don't know the answer to that question," he said according to the Associated Press. "I don't think science does, either."
Remember, according to much of the Beltway, Paul Ryan, the failed vice presidential candidate, is supposed to be one of his party's most intellectually engaging policy wonks.
 
According to the AP's report on the debate, the Republican lawmaker went on to say that "we've had climate change forever," adding, "The benefits do not outweigh the costs."
 
I'll confess, as annoying as "I'm not a scientist" is, it's marginally less ridiculous than Paul Ryan's forceful rejection of reality. He's effectively saying he knows what scientists have found, he's heard the warnings, and he's aware of the potential consequences, but Ryan just doesn't care.

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