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Job creation tops 200k for sixth straight month

08/01/14 08:47AM

Given where the economy was in the not-too-distant past, it's hard to be disappointed when the economy adds over 200,000 jobs a month, and yet, given expectations and the last few jobs reports, today's data is a bit of a letdown.
The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July. The overall unemployment rate ticked slightly higher to 6.2% -- still hovering around a six-year low. (This is one of those times when an uptick is good news, not bad, since more people are entering the workforce looking for jobs.)
Once again, public-sector layoffs did not drag down the overall employment figures. Though jobs reports over the last few years have shown monthly government job losses, in July, the private sector added 198,000 while the public sector added 11,000. The latter may not sound like much, but after several years in which that total was negative, it's at least somewhat heartening.
Perhaps most strikingly, the U.S. economy has now added over 200,000 jobs per month for six consecutive months. The last time Americans saw results like these? Way back in 1997.
As for the revisions, May's totals were revised up from 224,000 to 229,000, while June's figures were also revised up, from 288,000 to 298,000. Combined, that's an additional 15,000 jobs.
Overall, this is a good-but-not-great report, though the jobs landscape is nevertheless steadily improving. All told, over the last 12 months, the U.S. economy has added over 2.57 million jobs overall and 2.48 million in the private sector. What's more, July was the 53rd consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth – the longest on record.
At this point, with the year about half over, 2014 is currently on track to be the best year for U.S. job creation since 1999.
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

Picking up the pieces after the GOP's border fiasco

08/01/14 08:00AM

The Senate hoped to complete a few key tasks last night before the start of Congress' five-week break: pass the bipartisan VA bill, approve funding for the Highway Trust Fund, and vote on an emergency measure to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border.
Two out of three ain't bad?
With relative ease, the upper chamber did, in fact, pass the measures related to the VA and the Highway Trust Fund. But when it came time to vote on the Senate's version of the border bill, the Republican minority blocked it -- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wanted an amendment prohibiting executive orders from President Obama; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said no, so the GOP refused to allow the legislation to advance.
As for the House, what happens now in the wake of yesterday's fiasco? Their recess has apparently been delayed.
House Republicans are expected to pick up the effort again Friday morning, just as lawmakers prepare to leave Capitol Hill for a five-week recess without passing any funding relief for the southwestern border. Emergency funds are set to run out by the end of August after a flood of unaccompanied minors – some 57,000 have been apprehended at the border since October – strained immigration resources and facilities beyond capacity.
House GOP members will reportedly meet in about an hour on Capitol Hill to "discuss new policy proposals to accompany a $659 million appropriations bill they abruptly yanked from consideration Thursday."
In other words, Republican leaders are still looking for ways to push the bill even further to the right in order to placate rank-and-file GOP lawmakers. If the enticements fall short, members are reportedly prepared to work through the weekend.
At this point, you may be wondering about the point of these efforts. If so, you're not alone.

Cantor's quitting and other headlines

08/01/14 07:34AM

House Republicans scramble (again) to find enough votes to pass the border bill. (The Hill)

We finally have an Ambassador to Russia, although one Republican Senator didn't make it easy. (AP)

Rep. Eric Cantor announces he won't serve out his term. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

A.G. Eric Holder calls for more transparency about lethal injection drugs. (MSNBC)

Gaza ceasefire unravels quickly. (NBC News)

Justice Ginsburg defends the Supreme Court's decision to void abortion clinic buffer zones. (AP)

Justice Ginsburg wears a more severe-looking lace collar when she reads her dissents. (Yahoo News)

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CIA admits to hacking Senate computers

CIA admits to hacking Senate computers

07/31/14 10:18PM

Steve Kornacki is joined by New York Times nation security correspondent Mark Mazzetti to discuss the implications of the CIA’s admission that the agency spied on Senate computers, despite previously denying such allegations. watch

Rolex showcased at McDonnell trial today

Rolex showcased at McDonnell trial today

07/31/14 10:16PM

Steve Kornacki discusses day four of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s corruption trial, where jurors inspected the Rolex watch that was given to the Governor by Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.31.14

07/31/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The latest from Capitol Hill: "House Republicans plan to delay their August recess to stay in Washington until they have enough votes to pass a bill responding to the border crisis."
* Remember, on the border bill, GOP leaders need 218 votes to advance their own bad bill. As of this afternoon, they were "not even close" to that total.
* Netanyahu's latest warning: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Thursday that he would not agree to any Gaza cease-fire proposal that prevents the Israeli military from completing the destruction of Hamas's tunnel network."
* Ebola crisis: "West African leaders quickened the pace of emergency efforts on Thursday in response to a mounting tally of fatalities from the worst known outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, canceling travel plans and authorizing measures to combat the disease including house-to-house searches and the deployment of the army and the police."
* A growing controversy in Albany: "In an escalation of the confrontation between the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the governor's cancellation of his own anticorruption commission, Mr. Bharara has threatened to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering."
* Highway Trust Fund: "In the frenetic legislative run-up to the August recess, House lawmakers sent their version of a highway bill back to the Senate after voting to disagree with that chamber's amendment to the legislation."
* He'll be talking like this for the next three months: "President Obama mocked House Republicans Thursday for approving a lawsuit challenging his use of executive action and said it wouldn't deter him from using his powers to advance his agenda. 'It's not very productive, but it's not going to stop me from doing what I think needs to be done in order to help families all across the country,' Obama said."
* Wheaton College: "It isn't easy being a self-described feminist on one of the most famous evangelical campuses in the country, which became even better known when its case against covering some forms of contraception reached the Supreme Court on July 3."
* Five House Republicans opposed yesterday's resolution on their party's anti-Obama lawsuit. How come? Because for these five GOP lawmakers, the lawsuit just wasn't right-wing enough.
John Brennan

CIA apologizes for Senate spying

07/31/14 04:33PM

Several months ago, there was a serious dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee, with both accusing the other of impropriety. As Adam Serwer summarized, "Senators said the CIA was attempting to hide evidence that proved the torture program was ineffective, while the CIA countered that the staffers had somehow gotten access to information they weren't supposed to see."
As Washington crises go, this one was largely ignored -- it lacked partisan stakes -- but it was deeply important. If, for example, there was reason to believe the CIA spied on Senate offices as part of their dispute, which Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) alleged, it would be scandalous. After all, Congress has oversight authority over intelligence agencies, not the other way around.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department decided to close its inquiry into the matter, concluding not to file charges against anyone, but the matter was hardly resolved. Indeed, today we're learning that the key allegations against the CIA were, in fact, accurate. Meredith Clark reports:
Central Intelligence Agency officials spied on computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate whether the CIA used torture in controversial Bush-era detention and interrogation programs, an internal investigation has found.
According to CIA spokesperson Dean Boyd, agency director John Brennan apologized to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, respectively.
Remember, when this story first broke in the spring, Brennan dismissed the allegations out of hand. "[W]e wouldn't do that," he said. "I mean, that's, that's just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do."
That, we now know, was wrong.
House Speaker John Boehner walks away from the microphone during a news conference after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington.

Border failure rocks House GOP leadership

07/31/14 03:03PM

It's hard to overstate what a humiliating failure this is for the House Republican leadership team, especially House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
House Republican efforts to build support among their more conservative members collapsed Thursday as Congress prepares to cut town for a month-long recess without first passing a funding bill to address the thousands of unaccompanied minors being detained at the U.S. border.
Confronted with the Republican leadership's inability to shore up enough votes, House Speaker John Boehner pulled the doomed legislation, which would have provided $659 million in emergency aid to the U.S. border.
Congress is still prepared to leave town tonight for a five-week break, but lawmakers will leave having accomplished nothing in response to the humanitarian crisis along the U.S./Mexico border.
There's still a small chance the House GOP will figure something out -- there will reportedly be an emergency meeting within the hour, though it's unclear what good it will do -- but after exhaustive efforts, it appears House Republicans have killed their own party's policy.
It was the first real test for the new House Republican leadership team and they appear to have failed miserably.
In a statement, Boehner blamed President Obama for Republicans' inability to pass their own legislation and urged the president to take unilateral action regardless of Congress. The timing is breathtaking: literally yesterday, GOP lawmakers voted to sue Obama for circumventing Congress, and less than 24 hours later, Boehner is publicly urging Obama to circumvent Congress.
The resulting image is a helpless party, lacking leaders, direction, and purpose. House Republicans were desperate to prove they're capable of being a governing party, and in the process, they've proven the opposite.
Protesters pack out the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday, demonstrating against Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers big wins to GOP

07/31/14 12:37PM

Wisconsin Democrats hoping their state Supreme Court would help roll back some of Gov. Scott Walker's (R) agenda suffered some important defeats this morning.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Gov. Scott Walker's signature labor legislation Thursday, delivering an election-year affirmation to the governor in just one of the three major rulings issued by the court on union bargaining, election law and same-sex couples. [...]
The decision was 5-2, with Justice Michael Gableman writing the lead opinion, which found that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right under the constitution but rather a benefit that lawmakers can extend or restrict as they see fit.
At issue, of course, was the 2011 incident in which Walker and his Republican legislative allies eliminated collective-bargaining rights for most state employees, most notably public school teachers. The governor later described the policy, which Walker neglected to mention to voters as a candidate, as an effort to "divide and conquer" his opponents in Wisconsin unions.
There's ample evidence that the policy had the intended effect, dramatically undermining union membership.
But that's not all the Wisconsin Supreme Court did today -- it also upheld Republican efforts to suppress voting participation through an unnecessary voter-ID law.
Stewart Mills

GOP donor's station rejects Democratic ad in Minnesota

07/31/14 11:52AM

When political players own television stations, and those stations start turning down political advertising, controversy is probably inevitable.
House Majority PAC is calling foul on the Koch brothers in another congressional race this week. But the Democratic super PAC isn't using the conservative businessmen in a TV ad this time -- it's alleging that the brothers' allies are helping stifle HMP's other advertising.
The Democratic group's latest TV ad was taken off the air by two Minnesota TV stations that called the ad misleading because it spliced together parts of a quote from Republican businessman Stewart Mills saying it is "personally offensive" to criticize the wealthy for not paying higher taxes. Mills is challenging Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan.
You can see the proposed ad online here. It shows Mills saying reflecting on the 2012 campaign in a speech last summer: "Folks saying that the wealthy, the wealthy are not paying their fair share, the 2 percent, the 1 percent, whatever percent you want, is personally offensive."
Not surprisingly, the folks behind the ad had to edit the remarks, and in the original, unedited video, the "personally offensive" line came in this context: "To be singled out as a deadbeat is personally offensive." That doesn't really change the meaning in any substantive way -- it's hardly as if the line was wrenched from context.
MSNBC's Krystal Ball added, "I watched the video of Stewart Mills making his comments in its entirety online. The clip used in the campaign ad is definitely edited for time and cut together but wholly representative of the point that Mills was making."
But the ad from House Majority PAC and AFSCME was nevertheless rejected, which very rarely happens. It's not unreasonable to ask why.