* Iraq: "A prominent female Iraqi human rights lawyer and campaigner has been publicly executed days after posting anti-ISIS messages on her Facebook page, the U.N. said Thursday. Samira Salih al-Nuaimi was killed by a masked firing squad in a public square in the city of Mosul, an act described as 'horrifying' by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights."
* More ISIS: "FBI Director James Comey said Thursday he believes the bureau knows the identity of the masked executioner in ISIS propaganda videos. He declined to say who it is or where the man is from.... He also said the FBI is working hard to identify two people in ISIS videos who appear to have American or Canadian accents."
* Terror threat: "A wide range of U.S. intelligence sources told NBC News that there is no evidence of any current threat against the subways, after Iraq's prime minister told reporters that ISIS is plotting an imminent attack."
* Ebola: 'Seeking to speed the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, President Obama delivered a blunt warning on Thursday at a high-level United Nations meeting devoted to the health crisis: the world was doing too little and moving too slowly."
* A welcome tone: "The runner-up in Afghanistan's bitterly disputed presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, struck a conciliatory note toward President-elect Ashraf Ghani in a speech on Thursday in which he confirmed that he would join the government as its chief executive officer."
* Yemen: "The US State Department on Thursday ordered some of its diplomats and other government workers at the US embassy in Yemen to leave the country because of deteriorating security amid unrest and sectarian clashes that have left Shia rebels in control of the capital."
* This took a while: "Police Chief Thomas Jackson apologized to the family of Michael Brown and to protesters in a video released today. In the video released by a public relations firm representing the city of Ferguson, Jackson apologized directly to Brown's family and to protesters who felt the police mishandled the protests that followed the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson."
* Good move: "President Obama will use his legal authority Thursday to create the world's largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, demonstrating his increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda without the need for congressional approval."
* Progress: "Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that for the first time since 1980, the federal inmate population has fallen, rather than risen. At the end of the 2014 fiscal year next week, the federal prison population will show a drop to about 215, 000 inmates -- about 4,800 fewer than a year ago. The attorney general called the change a major breakthrough for advocates who have sought to shorten strict sentences for non-violent offenders."
* More progress: "Enough young Latinos got health insurance under new Obamacare provisions to lower the uninsured rate by 20 points, researchers reported Thursday. Last year, 43 percent of Latinos aged 19 to 34 went without health insurance; by spring of this year that number fell to 23 percent, the Commonwealth Fund found."
Like plenty of other possible 2016 aspirants, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is doing lots of traveling, sharing ideas, kicking around possible planks in a platform, making campaign appearances with candidates who might need a hand, and picking up chits for later use.
With this in mind, it seemed entirely normal to see Bush in North Carolina this week, campaigning alongside Republican Thom Tillis, who's taking on incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D). Except, as Jonathan Martin reported from Greensboro, the former governor is quickly discovering that hitting the campaign trail is easier said than done.
In one of his first public appearances of the 2014 campaign, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida had a vivid preview Wednesday of the challenges he would face with his party's conservative base should he seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
Standing alongside Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker and Republican Senate candidate, Mr. Bush outlined his views on two of the issues he cares most passionately about: immigration policy and education standards. But as Mr. Bush made the case for an immigration overhaul and the Common Core standards, Mr. Tillis gently put distance between himself and his guest of honor, who had flown here from Florida on a dreary day to offer his endorsement in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate.
Keep in mind, Bush hasn't served in public office in nearly eight years, and his party, which was pretty far to the right during his tenure, is even further to the right -- and more attuned to breaks with ideological orthodoxy -- now.
For that matter, Bush ran two fairly easy, primary-free statewide campaigns in Florida in 1998 and 2002; he worked with Republican majorities in the state legislature that took good care of him; and he's the son and brother of former presidents. Bush probably isn't accustomed to having to worry about Republicans distancing themselves from him and his agenda while he tries to help get them elected.
And yet, Thom Tillis has made opposition to "amnesty" and Common Core key elements of his campaign ... which is the opposite of what Jeb Bush believes ... which made it problematic when Bush talked about how great immigration reform and education standards are during his appearance with Thom Tillis.
President Obama delivered a forceful address to the United Nations yesterday, presenting an American blueprint for counter-terrorism in the Middle East. Soon after, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a fairly ambitious anti-terrorism resolution.
The reaction to the president's remarks from much of the political world was slightly unexpected. For many observers, if not most, Obama sounded a bit like his predecessor when discussing the terrorist threat. The president talked about the "language of force," the futility of "negotiation" with radicals, and his commitment to dismantling a "network of death." What's more, the principle of American exceptionalism permeated Obama's remarks.
It sounded quite a bit like the sort of speech Republicans would find compelling. And yet, Dick Cheney's still outraged.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that he was "stunned" President Obama mentioned last month's police shooting in Ferguson, Mo. in the same breath as the conflict in the Middle East during his United Nations speech.
"I was stunned," Cheney told Fox News' Sean Hannity.... Cheney thought Obama was falsely comparing the United States' racial tensions with the struggle to combat extremism in the Middle East. "I mean, to compare the two as though somehow there is moral equivalence there is I think outrageous," he told Hannity.
In reality, what's "outrageous" is Cheney's twisted interpretation of unambiguous remarks.
I was inclined to simply ignore the failed former vice president's latest complaining, but since this line of attack has gained traction in conservative media, and since you'll probably receive an email about it from your crazy uncle who watches Fox News all day, let's go ahead and note why Cheney's whining is wrong.
When it comes to U.S. military strikes on terrorist targets in Syria, there are some foundational questions that should remain at the heart of the debate. As Rachel noted on the show this week, these are the kind of questions that should serve as a foundation going forward: Will the military offensive work? How will the world react? How will Syria react? What are the risks to civilians? And is the mission itself legal?
From there, we can move to second-tier questions. Here's one: how much will this new war cost?
The United States launched nearly 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Islamic militant targets in Syria on Tuesday, each of which cost about $1.5 million to replace.
The military also used F-22s, F-16s and B-1 bombers to pound Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) positions, which cost between $20,000 and $65,000 per flying hour.
The figures highlight how President Obama's campaign against the terrorist network will have high fiscal costs for the nation, even as the bills from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars fade from memory.
The Hill's report said the air campaign on ISIS targets in Iraq, which started six weeks ago, cost about $7.5 million per day. Depending on the scope of the mission in Syria, that daily price tag can be expected to grow.
The same article quoted American University professor Gordon Adams, a top OMB official in the Clinton administration, saying the campaign could cost roughly $20 billion a year, though he added that's a conservative estimate.
Let's stipulate that I haven't seen independent verification of any of these costs -- the Pentagon hasn't shared much in the way of budgetary estimates -- and I can't say with certainty whether The Hill's cost assessments are correct. Indeed, if memory serves, every preliminary price tag applied to every recent military campaign turned out to be wrong.
But for the sake of conversation, let's say these numbers are about right. At what point do congressional Republicans say, "We better start cutting food stamps to pay for this thing"?
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:
* A ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday cleared the way for Ohio's early voting to begin next week, but Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) is already in the process of appealing the decision.
* In Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, the latest USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Sen. Mark Pryor (D) with a narrow lead over Rep. Tom Cotton (R), 45% to 43%. It's arguably the best independent poll the incumbent has seen in months.
* On a related note, the same poll shows former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) with a narrow lead over former Rep. Mike Ross (D) in Arkansas' gubernatorial race, 43% to 41%.
* In Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, Republican Charlie Baker hosted an event for women voters this week, after which a woman reporter asked the candidate about the NFL's domestic-violence scandal. Baker was inexplicably dismissive of her, calling the reporter "sweetheart."
* In related news from the Bay State, the latest WBUR poll shows Martha Coakley (D) leading Baker by 10 points, 46% to 36%.
* The Republican Governors Association continues to worry about Gov. Nathan Deal's (R) re-election prospects in Georgia, and the group this week launched new attack ads targeting state Sen. Jason Carter (D).
* In Louisiana's U.S. Senate campaign, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) has taken the unexpected step of criticizing Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) for helping an LSU student with a keg stand during a tailgate party last weekend.
One of President Obama's highest-profile and longest-serving cabinet members, Attorney General Eric Holder, is prepared to step down from his post as the nation's top law-enforcement official.
Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce Thursday that he will resign after nearly six years, a Justice Department official told NBC News.
Holder plans to stay on the job until a successor is confirmed, the official said.
There will reportedly be a formal event at the White House later this afternoon, when the official announcement will be made.
It's too soon to say who the president may nominate as a successor, or when that nomination may come, though the timing matters -- if Republicans win a Senate majority in the November elections, Senate Democrats may feel the need to confirm Holder's successor quickly, during the lame-duck session, taking advantage of post-nuclear-option rules.
The alternative is a GOP-led Senate that may reject any Obama nominee to lead the Justice Department for the rest of the president's term.
Political procedures aside, Holder is leaving the Attorney General's office with a legacy more impressive than much of the political world generally appreciates.
It was Aug. 8, seven weeks ago tomorrow, that President Obama launched U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq. It was this week when the president expanded the mission to include strikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
And it was last week when Congress decided to give itself another 54 days off, rather than extend legal authority to the Obama administration to conduct this military offensive.
Most of us have been working under the assumption that Congress had one of two options: (1) debate the use of force during Congress' post-election, lame-duck session; or (2) return to work before the election to do its duty and meet its constitutional obligations.
But in a new interview with Carl Hulse, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) points to Door #3 -- also known as See You Next Year.
[Boehner is increasingly convinced that Congress must hold a full debate on granting President Obama the authority to use military force against terrorists.... But Mr. Boehner believes a post-election, lame-duck session is the wrong time for such a weighty decision.
"Doing this with a whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don't think that is the right way to handle this," he said.
Mr. Boehner, who is open to a more expansive military campaign to destroy the Islamic State, thinks lawmakers should take up the issue after the new Congress convenes in January. At that time, he said, President Obama should come forward with a proposal for consideration.
Greg Sargent noted in response, "You have to love the idea that this is too 'weighty' a decision to make during the lame duck session, but not 'weighty' enough to vote on before the escalation actually launched, let alone before an election in which voters deserve to know where lawmakers stand on a matter of such great consequence."
Indeed, it's difficult to think of a defense for Boehner's new posture.
At a campaign event in Kansas this week, Sen. Pat Roberts, the struggling Republican incumbent, seemed eager to throw some red meat to the GOP base. "We have to change course because our country is heading for national socialism," the senator said. "That's not right. It's changing our culture. It's changing what we're all about."
It seemed quite likely that Roberts, despite more than three decades in Congress, had no idea that national socialism is Nazism. At the same time, the senator also seemed confused by what "socialism" means.
Yesterday, Philip Rucker reported on Roberts' attempts at a clarification. "I believe that the direction [President Obama] is heading the country is more like a European socialistic state, yes. You can't tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize."
Given that the president hasn't actually tried to nationalize any American industry, it seems we're left with a befuddled senator who doesn't know what "nationalize" means, either.
But that's not Roberts' biggest problem. Rather, reports like these from today's Topeka Capital-Journal are the sort of thing that puts his career in jeopardy.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts put a signature to documents associated with the mortgage on a Virginia residence that identify the Fairfax County home as "principal residence" of the three-term incumbent Republican. [...]
On Wednesday, records surfaced that Roberts signed a Deed of Trust in 1997 and 2003 for property owned in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Franki, that contained text about a principal residence.
The documents, which include a series of covenants, required Roberts to attest the couple within 60 days of executing the document "shall continue to occupy the property as borrower's principal residence for at least one year after the date of occupancy."
Vinny Minchillo, a Republican campaign strategist based in Texas, isn't the most famous GOP consultant in the country, but he did claim to have "reinvented political advertising" while working for Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign in 2012.
But that was two years ago. In 2014, as Danny Vinik discovered, Minchillo is spearheading an entirely different kind of campaign. It's called "Republicans Are People, Too."
RepublicansArePeopleToo.com ... aims to combat the partisan rancor directed at the GOP. In short: to humanize Republicans demonized by the left as women-hating, nature-destroying Fox News addicts. A 97-second video on the site informs viewers that Republicans do things that you may not associate with conservatives. [...]
Minchillo is now an executive at Glass House Strategy, a public affairs company that specializes in political campaigns -- although, despite the upcoming midterms, Minchillo is not advising any campaigns at the moment. That, he says, makes it the perfect time to start a grassroots campaign to change the Republican Party's image.
The whole video is posted below, and you'll just have to see it to believe it. The message did not go so far as to say, "Republicans are capable of functioning as well-adjusted human beings," but that seemed to be the general direction of the message.
Indeed, for those who can't watch clips online, here's the entire on-screen text: "Did you know? Republicans drive Priuses. Republicans recycle. Republicans listen to Spotify. Republicans put together Ikea furniture. Republicans are white. Republicans are black. Republicans are Hispanic. Republicans are Asian. Republicans read the New York Times in public. Republicans use Macs. Republicans are grandmas, daughters, Moms. Republicans are left handed. Republicans are doctors, welders, teachers. Republicans donate to charity. Republicans enjoy gourmet cooking. Republicans shop at Trader Joe's. Republicans like dogs and cats, probably dogs a little more than cats. Republicans have tattoos and beards. Republicans have feelings. Republicans are people who care. Republicans are people, too."
It's almost as if we're seeing a promotional video put together by a group most Americans find repulsive, so its members put something together for YouTube in the hopes of appearing normal.
Indeed, let's make this plain: if you're a member of a political party, and you find it necessary to remind the public that your party is capable of human emotion and routine human behavior, then your party may have a very serious problem.
The figures on initial unemployment claims have reached such an encouraging point that new Labor Department reports can show an increase, but the overall level can remain below a key threshold.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose by 12,000 to 293,000, but initial claims continue to hover near an eight-year bottom amid a very low rate of layoffs, new government data showed. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 300,000 in the week ended Sept. 20.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 1,250 to 298,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. The monthly figure offers a better look at underlying trends in the jobs market.
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 25 of the last 28 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in 6 of the last 10 weeks.)
If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) economic record doesn't undermine his political future, his scandals might.
To briefly recap his most notable controversy, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. There is, however, reason to believe Walker and his team were directly involved in overseeing how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources during the governor's recall campaign.
For his part, the governor has dismissed the controversy, repeatedly pointing to a court ruling that "didn't buy into the argument that has been presented" by prosecutors. Yesterday, a federal appeals court overruled that lower court.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday removed an injunction halting an investigation into whether the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker illegally coordinated with conservative groups on fund-raising and spending as he sought to overcome a recall effort two years ago.
The decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit raised the prospect that prosecutors could eventually resume the investigation even as Mr. Walker, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, is engaged in a tight battle for re-election.
Note, this does not necessarily mean that the investigation will be renewed, only that it can continue. A district court put a halt to the entire inquiry, effectively closing the door on the probe. Now, that door is open again, though what happens next remains to be seen.
What strikes me as especially important about this, though, is the degree to which it represents a rebuke to a bizarre legal theory about campaign-finance laws.
Mia Bloom, professor at the U. Mass. Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, talks with Rachel Maddow about addressing the threat of lone wolf terrorists and whether the call by ISIS for worldwide attacks is a sign of desperation. watch