The Weekly Standard, a prominent conservative magazine, has a piece in its new issue with a headline no doubt intended to get readers' attention: "Six Reasons to Panic." Take a wild guess what the article is about.
Reason #3, in particular, is quite a scenario: "What's to stop a jihadist from going to Liberia, getting himself infected [with Ebola], and then flying to New York and riding the subway until he keels over? This is just the biological warfare version of a suicide bomb. Can you imagine the consequences if someone with Ebola vomited in a New York City subway car?" It leads the Weekly Standard to suggest "drastic precautions," though the piece wasn't specific as to what those might be.
It's tempting, of course, to just laugh off the conservative magazine, but the more significant problem is that this same line of thought is being espoused by public officials who have a responsibility to be more responsible. Andrew Kaczynski had this report yesterday:
A Republican senator says he sees the threat of ISIS militants intentionally infecting themselves with the Ebola virus and then traveling to America as a "real and present danger."
"Well, it's certainly something I've been thinking about ever since this Ebola outbreak started," Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Wednesday of ISIS using Ebola on America's Forum on NewsmaxTV.
Specifically, the Republican senator told the far-right outlet, "You really don't even want to think about. You really don't even want to talk about, but we should do everything possible to defend ourselves against that possibility because I think that is a real and present danger."
Did I mention that Ron Johnson is a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee? Because he is.
In case anyone's wondering whether the senator's fears are rooted in fact, let's set the record straight. Or in this case, let's have the director of the FBI explain the situation clearly.
Other legacy-defining crises -- Obama's Katrinas, if you will, and that's been used now with Ebola, too -- have come and gone. The media has hyped those as well. Now, Americans need level-headed information so that they know that their lives aren't imminently at risk because of Ebola. But you can't expect them to understand that if this is how the situation is being presented to them.
Right. It's not that the Ebola threat is meaningless, because the opposite is true. We're talking about a legitimate danger that requires the nation's -- and the world's -- public-health infrastructure needs to respond deliberately and effectively. By all appearances, officials recognize the seriousness of the situation, and as Dylan put it, "The entirety of the U.S. public health apparatus is now being concentrated on keeping it to a quite literal handful of cases."
But that's all the more reason to avoid lazy political labels that tell the public nothing of value.
A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) started making appearances on far-right radio, questioning Ebola assessments from the actual experts, blaming "political correctness," and raising threats that seemed plainly at odds with the facts.
Soon after, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the Allergy and Infectious Diseases Institutes at NIH, appeared on CBS and was presented with the Republican senator's assessment. "I don't think that there's data to tell us that that's a correct statement, with all due respect," the doctor said.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on this, it's no longer clear just how much respect Rand Paul is due. My msnbc colleague Benjy Sarlin reported yesterday from New Hampshire, where the senator appeared eager to move the public conversation backwards.
Rand Paul had a message for students at Plymouth State University who had gathered for a pizza party with the Kentucky senator on Thursday: Ebola is coming for us all and the government is hiding the truth about the deadly disease. [...]
"This thing is incredibly contagious," Paul said. "People are getting it, fully gowned, masked, and must be getting a very tiny inoculum and they're still getting it. And then you lose more confidence because they're telling you stuff that may not be exactly valid and they're downplaying it so much that it doesn't appear that they're really being honest about it."
On CNN, Paul added, "If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party they're contagious and you can catch it from them. [The administration] should be honest about that.... You start to wonder about a basic level of competence."
Yes, if there's one person who has standing to whine about "a basic level of competence," it's the often confused junior senator from Kentucky -- the one who's deliberately contradicting medical experts, confusing the public at a difficult time.
In the latter half of September, eight polls were released publicly on Georgia's U.S. Senate race, and each one showed Republican David Perdue in the lead. Over the last week, however, three statewide polls have come out in Georgia, and Perdue suddenly isn't leading in any of them.
Roll Callreported yesterday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee confirmed the party is "looking at a tougher race in Georgia," where the contest between Perdue and Michelle Nunn (D) "has tightened up."
It's not lost on officials in either party that Republicans may come up short in their bid to control the U.S. Senate because of Georgia, Kansas, and South Dakota, even if voters in Colorado and Iowa go with surprisingly right-wing candidates.
There are competing explanations for developments in Georgia, but the most obvious is Perdue's outsourcing problem -- the conservative Republican has boasted, more than once, about his controversial private-sector background, which includes significant job losses through outsourcing, on top of factory closings, consolidations, and reduced work hours at U.S. facilities.
Last week, pressed on his outsourcing record, Perdue told reporters, "Defend it? I'm proud of it."
A couple of days ago, facing a new round of questions, the GOP Senate hopeful got a little defensive. Laura Clawson flagged this Perdue quote, which was all he would say on the subject.
"You know, the criticism I've gotten over the last few weeks is coming from people who really have no business background and really don't understand, um, you know, what it takes to create jobs and create economic value, which is really what this free enterprise system is based on."
Hmm. According to Perdue, if the people of Georgia, living in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, are bothered by outsourcing, it's because they're ignorant?
The video of his comments help drive home the political significance.
In last night's debate in Iowa, Senate hopeful Joni Ernst (R) made two observations that connect in an important way. The right-wing state senator argued in support of a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced federal budget, before adding that she wouldn't raise any tax under any circumstance.
Whether the Republican Senate hopeful understands this or not, the practical implications of these two positions are extraordinary: Ernst would effectively be required, under her own misguided constitutional mandate, to dismantle most of the federal government.
Then again, from Ernst's perspective, that may very well be a feature of her plan, not a bug. Greg Sargent reported yesterday on a newly uncovered 2013 speech in which Ernst details her "rather stark views about the relationship of Americans with their government."
In it, Ernst claims that we have created "a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them," and that wrenching them away from their dependence "is going to be very painful." [...]
In the audio, Ernst came out for a balanced budget amendment, said that would require "severe cuts," reiterated her desire to eliminate the Department of Education, vowed a "good, hard look at entitlement programs," and said electing a GOP Senate majority would be a key step towards all of this. She also said we are "encouraging people" to get on food stamps.
Though the far-right Iowan wasn't quite as explicit as Mitt Romney was in his infamous "47 percent" video, the parallels matter. Ernst, in Romney-esque terms, complains that "a generation" of Americans "rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them." She vows to rectify this in a "very painful" way, presumably with the most acute pain imposed on those who can afford the least.
It is the very height of anti-populism -- the Republican U.S. Senate candidate is convinced that families already struggling to get by simply have it too easy, with the public sector lavishing expansive benefits on them. For those who are just barely keeping their heads above water, relying on America's safety net to survive, the right-wing Iowan has a bleak and punitive message to offer: you've had it too easy for too long, and Joni Ernst has a "very painful" future in store.
If struggling families in Iowa turned out in significant numbers this year, Ernst would be facing a landslide defeat.
What's more, the GOP candidate's message on health care was just as striking.
Colleen McCain Nelson, Wall Street Journal White House Correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the news that Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, was kicked out of the Navy Reserves earlier this year after failing a drug test. watch
Rachel Maddow tallies the number of beds available at elite U.S. medical facilities best prepared to treat Ebola patients (nine total, five remaining) and wonders what it will take to expand that level of care across the U.S. in the event of an outbreak. watch
Dr. Brad Britigan, dean of the containment unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, talks with Rachel Maddow about how quickly U.S. specialized care capacity can be ramped up to accommodate a potential Ebola outbreak. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the personal bravery of Zainab al-Khawaja, an activist in Bahrain who is eight months pregnant, who stood up for her principles of freedom of expression despite likely imprisonment as a consequence. watch
Rachel Maddow tells the harrowing story of the rescue efforts that went into removing what was believed to be a live grenade from a man's leg, involving paramedics, military members, and a doctor who put themselves at great personal risk. watch
* Dallas: "An official at the Dallas hospital where two nurses contracted Ebola told Congress on Thursday that emergency staff were not trained this summer on how to handle the virus, despite warnings from health officials about the outbreak in West Africa."
* National Guard: "President Obama on Thursday authorized the Pentagon to call up members of the National Guard to active duty to help combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa."
* Naming names: "Allies like Australia and Canada can also expect escalating U.S. pressure. And officials say China ought to contribute [to the Ebola response] in a way that befits a rising world power. The 'top disappointments are France and Italy -- (they) top the list of 'talk most, do least,'' a senior administration official told Yahoo News."
* A disappointing reaction: "Schools in Texas and Ohio were closed on Thursday after officials learned that students and an adult had either been on the flight with the nurse, Amber Joy Vinson, or had contact with her while she was visiting the Akron area."
* Ferguson: "A stream of eyewitnesses has been testifying in secret before a grand jury considering whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown near the Canfield Green apartments in Ferguson."
* Seems reasonable: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is calling for appropriators to 'return to Washington immediately' to provide additional funding for the Ebola response."
* On a related note: "Federal health officials are giving a small biotech company nearly $6 million to speed up development of another vaccine against Ebola, the third in a pipeline of vaccines to fight the virus."