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A hazmat worker looks up while finishing up cleaning outside an apartment building of a hospital worker, Oct. 12, 2014, in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by LM Otero/AP)

A deadly virus is not an 'October Surprise'

10/16/14 12:56PM

Occasionally, political figures try to redefine a word or phrase that already has a very specific meaning. Senate Republicans, for example, last year tried to argue that "court packing" refers to confirming judicial nominees that the GOP doesn't like. It was gibberish -- court packing already refers to a specific practice, and this wasn't it.
 
Similarly, "October Surprise" refers to a specific campaign tactic, though some of the Beltway media is trying to change that, too. Here's Chris Cillizza yesterday:
Wednesday's news that not only had a second health-care worker in Dallas been infected with the Ebola virus but that she had also traveled on a commercial airliner the night before showing up at the hospital with a low-grade fever takes the story -- and its potential political impact -- to an entirely new level. [...]
 
Add it all up and you are left with this conclusion: Ebola is the October surprise of the 2014 midterms.
This came on the heels of a related piece from The Hill (via Dylan Scott).
Ebola has become the October surprise of this year's midterm elections, with Democrats and Republicans doing battle over everything from restrictions on travel to the disposal of a victim's remains.
Actually, an October surprise is defined as "any political event orchestrated (or apparently orchestrated) in the month before an election, in the hopes of affecting the outcome." The idea is, politicians and their team come up with some blockbuster story, they hold it until the last minute, and then they make a big political splash, just as the election reaches the finish line.
 
According to the Wikipedia entry on this, the phrase originated 40 years ago, when Nixon's team, just 12 days before the 1972 elections, announced the apparent end of the war in Vietnam. The entry added, "Since that election, the term 'October surprise' has been used preemptively during campaign season by partisans of one side to discredit late-campaign news by the other side."
 
With this in mind, under no circumstances is the Ebola virus an October surprise. That said, this line of thought raises a larger concern about the politicization of ... everything.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.16.14

10/16/14 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, the latest USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Joni Ernst (R) with a four-point lead over Bruce Braley (R), 47% to 43%. Most recent polling shows the race a little closer than this.
 
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Rep. Cory Gardner (R) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D) by six, 47% to 41%. Most recent polling shows this race closer, too.
 
* In Wisconsin's gubernatorial race, the new Marquette University Law School poll shows a tie contest, with Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Mary Burke (D) each at 47% support. In the last survey from the same pollster, Walker was up by five points.
 
* Speaking of tied gubernatorial races, a new Tampa Bay Times poll shows the race in Florida also tied, with Gov. Rick Scott (R) and former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) each getting 40%.
 
* In Maine, a Critical Insights poll shows Gov. Paul LePage (R) leading Rep. Mike Michaud (D), 39% to 36%. Eliot Cutler (I) is third with 21%. Since July, there have been 16 publicly available statewide polls in Maine, and only two have shown Cutler topping 20% support -- both were conducted by Critical Insights, and both showed the independent in third place with just 21%.
 
* Did the DSCC walk away from Kentucky's U.S. Senate because Alison Lundergan Grimes has plenty of cash? It's possible -- Mitch McConnell's (R) challenger raised $4.9 million in the third quarter, making Grimes one of the year's most prolific fundraisers among challengers.
This undated photo provided by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shows Judge Edith Jones.

Federal judge faces no punishment following racially charged remarks

10/16/14 11:23AM

Last year, Judge Edith H. Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals spoke to a conservative legal group and made a series of controversial remarks about race. There is no official transcript or recording, but affidavits from attendees pointed to deeply problematic language, especially from a sitting federal judge.
 
According to an ethics complaint, Jones, a Reagan appointee, told the audience that "racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime." A veteran attorney who was in the room said Jones "noted there was no arguing that 'blacks' and 'Hispanics' far outnumber 'Anglos' on death row and repeated that 'sadly' people from these racial groups do get involved in more violent crime." She was also accused of having said defenses often used in capital cases, including mental retardation and systemic racism, are "red herrings."
 
An investigation ensued, but the Associated Press reported yesterday that a panel of judges dismissed the misconduct complaint.
"It appears likely that Judge Jones did suggest that, statistically, African-Americans and/or Hispanics are 'disproportionately' involved in certain crimes and 'disproportionately' present in federal prisons," said the panel.
 
"But we must consider Judge Jones' comments in the context of her express clarifications during the question-and-answer period that she did not mean that certain groups are 'prone to commit' such crimes," the panel of judges said.
 
"In that context, whether or not her statistical statements are accurate, or accurate only with caveats, they do not by themselves indicate racial bias or an inability to be impartial," said the panel. "They resemble other albeit substantially more qualified, statements prominent in contemporary debate regarding the fairness of the justice system."
One wonders if Americans from minority communities, whose legal fate rests in Jones' hands, would have comparable confidence in the conservative judge's impartiality.
Marco Rubio

Rubio unsatisfied with the course he urged Obama to take

10/16/14 10:53AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has mastered the art of criticizing those who've followed his advice. As Rachel noted on the show in June, it was McCain who insisted that President Obama should respond to Russian aggression by excluding Putin from a G-8 meeting, then following that up with economic sanctions.
 
When Obama did exactly what, McCain complained that excluding Putin from a G-8 meeting, then following that up with economic sanctions, was a feckless and ineffective foreign policy towards Russia.
 
Of course, the Arizona Republican isn't the only one who knows how to play this game. Simon Maloy noted that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is outraged by the White House's ISIS strategy, which follows the course recommended by Marco Rubio.
On Monday, Rubio went on Fox News and tore into the administration's anti-ISIS strategy. "This is what happens when your decisions on foreign policy are driven by politics," Rubio said. "You cannot defeat an army on the ground simply from the air. And to put all your eggs in the basket of hoping that local ground forces will be able to do the job was a deeply flawed strategy from the beginning."
And on the surface, that's not an unreasonable argument -- plenty of observers on the left and right believe the administration's strategy has been "flawed ... from the beginning."
 
But as the political fight over U.S. policy towards ISIS began in earnest, the Florida Republican wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post laying out his recommendations for addressing the threat posed by Islamic State militants:
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

Fan flap flusters Scott while debate waits

Fan flap flusters Rick Scott while debate waits

10/15/14 10:58PM

Rachel Maddow shares video of the most bizarre beginning to a political debate in recent memory as Florida governor, Rick Scott, initially refused to join a debate with former governor Charlie Crist over objections to Crist's use of a fan. 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

At center of Ebola crisis, hard lessons

At center of Ebola crisis, hard-learned lessons

10/15/14 10:57PM

Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Judge, talks with Rachel Maddow about lessons learned at the center of the nation's only cases of Ebola transmission and how Dallas is preparing for the possibility of more cases among the workers who treated Thomas Eric... watch

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