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In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Va. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S....

Independent GAO report: Voter ID lowers turnout

10/09/14 11:28AM

It's sometimes  helpful when an independent analysis, released by an objective source, confirms what should already be obvious.
States that toughened their voter identification laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not, with disproportionate falloffs among black and younger voters, a nonpartisan congressional study released Wednesday concluded. [...]
 
The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative agency, was released less than a month from elections that will determine which party controls Congress.
As part of the research, GAO scholars "compared election turnout in Kansas and Tennessee -- which tightened voter ID requirements between the 2008 and 2012 elections -- to voting in four states that didn't change their identification requirements."
 
Not surprisingly, the research found that voter turnout dropped in the states that imposed tighter restrictions. What's more, as Jay Bookman noted, the "decline was among 'eligible and registered voters' -- these weren't people trying to cheat."
 
The turnout drop was more likely to affect voters 23 and younger, new voters, and African Americans.
 
And given that these voting restrictions were imposed by Republican state policymakers, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether the results are a feature, not a bug.
 
Making matters slightly worse, the GAO report uncovered no evidence of a voter-fraud problem, which at least ostensibly is the point of imposing these voting hurdles in the first place.
 
What we're left with is an indefensible set of circumstances. Voter-ID laws are wreaking havoc on elections, especially in states like Wisconsin, pushed by far-right policymakers who end up discriminating against voters in order to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
This Aug. 21, 2014, file photo shows Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as he speaks during a news conference in North Little Rock, Ark.

Cotton's credulity creates campaign complications

10/09/14 10:57AM

Rep. Tom Cotton (R), his party's nominee in Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, rolled out a new argument last week. The far-right congressman told voters that Islamic State militants may come to North America, partner with Mexican drug cartels, plot terrorist strikes, and target their land-locked state in the middle of the country with no major population centers. Worse, Cotton apparently expects voters to believe his fanciful claim.
 
Glenn Kessler dug a little deeper, looking at the materials Team Cotton referenced as proof, including a piece from an unhinged conspiracy-theory website called WorldNetDaily.
The whole thing seems to have started with a highly speculative account on July 4 in WND, labeled an "exclusive" and titled: "New Border Risk: ISIS Ties to Mexican Drug Lords."  (ISIS and ISIL are other names for Islamic State.) The article quoted Michael Maloof, who it described as a former "top Defense Department analyst" and "expert on the Middle East:"
 
...Maloof is not pointing to any hard evidence, just that he thinks that they "may be" doing this.
 
Who is Michael Maloof? He gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as one of the key people involved in a DOD intelligence effort to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and was likely to provide weapons of mass destruction to terror groups.... Maloof was later stripped of his security clearance after unauthorized contacts with a Lebanese American businessman who was under federal investigation for gun-running.
As sourcing for a terrorism claim goes, it's probably best not to put this in the "rock solid" category.
 
But therein lies the point: Tom Cotton, who's been caught brazenly lying before, decided to take dubious conspiracy theories from strange websites at face value, then share the nonsense with the public.
 
Kessler added, "As a lawmaker, Cotton needs to be careful about making inflammatory statements based on such flimsy evidence." That's true, though I'm struck by how often that same sentiment comes up when looking at a wide variety of GOP lawmakers.
Sam Brownback

Brownback convinced his failed experiment 'is working'

10/09/14 10:07AM

When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) cut taxes far beyond what his state could afford, he sounded a surprisingly cautious note on msnbc. "We'll see how it works," the Republican governor said. "We'll have a real-live experiment."
 
Two years later, the experiment isn't going well. Brownback's economic plan has failed miserably on practically every possible front. Kansas' finances have been left in such a mess that the state's bond rating was downgraded, and soon after, was downgraded again. Several recent polls show the far-right governor trailing in his re-election bid -- a prospect that seemed impossible just a few months ago.
 
But Brownback thinks he knows what's going on here, even if it's not obvious to everyone else.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) said the left and liberal media is far too focused on crafting a narrative that shows his policies failing before those policies actually start working.
 
"I think they so desperately want what's happening in this state to fail that they're shopping for a factual setting to back that up because it's working," Brownback said of his critics in an interview with CBN News' The Brody File.
In his comments to TV preacher Pat Robertson's news network, Brownback added that "the left" wants his far-right economic agenda to "fail so bad that they can't wait for it to and they just want to get me electorally before we get on through this and prove that this is working."
 
It's a bizarre argument. Brownback said his experiment would produce amazing economic results. Those predictions were discredited, not by "the left" but by reality, leaving the governor to argue "this is working," despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
 
I half expect the Kansas Republican to make "Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes" his new campaign slogan.
 
Of course, this is about more than Kansas.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

GOP congressman doubles down on 'categorically false' border claim

10/09/14 09:27AM

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) made a pretty extraordinary claim on Fox News this week, telling a national television audience on Tuesday night that 10 Islamic State militants were caught entering the United States through the Mexican border. The far-right congressman was categorical: Hunter said in no uncertain terms that this has already happened, but "there's nobody talking about it."
 
The California Republican added that he knows this is true "because I've asked the Border Patrol."
 
Right-wing media outlets were predictably excited by the baseless claims -- National Review, citing Hunter's comments, asked, "Could the administration really successfully cover up something as big as this?" -- but there's a small problem. Neither Hunter nor his allies have any verifiable evidence to bolster the allegations. I mean that quite literally -- there's nothing from Border Patrol, nothing from other members of Congress or relevant committees, nothing from the Mexican government, and nothing from the Department of Homeland Security.
 
On the contrary, DHS described the claim as "categorically false" and Secretary Jeh Johnson suggested Hunter has no idea what he's talking about.
 
And that leaves the far-right congressman with a choice: Hunter can scale back his explosive claims or he can stick to his guns. Take a wild guess which course the Republican prefers.
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said the congressman stands by his comments. "A high level source informed the congressman -- it was also said that DHS is actively discouraging any talk of IS on the border," Kasper said.
 
"The congressman was conveying what he knows -- and what he was told," he said.
Hmm. Hunter has no proof, but he has a source he won't identify, who gave him information that literally no one else can verify, about an important claim unsupported by facts.
 
Wait, it gets even better.

Jobless claims hold steady, average drops to eight-year low

10/09/14 08:37AM

For the first time since before the start of the Great Recession, initial unemployment filings have dropped below 300,000, and stayed below that threshold, for four consecutive weeks.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in the first week of October was basically unchanged at 287,000, reflecting a labor market that's experiencing an exceedingly low rate of layoffs and probably will continue to do so for months. Initial claims have fallen below the key 300,000 level for four straight weeks, the first time that's happened since early 2006. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 294,000.
 
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dropped by 7,250 to 287,750 and hit the lowest level since February 2006, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
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 27 of the last 30 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in 8 of the last 12 weeks.)
The U.S. Capitol is reflected in water on the morning of June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

An ever-changing Senate landscape shifts once more

10/09/14 08:00AM

A month ago, Michigan was supposed to be home to one of the nation's most competitive Senate races, while South Dakota was largely seen as an afterthought. As of this week, however, Republicans have given up on the former, while Democrats have renewed hopes about the latter.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will spend $1 million in South Dakota -- mostly on television and the rest on field operations -- in a last-minute attempt to hold a U.S. Senate seat they now view as winnable, Bloomberg Politics has learned. A DSCC official said advertising will likely be on the air by Monday. As in the Kansas Senate race, Democrats believe they now have a chance to offset inevitable losses elsewhere and maintain control of the Senate.
To put it mildly, this was unexpected. Democratic leaders have spent the last several weeks insisting that South Dakota was a lost cause, and with limited resources and a shrinking calendar, there was simply no point in even considering this race.
 
But as we saw in Kansas last month, the landscape can change quickly. We talked yesterday in some detail about why South Dakota's three-way contest has become more competitive, and internal Democratic polling reportedly found a close enough contest to warrant real investment.
 
Note, Dems are now spending $1 million -- and $1 million goes a long way in South Dakota -- which at this late stage, isn't a perfunctory, let's-see-what-happens kind of investment. It's a real effort.
 
At this point, polls show a modest margin separating former Gov. Mike Rounds (R), Rick Weiland (D) and Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator who's running as an independent. The Democratic investment will be focused on bringing down Rounds, who's been plagued recently by a credible scandal, while a crowd-funded super PAC launched by Larry Lessig will invest another $1 million in support of boosting Weiland.
 
It's a recipe for a competitive statewide race.
 
For their part, Republicans continue to believe Rounds, who's led this race from the start, is in a position to prevail, but the fact that South Dakota is even drawing any attention at all has to be discouraging for the GOP.
 
Indeed, the Republicans' road to Senate control keeps running into detours.

Ebola what-ifs and other headlines

10/09/14 07:56AM

Medical experts go over what-ifs in Dallas Ebola case. (Dallas Morning News)

Aides knew of possible White House link to Secret Service prostitution scandal. (Washington Post)

White House uses emojis to make its economic case to the youth. (BuzzFeed)

Protests erupt after St. Louis Police officer fatally shoots teen. (NBC News)

Coalition steps up airstrikes on besieged Syrian border town. (Wall Street Journal)

Turkey, Kurd tensions worry U.S. in fight for Kobani. (AP)

Nobel Prize in Literature goes to French writer. (AP) Meanwhile, bettors have already picked tomorrow's Peace Prize winner. (Washington Post)

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Missed opportunities examined in Ebola death

Missed opportunities examined in Ebola death

10/08/14 10:58PM

Dr. Stephen Morse, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University, talks with Rachel Maddow about the treatment Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan received and what other options could have been available to prevent his death. watch

Deficit defying conservative talking points

Deficit defying conservative talking points

10/08/14 10:53PM

Rachel Maddow debunks the conservative talking point still in use this election cycle, that the federal deficit is hurting the national economy, pointing to a new report that 2014 continued a deficit shrinking trend to the lowest since 2008. watch

ISIS-at-the-border fear mongering debunked

ISIS-at-the-border fear mongering debunked

10/08/14 10:52PM

Rachel Maddow debunks the claim by Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter that ten ISIS fighters have been captured crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico, pointing out the Department of Homeland Security calling the claim "categorically false." watch

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