In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist violence in Paris, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) saw an opportunity to make a political point: maybe it's time, the Republican senator argued, for France to rethink its immigration policies.
As a rule, libertarian-minded officials don't believe in immigration crackdowns, but Paul has Republican presidential primary voters to consider, and this apparently seemed like the right call.
Around the same time, however, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) had an entirely different concern. The senator's father, known for his deeply strange beliefs, was questioning whether the attack at Charlie Hebdo's offices was a false-flag operation. Ron Paul didn't specifically argue that it was a false-flag, but he considered it a legitimate question, adding that he's "determined to try to get truth out" about the terrorist acts.
Yesterday, the Washington Postreported on a similar set of circumstances in which Rand Paul made one pitch while his father made another.
Rand Paul wants to lead the United States. On Saturday in Texas, his father was speaking at a conference about how to leave it.
"A lot of times people think secession, they paint it as an absolute negative," said former representative Ron Paul (R-Tex.). After all, Paul said, the American Revolution was a kind of secession. "You mean we should have been obedient to the king forever? So it's all in the way you look at it."
The senator was in California, trying to curry favor with the Koch brothers and his allies, while the former congressman was in Texas, delivering a speech at "a one-day seminar in breaking away from the central state."
One of the more common criticisms of President Obama's foreign policy from the right is that he's scaled back U.S. efforts to influence the world, withdrawing America from its traditional leadership post. The Republican whining has always been more ironic than credible, largely because Obama has spent six years doing the exact opposite.
For example, consider this New York Timesreport covering the president's trip to India and his attendance at India's massive, annual Republic Day celebration.
The parade was the visual centerpiece of Mr. Obama's three-day trip, a colorful mélange of modern-day military hardware, soldiers in traditional turbans and costumes riding camels, and a series of floats from myriad states capturing different aspects of India's rich and complicated cultures. The invitation to Mr. Obama to attend in the position of honor was an important diplomatic gesture. [...]
Mr. Obama's decision to accept the invitation to be chief guest was seen here as a great tribute to India, heralded by politicians and the news media as a sign of the country's importance on the world stage. An announcer told the crowd that it was "a proud moment for every Indian."
Of course, Obama's diplomatic emphasis -- he's the first sitting president to ever visit India twice during his term -- was about more than symbolic celebrations. As msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported, Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced "progress on nuclear energy and climate change negotiations during their talks in New Delhi," with the U.S. president declaring a "breakthrough understanding" on the former.
What's more, the NYT report added that Obama and Modi "renewed the 10-year defense pact between the two countries on Sunday and agreed to cooperate on aircraft carrier and jet engine technology. They also agreed to work on joint production of small-scale surveillance drones."
There's also the broader, geo-political landscape to consider. Clearly, Obama has prioritized improved relations with India, seeing it as an important goal on its own, but there's also a context to remember.
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced last week that he'd invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver remarks to Congress, it quickly became an important international controversy. Not only had Republican lawmakers ignored U.S. protocol, circumventing the executive branch to partner with a foreign head of state, but the GOP had hatched a plot to sabotage American foreign policy, siding with a foreign government over the White House -- just weeks in advance of Israeli elections.
Last week, Obama administration officials, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman all criticized the Boehner/Netanyahu scheme. Over the weekend, Michael Oren, Netanyahu's former ambassador to the U.S. urged the Israeli leader to cancel. "The behavior over the last few days created the impression of a cynical political move, and it could hurt our attempts to act against Iran," Oren said.
[T]wo prominent Fox News hosts, Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith, harshly criticized Boehner and Netanyahu on Friday for secretly arranging a Netanyahu speech to Congress that is transparently aimed at undermining President Obama, and set up without the White House's knowledge.
The White House, State Department, and many foreign policy observers, including prominent former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, expressed outrage over the move. And, in a sign of just how many lines Boehner and Netanyahu crossed, so did the two Fox News hosts. "I agree 100 percent," Wallace said when Smith read a quote from Indyk criticizing the Boehner-Netanyahu maneuver.
Wallace, hardly an ally of President Obama, noted that Secretary of State John Kerry met on Tuesday with Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, for two hours, and Dermer never mentioned the Boehner/Netanyahu scheme announced a day later. The Fox News host said "this whole thing" is "wicked."
Shep Smith went on to say that the Netanyahu administration seems to think that Americans are "just a bunch of complete morons."
Sarah Palin knows a little bit about generating attention for herself. The former half-term Alaska governor surely realized, for example, that when she declared she's "seriously interested" in running for president -- of the United States, no less -- it'd cause a stir.
And that's arguably a shame. There's literally nothing to suggest the right-wing personality is serious about a political campaign, and Palin very likely makes comments like these as a sad little ego exercise.
But more important was Palin's cringe-worthy speech at Rep. Steve King's (R) Iowa Freedom Summit, fairly characterized as a "bizarre improvised rant," in which the Alaska Republican came up with a new condemnation of President Obama.
"An impatient president doesn't just get to trample our Constitution and ignore Congress just because he doesn't get exactly what he wants every time he wants it," Palin said. "It's like an overgrown little boy who's just acting kind of spoiled. And moms, we don't put up with that, do we?"
Republican rhetoric that infantilizes the president is more common than it should be. It's also creepy.
Why would Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) spend several days repeating discredited nonsense last week? Because it's apparently working for him. Byron York reported over the weekend:
You know what Bobby Jindal said about Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe, a statement that resulted in Jindal being criticized and mocked by mainstream commentators? It turns out many social conservatives in Iowa really liked it.... [Jindal] not only did not suffer from his remarks but instead benefited from them.
This is, alas, how the game is played in the Republican presidential nominating contest -- say things that aren't true in order to impress activists who don't know better. It's creates an unfortunate set of incentives in which cynical would-be presidents are encouraged to make stuff up, confident that electoral rewards will follow.
But for the GOP governor, the question is not how to deal with the fallout of getting caught making ridiculous allegations, but rather, what Jindal can do for an encore. Over the weekend, the dynamic led the governor to turn his attention to marriage equality.
The broader context is worth appreciating, because as recently as Tuesday, President Obama noted in his State of the Union address last week, "I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country."
Jindal must have missed this. Yesterday, he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos what his reaction would be to a court ruling supporting marriage equality:
First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected complaint from the religious right about, of all things, President Obama's State of the Union address.
At first, I thought conservatives might complain about the way in which the president ended his remarks. While most SOTU addresses conclude with a president saying, "God Bless America," Obama this week wrapped up by saying, "God bless you. God bless this country we love." The subtle shift seemed like the sort of thing conservatives might not like, and as it turns out, some on the right did take note.
The American Family Association's Sandy Rios enjoys promoting bizarre conspiracy theories to imply that President Obama is a secret Muslim, and [Wednesday] she even managed to find proof of Obama's hidden faith in his State of the Union address.
On Rios' radio program ... she did use the opportunity to claim that Obama was spreading Muslim messages in his speech when he used the word "pillar" to describe the foundations of American leadership in the world: "The other thing he said that I caught, he has done this before, you know there are five pillars of Islam, and he used the term 'pillars' again in his speech last night."
According to the Right Wing Watch report, Rios, who seems a little preoccupied with the idea that the Christian president is a secret Muslim, added, "It is just really interesting, language can actually give us some insight, choices of words."
It's probably worth noting that the president did use the word "pillar" in his speech, but last week, Mitt Romney used the same word. Former President George W. Bush referenced "pillars" several times when discussing U.S. policy in Iraq, and former President Ronald Reagan referenced "pillars" while promoting government-sponsored religion in public schools.
One can only wonder whether the American Family Association, a co-host of Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) "The Response" prayer rally today, sees secret Muslims everywhere.
North Dakota State Representative Corey Mock talks with Rachel Maddow about considerations being made by the state legislature to improve monitoring of pipelines after a recent rash of ruptures, and how to improve safety without hurting industry. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on some of the questionable characters associated with a Louisiana prayer rally headlined by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, including televangelist Cindy Jacobs and the anti-gay American Family Association. watch
* A new Saudi Arabian king: "The ISIS and al Qaeda-fighting credentials of Saudi Arabia's new king and his two successors signal how seriously the kingdom takes the threat from Muslim extremist groups wreaking havoc in the region."
* The Supreme Court "announced Friday that it will review the lethal injection protocol used in many executions around the country, after allowing an Oklahoma inmate last week to be put to death using the drugs. The court's four liberals would have granted Charles Frederick Warner a stay but were overruled."
* Montana: "Montana state officials on Friday said tap water in the town of Glendive is now safe to drink, six days after more than 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Yellowstone River."
* These are odd times for geopolitics in the Middle East: "Iraq's prime minister said on Friday the West had increased support to his country to help it fight Islamic State, and Iran was also providing crucial backing."
* Diplomacy is complex, too: "The first round of high-level talks between United States and Cuba wrapped up this week, with diplomats acknowledging both common ground and 'deep disagreements' in mending relations between the two countries."
* Ebola: "The number of people falling victim to the Ebola virus in West Africa has fallen to the lowest level in months, the World Health Organization said on Friday, but dwindling funds and a looming rainy season threaten to hamper efforts to control the disease."
* New Jersey: "Protesters around the country are once again speaking out against racial disparities in police use of force in response to a video that shows two Bridgeton, New Jersey, officers shooting and killing a black man as he held his hands up. A dashboard camera recorded the encounter, including the moments police pulled over a car and shot and killed the passenger, 36-year-old Jerame Reid."
The last remaining legal hurdle for the Affordable Care Act, the King v. Burwell case, isn't as complicated as it may seem. The entire controversy boils down to this: was the Affordable Care Act designed specifically to subsidize insurance for consumers nationwide, or only consumers who enroll through state exchanges?
Absolutely everyone involved in the process knows the truth: of course the system was designed to help all American consumers, including those who bought insurance through healthcare.gov. The alternative is a little insane -- the architects of the law wouldn't have any reason to undermine the efficacy of their own system.
But the King v. Burwell lawsuit, which Republicans pretend to believe, is predicated on a genuinely ridiculous assumption: Democrats, on purpose, designed "Obamacare" in such a way as to deny help to every consumer who relied on healthcare.gov. They did this deliberately, the argument goes, in order to entice states to create their own exchange marketplaces.
It's painfully obvious that this is absurd and that the lawsuit is a joke, and very recently, evidence has emerged that even Republicans who claim to support the case, in reality, don't genuinely believe their own side's argument. Consider this latest catch from Ian Millhiser:
The Affordable Care Act gives states a choice. They can either set up their own health exchanges where individuals may buy subsidized health plans, or they can elect to have the federal government set up such an exchange for them. Individuals who purchase insurance on an exchange may receive tax credits to help them pay for that insurance if they qualify on the basis of income.
In his brief, which was filed in a lawsuit called King v. Burwell, [Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch] claims that the law "provides that premium subsidies are available only through an exchange established by a State" -- i.e. not in an exchange that is operated by the federal government.
But five years ago, before Hatch knew the King v. Burwell case was coming, he accidentally told the truth: he wrote in an op-ed that said state exchanges "are not a condition" for subsidies. The Republican senator understood reality in 2010, but is pretending to support a contradictory reality now in the hopes of tearing down the system.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reason to be pleased with his recent promotion. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, his party is not only in control of the Senate, but the Arizona Republican is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post he's reportedly wanted for quite a while.
But when the senator looks around the world, he isn't pleased at all.
"We are probably in the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime," said the 78-year-old Republican from Arizona, whose control of the committee is the culmination of decades of tenacious advocacy for a muscular foreign policy. "Everything I've predicted, unfortunately, has come true, whether it be in Iraq or whether it be Syria."
The notion that all of John McCain's predictions have "come true" isn't just a bizarre boast, it's also laughably and demonstrably untrue. As Rachel put it on the show awhile back, "Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that."
But it's this argument, which McCain has made before, that we're seeing "the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime" that seems especially odd.
As we discussed the last time the senator made this assessment, McCain's lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. To suggest turmoil is greater or more "serious" now may be politically convenient -- one assumes McCain is both eager to blame President Obama for unrest and anxious to make the case for more wars -- but it's also completely at odds with reality when considered in a historical context.