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Week in Geek: Bowling ball vs. feather, falling

11/23/14 09:36AM

Have you ever wondered about all those famous thought experiments famous scientists come up with? Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Einstein and his trains, Schrodinger and his cats. While we can't yet reenact what Einstein and Schrodinger had in mind, we can test Galileo's idea.

Galileo theorized that objects fall at the same rate (regardless of their mass, size, shape) when they are subject to the same gravitational acceleration (on the Earth, Moon, etc.) and air resistance is negligible (i.e., in a vacuum). Essentially, this means that in these conditions, any two objects will fall at the same velocity and land at the same time. Building an experiment to drop pairs of objects is no big deal, but building one to drop them in a vacuum is.

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U.S. President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, November 20, 2014. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Pool/Reuters)

This Week in God, 11.22.14

11/22/14 08:49AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a curious reaction from the right to President Obama quoting Christian scripture in his national address on immigration policy this week.
 
If you missed it, referencing Exodus 23:9, told Americans, "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too."
 
In an interesting twist, conservatives who generally push for more mixing of religion and politics, and who complain that the president isn't more overtly religious all the time, began complaining after Obama's speech about the Biblical reference. Emily Arrowood noted yesterday:
The hosts of Fox & Friends were incensed that President Obama quoted scripture in a primetime address detailing his upcoming executive action on immigration, challenging him to a "scripture-showdown" and claiming it's "repugnant" for Obama to "lecture us on Christian faith." [...]
 
According to [co-host Elisabeth] Hasselbeck, Obama used the Bible to guilt people into supporting his executive action, and that's "not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use, perhaps."
Because no one's ever used Scripture to guilt someone into supporting a position, right?
 
It was, incidentally, the co-hosts of "Fox & Friends" who also complained just 48 hours earlier that the president doesn't espouse Christian values often enough.
 
But they weren't the only ones complaining. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) also wasn't happy. "I always thought that Scripture was eternal and unchanging, but apparently, now that Obama is President, Scripture gets rewritten more often than Bill Cosby's Wikipedia entry," Huckabee wrote on his Facebook page.
 
Fox's Bill O'Reilly also said of Obama, "He is one of the most secular presidents, perhaps the most secular president we have ever had, yet, he invokes scripture in the speech."
 
For what it's worth, Thomas Jefferson edited his Bible to remove references to Jesus' divinity, so I don't think Obama, who's made countless public references to his Christian faith, is in the running for any Most Secular Presidents awards.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Important veteran suicide bill poised to pass

Important veteran suicide bill poised to pass

11/21/14 10:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, a little noticed, genuinely bipartisan bill named for a heroic veteran who took his own life, and designed to address the challenges of treating returning war veterans. watch

Ahead on the 11/21/14 Maddow show

11/21/14 06:06PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Alan Gomez, USA Today immigration reporter
  • James Makawa, former NBC news correspondent who applied for amnesty in 1987

And here's executive producer Cory Gnazzo with what's coming up...

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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.21.14

11/21/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* POTUS hits the trail: "President Obama reaffirmed his plan to take executive action to reform the nation's immigration laws but said he will keep working with Congress to reach a legislative solution. 'I will never give up,' Obama said at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas."
 
* At least for now, the deadline is Monday: "Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, canceled plans to leave the nuclear negotiations [in Geneva] Friday following marathon talks that lasted into the night."
 
* Signs of hope in Liberia: "The international response to West Africa's Ebola epidemic, coupled with more effective action by local communities, has stopped the exponential spread of the disease in one of the hardest-hit countries, Liberia, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday."
 
* Terror divisions: "Escalating a war of words between terrorism's old and new schools, an Islamic scholar with al Qaeda's Yemen-based offshoot on Friday accused ISIS of 'planting ... disunity' among the various Islamic extremist factions fighting to topple the Syrian government and rejected the authority of the Iraq- and Syria-based group's self-declared caliphate."
 
* Ukraine: 'Vice President Biden abruptly canceled a wreath-laying ceremony Friday at a memorial marking Ukraine's pro-Western revolution after an angry crowd gathered to demand justice for those killed in the unrest."
 
* Ferguson: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has expressed concerns privately to Missouri officials this week about their recent actions in advance of a grand jury's decision in the Michael Brown case."
 
* Tunisia: "Less than a month after electing a new Parliament, Tunisians will vote Sunday in their first-ever open democratic presidential election, completing a tumultuous democratic transition begun with their revolution nearly four years ago."
 
* A not-so-lame duck: "The government transferred five low-level Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Eastern Europe on Thursday. Four of the men were Yemenis, and their resettlement was a significant policy change in the Obama administration's effort to close the prison at the naval base in Cuba."
John Boehner

'The House will, in fact, act'

11/21/14 04:55PM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in July 2013:
"It is time for Congress to act. But I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), this morning:
"I will say to you, the House will in fact act," he said.
It's worth clarifying the context. Last year, when Boehner vowed that the Republican-led House will "act," he meant he and his colleagues were finally going to do something about the broken immigration system. This morning, when Boehner vowed that the Republican-led House will "act," he meant GOP lawmakers intend to stop President Obama from doing something about the broken immigration system.
 
The point, however, is that there's a challenge in taking the House Speaker seriously. Last year, he vowed that he and his members will do their job on immigration reform, and then Boehner broke his word. Now the Speaker is vowing to take on the president -- somehow, in some way, in reference to some policy dispute -- and given recent history, one would be forgiven for thinking, "We've heard this talk before."
 
There's an inherent problem when leaders lack credibility. Remember when Boehner said Republicans wouldn't pass a clean debt-ceiling increase? What the Speaker vowed would happen and what actually happened turned out to be very different things. Remember when Boehner said Republicans wouldn't shut down the government? The same dynamic unfolded.

Of course, there's also the issue of timing.
Sarah Palin speaks at CPAC, March 8, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty.

Palin identifies the key threat to America's future: Americans

11/21/14 04:26PM

The rules as applied to Sarah Palin haven't changed. As we talked about over the summer, the former half-term governor of Alaska remains a deeply silly person whose opinions are not to be taken seriously. When news organizations routinely make a fuss about her random missives, they're lending credence to a former officeholder who doesn't deserve it.
 
But every now and then, one of Palin's tirades stands out as newsworthy.
 
The right-wing personality released a new online video today, complaining about President Obama and immigration, offering the usual lines in a style that can charitably be compared to a teenager delivering a report about a book she hasn't read (via Simon Maloy).
 
But then Palin added this:
"We'll survive this president. The question is (overdramatic pause) can we survive the people who voted for him, twice?"
I don't know, can we?
 
Look, I realize that Palin holds the president in contempt. It's not entirely clear why, but she's not an Obama fan. I get it.
 
But this struck me as interesting because Palin seems to be arguing that her most pressing concern about America's future is the president that disgusts her; it's Americans themselves.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) grabs the arm of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)  as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in front of the U.S. Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 28, 2014.

House Republicans finally file anti-Obama lawsuit

11/21/14 03:27PM

It took them long enough. Four months after announcing their intention to sue President Obama, House Republicans finally followed through. But while immigration policy is obviously the hot-button controversy of the day, and the GOP is certain the White House's policy is illegal, the new litigation has nothing to do with immigration. Jane C. Timm reported:
House Republicans on Friday filed a long-anticipated lawsuit against the White House, alleging the Obama administration abused its power by making unilateral changes to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
 
The lawsuit comes just hours after President Obama enacted sweeping changes to the immigration system, enraging conservative lawmakers and setting the stage for an all-out war between the Republican Party and the president over the limits of his executive authority. The legal action threatens not only the president's healthcare overhaul, but could change the power of executive authority forever.
How we got to this point continues to be a story unto itself. As we talked about last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) first announced his plan to sue the president back in June. A month later, the Speaker's office formally unveiled the legislation to authorize the litigation. A month after that, House Republicans agreed to pay a D.C. law firm $500 an hour, in taxpayer money, to handle the case.
 
Things went downhill from there. Republicans hired a law firm to oversee the litigation, but the firm changed its mind in September and dropped the case. GOP leaders then hired a second firm, only to learn a month later that it dropped the case, too. This week, Republicans hired a new lawyer, George Washington University legal scholar Jonathan Turley, who filed today.
 
Of course, what really matters is what the case is about and whether it's likely to succeed.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.

GOP gets mixed message from party leaders

11/21/14 12:53PM

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a relative moderate among congressional Republicans, knew many of his GOP brethren would react strongly to President Obama's immigration policy, but Dent urged the party not to fly off the handle. "Don't take the bait, and don't have a hysterical reaction," the Pennsylvania Republican said. "We can be strong, rational and measured."
 
As Robert Costa reported, Dent is hardly the only Republicans worried about hysteria from within the ranks.
For Republicans the roiling debate over the president's decision is not only a fight with the White House, but a test of whether they can contain some of the unhelpful passions among their swelling majorities in both chambers. The task is keeping on-message and away from the controversial and sometimes offensive comments that have traditionally hindered attempts to bolster support for the party among Hispanics.
 
Coupled with the desire to avoid the heated rhetoric is an effort to avert another showdown over government funding, weeks after the GOP made gains in the midterm elections and a year after a 16-day shutdown significantly damaged the party's brand.
Both House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Washington Post report added, spent time yesterday "urging calm in their ranks."
 
The article came on the heels of a related Politico piece that noted Republican leaders are urging the party not to talk about presidential impeachment, "fearing it would give Democrats a message to rally around as the president's party is split over the hugely controversial move."
 
So, how's this working out? Not too well, and whether GOP leaders understand this or not, they're partly to blame.
Republican candidate for the United States Senate Scott Brown speaks at a campaign rally at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating in Hudson, N.H. on Oct. 5, 2014.

Following defeat, Scott Brown returns to his Fox home

11/21/14 12:00PM

Several years ago, Paul Krugman introduced us to a useful phrase: "One important pillar of conservative political dominance, I believe, is the phenomenon sometimes called 'wingnut welfare': loyalists are always assured of decent employment, no matter how badly they perform."
Long shot. Senator. Television personality. Within a few percentage points of becoming a senator again. Now, television personality again.
 
Scott Brown, the former US senator from Massachusetts who made a run for the Senate from New Hampshire this year, is rejoining FOX News.
A network official confirmed to the Boston Globe that Brown, fresh off his four-point defeat to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) a couple of weeks ago, will again be a Fox News contributor.
 
These gigs can be quite lucrative. Dylan Byers reported, "In his previous run as a contributor with the network, Brown earned a total of $136,538 from Fox, according to a personal financial disclosure document filed with the Senate Ethics Committee."
Ira Hansen

Nevada Speaker's racially charged rhetoric sparks uproar

11/21/14 11:27AM

Following up on yesterday's report, Republican Ira Hansen, the Speaker-designate in Nevada's state Assembly, garnered national attention this week after the public learned he wrote a right-wing column for many years, featuring controversial remarks about African Americans, women, Latinos, and gay people. The controversy is clearly growing.
 
Late yesterday, newly re-elected Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) issued a statement criticizing his own party's legislative leader.
"I wholeheartedly disagree with Assemblyman Hansen's past public statements on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. This abhorrent kind of speech is unacceptable. He will have to answer questions regarding his previous statements himself."
The governor did not call for state lawmakers to choose a new Assembly Speaker, though the calls for such a change appear likely.
 
Indeed, Jeffrey Blanck, branch president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, responded, "We understand that the caucus has many newly elected members who may not be as familiar with Mr. Hansen's past as we are. They need to know he has beaten the drum of intolerance for decades." Blanck urged lawmakers to choose a "less divisive" Speaker.
 
For his part, Hansen said in a statement, "I am deeply sorry that comments I have made in the past have offended many Nevadans. It is unfortunate that these comments, made almost 20 years ago as a newspaper columnist and talk radio host, have been taken out of context and are being portrayed as intentionally hurtful and disrespectful. These comments were meant to be purposely provocative in various political, cultural and religious views. I have the utmost respect for all people without regard to race, gender, religious or political beliefs."
 
Given his published record, Hansen's claims about universal respect will probably be difficult for many Nevadans to believe.
 
Making matters slightly worse, another Nevada Republican lawmaker said last year he'd allow slavery if that's what his constituents wanted -- and Speaker-designate Hansen recently put him in charge of a powerful legislative committee.

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