First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Alabama, where voters will decide on Election Day whether to change the state Constitution in a provocative way.
This year's "Amendment One" in Alabama, on the surface, may seem uncontroversial. Its text seeks to prohibit "the application of foreign laws" that may violate "a right guaranteed by the Alabama Constitution or of the United States Constitution." At first blush, it seems hard to object to a measure like this.
But taking this one step further, a question arises: since when does Alabama apply foreign laws that violate Americans' existing rights? If that's never happened -- and it hasn't -- then why change the Constitution to address an imaginary threat?
The amendment’s text never explicitly references Sharia, but as the Greene County Democrat reports, it’s merely the latest incarnation of anti-Sharia legislation in the state. It’s also the brainchild of State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), who sponsored the original, failed version of the bill in 2011. Critics panned Allen for being unable to name any examples of Alabama Muslims attempting to enforce Sharia. His bill received another major blow when the Anniston Star revealed its text had been partially plagiarized from Wikipedia.
Ah, yes, now it makes sense. This isn't just about prohibiting "the application of foreign laws"; this is about anti-Muslim paranoia. In recent years, the threat of "creeping Sharia law" has been common in right-wing circles -- it was even an element of Newt Gingrich's 2012 presidential platform -- and now Alabama voters are being asked to change their state Constitution to enshrine that paranoia into law.
If this sounds at all familiar, in 2010, voters in Oklahoma easily approved their own anti-sharia state constitutional amendment. Its chief sponsor, Republican Rex Duncan, described his measure as a "preemptive strike," which struck me as a clever euphemism for "addressing a threat that does not exist."
Federal courts soon after rejected the measure. Don't be too surprised if Alabama's proposal meets a similar fate.
Rachel Maddow contrasts the response to Ebola by responsible public officials with the irresponsible panic-pushing of some Republicans who deliberately undermine confidence in public health authorities with made-up disinformation. watch
Rachel Maddow debunks right wing hysteria over video of a man dropping off absentee ballots in Arizona, and highlights Republican Governors Association chair, Chris Christie, speaking plainly about the advantage Republicans have in Republican-run... watch
* The latest on Dr. Craig Spencer: "The Manhattan doctor diagnosed with Ebola is in stable condition in a hospital isolation unit, city officials said Friday.... His fiancee and two friends are also under quarantine but are not sick."
* More safeguards: "In the wake of the first patient to test positive with the Ebola virus in New York City, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced Friday afternoon that they were enhancing the screening at airports in their states and ordering all people who had contact with Ebola patients to be quarantined."
* A success story: "Nina Pham walked out of the hospital and into the White House. Two weeks after she tested positive for Ebola, the Dallas nurse was declared free of the virus Friday and discharged from the Washington-area hospital where she had been treated in a special containment unit. A short time later, she was in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama, who hugged her."
* Mockery: "The White House says it would be more concerned over House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) criticism of the federal Ebola response if the California lawmaker could correctly pronounce the virus's name."
* Egypt: "A militant attack on a security checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt on Friday left at least 26 soldiers dead, according to Egyptian security officials. It was the deadliest attack on the Egyptian military in many years."
* North Korea "may be capable of fielding a nuclear-armed missile that could reach U.S. soil, but because it has not tested such a weapon the odds of it being effective are 'pretty darn low,' the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea said Friday."
* Iran: "Thousands of Iranians took to the streets of the historic city of Isfahan on Wednesday to protest several acid attacks on women. The attacks had coincided with the passage of a law designed to protect those who correct people deemed to be acting in an 'un-Islamic' way."
* A.G. news: "Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel who had been a top candidate to succeed Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, has asked President Obama to be taken out of the running for the job, a White House official confirmed on Friday."
The details of the violence are still coming together, but the latest information available to msnbc and NBC News points to a terrible scene in a Seattle-area high school today.
A student gunman opened fire Friday morning in the cafeteria of Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle, killing one person and critically wounding at least four others before turning the gun on himself, according to police. [...]
Just before 11 a.m. local time, officers responded to reports of shots fired inside the school, located about 40 miles north of Seattle. Police said they believe the gunman, a freshman at the high school, acted alone. Law enforcement officials completed their search of the building by the early afternoon hours, then began looking around the campus.
Students were evacuated to a nearby church. Helicopter footage of the school showed students -- led by armed police -- exiting the building with their arms raised in the air.
In the most recent press briefing, Marysville Police PIO Cmdr. Robb Lamoureaux was not prepared to officially confirm whether the other person shot and killed was a student or staff member.
Today's school shooting comes just four months after a school shooting at a high school in Troutdale, Oregon. At the time, that was the 74th school shooting in the United States since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., suggesting today's gun violence was the 75th such shooting.
We talked yesterday about Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who launched a highly provocative new campaign ad that includes footage from an ISIS propaganda video. Many, including me, questioned the propriety of a politician airing footage from Islamic State terrorists to advance his personal ambitions.
To my surprise, this appears to have annoyed a Fox News contributor, who referenced my piece on the air this morning.
"Just yesterday an MSNBC producer for the Rachel Maddow show named Steve Benen wrote a lengthy piece making fun of Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton. He's making fun of Tom Cotton for calling out and showing how radical ISIS is and so it's this idea that if you confront it, if you talk about it, you're gonna inflame it. And I think it's actually the opposite...."
While it's certainly nice to be noticed, let's take a moment to clarify matters, because the conservative who complained about my piece on Fox News may have missed its meaning.
Readers are obviously welcome to read the piece for themselves, but I didn't "make fun" of the far-right congressman for "showing how radical ISIS is." Instead, I hoped to make an entirely different point, which may have been too subtle for some of our friends at Fox.
It was just a couple of years ago that Republicans positioned gas prices one of the nation's most important political issues. Mitt Romney, during his failed presidential bid, argued President Obama "gets full credit or blame for what's happened in this economy, and what's happened to gasoline prices under his watch."
The argument was always a little silly. Gas prices were extremely low when Obama first took office in early 2009 because there was a global economic crisis underway, weakening demand and pushing prices at the pump much lower. Consumers were paying more in 2012 than 2009, but that was because the economy had recovered.
But if Romney was correct, and the president deserves "full credit" for the price of gas, Republicans must be awfully impressed with Obama right now.
The average cost of filling up at the gas pump will soon be less than $3 a gallon across the U.S., according to projections from AAA on Friday.
The auto group said that the average price of gas may drop below $3 "sometime in the next couple of weeks" for the first time in four years.
About half of all U.S. gas stations are now selling gasoline for less than $3 per gallon. The most common price is $2.99 per gallon, AAA said.
Just so we're clear, I'm not arguing that Obama deserves the credit for lower prices. He doesn't. I'm arguing that it was lazy dumb for Republicans to argue that Obama deserved the blame for higher prices, and the right shouldn't try to have it both ways.
Indeed, let's not forget that Republicans actually spent a fair amount of time in the president's first term arguing that Obama was deliberately trying to raise the price at the pump as part of a specific environmental agenda.
A couple of weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tweeted the House Republicans' five-point jobs plan, which, regrettably, was left entirely blank. It was obviously just a mix-up -- Boehner wasn't trying to embarrass his party on purpose -- but it underscored an important truth about the lack of ideas from GOP lawmakers on the nation's #1 issue.
Boehner and most congressional Republicans, of course, don't see it that way. Mention the word "jobs," and GOP lawmakers have an immediate and reflexive talking point: House Republicans passed "more than 40 jobs bills" in this Congress, but those rascally Senate Democrats refused to pass them.
Reality tells a different story. Those who actually read the list of the "more than 40 jobs bills" notice that several of the measures aren't related to job creation at all. What's more, Jackie Calmes this week sought out economists, including plenty of conservative economists, for their impressions of the Republicans' agenda.
''Some of those things will help,'' Matthew J. Slaughter, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, said after reviewing nearly four dozen measures that House Republicans have labeled ''jobs bills.'' He cited some business tax cuts, for example, even as he cautioned about the cost of such actions.
''But,'' added Mr. Slaughter, who served on President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, ''it just struck me as sort of a compendium of modest expectations. If you ask me, 'What's your ballpark guess for how many jobs are going to be created?,' it's just not many.'' [...]
While private sector analysts say that the varied Boehner list is not suitable to their computer models, Joel Prakken, a founder of the St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers, said, ''I don't think you would get a rush of hiring from passing these bills.''
In 2011, President Obama presented Congress with a package called the American Jobs Act, which independent analysts said would have added about 150,000 jobs per month to the economy, every month for a year. Republicans refused to even a hold a vote on the president's proposal, despite public demand for policymakers to address the jobs crisis.
But the ensuing challenge from Democrats to GOP lawmakers was specific: if you don't like Obama's plan, present an alternative, allow independent analysts to scrutinize the preferred Republican approach, and provide an estimate of how many Americans jobs it would create.
Republicans never even tried to meet this challenge, and the reason why is pretty obvious: the GOP alternative, if it existed, would look pretty ridiculous when compared to the White House's plan. Republicans keep screaming "more than 40 jobs bills!" in the hopes that (a) no one will look too closely at the bills themselves; and (b) voters won't notice that the GOP jobs bills won't actually create jobs.
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:
* Nearly all recent polling in Georgia's U.S. Senate race shows Michelle Nunn (D) leading David Perdue (R), including a new CNN poll that shows Nunn up by three, 47% to 44%.
* On a related note, the latest Insider Advantage poll also shows Nunn leading, 47% to 45%, and also found Georgia's gubernatorial race tied up, with Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Jason Carter (D) each getting 44%.
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, the new Quinnipiac pollshows Rep. Cory Gardner (R) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D) by five, 46% to 41%. Last week, Quinnipiac showed the far-right congressman up by six.
* There's considerable interest in South Dakota's three-way U.S. Senate contest, but Senate Majority PAC, which exists to help give Senate Democratic candidates a boost, is staying out of the race, focusing its resources on Kentucky and Georgia.
* In Maine's gubernatorial race, PPP's new survey shows Gov. Paul LePage (R) and Mike Michaud (D) tied at 40% each. Independent Eliot Cutler, whose candidacy LePage recently described as "an early Christmas present," is a distant third with 17%.
* The Republican Governors Association appears quite concerned about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) race, and the group is investing another $1 million in the state in hopes of giving the incumbent a boost.
* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, the latest UMass-Lowell poll shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) with a three-point advantage over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 49% to 46%.
Conservatives are outraged over what they claim, mistakenly, to be evidence of massive voter fraud being perpetrated in Arizona, The Daily Dot reports.
In the video -- which was posted at Glenn Beck's The Blaze under the headline, "Surveillance video apparently catches guy doing something at the ballot box that left Republican monitor stunned" -- Ben Marine can be seen entering the lobby of the polling station in a Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA) shirt and delivering absentee ballots he had collected.
Well, it's a funny story, actually. When Glenn Beck's website says the video "apparently" caught a young man doing something wrong, it "apparently" didn't check to see what's permissible under Arizona election law.
A.J. LaFaro, the chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, told the Arizona Daily Independent, "I believe it's inconceivable, unacceptable, and should be illegal for groups to collect hundreds, if not thousands, of voters' ballots and return them to the elections offices or polling locations."
And though LaFaro is certainly welcome to call for changes to state election law, the fact remains that it's perfectly legal to collect absentee ballots and deliver them to a polling station -- making this controversy pretty foolish.