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Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky. on Sep. 1, 2015. (Photo by Timothy D. Easley/AP)

This Week in God, 9.5.15

09/05/15 08:34AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a lingering question about the religio-political story that's captured much of the nation's attention: the bizarre actions of Kim Davis, the Clerk of Courts in Rowan County, Kentucky.
 
As you've probably heard, Davis is paid by taxpayers to issue marriage licenses, but she refuses to provide licenses to couples she finds morally objectionable, citing “God’s authority.” Davis and her lawyers have filed several appeals, all of which lost. This week, after brazenly defying court orders, Davis found herself in jail for contempt of court.
 
But all week, one thing about this story has bugged me: doesn't Davis have a lawyer? Someone to represent her legal interests? What kind of counsel would go along with Davis' scheme to ignore her oath, the law, a Supreme Court ruling, and court orders?
 
A report from Right Wing Watch answer this question nicely.
Yesterday, Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, appeared on “Crosstalk” to defend Davis, claiming that she is simply trying to do her job, or at least, her job as she sees it. He even likened her to a Jewish person living under Nazi rule.
That's not a joke, by the way. Staver argued this week, "[W]hat happened in Nazi Germany, what happened there first, they removed the Jews from government public employment, then they stopped patronizing them in their private businesses, then they continued to stigmatize them, then they were the ‘problems,’ then they killed them." He added, "The fact of the matter is, she has a right to this employment and you don’t lose your constitutional liberties just because you are employed by the government.”
 
A day later, Staver repeated the Nazi analogy: "Back in the 1930s, it began with the Jews, where they were evicted from public employment, then boycotted in their private employment, then stigmatized and that led to the gas chambers. This is the new persecution of Christians here in this country.”
 
Staver's name is probably unfamiliar to much of the American mainstream, but for those who follow the religious right movement closely, he's a familiar figure -- best known for pushing an odd, anti-gay worldview. His group, Liberty Counsel, was created by the late right-wing televangelist Jerry Falwell.
 
Davis, in other words, appears to be making some poor choices, based in part on dubious legal guidance. Indeed, some in Kentucky's legal community believe Staver and his partners "may have violated their duty to tell her she had no case."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Clinton addresses e-mail questions directly

Hillary Clinton addresses e-mail questions directly

09/04/15 09:29PM

MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell presses Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on the State Department e-mail questions that have been dogging her campaign, from the specific way in which the mails were processed to why she had only a personal e-mail account in the first place. watch

Clinton: Refugee crisis is a world crisis

Hillary Clinton: Refugee crisis is a world crisis

09/04/15 09:22PM

In an MSNBC exclusive interview with Andrea Mitchell, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton talks about the refugee crisis Europe is dealing with and the challenges of building international coalitions to solve problems, including her role in building a coalition to pressure Iran into making a deal on its nuclear pursuits. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 9.4.15

09/04/15 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Quite a sight: "Hundreds of migrants and refugees gave up trying to catch a train Friday and began a desperate 300-mile walk towards Germany as European leaders faced up to a 'defining moment' in the continent-wide crisis."
 
* On a related note: "Stepping back from a confrontation with asylum-seekers that drew condemnation from throughout Europe, Hungary will use buses to ferry thousands of migrants from Budapest to the border with Austria, a senior government official said Friday."
 
* A politician in the spotlight: "Call him Europe’s Donald Trump. Hungary’s maverick Prime Minister Viktor Orban is emerging as the straight-talking voice of right-wing Europe, vowing to block a wave of desperate refugees from seeking sanctuary in the region."
 
* A striking detail: "As Amnesty International recently pointed out, the 'six Gulf countries -- Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain -- have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.'"
 
* California: "The campus of Sacramento City College was locked down Thursday afternoon as police searched for a gunman who shot three men, killing one, authorities said."
 
* Dead-enders: "A judge in Marion County, Oregon, is under investigation after he reportedly refused to perform same-sex marriages when it was legalized in the state."
 
* On Wednesday, nine people were shot and killed in Chicago, nearly all in separate and unrelated incidents: "That marked the most homicides in a single day in Chicago in more than a decade, according to a Tribune analysis of department data."
 
* Smart move: "Rep. Mia Love, one of the GOP’s rising stars, said she will repay taxpayers more than $1,000 for weekend flights she took to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner last spring."
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and real estate magnate Donald Trump return to the stage following a break in the Republican presidential primary debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Aren

Rubio targets Trump, but leads with his chin

09/04/15 04:29PM

Donald Trump's first real interview on matters of foreign policy and national security clearly didn't go well. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt pressed the Republican frontrunner on a variety of key issues -- the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, for example -- and the GOP presidential candidate not only struggled, Trump dismissed the questions themselves as "ridiculous."
 
The second-day question, of course, is whether a candidate's ignorance has any effect on his or her standing. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), talking earlier to CNN, clearly hopes to make Trump's difficulties as consequential as possible.
"If you don't know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief," Rubio told CNN in an interview here.
 
"This should be part of the reason why you are running because you understand the threats that the world is facing, you have deep understanding and you understand what to do about it," Rubio added. "And if someone doesn't, I think it is very concerning."
At face value, there's probably something to this. Even if someone were to give Trump the benefit of the doubt -- maybe he confused the Quds Forces and the Kurds because it was a phone interview and he misheard the host -- major-party presidential candidates should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. Heck, anyone who reads news articles once in a while about the Middle East should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.
 
If Rubio wants to make the case that interviews like the Trump-Hewitt exchange point to a candidate who's probably unprepared for national office, it's a credible message.
 
The trouble, however, is with the messenger.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on climate change in Kotzebue, Alaska September 2, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Obama turns the 'lame duck' narrative on its head

09/04/15 01:22PM

Saudi Arabia's King Salman will meet with President Obama today, and as Politico put it, the Saudi king will meet with a U.S. leader "with a swagger in his step."
Nearly four months after he skipped President Barack Obama's high-profile Camp David summit, Saudi Arabia's King Salman will arrive at the White House to find a strengthened Obama and less leeway to influence U.S. policy toward Iran.
 
The elderly Arab monarch's White House visit Friday comes just days after Obama secured the Senate votes he needs for the Iran nuclear deal to survive Congress.
Senate support for the diplomatic solution is still growing -- in addition to the three new endorsements yesterday, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) announced his backing for the policy this morning. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) announced his opposition around the same time, but as a practical matter, his siding with the far-right on the issue won't change the outcome.
 
Under the circumstances, it's tough to blame the president for having "a swagger in his step," not just because he's overcome the Saudis' skepticism about the international agreement, but also because Obama has had quite a bit of success lately.
 
Barring any unexpected developments, the successful implementation of the new U.S. policy in Iran is among the most consequential diplomatic success stories in a generation.
 
But Roll Call's Steven Dennis noted this week that it's not the only issue that's gone President Obama's way lately. Looking back over just the last three months, we see related victories and breakthroughs on Cuba, marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, fast-track trade-promotion authority, and overtime pay, among other things.
 
It's part of an increasingly successful 2015 for the Obama White House, which also includes a climate deal with China, new environmental safeguards, and net neutrality. If we include late last year -- the period after the midterm elections -- we can add a breakthrough immigration policy and the freeing of some American prisoners in North Korea. 
 
Not too shabby for a "lame duck" president.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.4.15

09/04/15 11:46AM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Jeb Bush told ABC yesterday that he will support the Republican Party's presidential nominee, even if it's Donald Trump.
 
* Vice President Biden conceded yesterday he's unsure "whether my family and I have the emotional energy" for another presidential campaign. "The honest-to-God answer is I just don't know," he said last night.
 
* At a New Hampshire event yesterday, an attendee to a Jeb Bush event literally fell asleep. Soon after, the Florida Republican tweeted a picture of himself and the voter, saying she'd woken up early yesterday for a 12-hour shift.
 
* Gallup published new results this morning, showing favorability ratings for the Republican presidential candidates among GOP voters. The news isn't good for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, once seen as the party's top-tier contenders.
 
* With Scott Walker's presidential campaign moving in the wrong direction, his allied super PAC is preparing an $8 million investment in South Carolina, home to the third 2016 nominating contest.
 
* The Iowa Democratic Party is expanding its use of "satellite caucuses," allowing voters to participate in the 2016 nominating process in places such as "factory sites and senior citizen residential facilities." The Iowa Republican Party said it has no similar plans.
 
* Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) announced yesterday that he'll retire next year after 14 years in Congress. The Minnesota Republican represents a competitive swing district, which President Obama carried twice, and which the DCCC is confident it can pick up in 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association presidential forum on June 30, 2015, in Baltimore, Md. (Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP)

GOP's Ben Carson eyes end to Veterans Administration

09/04/15 10:41AM

Republican presidential candidates often like to talk about the cabinet agencies they're eager to destroy. Just this week, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) dismissed the federal Department of Education as unnecessary. In the last presidential election, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) said he intended to scrap three cabinet agencies, though he famously forgot the third.
 
But when GOP candidates go after these agencies, they usually stick to departments like Commerce, Education, and occasionally Energy. Ben Carson, a leading 2016 contender, actually has a very different idea in mind. The Military Times reported:
Presidential hopeful Ben Carson's comments suggesting the Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.
 
On a national radio show [on Aug. 27], Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.
The retired neurosurgeon said, "We don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense."
 
As regular readers probably know, plenty of Republican presidential candidates support incorporating a voucher system into the VA, effectively privatizing parts of veterans' care, but Carson is the first national candidate, at least in recent memory, to suggest eliminating the cabinet agency altogether.
 
John Biedrzyck, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, isn't impressed. "To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own ... and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day," Biedrzyck said in a statement.
 
As the Military Times' report added, Paralyzed Veterans of America Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. called Carson's recommendation "a misguided notion born from ignorance of what each department does."
 
In the event Carson somehow becomes the president, how realistic is the threat that he'll actually scrap the entire agency?
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for a campaign event at the Grand River Center on August 25, 2015 in Dubuque, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

When Trump gets thrown off his game

09/04/15 09:48AM

No matter what someone may think about Donald Trump, it's hard to deny his limitless self-confidence. Put aside what the Republican presidential candidate is saying, focusing on how he's saying it, and we see a White House hopeful who exudes self-assuredness.
 
If you're turned off by bluster, it's obnoxious. If you find bluster reassuring, it's infectious. Right about now, nearly a third of national Republican primary voters find themselves in the latter camp.
 
But in very rare occasions, Trump's veneer fades. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Donald Trump, leading in the polls and riding a wave of momentum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, just hit a speed bump named Hugh Hewitt.
 
The conservative radio host peppered Trump with a host of foreign policy questions in a Thursday interview that produced some uncomfortable moments for the real estate mogul, who appeared upset at the line of questioning.
Hewitt, a prominent figure in conservative media and one of the moderators of an upcoming GOP debate, posted the transcript and it's not a pretty sight. Trump, eager to sound like he knew what he was talking about, tried to fake his way through parts of the interview, but that only seemed to make matters worse.
 
Note, for example, when the host asked about the Quds Forces, and Trump responded by talking about the Kurds. The candidate added that he'll know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas "when it's appropriate," suggesting it's not appropriate to know the difference now.
 
At one point, Trump insisted, "I mean, you know, when you're asking me about who's running this, this this, that's not, that is not, I will be so good at the military, your head will spin." (He often seems preoccupied with spinning heads. It's a little alarming.)
 
Towards the end of the interview, the GOP frontrunner called the line of questioning "ridiculous" -- four times -- and this morning, Trump told MSNBC that Hewitt is a "third-rate radio announcer."
 
The broader question is whether an embarrassing moment like this represents an important setback for the candidate. Recent history offers some guidance.

Unemployment rate falls to lowest point since April 2008

09/04/15 08:43AM

The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 173,000 jobs in August, a little below expectations. The overall unemployment rate ticked lower to 5.1%, which is the lowest point since April 2008, more than seven years ago.
 
This is one of those job reports that looks a little discouraging at first blush, but the details paints a more encouraging picture. The revisions, for example, also point in a fairly encouraging direction: June's job totals were revised up, from 231,000 to 245,000, while July's numbers were also revised up, from 215,000 to 245,000. Combined, that's an additional 44,000 previously unreported jobs. The same report also showed a decent increase in wages.

Even the drop in the jobless rate is for the right reasons. As the New York Times' Neil Irwin noted, the latest drop is the result of fewer unemployed Americans, more employed Americans, a slightly higher employment-to population rate.

Overall, the U.S. has added 2.92 million jobs over the last 12 months, which is excellent. August was the 59th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 66th consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Americans for Prosperity Road to Reform event on Aug. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Ted Cruz indifferent to rule of law in Kim Davis case

09/04/15 08:01AM

When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) condemns President Obama -- a frequent occurrence -- the far-right national candidate often emphasizes the rule of law. Cruz doesn't just think the president is wrong; he thinks Obama is a tyrannical dictator who flouts legal norms.
 
"The pattern we've seen under President Obama, disregarding the law, is really one of the most troubling aspects of this presidency," Cruz said last year. "When he disagrees with the law ... he simply refuses to comply with it." The Republican senator added that the president is "lawless."
 
But that was in 2014. In 2015, Cruz sees Kentucky clerk Kim Davis ignoring court orders, ignoring Supreme Court rulings, and ignoring her oath of office -- and the GOP presidential candidate sees her as some kind of hero. In a written statement released late yesterday:
"Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America.
 
"I stand with Kim Davis. Unequivocally. I stand with every American that the Obama Administration is trying to force to choose between honoring his or her faith or complying with a lawless court opinion."
Cruz's statement went on to argue, "Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in public office, they must disregard their religious faith–or be sent to jail."
 
He added that Davis should face no consequences for brazenly defying federal court orders she doesn't like.
 
I'm not sure what's worse: the possibility that Cruz actually believes this nonsense or the fact that Cruz expects Americans to take his arguments seriously.
Trump screwed up: Maddow on his RNC pledge

Maddow on Donald Trump's Republican Party pledge: 'Yoooge screw up'

09/03/15 10:51PM

Rachel Maddow tries to understand why Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, with so much of his identity based on his outsiderness, and so much support independent of the Republican Party, and so much leverage over the party given that support and his money, would see any advantage in signing the party allegiance pledge that was plainly designed... watch

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar takes on Donald Trump

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar takes on Donald Trump

09/03/15 09:50PM

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, celebrated basketball player and author of the forthcoming novel, Mycroft Holmes, talks with Rachel Maddow about his feud with Donald Trump, why he thinks Trump's campaign is doomed to failure, and whether there is not enough substance in modern politics. watch

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