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U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the start of his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This Week in God, 1.24.15

01/24/15 09:04AM

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.
What I didn't expect was this.
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.
Also from the God Machine this week:
Pipe ruptures turn focus to improved safety

Pipe ruptures turn focus to improved safety

01/23/15 11:15PM

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

Ahead on the 1/23/15 Maddow show

01/23/15 07:34PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent
  • North Dakota State Representative Corey Mock, House assistant minority leader
  • Dr. Aarti Patel, chief News Dumpologist

read more

Friday's Mini-Report, 1.23.15

01/23/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* 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."
Two men talk as the sun rises over the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rationale for anti-ACA case continues to unravel

01/23/15 03:42PM

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 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 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., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

John McCain: 'Everything I've predicted ... has come true'

01/23/15 12:52PM

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.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.23.15

01/23/15 12:00PM

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:
* In a bit of a surprise, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer announced yesterday he will not run for the U.S. Senate in California next year. As recently as last week, he seemed to be leaning heavily in the opposite direction.
* An adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told ABC yesterday, "He has told us to proceed as if he is running for president." Note, the conservative senator has said if he runs for national office, he won't run for re-election at the same time in Florida, which would create an interesting, wide-open Senate race in the Sunshine State.
* Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad (R) is reportedly telling Republican presidential candidates that he expects them to "support ethanol production in a big way."
* In Pennsylvania, a PPP survey released yesterday showing likely presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D) leading each of her top Republican rivals in next year's presidential race by double digits in the Keystone State. Mitt Romney comes closest, and he trails by 10 points.
* On a related note, PPP also asked Pennsylvania Republicans who their top choice is in their party's presidential primaries. Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson was the top choice -- I'm not kidding -- with 18%, followed by Romney and Jeb Bush at 14% each. Rick Santorun, a former two-term Pennsylvania senator, is far behind in his own state with only 6%.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) conceded yesterday that he's considering the 2016 presidential race. "It's a privilege to be governor of Ohio ... and that's my focus," he told the AP. "But if I think something else makes sense, if I think the field is lacking or there's an opportunity, I'll look at it. All my options are open." Note this would be Kasich's second presidential run, following a largely ignored campaign in 2000, when the conservative Ohioan was still in Congress.
(File Photo by Kelley McCall/AP)

GOP governors recommit to welfare drug-testing schemes

01/23/15 11:34AM

The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, "few" applicants have been caught up in the "drug-screening net." How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.
Note, I don't mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.
In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries -- which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt -- has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing -- in practice, in the courts, or both.
And yet, several GOP policymakers just can't seem to help themselves.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests -- a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. [...]
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it's against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance -- a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.
Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. "We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court," he told the Journal Sentinel in September.
Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it's a two-fer -- he gets to look "tough" on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in the Oval Office of the White House October 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

'There are things you simply don't do'

01/23/15 10:52AM

On the record, President Obama and his team have said very little about congressional Republicans partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail international nuclear talks with Iran. Administration officials said the president will not meet with Netanyahu during his March trip, but that's only to prevent the appearance of interference with the Israeli election to be held two weeks later.
Behind the scenes, however, it seems the White House isn't pleased.
"Senior American official" as quoted by Haaretz: "We thought we've seen everything. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don't do. He spat in our face publicly and that's no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price."
Josh Marshall added that even American Jewish groups "who seldom allow any daylight between themselves and the Israeli government appear shocked by Netanyahu's move and are having difficulty defending it."
There are things you simply don't do.
I've been thinking about why this story strikes me as so important, and I realize that on the surface, it may not seem shocking to everyone. Republicans oppose the diplomacy with Iran; Netanyahu opposes the diplomacy with Iran. Perhaps their partnership was predictable?
Sure, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ignored U.S. protocol by circumventing the administration and reaching out to a foreign leader on his own, but given the degree to which Republicans have abandoned traditional norms in the Obama era, maybe this isn't that startling, either.
The problem, however, which I fear has been largely overlooked, is that it's genuinely dangerous for the federal government to try to operate this way.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

From the 'Office of Newt Gingrich'

01/23/15 10:08AM

Nearly every major political figure in the country, and even some not-so-major figures, has an email list. When used effectively, officeholders and candidates can use these lists to send out news, alerts, announcements, and plenty of appeals for contributions.
But once in a while, these lists are used in a very different kind of way. Take former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who's maintained a sizable list for years, and who parlayed his failed presidential campaign into an even larger email list.
And how, pray tell, does Gingrich put it to use? Yesterday, an email was sent from the "Office of Newt Gingrich," with a subject line that read, "CIA Insider issues urgent warning for seniors." The email identified "an advisor to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence" who, the message claimed, "probably knows more than anyone else in America about the inner workings of the government, the economy, and the U.S. banking system."
All of which led to the demagogic pitch:
"In short, Jim Rickards sees a big challenge ahead for any American in the process of saving for Retirement. We're talking about not only a huge collapse in the stock market (up to 70% or more) but also a collapse in the currency system, which could wipe out bank deposits, retirement plans, and more.
"But... and this is important...
"Even though the next collapse is imminent, there's still time to make the necessary moves to protect you and your family. That's why Jim Rickards just wrapped up a brand new 'playbook' for the coming collapse."
And wouldn't you know it, the message from the "Office of Newt Gingrich" is ready to send you a copy of the "playbook" so you'll be ready before the "huge collapse," which could "wipe out retirement plans." (Remember, the email subject line said this is a warning "for seniors.")
The email's postscript adds that there's an exclusive "missing chapter" to the book, which can also be sent to you, but "is not available anywhere else."
So, Newt Gingrich was, not too long ago, the most powerful lawmaker in Congress. He was, for a while, a leading presidential candidate. He's a staple on the Sunday shows and co-hosted his own national television program.
And he's now been reduced to ... this?
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

The unofficial start of the 2016 race, starting with Steve King

01/23/15 09:21AM

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who's developed an unflattering reputation as one of Congress' fiercest anti-immigrant voices, managed to coin a new noun this week. As msnbc's Aliyah Frumin noted on Tuesday, the far-right Iowan "created waves shortly before President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night when he characterized one of the commander-in-chief's guests as 'a deportable.'"
King was referring to a young Texas woman who entered the country illegally as a young child, but who's now able to stay in the United States thanks to Obama's DACA policy.
And at a certain level, it's tempting not to care. So, Steve King, the "calves the size of cantaloupes" guy recently labeled an "a**hole" by his own party's Speaker, makes a lot of ridiculous and offensive comments. What else is new?
The answer to that question, it turns out, is quite a bit. Whereas Steve King was once considered a fringe buffoon, he's now helping dictate Republican strategy on immigration policy, and just as importantly, tomorrow many of his party's presidential hopefuls will make their way to the Hawkeye State to kiss his ring.
The largest gathering of potential Republican presidential candidates so far will descend on Iowa on Saturday to test their messages at a forum shaping up as the informal starting gun for the 2016 campaign.
The event, which is being hosted by Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, offers Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, the most prominent establishment figure on the schedule, a chance to test his appeal among grass-roots conservatives.
And not just Christie, a longtime ally of the right-wing Iowan. The "Iowa Freedom Summit," co-hosted by King and Citizens United, will feature a small parade of unannounced presidential candidates.
Darrell Issa

House GOP to follow Issa's dubious example

01/23/15 08:35AM

Now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress, there will be a variety of changes Americans will be able to see quite easily, such as President Obama putting his veto pen to good use for the first time in a long while.
But other changes will be far more subtle and will unfold largely behind the scenes. We've seen some of this already -- GOP lawmakers embraced "dynamic scoring," for example -- but we're poised to see another shift when it comes to congressional subpoenas.
Regular readers may recall that former House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), near the end of his tenure on the panel, began issuing subpoenas in an unusually aggressive way. Ordinarily, when a committee is weighing whether to issue a subpoena, its members are supposed to debate the issue and vote, but Issa decided to streamline the process -- whenever he felt like subpoenaing someone, he simply did it unilaterally. No debate, no vote.
Jennifer Bendery reported this week that Republicans leaders have decided they like this model, too.
House Republicans are quietly moving to give unilateral subpoena authority to at least seven committee chairmen, a shift from longstanding rules that have required a full committee vote to issue a subpoena. The change would allow GOP chairmen to issue subpoenas without input from Democrats, letting them challenge nearly all of President Barack Obama's signature accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, immigration reform and environmental protections.
Congressional committees have the ability to issue subpoenas to compel witness testimony or to obtain documents. But until recently, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was the only committee where a chairman unilaterally issued subpoenas. Now, as more chairmen have begun signing up for unilateral subpoena authority, Democrats fear that Republicans plan to bury agencies in congressional requests for information so they can't get their work done.
A House Democratic aide told the Huffington Post everyone should get ready for two years of "re-litigating everything."