First up from the God Machine this week is a specific kind of invitation extended to far-right evangelical leaders by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).
As we talked about last week, Jindal, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016, is set to host a massive prayer rally called "The Response" next month in his home state. The event is not without controversy in light of the religious extremists, including the American Family Association, which are helping sponsor the evangelical event.
Jindal has so far been publicly indifferent to the hullabaloo and this week, according to the conservative Washington Times, the GOP governor reached out to church leaders to encourage their participation in the upcoming rally (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
In a letter distributed to pastors, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal calls on them to consider public service, as part of his invitation to a gathering scheduled to take place a day before a highly-publicized prayer event Jan. 24 at Louisiana State University.
The letter, which begins with "Pastor ..." invites recipients to consider being a guest at a pastors' briefing hosted by the American Renewal Project, which is to take place the night before "The Response: Louisiana" will take place at LSU.
Much of the letter was unremarkable, though the correspondence specifically told pastors, "As we make an appeal for leaders of faith to rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values, we are trusting you will hear God's call on your life for this mission.... The time has come for pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance."
The notion that church leaders -- as opposed to public officials elected by the American public -- would "lead the way and reset the course of American governance" seemed like an odd sentiment in a secular democracy. Indeed, given that the separation of church and state is a bedrock principle in the American system of government, it's rather alarming that a governor and likely presidential hopeful is looking to pastors -- presumably, ministers who share his beliefs and agenda -- to establish the course for public policy.
Given that so many of Jindal's allies on the extreme fringe, this is all the more problematic.
With about a month remaining before "The Response" event kicks off, look for protests to continue. If you missed it, Rachel's segment from earlier this week is well worth your time.
It's likely to be pretty quiet here at MaddowBlog for the next couple of days, so readers should expect a light-to-nonexistent posting schedule. That said, I'll be around in case there's breaking news of interest, and there will be a new installment of "This Week in God" on Saturday morning.
We'll return to a normal posting schedule on Monday morning.
Rachel Maddow reports on volunteer librarians who are using their holiday time off to travel to Ferguson, Missouri to help the local library there sort through the abundance of books donated in the wake of protests over the Michael Brown grand jury... watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the scant history of members of Congress expelled from office as a result of a felony conviction, pointing out that in nearly all cases, the decency of the politician or the electorate prevent that situation from happening. watch
* Despite being a felon, Grimm doesn't want to resign: "New York Rep. Michael Grimm on Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn federal court pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, admitting to hiding more than $1 million in wages and income."
* Thanks, Vladimir: "With a Russian-backed separatist insurgency still gripping eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Parliament voted on Tuesday to take steps toward joining NATO. It was a pointed rebuke to Russia that immediately drew an angry response."
* People like round numbers: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 18,000 for the first time on Tuesday, capping a run that saw the index tack on 1,000 points in only six months. It was the fifth straight session of gains for the Dow, handing investors a merry Christmas as 2014 draws to a close."
* Oklahoma: "A federal judge in Oklahoma City on Monday said that the state can resume executing prisoners this winter, rejecting the argument by some medical experts that using the same sedative involved in the bungled execution of Clayton D. Lockett in April amounted to an illegal experiment on human subjects."
* I'm still amazed this actually happened: "A Baltimore Fox affiliate apologized Monday night for a report it ran over the weekend that deceptively edited protesters to look like they were chanting 'kill a cop.'" Joy-Ann Reid's related report is well worth your time.
* Obviously overdue: "The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it would scrap a decades-old lifetime prohibition on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, a change that experts said was long overdue and could lift the annual blood supply by as much as 4 percent."
* Ebola: "There are reasons for both hope and continued worry about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday."
About a year-and-a-half ago, the "scandal" involving the Internal Revenue Service looked like it might be a real story. It wasn't, and the whole thing evaporated into nothing soon after, but for Republicans, the prospect of the IRS coordinating with the White House to punish conservatives was so enticing, they believed it -- reality be damned.
And so, in the summer of 2013, some prominent GOP lawmakers got a little hysterical. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said the controversy "started with the White House." The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee insisted the IRS was guided by "the enemies list out of the White House." The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee alleged, without proof, that the IRS engaged in "criminal behavior" that can be traced back to "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service's mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.
Imagine that. House Republicans spent a year and a half investigating a controversy, making all kinds of wild-eyed allegations publicly, they carefully scrutinized 1.3 million documents, and they conducted lengthy interviews with literally dozens of IRS officials under oath.
They've turned up no evidence of official wrongdoing -- unless you consider Republicans falsely accusing the White House of a cover-up as an official misdeed.
Sony Pictures Entertainment said Tuesday it will release "The Interview" in select theaters on Christmas Day, an abrupt reversal after the movie company said last week it would shelve the controversial satire indefinitely.
"We have never given up on releasing 'The Interview' and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day," Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement. "At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience."
Independent movie theaters based in Austin, Atlanta and Scottsdale, Arizona, confirmed Tuesday they plan to be among the first in the nation to screen the comedy, which depicts a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It's obviously not lost on Sony that recent developments have generated more conversation about this film than any marketing campaign could ever dream of, and the odds are roughly 100% that the audience for the movie will be far larger than it otherwise would have been before the international incident.
White House officials today responded positively to Sony's announcement "As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression," spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters. "The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome."
For those hoping to see the American economy succeed, there are a lot of reasons to smile this morning. Economic growth is at an 11-year high. Job growth is at a 15-year high. The stock market is soaring. Wages are rising. Gas prices are plummeting. American manufacturing is improving. The uninsured rate is dropping.
And this got me thinking: what's the Republican response to all of this?
As we discussed earlier, GOP officials have been heavily invested in a simple proposition: the combination of the Affordable Care Act, federal regulations, Dodd-Frank reforms, and higher taxes approved last year are a brutal "wet blanket" on economic growth. Obama's entire agenda has been a disaster for the economy, they argue, and if we want conditions to improve, we'll have to do the exact opposite of what the White House has done.
So, what's the Republican reaction to the latest GDP numbers, for example?
Note, I don't mean "nothing" in a colloquial sense, as if they issued press releases that struck me as vapid and meaningless. Rather, I mean "nothing" in a literal sense. I went to the homepages for John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, the RNC, the NRSC, the NRCC, and the RGA. Collectively, they didn't publish a single word about the striking economic growth.
So, I moved on to Twitter, checking the feeds for Boehner, McConnell, Reince Priebus, the RNC, the NRSC, the NRCC, and the RGA. Again, literally nothing.
Sure, it's a couple of days before Christmas, so it's easy to imagine a lot of staffers are away from the office today, but here's the thing: Republicans are publishing on other topics of interest. They're just choosing to ignore the strongest economic growth in 11 years.
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:
* The guest list for the Iowa Freedom Summit, co-hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Citizens United, keeps getting longer, with outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) adding his name yesterday. The event is scheduled for Jan. 24.
* The prospect of a Deep South Primary "appears increasingly likely to happen," with officials in Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas moving towards a multi-state primary on March 1, 2016. Texas and Florida are currently debating whether to join them.
* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Hillary Clinton's lead over possible Democratic rivals in the 2016 presidential race is down to just 49 points. The survey shows her leading her next closest intra-party competitor, Vice President Biden, 63% to 14%.
* The Associated Press reported yesterday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) tends to spend his nights "on the phone with some of the brightest foreign policy minds in the Republican Party," getting up to speed on foreign policy and international affairs in advance of his presidential bid.
* A conservative activist named John Philip Sousa IV is heading up a super PAC urging right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson to seek the Republican presidential nomination. Sousa, who's reportedly raised a stunning $12.2 million for his endeavor, told CNN he wouldn't support Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) campaign because Sousa thinks Cruz can't win a general election.
* In related news, the New York Timesreports this week that strategists within the Republican establishment are concerned that Carson may "throw a wrench into the establishment's desire to unify early," and hurt the party's appeal to the mainstream "if his divisive views continue to gain traction."
The Affordable Care Act's open-enrollment period won't end until February, but for consumers who wanted their coverage to begin on Jan. 1, the deadline was early last week. How many Americans took advantage? More than nearly anyone expected.
About 6.4 million Americans have enrolled for individual insurance plans for 2015 through HealthCare.gov, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said on Tuesday.
HealthCare.gov sells individual plans created by the national healthcare reform law in 36 states.
That last part is of particular interest, not just because these are the consumers who may be affected by the Supreme Court, but also because the 6.4 million tally doesn't include consumers who enrolled through state exchange marketplaces.
A year ago, those hoping to see the system succeed feared enrollments wouldn't reach 6 million by the end of March. This year, "Obamacare" easily surpassed 6 million by mid-December.