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The sun rises behind the steeple of a church, Aug. 23, 2015, in Plains, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

This Week in God, 11.3.18

11/03/18 07:58AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a Republican state lawmaker in Washington, who shared some rather extraordinary thoughts on what he described as the "Biblical Basis for War." The Spokesman-Review in Spokane reported this week:

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea acknowledged Wednesday he had distributed a four-page manifesto titled "Biblical Basis for War," which describes the Christian God as a "warrior," details the composition and strategies of a "Holy Army" and condemns abortion and same-sex marriage.

The document is organized in 14 sections with multiple tiers of bullet points and a smattering of biblical citations. Under one heading, "Rules of War," it makes a chilling prescription for enemies who flout "biblical law." It states, "If they do not yield -- kill all males."

I happened to write a post on Shea back in 2013 when he urged like-minded folks to stock up on thousands of rounds of ammunition. (He also warned at the time of government-imposed FEMA concentration camps.)

When the GOP lawmaker's "manifesto" generated attention this week, Shea appeared in a Facebook Live video in which he defended his work as "a series of sermons on biblical war in the Old Testament as part of a larger discussion on the history of warfare."

In the same video, however, the Washington official described the United States as "a Christian nation," while dismissing his critics as "Marxists" and "Islamists."

My friend Rob Boston explained yesterday, "Many people active in the Religious Right long to use their religion to tell the rest of us what to do, although they deny that when pressed. The Reconstructionists are at least honest enough to say it upfront. Shea's manifesto is more of the same. It's an insistence that the Bible (as interpreted by a small band of far-right fundamentalists) provides justification for whatever these folks want to do -- and that usually involves them running everyone else's lives."

As for what's next for Shea, the local NBC affiliates reported that his "manifesto" came to the attention of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, "who says he immediately alerted the FBI saying he felt the author, Shea, was dangerous."

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.2.18

11/02/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An unfortunate step backwards: "The White House announced Friday it is re-imposing economic and trade sanctions on Iran, starting at midnight on Sunday. The move is intended to change the country's politics through economic pressure on its ability to sell oil. But the impact is likely to be small on world markets, and even possibly reduced, for now, on Iran itself."

* An important ruling out of Georgia: "A federal judge said Friday that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor, must allow new U.S. citizens to vote Tuesday if they can show proof of citizenship at the polls."

* It'd be nice if Trump didn't encourage troops to commit crimes: "President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. military would treat any rocks or stones being thrown by asylum-seeking migrants slowly heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border as firearms."

* On a related note:  "President Donald Trump said in a speech on Thursday that rocks thrown by migrants on the US–Mexico border should be considered as firearms. By Friday, the Nigerian army had already used a video of the speech to justify shooting protesters that a human rights group said were unarmed."

* New behind-the-scenes insights: "Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, said in an interview published Friday that he has heard the president use racist language in one-on-one conversations on multiple occasions over the years."

* I'll have more on this next week: "A federal judge on Friday denied President Trump's request to stay a lawsuit alleging he is in violation of the Constitution by doing business with foreign governments, a decision that paves the way for plaintiffs to seek information from his business as it relates to his D.C. hotel."

* I wish he had more credibility: "Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley claimed, citing 'Law Enforcement Sensitive' information, that his office has received information that among the thousands of Central American immigrants in a caravan headed for the United States are a child molester and members of the violent MS-13 gang."

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Did the White House get caught in a lie about the FBI HQ project?

11/02/18 12:47PM

As regular readers know, Donald Trump's keen interest in the FBI's headquarters has been at the center of an ongoing controversy. Axios reported in July, for example, that there's been a debate ongoing for quite a while about whether to leave the FBI where it is or relocate the bureau's headquarters to a nearby suburb. The president is "dead opposed to plans to move it out of D.C."

Asked for an explanation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last month, "The president wanted to save the government money," which is why he directly intervened in the project. As the Wall Street Journal  reports today, Sanders' argument wasn't true.

New documents suggest the Trump administration was aware that its decision to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., would cost more than a competing proposal to relocate to the suburbs, contradicting public assertions from the White House that it wanted to save taxpayers money.

A newly released email exchange shows that Andrew Abrams, deputy associate director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, attempting to prepare Emily Murphy, chief of the General Services Administration, for testimony before Congress about the FBI headquarters.

In the email, Mr. Abrams says the toughest question Ms. Murphy could receive is, "How is this a good deal for taxpayers?" The email doesn't dispute that the proposal to keep the facility in Washington would cost more and be less secure than relocating to the suburbs in Virginia or Maryland.

The information was obtained by House Democrats, several of whom wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly today, demanding additional information.

Given the last two years, I can appreciate why a "Sanders lies about a thing" story may seem uninteresting, but in this case, don't be too quick to dismiss the revelation. We're talking about a controversy that points to possible presidential corruption, which now also appears to involve multiple officials who haven't told the truth.

Let’s back up for a minute to review how we reached this point, because there’s a controversy here that could pose meaningful trouble for the White House.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.2.18

11/02/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* As Rachel noted on last night's show, the latest news out of North Dakota was very discouraging for voting-rights advocates: "A federal judge on Thursday rejected a last-ditch attempt to block North Dakota's requirement that voters have a residential address."

* How close is Georgia's gubernatorial race? The latest poll from the Atlanta Journal Constitution found Stacey Abrams (D) and Brian Kemp (R) tied at 47% each.

* In related news, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Georgia yesterday, where he told supporters, "I heard Oprah was in town today. And I heard Will Ferrell was going door-to-door the other day," he told the crowd. Well I'd like to remind Stacey [Abrams] and Oprah and Will Ferrell -- I'm kind of a big deal, too."

* In Arizona's U.S. Senate race, the Green Party's candidate announced yesterday she's ending her candidacy and urging voters to support Kyrsten Sinema (D). It's worth noting, however, that the Green Party's candidate, whose name is Angela Green, will still appear on the ballot and many Arizonans have already voted.

* The new NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 52% to 43%, among likely voters.

* CNN released a few new polls yesterday that found Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with a two-point lead in Florida, gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum (D) with a one-point lead in Florida, and Senate hopeful Marsha Blackburn (R) with a four-point lead in Tennessee.

* In Oklahoma, the latest SoonerPoll found Kevin Stitt (R) with a modest advantage over Drew Edmondson (D), 46% to 42%. Early voting in Oklahoma began yesterday.

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Despite his dubious record, Trump says, 'When I can, I tell the truth'

11/02/18 11:20AM

In an interview this week, Donald Trump described his social-media messages as "my form of telling the truth." The phrasing was odd: the president didn't say his missives are true, but rather his "form" of what's true.

He said something similar two days later.

President Trump defended his proclivity to spread misleading statements and falsehoods, saying in a television interview Wednesday that he tells the truth when he can.

"Well, I try. I do try ... and I always want to tell the truth," Trump said in an interview with ABC News. "When I can, I tell the truth. And sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that's different or there's a change, but I always like to be truthful."

Note Trump's choice of words, which seemed to reflect an awkward realization that he's not considered to be an honest person. The president could've simply said, "I always tell the truth," but he didn't.

We were instead treated to a series of caveats: Trump "tries" to tell the truth. He "wants" to tell the truth. He "likes" to be truthful.

Maybe he ought to "try" harder. The Washington Post  reported today:

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Image: John Bolton

White House's John Bolton complains about ethics rules

11/02/18 10:40AM

Given the number of scandals surrounding Donald Trump and his team, many have made the case that it's time for federal policymakers to strengthen existing ethics rules. With some members of the president's cabinet having resigned in disgrace, another facing all kinds of accusations of wrongdoing, and another still facing the prospect of a criminal investigation, it's tough to blame reform advocates.

But some in the White House apparently disagree. As CNN reported, National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke at the Hamilton Society yesterday in DC, where he argued that current ethics rules are a deterrent to public service.

Bolton said "things have gotten more bureaucratic, harder to get things done" since he served under President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s and blamed the difficulty, in part, on the "excessive nature of the so-called ethics checks."

"If you were designing a system to discourage people from coming into government, you would do it this way," Bolton said.

"That risks building up a priestly class" of government employees, he added.

"It's really depressing to see," Bolton said of the bureaucratic red tape.

I generally find it difficult to take John Bolton's arguments seriously, but this seems like especially weak tea. If the current ethics standards are unrealistically high, how exactly did we end up with our current motley crew running the executive branch?

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