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An artist's concept portrays a NASA Mars Exploration Rover on the surface of Mars.

Week in Geek: Martian marathon edition

03/29/15 10:42AM

This past week, NASA's Opportunity rover on Mars hit a major milestone: a marathon. Launched in July of 2003, Opportunity has been on the surface of the Red Planet since January 2004, well over a decade, shattering its design mission lifetime of just 90 days.

Okay, so maybe 11 years and two months is a bit of a marathon record in a bad way, but you try working long days over 35 million miles from home, in temperature ranges of 170 degrees Fahrenheit, being blasted by solar radiation and occasional dust storms. I bet your marathon pace would be a bit off too.

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Phil Robertson from the series "Duck Dynasty" in an image released by A&E.

This Week in God, 3.28.15

03/28/15 08:31AM

First up from the God Machine this week are some striking comments from a reality television star, kicking up an unexpected dust storm.
Back in December 2013, Phil Robertson, one of the stars of a show called "Duck Dynasty," touched off a culture-war fight with controversial comments about minority groups. A&E, which airs the reality show, suspended him, causing an uproar on the far-right.
Robertson has remained a notable figure in conservative circles -- his recent CPAC appearance raised eyebrows, and just this week he received continued support from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) -- but it was the reality star's remarks at a Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast that put Robertson back in the national spotlight.
...Robertson offered gruesome details about how an atheist father would react to watching intruders behead his wife and rape and kill his two daughters while they also cut off his penis .... which would supposedly somehow prove a point about following God's laws.
"I'll make a bet with you," Robertson said. "Two guys break into an atheist's home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, 'Isn't it great that I don't have to worry about being judged? Isn't it great that there's nothing wrong with this? There's no right or wrong, now is it dude?'"
Robertson kept going: "Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, 'Wouldn't it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you're the one who says there is no God, there's no right, there's no wrong, so we're just having fun. We're sick in the head, have a nice day.'"
At the same event, Robertson went on to say that American liberals follow Satan and are worse than Stalin and the Nazis.
Remember, all of this was at a prayer breakfast.
Ed Kilgore added, "[T]his guy is just an actor, right? Maybe so, but he was also a featured speaker at this year's CPAC event, and has been hailed as a great and wise American by more Republican pols than you can count. Hell, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal may ultimately come to blows over their competing claims to be the dude's best friend."
And now Phil Robertson is apparently sharing the details of a twisted theological wisdom -- and offering a peek into a specific religious perspective -- which by any fair measure is pretty disgusting.
Also from the God Machine this week:
Pilots' mental fitness a concern after crash

Pilots' mental fitness a concern after crash

03/27/15 09:25PM

Dr. Gerald Surya, senior aviation medical examiner, talks with Rachel Maddow about how pilots are evaluated for fitness -including mental fitness- to fly planes, and what stopgaps exist to catch problems when pilots do not honestly self-report issues. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 3.27.15

03/27/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The latest out of Germany: "Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot believed to have crashed his jet into the French Alps on purpose, apparently hid an illness from his employer, investigators said on Friday."
* Yemen: "Forces aligned with the Iranian-backed Houthi movement continued their advance into areas of southern Yemen on Friday as Saudi Arabia conducted a second day of airstrikes intended to stop them."
* Seriously, no rush: "Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said on Friday that the Fed planned to raise interest rates more slowly than during past recoveries because of the unusually fragile condition of the American economy."
* It looks like a done deal: "But by mid-afternoon, [Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid] had endorsed New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, no. 3 in the current hierarchy, as his chosen successor -- and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin's office made it clear that the Illinois senator would also back his colleague and former Capitol Hill roommate."
* Reid was doing a live interview with Nevada Public Radio this morning when President Obama called in to extend his best wishes. It was a sweet moment.
* This ought to be interesting: "France's foreign minister said Friday his country will propose a U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming weeks that could present a framework for negotiations toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
* New ethics controversy: "The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) regarding allegations that he improperly used his office to help his wife lobby Congress on behalf of the Humane Society."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks to supporters at a barbeque in Greenville, S.C. on March 19, 2015. (Photo by Jason Miczek/Reuters)

Walker points to Boy Scouts as preparation for the White House

03/27/15 04:41PM

Just a month ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was asked how he'd confront terrorist threats as president. The Republican governor quickly turned to his political fights against union members in his home state. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said.
The governor took some heat for seemingly comparing union members to ISIS, which missed the point, and wasn't even true. What mattered about the response is that, in Walker's mind, union-busting in Wisconsin was preparation for combating ISIS and global terrorism.
The ridiculousness of the governor's answer raised concerns among powerful Republican players -- if this is his response to an obvious question in the midst of crises abroad, Walker may not have a mature understanding of what international leadership requires.
His answer to a similar question this week won't help matters. The Capital Times in Madison reports today:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout as a teen, has taken that motto seriously. His Eagle Scout status has him so prepared, he indicated this week, he's ready to serve as commander in chief of the U.S. military.
Uh oh.
The issue came up at a Chamber of Commerce event in Arizona this week, where Hugh Hewitt asked the governor, "Does the prospect of being commander in chief daunt you? Because the world that you describe when you're talking about safety is going to require a commitment to American men and women abroad, obviously at some point. How do you think about that?"
Walker replied, "That's an appropriate question." And things went downhill from there.
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, speaks during a discussion on reforming the criminal justice system at Bowie State University on March 13, 2013 in Bowie, Md. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Rand Paul blames marriage-equality debate on 'moral crisis'

03/27/15 03:29PM

As recently as last fall, Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) opposition to marriage equality was less than definite. "I believe in old-fashioned traditional marriage," he told CNN in an interview, "but I don't really think the government needs to be too involved in this and I think the Republican Party can have people on both sides of the issue."
Asked if he might shift from his position against equal-marriage rights, Paul, quite literally, shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, "Who knows?"
That was October 2014, and the Kentucky Republican has moved sharply to the right ever since. He told Fox News earlier this month that marriages between same-sex couples "offend" him "and a lot of other people." This week, as Right Wing Watch reports, the GOP senator went even further.
In a video posted yesterday by the Christian Broadcasting Network, Rand Paul addressed "a group of pastors and religious leaders at a private prayer breakfast" in Washington D.C. on Thursday about the need for "revival" in America complete with "tent revivals" full of people demanding reform.
He suggested during the event that the debate about legalizing same-sex marriage is the result of a "moral crisis" in the country.
That's not an exaggeration. Paul talked to CBN and the video shows him telling social conservatives, "[T]here's a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage."
It's a striking argument -- not only is Rand Paul opposed to marriage equality, he believes the debate itself shouldn't exist and is the result of a "moral crisis" in the United States.
He added, "We need a revival in the country. We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying, 'Reform or see what's going to happen if we don't reform.'"
I can't help but wonder if the senator realizes the degree to which he's abandoned what made him "interesting" to the political world.
Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) addresses a packed house during CPAC2105 (Conservative Political Action Conference) at the Nation Harbor Gaylord on Feb. 26, 2015, in Oxon Hill, Md. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty)

FEMA plays hardball with climate deniers

03/27/15 12:41PM

Everyone had a good laugh the other day when an official from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) administration tried to get through a legislative hearing on emergency preparedness without using the words "climate change." But before the story fades from view, it's worth pausing to appreciate the substantive question behind the humor.
At issue is a FEMA requirement that states develop a "climate-change plan" in order to receive preparedness dollars. This became literally laughable in the Florida example -- Scott's chief of emergency management said the state will eventually have a hazard-mitigation plan with "language to that effect."
But let's back up a minute. FEMA is requiring states come up with a "climate-change plan"? The conservative Washington Times reported this week that new guidelines pose a potential challenge to climate deniers in gubernatorial offices.
The rules say that states' risk assessments must include "consideration of changing environmental or climate conditions that may affect and influence the long-term vulnerability from hazards in the state."
The policy, which goes into effect in March 2016, doesn't affect federal money for relief after a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster. But states seeking disaster preparedness money from Washington will be required to assess how climate change threatens their communities, a requirement that wasn't included in FEMA's 2008 guidelines.
That's an important detail. If a natural disaster strikes in your area, FEMA is on the way whether your state government accepts scientific evidence or not. These new rules, however, apply to disaster-preparedness resources -- if states want funds to better prepare for natural disasters, the Obama administration expects those states to incorporate the effects of the climate crisis into those plans.
Or in FEMA's more bureaucratic language, "The risk assessment must provide a summary of the probability of future hazard events. Probability must include considerations of changing future conditions, including the effects of long-term changes in weather patterns and climate."
You might guess some of the governors who aren't happy about this.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.27.15

03/27/15 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:
* It's only been a few hours since Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced his retirement, but all of the early buzz about his possible successor is focused on Catherine Cortez Masto (D), the former Nevada Attorney General.
* The latest Suffolk poll in New Hampshire shows Jeb Bush leading the Republican presidential field with 19% support, followed by Scott Walker at 14%. Donald Trump, believe it or not, is fourth in the poll, leading Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.
* Rick Perry is running hard in Iowa and will release a new online ad today that "stresses his commitment to spending time in Iowa and features cameos of Iowans he's talked to this year."
* Hillary Clinton is making frequent use of social media this week, using Twitter to celebrate the ACA's fifth anniversary a few days ago, and sending another message yesterday condemning Indiana's new right-to-discriminate law.
* Common Core critics on the far-right will probably not like the fact that Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education is offering a course on the benefits of the curriculum.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) delivers remarks during a press conference, March 21, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

McMorris Rogers gets an earful on ACA

03/27/15 11:16AM

For much of 2013 and 2014, Republicans were on a quest to discover "Obamacare victims." GOP officials were convinced the Affordable Care Act was wreaking havoc on families' lives, and Republicans everywhere were hunting for horror stories.
In nearly every instance, those stories fell apart in the face of routine scrutiny, and most of the "victims" were actually far better off with the ACA than without it. One of the more notable examples arose early last year when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, used her party's official response to the State of the Union to introduce America to "Bette in Spokane."
Predictably, the story unraveled and McMorris Rodgers was pressed for an apology after pushing a misleading story. A year later, the Republican congresswoman hasn't given up.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House GOP conference, took to Facebook to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act by asking to hear real-life horror stories from real people.
This did not go according to plan. McMorris Rodgers generated plenty of responses, most of which were from people who see the ACA as a lifesaver for their families.