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The Official White House Christmas Tree arrives at the White House in Washington, Nov. 27, 2015. This year's White House Christmas Tree is an 18.5-foot Fraser fir grown by Jay and Glenn Bustard in Lansdale, Penn. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

This Week in God, 12.10.16

12/10/16 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week, whether most Americans realized it or not, the "War on Christmas" has apparently ended -- and Donald Trump won. The Huffington Post noted the unintentionally funny news a few days ago.
One of Donald Trump's surrogates is declaring victory on the so-called War on Christmas.

Speaking on Fox News on Tuesday night, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski claimed it was safe to say "Merry Christmas" again.
Lewandowski, a Trump advisor and former campaign manager, proudly declared, "You can say again, 'Merry Christmas,' because Donald Trump is now the president. You can say it again, it's OK to say; it's not a pejorative word anymore."

Evidently, had the winner of the popular vote prevailed in the presidential election, Americans wouldn't be able to wish each other a "Merry Christmas." I guess we dodged a holiday-themed bullet.

This comes just a few months after one of Trump's adult children said the Republican launched his national campaign because "the tree on the White House lawn has been renamed 'Holiday tree' instead of 'Christmas tree.'" In reality, the tree on the White House lawn wasn't actually renamed at all -- Eric Trump made this up -- but as a pro-Trump pundit recently explained, there's "no such thing" as facts anymore.

As for why in the world a prominent Trump ally would tie the president-elect's win with holiday greetings, The New Republic's Alex Shephard explained, "Trump's attraction to 'Merry Christmas' was never based on his religious belief, it was based on it being a (practically audible) dog whistle to those who believe that America is being threatened by multiculturalism."

Message delivered.

Also from the God Machine this week:
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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.9.16

12/09/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is a story worth watching closely: "President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to deliver to him a dossier of the evidence that the Russian government used cyber attacks and other means to intervene in the 2016 election, possibly with the idea of making more information public, a senior intelligence official tells NBC News."

* Perhaps the best news I've heard all week: "Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has removed his name from consideration for a position in President-elect Donald Trump’s new administration, the Trump transition team said on Friday." Note, he's not just out of contention for Secretary of State; Giuliani is out altogether.

* South Carolina: "Dylann Roof began his videotaped confession with 11 chilling words: 'I went to that church in Charleston and I did it.' And then for the next two or three hours, the self-declared white supremacist described to the FBI how he gunned down nine black worshippers last year at a historic South Carolina church in a bid to spark a race war."

* Not many vacant cabinet slots left: "President-elect Donald Trump is expected to tap Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) to lead the Interior Department, according to a person familiar with the matter... [If confirmed,McMorris Rodgers], would lead Mr. Trump's efforts to open up federal lands and waters to fossil-fuel development and reverse environmental policies the Obama administration has pursued over the past eight years."

Korea: "For her nearly four years in office, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea cooperated closely with the United States, particularly when it came to dealing with her volatile neighbor, North Korea. Her impeachment on Friday now throws both her country and American policy in the region into deep uncertainty, as the North's nuclear program advances and the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump deliberates over whether to adjust Washington's stance."

* Technically, there's a chance we'll have a brief government shutdown tonight, but don't bet on it: "Senate Democrats are fighting a legislative battle they appear unlikely to win, demanding new negotiations on a critical spending bill after Senate Republicans have already closed off talks and the House has gone home for the holidays."

* Alabama "executed a former Eagle scout on Thursday for a convenience store killing in 1994, the 20th person executed in the United States this year and the second in Alabama."
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Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at Trump Tower, Nov. 17, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Trump's National Security Advisor struggles to outrun his record

12/09/16 04:59PM

It's become something of a parlor game in some political circles: of all the people Donald Trump has chosen for key government posts, which one has you the most frightened? Which nominee/appointee is likely to do the most harm?

For what it's worth, my vote would go to Michael Flynn. To understand why, consider this new report from CNN's Andrew Kaczynski.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's pick to be his national security adviser, claimed in an August radio interview that Arabic signs were present along the United States border with Mexico to guide potential state-sponsored terrorists and "radicalized Muslims" into the United States.

Flynn further said in the interview he had personally seen photos of such signs in Texas.
All available evidence suggests no such signs exist in reality. In fact, no one, anywhere, has been able to substantiate such bizarre claims, which Flynn appears to have either made up out of whole cloth, or learned from one of his weird sources, who made it up out of whole cloth.

Either way, this isn't the sort of thing we'd expect from a White House NSA -- though increasingly, it's exactly the sort of thing we'd expect from Michael Flynn, who's embraced all kinds of bizarre theories and conspiracies, both before and during his tenure as a leading Donald Trump ally.

As we talked about the other day, when the president of the United States has a chief national security advisor who struggles to separate fact from politically satisfying fiction, but who nevertheless is responsible for identifying key information that should matter to the man in the Oval Office, there's a real problem.

A Politico piece added, "[S]ome say Flynn's fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House's national security adviser, suggesting that he either can't spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies."

Indeed, even some of his allies are starting to come to the same conclusion.
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A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 16, 2012.

Trump eyes yet another Goldman Sachs vet for his team

12/09/16 12:52PM

In February, Edward Snowden characterized the 2016 presidential election as "a choice between Donald Trump and Goldman Sachs." Ten months later, the assessment isn't holding up especially well.

The Washington Post reported last week that Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, walked into Trump Tower recently, it served as a reminder that "one of the world's most important banks is making its way back into Washington's inner circle." Americans' election of Donald Trump means that Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street elite "are poised to come roaring back."

And that assessment is looking more and more true all the time. CNBC reported this morning:
Donald Trump has offered Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn a key economic post, which would add to the administration another veteran of the powerful firm he bashed during his campaign, sources close to Cohn told NBC News.

Cohn, Goldman's 56-year-old president and chief operating officer, has been offered the directorship of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, the sources said.
If Cohn accepts the invitation, he'll join two other Goldman Sachs veterans who've already accepted leading roles in the incoming administration: Steven Mnuchin, Trump's choice for Treasury Secretary, and Steve Bannon, Trump's chief White House strategist.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Trump assured voters he'd "drain the swamp," targeting special interests' power in Washington, claims that now appear almost comical in hindsight. But of even greater interest is what Trump said as a candidate about this particular financial giant.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.9.16

12/09/16 12:00PM

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

* At a self-congratulatory rally in Iowa last night, Donald Trump noted that he was named Time's "Person of the Year," but he also whined a bit about the magazine switching from its previous "Man of the Year" honor.

* While Trump assured voters that he'd invest $100 million of his own money in his presidential campaign, we can apparently add this to the list of things Trump said that plainly weren't true.

* In light of the president-elect's recent tweets, it doesn't look great that Boeing is contributing $1 million in support of Trump's inaugural festivities. Note, however, that that company has said it committed the money before the Republican started attacking Boeing this week.

* A week after Rep. Tim Ryan's (D) bid to become House Minority Leader fell short, the Ohio Democrat is now eyeing a gubernatorial campaign. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich's (R) second term ends in 2018, and term limits prevent him from running again.

* Speaking of Democrats and gubernatorial campaigns, New Mexico Democrats were pushing Sen. Tom Udall (D) to run for governor in 2018, but the senator announced this week that he intends to stay on Capitol Hill.

* As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) hasn't been humiliated enough lately, multiple reports yesterday indicated that Trump has decided not to give him the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he leads the news media at the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building in Washington, March 21, 2016. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Team Trump defends his ongoing reality-show work

12/09/16 11:20AM

Before entering politics, Donald Trump was known for several things: his work in real estate, his role in pushing a racist conspiracy theory, his work in professional wrestling, his ghostwritten best-sellers, and of course, his NBC reality show in which Trump appeared once a week to fire people.

As Rachel noted last night, on that last part of Trump's background, it appears the president-elect isn't ready to let go just yet. NBC News reported:
President-elect Donald Trump will remain an executive producer on the reality television show "The Apprentice" even after takes office next month, and could continue earning a profit from the show, it was revealed on Thursday.

His involvement was confirmed by a representative for MGM, the company that owns the show -- which is broadcast on NBC -- and Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email that "Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show and conceived of it with Mark Burnett."
Trump apparently won't be in front of the camera, but Variety reports the president-elect will likely receive a "per-episode fee," valued in "the low five-figures, at a minimum."

It's unclear if Trump intends to give that money to charity, though it's worth noting for context that in recent years, Trump's "Apprentice"-related charitable claims proved to be untrue.

By way of a defense, I expected the president-elect's team to say that Trump's role as an executive producer would largely be a formality: his name would appear in the credits, and he might get a check, but Americans shouldn't expect Trump to do any real work associated with the reality show.

Except, that's not what Team Trump is saying.
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In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Va. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S....

Michigan Republicans can't make up their minds about voter fraud

12/09/16 10:47AM

When Donald Trump recently got caught lying about voter fraud, it led to speculation about why he'd push an obvious falsehood. The obvious reason was that the president-elect was embarrassed by how badly he lost the popular vote and needed some kind of excuse, no matter how ridiculous, to soothe his ego.

But the less-obvious reason fits into a larger pattern: usually when Republicans lie about voter fraud, it's because they're planning to impose new voting restrictions intended to tilt the political playing field in their direction.

And with that in mind, The Nation's Ari Berman explained yesterday:
Less than a month after Donald Trump unexpectedly carried Michigan by 10,000 votes, Republicans in the state legislature are already pushing to make it harder to vote. The presidential recount hasn't even finished yet and Michigan Republicans are trying to pass a strict voter-ID law through the lame-duck legislative session before the end of this year. [...]

Already, Trump's discredited lie that "millions" voted illegally in 2016 seems to be impacting Republican actions. "A multitude of candidates have raised the concerns about the integrity of elections," said GOP Representative Lisa Lyons, who sponsored the bill. "We need to respond to those questions. We are going to make sure that we're protecting you -- all voters -- and the integrity of the election."
But those raising "concerns" and "questions" are mistaken: neither Lyons nor any of her Republican colleagues have offered any proof of any voter fraud in the state. Not to put too fine a point on this, but legislators aren't supposed to pass legislation on the basis of ignorance, discredited urban legends, and demonstrable lies from the likes of Donald Trump.

Making matters much worse, when the Green Party's presidential nominee, Jill Stein, sought a recount in Michigan, Republicans in the state immediately balked and demanded the courts block the process -- there was no fraud in the state, GOP officials declared, so there's no point in a recount.

Trump's lawyers made this argument explicitly in its legal filings against the recount in Michigan.
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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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