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Rep. Trent Franks speaks at a news conference on the Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, Oct. 9, 2013.

This Week in God, 11.1.14

11/01/14 09:22AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a recent forum in which a Republican congressman endorsed some strange ideas as the "secular left."
 
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), one of Congress' more aggressive culture warriors, partnered with E.W. Jackson -- yes, that E.W. Jackson -- to discuss the nation's ills. As Brian Tashman reported, they shared an unusual perspective.
Jackson asked the Arizona congressman about the "profound threat to Christianity in general and to our Christian foundations in this country," which he said comes from President Obama and the "drumbeat of atheism that attacks everything, 'get the cross down,' 'don't show a Bible,' 'don't wear a cross,' 'don't say God bless you.' It just seems like every day we're hearing some new effort to try to shut Christians up and shut us down."
 
"The litany that you listed there is so right, dead-on," Franks responded, before warning that ISIS may succeed in committing violence against Christians because "the secular left" in America is diluting the country's Christian heritage.
It's not at all clear what they were talking about. There is no organized national effort to tell American Christians to stop wearing crosses, stop saying "God bless you," or stop showing Bibles.
 
Similarly, in the same forum, Franks said there's a legal effort underway to remove religious icons from tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery. In reality, no such lawsuit exists.
 
In the larger context, the far-right Arizonan has long tried to position himself and his allies as victims of cultural persecution, worthy of pity. It'd be a more compelling case if Franks' complaints were based on real mistreatment.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Deadly crash gives space community pause

Deadly crash gives space community pause

10/31/14 09:32PM

Xeni Jardin, editor and tech culture journalist at BoingBoing.net, talks with Rachel Maddow about the recent rocket disasters in the U.S., including today's deadly crash Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, and what it means for future space efforts. watch

School board to yank book's abortion mention

School board to rip out textbook's abortion mention

10/31/14 09:20PM

Rachel Maddow reports on an Arizona town's school board's decision to remove references to abortion in a high school honors biology textbook by literally tearing out the page containing the offending references. Maddow offers students an alternative. watch

Ahead on the 10/31/14 Maddow show

10/31/14 07:26PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, chair of the Senate's Joint Economic Committee
  • Xeni Jardin, editor and tech culture journalist at BoingBoing.net

Executive producer Cory "Gnashing Fangs" Gnazzo previews tonight's show:

read more

Friday's Mini-Report, 10.31.14

10/31/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Hickox has had quite a week, hasn't she? "A judge in Maine ruled Friday that Kaci Hickox, the nurse who treated Ebola patients and defied a state-imposed quarantine, can come and go as she pleases, as long as she is monitored for symptoms and lets health officials know where she's going."
 
* A tragic accident: "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane exploded and crashed during a test flight on Friday, killing one crew member and seriously injuring another, authorities said."
 
* The manhunt ends, the legal process begins: "The crowd was waiting Friday as Eric M. Frein, the suspect accused of killing a state trooper and wounding another, was brought out the front door of the Pike County Courthouse at the center of this prim village."
 
* How Frein got caught: "It came down to a surprise stroke of luck. After scouring the Pocono Mountains for seven weeks for a cop-killing suspect who became more a phantom with each passing day, police in Pennsylvania stumbled upon Eric Frein without warning Thursday evening."
 
* Canada "on Friday stopped issuing visas to people from the West African countries at the heart of the Ebola outbreak."
 
* Economy: "U.S. consumer sentiment rose in October to its highest level since in more than seven years on growing optimism about the economy and more favorable personal financial expectations, a survey released on Friday showed."
A nurse and a doctor demonstrate to health care professionals how to properly put on protective medical gear when working with someone infected with the ebola virus on Oct. 21, 2014 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Turning the politics of Ebola on its ear

10/31/14 04:29PM

After a few weeks of Republicans turning the Ebola virus into a campaign instrument, it's still not altogether clear what GOP officials and candidates want voters to think. The message is a little convoluted: Americans are supposed to be terrified, which should lead them to vote Republican, which in turn will empower GOP policymakers to do ... something.
 
It's not that Republicans actually have some Ebola-related policy agenda in mind that can only be implemented by a GOP-run Congress. Rather, the right seems to believe the Obama administration has been "incompetent" in its response to the Ebola threat. By voting Republican, Americans can ensure that GOP officials complain from the majority instead of complaining from the minority.
 
Some of the political hysterics have arguably been effective. The latest USA Today poll asked which party Americans believe can do a better job responding to the Ebola threat, and the parties were nearly tied (Democrats 34%, Republicans 32%). Most recent polling suggests the public is generally satisfied with President Obama's handling of the issue, but it's hardly one-sided.
 
It's against this backdrop that Paul Waldman asks a good question: what if the political world's approach to the Ebola threat is backwards?
Imagine that a year ago, I told you that a few months hence, west Africa would see the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Then I explained that despite regular travel in and out of the affected countries by health professionals and ordinary people, there would be a grand total of two -- not two hundred, or two thousand, but two -- Americans who contracted the disease here, and both of them would be nurses who had treated a dying patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. And I told you that both of them would be treated, and would survive and be healthy. If I had told you that a year ago, would you have said, "Wow, that sounds like a gigantic federal government failure"?
 
Of course not. You'd say that sounds like a public health triumph.
Agreed. It seems many of the president's detractors were so eager to declare a new "Obama's Katrina" -- the 11th in a series -- that they overlooked the nagging detail that the federal response to Ebola has actually been quite effective.
 
Indeed, the irony of this political "controversy," for lack of a better word, is that to find true incompetence, we must turn not to the White House but to those who've complained about the White House the loudest.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to speak to seniors in New Orleans on Sept. 22, 2014.

Landrieu: South not always 'the friendliest place for African-Americans'

10/31/14 03:02PM

President Obama didn't do terribly well as a candidate in Louisiana. In 2008, Obama lost the state by over 18 percentage points. Four years later, he fared a little better, but only a little, losing Louisiana by 17 points.
 
As recently as the 1990s, Bill Clinton won the state -- twice. What changed? Part of this is the obvious result of the Deep South becoming more much more conservative than it was two decades ago, but Louisiana's incumbent U.S. senator offered another possible explanation.
Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu said Thursday that the issue of race is a major reason that President Barack Obama has struggled politically in Southern states.
 
"I'll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans," Landrieu told NBC News in an interview. "It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader."
 
Noting that the South is "more of a conservative place," she added that women have also faced challenges in "presenting ourselves."
It's important to emphasize that Landrieu, speaking to NBC's Chuck Todd, went beyond identity politics. "One of the reasons that the president's so unpopular is because he put the moratorium on off-shore drilling. remember?" she added. "After Macondo. And our state was furious about that. Now he could have shut down the BP operations but he didn't, he shut down the whole Gulf. When you shut down the whole Gulf of Mexico it puts a lot of people here at risk and out of business. That's number one."
 
But it's the senator's comments on race that are generating the most attention.
US President Barack Obama makes a statement on his administration's response to the Ebola crisis before departing the White House in Washington, DC, on Oct. 28, 2014.

Obama support 'sinks' ahead of midterms? Maybe not

10/31/14 01:09PM

The headline on The Hill's homepage yesterday read, "Obama's approval dips ahead of midterms." As Eric Boehlert noted, there's a lot of this kind of reporting going around.
The news media reminders arrive almost daily now: President Obama's approval rating is low and going lower. McClatchy Newspapers highlighted the "dropping approval ratings," while the Washington Post declared "President Obama's approval ratings have plunged to record lows." The Christian Science Monitor noted the numbers have "plummeted." The Washington Examiner stressed the president's approvals were "sinking to historic lows," while an Atlantic headlined announced, "Obama's Sinking Approval Could Drag Democrats Down With Him."
 
The portrait being painted by an array of media artists is unmistakable: Obama's approval ratings are not only weak but they're going down, down, down.
 
But it's not true.
It's obviously beyond dispute that President Obama's support is nowhere near its heights from 2009, but the perception of Obama in freefall just isn't correct. The most recent Pew Research Center poll showed the president's approval rating inching higher. So did the latest Fox News poll. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll showed the president's approval rating up three points. The most recent CNN poll released earlier this week found Obama's approval rating reaching its highest point of the year.
 
The new Gallup tracking poll results haven't been published just yet, but yesterday, the president had a 43% approval rating. At the start of the year, it was 42%.
 
By no fair definition would anyone characterize Obama as popular, but the data clearly doesn't support the "plunged to record lows" talk.
 
So why do we hear it quite so often? I suspect is has something to do with attempts to make sense of the 2014 midterms -- Republicans are running a hyper-aggressive anti-Obama campaign, predicated on the assumption that voters who've turned against the president will also turn against candidates from the president's party.
 
Indeed, there's already been amble Beltway chatter about how much responsibility Obama should shoulder for the Democrats' midterm difficulties. The answer is, not much.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.31.14

10/31/14 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:
 
* Colorado's U.S. Senate race appears to be ending on a competitive note. The new PPP poll shows Sen. Mark Udall (D) tied with Rep. Cory Gardner (R), 48% each. The new Denver Post poll, meanwhile, shows Gardner with a two-point edge.
 
* As for Colorado's gubernatorial race, PPP also found that contest tied, with Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) each getting 47% in the poll.
 
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, the new Reuters/Ipsos poll also finds a tied contest, with Bruce Braley (D) and Joni Ernst (R) each garnering 45% support.
 
* In Georgia's U.S. Senate, a new Landmark Communications poll points to another tie, with Michelle Nunn (D) and David Perdue (R) each getting 47%.
 
* The final Bluegrass Poll in Kentucky found Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) leading Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) by five points, 48% to 43%.
 
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, PPP now has Sen. Kay Hagan (D) up by one point over Thom Tillis (R), 47% to 46%.
 
* In Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, a University of Arkansas poll shows Rep. Tom Cotton (R) with a sizable lead over incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D), 49% to 36%.
 
* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, the new WMUR poll shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) pretty big lead of her own over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 50% to 42%.

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