First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected complaint from the religious right about, of all things, President Obama's State of the Union address.
At first, I thought conservatives might complain about the way in which the president ended his remarks. While most SOTU addresses conclude with a president saying, "God Bless America," Obama this week wrapped up by saying, "God bless you. God bless this country we love." The subtle shift seemed like the sort of thing conservatives might not like, and as it turns out, some on the right did take note.
The American Family Association's Sandy Rios enjoys promoting bizarre conspiracy theories to imply that President Obama is a secret Muslim, and [Wednesday] she even managed to find proof of Obama's hidden faith in his State of the Union address.
On Rios' radio program ... she did use the opportunity to claim that Obama was spreading Muslim messages in his speech when he used the word "pillar" to describe the foundations of American leadership in the world: "The other thing he said that I caught, he has done this before, you know there are five pillars of Islam, and he used the term 'pillars' again in his speech last night."
According to the Right Wing Watch report, Rios, who seems a little preoccupied with the idea that the Christian president is a secret Muslim, added, "It is just really interesting, language can actually give us some insight, choices of words."
It's probably worth noting that the president did use the word "pillar" in his speech, but last week, Mitt Romney used the same word. Former President George W. Bush referenced "pillars" several times when discussing U.S. policy in Iraq, and former President Ronald Reagan referenced "pillars" while promoting government-sponsored religion in public schools.
One can only wonder whether the American Family Association, a co-host of Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) "The Response" prayer rally today, sees secret Muslims everywhere.
North Dakota State Representative Corey Mock talks with Rachel Maddow about considerations being made by the state legislature to improve monitoring of pipelines after a recent rash of ruptures, and how to improve safety without hurting industry. watch
Rachel Maddow reports that the Clay Hunt Act, designed to help reduce the number of military veteran suicides, is likely to pass through Congress now that former Senator Tom Coburn is not longer able to stand as the single obstacle to its passage. watch
Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about this weekend's Republican events that seem to be kicking off the 2016 GOP presidential campaign season, including the sold out Iowa Freedom Summit hosted by Congressman Steve King. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on some of the questionable characters associated with a Louisiana prayer rally headlined by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, including televangelist Cindy Jacobs and the anti-gay American Family Association. watch
* A new Saudi Arabian king: "The ISIS and al Qaeda-fighting credentials of Saudi Arabia's new king and his two successors signal how seriously the kingdom takes the threat from Muslim extremist groups wreaking havoc in the region."
* The Supreme Court "announced Friday that it will review the lethal injection protocol used in many executions around the country, after allowing an Oklahoma inmate last week to be put to death using the drugs. The court's four liberals would have granted Charles Frederick Warner a stay but were overruled."
* Montana: "Montana state officials on Friday said tap water in the town of Glendive is now safe to drink, six days after more than 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Yellowstone River."
* These are odd times for geopolitics in the Middle East: "Iraq's prime minister said on Friday the West had increased support to his country to help it fight Islamic State, and Iran was also providing crucial backing."
* Diplomacy is complex, too: "The first round of high-level talks between United States and Cuba wrapped up this week, with diplomats acknowledging both common ground and 'deep disagreements' in mending relations between the two countries."
* Ebola: "The number of people falling victim to the Ebola virus in West Africa has fallen to the lowest level in months, the World Health Organization said on Friday, but dwindling funds and a looming rainy season threaten to hamper efforts to control the disease."
* New Jersey: "Protesters around the country are once again speaking out against racial disparities in police use of force in response to a video that shows two Bridgeton, New Jersey, officers shooting and killing a black man as he held his hands up. A dashboard camera recorded the encounter, including the moments police pulled over a car and shot and killed the passenger, 36-year-old Jerame Reid."
The last remaining legal hurdle for the Affordable Care Act, the King v. Burwell case, isn't as complicated as it may seem. The entire controversy boils down to this: was the Affordable Care Act designed specifically to subsidize insurance for consumers nationwide, or only consumers who enroll through state exchanges?
Absolutely everyone involved in the process knows the truth: of course the system was designed to help all American consumers, including those who bought insurance through healthcare.gov. The alternative is a little insane -- the architects of the law wouldn't have any reason to undermine the efficacy of their own system.
But the King v. Burwell lawsuit, which Republicans pretend to believe, is predicated on a genuinely ridiculous assumption: Democrats, on purpose, designed "Obamacare" in such a way as to deny help to every consumer who relied on healthcare.gov. They did this deliberately, the argument goes, in order to entice states to create their own exchange marketplaces.
It's painfully obvious that this is absurd and that the lawsuit is a joke, and very recently, evidence has emerged that even Republicans who claim to support the case, in reality, don't genuinely believe their own side's argument. Consider this latest catch from Ian Millhiser:
The Affordable Care Act gives states a choice. They can either set up their own health exchanges where individuals may buy subsidized health plans, or they can elect to have the federal government set up such an exchange for them. Individuals who purchase insurance on an exchange may receive tax credits to help them pay for that insurance if they qualify on the basis of income.
In his brief, which was filed in a lawsuit called King v. Burwell, [Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch] claims that the law "provides that premium subsidies are available only through an exchange established by a State" -- i.e. not in an exchange that is operated by the federal government.
But five years ago, before Hatch knew the King v. Burwell case was coming, he accidentally told the truth: he wrote in an op-ed that said state exchanges "are not a condition" for subsidies. The Republican senator understood reality in 2010, but is pretending to support a contradictory reality now in the hopes of tearing down the system.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reason to be pleased with his recent promotion. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, his party is not only in control of the Senate, but the Arizona Republican is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post he's reportedly wanted for quite a while.
But when the senator looks around the world, he isn't pleased at all.
"We are probably in the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime," said the 78-year-old Republican from Arizona, whose control of the committee is the culmination of decades of tenacious advocacy for a muscular foreign policy. "Everything I've predicted, unfortunately, has come true, whether it be in Iraq or whether it be Syria."
The notion that all of John McCain's predictions have "come true" isn't just a bizarre boast, it's also laughably and demonstrably untrue. As Rachel put it on the show awhile back, "Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that."
But it's this argument, which McCain has made before, that we're seeing "the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime" that seems especially odd.
As we discussed the last time the senator made this assessment, McCain's lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. To suggest turmoil is greater or more "serious" now may be politically convenient -- one assumes McCain is both eager to blame President Obama for unrest and anxious to make the case for more wars -- but it's also completely at odds with reality when considered in a historical context.