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This Week in God, 12.20.14

12/20/14 09:08AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at public opinion as it relates to Americans, religion, and acceptance of torture.
 
Back in May 2009, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted surveys and found that the more religious an American is, the more likely he or she is to support torture. More than five years later, not much has changed. Sarah Posner reported this week:
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Americans, by a 59-31% margin, believe that CIA "treatment of suspected terrorists" in detention was justified. A plurality deemed that "treatment" to be "torture," by a 49-38% margin.
 
Remarkably, the gap between torture supporters and opponents widens between voters who are Christian and those who are not religious.
Right. While many might assume that the faithful would be morally repulsed by torture, the reality is the opposite. When poll respondents were asked, "Do you personally think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists amounted to torture, or not?" most Americans said the abuses did not constitute torture. But it was non-religious Americans who were easily the most convinced that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were, in fact, torture.
 
The results in response to this question were even more striking: "All in all, do you think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified or unjustified?" For most Americans, the answer, even after recent revelations, was yes. For most Christians, it's also yes. But for the non-religious, as the above chart makes clear, the torture was not justified.
 
In fact, looking through the poll's crosstabs, non-religious Americans were one of the few subsets that opposed the torture techniques -- and that includes breakdowns across racial, gender, age, economic, educational, and regional lines. The non-religious are effectively **alone in their opposition to torture.
 
This is, as Posner noted, only one poll, and we'd need more data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but the Post/ABC results are generally consistent with the Pew Research Center data from 2009.
 
And they serve as a pretty interesting starting point for a discussion about faith, morality, the law, and the limits of human decency.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Americans reject intimidation from abroad

Americans reject foreign efforts at intimidation

12/19/14 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow compares the threats and intimidation made against booksellers over Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" and the hacker threats that drove Sony Pictures to cancel the release of a movie about assassinating North Korea's leader. watch

Ahead on the 12/19/14 Maddow show

12/19/14 07:03PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Xeni Jardin, editor and tech culture journalist at BoingBoing.net
  • April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks

Check back soon for a preview of tonight's show

read more

Friday's Mini-Report, 12.19.14

12/19/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Retaliatory strikes: "Pakistani jets and ground forces killed 77 militants in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, the army said Friday, days after Taliban fighters killed 148 people -- most of them children -- in a school massacre."
 
* It's come to this: "Officials in Moscow confirmed Friday that North Korean despot Kim Jong Un may attend ceremonies next year commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It would be Kim's first public foreign visit since coming to power in December 2011."
 
* ISIS: "Kurdish forces, backed by a surge of American airstrikes in recent days, recaptured a large swath of territory from Islamic State militants on Thursday, opening a path from the autonomous Kurdish region to Mount Sinjar in the west, near the Syrian border."
 
* An important (and familiar) debate in Kenya: "Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law a controversial security bill which saw MPs trade blows in parliament. It was passed on Thursday during a chaotic parliamentary session, with opposition MPs warning that Kenya was becoming a 'police state." The government has said it needs more powers to fight militant Islamists threatening Kenya's security."
 
* Bergdahl: "The Army has concluded its lengthy investigation into the disappearance of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in eastern Afghanistan and must now decide whether Bergdahl should face criminal charges.... Based on the investigation, the Army must now decide whether Bergdahl should be charged with desertion or a lesser charge of being 'absent without leave,' AWOL."
 
* I know a few folks on the right who won't be pleased: "House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today sent a letter to President Obama formally inviting him to fulfill his duty under the Constitution to report to Congress on the state of the union. A Joint Session of Congress will be held to receive the president's address on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9:00 pm ET."
 
* According to Gallup, the U.S. Economic Confidence Index has now reached its second-highest point since the start of the recession in 2007.
President Barack Obama responds to a question at his end of the year press conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Obama on Sony: 'Yes, I think they made a mistake'

12/19/14 05:00PM

Given the White House's policy ambitions since the midterm elections, there's been ample talk lately about President Obama's newly liberated style. The Beltway expectations may have been that the president would have no choice but to accept a lesser, conciliatory status, but in the wake of Democratic defeats, Obama has adopted an unbowed posture.
 
As it turns out, that's reflected in his rhetorical posture, too. At his year-end press conference, the president seemed about as relaxed and upbeat as I can remember seeing him. Some of the highlights from his unguarded presser:
 
Asked about Sony Entertainment's decision to pull distribution of "The Interview," the president was willing to acknowledge his opinion on the studio's move.
"Sony's a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
 
"In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for attackers to engage in cyber assaults, both in the private sector and the public sector.... We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like.
 
"Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended."
The president added that he's sympathetic to a private company worried about liabilities, but he wishes "they had spoken to me first. I would've told them, 'Do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'"
 
As for North Korea's responsibility to the cyber-crime, Obama went on to say the United States "will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It's not something that I will announce here today at a press conference."
 
Incidentally, the first question came from Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, who's soon leaving for Europe. The president acknowledged her looming departure, adding, "I think there's no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico."
 
OK then.
Leading Conservatives Attend 40th Annual CPAC

Rubio, Paul, and the unofficial start of 2016

12/19/14 03:34PM

Republicans eyeing the 2016 presidential race were quick to condemn President Obama's new foreign policy towards Cuba, but there was one notable exception.
 
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said yesterday. He added, "In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea."
 
Last night on Fox News, Rubio responded to Paul's comments, saying, "Like many people who have been opining, he has no idea what he's talking about."
 
As of this morning, it was on. Benjy Sarlin explained, "The Cuba debate exploded into the nascent Republican presidential race on Friday -- and this time it's personal."
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the lone Republican 2016 prospect to back the White House's plans to restore relations with its neighbor 90 miles to the south, picked a high-profile fight with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the move's leading national critic, in a series of tweets. The exchange marked a new level of combativeness among the potential presidential field as GOP primary season approaches. [...]
 
Paul has made clear in recent speeches that if he runs he will press Republican voters to rethink their most basic assumptions about foreign policy and give his more noninterventionist philosophy a serious look. The new spat with Rubio, who hails from the party's traditional hawkish wing, shows just how eager he is for the debate to start.
As of a few minutes ago, Paul posted five tweets pressing Rubio, followed by a longer message on his Facebook page.

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