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A tablet of the Ten Commandments, which is located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas, is seen in a Tuesday Oct. 12, 2004 photo.

This Week in God, 8.23.14

08/23/14 08:58AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an amazing church-state story out of Alabama, where one public official is pushing a strange new argument about the Ten Commandments.
In an effort to educate the public on the divine origins of America's founding documents, Jackson County Commissioner Tim Guffey (R) has proposed erecting a Ten Commandments monument, as well as displays of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, outside the county courthouse.
"If you look at the documents that was written -- the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence -- they are all stemmed from the word of God, from the Ten Commandments," Guffey, who proposed the projects at a recent commission meeting, told WHNT on Thursday.
As the Huffington Post report explains, Guffey is working from the premise that the Ten Commandments, as the tenets appear in the Old Testament, is "not for any type of religion" and he may be pushing a religious display, but he's "not doing it to push religion at all."
There are some fairly obvious problems with the pitch. For example, the U.S. Constitution does not "stem from" the Ten Commandments -- it's an entirely secular document that separates church from state. For that matter, to argue that a Biblical list of commandments that begins, "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me" is not religious seems a little silly.
But the larger point is that some conservatives are so eager to have government extend official support to their religious beliefs that they're willing to argue that their sacred texts have no religious value at all. It's ironic, in a way -- it's tempting to think opponents of religion would want to strip sacred texts of their spiritual significance. Here we have the opposite.
Also from the God Machine this week:
Is the US waging war on ISIS? Will it be?

Is the US fight against ISIS a war? Will it be?

08/22/14 11:00PM

Congressman Adam Schiff, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether the military action against ISIS constitutes a war, and whether Congress is capable of doing its duty of debating the authorization of... watch

Lurid McDonnell trial takes personal turn

Lurid McDonnell trial takes personal turn

08/22/14 10:38PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the latest from the corruption trial of Bob McDonnell in which the former governor's defense strategy involves besmirching his wife, casting their marriage in a bad light, and making implausible denials about gifts. watch

Ferguson themes cast long shadows over US

Ferguson themes cast long shadows over America

08/22/14 10:35PM

Rachel Maddow asks of the spotlight on Ferguson, 'when the angle of the light changes, are we going to keep seeing this as clearly as we have for the past two weeks? How long can we keep seeing this and will it be long enough to start making it better?" watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 8.22.14

08/22/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Ukraine: "The Russian military has moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory in recent days and was using them to fire at Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said on Friday."
* Related news: "More than 200 trucks from a long-stalled Russian convoy said to be carrying humanitarian aid crossed the border into eastern Ukraine on Friday without Red Cross escorts, drawing angry accusations from Ukraine that Moscow had broken its word and mounted what a senior Ukrainian security official called a 'direct invasion.'"
* Word choice matters: "The White House said Friday that the beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants constituted a terrorist attack against the United States. 'When you see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack -- that represents a terrorist attack against our country and against an American citizen,' said Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser."
* Gaza: "One day after three top Hamas commanders were killed in an Israeli airstrike, at least 18 Palestinians were killed Friday by firing squads in Gaza City, sentenced to death by a 'revolutionary resistance court' for collaborating with Israel during a time of war."
* Ferguson: "Thousands of dollars have been raised for the officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown. A crowdfunding website was created on Monday to raise funds for Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who killed 18-year-old Brown on Aug. 9.... Nearly 6,000 people had raised more than $234,000 by mid-afternoon on Friday, through a GoFundMe site."
* Protests: "Contrary to concerns about violence or vandalism, protesters held peaceful events in Washington Thursday night in response to events in Ferguson, Mo. What had been billed as a 'Day of Rage' in front of the White House drew about two dozen people, including D.C. and St. Louis natives, and a cadre of local press."
* Pushing back against the GAO: "The White House on Friday rejected findings by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) that President Obama broke the law when he swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay."
* On a related note, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed delighted by the GAO report. But if Boehner considered the Bergdahl swap illegal, why didn't he include this in his anti-Obama lawsuit?
* 30 feet is ridiculously close: "A Chinese fighter jet this week flew within 30 feet of a Navy surveillance and reconnaissance plane in international airspace just off the Chinese coast, the Pentagon said Friday. The encounter, known as an intercept, was 'very very close, very dangerous,' said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary."
Combating poverty: "A true measure of a president's priorities lies hidden in plain sight in his budget proposals. Under that standard, Mr. Obama has been more committed to communities like Ferguson than any Democratic president in the past half century. By looking at what percentage of the budget presidents propose to spend to fight poverty, we can compare their degree of commitment."
* We'll see: "House Republicans won't shut down the government in September, Heritage Action is 'constructive at the end of the day' and a person can write a book without necessarily running for president. Those were some of the points Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., hit home during an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday afternoon from the ornate Union League Building in downtown Philadelphia."
* Did the Affordable Care Act cause trouble at a Chicago Cubs game this week? No, which is why it's a shame so many in the media have reported this incorrectly.
* Good move: "The Washington Post editorial board said Friday it will stop using the word 'Redskins' when referring to Washington's football team, joining a growing list of other commentators who have renounced the term because they believe it disparages Native Americans."

Obama admin eyes new contraception compromise, post-Hobby Lobby

08/22/14 04:03PM

It's been a couple of months since the Supreme Court's conservatives, in a 5-4 ruling, sided with Hobby Lobby. In the case, the private, for-profit corporation sought an exemption from the Affordable Care Act's contraception policy, and the Republican-appointed justices agreed.
But as a matter of public policy, that left an unresolved problem in need of a remedy: employees at "closely held" companies run by religious conservatives still need access to birth control. It was only a matter of time before the Obama administration unveiled a new set of rules to guarantee access for these affected workers.
And today, as msnbc's Irin Carmon reported, the White House unveiled its new policy.
The new policies are intended to fill gaps left by two Supreme Court moves: The landmark Hobby Lobby decision saying contraceptive coverage violated the religious liberty of a for-profit corporation, and a preliminary order in Wheaton College v. Burwell. With today's regulations, employees of for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby will be able to access an "accommodation" where the insurer directly provides the cost-free coverage with no financial involvement by the employer. That accommodation was originally limited to religiously-affiliated nonprofits like Little Sisters of the Poor; houses of worship are fully exempt.
For nonprofits like Wheaton College that object to even that accommodation -- which involves them signing a form to their insurer -- the Obama administration has created a new accommodation to the accommodation. (Yes, it gets complicated.) 
Irin, of course, is correct. It does get complicated.
The good news, under the newly unveiled rules, Americans will still have the contraception access they deserve, regardless of their boss' religious beliefs. The bad news is, navigating the process, designed to accommodate anti-contraception private employers, isn't easy.
Obama Meets With Leaders Of Honduras, Guatemala And El Salvador At White House

So much for politics stopping at the water's edge

08/22/14 12:45PM

We talked earlier about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who brought three television cameras, three photographers, six reporters, a political aide, two press secretaries, and far-right activist David Bossie to Guatemala for a "stage-managed political voyage." But it appears that wasn't the only reason for the trip.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told the Guatemalan president the surge of child immigrants flooding the U.S. border this year is a result of President Obama's policies, not problems in Central America.
"I told him, frankly, that I didn't think the problem was in Guatemala City, but that the problem was in the White House in our country, and that the mess we've got at the border is frankly because of the White House's policies," Paul told Brietbart News in an article published Thursday.
According to the report in The Hill, the Kentucky Republican sat down with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina for 45 minutes, and the senator discussed politics with the foreign head of state.
"I think what's happened at the border is all squarely at the president's lap," Paul said. "The problem and the solution aren't in Guatemala. The problem and solution reside inside the White House."
As a substantive matter, the senator's position is tough to defend or even understand. President Obama didn't sign the 2008 human-trafficking measure into law; he didn't create awful conditions in Central American countries; and he didn't encourage anyone to lie to desperate families about what would happen to their children. If there's a coherent explanation for why the White House to blame, it's hiding well.
But even putting that aside, since when is it kosher for U.S. officials to travel abroad to condemn U.S. leaders like this?

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.22.14

08/22/14 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:
* For months, nearly every poll in New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race has shown incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) with a comfortable lead over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). Yesterday, however, a Granite State Poll found Shaheen's lead slipping to just two, 46% to 44%. (Sometimes, when a poll seems like an outlier, that's because it's an outlier.)
* Speaking of Scott Brown's original home state, state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) continues to lead Charlie Baker (R) in Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, 41% to 34%, in the new Boston Globe poll.
* In Kentucky's closely watched U.S. Senate race, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) reminded the Kentucky Farm Bureau this week that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) not only opposed the Farm Bill, he's "missed every Agriculture Committee meeting" for nearly three years.
* In Georgia's close U.S. Senate race, Michelle Nunn (D) continues to slam David Perdue (R) for his Romney-esque business practices. Her latest ad features laid-off workers from a textile company that Perdue closed and profited from.
* On a related note, EMILY's List, a reproductive-rights organization, is also launching a $1 million ad campaign criticizing Perdue's controversial private-sector background.
* In South Dakota's U.S. Senate race, Rick Weiland (D) is a heavy underdog against former Gov. Mike Rounds (R), a point that isn't lost on the Democrat. Referencing Rounds, Weiland called his opponent, "senator, or, soon-to-be," before catching himself. He added, laughing, "No, not soon-to-be. That's a good gaffe. I'll take that back. Soon-to-want-to-be Sen. Mike Rounds."