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A visitor looks into a cage containing a model dinosaur inside a replica Noah's Ark at the Ark Encounter theme park during a media preview day, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in Williamstown, Ky.

This Week in God, 2.18.17

02/18/17 08:11AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an update on a faith-based theme park regular readers are probably familiar with. The Huffington Post reported this week:
A new display going into the creationist Noah's Ark attraction in Kentucky shows what appears to be gladiator-style fights involving humans, giants and a dinosaur.

Ken Ham, founder of the group that runs the attraction, tweeted images of the new diorama on Thursday.... Ham, who believes in a strict literal interpretation of the Bible, claims the planet is roughly 6,000 years old, that humans existed alongside dinosaurs and that Noah even carried dinosaurs with him on the ark during a global flood roughly 4,300 years ago.
In fact, that appears to be one of the key points of the theme park itself. Revisiting our coverage from July, this isn’t just a fun excursion for tourists. The point of “Ark Encounter” is to promote a Christian ministry’s worldview, “share the gospel,” and encourage visitors to embrace young-earth creationism. This ark’s builders genuinely believe the story of Noah is literally true – complete with dinosaurs on the replica of the mythical boat.

And while everyone is free to choose their own spiritual path, the Christian ministry that built this park demanded and receivedtaxpayer subsidies for the project, despite the fact that all employees – including staff whose responsibilities have nothing to do with religion – will be required to be Christian and sign a written document professing “Christ as their savior.”
 
Indeed, those hoping to work at “Ark Encounter” must also submit a “creation belief statement” before being hired, which includes endorsing the idea that the planet is roughly 6,000 years old.
 
The fact that Kentucky taxpayers are subsidizing all of this may seem legally problematic, but a Bush/Cheney-appointed federal judge cleared the way for the public assistance, and Gov. Matt Bevin (R), delighted with the outcome, did not appeal the case that had been litigated by his Democratic predecessor.

Also from the God Machine this week:
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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.17.17

02/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A tough choice to defend: "The U.S. Senate Friday confirmed Oklahoma attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA in a party-line 52-46 vote. Democrats did all they could to delay the final vote, holding another all-night session to highlight their opposition to the Oklahoma attorney general for his past battles with the regulatory agency he is now tasked to run."

* A nervous Europe: "European leaders Friday fired a salvo of warnings against Washington, cautioning it against hurting EU cohesion, abandoning shared values and seeking a rapprochement with Russia behind the backs of its allies."

* One of Flynn's many controversies: "The Pentagon hasn't found any documents indicating that Mike Flynn received authorization to accept money from a foreign government before traveling to Moscow in 2015 for a paid Russian state TV event, according to a letter from the acting Secretary of the Army."

* The right call: "A florist who refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state's anti-discrimination laws, Washington's high court said Thursday, in a case that has been watched around the nation by religious and civil rights groups."

* Also the right call: "Florida lawmakers violated the First Amendment when they passed a law prohibiting doctors generally from asking patients if they owned guns, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday."

* A South Carolina man "was arrested in connection with planning a violent white supremacist attack 'in the spirit of Dylann Roof,' the FBI said in a complaint Thursday."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Attacking news organizations, Trump sees an 'enemy' of the people

02/17/17 05:15PM

About an hour ago, Donald Trump published a tweet, which he deleted soon after. "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!"

The fact that it was discarded led some to hope that the president realized that the language may have had fascist overtones, which he reflected on and deleted accordingly. Those hopes were quickly dashed when Trump re-published the nearly identical message with slight edits:
"The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"
How nice. He removed the all-caps "sick" reference the second time around, though he was more inclusive when attacking networks.

There is no doubt that every president has had conflicts with news organizations, but I hope it's obvious that no president has ever tried to label many of the nation's largest independent news organizations "the enemy" of the people.

Authoritarians speak this way; elected leaders in democracies do not. Trump isn't just demonstrating a contempt for American journalism and First Amendment principles; he's also playing a dangerous game by positioning himself as an authority figure who gets to label those who try to hold him accountable "the enemy."
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Why the 25th Amendment is suddenly getting so much attention

02/17/17 04:02PM

Reflecting on recent events, the New York Times' David Brooks' latest column noted, "I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump's mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued."

This is not an uncommon sentiment. During Donald Trump's press conference yesterday, a variety of reporters in the room were overheard whispering among each other about the "insane" nature of president's performance. There was a similar reaction on Capitol Hill: NBC News' Kasie Hunt said lawmakers from both parties watched the event with their "jaws on the floor."

Earlier in the week, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. asked a question many have pondered, but few have spoken aloud: "What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?" His colleague, Dana Milbank, recently conceded, "My worry is the president of the United States is barking mad."

Ordinarily, conversations along these lines lead to questions about possible impeachment proceedings and congressional options for removing a president from office. But if my email inbox is any indication, there's growing interest in the options available through the 25th Amendment -- which has a Wikipedia page that's apparently being referenced more and more all the time.

In fact, The Atlantic's David Frum joked after the election, "Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Article 4. We're all going to be talking a lot more about it in the months ahead."

So, what's Article 4 to the 25th Amendment? In the abstract, the amendment itself is about presidential succession, and includes language about the power of the office when a president is incapacitated. But Digby recently highlighted the specific text of growing relevance:
"Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."
And what does that mean exactly?
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R. Alexander Acosta

Trump's latest cabinet nominee has a controversial record of his own

02/17/17 12:49PM

On Tuesday, the "fine-tuned machine" that is Donald Trump's White House had yet another breakdown. Andy Puzder, the president's choice to lead the Labor Department, was forced to withdraw in the face of multiple scandals and bipartisan opposition.

The Trump administration did not, however, wait long to name his successor. The president announced yesterday that Alex Acosta, the dean of Florida International University's law school in Miami, is Trump's choice to be the next secretary of labor. His nomination -- Trump's first and only Latino for his cabinet -- has generally been greeted by a collective shrug by much of the political world, which makes his confirmation more likely.

But there are some aspects of Acosta's background that should make for interesting questions during his confirmation hearings.

I published an item for my old, old blog 10 years ago about Acosta's role in a voter-suppression scheme in Ohio. McClatchy reported at the time:
Four days before the 2004 election, the Justice Department's civil rights chief sent an unusual letter to a federal judge in Ohio who was weighing whether to let Republicans challenge the credentials of 23,000 mostly African-American voters.

The case was triggered by allegations that Republicans had sent a mass mailing to mostly Democratic-leaning minorities and used undeliverable letters to compile a list of voters potentially vulnerable to eligibility challenges.

In his letter to U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott of Cincinnati, Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta argued that it would "undermine" the enforcement of state and federal election laws if citizens could not challenge voters' credentials.
At issue was a "vote-caging" scheme, launched by Ohio Republicans trying to boost the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. The Justice Department wasn't part of the case, and the judge didn't request federal officials' perspective, but Acosta decided on his own to weigh in anyway with his unsolicited pitch, urging the court to side with Ohio Republicans.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.17.17

02/17/17 12:03PM

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

* The Trump campaign sent a survey to its mailing list yesterday, described as  the "Mainstream Media Accountability Survey." Among the questions were gems such as, "Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?" and "Do you believe that the media creates false feuds within our Party in order to make us seem divided?"

* The mailing comes shortly before Trump's 2020 campaign hosts its first rally, which is scheduled for tomorrow in Florida.

* As Tom Perez makes the case that he's the leading candidate in the race for the DNC chairmanship, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Democratic National Committee members, insisting that the race isn't surging in Perez's direction.

* Mike Dubke, the founder of a Republican consulting firm called Crossroads Media, is reportedly poised to become the White House communications director. Jason Miller was supposed to get the job, but he resigned before Inauguration Day with personal troubles.

* A new progressive PAC, called We Will Replace You, is warning Democrats to oppose Trump at every possible opportunity or risk a primary challenge.

* In Virginia, which hosts a gubernatorial race this year, a new Quinnipiac poll shows the top Democratic candidates leading the top Republican candidates in hypothetical match-ups.

* The same poll showed former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie as the frontrunner in the Republicans' gubernatorial primary, while among Democrats, former Rep. Tom Perriello and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam are tied.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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