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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.27.14

10/27/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Kaci Hickox is on her way home: "The nurse forcibly quarantined in New Jersey after she came home from treating Ebola patients in West Africa was released from the hospital Monday.... Hickox will be allowed to take private transport home to Maine."
 
* CDC: "The federal government on Monday announced a new set of monitoring guidelines for health workers returning from West Africa, an effort to bring uniformity to a messy patchwork of responses by state governors as they try to control flows of high-risk travelers and public fears about the potential spread of Ebola."
 
* U.S. Army: "Soldiers coming back from serving in Ebola-hit Liberia will be kept in quarantine for 21 days, the U.S. Army said Monday -- even though they were kept apart from any Ebola patients."
 
* So heartbreaking: "One of the four students seriously wounded in a Washington high school shooting on Friday has died. Gia Soriano, 14, was shot in the head during the morning shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, which is located north of Seattle. She died Sunday night after remaining in critical condition at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett during the weekend."
 
* Iraq: "A Naval officer and father of five was found dead in his room at an air base in Qatar, military officials said. Cmdr. Christopher E. Kalafut, 49, of Oceanside died Friday from 'a non-combat related incident' at Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, according to the Department of Defense."
 
* ISIS: "As the counteroffensive against the Islamic State enters a more aggressive phase in Iraq, allied airstrikes will also intensify. American officials say they fully expect that the push will bring out more proof of the jihadists' antiaircraft abilities, with potentially serious consequences for how the Iraqis and their coalition partners wage their war."
 
* Thanks, Vladimir: "Pro-European political parties led by President Petro O. Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk won the largest number of seats in [Ukraine's] parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to partial vote tallies."
 
* BP oil spill: "New research shows that the BP oil spill left an oily 'bathtub ring' on the sea floor that's about the size of Rhode Island."
 
* Pennsylvania: "A Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice caught up in a government porn email scandal stepped down Monday after nearly eight years on the state's highest court, and a judicial ethics board said it would drop its investigation of him as a result."
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the  Global Health Security Agenda Summit at the White House in Washington September 26, 2014.

The Beltway balks at No-Drama Obama

10/27/14 04:39PM

In June 2009, President Obama was hosting a press conference and much of the White House press corps was focused on Iranian leaders cracking down on reform-minded protestors. NBC's Chuck Todd urged Obama to "spell out the consequences" for Iran if the violence continued.
 
The president didn't take the bait, and clearly saw no value in making ultimatums. "We don't know yet how this thing is going to play out," Obama said. Pressed further, the president delivered 13 memorable words: "I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not."
 
As far as I know, no one in the Beltway has ever explicitly said so, but I've often wondered how many of the president's media critics were tempted to respond, "Why not?"
 
Matt Yglesias published a much-discussed piece the other day on the president's even-keeled temperament, even during crises, which much of the media just doesn't like. Matt referenced this piece from Josh Green, who was critical of Obama's technocratic approach that denies "the public's emotional needs" and neglects "the performative aspects" of the presidency.
 
The trouble, as Yglesias' piece makes clear, is that Obama's style actually works pretty well.
[A]n aversion to purely symbolic action has genuinely served Obama well at critical moments. Less cool heads would have abandoned Obamacare in January 2010. Obama persevered and it's worked. Obama's approach to the economy has been far from flawless, but it's not a coincidence that the USA has performed better since 2008 than Europe or the United Kingdom and weathered its financial crisis far better than Japan did in the 1990s.
 
The Deepwater Horizon crisis passed. The American Ebola crisis will also pass. HealthCare.gov got fixed. The Russian economy is reeling in the face of sanctions. Osama bin Laden is dead. The economy is growing. Obama hasn't always been a very effective pundit-in-chief (acute crisis moments aside, his inability to articulate public anger at Wall Street has been remarkable) but that's not actually his job. On the big stuff, he's been effective. And that's not a coincidence.
Kevin Drum is thinking along similar lines: "Obama may not always give us the emotional sustenance we want, or mount a pretense of whirlwind action to satisfy the cable nets, but he gets things done. Anyone who can count on their fingers can pretty easily figure out, for example, that he's had a more successful presidency than either Clinton or Bush. Slow and steady doesn't win every race, but it wins a lot of them."
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen arrives for a campaign stop at the Firefly American Bistro in Manchester, N.H. on Sept. 29, 2014.

In New Hampshire, dead men tell some tales

10/27/14 03:22PM

New Hampshire Republicans, still hoping to take down Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), published an op-ed in a local newspaper this morning written by former state House Speaker Marshall Cobleigh (R). The piece isn't quite as interesting as its author.
 
Even by 2014 standards, the Republican's op-ed seems oddly detached from current events, referencing "skyrocketing gasoline prices," a moratorium that no longer exists, and a House GOP lawmaker who's no longer in the House. But given how frequently Republican criticisms bear no real resemblance to reality, this alone would hardly be noteworthy.
 
Dave Weigel, however, notes a more glaring problem: the author of the op-ed has been dead for several years.
What's the matter with the column? Probably that Marshall Cobleigh has been dead for five years. In February 2009, the former speaker of New Hampshire's often-Republican state House was felled by congestive heart failure. This op-ed is a reprint of a column Cobleigh wrote in July 2008, when Shaheen was running her first successful Senate campaign. Buzz Dietterle, the FDD's opinion page editor, says that the New Hampshire GOP submitted the column (which originally ran in the conservative Union Leader). [...]
 
"Shaheen, like a stopped clock, is often correct once or twice a day," acknowledges the late Cobleigh in his column. He should hope so. R.I.P.
Now, there's nothing necessarily controversial with recycling material, but Cobleigh isn't in a position to criticize Shaheen's performance in the Senate since he hasn't, you know, actually been alive for the last five years.
 
Republicans couldn't find an actual, living person to write a similar op-ed? New Hampshire isn't a big state, but it's not that small.
 
But Cobleigh's mortal status adds a macabre twist to an attack piece that doesn't make a lot of sense anyway.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers the keynote address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 15th Annual Legal Reform Summit in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 21, 2014.

Christie has 'second thoughts' after all

10/27/14 12:35PM

Appearing on Fox News yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was the height of confidence. Two days after imposing a mandatory quarantine on a nurse, Kaci Hickox, effectively detaining her in a tent with no running water, the Republican governor boasted, "[W]e've taken this action and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it."
 
Indeed, Christie was feeling so good about his handling of the situation that he didn't even feel the need to stay in New Jersey -- the governor maintained a busy travel schedule, making a series of campaign stops over the weekend, even helping far-right Rep. Steve King (R) in Iowa.
 
As we discussed this morning, Christie's administration pointed to a shift in posture overnight, and this morning, the governor agreed to allow Hickox to leave.
One day after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he had "no second thoughts" about forcing a quarantine on a nurse, Kaci Hickox, who had tested negative for Ebola, the Republican loosened his grip and agreed to transfer her to Maine where she lives.
 
The governor's office announced Monday morning in a statement that the nurse -- after being symptom-free for the last 24 hours -- would adhere to her request to be moved to the state. At that point, Maine can "make a determination under their own laws" on whether to continue the quarantine, the statement read.
A spokesperson for Christie insisted that New Jersey's protocol "is not changing," and Hickox's release technically isn't a shift since she'll be leaving the state to return to Maine.
 
It's worth emphasizing that the nurse, who has treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone as part of her work with Doctors Without Borders, has not displayed any symptoms. Christie said over the weekend that Hickox was "obviously ill,"  but this was apparently only obvious to Christie -- who has no medical background and who wasn't even in New Jersey when the nurse was detained against her will.
 
Hickox has secured legal counsel. Whether the threat of litigation prompted Christie's change of heart is unclear.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.27.14

10/27/14 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 a while, it looked like South Dakota's U.S. Senate race was getting very interesting, but a new Argus Leader/KELO-TV poll suggests the race is slipping safely into GOP hands. The new poll shows former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) overcoming his scandals and leading Rick Weiland (D), 42% to 33%. The new NBC/Marist poll shows Rounds ahead, 43% to 29%.
 
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, the NBC/Marist poll points to a one-point race, with Rep. Cory Gardner (R) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D), 46% to 45%
 
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, the NBC/Marist poll shows Joni Ernst (R) up by three over Bruce Braley (D), 49% to 46%.
 
* In Kansas' U.S. Senate race, the NBC/Marist poll found another one-point race, with Kansas, Greg Orman (I) ahead of Sen. Pat Roberts (R), 45% to 44%.
 
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, the NBC/Marist poll has Sen. Kay Hagan (D) and Thom Tillis (R) tied at 43% each.
 
* In Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, most recent polling shows Rep. Tom Cotton (R) in the driver's seat, but the NBC/Marist poll shows his lead over Sen. Mark Pryor (D) at just two points, 45% to 43%.
 
* In Georgia's U.S. Senate race, though most recent polling shows Michelle Nunn (D) leading, the latest Atlanta Journal Constitution poll shows David Perdue (R) up by two, 44% to 42%.
 
* On a related note, Republicans and their allies are throwing millions of dollars into Georgia, hoping to tie Nunn to the president.
Republican gubernatorial candidate winner Bob Beauprez addresses supporters at an election party in Denver on Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

Colorado's Beauprez strikes a phony pro-choice posture

10/27/14 11:31AM

When we last checked in on former Rep. Bob Beauprez, the Republicans' gubernatorial hopeful in Colorado, he was defending his support for "Personhood" proposals; he was falsely claiming IUD contraceptives are "abortifacients"; and he was telling a debate audience, "I'm unabashedly pro-life."
 
Last week, however, the far-right former congressman talked to Colorado Public Radio, and as Andy Kroll reported, Beauprez seemed to offer a very different message.
CPR: On women's reproductive health, as governor would you be committed to your current stated position that while you're personally against abortions, you won't stand in the way of people having access to them or letting women choose their preferred method of birth control?
 
Beauprez: That's correct. I respect people's opinion, women's right to that choice. I know what the law is. And my job is to enforce the law. The question of birth control has come up and let me be real clear...I think women ought to have the choice of whether to use birth control or not. I think women ought to have the choice of what type of birth control to use. I just don't think taxpayers need to be paying for it.
 
I respect people's right to choose. I live my life the way I personally choose, but I'm not going to interfere with somebody else's. The job of a governor is less to govern the people, and more to govern the government. I don't want to make somebody else's decision, but I want them to have every opportunity to make their own. I don't want to run somebody else's family and make decisions for their family, their life; I want them to have the opportunity and the freedom to do that themselves. That's the kind of governor I'll be.
Well, that's quite an evolution, isn't it? Over the course of three weeks, Beauprez went from being "unabashedly pro-life" to "I respect people's right to choose." On Sept. 30, the Republican candidate saw IUD contraceptives as "abortifacients"; and on Oct. 22, he's "not going to interfere with" birth control.
 
In the larger context, between Bob Beauprez, Cory Gardner, and Mike Coffman, Colorado voters may very well elect several far-right congressmen this year, at which point many conservatives will see this as a triumph for right-wing culture warriors. After all, Colorado is a fairly competitive state -- it backed President Obama twice -- and if it rewards far-right congressmen who've fought to eliminate all abortions and ban common forms of birth control, the argument will go, then maybe the public is amenable to this extremist vision.
 
The problem with the argument will be that Beauprez, Gardner, and Coffman all had to dramatically change their positions on culture war issues, pretending to be something they're not in the hopes voters wouldn't know the difference.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) answers questions from members of the press after speaking at a campaign rally Oct. 22, 2014 in Grayson, Ky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

McConnell digs a hole on Social Security, falls in

10/27/14 10:50AM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in the midst of the toughest race of his career, still isn't quite sure how he wants to present himself to voters. On the one hand, the longtime Republican senator is proud to be the nation's top obstructionist, helping create the most dysfunctional Congress in modern history. On the other hand, McConnell wants the public to see him as the consummate dealmaker.
 
To help prove the latter point, the GOP incumbent cited an interesting example last week.
Though he hasn't mentioned it much on the campaign trail over the past year, McConnell specifically touted his effort to push President George W. Bush's plans to reform Social Security in 2005, which would have set up private accounts for retirees.
 
"After Bush was re-elected in 2004 he wanted us to try to fix Social Security," said McConnell. "I spent a year trying to get any Democrat in the Senate -- even those most reasonable Democrat of all, Joe Lieberman -- to help us."
We now know, of course, that Democrats weren't interested in privatizing Social Security. Neither was the American mainstream,  which hated the Bush/Cheney idea. But the fact that McConnell brought this up, unprompted, was a clumsy error from a senator who's usually more disciplined.
 
With time running out in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell decided to remind the state that he wanted to effectively eliminate the popular and effective Social Security system. Indeed, it's been part of McConnell's governing vision for many, many years.
 
When local reporter Joe Sonka asked McConnell whether voters should expect the senator to push Social Security privatization after the midterms, McConnell replied, "I'm not announcing what the agenda would be in advance."
 
Wait, he's not?
Rep. John Barrow campaigns in Augusta, Ga., Nov. 6, 2012.

Dems face betrayal after accepting Republican concessions

10/27/14 10:19AM

In recent years, congressional Republicans have had one specific demand as part of any debt-reduction talks: "chained CPI." The basic idea is that Democrats are supposed to accept a change to how Social Security benefits are calculated, relying on a less-generous Consumer Price Index (CPI) to save money.
 
For Republicans, if Democrats aren't willing to consider this policy, there's no point in even having a conversation. It's not the only provision the GOP expects as part of a deal, but it's the one non-negotiable starting point for any conversation.
 
And so, centrist and conservative Democrats have generally been quick to align themselves with Republicans on this issue, eager to prove their bipartisan bona fides and commitment to "fiscal responsibility." For their trouble, these Dems are now facing a rather ugly betrayal at the hands those they're trying to please. Lori Montgomery reported the other day:
The latest attack came in Georgia, where the National Republican Campaign Committee posted an ad last week accusing Rep. John Barrow (D) of "leaving Georgia seniors behind" by supporting "a plan that would raise the retirement age to 69 while cutting Social Security benefits."
 
Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit group founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, has run similar ads against North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D), Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Crossroads accused Hagan of supporting a "controversial plan" that "raises the retirement age."
Just so we're clear, what we have here is Republicans condemning Democrats for agreeing with Republicans. When the Washington Post asked Crossroads and the NRCC for comment, neither would defend their campaign messages.
 
Imagine that.
 
Part of the issue here is "chained CPI," which Republicans now consider "cutting Social Security benefits," even though Republicans are the ones who've demanded Democrats accept this as part of a fiscal deal.
Georgia U.S. Senatorial candidates including Libertarian Amanda Swafford, left, Republican David Perdue, center, and Democrat Michelle Nunn, right, participate in a debate on Oct. 26, 2014, in Atlanta. (Photo by David Tulis/AP)

'We've got to make a hard right-hand turn'

10/27/14 09:20AM

Georgia's U.S. Senate hopefuls gathered in Atlanta for their latest debate last night, and viewers saw a striking encapsulation of contemporary politics.
 
Michelle Nunn (D), echoing her usual message, emphasized the need for compromise. "I just don't believe that it's one party or the other. I think it has to be both sides coming together," she said. "I think that we do have a very clear contrast in terms of how we see breaking through that dysfunction. I don't think it's about prosecuting the other party; I think it's about problem-solving."
 
At which point, David Perdue (R) dismissed this approach out of hand.
"I disagree," Perdue answered. "When you have a failed presidency, you have to prosecute it," he said.... "When we look at the direction of this country, we've got to make a hard right-hand turn."
Those 31 words are arguably the most emblematic I've heard in a while of the current partisan divide. The Democrat struck a non-partisan tone, emphasizing governing and problem-solving, while the Republican forcefully rejected such an approach, insisting instead on a "hard right-hand turn." Every pundit who likes to maintain the fiction that "both sides" are to blame for Capitol Hill dysfunction should keep this exchange in mind.

Benjy Sarlin reported overnight, "Perdue told reporters after the debate that the 'hard right-hand turn' was 'a metaphorical statement, not a political statement.'"

I honestly have no idea what that means. A Senate candidate appeared at a debate. His opponent said policymakers should focus on governing. He said he disagreed and demanded the United States take a "hard right-hand turn."
 
Obviously, it was metaphorical -- David Perdue wasn't giving anyone driving directions -- but for the far-right candidate to argue his comments weren't "political" is so hopelessly ridiculous, it's alarming that the Republican said this with a straight face.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during his weekly briefing at the US Capitol, September 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The House GOP's crumbling anti-Obama lawsuit

10/27/14 08:46AM

Americans first learned back on June 24, more than four months ago, about the House Republican plan to file a lawsuit against President Obama. Two weeks later, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the basis for the case: the GOP would sue to implement an obscure provision of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans don't actually want to see implemented.
 
When the case was announced, congressional Republicans made it seem as if they were headed to court as part of a bold move to preserve our constitutional system of government against the tyrannical moves of a lawless presidency. But four months later, it looks as if Boehner & Co. got lost on the way to the courthouse.
 
Josh Gerstein reports that the case hasn't even been filed yet.
It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the Capitol to the federal courthouse just down the hill, but House Republicans haven't managed to make that trip in the four months since they announced they'd be suing the president.
 
House Speaker John Boehner came out swinging hard last June when he announced that his chamber would take President Barack Obama to court. The suit, charging that the president grossly exceeded his constitutional authority by failing to implement portions of the Obamacare law, was billed as an election-season rallying point for aggrieved Republicans. But days before the midterms, the House's legal guns seem to have fallen silent.
 
Lawyers close to the process said they originally expected the legal challenge to be filed in September, but now they don't expect any action before the elections.
Republicans not only won't file the case, they also refuse to say why they won't file the case -- party officials refused to explain the delay when asked by Politico for comment.
 
"I thought this was a constitutional crisis and the republic was in jeopardy because Obama overstepped his bounds. Now, they can't even get around to filing it?" former Democratic House Counsel Stan Brand told Gerstein. "It, to me, emphasizes the not-serious nature of it."
 
This arguably understates matters.
A woman reads alert on Ebola inside the Bellevue Hospital where Dr. Craig Spencer is being treated for Ebola symptoms in New York, N.Y., on Oct. 23, 2014. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

The curious case of Kaci Hickox's quarantine

10/27/14 08:00AM

On Friday, Kaci Hickox, a Doctors Without Borders nurse, arrived back in the United States after helping treat patients in West Africa. It was not a happy return: after arriving at an airport in New Jersey, officials put her in quarantine.
 
Hickox's isolation is the result of a new policy endorsed last week by Govs. Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York, who announced new guidelines requiring 21-day quarantines for those arriving from West Africa -- whether they're showing symptoms or not.
 
The result is a scenario that seems hard to believe: New Jersey has effectively detained a nurse in a tent with no shower, not because she's showing symptoms of the Ebola virus, but because officials fear she might at some point show symptoms of the Ebola virus.
 
Christie defended the mandatory quarantine, saying the nurse was "obviously ill." This was apparently obvious only to the governor -- who has no background in medicine or public health -- and was clearly not obvious to Hickox herself.
 
Christie boasted on one of the Sunday shows yesterday, "I absolutely have no second thoughts about it," adding that he expects his policy to soon become "a national policy." A few hours later, however, second thoughts emerged.
Facing fierce resistance from the White House and medical experts to a strict new mandatory quarantine policy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday night that medical workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa but did not show symptoms of the disease would be allowed to remain at home and would receive compensation for lost income. [...]
 
After Mr. Cuomo's announcement, Mr. Christie issued a statement saying that, under protocols announced on Wednesday, New Jersey residents not displaying symptoms would also be allowed to quarantine in their homes.
The shifts came on the heels of White House pressure on Cuomo and Christie, urging them to adopt policies more in line with science. It's unclear whether the revised approach will allow Hickox to leave her state-mandated tent.
 
There are a few angles to this to keep in mind, not the least of which the dubious legality of New Jersey imposing a mandatory quarantine on a woman who's reportedly asymptomatic. Forcing medical professionals to remain in their homes for 21 days is marginally better, at least with regards to their personal convenience, but remains problematic. Indeed, by the same reasoning, states would have to impose similar penalties on doctors and nurses treating an Ebola patient in the United States.

Ebola quarantine and other headlines

10/27/14 07:57AM

Under pressure, NY Gov. Cuomo says Ebola quarantines can be spent at home. (NY Times) Meanwhile the White House is working on new guidelines for returning healthcare workers. (USA Today)

2nd victim of Marysville, WA high school shooter has died. (NBC News) Teacher hailed as hero for trying to stop the attack. (AP)

Gunman in Ottawa attack prepared a video of himself. (AP)

The Bushes, led by W., rally to make Jeb '45'. (NY Times)

Hawaiians prepare to evacuate as lava approaches a historic village. (L.A. Times)

Joan Quigley, astrologer to a First Lady, is dead at 87. (NY Times)

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Week in Geek: View from a star nursery

10/26/14 10:37AM

This stunning new image taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows stars actively being born over 33 million light-years away. Spitzer is one of NASA's Great Observatories, focused on the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared is light that has less energy and a longer wavelength than the red light our eyes can see. Discovered in 1800 by William Herschel (an astronomer), it's somewhat analogous to thermal radiation. You've probably seen it visualized many times in movies and on TV by characters using night-vision goggles. By comparison, Spitzer is like night-vision on steroids.

In the universe, infrared radiation comes primarily from gas and dust. People often think space is completely empty between stars and between galaxies, and while it's true the density of particles drops off dramatically, there is still a considerable amount of gas and dust floating around. This material is important to astronomers because it acts as fuel for star formation and hungry black holes, both of which influence how galaxies grow and evolve.

This image from Spitzer shows active star formation in a galaxy known as NGC 1291 (creatively named as the 1291st object in the New General Catalog). The colors in this image represent wavelengths and not what our eyes would actually see. Shorter infrared wavelengths (closer to red light in the visible spectrum) are blue and longer infrared wavelengths (closer to microwave radiation) are red. The blue areas therefore represent actual stars (stars give off infrared light at higher frequencies) while the red areas represent concentrations of gas and dust.

The concentration of blue in the center tells astronomers that the stars in the central bulge are older and have long exhausted their supply of gas and dust for making new stars. Conversely, the bright red ring shows that large amounts of gas and dust are now concentrated in the outskirts of the galaxy, which will lead to a burst of star formation and millions of new stars. The timeline for when star formation shifts from the center to the outer regions of a galaxy depends strongly on the structure and dynamics of each individual galaxy. So observations like this are not only gorgeous to look at, but are valuable new data points for astronomers working in the field of galaxy evolution.

Here's some geek that took place closer to home:

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Voters line up and wait for the doors to open at Dwelling Place Church in Huntsvilla, Ala., Nov. 6, 2012.

This Week in God, 10.25.14

10/25/14 09:39AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Alabama, where voters will decide on Election Day whether to change the state Constitution in a provocative way.
 
This year's "Amendment One" in Alabama, on the surface, may seem uncontroversial. Its text seeks to prohibit "the application of foreign laws" that may violate "a right guaranteed by the Alabama Constitution or of the United States Constitution." At first blush, it seems hard to object to a measure like this.
 
But taking this one step further, a question arises: since when does Alabama apply foreign laws that violate Americans' existing rights? If that's never happened -- and it hasn't -- then why change the Constitution to address an imaginary threat?
 
Sarah Jones knows the answer:
The amendment’s text never explicitly references Sharia, but as the Greene County Democrat reports, it’s merely the latest incarnation of anti-Sharia legislation in the state. It’s also the brainchild of State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), who sponsored the original, failed version of the bill in 2011. Critics panned Allen for being unable to name any examples of Alabama Muslims attempting to enforce Sharia. His bill received another major blow when the Anniston Star revealed its text had been partially plagiarized from Wikipedia.
Ah, yes, now it makes sense. This isn't just about prohibiting "the application of foreign laws"; this is about anti-Muslim paranoia. In recent years, the threat of "creeping Sharia law" has been common in right-wing circles -- it was even an element of Newt Gingrich's 2012 presidential platform -- and now Alabama voters are being asked to change their state Constitution to enshrine that paranoia into law.
 
If this sounds at all familiar, in 2010, voters in Oklahoma easily approved their own anti-sharia state constitutional amendment. Its chief sponsor, Republican Rex Duncan, described his measure as a "preemptive strike," which struck me as a clever euphemism for "addressing a threat that does not exist."
 
Federal courts soon after rejected the measure. Don't be too surprised if Alabama's proposal meets a similar fate.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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