First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected group of critics raising concerns about suspect tales from Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
As regular readers know, activism in the political sphere from Roman Catholic nuns has become increasingly common in recent years, as evidenced by the Nuns on the Bus tour in 2012, criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) far-right budget plan.
Soon after, Sister Simone Campbell and her group, NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, invited Mitt Romney "to spend a day with Catholic Sisters who work every day to meet the needs of struggling families in their communities." (He declined.)
Rachel noted on the show that summer, "I have one thing to say here personally, not as a TV show host here but just as a person who happens to be related to some nuns: don't mess with nuns. It's not a warning. It's not advice. It's not a threat. It's fact that I have learned from personal experience. Ask anybody in my family, if you mess with nuns, you will lose every time. You will always regret messing with nuns."
With this in mind, Fox's Bill O'Reilly has faced increased scrutiny recently, claiming that he "saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" while he was in El Salvador in the early 1980s. When evidence made clear that was impossible, O'Reilly said he was referring to photographs he'd seen.
This week, some nuns seemed unimpressed by the Fox host's comments, most notably nuns from the Maryknoll Sisters who issued a statement to Brian Stelter.
"Maryknoll Sisters were deeply saddened when our Sisters were killed in El Salvador, and shocked when we learned of Mr. O'Reilly's statement inferring he witnessed their murder," the statement said.
"This is, of course, untrue and we hope Mr. O'Reilly will take greater care in the public statements he makes in the future," it added.
The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland also offered a statement, calling for reporters covering the tragedy to do so with a spirit of "integrity and honesty."
As best as I can tell, O'Reilly has not yet responded to the nuns' criticisms. I reached out to Fox News for comment yesterday, but I haven't heard back. I will update this piece if the network responds.
Rachel Maddow reports on death penalty states running out of execution drugs, particularly Texas, which has only enough to kill one more person, and drug companies are withholding drugs, or asking for them to be returned so they can't be used to kill. watch
Rachel Maddow reviews some of the political scandals that continue to cling to Chris Christie, as well as poor poll numbers, and seemingly insurmountable fundraising challenges against Jeb Bush, all of which does not bode well for Christie's 2016... watch
As the Republican signatories to an open letter to Iran's ayatollahscramble to make excuses for their political-spectacle-run-amok, there is a growing consensus that rather than strengthen America's resolve with tough talk, all they've really managed to do is leave America's global standing ...
* ISIS: "More than 40 Iraqi soldiers were killed after ISIS militants dug a mile-long tunnel under a local army headquarters and planted around 300 explosives under the base, a top regional official told NBC News Friday."
* Ferguson: "A manhunt continues in the shooting of two police officers during protests in Ferguson this week, as the nation's eyes are once again trained on this small, beleaguered Midwestern city."
* Retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton called the Iran letter from the 47 Senate Republicans as "mutinous" and possibly "illegal." As for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the ringleader behind the scheme, Eaton added, "What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better."
* More on this on tonight's show: "Russian President Vladimir Putin is in good health, the Kremlin said on Thursday, dismissing rumors that the leader was suffering from an illness after a foreign trip was canceled."
* Ebola: "An American healthcare worker infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone [is in] serious condition at the National Institutes of Health, the NIH said Friday. The unidentified patient is the 11th Ebola case treated in the U.S."
* VA: "President Barack Obama on Friday will announce new measures to address the healthcare crisis facing veterans at the Phoenix VA medical center where long wait times and falsified records were first discovered."
* They're right: "A group of 104 legal scholars and immigration law instructors signed a statement calling the Texas judge's decision that blocked President Barack Obama's immigration executive action 'deeply flawed.'"
* Baby steps: "China's emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide fell last year for the first time in more than a decade, offering fresh evidence that efforts to control pollution in the nation of 1.4 billion people are gaining traction."
The letter to Iran from 47 Senate Republicans this week has become an international fiasco, prompting its GOP signatories to come up with creative excuses for their radical antics.
The first defense, oddly enough, is that Republicans were simply being "cheeky" with their attempt to sabotage American foreign policy. When that proved unpersuasive, GOP officials tried to blame President Obama for their letter. That seemed pretty silly, which led Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to try blaming a snowstorm in D.C. last week for Republicans failing to think their plan through.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Friday said an open letter he signed with 46 other GOP Senators should not have been directed to Iran's ruling regime.
"I suppose the only regret is who it's addressed to," Johnson said during a Friday breakfast with Bloomberg staff. "But the content of the letter, the fact that it was an open letter, none whatsoever."
Hmm. So, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee still likes the letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy, but his new excuse is that it was sent to the wrong people. Republicans shouldn't have "addressed" it to Iranian leaders.
Of course, if the point of the GOP letter was to push Iranians away from the international nuclear talks, and encourage Iranian officials not to trust the United States or our allies, it's not altogether clear who, exactly, Johnson and his cohorts would have addressed the missive to.
Johnson added today that the still-unresolved agreement "rises to the level of a treaty" and the "treaty should come to Congress for an up-or-down vote."
It's worth emphasizing that the deal -- if there's a deal -- is not a treaty. If it were, an "up-or-down vote" wouldn't be sufficient, since the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority on all Senate ratification votes. To borrow a phrase, Johnson "may not fully understand our constitutional system."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) turned to a familiar comparison to condemn international nuclear talks yesterday. "I believe we are hearing echoes of history," the senator said. "I believe we are at a moment like Munich in 1938."
Of course he does.
Right-wing critics of the talks have been talking like this for months, though conservatives seem to be pushing the thesis with increased vigor now that an agreement appears more likely. Last week, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial speech to Congress, Mike Huckabee even celebrated the Israeli leader as "a Churchill in a world of Chamberlains."
I'm reminded of a Peter Beinart piece from a while back.
Over the past quarter-century, there's hardly an American or Israeli leader the Kristol-Netanyahu crowd hasn't compared to Chamberlain. In 1985, Newt Gingrich called Reagan's first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev "the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich." When Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hawks took out newspaper ads declaring that "Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938."
Then, when Israel moved to thaw its own cold war with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Rabin assumed the Chamberlain role.... Then it was Bill Clinton. "The word that best describes Clinton administration [foreign] policy is appeasement," explained Robert Kagan and Kristol in 1999. Then, of course, it was the opponents of war with Iraq. "The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it's about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade," wrote Kristol in a 2002 editorial, "The Axis of Appeasement."
Simon Maloy had more along these lines today, taking a closer look at the right's "ridiculous Neville Chamberlain obsession" and "all the times conservatives accused Barack Obama of appeasing the world's many Hitlers." It's not a short list.
With this in mind, the latest nonsense from Cruz and Huckabee isn't just wrong and offensive; it's lazy.
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:
* Gov. Scott Walker (R) yesterday expressed delight that President Obama criticized his decision to sign "right-to-work" legislation in Wisconsin this week. "Well, it suggests maybe we're the front-runner," told a far-right website.
* Confirming suspicions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using footage from his recent congressional address in a new campaign ad. Netanyahu had previously said the appearance was not related to his re-election effort. Israeli elections are next week.
* We learned this week that one of Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) longtime aides was the editor-in-chief of a neo-Confederate magazine. The adviser, Richard Quinn, says he no longer holds his previous beliefs.
* In the latest Gallup poll, released this week, Hillary Clinton enjoys the highest favorability ratings of any likely presidential candidate in either party.
* Appearing on msnbc yesterday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) joked about his standing in recent polls. "Am I really up to 11 percent?" he said. "Who did this poll? Was this my mom?"
* In Connecticut, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Scott Walker and Jeb Bush tied among Republican voters in the state, each generating 18% support. Rand Paul is third with 12%, followed by Chris Christie at 11%.
As of this morning, Loretta Lynch was nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney General 125 days ago. By some measures, the federal prosecutor, the first African-American woman ever to be nominated to the post, has waited longer than any previous Attorney General, for reasons Senate Republicans have struggled to explain.
What's more, it's been more than two weeks since Lynch cleared the Judiciary Committee, a move that ordinarily prompts the Senate leadership to schedule a confirmation vote on the floor soon after. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, delayed the vote for no reason, and still hasn't said exactly when the vote will be, other than a vow to bring the nomination to the floor "next week."
Will she prevail or not? At this point, the votes are probably in place -- there are 46 Senate Democrats and four Senate Republicans who support her (Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, and Orrin Hatch). That's 50, with Vice President Biden breaking the tie.
Roll Call's David Hawkings noted this week that this will very likely be the closest-ever vote for an A.G. nominee.
As the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, Lynch has earned just the sort of tough but fair reputation that's customarily made for bipartisan smooth sailing in the Senate. But at least three-quarters of Republicans are going to oppose her anyway, mostly because of a single position she's taken as the nominee: Obama was on solid legal ground in deferring deportations of as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants.
For essentially the first two centuries under our Constitution, senators afforded the president free rein to stock his Cabinet as he chose, except in the most extraordinary circumstances.... It would not have been newsworthy at all -- let alone a rationale for disqualification -- for an attorney general nominee to take the same position as the president who nominated her in a balance of powers battle with Congress. (In fact, it would have been much more problematic for a nominee to openly break with the president in such a dispute.)
It's almost as if Senate Republicans believe if they defeat Lynch, Obama will nominate an A.G. who opposes the White House's immigration policy. (He won't.) But as Hawkings added, "The single biggest reason Republicans oppose Lynch is that she disagrees with them on a single matter of public policy."
The Senate simply isn't supposed to work this way. Indeed, it's never worked this way before, and it arguably can't effectively work this way now.
In late 2010, President Obama and much of the foreign-policy establishment around the world eagerly waited for the U.S. Senate to ratify the New START nuclear treaty. The agreement, reached earlier in the year after lengthy negotiations with Russia, was championed by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Bush administration veterans, but Senate Republicans were prepared to kill it.
At the time, Pierre Vimont, the then-French ambassador to the United States, noted that he and other diplomats warned European officials that Congress might very well reject the treaty. "People ask us, 'Have you been drinking?'" Vimont said.
It seemed implausible to believe American officials would deliberately derail a treaty that advances America's interests, and eventually, the Senate did ratify the proposal (though most Republicans voted against it). But what I remember from the debate is the degree to which the world watched with astonishment -- observers around the globe found it hard to believe just how radical congressional Republicans had become.
More than four years later, 47 Senate Republicans reached out to Iran, urging officials in Tehran not to reach an agreement with the United States, all in the hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy. And once again, much of the world seems aghast -- including the officials Republicans hoped to push away from the negotiating table.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said the letter warning that any nuclear deal could be scrapped by a new president was "a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within." [...]
"All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change, but the American senators are officially announcing that at the end of the term of their current government, their commitments will be considered null and void," Ayatollah Khamenei wrote.
In case it's not obvious, Iran's highest leader has an incentive to make the United States look bad, so his criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. Khamenei has plenty of domestic political reasons to tell Iranians that the American establishment is, as he put it, "disintegrating."
But it's not just the Iranians who are unimpressed with the radical Republican stunt.
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