President Obama has been awfully busy of late, tackling a variety of measures since the midterm elections seemingly delivered a major setback to his governing agenda. But as the latest releases from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay make clear, Obama's not done yet.
As of two weeks ago, the administration had cleared 13 prisoners for transfer this calendar year, including seven since early November. Over the weekend, the pace quickened once more.
The United States transferred six detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison to Uruguay this weekend, the Defense Department announced early Sunday. It was the largest single group of inmates to depart the wartime prison in Cuba since 2009, and the first to be resettled in South America.
The transfer included a Syrian man who has been on a prolonged hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention without trial, and who has brought a high-profile lawsuit to challenge the military's procedures for force-feeding him.
Guantanamo has been a point of contention between the White House and outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, with the Pentagon chief being slow to approve transfers.
With Hagel stepping down upon confirmation of his successor, the dynamic has obviously changed.
There are now 136 detainees remaining, 67 of whom have been cleared for transfer. If those releases move forward, and security conditions are met, that would leave just 69 men at the prison. As the New York Times report added, those 69 "are either facing charges before a military commission or deemed unable to be tried but too dangerous to release."
Of course, for the White House, which has spent several years trying to close the facility, only to be blocked by Congress, the gradual reduction in the number of detainees inches towards the broader goal: the smaller the prison population, the less inclined lawmakers may be to invest in its continued existence.
Just one day after we learned that a New York grand jury would not indict the police officer responsible for Eric Garner's death, Sen. Rand Paul talked to msnbc's Chris Matthews about the developments. As far as the Kentucky Republican was concerned, Americans should "blame the politicians" who raised cigarette taxes.
Soon after, Jon Stewart, highlighting Paul's comments, replied, "What the f*** are you talking about?" It was a normal, human reaction to the senator's explanation, but apparently, the GOP lawmaker was talking about the increasingly common explanation on the right for Garner's killing. Here was Rush Limbaugh on Fox News' Sunday show yesterday:
"This all misses the point. What was Eric Garner doing? He was selling cigarettes, loose cigarettes. And the police in New York, because they're so eager for tax collection -- what is being done here with regard to taxes and the state's desire to collect them no matter what, how many cops were descended on that situation for cigarettes? [...]
"You've got $13 a carton, $13 a pack in New York City, over $6 of that is taxes. And the authorities are telling the cops, 'You go out and you stop that,' because they're so intent on collecting tax revenue. I think the real outrage here is that an American died while the state is enforcing tax collection on cigarettes. This is just absurd. And it, you know, people talk about the left, they want a big state. They want a powerful state. Well, here it is. You've got to take all of it. If you want a powerful state, there's your police force acting on demands of the authorities to go out and make sure that every dime of tax is collected particularly from tobacco. Look how we stigmatize tobacco."
There's some debate about the exact wording Lyndon Baines Johnson used after he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the most common version of the story, LBJ referenced the future of the Democratic Parry and said, "There goes the South for a generation."
Fifty years later, that prediction is holding up quite well. Zach Roth reported over the weekend:
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Louisiana Senate runoff election Saturday night, giving the GOP its 54th seat in the upper chamber when Congress reconvenes next year.
The Republican Party now holds every statewide office in the swath of seven states that used to make up the Solid South for Democrats: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
That phrase, "Solid South," used to describe Democratic control of the South, which was completely dominant in the generations that followed the Civil War. It now has the exact opposite meaning -- it took a half-century, but the region has completely flipped.
Indeed, as Nate Cohn reported, "In a region stretching from the high plains of Texas to the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas, Republicans control not only every Senate seat, but every governor's mansion and every state legislative body."
Think about that for a moment. In the early 1960s, Democrats controlled every Senate seat in the South, every governor's office, and every state legislative chamber. Now, from the Lone Star State to the Carolinas -- or more specifically, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas -- Democratic control has dropped to literally nothing.
Landrieu's Senate seat has been held by a Democrat every year since 1883, but no longer.
First up from the God Machine this week is a provocative argument from one of the more high-profile figures from the world of religion and politics.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who's reportedly gearing up for another Republican presidential campaign, told a right-wing audience this week that "the words 'separation of church and state' is not in the U.S. Constitution, but it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union. That's where it very, very comfortably sat, not in ours."
To be sure, Santorum has never been a fan of the First Amendment principle -- he once said the argument makes him want to "throw up" -- but to suggest church-state separation is communist is pretty outrageous.
As famed church-state lawyer Leo Pfeffer once explained: "It is true, of course, that the phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear in the Constitution. But it was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people...." In other words, church-state separation is a summary of the Constitution's religion clauses. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Roger Williams was talking about church-state separation in 1644. More than 100 years later, key founders like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson championed the idea. Madison, who is widely considered to be the "father of the Constitution," was a primary drafter of the First Amendment. In a document known as the "Detached Memoranda," Madison wrote, "Strongly guarded ... is the separation between religion & Gov't in the Constitution of the United States."
Here's a newsflash for Santorum: Williams, Jefferson and Madison were not communists.
As for the constitution from the USSR, it copied a variety of our First Amendment principles -- including freedom of speech and press, which the Soviets promptly ignored -- but it obviously doesn't mean our First Amendment is communist.
But even putting all of that aside, what I'd love to know is what Santorum would, if he had the power, replace the American tradition with. If the Pennsylvania Republican could, he'd apparently knock down Thomas Jefferson's church-state wall in its entirety. Fine. But what exactly would he prefer as an alternative? Does Santorum see theocracies abroad as a superior model?
Rachel Maddow reports on powerful Typhoon Hagupit, poised to strike the Philippines, even as the country is only still recovering from the devastation wrought by last year's Super Typhoon Haiyan. watch
Christina Wise, expert Rachel Maddow Show viewer joins Rachel Maddow and the Friday Night News Dump crew to test her memory of the past week's news coverage for a chance to win a prize with the potential to make hair grow. watch
Rachel Maddow follows up previous reporting on the pending execution of Texas death row prisoner of questionable mental health, Scott Panetti, with the execution now stayed by a federal court so his case may be more closely considered. watch
Brian Thompson, WNBC New Jersey correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about a new interim report on the New Jersey bridge lane closures, and newly leaked information suggesting that several federal indictments are likely to come in January. watch
Rachel Maddow alerts viewers to the upcoming Friday Night News Dump segment, which, though produced by the most highly skilled professionals in the business, does rely on some shaky internet infrastructure, adding that much more drama to the event. watch
Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, talks with Rachel Maddow about just-completed march from Ferguson to Missouri's capitol, Jefferson City, and the racist attacks the marchers endured on the way. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on another night of protests around the United States as protesters fill streets and shopping areas, driven by outrage over recent high profile cases police-involved deaths of unarmed black men, most recently Eric Garner of New York watch