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This Week in God, 5.16.15

05/16/15 08:38AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a striking study on a new trend in American religiosity. As NBC News' Erin McClam reported this week, the percentage of the population that does not identity with any religion has grown dramatically in recent years, as the Christian population in the U.S. shrinks.
The Pew Research Center found that 22.8% of Americans were religiously unaffiliated last year -- up from 16.1% in 2007. That group includes atheists, agnostics and those who chose "nothing in particular."
 
Evangelical Protestants made up 25.4% of the adult population, down slightly from 26.3% in 2007. Catholics declined to 20.8% from 23.9%, and mainline Protestants to 14.7% from 18.1%.
 
In all, roughly seven in 10 Americans identified with some branch of Christianity, down from almost eight in 10 in 2007. The share of Americans who identify with a non-Christian faith grew to 5.9%, with pronounced growth among Muslims and Hindus.
The full report from the Pew Research Center is available online here. Note, in the chart I put together, "Non-Christian Faiths," refers to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others, which combined now represent nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population.
 
For those discouraged by the overall drop in American Christians -- the population has shrunk by roughly 5 million adults, just since 2007 -- the results are probably even more alarming when age breakdowns are considered. The Pew data found that while there was a drop in Christian affiliation among Americans of all ages, it is "particularly pronounced among young adults."
 
For Americans born in the 1980s, a third of the population is religiously unaffiliated. For those born in the first half of the 1990s, that number rises to 36%, narrowly behind Protestants at 38%.
 
Not surprisingly, the publication of the report has sparked considerable conversation, including in the political world, where Rush Limbaugh blamed President Obama for the recent shifts -- as if the results were necessarily discouraging and in need of a culprit bearing responsibility -- while Bill O'Reilly pointed the finger at "pernicious" entertainment he doesn't like. (I tend to think the politicization of religion is itself, ironically, a key factor in the recent trends.)
 
But whatever the cause of the shifting religious landscape, the political and cultural impact is likely to be significant. The New York Times' Nate Cohn explained, "Conservatives and Republicans, for example, have traditionally relied on big margins among white Christians to compensate for substantial deficits among nonwhite and secular voters."
 
We tend to think of the GOP's demographic problems as related to race: Republicans tend to rely heavily on white voters, which is a long-term problem in a country with increasing racial and ethnic diversity. But the religious demographics matter just as much: Christian conservatives are a key pillar of the GOP coalition. As the share of American Christian population falls, the pillars weaken.
Friday Night News Dump: Fearless edition

Friday Night News Dump: Fearless edition

05/15/15 09:53PM

Aaron Sarlo, both dangerous and fearless, takes the News Dump challenge and pits his wits against the details of the week's news for a chance to win some old junk, including a lanyard which may still bear some authentic Rachel Maddow neck epithelials. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 5.15.15

05/15/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Boston: "A jury on Friday sentenced convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the deadly attacks. The jury earlier found Tsarnaev guilty on all 30 criminal counts against him and on Friday handed down the death penalty on six separate counts."
 
* Amtrak: "Amtrak's CEO said Thursday that the railroad is safe, and getting safer, in an effort to reassure the public after one of the railroad service's trains derailed in north Philadelphia, leaving eight people dead and dozens injured."
 
* On a related note: "Transportation advocates say an automated train control system, which investigators said could have prevented this week's deadly Amtrak crash, needs more money, not just more time, to be installed. "
 
* ISIS: "Islamic State fighters took control of key sites Friday in the heart of Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province, in what appeared to mark a significant blow to a U.S.-backed military campaign to retake territory from the militants."
 
* Nepal: "A Nepalese search team Friday found the wreckage of a U.S. Marine helicopter that went missing this week while flying relief materials to earthquake-stricken villages."
 
* Unacceptable: "An internal affairs probe in Miami Beach found that two high-level former police officers sent hundreds of crude, racist and pornographic emails to fellow cops over a two-year period, the state's attorney and police officials say."
 
* A tidy summary: "House votes to keep funding a war it hasn't debated, authorized or even voted on."
Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) (R) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) walk away after a news conference on the Paycheck Fairness Act, at the US Capitol, on Sept. 10, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Watching the pay-equity debate go over the cliff

05/15/15 05:00PM

With heated political debates over the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which passed) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (which didn't), the issue of equal pay for equal work has been the focus of considerable attention in recent years. Some on the right, however, still seem unsure how best to discuss it.
 
The Huffington Post, for example, flagged a Fox News segment, where Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media who left the company in 2007, offered his own unique take on the gender pay gap.
"Women do earn less in American because they choose to," he said. "They would rather go to their daughter's piano recital than stay all night at work, working on a proposal, so they end up earning less. They're less ambitious." [...]
 
"This is sort of God's way -- this is nature's way -- of saying women should be at home with the kids," he said. "They're happier there."
McInnes, who did not appear to be kidding, soon told the woman seated near him, "You would be much happier at home with a husband and children."
 
When it comes to conservatives dismissing the issue of pay equity, these on-air comments will no doubt be put to good use by Democrats the next time the Paycheck Fairness Act comes up. Indeed, it's easy to imagine conservative policymakers being asked whether or not they agree with McInnes' ridiculous rhetoric.
 
But the substantive point is that the right, whether its misogyny is brazen or not, still can't speak coherently to the underlying question.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at an event on Feb. 4, 2015 in Detroit, Mich. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

'Your brother created ISIS'

05/15/15 04:21PM

It was the kind of confrontation that presidential candidates try to ignore, but serve as an important test of their fortitude. Campaigning in Nevada this week, unannounced presidential hopeful Jeb Bush effectively blamed President Obama for the rise of ISIS, arguing that Islamic State militants made gains after the war in Iraq ended.
 
As the New York Times reported, Ivy Ziedrich, a 19-year-old college student studying political science, decided to challenge the assertion in a very memorable way.
"It was when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out — they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons," Ms. Ziedrich said. She added: "Your brother created ISIS."
 
Mr. Bush interjected. "All right. Is that a question?"
 
Ms. Ziedrich was not finished. "You don't need to be pedantic to me, sir."
 
"Pedantic? Wow," Mr. Bush replied.
 
Then Ms. Ziedrich asked: "Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it's pointless wars where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?"
Bush conceded that the two will have to "respectfully disagree" on the matter, concluding, "Look, you can rewrite history all you want. But the simple fact is that we are in a much more unstable place because American pulled back."
 
Whether the former governor, who struggled with four different answers about Iraq over the course of four days, realizes this or not, America pulled back as part of a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by his brother.
 
As for whether George W. Bush "created" ISIS, the terrorist group, roughly speaking, is an outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which came into existence after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ensuing chaos, which the Bush/Cheney administration failed spectacularly to prepare for or deal with.
 
This does not require any "rewriting" of history.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Boehner would fail his own test of patriotism

05/15/15 02:54PM

The drama on Capitol Hill this morning was on passing the annual military spending bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but before we get into that, it's important to note the degree to which Republicans made the bill a test of patriotism.
 
The New York Times' report, for example, flagged these quotes from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Mr. Boehner, urged Democrats to support the bill, saying it should not be "a tough vote."
 
"This vote is about whether you support our men and women in uniform," Mr. Boehner told reporters Thursday.
The Republican leader added, before the vote, "I think it's downright shameful that [Democrats are] even contemplating turning their backs on American troops." After the vote, the Speaker added, "With all the threats our troops face and the sacrifices they make, Democrats' opposition to this defense bill is in fact indefensible."
 
This is a family blog, so let's just say Boehner's rhetoric is in fact bullpucky.
 
In the broadest possible sense, it's true that the NDAA funds the military, but to suggest that the spending bill is evidence of lawmakers' support for American troops is ridiculous. For one thing, a handful of Republicans voted against the NDAA this morning, and it's bizarre for the Speaker to suggest some of his own members don't support American servicemen and women.
 
For another, the spending bill included all kinds of controversial provisions, and the parties have genuine policy differences. That doesn't make opponents anti-military.
 
And finally, there's the small matter of Boehner himself voting against the NDAA in 2009 and 2010 when Republicans were in the minority. If a member's vote on this spending bill is "about whether you support our men and women in uniform," John Boehner fails his own test of patriotism.
 
By his own reasoning, the Speaker himself has "turned his back on American troops."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Walker gets ready for his religious-right audition

05/15/15 12:50PM

A couple of months ago, the New York Times reported on the religious-right movement's restlessness ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign. Christian right leaders realize much of the Republican establishment is rallying behind Jeb Bush, but they believe "values voters" will still have a key role in the nominating process and the movement wants a standard bearer of their own.
 
None of this came as a surprise. Indeed, we've seen social conservatives try these organizational efforts before, usually to little effect. What was surprising, however, was the religious right's shortlist: "In secret straw polls and exclusive meetings from Iowa to California, the leaders are weighing the relative appeal and liabilities of potential standard-bearers like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas."
 
The article made almost no mention of Gov. Scott Walker (R), and on the surface, it's hard to understand why. If the Christian right is skeptical of Bush, and polls suggest Walker is the other top-tier contender, why would social conservatives deliberately look past the Wisconsin conservative?
 
Politico reported yesterday on the unexpected dynamic -- and what Walker hopes to do about it.
Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher who says he takes his orders from God, has an unexpected problem on his hands: Many social conservatives don't trust him.
 
Next week, the Wisconsin governor will travel to Capitol Hill to hold a private meeting with influential evangelical leaders, some of whom are expressing deep reservations about his track record on issues near and dear to them. Pointing to his past statements, and even his hire of a top campaign aide, they are openly questioning whether his views on abortion and gay marriage align with theirs and whether he's willing to fight for their cause.
The piece quotes Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council and one of the movement leaders Walker will meet with on Tuesday, complaining that the Wisconsin governor once referred to social issues as a "distraction" -- a line the religious right is still annoyed by.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.15.15

05/15/15 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:
 
* Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton announced yesterday that he will not be a Republican presidential candidate this cycle, reducing the possible GOP field from 21 candidates to 20.
 
* Despite some mixed signals earlier in the week, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) announced she's running for the U.S. Senate in California after all. Democrats are optimistic about keeping her seat in 46th District  in party hands.
 
* With Sen. Dan Coats (R) retiring in Indiana, the DSCC hoped to find a competitive candidate for the open-seat contest. Dems are in luck: former Rep. Baron Hill (D), rumored to be interested in the gubernatorial race, is reportedly set to run for the Senate.
 
* In the state of Washington, Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant (R) announced this week that he's running for governor, hoping to take on incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee (D) next year.
 
* In Ohio, Democratic officials would love to clear the field for former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) as he takes on incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) next year, but Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld insisted yesterday he intends to stay in the race and challenge Strickland for the Dem nomination.
 
* Despite being under criminal indictment and struggling in the polls, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) will reportedly kick off his presidential campaign on June 4 in Dallas. It will be Perry's second attempt at national office.
A voter casts her ballot at a polling site in Georgia on May 16, 2014. (David Goldman/AP)

One step forward, two steps back on voting rights

05/15/15 11:20AM

For proponents of voting rights, I have some good news and some bad news.
 
The good news is, not every state is trying to place new hurdles between Americans and the ballot box. State lawmakers in Vermont this week easily approved an Election Day Registration bill that allows voters to show up, register, and cast a ballot, all on the same trip. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has vowed to sign the measure into law.
 
The bad news is, recent progress elsewhere is elusive. MSNBC's Zachary Roth reported yesterday on new-found opposition to online voter registration "in some big Republican-led states."
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's administration has used some outlandish claims in opposing an online registration measure. In Texas, GOP lawmakers voted down a similar bill citing concerns about fraud. And in Ohio, an online voter registration bill being pushed by the Republican secretary of state is stalled in the GOP-controlled legislature. 
 
The emerging intra-party split on the issue underscores a stark reality: Despite record low turnout last November, there are now essentially no policies for significantly expanding access to the polls -- save perhaps uncontroversial proposals to help service-members vote -- that the GOP wholeheartedly supports.
Wait, it gets a little worse.
Tom Emmer

An unexpected voice speaks up for foreign aid

05/15/15 10:41AM

It's the laziest applause line in American politics: let's cut foreign aid. Far too many voters assume the United States simply hands over a big chunk of our federal budget to benefit other countries, and politicians exploit that ignorance to further their own ambitions.
 
When elected officials push back against this knee-jerk position, it's heartening. When a far-right congressman does it, it's extraordinary. Over at ThinkProgress yesterday, Scott Keyes highlighted some unexpected comments from Rep. Tom Emmer, the Minnesota Republican who replaced Michele Bachmann in Congress.
Acknowledging his own past opposition to foreign aid -- for example, he floated the idea of pulling U.S. foreign aid in a 2012 Facebook post -- Emmer told viewers that his mind had changed on the matter after a recent trip to visit beneficiaries of foreign aid in Ethiopia and Kenya. "I have made the statement in the past that a dollar that we are spending for instance in Africa, in Kenya, is a dollar that we could probably be using at home to build a road or a bridge," Emmer said. "Well it's not that simple."
 
Instead, Emmer now argues, foreign aid can be a win-win. It helps pave the way for development in other countries, boosting their economies and in turn creating demand for American exports in the future. He recounted how an encounter with a dairy co-op in Kenya that has been boosted by funding from the United States Agency for International Development helped show him the light. "A dollar spent on [foreign aid] is a dollar that we won't have to spend on additional bombs and bullets and God forbid boots on the ground in the future," Emmer noted.
The GOP congressman added that federal funding for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is "frankly is less than one percent of our overall budget."
 
Genuinely pleasant surprises from this Congress are rare. Emmer's comments qualify.

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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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