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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal leaves after a press conference, Nov. 5, 2014, in Atlanta. (Photo by Branden Camp/AP)

Georgia's GOP governor vetoes 'religious liberty' bill

03/28/16 12:30PM

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) had a decision to make. His allies in the Republican-led Georgia legislature recently passed a "religious liberty" bill intended to curtail LGBT rights in the state, and the measure was backed by Deal's social-conservative friends. At the same time, however, business leaders throughout Georgia balked and pressured the governor to veto the legislation.
Which ally would Deal disappoint? The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this morning on the governor's decision.
Gov. Nathan Deal said he will veto the "religious liberty" bill that triggered a wave of criticism from gay rights groups and business leaders and presented him with one of the most consequential challenges he's faced since his election to Georgia's top office.
The measure "doesn't reflect the character of our state or the character of its people," the governor said Monday in prepared remarks. He said state legislators should leave freedom of religion and freedom of speech to the U.S. Constitution.
In the same remarks, the governor urged his fellow Republicans to take a deep breath and "recognize that the world is changing around us."
Deal was re-elected to a second term in 2014, is prevented by term limits from seeking a third, and has said he has no interest in running for any other office. I mention this because, while the religious right is furious this morning, these far-right activists won't be able to impose any kind of electoral punishments on Georgia's GOP governor.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.28.16

03/28/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Just when it seemed we were finally done with primary debates, Bernie Sanders now wants another showdown with Hillary Clinton. Since the start of their race, the two presidential hopefuls have already participated in 8 debates and 10 forums.
* On CNN yesterday, Sanders again suggested he might try to persuade Democratic superdelegates to override the pledged delegates elected through primaries and caucuses. "When they begin to look at the reality, and that is that we in poll after poll are beating Donald Trump by much larger margins ... a lot of these superdelegates may rethink their position with Hillary Clinton," the senator said.
* On ABC yesterday, Donald Trump continued to keep the candidates' spouses in the spotlight. Referring to Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz's wife, Trump said, "There are things about Heidi that I don't want to talk about, but I'm not going to talk about them. I mean, you know, you can look, but I wouldn't talk about them."
* After the Cruz campaign apparently outmaneuvered Team Trump on delegate selection in Louisiana, Trump called the process "unfair" and said there's a "lawsuit coming."

* Fun little fact: this is the first week since the Iowa caucuses that there are no nominating contests for either party. For campaign watchers feeling a little weary, that's the good news. The bad news is there are still more than two months to go -- and we're technically still closer to the beginning (Iowa was nine weeks ago) than the end (the D.C. Democratic primary is 11 weeks from tomorrow).

* Last summer, Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) faced pressure to resign over a campaign-finance scandal. He refused to step down. There was widespread speculation that the New Hampshire Republican would fail in a primary this year, but late last week, one of Guinta's top GOP rivals quit the race.
* Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), facing an uphill climb in his re-election bid in Illinois, seems to be basing much of his campaign on hostility towards Syrian refugees.
Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

One state surprises on automatic voter registration

03/28/16 11:20AM

When it comes to registering to vote in the United States, the burden has traditionally been on the individual -- as regular readers know, if you're eligible to vote, it's up to you to take the proactive steps needed to register. A growing number of progressives are eager to flip the model, however, creating a system of automatic voter registration.
The idea is exactly what it sounds like: states would automatically register eligible voters, shifting the burden away from the individual. Those who want to withdraw from the system can do so voluntarily without penalty, but otherwise, Americans would be added to the voters rolls automatically. A year ago this month, Oregon became the first state to adopt this policy, and California followed soon after.
Which state would be next? Vermont looked like a strong contender, and a few weeks ago, its state House passed automatic registration by a vote of 137 to 0. But the Associated Press reported on an unexpected state poised to join the club before Vermont.
A push to automatically sign up voters that began with new laws in Oregon and California will soon likely hit a third, notably less liberal state -- West Virginia.
The proposed change has taken a less-than-conventional route to the governor's desk.
After condemning a Republican voter-ID bill as the "voter suppression act," Democrats offered an amendment to include automatic registration when people get driver's licenses or IDs. The Republican-led Legislature accepted it without much resistance.
And that's the unexpected part. While Republicans tend to be reflexively hostile towards any proposal to make voting easier and voting access wider, in West Virginia, GOP leaders, like Republicans in Vermont's state House, were more than happy to go along on this.
West Virginia state Senate President Bill Cole (R) actually said automatic registration can be "a great benefit to our citizens and will encourage more people to go to the polls."
That's true, but it's not the position most Republicans generally take.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory in Charlotte, North Carolina November 6, 2012. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

New lawsuit challenges NC's controversial discrimination law

03/28/16 10:41AM

It seemed pretty straightforward when the city of Charlotte, N.C., approved an anti-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT Americans. But the response has been anything but simple.
As Rachel noted on the show on Friday, North Carolina's Republican-led legislature was so outraged by the expansion of civil rights that it held a special, emergency session last week to pass something called H.B. 2, which, among other things, scrapped the policy approved by local Charlotte officials. Gov. Pat McCrory (R), as expected, signed the bill into law last week.
As of this morning, the fight is now headed to federal court. WRAL had this report out of Raleigh:
Gay-rights groups and others who say they'll be wronged by North Carolina's new law preventing Charlotte and other local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules are wasting little time trying to stop it in court.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and Equality North Carolina scheduled a Monday news conference in Raleigh to announce federal litigation challenging the law, approved last week by the legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.
"By singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law, H.B. 2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution," the lawsuit argues.
BuzzFeed added that the complaint makes the case that the law "violates people's equal protection, privacy, and liberty rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and their civil rights under Title IX of the Education Act of 1972."
It's worth emphasizing that the controversial North Carolina law goes beyond anti-LGBT discrimination and the abandonment of local control. TPM had a report that pointed to an additional wrinkle:
Florida Gov. Scott Visits Opening Of Advanced Pharma Facility- 09/25/13

Florida's Rick Scott signs drastic anti-abortion measure into law

03/28/16 10:00AM

It was the kind of bill that made Florida the subject of national ridicule once again: the Republican-led state legislature passed a measure intended to cut funding to reproductive health clinics, and in the process, the state would direct women to dentists and optometrists for reproductive care.
But the bill, signed into law late last week by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), is even more drastic than it appeared at first blush. The Orlando Sentinel reported over the weekend:
The law, which takes effect July 1, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, requires annual licensure inspections for clinics and bans the purchase, sell or transfer of fetal remains. The law upgrades the failure to properly dispose of fetal tissue from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.
These provisions, of course, come on top of the bill's principal purpose: denying public resources to women's health clinics that provide abortion services. Taxpayer funding of abortion was already illegal, but the new Florida law takes a step further, blocking money for preventive medical care at the same facilities in which privately funded abortions occur.
Planned Parenthood, the intended target of the Republican offensive, noted that as a result of the new law, thousands of low-income women in Florida will no longer have access to contraception, tests for sexually transmitted infections, and cancer screenings. That, of course, is why the bill's sponsors provided a list of medical facilities that will pick up the slack -- a list that included dentists, optometrists, and health clinics in elementary schools.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Kansas Republican faces fierce far-right backlash

03/28/16 09:20AM

A variety of far-right activist groups are furious with one of their ostensible allies, and they're eager to make their feelings known. The target of conservatives' ire is Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas -- who last week said Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland should receive a confirmation hearing before being rejected.
Adam Brandon, head of the conservative activist group FreedomWorks, said Mr. Moran's support for a vote on Judge Garland "is a perfect example as to why conservative activists have no faith in their elected officials."
"They send a signal that Republicans will sell out their principles when it becomes politically convenient to do so," he said.
The Topeka Capital-Journal in Moran's home state of Kansas reported that the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal group, announced late last week, "We are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a robust, multi-faceted TV, digital, and grassroots campaign designed to remind Senator Moran that he represents the people of Kansas and neither President Obama nor the Democratic Party."
The same article noted that the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund is considering an election-year plan in which far-right activists would urge Milton Wolf, who ran an unsuccessful Senate primary campaign in 2014, to take on Moran this year. Wolf hasn't ruled it out, saying the other day, "Jerry Moran is living proof that Washington career politicians lie to voters and are bad at their jobs."
For good measure, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, called Moran's remarks "outrageous," "crazy," and "politically stupid."
Given all of this, one might think Moran had endorsed Garland's nomination, or perhaps defended the judge's qualifications. But that's not what happened. Moran actually took the opposite position. The right is livid with a conservative senator who wants to defeat a judicial nominee the right opposes.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at a rally in Florence, S.C. (Photo by John Bazemore/AP)

Trump's newest dubious boast: 'I do know my subject'

03/28/16 08:40AM

Last week, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had a fairly long conversation with the Washington Post, which tried to explore his views on foreign policy in detail. The discussion made it abundantly clear that the GOP candidate simply has no idea what he's talking about. It's not just that Trump's arguments are wrong; it's also that he seems lost when it comes to basic details.
On Friday afternoon, it was the New York Times' turn. Alas, it appears efforts to teach Trump about international affairs aren't going well.
In criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, he expressed particular outrage at how the roughly $150 billion released to Iran (by his estimate; the number is in dispute) was being spent. "Did you notice they're buying from everybody but the United States?" he said.
Told that sanctions under United States law still bar most American companies from doing business with Iran, he said: "So, how stupid is that? We give them the money and we now say, 'Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,' right?"
But Mr. Trump, who has been pushed to demonstrate a basic command of international affairs, insisted that voters should not doubt his foreign policy fluency. "I do know my subject," he said.
It's quite clear, of course, that he doesn't know his subject. The full transcript has been posted online, and honestly, it's hard to even know which parts to highlight -- because so much of the interview is incoherent. Andrea Mitchell noted on "Meet the Press" yesterday that Trump "is completely uneducated about any part of the world." The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg added on "Face the Nation" that it's "remarkable to imagine that someone who shows so little interest in understanding why the world is organized the way it is organized is this close to the presidency of the world's only superpower."
Trump noted, for example, that countries with "nuclear capability" represent the "biggest problem the world has." Soon after, however, the candidate argued that the United States has to "talk about" allowing Japan and South Korea to have a nuclear arsenal of their own. He also referred to his fear of "nuclear global warming," whatever that is.
Asked about U.S. policy towards China, Trump added this gem: "Would I go to war? Look, let me just tell you. There's a question I wouldn't want to answer. Because I don't want to say I won't or I will.... That's the problem with our country. A politician would say, 'Oh I would never go to war,' or they'd say, 'Oh I would go to war.' I don't want to say what I'd do because, again, we need unpredictability."
In other words, just take a guess, American voters, before casting a ballot about about the possible intentions of the country's next Commander in Chief. Trump won't tell you before the election, but don't worry, he promises to be "unpredictable" -- in a "winning" way.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives for a rally at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., March 25, 2016. (Photo by Steve Dykes/AP)

Following Bernie Sanders' latest landslides, what's next?

03/28/16 08:00AM

A couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, laid out his short-term expectations for the Democratic presidential race, which now appears rather prescient. As Mook saw it, Bernie Sanders would win the next five caucus states with relative ease -- Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and the state of Washington -- while coming within striking distance in Arizona.
After Clinton's bigger-than-expected win in Arizona, one of Mook's predictions looked a little off, but the rest of the assessment was quite sound. Last week, Sanders cruised to easy wins in Idaho and Utah, and over the weekend, the independent senator did it again.
Bernie Sanders swept all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, with decisive victories over front-runner Hillary Clinton in Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii, according to NBC News analysis.
Speaking to a rapturous crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, after his victory in Alaska, Sanders declared his campaign was making "significant inroads" into Clinton's big delegate lead.
Sanders was supposed to do well in Saturday's caucuses, but let's be clear: he did extremely well, winning by margins ranging from 40 to 70 points. As for "significant inroads," the final numbers are still coming together, but it looks like Sanders will end up with a net gain of 60 to 70 pledged delegates.
By most measures, Saturday was Sanders' single best day of the entire presidential race: three lopsided landslides, which, when combined, gave the Vermonter his biggest net delegate gain of 2016.
That's the good news for Sanders and his supporters. The bad news is, well, just about everything else.
Saturn's B ring is the most opaque of the main rings, appearing almost black in this Cassini image taken from the unlit side of the ringplane.

Week in Geek - Evolution of Saturn edition

03/27/16 01:20PM

The formation of the solar system is still a very open question in astronomy. Some things we understand, some things we don't. New work by astronomers proposes that Saturn's rings and moons may have formed billions of years after the Sun burst into light and Saturn and its brethren took shape.

Saturn's rings were first discovered by Galileo in 1610, but the first moon wasn't detected until 1655, when Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens took advantage of advances in telescope technology to study the planet in more detail. It was originally assumed that the rings (and moons) formed simultaneously (astronomically speaking) along with the entire solar system. However, evidence to the contrary is now being found. In 2012, astronomers in France found that some the moons closer in are actually spiraling slowly away from Saturn.

Building on that research, astronomers at SETI and the Southwest Research Institute have used computer simulations to dynamically model the evolution of Saturn's inner moons. The results suggest that moons beyond the orbit of Rhea are likely the oldest, but the ones closer in are younger and their orbits around Saturn haven't had as much time to evolve - i.e., their current locations are not far from where they likely formed. Ages for these moons based on these assumptions come out to less than 100 million years old (which likely applies to the rings as well).

Lead researcher, Matija Cuk, summarized it thusly:

"Our best guess is that Saturn had a similar collection of moons before, but their orbits were disturbed by a special kind of orbital resonance involving Saturn's motion around the Sun. Eventually, the orbits of neighboring moons crossed, and these objects collided. From this rubble, the present set of moons and rings formed."

This means that while dinosaurs were roaming the Earth during the Cretaceous Period, Saturn was ringless! Mind. Blown. Those dinosaurs will never know the beauty they missed.

Here's some more geek from the week:

read more

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

This Week in God, 3.26.16

03/26/16 08:17AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a congressional effort to codify a policy that helps refugees of one religion, but not another.
Last fall, a variety of Republican leaders and presidential candidates suggested a refugee policy in which the United States favored Christians, but not Muslims, fleeing ISIS and Syria's civil war. ThinkProgress noted this week, however, that one GOP senator has taken the extra step of introducing federal legislation related to the idea.
In an interview with radio host Kevin Miller on Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) spoke about his new bill to make it much easier for Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS-related violence to resettle in the United States.
"I think the U.S. has a moral imperative to try and save these Christians and the other small minority groups," he said. "So I would create a special kind of visa program that wouldn't take any access away from anyone else in the United States, but would recognize that Christians -- like Jews in the Soviet Union -- are being singled out for persecution and elimination. That's in our interest, as it is in combating the Islamic State."
To be sure, the barbarism ISIS has shown towards Christians and the Yezidis is heartbreaking. It's also true, however, that most of ISIS's victims have been Muslims, many of whom have fled their homes in search of refuge.
And when U.S. officials have taken steps to offer protections for Muslim Syrian refugees running from ISIS, Tom Cotton has helped lead the opposition.
In November, responding to arguments from Republicans, President Obama argued, "When I hear folks say that well maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war torn country is admitted ... that's shameful. That's not American, that's not who we are."
Cotton's bill, introduced this week, does not yet have any co-sponsors.
Also from the God Machine this week:
NC hammered with backlash over anti-gay law

NC suffers backlash over law allowing anti-LGBT discrimination

03/25/16 09:41PM

Mayor Jennifer Roberts, of Charlotte, North Carolina, talks with Rachel Maddow about North Carolina's new anti-gay law blocking measures to protect the LGBT community from discrimination, and the backlash from citizens and businesses whose sense of decency or inclusiveness policies are offended by the law. watch

Western caucuses primed for Sanders

Western caucuses primed for Sanders

03/25/16 09:05PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the upcoming Democratic caucuses in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska, pointing out the myriad factors that give Senator Bernie Sanders and advantage in these particular contests. watch


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