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Image: Antonin Scalia

This Week in God, 1.9.16

01/09/16 08:37AM

First up from the God Machine this week are some unsettling remarks from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who sounded an awful lot like the head of a religious right activist group last weekend.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday the idea of religious neutrality is not grounded in the country's constitutional traditions and that God has been good to the U.S. exactly because Americans honor him.
 
Scalia was speaking at a Catholic high school in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana.
At its root, Scalia's remarks emphasized two broad points. The first is the justice's belief that the United States has received divine favor in exchange for symbolic, rhetorical references from public officials.
 
"God has been very good to us," Scalia said. "That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done Him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke His name we do Him honor, in presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations, and in many other ways."
 
The second, and arguably more important, point was that Scalia believes government neutrality on matters of religion is fundamentally wrong: the Supreme Court jurist explicitly argued that there's nothing wrong with the government favoring "religion over non-religion," effectively making atheists and related secularists second-class citizens in their own country.
 
Or put another way, Scalia considers the principle of church-state separation obsolete, sees the Constitution's secularism as an annoyance, and prefers an American system in which government is so big, it falls to politicians and government officials to promote, support, and encourage religiosity.
 
My friend Rob Boston's reaction rings true: "Scalia has been on the court since 1986. In March, he will be 80 years old. Although he appears vigorous, there's a good chance he'll have to retire in the next few years. With any luck, his views on church-state relations, which seem to be anchored in the late-19th century (as does much of Scalia's worldview), will go out the courthouse door with him and never return."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Food Pantry volunteer Asia loads bottled water into a vehicle at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan's warehouse that will be distributed to the public, after elevated lead levels were found in the city's water, in Flint, Michigan, December 16, 2015.

How to help Flint, Michigan

01/08/16 06:39PM



Since we started covering the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where the drinking water has been poisoned with lead, we have received many calls from our viewers about how they can help.

The situation on the ground now is that many people still do not have filters to protect themselves from lead in their tap water. As we reported last night, there is no government-run program for giving bottled water to people who cannot afford to buy it. If you need water in Flint right now, your best choice is turning to one of the local nonprofits that are giving it away. At this point, those nonprofits are running solely on donations.

And that is where you come in. We talked to several of these Flint nonprofits today, and they broke it down for us like this:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.8.16

01/08/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* It's incredible the officer survived this shooting: "A man who shot and wounded a Philadelphia police officer sitting in a patrol car told investigators that he did it in the name of Islam and the Islamic State, police officials said Friday, adding that the gunman gave no indication that he was part of a broader conspiracy."
 
* Wasting no time: "President Barack Obama notified Congress on Friday that he has vetoed their legislation to repeal huge parts of the Affordable Care Act, because of course he did."
 
* Mexico: "Infamous drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who humiliated authorities when he tunneled out of a maximum-security prison in July, has been captured, Mexico's president said Friday."
 
* LePage: "Maine's tough-talking governor admitted he made a 'mistake' and apologized Friday for making what has been widely condemned as a racist remark at a town hall meeting. But Gov. Paul LePage insisted he was being unfairly pilloried for 'one slip-up.'"
 
* Wall Street: "U.S. stocks ended one of their worst opening weeks in history with another sharp decline on Friday, as concerns about sagging energy prices overwhelmed early optimism about stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs numbers and a stabilization of Chinese markets."
 
* Quakes: "Oklahoma was rocked Wednesday night by two of the state's largest earthquakes in recent years, further fueling scientists' concern that the continued burial of oil and gas wastes in seismically active areas was courting a much more powerful earthquake."
US President Barack Obama walks with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L) after arriving at Joint Base McGuire-Dix in New Jersey on May 28, 2013. Obama is traveling to the New Jersey shore to view rebuilding efforts following last year's Hurricane...

Christie: Americans have a president 'who we don't know'

01/08/16 04:32PM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered a widely noticed speech in September 2011, condemning President Obama in a fairly specific way. "We continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office," the governor said. "We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things."
 
Even at the time, the rhetoric was bizarre, since Obama has spent his entire presidency taking on "really big things," and more often than not, succeeding. But this week, Christie revised his entire perspective on the president, complaining Obama acts "as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator."
 
I've long been amazed at the degree to which conservatives have contradictory complaints about the president, and this is emblematic of the pattern. Obama can be a hapless bystander, doing too little, or he can be a tyrannical dictator, doing too much, but he can't be both.
 
On Monday, Christie went a little further. The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe noted this gem from the scandal-plagued governor:
"We have a guy in the Oval Office who we don't know. He's been serving us for seven years and we don't know him."
I suppose the obvious question for Christie is, "What do you mean 'we'?" After all of these years, some of us have gotten to know and understand this president quite well. After a two-year national campaign in 2007 and 2008, an autobiography, and seven years of intense scrutiny in the White House in which his every move was analyzed from every direction, it's hard to imagine the public knowing a stranger better than we know Barack Obama. There is no mystery about who this "guy" is.
 
But that's probably not where the governor is going with this.

The Great 2015 Sunday Show Race

01/08/16 03:30PM

In 2013 and 2014, then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) made more Sunday show appearances than anyone else in the country. But last year, Rogers was no longer in Congress, relinquishing his crown, and clearing the way for someone new to win the Great 2015 Sunday Show Race.
 
For the third straight year, I tallied up the guests for "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," "State of the Union," and "Fox News Sunday," and in 2015, Donald Trump was the big winner, making 36 appearances (Rogers won last year with 30). To put the Republican presidential frontrunner's tally in perspective, that works out to an average of roughly one appearance every 1.4 weeks -- or three Sunday show appearances a month, every month for a year.
 
It's worth emphasizing that many of Trump's 2015 appearances came via telephone -- as opposed to an in-person, sit-down interview -- which may lead some to believe his overall victory should come with an asterisk.
 
For those inclined to overlook his total, Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson were pretty busy on Sunday mornings, too, with each making 28 appearances.
 
Broadly speaking, once again, Republican voices easily outnumbered their Democratic counterparts last year. The above chart shows every political figure who made 10 or more Sunday show appearances this year -- based on Nexis transcripts and the shows' archives -- with red columns representing Republicans and blue columns representing Democrats.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivers a speech at the Library of Congress, Dec. 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Reaching the point at which even tears are politicized

01/08/16 12:48PM

During remarks on gun violence this week, President Obama was briefly overcome with emotion, and attendees and viewers could see tears on his face as the president reflected on the children massacred at Sandy Hook elementary.
 
Almost immediately, Obama's conservative media critics started complaining, with a variety of far-right figures arguing that the president had used some kind of trick and his emotional reaction to dead kids was insincere. Even by today's standards, it was unnerving to see such a callous display from the right.
 
Fortunately, when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sat down with Yahoo News' Katie Couric this week, he did not share any nonsensical conspiracy theories. But as TPM reported, when the Republican leader was asked about Obama being overcome, he came up with a curious response.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said although he was moved by President Obama's tearful gun control announcement this week, the deaths of citizens around the world at the hands of Islamic State militants should have warranted the same emotional response.
 
"I was affected by it, but I thought we should've had the same kind of reaction when James Foley was beheaded, when San Bernardino and Paris occurred," Ryan said in an interview with Katie Couric. "That's the kind of reaction I had when those occurred."
Wait, is this where the debate is headed? Crying over murdered children is fine, but only if it's accompanied by comparable reactions to violence Republicans consider politically salient?

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.8.16

01/08/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Planned Parenthood, for the first time ever, is making a presidential primary endorsement, throwing its support to Hillary Clinton. (Disclosure; my wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece or the endorsement.)
 
* On a related note, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also endorsed Clinton's campaign yesterday.
 
* Marco Rubio has become increasingly aggressive while going after Chris Christie, blasting the governor in a Fox Business interview yesterday over gun policy, education, and reproductive health.
 
* On a related note, Rubio has also begun complaining regularly about then-candidate Barack Obama's "cling to guns and religion" comment from eight years ago. What's that expression about never fighting the last war?
 
* During an interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday, Jeb Bush was asked repeatedly whether he'd commit to voting for Donald Trump if Trump wins the Republican nomination. The former Florida governor dodged every time.
 
* Former AIG chairman Hank Greenberg reportedly made a $10 million donation to Jeb Bush's super-PAC, but then distanced himself from the contribution, saying the money came from his company. "Listen, I like Jeb Bush. Sorry he's not living up to expectations but that's the reality of it," Greenberg said.
 
* Ben Carson claims "several" House Republicans approached him about becoming Speaker of the House last year, but he respectfully declined. Whether this actually happened remains unclear.
 
* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) announced he'll retire at the end of this Congress, ending a career that began in 2004.
A general view of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, Dec. 30, 2014. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

The election and the Supreme Court's 'make-or-break moment'

01/08/16 11:20AM

In October, a voter in Iowa asked Ted Cruz about the future of the Supreme Court. The Texas Republican had an answer at the ready.
 
"One more liberal justice and our right to keep and bear arms is taken away from us by an activist court," Cruz said. "One more liberal justice and they begin sandblasting and bulldozing veterans memorials throughout this country. One more liberal justice and we lose our sovereignty to the United Nations and the World Court."
 
Substantively, the remarks were ridiculous, but as we talked about at the time, they were nevertheless a reminder of the significance of the high court as a 2016 campaign issue. MSNBC's Irin Carmon added that Republicans, arguably more than Democrats, have acted as if the Supreme Court itself is "essentially on the ballot."
 
I think the point about the partisan imbalance is true, though I also believe that's starting to change. Hillary Clinton has a new op-ed in the Boston Globe this morning, emphasizing the importance of the high court in this year's election.
On Election Day, three of the current justices will be over 80 years old, which is past the court's average retirement age. The next president could easily appoint more than one justice. That makes this a make-or-break moment -- for the court and our country.
 
As president (and a lawyer and former law professor), I'll appoint justices who will protect the constitutional principles of liberty and equality for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or political viewpoint; make sure the scales of justice aren't tipped away from individuals toward corporations and special interests; and protect citizens' right to vote, rather than billionaires' right to buy elections.
To be sure, the piece didn't break new ground, so much as it summarized why the court and its future is of such critical consequence.
 
What matters, though, is the fact that the op-ed exists. With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries drawing closer, Clinton has a lot of options on which issues to emphasize. As of today, the Democratic frontrunner is putting the Supreme Court up front and center.

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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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