Monday, August 30, 2021

The CIA's First Paramilitary Operation and the Allies We Left Behind

It was just a month ago that Sunisa (Suni) Lee became the first Hmong American to win an Olympic Gold Medal. She credits her step-father, John Lee, as her best friend and biggest supporter. In light of the events in Afghanistan over the last couple of weeks, his story is poignant.

John was 7 [in 1979] when his parents brought him and his siblings to the U.S. from Laos, one of several countries where the Hmong, an ethnic group of between 6 million and 12 million people, live. John's father was a Hmong soldier who fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War in what is now known as the Secret War.

Perhaps you've heard of the "Secret War" that took place in Laos from 1961 to 1973. It has been fairly widely reported that "the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history."

But the reason why the war was a secret is that the operation was carried out by the CIA - not the U.S. military. As Joshua Kurlantzick chronicled in his book, "A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA," it was "the largest covert operation in U.S. history." During a conversation with NPR's Dave Davies, he talked about how Laos was one of the first casualties of the so-called "domino theory."

Laos's civil conflict, which had started basically in the '50s, began to get larger and larger, and finally there was a coup in 1960 in Laos by a lower military officer, not necessarily a communist, but one who definitely wanted to change the system. So now you have, in American policy circles - which have already committed to this fear that communism is going to spread west through Asia, possibly into Thailand, maybe even into India and Indonesia - there is this fear that now Laos is going to turn communist.

 As Kurlantzick explained, Laos became a "perfect storm of opportunity" for the CIA.

The main host of CIA operatives continued to be drawn from a northeastern elite, Ivy League colleges, etc. and were analysts and intelligence agents. And the CIA was nowhere near the actor in U.S. foreign policy as the Department of Defense or the State Department. But with the Laos war, it was kind of a perfect storm of opportunity for the CIA. The CIA's deputy director who said it was a great place to have a war, which is where the title of the book comes from. I don't think it was a great place to have a war, but the CIA did.

The perfect storm was you had a country in Laos that was clearly important to U.S. foreign policy-makers at that time. But the State Department and the Defense Department didn't really know much about the country. They hadn't been that involved. The CIA had been a little bit more involved in the country - playing with elections in the late '50s and other things like that. And then, suddenly, you have this possibility from this extraordinary guy named Bill Lair who knows the area, connects with the Hmong. He's got a plan to train the Hmong. And it all comes together in this way.

And I think senior CIA leadership saw this as - this was a place where the CIA could control policy-making, where they could become more involved in what we called paramilitary activities - essentially military activities, but not the actual conventional war - and where the CIA could radically remake its central sort of being.

So the CIA recruited and trained Hmong soldiers, who initially fought communist forces in Laos, but went on to rescue downed pilots flying those bombing missions and worked to sabotage the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam. Over the course of this "secret war," some 40,000 Hmong soldiers were killed, an estimated one-fourth of the men and boys. 

Kurlantzick described how it all ended.

Nixon and Kissinger made a deal with North Vietnam, a peace deal, and that deal covered Vietnam...[but] didn't really bother to utilize the Laotian leaders in it at all. After the deal was signed at Paris, Kissinger and other officials came to Laos and basically said, hey, we signed this deal, and we're going to be downgrading your assistance and pretty much cutting you off from the war effort. So you're going to have to sign your own deal with North Vietnam. Make the best that you can do. It was a pretty serious abandonment.

With that, more than 120,000 Hmong people became refugees in their own homeland. 

But for the CIA, their first paramilitary operation was deemed a success.

[H]aving worked in Laos was now good on the CV because Laos was the place where the CIA gained power, had shown it could manage a paramilitary war, had boosted its budget.

And people who had been in Laos went on to new operations in Central America in the '80s - in Afghanistan in the '80s when the United States was assisting fighters against the Soviet-backed government. And even into the early days of post-2001 Afghanistan.

When you read about the CIA's paramilitary operations in places all over Latin America, keep in mind that it all began in Laos. 

Back in the 1990s, I worked with a lot of Hmong young people who were from John Lee's generation. They recounted horrific but awe-inspiring stories about how, as children, their families fled Laos - which meant crossing the Mekong River - to get to refugee camps in Thailand. Many of them spent their childhood in those camps, waiting to gain admission to the country their parents had fought for. 

Life was hard initially for Lee's generation (and his father's). But now there are over 325,000 Hmong people living in the U.S. - primarily in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California. As Suni Lee's generation demonstrates, they are making major contributions to this country. I am in awe of their courage and determination.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

An Alternative Narrative From Afghanistan

We are all grieving the loss of life that resulted from the terrorist attack by ISIS-K in Afghanistan on Thursday. But while Republicans scream about President Biden having "blood on his hands," let's take a step back and ponder the viewpoint of those who are putting their lives at risk. 

Those serving in Afghanistan are in the business of saving lives - fully aware that it might cost them their own. That strikes me as the most noble venture a human being can undertake. But even AFTER the bombing, when warnings continued about credible threats, they didn't let up. On Friday, another 6,800 people were evacuated, bringing the total to 111,900. As Breen said, "that is honor."

Take a look at what one of the civilians involved in transporting refugees from Germany to the U.S., Delta Airlines pilot Alexander Kahn, had to say about his involvement.

When those refugees reach Dulles airport, Chef José Andrés is there to meet them with a hot meal. 

Some of the refugees will have family or friends, who have been terrified about their fate, waiting to greet them.

While so many in the media are obsessed with the narrative about chaos and calamity and right wingers politicize the entire operation, let's not forget what this is all about. Members of the U.S. military are risking their lives to evacuate people from Afghanistan while other Americans are stepping up to support them in that journey. Don't let the haters rob us of the stories about these heroes. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Get Ready for Reporting at Politico to Get a Lot Worse

With all of the focus on events in Afghanistan, not much attention has been paid to the fact that German publisher Alex Springer bought Politico for approximately $1 billion. It just might be a marriage made in heaven.

Politico has been on the front lines of ramping up hysteria about chaos in Afghanistan.  

They even went so far as to cast doubt about White House reports on the number of people who have been evacuated from Afghanistan - with zero evidence the reports were inaccurate.

Over the years, this is the kind of story Politico became known for:

President Joe Biden is getting trashed by Democrats over the Middle East!

Vice President Kamala Harris isn’t acknowledging her Asian heritage!

Those were two breathless dispatches Politico posted this week, as the Beltway insider outlet did its best to gin up drama surrounding the Democratic administration. Apparently still longing from the non-stop news cycle of the Trump era and the relentless controversies and scandals that came with it, Politico has decided that during the No Drama Biden era the best strategy is to just make stuff up and post it as news.

In both gotcha articles it became abundantly clear that Biden is not being trashed by Democrats regarding the Middle East. And Harris is not being widely criticized for downplaying her Indian roots. Both premises are fabrications. How do we know? Because neither article contained evidence to back up the click-bait headlines.

The company that purchased Politico, Alex Springer, is a media conglomerate based in Berlin. Their flagship publication is the tabloid Bild, the highest-circulation newspaper in Europe with a daily readership exceeding 12 million. Here is how Thomas Meany described the publication:

The experience of reading Bild is a sugar-rush of gossip, accompanied by the clanging gong of headlines. As is traditional, scandals are designated for the front page, but in Bild’s current iteration, fear-mongering appears to be privileged over celebrity soup... 
According to the Bild worldview, the best way to counter the left is to portray its demands as totalitarian, and the best way to kill off the far right is to cannibalise its grievances...
Bild’s competitors on its right today come from Breitbart-esque news blogs such as Politically Incorrect. Bild seems to have done its best to outflank these outlets by covering the same kinds of stories as them, often in much the same tone. In more than one case, these articles have been false. In 2017, the paper ran a story about a mob of Arab men assaulting women in a Frankfurt restaurant, which police subsequently confirmed never happened.

To give you some idea of the approach Bild has taken to the coronavirus pandemic, their editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt made a video this month in which he asked forgiveness from the children of Germany for the measures that have been taken to reduce the spread of COVID.

To the millions of children in this country for whom our society is responsible, I want to express here what neither our government nor our Chancellor dares to tell you. We ask you to forgive us. Forgive us for this policy which, for a year and a half, has made you victims of violence, neglect, isolation, and loneliness. We persuaded our children that they were going to murder their grandma if they dared to be what they are, children. Or if they met their friends. None of this has been scientifically proven. When a state steals the rights of a child, it must prove that by doing so it protects him against concrete and imminent danger. This proof has never been provided. It has been replaced by propaganda presenting the child as a vector of the pandemic.

Of course, that message wasn't really meant for the children of Germany. It was a back-handed way of suggesting that the government had abused them. There is nothing more deplorable than using children to score points against your political opponent.

We don't know what the owners of Alex Springer have in mind for Politico. But it won't be much of a leap to turn it into an American version of Bild. What we'll have is a publication that bills itself as balanced and nonpartisan while it exploits fear, portrays the left as totalitarian, and pretends that the far right is part of the political mainstream. If so, move over RealClearPolitics, you've got a new competitor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Gottheimer 9 Are All That's Left of the Blue Dog Coalition

For about seven months now, the so-called "moderate" Democrats who've been in the news are Senators Manchin and Sinema. But as the House began to take up the infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation plan, the mantle passed to Rep. Josh Gottheimer and eight other members who wrote a letter threatening to upend the unified strategy to advance President Biden’s legislative agenda. Here is their demand:

Earlier this week, the Senate passed an historic bipartisan infrastructure package, with a supermajority of sixty-nine votes. President Biden swiftly applauded its passage, stating that he hopes Congress will send it to his desk as soon as possible. The House of Representatives should heed his call and immediately pass the legislation...

Some have suggested that we hold off on considering the Senate infrastructure bill for months – until the reconciliation process is completed. We disagree. With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this once-in- a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package. It’s time to get shovels in the ground and people to work. We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.

This week Speaker Pelosi finalized an agreement to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill no later than September 27th in exchange for their support on the rule to get the reconciliation process underway. 

The whole affair has me wondering what it means to be a moderate in the Democratic Party these days. What is it that motivates them? Pelosi, Schumer and the Biden White House were all on board with the plan to consider these two bills together (and based on the deal Pelosi negotiated, that might still happen). 

Of course, there are always those who assume that every politician who doesn't agree with them is caving to big money donors. The problem is that an explanation like that is always handy - no matter its accuracy - and it tends to cut off any other line of inquiry. So let's consider some alternatives.

If we take these representatives at their word, their letter suggests that they wanted the infrastructure bill to pass now so that projects could begin immediately. That is what Rep. Gottheimer told Punchbowl news earlier this week. But according to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, none of the money in the bill can be allocated until after the new fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1st. So why the rush?

Perhaps the most intriguing suggestion of what motivated these politicians is the one about how they represent "swing districts" where Trump performed well in 2020. As Bill Scher wrote, "They want to avoid being attacked in TV and digital ads with having voted with their party’s most loathed member (who will it be this time? Pelosi? AOC? Ilhan Omar?) 90 percent of the time."

The first problem with that reasoning is that we should all know by now that EVERY Democrat, no matter their voting record, will be tarred by the right wing as a "socialist extremist." But a deeper look at who did (and didn't) sign on with this group undermines the argument completely.

Only one of the nine who signed on to this strategy represents a district Trump won in 2020: Jared Golden, who represents Maine's 2nd district. Cook rates that district R+6. Here are the other eight:

  • Gottheimer, NJ 5th, R+1 (Trump lost by 6%)
  • Carolyn Bourdeaux, GA 7th R+2 (Trump lost by 6%)
  • Filmon Vela, TX 34th, D+5 (Trump lost by 4%)
  • Henry Cuellar, TX 28, D+5 (Trump lost by 4%)
  • Vicente Gonzalez, TX 15, D+3 ((Trump lost by 2%)
  • Ed Case, HI 1, D+14 (Trump lost by 29%)
  • Jim Costa, CA 16, D+9 (Trump lost by 20%)
  • Kurt Schrader, OR 5, D+2 (Trump lost by 10%)
It's clear that several of those representatives don't have much to worry about in 2022.

But another way to look at it is to wonder why Democrats like Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Ron Kind (WI-03), and Melissa Slotkin (MI-08) didn't sign on. They all represent districts that Trump won in 2020. In addition to those four, there are three relative newcomers to the House that I have been following. None of them signed on either.
  • Lauren Underwood, IL 14, R+2 (Trump lost by 2%)
  • Colin Allred, TX 32, D+1 (Trump lost by 10%)
  • Sharice Davids, KS 3, D+1, (Trump lost by 10%)
As you can see, there are a lot of Democrats representing swing districts that didn't sign on to undermine the strategy developed by their party's leaders. 

The one thing the Gottheimer 9 have in common (except for Filmon Vela who has already announced his retirement at the end of this term) is that they are all members of the Blue Dog caucus in Congress, which was formed after the 1994 elections. Here's how Stephanie Buck described their platform (emphasis mine):
The Blue Dogs didn’t utter a peep about social issues. Their rural Southern constituents’ biggest concerns were agricultural policy and farm programs, not same-sex marriage, equal rights, or gun control.

Instead, the 23 founding members publicly pushed for fiscal reform and a balanced budget. They would restore the voices of working-class Southerners who traditionally voted blue but who felt increasingly marginalized by wealthier, urbanized progressives (like Bill Clinton).

The Blue Dogs took a beating in the 2010 election, when they lost half their seats to Republicans. Conventional wisdom says that happened because they voted for Obamacare. Perhaps there's some truth to that. But Martin Longman articulated the big picture, noting that "the Blue Dog model is based more on financial necessity than ideological necessity."

The model for a successful Blue Dog is to take a hardline on spending and to a large degree on regulation. This endears them to the local business community which lavishes them with money. They need the money because the Democratic-voting constituents in their districts are often among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country, and they’re not in a position to fill a politician’s campaign coffers. A Democrat who runs in these rural districts without business support is going to be underfunded, and a Democrat who doesn’t at least neuter the local business community is going to be blasted out of the water when the money goes overwhelmingly to their opponents.

The Democrats have had a lot of success with this model, but it has some major disadvantages. People call this kind of campaigning “Republican-Lite” for a good reason. A Democrat who takes a conservative position on many social issues and a pro-business position on spending and regulations, is not a whole lot different from a Republican, and why wouldn’t people prefer a real Republican to a bad facsimile?

Martin's piece is titled, "The Blue Dog Model Is Dead." To the extent that it was a model that worked in rural America, it is now right wingers who are ignoring the economic interests of working class Americans while they focus on igniting a culture war. As Martin suggested, "Future rural Democrats will be successful by getting back to their roots as fierce protectors of small-town America, not by trimming on social issues and voting with the banks."

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Not Satisfied With Obstruction, Extremist GOP Is Betting on Chaos

Monday night, Tucker Carlson continued his campaign of hate and lies when he agreed with his guest, Jason Whitlock, that a lot of what the left supports is satanic. That's a theme that pops up among right wing extremists every now and then. For example, you might remember when Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham said that those who opposed Donald Trump were "demonic."

But for Carlson and Whitlock, their comments were initially based on projection - suggesting that the only agenda liberals have is to oppose Trump. But then Carlson took it a step further.

I've always wondered this -- what is the actual support for the ideas? Not, you know, do you like Trump or Biden? But, for example, do you think men can get pregnant? Or do you think some races are morally superior to other races? Like the core ideas of the Democratic Party.

He's suggesting that the core ideas of the Democratic party are that men can get pregnant and some races are morally superior to other races. That isn't just a hateful lie, Carlson knows it's not true. He is simply trying to incite his viewers into fits of rage. 

But let's take the opportunity to articulate some of the ideas the Democratic Party is putting forward. Right now they are in the midst of passing a massive $1.5 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that is long overdue — something even a few Republicans agree on. In conjunction, they are working on a $3.5 trillion budget plan. Here are a few of the ideas contained in that bill:

Low-income families would get what’s effectively a “child allowance” — money to help raise kids — for longer, via an expanded child tax credit. Seniors on Medicare would get new dental, vision, and hearing benefits, as well as lower prescription drug prices. The coming bill would create new programs for universal pre-K, subsidized child care, free community college, and paid family leave. Some unauthorized immigrants would be able to get green cards. Then there’s major spending on clean energy, housing affordability, and much more.

Democrats are also working on legislation to secure voting rights for all Americans, end gerrymandering, and limit the influence of money in politics.  Meanwhile, in addition to mounting a massive evacuation effort in Afghanistan, the Biden administration in prosecuting hundreds of cases against the insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol on January 6th, doing everything possible to get Americans vaccinated against COVID, restoring programs that would reduce migrant flows at their sources in Central America, shoring up our relationships with Asian countries to confront the challenges posed by China, attempting to re-negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, and nominating the most diverse slate of federal judges in our country's history.

Republicans are, of course, free to disagree with any of those ideas. That's what is supposed to happen in a democracy. But people like Carlson know that actually having a discussion about Democratic proposals would not go well for the GOP. Being against things like a tax credit that will cut the rate of child poverty in half wouldn't be a winning political argument. 

The calculation Carlson is making is that he doesn't want his viewers to know what the actual Democratic agenda is. He wants them to believe his lies and ramp up apocalyptic visions of a satanic opposition. That is all the right wingers have at this point — which is why they continue to escalate the so-called "culture wars."

I had to take a few minutes to decide whether to share this video from PoliticsGirl because I prefer tackling Republican talking points with facts. But I eventually realized that she isn't offering the flip side of right wing fear mongering. It is a rational response to the inflammatory rhetoric coming from folks like Carlson.

She's right. Rep. Chip Roy actually said, "Eighteen more months of chaos and the inability to get stuff done. That's what we want." The reason they need chaos is that, despite the lies and obstruction, Democrats are succeeding at what they promised — and that does not work for the Republicans.

When Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans dropped all pretense of having an agenda and simply relied on total obstruction of anything Democrats tried to accomplish. Fast forward to 2020 and it is clear that obstruction isn't enough this time. They're going with chaos fanned by lies, disinformation, and culture wars. That is a breathtakingly dangerous agenda. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

On Afghanistan, the media is demonstrating its alignment with the Blob.

Six weeks before he was inaugurated as vice-president in 2009, Joe Biden met with president-elect Barack Obama upon his return from a fact-finding mission to determine what the new administration was facing in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Peter Baker reported, the news about the latter was not good. 
“It has deteriorated significantly,” Biden said. “It’s going to be a very heavy lift.”...

“He came to question some of the assumptions and began asking questions about whether there might be other approaches that might get you as good or better results at lower cost,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who has been consulted by Mr. Biden on the matter...

“His concept was to keep a small footprint, have an offshore strategy as the sole approach to seeking better security and stability in Afghanistan and focus on counterterrorism and the hard-core ideologues who won’t change,” General McNeill said.

Former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren recently wrote this about why the situation in Afghanistan had "deteriorated significantly."

Whether Joe Biden made any serious tactical mistakes in the withdrawal is irrelevant in the larger scheme, because Afghanistan was doomed almost from the beginning. It started out ostensibly as a hunt for Osama bin Laden and his protective cadre of al Qaeda. But in December 2001, as U.S. and allied special forces began to narrow the search down to the Tora Bora mountains near the border with Afghanistan, strange information began to cross my desk at the House Budget Committee, where I then worked as a defense budget analyst.

The budget supplemental requests told the story of a huge military buildup in progress. Was it perhaps to send more U.S. ground troops to establish a cordon around the Tora Bora area to supplement the pathetically few special forces on the job? No, the troops and their gear were bound for the Persian Gulf, to prepare for the invasion of Iraq – a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Senator Bob Graham was one of the few members of Congress who were disturbed by the fact that capturing bin Laden – ostensibly the cause of all our problems – played second fiddle to George W. Bush’s personal vendetta with Saddam Hussein, particularly when the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, told Graham the administration was even pulling critical forces already in Afghanistan to move to the Gulf.

We now know that it was eventually President Obama who tracked bin Laden down in Pakistan and sent in special forces to eliminate the threat he posed.

That is just some of the context that reporting about the current situation in Afghanistan has completely ignored. Both right wing and major media outlets are obsessed with words like "chaos," "doom," and "failure" to describe what they see as a massive miscalculation by Biden. In wrestling with that obsession, Josh Marshall suggests that they have "bought in" to what Ben Rhodes once referred to as "the Blob" (the American foreign policy establishment).

[O]fficial DC, which means the city’s elite national political press, was deeply bought in. This doesn’t mean they were warmongers or rah-rah militarists...But they were deeply bought in in ways that are likely best seen in sociological terms. Countless numbers embedded with US military formations. They accompanied members of Congress on “CODELS” to the warzones. They’ve been immersed with a Pentagon which has spent two decades building hammers to hit nails in the Middle East and Central Asia. Their peers study and write in the world of DC think tanks focused on the best ways of striking those nails...

What we see in so many reactions, claims of disgrace and betrayal are no more than people who have been deeply bought into these endeavors suddenly forced to confront how much of it was simply an illusion...Nowhere has this been more blindingly clear than in the Capital’s news-driving email newsletters and the eager voices of the same folks on Twitter, ramping themselves up into escalating paroxysms of outrage and doom casting over the ugly scenes emerging on viral videos, all the while overlooking their support for the policies that made the events inevitable. The intensity of the reaction, the need to stay tethered to the imagery of Sunday and Monday, is a perfect measure of the shock of being forced to confront the reality of the situation in real time.

What made it all hit home for me was a line from CNN's Luke McGee. He described Biden's decision to end our military occupation of Afghanistan by saying that the leader of the free world was "washing his hands of a global problem." Behind a statement like that is the assumption that the only way the U.S. can engage global problems is via military intervention. 

I was reminded that in 2016, then-President Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg that "real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence." He went on to talk about his own struggles with "the blob" —which he referred as the Washington playbook on foreign policy.
“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Neither Obama nor Biden are anti-war. But they're also both smart enough to know that when it comes to foreign policy, the United States isn't limited to militarized responses. Here's how Biden addressed that during his remarks about Afghanistan last week:

We will continue to support the Afghan people. We will lead with our diplomacy, our international influence and our humanitarian aid. We’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability. We’ll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls, just as we speak out all over the world.

I’ve been clear, the human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do it is not through endless military deployments. It’s with our diplomacy, our economic tools and rallying the world to join us.

I can hear the cynics now. They're saying: "that will never work!" But we've been engaged militarily in Afghanistan for almost 20 years now. How did that work?

The point here is that media outlets have bought into the Washington playbook's assumption that violence is the only way for the U.S. to exert power in the world. I am personally grateful that Biden knows there are other tools we can deploy.  

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Price People Pay for Living in a White Supremacist Bubble

The manufactured controversy over critical race theory is primarily designed to eliminate discussions about the history of racism in this country — especially in classrooms. But when white people are ignorant about this country's history, they end up writing ridiculous commentary like this piece at the Washington Examiner by Timothy Carney.
[From the 2020 census,]Texas gained the most black people, nearly 700,000, of any state in the country. Georgia and Florida were second and third place, increasing their black populations by 450,000 and 390,000, respectively. All three states were governed by Republican governors with Republican-run legislatures throughout the decade. Texas saw its black population grow by 23% while Georgia and Florida saw 15% and 13% growth respectively...

In short, if you were a person of color in the United States over the past decade, especially a black person, looking to move or have children, the GOP-run states of Texas, Florida, and Georgia were the most attractive places to live.

Surely this suggests that conservative Republican governance creates desirable conditions for nonwhite Americans.

The first thing Carney should know is that, in the first census after the Civil War, Blacks were less than two percentage points away from constituting a majority in Florida and just under four in Georgia. At the time, 90% of African Americans lived in Southern states. Then came the terror campaign by groups like the KKK, resulting in the Great Migration. Six million African Americans fled to urban areas in Northern and Western states. By 1970,  nearly half of all African Americans lived in Northern cities.

At the beginning of the 21st century, organizations like the Brookings Institute began chronicling the New Great Migration, in which Black people were moving back to the South. As they explained, one of the primary destinations was the state of Georgia. The 2010 census confirmed that the New Great Migration was well underway.

The percentage of the nation’s black population living in the South has hit its highest point in half a century, according to census data released Thursday, as younger and more educated black residents move out of declining cities in the Northeast and Midwest...

The share of black population growth that has occurred in the South over the past decade — the highest since 1910, before the Great Migration of blacks to the North — has upended some long-held assumptions...

Atlanta, for the first time, has replaced Chicago as the metro area with the largest number of African-Americans after New York.

We can all speculate about the reasons Black people are moving back to the South. For some, it is in search of greater economic opportunity. But there are other factors as well. William Frey, who has documented the movement, pointed to "tradition" and "cultural ties." Millions of Great Migration participants left behind aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. "It will always have the sense of ancestral history," Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, said.

Here is what Charles Blow wrote about African Americans in the South heading into the 2020 Democratic primary:

According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, there are 1,200 majority-black towns and cities in America, about 1,000 of which are in the South. And the number of majority-black cities is on the rise.

In addition, almost all of the largest cities in the Deep South, as I have defined it, are majority-black with a black mayor.

Speaking of the South more broadly, every one of the top 10 states with the highest percent of black population is in the South.
Blow pointed that out to make the point that Black people in the South have recently been gaining power in municipal politics.
Those voters may be less excited by a national revolution because they are living through a very real revolution on the ground. They are feeling their power in cities and increasingly in statewide races.
That brings us to the present. It is clear that Carney is just as ignorant about what is happening today. Perhaps he should pick up the book, The Devil You Know, by Charles Blow. The New York Times columnist not only moved to Georgia, he's calling on other African Americans to join him.
Simply put, my proposition was this: that Black people reverse the Great Migration — the mass migration of millions of African-Americans largely from the rural South to cities primarily in the North and West that spanned from 1916 to 1970. That they return to the states where they had been at or near the majority after the Civil War, and to the states where Black people currently constitute large percentages of the population. In effect, Black people could colonize the states they would have controlled if they had not fled them.

While Carney wants you to believe that African Americans have been attracted to Georgia by GOP governance, that's not exactly what's happening.

In November, Georgia voted blue for the first time since Bill Clinton won the state in 1992. A majority of those who voted for Joe Biden were Black. This week, Georgia elected its first Black senator in state history — indeed the first popularly elected Democratic Black senator from the whole South: Raphael Warnock, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Georgia also elected its first Jewish senator — only the second from the South since the 1880s: Jon Ossoff.

Perhaps most striking, the Warnock win was the first time in American history that a Black senator was popularly elected by a majority-Black coalition. It was a momentous flex of Black power.

So Carney is totally ignorant about what is going on in states like Georgia (or at least he assumes that his readers are ignorant). That is the price people pay for living in a white supremacist bubble. As Black power in the South continues to flex, it is going to totally catch them off guard. It kind of reminds me of this surfer:

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Culture War Christian Nationalists Ignited as a Direct Attack on Democracy

Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers, attended the Road to Majority convention, an annual gathering of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which was held this summer in Kissimmee, Florida. Speakers included Republican politicians like Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Ron DeSantis, Lindsey Graham, and Madison Cawthorn. Stewart wrote an article about a few things that surprised her at the convention. This is the one that grabbed my attention:

Two decades ago, an ideology called “Seven Mountains Dominionism” was considered so fringy that it was never allowed near the podium with Republican political leaders. Now, that very same ideology is a heartbeat away from everything that happens in the Republican Party. This year, in fact, the Road to Majority featured a breakout session titled “The Seven Mountains of Influence.”

Seven Mountains dominionism is the conviction that Christians of a certain hyperconservative variety should rightfully dominate the main peaks of modern civilization in the United States and, ultimately, the world. The ideology reportedly got its start in 1975, when Loren Cunningham, a missionary leader, and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as “Cru”), allegedly heard messages from God urging them to invade the “seven spheres” of society, which by their reckoning included government, media, education, business, entertainment, religion, and family. According to the late C. Peter Wagner, a key proponent of the ideology, the responsibility of Christians to take over “whatever molder of culture or subdivision God has placed them in” is really a matter of “taking dominion back from Satan.”

That last bit about Satan gets to the throbbing heart of this political ideology. In Kissimmee, speakers and panelists inveighed that America is “on the precipice,” careening toward a “socialist revolution,” “anarchy” and “chaos, and is under the thumb of the most despicable human beings imaginable—namely Democrats, who were referred to as “the enemy,” “Satanic,” and “agents of evil.”

I'd like to unpack all of that a bit more. First of all, we seem to be living in an era where ideologies that used to be considered "fringy" have become mainstream in the Republican Party. That is frightening enough.  But to the extent that Seven Mountains dominionism is "a heartbeat away from everything that happens in the Republican Party," perhaps it is time we all understood it better.

Prior to its launch by Cunningham and Bright in 1975, the foundation was laid by the man who is often credited with being the founder of Christian nationalism — R. J. Rushdoony (1916-2001). Here is what Stewart wrote about him in The Power Worshippers:

The views of the theologian who lies at the center of so much influence are not hard to state simply and clearly: Rushdoony advocated a return to “biblical” law in America. The Bible, says Rushdoony, commands Christians to exercise absolute dominion over the earth and all of its inhabitants. Women are destined by God to be subordinate to men; men are destined to be ruled by a spiritual aristocracy of right-thinking, orthodox Christian clerics; and the federal government is an agent of evil. Public education, in Rushdoony’s reading of the Bible, is a threat to civilization, for it “basically trains women to be men,” and represents “primitivism,” “chaos,” and “a vast integration into the void.”

At the heart of Rushdoony's argument for dominionism are two biblical passages. Genesis 1:28 commands men to have “dominion” over “every living thing.” And in Matthew 28:18-20, the “Great Commission,” Jesus commands his followers to proselytize to the world. 

Drawing on the work of theologian Robert Lewis Dabney, Rushdoony argued that the American Civil War "destroyed the early American Republic, which he envisioned as a decentralized Protestant feudal system and an orthodox Christian nation." Rushdoony saw the North's victory as a "defeat for Christian orthodoxy." In his book The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony wrote that "Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies" because democracy asserts the will of man over the will of God. 

The visions that brought Cunningham and Bright together in 1975 were based on a prophecy in Isaiah 2:2: "In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it." Various groups have identified the seven mountains differently, but as Stewart suggested, they tend to include government, media, education, business, entertainment, religion, and family. Adherents refer to it as the Seven Mountains Mandate. In other words, Christians are mandated to hold dominion over every aspect of society. 

As Stewart suggested, the whole idea lay dormant until 2000 when Cunningham met with “strategist, futurist and compelling communicator” Lance Wallnau, and told him about the vision of 25 years earlier. Wallnau, a 63-year-old business consultant based in Dallas immediately saw the idea’s potential and began promoting seminars and training courses on the theory as a “template for warfare” for the new century. Its real surge in popularity began in 2013, when Wallnau co-authored the movement’s call to arms, Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate, with Bill Johnson, pastor of a prominent California megachurch.

As Republicans go on and on about so-called "religious liberty" these days, it is helpful to keep in mind what Gary North (Rushdoony's son-in-law) wrote in 1982 (emphasis mine):

We must use the doctrine of religious liberty…until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

None of this is about religious liberty. It is all about Christian nationalists demolishing democracy in an attempt to set up a theocracy. They want to deny religious liberty to those they consider to be the "enemies of God." That is what was on the agenda at the Road to Majority convention this summer.  

As Stewart reported, all of this is based on portraying anyone who doesn't agree with them (namely Democrats) as "Satan" and "agents of evil." That is the foundation of their so-called "culture war." Fear-mongering about that has reached epic proportions lately. As just one example, Tucker Carlson isn't the only one claiming that freedom is threatened in the U.S. more than it is in Hungary. Take a look at what  Sumantra Maitra wrote at The Federalist.

People fearing for their jobs due to imposed social taboos and state-mandated ostracism for anyone who oppose extreme social deviancy such as criminal thuggery, as well as unchecked sexual “liberation” and open borders fuelled by an ever-growing NGO-cracy. Does that sound like a “totalitarian Hungary” or the United States?

Those kinds of lies are circulating all over right wing media and being spouted by Republican politicians. That is how they are attempting to ignite their culture war. It all reminds me of something blogger Lance Mannion wrote almost four years ago. He noted that the only Beatitude right wing Christians take to heart is "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." Why would they cling to that one? Here's what Mannion wrote:

They like feeling persecuted. They need to feel feeds their self-pity and sense of entitlement, and it gives them their excuse.

It’s how they turn offense into defense, how repression and oppression become liberty.

If they are under attack, then they’re free to fight back.

How do you ignite a "culture war" to destroy our democracy in the name of establishing a theocracy? The first order of business is to identify the enemy who is persecuting you — even if those claims are all based on lies. That gives you an excuse to fight back. 

I've always thought that one of the core principles of conservatism is the identification of an enemy as an excuse for authoritarian policies. For years it was the Soviet Union. Then it became terrorists. These days, there are those on the right who are trying to make China the next great threat. But in reality, Republicans have settled on a domestic enemy. It is you and me and anyone else who doesn't accept their dominion over every aspect of society - including government. The culture war they're fighting is a direct attack on our democracy.

For reference, here are some of the web sites I visited and articles I read about this topic:

Seven Mountain Dominionist Groups:

Articles about Seven Mountain Dominionism

  • A Nation Under God, by John Sugg
  • Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America, by John Fea
  • Dominionism is the New Religious Freedom, by Frederick Clarkson
  • The Radical Theology That Could Make Religious Freedom a Thing of the Past, by David Brockman
  • The 'modern apostles" who want to reshape America ahead of the end times, by Elle Hardy

Sunday, August 8, 2021

One political party not only refuses to govern, but is in the business of creating crises.

 During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden said that this country faced four historic crises:

  1. The worst pandemic in 100 years
  2. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression
  3. Emboldened white supremacy unseen since the 1960s
  4. Undeniable acceleration of the punishing reality of climate change
Via executive orders and the reconciliation process, the president has taken bold steps to address each of those crises, all without a single vote of support from Republicans. While that seems likely to change with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Norman Ornstein provides this warning (emphasis mine):
You don’t have to be a Machiavellian to understand another reason Mr. McConnell was willing to hand Mr. Biden a victory on infrastructure: By looking reasonable on this popular plan, claiming a mantle of the kind of bipartisanship that pleases Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and that mollifies suburban moderate Republicans in key states, Mr. McConnell can more easily rally his troops behind their goal of obstruction and delay for every other important Democratic priority, including the blockbuster reconciliation bill, as well as voting rights and election reform.                                 

Should the infrastructure bill pass with Republican support, it will be the one and only major piece of bipartisan legislation to clear the Senate this term. 

But there's something even more important that is going on with Republicans. Not only are they trying to stop Democrats from addressing the four crises Biden identified...they're creating new ones. Just as we were all breathing a sigh of relief that Biden's push to get people vaccinated would move us beyond the covid crisis, Republican governors and right wing media fanned the flames of disinformation — leading to another spike of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Meanwhile, Republicans fought the establishment of a bipartisan commission to investigate Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election. They refuse to disassociate themselves from the former president's "Big Lie" and are actually siding with the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. New information continues to surface about those events that makes Nixon's crimes pale in comparison. It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans are at least passively supporting an attempted coup. 

The fact that Republicans will attempt to obstruct voting rights and election reform is linked to the fact that they are using those issues to create another crises — one that threatens the very foundation of our democracy. According to the Brennan Center, as of today, 18 states have passed 30 laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote.

It was alarming when, in the midst the Great Recession, Mitch McConnell rallied his troops to block Democrats from doing anything to address the crisis. Demonstrating the fact that the Republican Party has climbed even further down the rabbit hole, they are now in the business of creating new crises — even ones that threaten our democracy. 

Democrats now face a list of overwhelming issues that all require immediate attention. As just an observer, it has actually become difficult to keep up. It's as if Biden was already trying to juggle too many balls, but Republicans keep throwing more at him. 

We can all come up with our own list of how to prioritize which of these crises need to be handled first. That is part of the dissension that sometimes surfaces among Democrats these days. But let's just be honest: they are all critical and the levers of government were designed to be slow. So let's dispense with criticizing Democrats for not addressing our own personal priority first and keep our focus on calling out those who are creating the chaos in the first place.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Why Do Christian Nationalists Embrace Authoritarianism?

It has been clear for a while now that the movement in this country away from democracy and towards authoritarianism is being welcomed primary by Christian nationalists (both Protestant and Catholic) — even as they pretend to embrace the American flag and our Constitution. Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers, once wrote this:

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

As someone who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, church, and community, I've grappled with questions about what it is that makes authoritarianism attractive to so many of the people I grew up with. I've reached the conclusion that it all comes down to their belief in original sin: the idea that all humans are born sinners. 

As an example of how pernicious the theology of original sin can be, John Piper—who was a theology professor at the evangelical Christian college I attended—once told those of us who were social work majors that, when working with non-Christians, we shouldn't try to build up their self esteem. That is because they are sinners and should feel guilty. I heard the same thing from my father, who told me that my work at a secular drug treatment program for chemically dependent youth was a waste of time. Unless I shared the gospel with them, I was simply paving the way to hell for them more comfortably. 

Piper recently wrote a piece about Christian disapproval of gay pride. His views about homosexuality are abhorrent. But he also captured the evangelical view of redemption from original sin. He starts by suggesting that homosexual desires are no different than his own sinful desires (emphasis mine). 

[T]hese sinful desires arise unbidden and fully formed in my heart. I do not choose them. I do not plan for them. I do not want them. I am ashamed of them. They simply present themselves in ways that I strongly disapprove of and regret. Not just because I am prone to coddle them, but also because of the sheer fact that they are there. They are part of my natural condition. Apart from Christ, they are who I am...

By God’s grace, I turn against them. I renounce them. By the blood of Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, and for God’s glory, I seek to obey Colossians 3:5: “Put to death . . . what is earthly in you."...I take hold of long-tested strategies of spiritual battle and make war.

Piper comes back to the idea of putting your "earthly" self to death when he writes about how the death of Jesus provides redemption.

The cross of Christ declares my depravity, and delivers me from it. The Christian heart is a broken and forgiven heart.

But something else happened when Jesus died. All his people died with him. When we are united to Christ by faith, his death becomes not only the punishment of our sins, but also the death of our sinful nature. Our old, rebellious, selfish, arrogant nature dies.

You might notice a bit of a contradiction. One the one hand, Piper says that our sinful nature dies when we become "united to Christ by faith." But on the other hand, he talks about continuing to make war against what is earthly in us. In the end, he is suggesting that Christians face an ongoing spiritual battle to put to death our sinful nature — this is who we are. We do that by obeying God's laws.

From a psychological standpoint, that view of human nature makes it extremely difficult to mature developmentally. For example, it means never getting beyond Kohlberg's second stage of moral development.

Notice that the stage of "authority and social order," requires "fixed rules." In other words, morality is based on laws, making obedience to forces outside ourselves the foundation of morality. For people like Piper, that is where moral development ends. Our own human nature must die and be replaced with obedience to God's laws. 

The question becomes: who gets to define God's laws? That is where authoritarian leaders emerge and denominational splits come into play. For example, most Christian nationalists believe that God is pro-life, so they are against abortion. But is birth control against God's laws? How about assisted suicide? Or the death penalty?

Former Attorney General William Barr outlined how all of this plays out politically during his speech at Notre Dame two years ago. Here is how he talked about human nature and original sin.

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.

No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.

Barr suggests that religion (read: Christianity) is necessary in a free society because it is the only means for "restraining individual rapacity."

[T]o control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

For Barr, the alternative is secularism.

I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack.

On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.

On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.

By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.

Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.

Note that for Barr, the only two options are (1) adherence to "our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system, or (2) moral relativism. You hear that a lot from evangelical Christians. That is because, outside obedience to their definition of God's laws, they believe that human beings are incapable of being moral. So Barr goes on to blame the absence of "our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system" for everything from illegitimacy to drug addiction.

To sum up, the reason Christian nationalist are inherently authoritarian is because they believe that:

  1. Human beings are inherently evil
  2. Our human nature must die 
  3. Morality is defined by obedience to God's laws
People who believe that need to have God's laws identified for them to obey. As such, they are susceptible to what their leaders define as "a biblical world view." In her book, The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart identifies some of what that has come to encompass:
  • opposition to public assistance to the poor as a matter of principle—unless the money passes through church coffers;
  • opposition to environmentalism and, as a matter of theology, denies the science that human contributions to greenhouse gases causes global warning;
  • opposition gun regulation;
  • support for strong national borders;
  • privatization of schools;
  • a gender hierarchy in both the home and church, with women being submissive to men;
  • the use of corporal punishment when discipling children;
  • government deregulation of business and minimal workers rights; and
  • capitalism and property rights.
In other words, these are no longer political beliefs, but are part of God's law. That is just one of the ways that religious and political identities have been merged for Christian nationalists.

Perhaps it becomes clear then, why Christian nationalists embrace authoritarianism in ways that threaten our democracy. Human beings can't be trusted with self-government because they are, by nature, sinful. They want a Christian nation that obeys God's laws — as they define them. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Was it Rep. Cori Bush's Sit-In That Convinced Biden to Issue a Moratorium on Evictions?

As I noted recently, I have been fascinated by a piece Bayard Rustin wrote back in 1965 focused on the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was moving from protest to politics. He defined two groups that were an impediment to that process: (1) moderates, who are willing to accept the status quo because the problem is so enormous and complicated, and (2) those who pursue a "no win" policy. Here's what he wrote about the latter:

Sharing with many moderates a recognition of the magnitude of the obstacles to freedom, spokesmen for this tendency survey the American scene and find no forces prepared to move toward radical solutions. From this they conclude that the only viable strategy is shock...These spokesmen are often described as the radicals of the movement, but they are really its moralists...

My quarrel with the “no-win” tendency in the civil rights movement (and the reason I have so designated it) parallels my quarrel with the moderates outside the movement. As the latter lack the vision or will for fundamental change, the former lack a realistic strategy for achieving it. For such a strategy they substitute militancy. But militancy is a matter of posture and volume and not of effect.

Rustin was referring to the "no-win" group when he wrote that "our problem is posed by those who accept the need for political power but do not understand the nature of the object and therefore lack sound strategies for achieving it; they tend to confuse political institutions with lunch counters."

I thought about that when I read all of the stories giving Rep. Cori Bush credit for pressuring Biden to issue a moratorium on evictions. Was it her sit-in on the Capitol steps that did the trick? Or was it the pressure applied by Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she issued a statement reading:

On Thursday, the President asked Congress to pass an extension of the eviction moratorium. Sadly, it is clear that the Senate is not able to do so, and any legislation in the House, therefore, will not be sufficient to extend the moratorium.

Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration. That is why House leadership is calling on the Administration to immediately extend the moratorium. As the CDC doubles down on mask-wearing and vaccination efforts, science and reason demand that they must also extend the moratorium in light of the delta variant. Doing so is a moral imperative to keep people from being put out on the street which also contributes to the public health emergency.

Or perhaps the Biden administration simply needed a couple of days to sort out their legal options.

The White House had been scrambling to figure out exactly what its legal options were for continuing the moratorium. On Monday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Biden had asked the C.D.C. on Sunday to consider extending the moratorium for 30 days, even just to high-risk states, but that the C.D.C. had “been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium.”

A day later, however, the administration appeared ready to barrel through legal challenges and embrace a solution that did just that.

Personally I applaud Rep. Bush's determination to use a sit-in to make her case. It reminded me of the time Rep. John Lewis staged a sit-in on the House floor to pressure Republicans into bringing up a gun reform bill (which ultimately didn't happen until Democrats gained a majority in the House). But when it comes to actually making something happen, both sit-ins confused "political institutions with lunch counters." They were about "posture and volume...not effect."

That's because political solutions require power, most often in the form of leverage. As an example, Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that she will not bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill up for a vote in the House until the Senate passes the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. THAT's how you use leverage. Neither Bush nor Lewis had any — they were simply bringing attention to an issue they thought needed to be addressed.

The truth is that we don't know what spurred Biden to move on the moratorium. Even if Bush's sit-in was part of the equation, it's clear that the president already wanted to go there. If you doubt that, just imagine how Biden would have responded to a sit-in to end a moratorium on evictions. 

Rustin's point was that political power comes from building coalitions in order to create an "effective political majority." Progressives don't yet have an "effective political majority" in this country. That's where we need to focus. 

The Fusion of White Supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and Misogyny

J.D. Vance, the Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, has made news lately by blaming the county's ills on childless liberals. As Philip Bump explained, Vance's pet issue is getting more Americans to have children.

While it is obviously women who have children, Vance focuses on how it benefits men.

“We need more American children because American families, American children are good for us,” Vance said. “They make fathers more invested — there’s all kinds of research on this. They make our economy more dynamic. They make fathers more empathetic, more invested in their communities.”

Undergirding that claim, Vance joins white supremacist Tucker Carlson in espousing a version of replacement theory.  

But, [Vance] noted, he is always accused of being racist for elevating new children over population increases through immigration.

“There’s just no comparison between the positive effects of children and the positive effects of an immigrant,” he said. He insisted that he loved immigrants but added that “you can’t have so many people coming to the country at a time when our own families aren’t replicating themselves” — a parallel argument to the “White replacement theory” espoused by people such as Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.

“The idea that you can just replace children with immigrants,” he added, “is — it’s a sociopathic way of looking at the future.”

Carlson is in Hungary this week attempting to beef up support for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The picture above shows the chyron used just prior to his interview with Orbán. Note the conflation of "families" and "borders."

While much of the discussion about Orbán has focused on the ways he has consolidated power in Hungary to dismantle democracy, less attention has been payed to the fact that he has implemented a policy of "procreation not immigration," which embodies his version of replacement theory.

Hungary’s “procreation, not immigration” policies have their roots in “replacement theory.” This doctrine holds that white women are not producing enough babies and Christian, western civilizations will be “replaced” through the twin forces of falling birth rates and increasing immigration. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for example, has argued that “there are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population” and has vowed to fight those who want “an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others.”

Riva Seigel and Duncan Hosie pointed out that all of this lays the groundwork for a union of anti-abortion and anti-immigration policies—or a melding of white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and misogyny—that took root in the Trump administration.

In the abstract, these two issues—restricting abortion and immigration—appear separate and disjointed. On this account, those who oppose abortion are worried about life-taking and those who oppose immigration are worried about job-taking.

But the President has a growing number of supporters who understand opposition to abortion and immigration as intertwined—as means of preserving a white, Christian America. And the Trump Administration is taking concrete steps to encourage this ideational fusion.

As just one of the steps taken to encourage that fusion, Trump’s HHS provided $5.1 million Title X family-planning funds to an organization called Obria, which aims to be a pro-life alternative to Planned Parenthood. In 2015, Obria’s founder and current chief executive explained, “When [Europe’s] nations accepted contraception and abortion, they stopped replacing their population. Christianity began to die out. And, with Europeans having no children, immigrant Muslims came in to replace them, and now the culture of Europe is changing.” She warned that America is “on the same track as Europe” and that “[i]n only two of the past 40 years have we replaced our population.”

In other words, what we're seeing from all of this are the seeds for the kind of authoritarian misogyny Margaret Atwood portrayed in the Handmaid's Tale. That is terrifying.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

It's Time to Rethink the Narrative About Moderates and Progressives in the Democratic Party.

In case you hadn't heard, there was a special election primary this week for the House seat vacated by Biden's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge. On the Democratic side, Shontel Brown, a member of Cuyahoga County Council, defeated Nina Turner, national co-chair of Bernie Sander's 2020 presidential campaign. The reaction was the same-old lazy journalism we see so often from most major media outlets. Here are a few of the headlines:

In String of Wins, ‘Biden Democrats’ See a Reality Check for the Left, by Alexander Burns at the New York Times

Nina Turner's Loss in Ohio Means Biden Doesn't Need to Keep Caving to the Left, by James Hohmann at the Washington Post

Establishment prevails as Brown beats Turner in Ohio special election, by Ally Mutnick at Politico

Why Democrats Still Need Moderates, Anne Kim, at Washington Monthly

The narrative all of these writers have bought into is that Brown represents the "establishment," or moderate center-left wing of the Democratic Party, while Turner represents progressives or so-called "base" voters in the party. But guess whose campaign web site lists these priorities:
  • a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines,
  • extending the moratorium on evictions during the covid pandemic
  • expanding coverage to achieve universal health care
  • passing the George Floyd Justice for Policing Act, the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act
  • paid family and medical leave
  • universal Pre-K, free community college for all, free four-year public college for families making under $125,000
  • aggressive action on climate change with net-zero emissions by 2050 and a carbon-free power sector by 2035
Yes, those are just some of the things supported by the so-called "moderate Democrat" in that particular race, Shontel Brown. In any other era, that would be considered a strong progressive platform. It also just so happens to align pretty well with the platform put forward by the current Democratic president, Joe Biden. 

So what separated these two candidates? Brown emphasized working with Democrats to achieve her priorities. On the other hand, Turner told Peter Nicholas that she had no appetite for the candidates in the 2020 presidential election, suggesting that "It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.” Turner also nodded in approval when a campaign surrogate called Rep. James Clyburn "stupid." 

What should seem obvious to anyone is that running against Democratic leaders in a Democratic primary is not a great strategy. And yet, that seems to be what the so-called "progressive" wing of the party is intent on doing.

There are, however, some folks who are catching on. The organization Our Revolution – which was founded by Bernie Sanders and initially led by Nina Turner — is starting to rethink their message.
Rather than insisting on “Medicare for All” — Sanders’ trademark universal, government-funded health care plan — or the climate-change-fighting Green New Deal, Our Revolution is focusing on the more modest alternatives endorsed by President Joe Biden. Those include expanding eligibility for the existing Medicare program and curtailing federal subsidies for fossil fuel companies...

“Coming out of Bernie’s 2016 campaign, in some ways the organization was probably more of a bridge organization between the two electoral cycles,” Joseph Geevarghese, Our Revolution’s executive director, said in an interview. “What we’re trying to build is something that is longer term” and “part of the overall ecosystem of the progressive movement.”

“I think we are rooted in a bold, progressive vision, but we’re also pragmatic progressives,” Geevarghese said.

As someone who has been referring to myself as a "pragmatic progressive" since Obama's first term in office, I got a kick out of that rebranding. Back in 2015 I wrote some of my thoughts about what that label means. Perhaps the most important distinction is that folks like us align with progressive goals, but  differ on process and strategies. 

Along those lines I recently read a fascinating piece by Bayard Rustin, the man who is most responsible for incorporating nonviolent protest into the Civil Rights Movement and organizing the March on Washington. In 1965, he wrote that the civil rights movement was evolving from a protest movement into a full-fledged social—or political— movement. He posited that "A conscious bid for political power is being made, and in the course of that effort a tactical shift is being effected: direct-action techniques are being subordinated to a strategy calling for the building of community institutions or power bases."

There is a strong moralistic strain in the civil rights movement which would remind us that power corrupts, forgetting that the absence of power also corrupts. But this is not the view I want to debate here, for it is waning. Our problem is posed by those who accept the need for political power but do not understand the nature of the object and therefore lack sound strategies for achieving it; they tend to confuse political institutions with lunch counters...

Neither [the civil rights] movement nor the country's twenty million black people can win political power alone. We need allies. The future of the Negro struggle depends on whether the contradictions of this society can be resolved by a coalition of progressive forces which becomes the effective political majority in the United States...

The task of molding a political movement out of the March on Washington coalition is not simple, but no alternatives have been advanced. We need to choose our allies on the basis of common political objectives...[T]he objective fact is that Eastland and Goldwater are the main enemies—they and the opponents of civil rights, of the war on poverty, of medicare, of social security, of federal aid to education, of unions, and so forth...

The issue is which coalition to join and how to make it responsive to your program. Necessarily there will be compromise. But the difference between expediency and morality in politics is the difference between selling out a principle and making smaller concessions to win larger ones. The leader who shrinks from this task reveals not his purity but his lack of political sense.

I am amazed at Rustin's prescience. In addition to recognizing the need for coalitions in order to gain political power, he basically defined the next stage of the civil rights movement to be one of addressing what we now call "systemic racism," all while identifying the early stages of movement towards income inequality.

So according to the lazy journalism practiced by current political commentators, was Rustin a center-left moderate or a progressive? Of course, I would say "neither." He was obviously a full-fledged pragmatic progressive. 

It is beyond time to re-think the old narrative in order to capture what is actually happening in the Democratic Party today.

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to report...