Sunday, January 30, 2022

Unlike Trump, Biden Follows Through on His Promises to Working Class Americans

As Robert Shapiro recently noted, "the Biden job boom is bigger than we thought." Even since that piece was published, the good news continues to roll in.

But no one at the White House is ready to simply rest on their accomplishments. 

As Teaganne Finn documented, "the farm sector has fared quite well under the new administration." Not only are commodity prices up, the president's "competitiveness agenda" has a long-term strategy of helping farmers compete with monopolies like the four companies that control 85% of the meat-packing business.

Building on an executive order from July 2021, the Biden administration announced earlier this month it intends to provide $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to help expand independent processing capacity, and provide funding that would give independent meat producers access to cold storage and other equipment to improve distribution of their products.

Both the coronavirus pandemic and Trump's trade war with China created a shortage of semiconductor chips that are not only used in computers, but have become standard equipment in things like cars. That shortage became a major contributor to inflation. 

Recently the American technology company Intel announced that it will invest $20 billion to build a semiconductor factory in Ohio. At the end of a video clip of company executives explaining their long term plans to make this the largest semiconductor manufacturing plant in the world, Senator Sherrod Brown replied by saying, "Nobody's calling us the Rust Belt anymore."

But that isn't the end of the story. While all of the media has been focused on the failure of the Senate to pass the Build Back Better Act, the president is focused on passage of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which includes $52 billion to incentivize more private sector investments in the semiconductor industry. The Senate has already passed that legislation and it is now being taken up in the House.

As soon as next week, the House is expected to consider a $250 billion proposal to strengthen U.S. technology, manufacturing and research as the Biden administration tries to address global shortages in areas such as computer chips that have contributed to the surge in inflation.

President Biden is fond of saying that addressing climate change means jobs. That was highlighted last week by this announcement:

General Motors said Tuesday that it would spend $7 billion to build a battery plant in Michigan and overhaul an existing factory outside Detroit to begin producing electric pickup trucks by 2024.

The investment will create 4,000 jobs and significantly increase G.M.’s capacity to build electric vehicles in the United States, the company said.

GM isn't the only one. Companies like Toyota and Ford are ramping up domestic production of batteries and electric cars. Even Mack Truck is getting in on the action by rolling out electric garbage trucks.

All told, the impact of these efforts in just the first year of Biden's presidency is impressive. 

It is worth remembering that the former guy talked a big game when it came to manufacturing jobs. He got a ton of press for announcing that he had saved the jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana that the company had planned to outsource to Mexico. Touting his success, Trump said that, "companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences. It’s not going to happen, We’re not going to have it anymore.” That didn't work out so well.

While about 800 jobs that were slated to leave the Indianapolis plant stayed put, 632 others were eliminated along with an additional 738 from a second Carrier plant in Indiana that closed, according to company filings with state and federal officials. Company-wide, Carrier eliminated an additional 1,300 positions last year.

It turns out that the guy who bragged about his skill at deal-making, wasn't so good at follow-through.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has had little success with his highly personalized attempts to bend corporate decision-making to his will and reverse a generation-long decline in U.S. factory jobs...Trump’s partial victory in Indianapolis illustrates the limits of his hands-on approach, which favors attention-grabbing maneuvers rather than comprehensive policy development.

By the time Trump left office, the United States has fewer factory workers than when he was inaugurated.

Those are the facts about what Trump did while in office and what Biden has accomplished in just one year. The political question is whether that will make any difference to the working class voters who gravitated to the former guy's so-called "populism." To the extent that facts and policies matter, it should. But I'm not one of those people who thinks that's what Trump's appeal was all about.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Liberals Must Be Clear About What it Means to Ban Books

These days there's no shortage of stories like this one from Florida in the news.

Sixteen books have been removed from school library shelves after a local group determined they were “inappropriate” and contained “obscene material.”

This developed amid a “dramatic uptick” in challenges to books involving racial and LGBTQ issues, according to the American Library Association.

The books include The Kite Runner, written by an author from Afghanistan, and two books written by Toni Morrison, an acclaimed African-American author.

That is a classic case of book banning.

But the big story from this week is the one about a school district in Tennessee. 

A Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust has been banned by a Tennessee school district, prompting blowback from critics who say it's essential to teach children about the genocide.

The 10-member McMinn County School Board voted unanimously earlier this month to remove Maus from its curriculum and replace it with an alternative, which hadn't been decided at the time of the vote.

While we should challenge this decision on its merits, the question we should all be asking is whether removing a book from a school's curriculum is the same as banning a book. It clearly isn't. 

Teachers and schools must upgrade the material used in their curriculums all the time. That is especially true when it comes to teaching children about race and gender. If you doubt that, just take a look at what Garrett Epps wrote about what he was taught growing up in Virginia schools.

Just as the McMinn County School Board was removing "Maus" from their curriculum, the Mukilteo School District in Washington was removing "To Kill a Mockingbird" from theirs.

Late Monday, the school board voted unanimously that “To Kill a Mockingbird” should not be mandatory reading for ninth graders...

It is the first time in about 25 years a request was made to the board to remove a book from the curriculum. High school English teachers Verena Kuzmany, Riley Gaggero and Rachel Johnson asked for the removal in September, citing the novel “celebrates white saviorhood,” “marginalizes characters of color” and “uses the ‘n’ word almost 50 times.”

Here's where context matters. In the Mukilteo School District, each grade has one book that is required reading. For 9th graders, that book has been "To Kill a Mockingbird." But it's time for an update. Similar actions on that particular book have been taken from Burbank, California to Biloxi, Mississippi. In none of those school districts has "To Kill a Mockingbird" been banned (ie, removed from the library) and in most places it is still on approved lists for teachers to use. It is simply no longer required reading for every student. 

Burbank Superintendant Matt Hill asked the pertinent questions: "Do we have books that represent, not just white authors, or do we have people of color authors of multiple races and backgrounds? Do we have a diverse set of books that our students can access?" Those are the kinds of adjustments schools have been in the process of making - ensuring that students get exposed to a diversity of authors. There is no shortage of classics that fit that description. 

If we aren't clear that these kinds of updates or changes to curriculum are very different from attempts to actually ban books, we confuse the issue and open the door to bothsiderism, ie, both liberals and conservatives want to ban books. That would be a lie. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Long History of Identity Politics With Supreme Court Justices

In the history of this country, it wasn't until 1967 that someone other than a white male served on the Supreme Court. That was the year that LBJ nominated Thurgood Marshall. But it wasn't until 1981 that Reagan nominated the first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, to serve. All told, of the 115 justices who have served on the court, 108 have been white males. 

That puts to lie a recent statement by Jonathan Turley in response to President Biden's promise to nominate a Black woman. From 1790 to 1967, every member of the Supreme Court was selected "initially through an exclusionary criteria of race and sex." The quiet part that no one said out loud was that the nominee must be a white male, excluding all women and people of color.

Folks lighting their hair on fire over Biden's promise seem to have forgotten that, in 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to nominate a woman. Then, when Justice Ginsburg died, Trump promised to do the same. Funny that none of these right wingers ever accused them of using "an exclusionary criteria."

The truth is that it has always been Republicans who play "identity politics." In doing so, even when they nominate a woman or person of color, they tend to prioritize the person's gender or race over everything else. Because of that, they project those intentions onto Democrats. But President Biden has made his own criteria very clear.

Character, experience, and integrity are the priorities. But for the person he choses, those qualities will have been forged through the lens of what it means to be a Black woman in this country today.  

We learned what that meant when former President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court. You might remember that Republicans went a bit ballistic about the time she referred to herself as a "wise Latina." Here's what she actually said:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life...

Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar...

Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion...I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

Republicans claimed that those remarks made Sotomayor unqualified to serve because she wouldn't approach her duties objectively. But they completely ignored the fact that Justice Samuel Alito basically said the same thing during his confirmation hearings.

I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point...

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position...

[W]hen I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

No one questioned whether any of that would hinder Alito's ability to be objective. That is because the experience of being a white man in this country is considered normative - just as it had been normative to nominate white men to serve on the Supreme Court. As women and people of color rise to positions of power in this country, those norms are being brought out into the open and challenged. 

While I don't agree with Justice Alito about much of anything, I value his experience of coming from an immigrant family and being a father - just as I value Justice Sotomayor's experience of being a Puerto Rican woman raised in the Bronx. But it is only one set of experiences that challenge the status quo, which is why Republicans threw a fit about Sotomayor's remarks. 

I suspect that these reactions to Biden's promise to nominate a Black woman are just the beginning of what will be an ugly process of confirmation. In some ways, I don't envy the person he choses. But then, as a Black woman in this country, it is very likely that she will have experienced all of that before. If Sotomayor is any precedent, that will at least be part of why she will make such an exemplary Supreme Court justice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Why the MAGA Crowd Will Support Putin As He Ratchets Up Tensions in Ukraine

I'm not going to pretend the know what Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions are in Ukraine. But there was at least one portion of the Steele dossier that captured the overall goal of his efforts to influence the 2016 election.

[The Trump operation’s] aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance which was viewed as inimical to Russia’s interests. Source C, a senior Russian financial official, said the Trump operation should be seen in terms of Putin’s desire to return to Nineteenth Century “Great Power” politics anchored upon country’s interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War II.

That is why, when Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, the Obama administration pointed this out:

"What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating," says a senior administration official, speaking on background. "But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world."

During a speech in Brussels not long after the invasion of Ukraine, President Obama outlined the conflict.

Throughout human history, societies have grappled with fundamental questions of how to organize themselves, the proper relationship between the individual and the state, the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle -- through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution -- that a particular set of ideals began to emerge: The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding...

It is in response to this tragic history [of two world wars] that, in the aftermath of World War II, America joined with Europe to reject the darker forces of the past and build a new architecture of peace. Workers and engineers gave life to the Marshall Plan. Sentinels stood vigilant in a NATO Alliance that would become the strongest the world has ever known. And across the Atlantic, we embraced a shared vision of Europe -- a vision based on representative democracy, individual rights, and a belief that nations can meet the interests of their citizens through trade and open markets; a social safety net and respect for those of different faiths and backgrounds...

So I come here today to insist that we must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world, because the contest of ideas continues for your generation. And that’s what’s at stake in Ukraine today. Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident -- that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.

As our democracy is challenged here at home, it should come as no surprise to any of us that right wingers are lining up in support of Putin's 19th century politics. Taking the lead on that is, of course, Tucker Carlson. He has asked why it is disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine and told blatant lies about NATO - suggesting that they are some kind of occupying military force. That has made him quite the hero of state-controlled Russian TV.

But this support for Putin's world view goes way beyond Tucker Carlson's fandom. In a recent YouGov poll, 62 percent of Republicans said that Putin is a stronger leader than Biden. Back in 2014, Franklin Graham praised the Russian president for his crack-down on gay rights and wrote that Putin was preferable to then-President Obama, while Pat Buchanan declared that Putin is "one of us" when it comes to fighting the culture wars. Ja’han Jones documented the fondness one group of Trump supporters feel for Putin.

Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke once called Russia, a majority white, Slavic country that frequently opposes the increasingly diverse European Union, the “key to white survival.”White supremacist leader Richard Spencer hailed Russia as the “sole white power in the world” in 2016.

None of that came about by accident. For years, Putin has been courting the groups that make up the current base of the Republican Party: white nationalists, Christian nationalists, and gun rights groups. Putin not only sent his own emissary to a white nationalist meeting in Hungary in 2014, he actually hosted one in St. Petersburg a year later. 

Casey Michael documented how Russia became the global leader of the Christian right. That is quite an about-face from the days when the Soviet Union was seen as a threat by these same groups for their spread of “godless communism.” But Putin has been working on that transformation for a while now, starting with his embrace of the Russian Orthodox Church. His rhetoric about the West shifted as well.

“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization,” he said at a conference in 2013. “They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual … They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.” By succumbing to secularism, he noted on another occasion, the West was trending toward “chaotic darkness” and a “return to a primitive state.”

Finally, Denise Clifton and Mark Follman put together an excellent timeline of how ties between Russia and the NRA developed over the years. A Tennessee lawyer named G. Kline Preston first introduced David Keene, then the NRA’s president, to a Russian senator, Alexander Torshin in 2011. Bringing together the overlap between white nationalists, Christian nationalists, and gun rights groups, Preston once said that "the value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line...we’re very similar people, in a lot of our values, our interests and that sort of thing.” Of course, unsaid is the fact that when Preston refers to "Southern Christians," he's actually talking about Southern White Christians. 

The one thing we can take from all of this is that, as Putin ratchets up the pressure on Ukraine and Biden uses 21st Century diplomacy to  ease tensions, the MAGA crowd will take the side of a foreign dictator over our own president. That will only empower Putin, whose goal has always been to "sow discord and disunity within the U.S."

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Why Didn't Trump Sign the Executive Order Mobilizing the Military in His Attempted Coup?

The latest revelation about Trump's attempted coup came from the release of the unsigned executive order dated December 16, 2020, that would have empowered the defense secretary to “seize, collect, retain and analyze” voting machines. The scheme outlined in the document provided a pretext for Trump to stay in office past the constitutional January 20 inauguration day while an “assessment” was taking place by the director of national intelligence, and it also would have appointed a special counsel to oversee the operation.

The question remains, however, "why didn't Trump sign the executive order?" It could be that his defense secretary refused to comply. It is worth noting that Mike Esper, who served in that capacity, had been worried that Trump would fire him the day after the election, but was hoping that he could hold on for a few days because "he was worried about what Trump might try to do with the military if he were not at the helm." 

Esper was right in assuming that Trump would fire him after the election. The ax came on November 9. The new acting Defense Secretary would be Christopher Miller, who told associates he had three goals for the final weeks of the Trump administration: #1: No major war. #2: No military coup. #3: No troops fighting citizens on the streets. Why would the man in charge of the Defense Department even contemplate the possibility of a military coup? Perhaps the executive order was making its rounds by then.

Esper and Miller weren't the only ones who were worried.
As Trump ceaselessly pushed false claims about the 2020 presidential election, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, grew more and more nervous, telling aides he feared that the president and his acolytes might attempt to use the military to stay in office, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker report in “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.”

Milley described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he listened to Trump’s untrue complaints of election fraud, drawing a comparison to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a Nazi dictatorship.

When writing about this previously, I pointed to an interview with Bob Bauer, a Biden campaign advisor, just prior to the election. 

Here's the money quote:
Frankly, I'll tell you that there are agencies that [Trump] imagines under his command whose members understand they have legal liability if they follow illegal orders - and they won't do it...I can promise you that if [Trump] were to attempt to disrupt or undermine the election, he will fail.

At the time I remember thinking that at least part of Bauer's job at the time had been to consult with military leaders about how they would respond if Trump issued an illegal order to launch a coup. Bauer's confidence stemmed from the fact that he knew what their response would be. Whether those leaders had already made up their minds, or Bauer and his associates needed to remind them of their constitutional obligations remains to be seen. 

What we do know is that three days after the executive order was written, Trump summoned his own MAGA troops to the Capital for the January 6 insurrection.

Since the beginning of Trump's presidency, I have been watching the interplay between the former guy's malevolence and incompetence. While a failed coup is just as criminal as a successful one, it certainly appears that this time, we escaped the death of our democracy because the bully's ignorance and incompetence overwhelmed his malevolence.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Who Knew Paul McCartney Was Such a Good Dad?

I recently watched the "Get Back" documentary series about the Beatles. Not being a musician, there were long parts (especially during the first episode) that were pretty tedious to me. But my favorite part came during the third episode when Paul McCartney's soon-to-be wife Linda came to the studio and brought her daughter Heather. After Paul and Linda married, he formally adopted Heather.

It's clear from the footage that Heather was a self-confident, precocious six year old. She played and interacted amusingly with all of the band members. 

But what stood out to me was the bond between Paul and Heather. A few still shots from that day tell the story.

For people my age (ie, old), we grew up with the Beatles. Paul's reputation was as a lead singer and the "cute one." Of course, we later saw him as one of the most talented song writers of the modern era. But until I saw this, I never knew he was such a great dad. It isn't just the rapt attention he shows with Heather, it is her complete trust in him that shines through - something that can't be staged.

When the Beatles broke up shortly after these sessions, Paul credits Linda with being the one who helped pull him out of depression. His song "Maybe I'm Amazed" was his tribute to her. But based on the more recently remastered video of that song, it is clear that Heather played a pretty important role as well. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The NYT Editorial Board's "Big Mac Test" Is One Hot Mess

I'm sure that the people who make up the editorial board at the New York Times are fairly smart people. But that's why it is so disturbing that they would write and publish an article with as many discrepancies as the one titled "President Biden’s Economy Is Failing the Big Mac Test." This one literally has my head shaking trying to sort out all of the ways they contradicted themselves. So let's take a look.

Of course, the "Big Mac test" is their way of talking about inflation. To exploit that issue though, they have to address what has happened to wages.

The dollar figures on workers’ paychecks rose handsomely over the past 12 months. But for most workers, that wasn’t enough to keep pace with the highest inflation in several decades, which eroded the value of each of those dollars.

The purchasing power of the average worker’s weekly pay declined by 2.3 percent from December 2020 to December 2021.

But later in the piece, they note the exception to those numbers.

Lower-wage workers have seen particularly strong wage growth. For workers in the bottom third of the wage distribution, Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, estimates that average wage gains have exceeded inflation.

For a country whose trajectory for decades has been to increase income inequality, the fact that workers in the bottom third are experiencing the strongest wage gains is what Biden might refer to as a BFD!

Similarly, if the purchasing power of the average worker's weekly pay has declined, they need to address how this is happening:

People are trying to buy more cars than are readily available. Diners are more eager than waiters to return to restaurants. The nation’s cargo ports have been overwhelmed by a surge in imports.

The extreme head-shaking, however, was induced by the way they contradicted themselves about Biden's role. On the one hand, they have nothing but praise for his "outstanding achievement."

Mr. Biden inherited an economic crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, and his administration deserves credit for orchestrating a fiscal response on a scale commensurate with the nation’s need. The outstanding achievement of Mr. Biden’s first year in office was the passage of an economic aid package in March that shielded Americans from the economic effects of the pandemic and helped to deliver a faster recovery than in other developed nations.

To demonstrate how effective the aid package was, they note that the economy has added six million jobs, GDP has climbed above its pre-pandemic levels, and the S&P 500 reached historic highs. 

These folks even provide some perspective on how Biden's initiatives to battle the recession were well calibrated.

Some of the president’s critics assert that the United States missed a chance for a Goldilocks recovery, neither too cold nor too hot. They argue that a smaller dose of economic aid would have delivered growth without higher inflation. But European nations, which generally administered proportionally smaller doses of aid, are now experiencing both less inflation and slower recoveries. Critics also ought to keep in mind the not-so-distant past: In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, the United States similarly delivered an inadequate dose of aid. Inflation remained quiescent, but that was little comfort to the millions who waited years to find work.

They also applaud what Biden is doing to address these issues over the long term.

The administration also has taken some significant steps to improve the nation’s longer-term economic prospects, notably by pushing an infrastructure bill through Congress and by launching a revival of antitrust enforcement.

The problem, as they see it, is that those long-term strategies are taking so loooong.

Mr. Biden also continues to present the administration’s longer-term economic initiatives, like antitrust enforcement and a push for child care subsidies, as measures that would help to combat inflation. The effect of such policies would not be felt for some time, and Mr. Biden’s insistence on this implausible narrative may be contributing to a sense that he is not taking inflation seriously.

But the crux of the matter is that the mood of Americans has soured because hamburgers are more expensive.

Most Americans don’t share the administration’s sunny view of its economic record, and it is little mystery why: The average worker’s paycheck doesn’t buy as many hamburgers as it did last year...The government’s Consumer Price Index rose by 7 percent in 2021, the biggest jump since 1982. Mr. Biden’s approval rating remains low, and poll after poll finds that Americans are not pleased with his handling of the economy. Nearly two-thirds say the administration is insufficiently focused on inflation, according to a recent CBS News poll.

Here's the kicker contradiction: 

The challenge now is to bring inflation back under control without undermining the economic recovery. The work will mostly be done by the Federal Reserve, not by Mr. Biden or his administration. The role of presidents in shaping the nation’s economic fortunes is generally overstated.

The argument seems to be that Biden did an outstanding job of dealing with the recession caused by the pandemic, but inflation is the problem now. Therefore, Biden has failed to address something that they admit isn't even under his control.

It gets worse, take a look at this load of crap.

A one-year expansion of the child tax credit helped to reduce the share of American children living in poverty to the lowest level since the government began to keep records in the 1960s. But Democrats, unable to agree on the terms of a permanent expansion, have allowed the expanded benefits to expire, depriving millions of working families of needed help. it is Democrat's fault that the child tax credit expired when the Senate failed to pass the Build Back Better Act - even though 48 Senate Democrats supported the bill and NOT ONE REPUBLICAN was willing to join them.

I'm definitely not an economist, nor do I try to play one on the internet. But even to me, this entire piece by the NYT editorial board is nothing but one hot mess. They are all over the map and fail to make any point definitively. I have no idea what they were actually trying to say. But they did manage to get the words "Biden" and "failing" in the there's that.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

GOP Dysfunction on Display in Republican Primaries

Political pundits are suggesting that the odds are stacked against Democrats maintaining their slight majority in the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They may be right. But a look at what is happening in Republican primaries indicates that the GOP might be constructing an uphill battle for themselves. 

The first line of defense for Democrats will be to hold on to seats that are currently rated as toss-ups. Those include races in Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona. Here's what's happening in those Republican primaries:

Georgia - Trump-endorsed and intellectually-challenged Herschel Walker has all but tied up the Republican nomination. Nuff said.

Nevada - Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt leads this race, but lost his bid for governor in 2018 to Democrat Steve Sisolak. Then in 2020, Laxalt was co-chair of Trump's Nevada campaign. He took the lead in supporting the former guy's Big Lie, suggesting massive levels of fraud in the Nevada election, only to fail to produce any evidence. Laxalt's introductory video draws on the Star Wars theme of painting Democrats as the empire (evil) and Republicans as the rebels (good). Divisive enough for ya?

Arizona - At this point, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich holds the lead in the Republican primary, but as CNN reported, "he doesn't seem to be putting together the resources needed for a top-tier campaign." Trump hasn't endorse a candidate in this race yet, but he did attend a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago for Blake Masters - COO of Thiel Capital. Masters not only continues to receive a paycheck from Peter Thiel, his boss has already donated $10 million to his campaign. The money has primarily gone to the Save Arizona PAC, which has produced ads like this one attacking Brnovich.

Arizona's primary isn't until August, so it will be interesting to see if these two fight it out to the bitter end. 

In addition to those races, there are five states in which the Republican incumbent will not seek re-election: Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. I've already discussed the race in North Carolina - where Cheri Beasley has a shot at winning. Here's what's happening in the other states.

Pennsylvania - There are a bunch of candidates running in the Republican primary. But since Trump's favorite - Sean Parnell - dropped out over allegations of abuse that surfaced during divorce proceedings, none of them seems to have an advantage. Democrats, who are also in a bit of disarray, need to get their act together on this one soon - because this is the bluest state at play for a flip right now.

Ohio - The former guy hasn't endorsed in this race yet, but Josh Mandel and J.D. Vance are duking it out to see who can be the most extreme Trumpian. Right now Mandel is leading the race, while Vance has access to the big money it could take to win. Sneaking up on both of them is former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken. Not to be outdone by the men she's competing with, here is Timken's introductory video:

Missouri - While Trump won the state by over 15 points in 2020, this is the primary that is giving Republicans a case of heart burn. At this point, former governor Eric Greitens leads the race. Trump hasn't endorsed a candidate yet, but Kimberly Guilfoyle (Trump's future daughter-in-law) is co-chair of Greitens campaign. What makes Republicans nervous is that Greitens had to resign as governor in 2018 (after serving only a year and a half) just as the Missouri legislature began a special session to consider impeachment over allegations of sexual and campaign misconduct. For the GOP, all of that is too reminiscent of the time when Republican Todd Akin lost his bid to unseat Democrat Claire McCaskill after his remarks about how women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant.

Alabama - You might wonder why we even need to talk about a senate race in deeply red Alabama. At this point, there's not a serious Democratic candidate in the race. But the Republican primary is turning into quite a show. Leading the race is Mo Brooks, a congressman who played a central role in Trump's attempted coup. 

Brooks, who initially had a huge lead in the primary, has been losing ground dramatically as former Chief of Staff to Senator Richard Shelby, Katie Britt, gains steam. That seems to be why Brooks recently decided on a rather bizarre strategy: remind folks about what happened in the 2017 Senate special election between Roy Moore and Doug Jones. 
“Do you realize I’m the only Republican in this race who stood with 650,000 Republicans to vote against Doug Jones for the United States Senate in 2017?” Brooks said before a group of Republicans at a Mobile County GOP executive committee meeting. “That’s remarkable.”

Brooks told that he plans on continuing to hit on the 2017 election during the campaign ahead of the May 24 GOP primary.

As the opposition noted, that was Brooks's way of saying that he supported Roy Moore - an alleged pedophile. If you recall, that controversy gave Alabama its first Democratic senator since 1992 - Doug Jones. It is doubtful Alabama Republicans want to be reminded of that mess. Writing tongue-in-cheek, Dana Hall McCain referred to it as an existential hell.

I can’t wait to bask in the warm glow of the existential hell this created for conservatives who vote as we do for biblical reasons. It was so fun to make a horrendous choice between a candidate who reeked of moral hypocrisy and might vote the right way versus a man who seemed far more credible as a human but would vote the wrong way on some issues.
While I agree that, from a bird's-eye view, the 2022 Senate midterms don't look good for Democrats, it is when you get into the weeds of the Republican primaries that GOP dysfunction emerges as the story. Whether or not that gives Democrats the ability to hold onto - or build upon - their current majority remains to be seen.


Friday, January 21, 2022

Some Perspective on Biden's Approval Ratings and What They Mean for the 2022 Midterms

The news about President Biden's approval ratings is definitely not good. NBC News says that it points to a shellacking for Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Analysts at FiveThirtyEight document that one year in, Biden has the second lowest approval rating of any president. 

Pundits who attempt to explain what's happening tend to point to (1) the persistence of the Covid pandemic, (2) inflation, (3) the failure to pass two pieces of major legislation. Those might all be factors, regardless of whether it is Biden who should be held accountable.

Gallup recently released their average Biden approval rating for his first year in office - which stands at 48.9%. Similar to what the analysts at FiveThirtyEight noted, that is the second lowest of any modern president. Only Trump did worse, and it was a lot worse, averaging 38% his first year.

But along with that piece of data, Gallup released some other numbers that must be included when analyzing why Biden's approval numbers are so low compared to previous presidents. They included the partisan divide on presidential approval. This table shows the divide from the largest to the smallest. 

But it's even more helpful to present the information historically. 

Biden    83% party gap

Trump  75%

Obama  65%

Bush     45%

Clinton  52%

Bush     45%

Reagan  45%

Carter    26%

Nixon    34%

Kennedy 29%

Eisenhower 32%

During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the partisan gap in presidential approval rating hovered around 30%. Then in the 80s and 90s in jumped to around 50%. Since then, we've gone from 65% for Obama to 75% for Trump and now 83% for Biden. 

To emphasize how dramatically things have changed, take a look at the fact that Eisenhower got a 56% approval rating during his first year from Democrats and Kennedy got 58% from Republicans. By the time we get to 2021, Biden got an 8% approval rating from Republicans during his first year in office. As polarized as things felt during Obama's presidency, even he got 23% approval from Republicans during his first year. Any pundit commenting on Biden's low approval rating must take this partisan gap into account.

Given the fact that so many Republicans live in a right wing news bubble where Biden is not only painted as a complete failure, but a threat to the country, it is unlikely that his 8% approval number will change much over the next three years. So I don't expect the 83% partisan gap to narrow - no matter what happens. Because of that, it is very likely that Biden will continue to have historically low approval ratings. 

The place where Democrats can make some gains is with some of the voters who self-identify as independents. According to Gallup, Biden's approval rating with that group is only 33%. But to make some headway, we have to clear up some of the misinformation and confusion about who those voter are. 

According to Pew Research, 38% of voters identify as politically independent. But in digging a little deeper, 13% lean toward the Republican Party and 17% lean toward the Democratic Party. Those "leaners" aren't very independent in that they are often "much closer to partisans in their views than they are to independents who lean to the other party." That leaves approximately 7% of voters who are truly independent. 

Perhaps the most important thing to know about that 7% is that they are less politically engaged than partisans - including the fact that they are less likely to vote.

Being politically unengaged means that independent voters aren't likely to follow the nuances of the power plays going on in Washington D.C. They also aren't likely to listen directly to what politicians say, but hear references to headlines in the media. So as mainstream journalists focus on things like blaming Biden for the pull-out in Afghanistan, inflation, and the continuing threat posed by Covid, they buy into the idea that he's failing as a president.

As we get closer to elections, voters will hear more directly from candidates via advertising, as well as town halls and debates covered in their local news. At that point, there is often a discussion among Democrats about whether it is more important to persuade Republicans to switch their votes or mobilize those who don't vote. To the extent that winning depends on garnering support from independents, mobilization is the key - perhaps especially in midterm elections. Improving voter turnout among both those who lean Democratic and those who are truly independent could make the difference between winning a losing. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

How the Media Covers Republican Obstruction

Two of the Democrat's major initiatives are currently stalled in the Senate: the Build Back Better Act and voting rights. Republicans have made it clear that they not only oppose these two pieces of legislation, they refuse to negotiate with Democrats on the goals of addressing the economic challenges faced by Americans or protecting the right to vote. 

So how is the media handling this obstruction? A few headlines tell the story.

USAToday: "As voting rights push fizzles, Biden's failure to unite his own party looms again"

Axios: "Biden's Epic Failures"

Washington Post: "Biden is failing politically, and not just because of Republican obstruction"

The New Statesman: "Joe Biden’s failure on voting rights could cost the Democrats the White House"

Perhaps you get the point. Failure to pass these bills is being laid at Biden's feet, not at Republicans for failing to even negotiate a compromise.

Politico took things a step further, suggesting that Biden's favorite columnists are revolting against him. Who are the columnists they talked to? The list includes David Brooks, Tom Friedman, Chris Matthews, and Josh Barro. Other than the fact that they are all white guys (mostly former Republicans), the one thing those four men have in common is that they're all suggesting that - even on voting rights - Biden has moved too far to the left. 

For example, Brooks said that "Biden's aggressive rhetoric on voting rights...represents how he has strayed from his roots as a moderate." Even if you buy into the way right wingers have politicized an issue like voting rights, Brooks is completely ignoring the fact that the Freedom to Vote Act was a compromise designed in part by Senator Joe Manchin - a so-called "moderate" Democrat.

Josh Barro also seems to suffer from having a bad memory when he told Politico that “The top issue for voters is the economy. So every day that you’re talking about voting rights legislation, you do not appear to be focused on the economic problem that’s the number one issue for voters.” He doesn't seem to remember that Republicans also obstructed the Build Back Better Act, which would have gone a long way towards addressing the economic problems faced by Americans. 

I won't hold my breath for a time when Barro calls out Republicans for their failure to even put forward an agenda to address "the number one issue for voters." Where are Republicans focused these days? On voter suppression. For example, on the first day Republicans regained control of the Virginia State Assembly, they immediately got to work on their number one priority.
This General Assembly session, various Republican Delegates and State Senators have proposed 20 bills to restrict or limit absentee voting...

Proposed bills include reinstating a requirement of an “excuse” to vote absentee, limiting absentee voting to a week or two weeks before Election Day and eliminating ballot drop-off boxes.

Other bills would require a photo ID to vote, require absentee ballots be mailed and received by Election Day to count, and eliminate the automatic absentee voter list – in which the registrar's office mails voters ballots for each election.
It's clear that Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema are giving Republican obstructionists a boost by refusing to alter the Senate's filibuster rule to pass voting rights. But it's also important to remember that their votes wouldn't have been needed in 1982 when the Senate reauthorized the Voting Rights Act by a vote of 85-8 and it went on to be signed by President Reagan. Or how about 2006 when it was once again reauthorized, this time by a vote of 98-0, and signed by President George W. Bush?

When it comes to protecting the right to vote, where are the so-called "moderate" Republicans, like Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Bill Cassidy, and Richard Burr? They're all lined up with the obstructionists in their party. Are any of these columnists calling them out for moving too far to the right? Not a peep.

A group of former Democratic senators just put a lie to the idea that the push for voting rights is a move to the left. Doug Jones, who served as a senator from Alabama published a letter that was signed by a group that would fit the bill of being described as moderate. It included Senators Tom Daschle, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, Heidi Heitkamp, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Mark Udall and Mark Begich. Here's what they said about voting rights.
Last year, we saw an unprecedented amount of misinformation regarding the winner of the 2020 presidential election, a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the election results, and partisan state legislatures trying to overturn the election in their states while erecting barriers to voting in future elections. Congressional Democrats have proposed multiple bills aimed at strengthening our democracy and advancing voter rights legislation that would instill confidence in our elections only to see them never reach the Senate floor. If the Senate cannot even begin to debate and vote on something as foundational as voting rights, we must reform Senate rules and restore the chamber to its rightful place as “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Protecting the freedom to vote should not be a partisan issue.

At this point, the only accurate way to tell this story is that, with an assist from Manchin and Sinema, Republicans have politicized an issue that was once bipartisan. They are not only obstructing efforts to protect the right to vote, they have prioritized voter suppression. The fact that the media isn't reporting it that way represents their own failure, not Biden's.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Mollie Hemingway Isn't Actually Interested in Election Integrity

"Stop the steal" was the rallying cry for Trump and the insurgents who stormed the capitol on January 6. The allegation that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen was based on lies about everything from dead people voting to conspiracy theories about voting machines designed by deceased foreign leaders. Of course, all of those allegations proved to be ridiculous and collapsed in the light of day.

Not to be deterred, Mollie Hemingway tried a different approach. Rather than say that the election was stolen, she wrote a book claiming that it had been "rigged." One of the things she highlighted was a specific action taken by the one man who has been the target of derision by both the left and the right - Mark Zuckerberg. Perhaps that is why this story hasn't garnered much (if any) attention in mainstream media.

Here's how Hemingway described her allegation about Zuckerberg in a recent article at The Federalist.

Mark Zuckerberg spent $419 million to finance the private takeover of government election offices — primarily focused on the blue areas of swing states — to enable Democrats to run their Get Out The Vote operations from government offices.

By now we've all learned that an allegation like that from right wingers requires a fact check. Here's what I found: Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave over $350 million to the nonprofit organization Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL). Apparently they also donated funds to The Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), but it's not clear how much. 

On their website, CTCL says that they "connect Americans with the information they need to become and remain civically engaged, and ensure that our elections are more professional, inclusive, and secure." Heading in to November 2020, local election offices were dealing with the pandemic, a surge of mail-in ballots, chaos about changing state election laws, and a flood of misinformation. They obviously didn't have the resources to handle all of that. CTCL developed a grant program to address the situation. The Zuckerberg's were donors to that program.

Contrary to what Hemingway alleges, American Public Media studied the CTCL grant program and titled their report "How private money helped save the election." 

In the weeks since the election, allies of President Trump have included the Center for Tech and Civic Life grants in their voter fraud conspiracy theories. They have challenged the legality and neutrality of the grants, claiming that the funding was aimed at boosting Democratic turnout. But an APM Reports analysis of voter registration and voter turnout in three of the five key swing states shows the grant funding had no clear impact on who turned out to vote. Turnout increased across the country from 2016. The APM Reports analysis found that counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona that received grants didn’t have consistently higher turnout rates than those that didn’t receive money.

In highlighting stories about how local election offices used the funding, a story from my home state of Minnesota stood out.

Minneapolis Elections Director Grace Wachlarowicz had a problem on her hands in August. She had just wrapped up the August primary and realized she needed more workers to process the huge number of ballots sure to arrive in the November election. But to do that, the department needed more space.

“My facility could not handle the number of staff that I needed in order to process these absentee ballots,” she said. “We worked day and night because I couldn’t hire more people, because I didn’t have any space to safely have them work on it.”

The city spent $300,000 of its $2.3 million grant from the center to rent 70,000 square feet in the Minneapolis Convention Center. Without the funding, the city would have been forced to process and count the ballots in multiple locations, which could have caused chain-of-custody issues along with slowing down the counting of ballots.

In addition to the APM analysis, CTCL has been named in more than a dozen law suits. Every judge — conservative, liberal, and two Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices — rejected the claims. Going directly to Hemingway's assertion, here's what a federal district court in Pennsylvania found:

CTCL provides grant funds to any local election office that applies, and the final grant is calculated using nonpartisan criteria. CTCL reports that over 1,100 local election administrators across the country have applied for CTCL grants, including eighteen counties within Pennsylvania, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of State. Of these eighteen counties, eleven voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and five did so by more than a two-to-one margin.
A judge in Colorado issued a strongly-worded opinion calling the allegations a conspiracy theory. So much for Hemingway's take on all of this. 

To be honest, I'm pretty uncomfortable with private funding of elections. But in this case, local election officials were facing a crisis. As election analysts told American Public Media: "the grants helped avert a potential disaster where long lines, missing mail and slow counting could have led President Trump to further question the integrity of results in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona."

All of this makes it clear that any effort to secure voting rights must include adequate funding of local election offices at both the state and federal level. CTCL wants to get out of the business of raising private money to fill the void, which is why they've launched the Election Infrastructure Initiative.
The Election Infrastructure Initiative is a collaborative effort, bringing together election officials, nonprofits, counties, cities, and states who believe that election infrastructure is some of our nation’s most critical and should be funded appropriately. We’re calling on Congress to invest $20 billion at the state and local level to meet the need for securing and modernizing election infrastructure over the next decade.

The Freedom to Vote Act, which is currently being filibustered by Republicans, contains $3.5 billion for states to shore up election security. If Mollie Hemingway is really concerned about private funding of election offices, you'd think she'd be on board with that one. But obviously she's not. She'd rather fear-monger about Zuckerberg and complain about a rigged election than actually support efforts to fix the problem.

Monday, January 17, 2022

How Trump's Big Lie Could Hurt Republicans in the 2022 Midterms

One of the things we've learned about Donald Trump is that everything he says or does is designed to prop up his narcissistic ego. Such is the case with the Big Lie. As Tony Schwartz made clear, Trump is compelled to create a delusional reality in which he wins, even when he loses, because the admission of a loss is the "equivalent of obliteration."

What that means is that the former guy can never abandon the Big Lie. On the contrary, he is making it pivotal as we head into the 2022 midterm elections. Trump has gone all-in on endorsing his favorites in Republican primaries. And the litmus test he's using is the extent to which they buy into the Big Lie. 

The governor's race in Georgia i a perfect example. Trump is mad at the Republican incumbent Brian Kemp for not doing more to overturn the election results in that state. So he has endorsed David Perdue, whose candidacy is completely based on support for the Big Lie. 

Trump's recent rally in Arizona is another example. Those who were invited on stage all payed homage to the Big Lie - with Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leading the way. Lake not only says that, if she were governor, she would not have certified Arizona's election, she has threatened to jail politicians and journalists who told the truth about Biden winning the state.

At this point, Trump hasn't endorsed a candidate in Arizona's senate race to challenge Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly - although he did attend a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago for Blake Masters, president of the Thiel Foundation. That has often been a precursor to an endorsement. 

The leader in the Republican senate primary so far is current AZ Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Check out what happened when he tried to cozy up to Trump.

The MAGA crowd - which will obviously vote for any candidate Trump endorses - is likely to prevail in primaries with several candidates on the ballot. That is especially true in states where the winner could be decided by as little as 20-30 percent of the vote. But what happens in the general election? 

Journalists have paid a lot of attention to the fact that a majority of Republicans believe the Big Lie. But very little attention has been paid to the fact that between 60 to 65 percent of voters believe that Joe Biden won the election fair and square. That number has been stable since November, so it's not likely to change. 

What happens to all of these Trump-endorsed Republicans when the former guy comes to town to campaign for them in the general election and insists on promoting the Big Lie? Of course, that will be a factor in state-wide races more than gerrymandered House seats. But as an example, in 2021, Glenn Youngkin didn't want Trump anywhere near his campaign in Virginia - which was probably a factor in his success. 

Will candidates who embraced the Big Lie during primaries in states like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio stick with Trump and his Big Lie, or will they attempt a very awkward pivot once the primaries are over? You can be sure that if they chose the latter, Trump will savage them - regardless of how that effects the outcome. His ego will demand it.

While journalists seem intent on a doom and gloom forecast for Democrats in 2022, too many of them are ignoring the fact that Republicans face a huge bind heading into the midterms. 

“Trump still has this outsized voice and influence and too many candidates fear his wrath,” said Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and Trump critic. “We know Donald Trump will use his megaphone to condemn those who don’t buy his lies and his false narrative on the 2020 election. So these candidates are put in a bind: If they tell the truth, they run the risk of losing their primaries and incurring the wrath of Trump, and if they acquiesce and go along with this nonsense, they run the risk of alienating a lot of voters.”

Candidates have been pivoting between primaries and general elections for years. What's different for Republicans this time is that a narcissistic ego who controls the MAGA cult will be waiting in the wings to demonize anyone who fails to prop up his Big Lie.   

Sunday, January 16, 2022

How to Raise an Authoritarian

Last week, a couple of Fox News hosts thought they had landed on a story that promoted their twin goals of fear-mongering about the so-called "culture wars" and undermining public education. Both Rachel Campos-Duffy and Tucker Carlson did segments on the fact that an elementary school in Illinois will offer an after-school "Satan Club."

What is a bit ironic about those segments is that the group who sponsors these clubs - the Satanic Temple - was probably pleased to get the attention. Here is what Katherine Stewart wrote about them back in 2016:

The blend of political activism, religious critique and performance art that characterizes the After School Satan Club proposal is not a new approach for the Satanic Temple. It is just the most recent in a series of efforts that have made the Temple famous and notorious.

She went on to provide another example of how the Satanic Temple operates:

In 2014, after the Supreme Court ruled that the regular recitation of prayers before town meetings did not violate the First Amendment, provided that towns do not discriminate among religions, the Temple decided to test just how much religious liberty towns allowed. They volunteered to perform a Satanic benediction in an Arizona town where the board had regularly opened with a Christian prayer. In that case, the town preferred to abolish the practice of opening prayers.

So while you might cringe at the use of Satan (I know I did), it provides the shock factor that can be effective. It worked for me. When I saw those Fox News segments, I dug a little deeper to find out what this was all about. 

In the case of the after-school clubs, the Satanic Temple is using them to protest against another Supreme Court decision. In the 2001 case of Good News Club vs Milford Central School, the court basically ruled that teaching religion in an after-school program was protected speech. The plaintiffs in that case wanted to set up an after-school program called the Good News Club, which is sponsored the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). 

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the activities of the CEF were not really religious, after all. He said that they could be characterized, for legal purposes, "as the teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint." That is belied by the group's vision statement, which states that "Our special mission in CEF is to evangelize every child." Their aim is to proselytize, which is why they want to be in schools instead of just churches.

My journey into reviewing what the Good News Clubs are about was a bit painful in that it reminded me of many of the things I was subjected to as a child. I never attended a club with that name, but the materials and lesson plans permeated everything I was taught. 

A group that has studied the lesson plans demonstrates exactly how children are taught to be authoritarians. 

The first thing is to teach children that they are sinful. 

The word “sin” and its derivatives (e.g., sins, sinned, sinning, sinner, sinful) appear 5002 times, averaging out to 41 times per lesson.

Here are some quotes from the lesson plans:

  • “Your heart (the real you; the part of you that thinks and feels) is sinful and wants to do wrong…”
  • “Others may think that you are a good person, but God knows what you’re really like on the inside. He knows that deep down you are a sinner – you were born that way.” 
  • “Your heart (the real you) is sinful from the time you are born …. Even the good things you do aren’t good enough. The Bible says those things are like filthy (dirty) rags… . Filthy rags either need to be thrown away or washed.”
Keep in mind that these are things being taught to 5-12 year-olds.

The next two things go together. Because God is vengeful, sinners must be punished. That means going to hell when you die.
The word “punish” and its derivatives (e.g., punished, punishment) appear 1032 times. There are more than 250 mentions of or allusions to Hell.

The so-called "good news" is that Jesus died for your sins, which will save you from punishment and hell. But then comes the are required to be obedient.

The word “obey” and its derivatives (e.g., disobey, obedience) appear 1113 times, averaging out to 9 times per lesson.

As an example of what it means to be obedient, Katherine Stewart, author of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children," points to a lesson focused on Saul and the Amalekites found in 1 Samuel 15. God told Saul:

Now go, attack the Amalekites, and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

Saul did as he was told, committing mass slaughter of men, women, children, infants, and animals. But he spared the king and a few animals. God was furious because Saul didn't completely comply. Here is how that is handled in the teaching manuals for the Good News Club:

The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:
"You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left."
"That was pretty clear, wasn't it?" the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.

Even more important, the Good News Club wants the children to know, the Amalakites were targeted for destruction on account of their religion, or lack of it. The instruction manual reads:
"The Amalekites had heard about Israel's true and living God many years before, but they refused to believe in him. The Amalekites refused to believe in God and God had promised punishment."
The instruction manual goes on to champion obedience in all things. In fact, pretty much every lesson that the Good News Club gives involves reminding children that they must, at all costs, obey. If God tells you to kill nonbelievers, he really wants you to kill them all. No questions asked, no exceptions allowed.

 It is worth noting that this particular Old Testament story has consistently been used to justify genocide.

According to Pennsylvania State University Professor Philip Jenkins, a contributing editor for the American Conservative, the Puritans used this passage when they wanted to get rid of the Native American tribes. Catholics used it against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics. "In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu preachers invoked King Saul's memory to justify the total slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors," writes Jenkins in his 2011 book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses (HarperCollins).

It's also worth noting what's missing from the curriculum. The word "empathy" doesn't appear anywhere. The many Biblical exhortations to love your neighbor (Royal Law) or do to others what you would have them do to you (Golden Rule) aren't the subject of any lessons.

In 2011, CEF reported that there were 3,560 Good News Clubs operating in the U.S. and more than 42,000 worldwide. In other words, they are training millions of children to be authoritarians. 

Of course, it is unconscionable that a group blatantly proselytizing young children is allowed to do so in our public schools. But what is especially painful to me is the way they are damaging children. Using shame and fear to coerce them into total obedience is a form of emotional child abuse. At least that is how I experienced it as a child. It took me decades to heal from that abuse, and the pain that is ignited by these stories reminds me that it is still a work in progress.

For those of you who didn't experience this kind of abuse, you might have wondered why there is such a strong overlap between Christian nationalism, authoritarianism, and right wing violent extremism. To answer that question, you need to look no further than the kind of lessons being taught by Good News Clubs. 

The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

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