Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Can Republicans "moderate" their position on abortion?

One of the most important stories coming out of recent elections is that, whenever voters have a chance to weigh in about abortion, they have chosen to support a woman's right to chose. That has supposedly made Republicans think twice about promoting their extremist views. 

But as Kavitha Surana reports at ProPublica, anti-choice activists are successfully lobbying red states with abortion bans to oppose adding exceptions for rape, incest, and health risks. 

[I]n the most conservative states, Republicans ultimately fell in line with highly organized Christian groups. Those activists fought to keep the most restrictive abortion bans in place by threatening to pull funding and support primary challenges to lawmakers that didn’t stand strong.

Their fervor to protect the laws reflects a bedrock philosophy within the American anti-abortion movement: that all abortion exceptions — even those that protect the pregnant person’s life or health — should be considered the same as sanctioning murder.

 This tells you all you need to know about how far these folks are willing to go:

The Catholic Church and the anti-abortion movement also have a history of celebrating the stories of women who were willing to sacrifice their lives to continue their pregnancies.

One of the most well-known stories is about Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a young Italian woman who refused chemotherapy in 2011 for cancer on her tongue because she was pregnant. As the cancer progressed, it became difficult for her to speak and see. A year after giving birth to a healthy baby boy, she died.

Live Action, a major anti-abortion advocacy group, included Petrillo on a list of “7 Brave Mothers Who Risked Their Lives to Save Their Preborn Babies.”...

In anti-abortion circles, Petrillo has been described as a “heroine for the 21st century” and a “modern day saint.”

On the Protestant side, the movement Speaker Mike Johnson is most closely aligned with - Christian reconstructionism - includes this in their statement on "The Christian Worldview of the Family:"

We affirm that every human being begins life from the moment of conception; that the zygote, embryo, and fetus should therefore be entitled to full protection of law (Psalm 139:14,15; Jeremiah 1:5; Exodus 21:22-25); that killing the zygote, embryo, or fetus through abortion or any other form of violence is murder; that removal of the zygote, embryo, or fetus from the womb is justified only when leaving the child inside the mother would cause death for both mother and child; that the Church should encourage research to improve the chances of survival for a baby so removed; and that no baby should be deprived of nourishment or necessary medical care after birth for any reason (Deuteronomy 5:17).

We deny that either the mother, the father, the civil government, or any other person or institution has a moral right to decree the death by abortion of any child for any reason, be it social, economic, psychological, etc.

For these folks, any abortion from the moment of conception is murder - unless continuing the pregnancy would cause the death of BOTH the mother and fetus. That's as extreme as it gets. 

When Republicans attempt to moderate their position on abortion, these are the folks that are determined to stop them. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

What you need to know about Speaker Mike Johnson: He's a Christian Reconstructionist

Now that the media has had some time to dig into Speaker Mike Johnson's past, most of the coverage has focused on his involvement with the so-called "culture wars," like his position on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and what Christian nationalists refer to as "religious freedom" (ie, freedom for me, but not for thee).

While those are important, it is wrong to suggest that the Speaker's extremist views are limited to those issues.  In order to fully understand Johnson, we must recognize the theological tradition with which he is most closely aligned: Christian Reconstructionism.

It developed primarily under the direction of Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North and has had an important influence on the Christian right in the United States. Its central theme is that society should be reconstructed under the lordship of Jesus in all aspects of life. 

Way back in 1987, Bill Moyers introduced us to the Christian reconstructionist movement in a series titled "On Earth as it is in Heaven."

Christian Reconstruction and God's Law from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

When Johnson says that we can read the Bible to understand his position on ANY issue, he's aligning his politics with Christian reconstructionism. That shouldn't come as a surprise since the organization he worked for prior to his political career - the Alliance Defending Freedom - has always maintained ties to Christian Reconstructionism.

As Moyers pointed out, the founder of this movement was Rousas Rushdoony. John Sugg summarized his views succinctly.
Rushdoony, who died in 2001, articulated a doctrine called “presuppositionalism.” All issues are religious in nature, he posited, and people don’t have the right or the ability to define for themselves what’s true; for that they must turn to a literal reading of the Bible...

At the heart of Rushdoony’s argument were 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. Thus was born dominion theology...Adam and Eve broke their covenant with God, and Satan seized dominion. Christian Reconstruction claims it has a reconstituted covenant with God and the right to a new dominion in his name.

In this worldview, the mandate for Christians is not just to live right or to help their neighbors: They are called upon to take over or eliminate the [Satanic] institutions of secular government.

That is why, for reconstructionists, "there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government." All institutions are either "biblically based" or satantic. 

Katherine Stewart wrote that "Rushdoony drew on two traditions that would prove essential in understanding the genesis of today’s Christian nationalist movement. The first was the proslavery theology of America’s antebellum preachers. The second was the economic libertarianism that took root in reaction to the New Deal."

Rushdooney was particularly influenced by the pro-slavery theology of Robert Lewis Dabny who argued that opposing slavery was “tantamount to rejecting Christianity.” After the Civil War, Dabney, who referred to democracy as “mobocracy,” took up the cause of his “oppressed white brethren of Virginia and neighboring states to the south.”

Their oppression consisted in, among other things, having to pay taxes to support a “pretended education to the brats of black paupers.” These unjustly persecuted white people, as Dabney saw it, were also forced to contend with “the atheistic and infidel theories of physical science.”

Christian reconstructionists like Johnson have never embraced democracy and have traditionally rejected the idea of paying taxes to support the education of "those people."

Any of that sounding familiar?

Julie Ingersoll's book, "Building God's Kingdom," is an account of the history and goals of the Christian reconstructionist movement. She provides an important key to understanding them:

Christian Reconstructionists argue that the Bible must govern every aspect of life. In their framework, known as “jurisdictional authority” or “sphere sovereignty,” God delegates biblical authority to three distinct, and severely limited, spheres of “government.” There is family government, ecclesiastical (church) government, and civil government, each with its own authority and sphere of legitimate influence.

So, for example, in this view, education is entirely within the purview of the family government, not civil government. Reconstructionists believe public education and even regulation of private education by the civil government violates biblical law.

Similarly, because Reconstructionists believe that economic activity is a function of the family’s call to dominion, economic regulation by the government is considered unbiblical—a fundamental tenet of what is known as biblical economics.

We've seen how those views are being embraced by the movement to defund pubic education - primarily in red states. But reconstructionists also have very detailed views about taxes and government spending. Here is what Gary North - Rushdooney's son-in-law - wrote about that.

There is no discussion in the Bible of the proper limits of taxation. Taxation should therefore be discussed in terms of achieving other biblical goals and enforcing other biblical principles.

The supreme biblical goal of taxation is to finance a civil government that is incapable of doing more than the Bible says it should...The state should be limited in a way analogous to the limits placed on the king in Deuteronomy 17. So, the biblical goal of modern politics is to shrink the state -- all branches -- to levels consistent with the biblical concept of civil government: negative sanctions only. The welfare state must be de-funded.

Taxation therefore should be discussed, above all, in terms of limiting the expansion of the state, especially the central government.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that one of the first things Johnson did as Speaker was to tie Israeli military aid to defunding the ability of the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats. We haven't even begun to see how bullish he's going to be on defunding the entire social safety net.

There is no area of modern life that isn't covered by the "biblical worldview" of Christian reconstructionists. At the Coalition on Revival, they have documented the "Christian worldview" on government, law, family, economics, education, charity, social action, business, art, science, medicine, and psychology. If you want to know what kind of policies we're likely to see from the Republican Speaker of the House, feel free to skip the Bible and go directly to the source.

Friday, November 17, 2023

"Toxic masculinity isn't shielding us from danger. It's the reason we're not safe."

Amidst all the news coming out of the war in Israel/Gaza, the story of Vivian Silver is the one that caught my attention. 

Silver moved from Winnipeg to Israel in 1974 and was a longtime member of Women Wage Peace and other organizations campaigning for peace in the region.

She was dedicated to denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; she had fought against the blockade of Gaza, in place since 2007, and would pick up Gazan children at the border to drive them to Israeli hospitals.

Vivian was killed by Hamas during the October 7 attack. I suspect that the people who murdered her didn't know who she was, but I'm also not convinced they would have cared. That's because nothing we've seen from Hamas (or Netanyahu) indicates they share Vivian's goal of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As a matter of fact, a case can be made that women like her pose the greatest threat to the aims of both Hamas and Netanyahu. 

The organization Vivian was involved with, Women Wage Peace, is the largest grassroots peace movement in Israel, including over 45,000 members. Here's their mission statement:

Women Wage Peace is a broad, politically unaffiliated movement, which is acting to prevent the next war and to promote a non-violent, respectful, and mutually accepted solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the active participation of women through all stages of negotiations.

Recently Women Wage Peace began a collaboration with Women of the Sun, their sister organization for Palestinian women.  Just last year, Haaretz interviewed its directors, Reem Hjajara, Maram Zoual, and Layla Sheikh. About the collaboration, Hjajara says:

[I]f we can talk about our experiences, we can discuss the most difficult questions. We want the Israeli women to know what our lives are like under the occupation. I want them to know that the army uses Deheisheh [a Palestinian refugee camp] as a training camp, and that there are always soldiers there. We’re always afraid.”

She starts to cry and takes out her phone, showing me a shocking photograph of the bloody body of a young man lying on the street. “My son’s best friend in Deheisheh [Fadi Mohammad Ghattas] was recently killed by the army. He had been in our house only a few days before; he was a son to me,” Hjajara says.

“I want Israeli women to understand what it means when they send their children to the army,” adds Sheikh. “I know you love and want to serve your country, and that you believe you are protecting yourselves. But I want you to know what it means to us when you put guns in the hands of your children.”

As if in anticipation of the next question, Hjajara addresses Palestinian terror and extremism. “Settlers and soldiers attack Palestinians and some people break,” she says. “Our children do not feel they have a future and they’re depressed. Many commit suicide, and some of them hate so much that they attack Israelis – which is a form of suicide...

Hjajara concludes that she is excited about the [collaborative events with Women Wage Peace], but worries about her son. “He did believe in peace, but now, since he lost his friend, I don’t know what he thinks. He stays in the house and cries, and doesn’t eat or sleep. There is too much anger and sadness inside of him.

“Like most Palestinians, he wonders when his turn to be killed will come. That is why we must talk to each other and make peace, so mothers – both Palestinian and Israeli – won’t mourn their children anymore.”

Women from the two groups came together last year to issue a "Mothers' Call." Here's the opening statement:

We, Palestinian and Israeli women from all walks of life, are united in the human desire for a future of peace, freedom, equality, rights, and security for our children and the next generations.

All of that happened before the Hamas attack on October 7th and the Israeli assault on Gaza. Now Vivian is dead and God only knows the fate of Reem, Maram, and Layla. Why? 

As Amanda Marcotte wrote, it all boils down to the lie that toxic masculinity will keep us safe (emphasis mine).

Feminists have long detailed how it's wrong to equate masculinity, especially toxic masculinity, with safety. For instance, the myth of chivalry is constructed around the idea that men need power over women in order to protect us. But, as feminists point out, what we're being "protected" from is male violence that only exists because men have so much power over women...Toxic masculinity isn't shielding us from danger. It's the reason we're not safe.
If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it's that Netanyahu can't keep Israel safe and Hamas can't keep Palestinians safe. If we want peace, it's time to listen to the mothers.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

The direct line from Ronald Reagan to MAGA Republicans

I readily welcome the Republican NeverTrumpers into the ranks of those of us who are determined to protect our democracy from the MAGA Republicans. We need every vote we can get and I actually admire the courage it takes to put country over party.

But every now and then I see one of them harkening back to "the good old days" when Ronald Reagan led the GOP. As long as they do that, they'll never really understand what happened to their party - assuming it was simply Trump who came along and ruined a good thing.

The truth is that there is a direct line from Ronald Reagan to most of the politics that birthed the MAGA movement and put Trump in the White House. If a healthy Republican Party is ever going to emerge out of the ashes (I'm still pretty skeptical), they are going to have to grapple with the fact that these four issues from the Reagan presidency are what led to the GOP becoming the MAGA party.

Racism

In contrast to the bombastic racism of Trump, Reagan employed a more subtle (i.e. dogwhistle) approach. For example:

He kicked off his run as 1980’s Republican presidential nominee with an appearance at the Neshoba, Mississippi county fair, where he professed his commitment to states’ rights...Neshoba county was infamous for the 1964 Freedom Summer murders of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, and appeals to states’ rights have long been used to justify southern states’ refusal to enact civil rights measures. By touting himself as a states’ rights candidate near the site of one of the nation’s most famous hate crimes, Reagan offered voters a racism that was both obvious and unspoken.

Other dogwhistles included constant references to things like "welfare queens" and "strapping young bucks using food stamps to buy steaks."

Similar to Nixon's "Southern Strategy," the purpose of Reagan's dogwhistles was to send a signal to racist white people that the GOP had their backs. Thus, Reagan continued the policy of marrying the Republican Party to racists - paving the way for Trump.

Christian Nationalists

Prior to the late 1970's, white evangelical Christians had pretty much stayed out of politics - at least in any organized way. But in 1979, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich founded the Moral Majority. The kick-off event was a conference for religious leaders in August 1980 - less than three months before the presidential election. Speakers at the Dallas event included Pat Robertson, James Robison, Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and Tim LaHaye. 

The keynote address was given by Reagan, who began his remarks by saying "I know this is non-partisan, so you can’t endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you." He sounded a lot like the new House Speaker Mike Johnson when he said that if he were shipwrecked and could read only one book the rest of his life, he would choose the Bible because “all the complex questions facing us at home and abroad have their answer in that single book.”

Observers referred to this event as a "marriage ceremony between Southern Baptists and the Republican Party." Eventually that evolved into a marriage between Christian nationalists and the GOP.

Democratic Policies are Socialist

In 1961, before beginning his political career, Reagan gave a speech suggesting that Medicare was socialized medicine that would lead to a dictatorship.  That one goes way back to the days after the Civil War.

White southerners did not want Black men voting, they said, because formerly enslaved people were poor, and they would vote for leaders who promised to build things such as roads and hospitals. Those public investments could be paid for only with tax levies, and most of the people in the South with property after the war were white. Thus, although the infrastructure in which the southern legislatures were investing would help everyone, reactionaries claimed that Black voting amounted to a redistribution of wealth [ie, socialism] from white men to Black people, who wanted something for nothing.

In the name of preventing socialism, Reagan cut taxes, reduced regulations, and slashed spending on social programs.

In 2018, Trump's White House Council of Economic Advisors issued a report dubbed "Congressional Democrats Want to Take Money From Hardworking Americans to Fund Failed Socialist Policies.” The 72-page report used the word "socialism" 144 times.

Government is the Problem

Perhaps the most insidious Reagan legacy is his insistence that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Of course, he used that idea as justification to cut taxes, spending, and regulations - making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Republicans have been banking on that one for decades. Way back in 2011, Mike Lofgren told us how this works for them.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

We've recently witnessed massive disruption by MAGA Republicans in the House, as well as attempts to sabotage institutions like the courts and the Department of Justice. All a MAGA politician has to do is utter the words "deep state" and their supporters salivate at the idea of our "evil government." 

But take a moment to think about what it means for the people to view government as a "them," not "us." It makes us victims of government rather than citizens in a democratic republic. As Barack Obama said in 2012: "As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government." One of the more powerful ways that Republicans undermine our democracy is by insisting that government is "them," not "us."

There you have it - four ways that Reagan prepared the way for MAGA Republicans. I will continue to be pessimistic about our politics until the GOP starts to wrestle with freeing themselves from this legacy.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The GOP's case against Biden's domestic policies is all based on lies

When Republican politicians aren't talking about foreign policy or culture wars, they basically have a four-point critique of President Biden's domestic policies.

  1. Inflation is out of control due to government spending
  2. Violent crime is on the rise because Democrats are soft on crime
  3. Climate change policies are stifling U.S. oil production
  4. Biden's open border policies are creating a surge of illegal immigrants

 Every one of those is based on a lie. So let's take just a moment to unpack them.

Inflation

The Federal Reserve has traditionally targeted an inflation rate of 2% as optimal. We are currently approaching that goal.

The idea that government spending is driving inflation is the excuse Republicans use in their attempt to gut the social safety net. What they don't want to talk about is the fact that the major contributor to deficits are tax cuts - especially for the wealthy. History shows us that it is Republicans who drive up deficits and Democrats bring them down.

Here's what Biden has done on the deficit...so far.


When it comes to the economy overall, perhaps there's no better summary of Bidenomics than this: Violent Crime

The FBI recently released statistics on crime for 2022 (emphasis mine).
Homicides and violent crime overall decreased in the United States in 2022, according to FBI data released Monday...After killings climbed in both 2020 and 2021, murder and manslaughter both fell by 6.1 percent in 2022, and the violent crime rate nationwide declined 1.7 percent.
For some context, here's what that data looks like over time:


Domestic Oil Production

The latest report in October indicates that we're at an all-time high.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration reported that American oil production in the first week of October hit 13.2 million barrels per day, passing the previous record set in 2020 by 100,000 barrels. Weekly domestic oil production has doubled from the first week in October 2012 to now.


Open Border

Republicans constantly refer to "Biden's open border" policies. But I dare you to find even one of them who's willing to state what they mean by that. Here's why (emphasis mine):
By using the term "open border," conservatives...are suggesting that anyone can get into the U.S. without much hassle. But the reality is that the southern border is more fortified than it's ever been.

Since 1992, the U.S. has quadrupled the number of Border Patrol agents — from less than 5,000 to nearly 20,000 today.

Barriers, walls, and fences have been erected along portions of the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border, in addition to new Border Patrol outposts and high-tech surveillance systems.

The Border Patrol regularly breaks border arrest records, highlighting the difficulty of entering the country illegally.

What no one seems to want to talk about is that there has been a significant change in the migrants crossing our southern border over the last few years. It's true that the number who are "apprehended" is at an all-time high. But look a bit deeper and here's what you find:

The number of migrants from countries other than Mexico has soared
In November 2022, a majority of the migrants encountered at the border (63%) were from countries other than Mexico and the Northern Triangle region.

Some of the biggest increases in encounters have involved people from Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela.

Up above I put the word "apprehended" in quotation marks. That's because it is a bit of a misnomer. The majority of these migrants are not crossing the border illegally. They are seeking asylum, so they present themselves to border security voluntarily. That is NOT illegal.

The right to seek asylum was incorporated into international law following the atrocities of World War II. Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention (including the international definition of a refugee) into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980...

To be granted asylum, one must meet the definition of a refugee. However, international law recognizes that the refugee status determination process can be lengthy and complex. Therefore, asylum seekers should receive certain protections before a state has officially recognized them as refugees.
Those who want to live in the reality-based world (rather than the lies we're hearing from the GOP) should be asking two questions:
  1. What is driving this influx of refugees?
  2. Is our system for dealing with asylum seekers adequate? It's clear that the answer to that question is "no." So what needs to change?

There you have it. Every GOP critique of Biden's domestic policies is based on lies. We can count on the fact that they will repeat those lies and mainstream media will let them get away with it. Our only recourse is to speak the truth to as many people as possible. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Why Speaker Johnson rejects democracy

Since Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) to be Speaker of the House, most of the media has been scrambling to provide us with some background on who this man is. We've learned that he is fully embedded in the Christian nationalist movement, meaning that he embraces their anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ rights positions. 

But to really understand the new Speaker, it is important to look a little deeper. We know, for instance that he claims that his world view is based on the Bible. But what does that mean? 

A good place to start is this clip from a panel discussion at the Louisiana Right to Life Forum in 2013. 

 

Quoting the founders, Johnson talks about the twin pillars/the foundations of the republic: religion and morality. He then claims that we are being led - from the [Obama] White House on down - to erase all of our moral codes.

It's important to note that Johnson's views on this align perfectly with Opus Dei Catholics, like former Attorney General Bill Barr - who gave a speech at Notre Dame in 2019, where he said this:
From the Founding Era onward, there was strong consensus about the centrality of religious liberty in the United States.

The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the direction of piety. It reflects the Framers’ belief that religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.

Barr went on to explain why religion (which he referred to as Judeo-Christian) was "indispensable" (emphasis mine).

By and large, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition.

These practical statesmen understood that individuals, while having the potential for great good, also had the capacity for great evil.

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...

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.

Johnson echoed those remarks while rejecting the whole idea of democracy. 

In Johnson's worldview, the majority of people in a democracy are like wolves - dangerous. So the founders set up a constitutional republic based on biblical principles of what a civil society is supposed to look like. IOW - to tame the wolves. 

According to Johnson, everything started going downhill in the 1960s. 

The idea of blaming things like school shootings on the 60s is pretty standard fare for Republicans. But what Johnson suggests is that our only options are to embrace the "founder's natural law philosophy" (more on that later) or "moral relativism."

The bottom line is that, according to the new House Speaker, if we don't accept his "biblical world view," we are incapable of being moral human beings - making us dangerous. That is the giant us/them divide that is driving the apocalyptic visions on the far right these days.

These clips also provide a glimpse into how Johnson's "biblical world view" plays out in terms of policies. We'll revisit that one later. For right now I'll just say that Speaker Johnson is free to believe whatever he wants to believe and support whatever policies he prefers. But what he is NOT free to do is to suggest that anyone who disagrees with him is incapable of being a moral human being and poses a danger to society. 

Instead, perhaps he could learn a thing or two from what President Obama said to Notre Dame graduates in 2009.

Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey...Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen. It’s beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

And this doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious...And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us - even as we cling to our faith - to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.

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...