Tuesday, July 2, 2024

"With fear for our democracy, I dissent."


My title is how Justice Sonia Sotomayor concluded her dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court case granting presidents criminal immunity for "official acts." Here's the context:
Never in the history of our Republic has a President had reason to believe that he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law. Moving forward, however, all former Presidents will be cloaked in such immunity. If the occupant of that office misuses official power for personal gain, the criminal law that the rest of us must abide will not provide a backstop. With fear for our democracy, I dissent.
You might not have seen this coming if you'd watched the confirmation hearings for the six justices who ruled in favor of presidential immunity. At least three of them made statements that no one - not even the president - is above the law.
Why the change all of the sudden? Josh Marshall nailed it. 

Because the GOP has been overtaken by a criminal, it is now time to give their leader immunity. 

I believe that Sotomayor's words in response will go down as one of the most consequential moments in our history as a country. But in her dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson took things a bit further and identified the root of the problem.
Ultimately, the majority’s model simply sets the criminal law to one side when it comes to crimes allegedly committed by the President. Before accountability can be sought or rendered, the Judiciary serves as a newfound special gatekeeper, charged not merely with interpreting the law but with policing whether it applies to the President at all...

In short, America has traditionally relied on the law to keep its Presidents in line. Starting today, however, Americans must rely on the courts to determine when (if at all) the criminal laws that their representatives have enacted to promote individual and collective security will operate as speedbumps to Presidential action or reaction...The potential for great harm to American institutions and Americans themselves is obvious...because the risks (and power) the Court has now assumed are intolerable, unwarranted, and plainly antithetical to bedrock constitutional norms, I dissent.

In other words, the six extremists on the court gave themselves the power to decide when/if a president can be held accountable for criminal acts. Over time this isn't so much about making the president a king as it is about taking power away from the legislative and executive branches and giving it to the courts. It continues what the court ruled just three days prior.

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo fully consolidates the Court’s dominance over federal agencies within the executive branch of government. It is a radical reordering of the US separation of powers, giving the one unelected branch of government all of its own power, plus much of the power that Congress has vested in the executive branch.

What we see unfolding is that the one unelected branch of government with lifetime appointments has decided that they have the power to overturn rulings by previous courts (Roe vs Wade), decide when a president can be held accountable, and discard expert analysis by federal employees - directing policy based on their own beliefs.

None of this is an accident. Two men in particular have been focused on elevating the power of the court over the other (more democratic) branches of government: Leonard Leo and Mitch McConnell. Recognizing that the GOP was moving into minority status when it comes to elections, they have been working on this for years. Their dream of neutering the legislative and executive branches of government to set up a country ruled by a majority of extremist judges is unfolding right before our eyes. Sotomayor issued the correct warning when she concluded her dissent by expressing fear for our democracy.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Trump's attacks on Biden are no accident

According to the Washington Post fact-checkers, Donald Trump told over 30,000 lies during his presidency. During Thursday's ninety-minute presidential debate, CNN documented that he told over 30 lies. 

During a speech at the United Nations in 2018, heads of state and delegates laughed at Trump.

Trump has been found liable for fraud and rape. He's also been convicted of 34 felonies.

Over and over again Trump has promised to weaponize the federal government against his political opponents.

During his presidential term, some members of Trump's cabinet discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment. 

You might be wondering why I'm rehashing some of the sordid history of this country's 45th president. It's because this happened during/after Thursday's debate.

  • Trump said this about Biden "I’ve never seen anybody lie like this guy...everything he does is a lie.”
  • Trump said that around the world Biden isn't respected.
  • Trump called Biden’s actions “absolutely criminal” and falsely alleged that Biden “gets paid by China” and is a “Manchurian candidate.”
  • Trump launched a groundless claim that Biden is weaponizing American justice against him. He called it "a system that was rigged and disgusting." 
  • Immediately after the debate, Republicans began calling on Biden's cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment.
Trump and his MAGA enablers chose those particular attacks for two reasons. First of all, as Karl Rove discovered years ago, the best way to defend your candidate against an attack is to accuse your opponent of the same thing. That way, when Trump's lies are documented, he simply accuses Biden of being a liar. The whole thing devolves into an argument of he said/he said.

Mike Lofgren explained how that works for Republicans by destroying public trust in government and its institutions.
There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn.

Secondly, that kind of "he said/he said" leads to headlines like this one at The Hill: "Trump, Biden accuse each other of lying."Rather than fact-check which one was lying and which one was telling the truth, it's easier to just act as a stenographer and report that both candidates accused the other one of lying. In other words, projection lays the foundation for the media's obsession with bothsiderism. When one candidate has demonstrated that he's a serial liar, that's a win for him.

During a more sane time, you'd be reading this kind of analysis all over the media because Trump's projection of his own failures onto Biden is so obvious. But these are, indeed, crazy times. I'm hoping this helps shore up your sanity just a bit. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader of that community is guilty of sexual abuse. One of the latest is Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. 

Thirty-five years ago Morris began sexually abusing Cindy Clemishire, who was only 12 years old at the time. The abuse continued for over four years. Once Clemishire spoke out against the abuse, Morris left the ministry for two years and received counseling. After that, he returned to the ministry and is now the pastor of a church that attracts an estimated 100,000 worshippers weekly. He also served on Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board during the 2016 campaign and has been a relentless MAGA cheerleader ever since.

From what I've seen, there are some individuals and churches attempting to document this kind of abuse in evangelical churches/organizations and develop ways to address the problem. But most of them focus on after-the-fact interventions designed to support the victim and hold the perpetrator accountable. No one seems to be willing to address the fact that sexual abuse is obviously rampant not only in Catholic Churches, but evangelical circles as well. 

In writing about Morris, Amanda Marcotte provided insight into the root of the problem.

As ex-evangelical therapist Jeremiah Gibson told Salon earlier this year, sex has never really been the issue with evangelicals. It's more about "the performance of gender" and maintaining a rigid gender hierarchy. While right-wing Christians talk a lot about "purity," that expectation only applies to women. Men, as the history of Christianity in America makes clear, largely get to do what they want, confident that the church will usually look the other way — even when the behavior is criminal or blatantly predatory...

The problem with expecting women — or in so many cases, underage girls — to bear the responsibility for maintaining "purity" is that it directly conflicts with another mandate placed on women in evangelical circles: total submission. Women were placed on earth by God, according to this theology, primarily if not exclusively to serve men...It's a lose-lose situation: Women are supposed to make themselves attractive and compliant, but if a man abuses or assaults her, that's her fault for not uttering the otherwise forbidden word "no." Furthermore, if she did say no but failed to fight him off, after a lifetime of being told that it's sinful "pride" to stand up for yourself, then that's her fault too.

That theology of "total submission" applies to children as well - which explains why young boys are also the victims of this kind of abuse. Once women and children have been properly schooled into a theology that tells them that men/fathers/pastors are at the top of a rigid hierarchy and that it is "sinful pride to stand up for yourself," the table has been set for sexual predators. 

In order to root out sexual abuse in the church, both Catholics and Protestants will have to grapple with a theology that actually enables the abuse. I have to say that I'm not optimistic that is going to happen any time soon. 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Dear Byron Donalds: The terror of Jim Crow was NOT good for Black families

Apparently it's not enough for MAGA to ban books that teach American history, suggest that Black people benefited from their time as slaves, or claim that the passage of the Civil Rights Act was a "huge mistake." Now Rep. Byron Donalds says that "Black families were better off during Jim Crow." 

In response, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries spoke some truth on the House floor.

Now Donalds claims that he never said that Black people were better off under Jim Crow, but wants to emphasize that he was suggesting that "Black families" were better off. I'll let you try to figure out how that's different. But a few lessons from actual American history are important to correct the record. 

First of all, Donalds wants us to forget what slavery did to Black families.

Roughly half of all enslaved people were separated from their spouses and parents; about one in four of those sold were children. Ads for the Thomas L. Frazer & Co. Slave Mart in Montgomery, Alabama, boasted that it had “constantly on hand a large and well selected stock” of Black boys and girls.

Slaveholders threatened separation to maintain control, forcing enslaved people to live with the constant fear of losing a loved one. Even those who were not traded across regions could be sold away from relatives at an owner’s whim, to divide an estate, settle a debt, or as punishment.

Secondly, a myth has developed in this country that Jim Crow was about separate lunch counters, water fountains, and schools. I'm going to let Hamden Rice bust that one.

It wasn't that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn't sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth's.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

According to research by the Equal Justice Initiative, there were "more than 4400 racial terror lynchings in the United States during the period between Reconstruction and World War II." This also happened during Jim Crow: 


The lynchings, beatings, and massacres were all part of the terror campaign that led approximately 6 million Black Americans to flee the South (often leaving family behind) during the Great Migration of the Jim Crow era.

As is often the case, I have no idea if Byron Donalds was being completely ignorant or sadistically inflammatory. But it doesn't matter. He can't whitewash our history. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?


A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election, conventional wisdom suggests that Biden is losing. But according to today's aggregate of national polls at the Economist, the race is tied. Even the right wing news site Real Clear Politics only has Trump ahead by about a point. Of course, that's national polls and the race will be decided by how candidates do in so-called "swing states," where Trump shows a bigger advantage. 

A lot of questions are being raised these days about the accuracy of polling. But even if we put that aside, it certainly seems to me that what they're telling us is that this race is incredibly close. National media tends to jump on every small tic upward or downward with pronouncements that, at this stage in the race, aren't justified.

So are there other indicators we should be paying attention to? How about the fact that Biden recently overtook Trump in at least one important measure: "the total number of donors who have given to his campaign, which is often seen as a proxy for voter engagement?"

There's also something important happening at the RNC and state Republican parties. I was particularly struck by something Lara Trump said just before she was elected co-chair of the RNC. She vowed to spend “every single penny” of Republican National Committee (RNC) funds to reelect Trump to the White House. Perhaps she made that statement out of ignorance about the RNC's role in helping to fundraise for state parties and down-ballot races. But I'd put money on a bet that she meant every word. 

According to Max Burns, it's even worse than that.

A growing number of state Republican operations are either broke or perilously close to it...

Republicans can thank Donald Trump for their current financial problems. Trump’s deal with the RNC requires the party to run its donations first through his Save America PAC — which already paid over $50 million toward Trump’s personal legal fees in 2023 alone. That was before RNC co-chair Lara Trump mused about skipping the middleman making the GOP pay Trump’s legal bills directly.

What Lara really meant was, "no money for state parties and down-ballot races" because it's all going to pay Trump's legal fees. WOW!

This raises a couple of questions when it comes to presidential elections: (1) do local/state GOTV efforts matter, and (2) is there such a thing as "reverse coattails?" 

On the second question, Amanda Lipman (co-founder of Run for Something), thinks the answer is a resounding "yes."

In addition to polls, these are some things to keep an eye on over the next five months.  

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Bill Barr explains why Christian nationalists are so loyal to Trump

Former Attorney General Bill Barr is in the news again. After basically asserting that the former president is unfit for office, he is now endorsing Donald Trump. 

Barr said, “Between Biden and Trump, I will vote for Trump because I believe he will do less damage over the four years.”Barr went on to describe the difference between both parties in stark terms, insisting that the “the threat to freedom and democracy has always been on the left.”

“I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration,” he said.

This has everyone scratching their heads in an attempt to understand how Barr can suggest that policies he disagrees with are a more serious threat to democracy than someone who attempted to overthrow an election and is now facing numerous felony charges. 

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind about all of this. The first is that Bill Barr (much like his pal Leonard Leo) is representative of the Catholic version of Christian nationalism. Most of us have been scratching our heads for years now trying to understand why this religious sect remains so loyal to Trump. In a speech he gave at Notre Dame in 2019, Bill Barr helped us answer that question. 

The former attorney general began his speech by making the claim that "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." In other words, he posits that our founders thought that democracy would only work if people allowed religion to control their evil impulses.

Barr went on to claim that "over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack" leading to "the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system." He then says that every social pathology - illegitimacy, mental illness, suicide, drug addiction - is the result of progressives who are militant secularists pushing religion out of the public square. He joins forces with the kind of rhetoric we hear from dominionists.

Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

In short, Barr believes that progressives are out to strip this country of it's Judeo-Christian moral system, which will make democracy unsustainable. That is the house of cards around which Christian nationalists have built their support for Donald Trump - at least on the surface. But as Fareed Zaharia explains, it goes much deeper than that. 

Zakaria points out that over the last 30-40 years, women, Blacks, Hispanics, gays, etc, are "rising out of the shadows into the mainstream," which is creating a major backlash not only in this country, but around the globe. Zakaria also suggests that Trump's superpower was his ability to tap into that backlash. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what white supremacist Richard Spencer said back in 2015.

“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”

The reason Barr and his fellow Christian nationalists support Trump is that they are engaging in what Doug Muder called the Confederate mindset (emphasis mine).

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

The very idea that, as Obama once said, we are continuing to "perfect our union" is anathema to the Confederate mindset.  Those are the stakes we're grappling with today. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Did Zelenskyy play a role in Speaker Johnson's about-face on aid for Ukraine?

Since I wrote about the role white evangelical Christians played in influencing Speaker Johnson to support U.S. aid to Ukraine, I found a piece by Jonathan Larsen that expands on that theme. Putting all of the information together indicates the following timeline:

January 1, 2024 - Ukrainian evangelicals met with Johnson and presented him with a letter urging him to support U.S. aid to Ukraine (emphasis mine). 

In the letter, the leaders of the Ukrainian Churches call on the Speaker of the House of Representatives M. Johnson to "continue supporting the struggle of the Ukrainian people for liberty, independence, and freedom of religion with your wisdom and all other possible means, including the weapons, that our defenders at the forefront of freedom and democracy so lack , in particular, those weapons for which the political and military leadership of Ukraine is asking."

February 4, 2004 - Speaker Johnson said that the bipartisan Senate bill authorizing aid to Ukraine was "dead on arrival" in the House. 

February 5, 2024 - Ukrainians evangelicals addressed a group of Christian nonprofits in Plano, TX.

Speaking through an interpreter, Atonyuk described Russia’s assault on Ukraine as an “evil project” to destroy freedom, including religious liberty.

“We are looking for ideas, projects and partnerships with our fellow Christians in the United States, because together we can stop this evil project,” he said. “Our Lord Jesus Christ will prevail. We are praying for this, and we are looking for partners who will stand with us.”

March 28, 2024 - Johnson spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.  

April 2, 2024 - Zelensky met with Ukrainian religious leaders (emphasis mine).

"I would like to ask you to communicate with each other not only here, within our country, but also abroad. This dialogue is very important for us now. After all, the church has a great influence on society, on state leaders. And so this is a very important signal for us regarding the support of our partners," [Zelenskyy] emphasized.

April 5, 2024 - Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy's top aid, wrote an article for The Hill titled "Ukraine's Evangelicals Need U.S. Support."

[S]ince Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and initial occupation of Eastern Ukraine, Putin stands as an adversary of Christianity, freedom of religion, and the church itself. Churches have been shuttered, ministers detained and tortured, and religious freedom suppressed. The full-scale invasion of 2022 intensified and brought this assault on Protestantism to newly-seized territories...

It is time for American and Ukrainian evangelicals to come together once again to ensure religious tolerance in Ukraine.

April 8, 2024 - Evangelical leaders in the U.S. (including Richard Land) wrote Johnson urging him to support aid to Ukraine. 

As you consider efforts to support Ukraine, we humbly ask that you consider the plight of Christians. The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine has been a tragic hallmark of the war.

April 12, 2004 - Johnson went to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump.

“I stand with the speaker,” Trump said at an evening press conference at his gilded private club.

Trump said he thinks Johnson, of Louisiana, is “doing a very good job – he’s doing about as good as you’re going to do.”

April 14, 2024 - Appearing on Fox News, Johnson said, "We’re going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now. We’re looking at the options and all these supplemental issues.” (emphasis mine)

April 17, 2024 - A second letter was sent to Johnson signed by several U.S. pastors.

We remind Congress that religious freedom is a basic human right that must be protected everywhere. We pray Congress has the courage to stand in solidarity with people of faith. Ukrainian Christians deserve the freedom to worship in peace and embrace their faith without fear.

We call on Congress to provide Ukraine with the financial and military support required to defend herself, stop the bloodshed, and secure freedom of religion within her borders.

April 20, 2024 - Johnson brought a bill for U.S. aid to Ukraine up for a vote in the House. It passed by a vote of 311-112.

It's clear that both Ukrainian and U.S. evangelicals are aware of the fact that using terms like "religious freedom/liberty" will trigger someone like Johnson in a way that details of the battle situation would not.

What stands out to me is the fact that Zelenskyy might have played a critical role in all of this. A few days after he spoke with Johnson - and probably saw that an argument based on Russia's military actions wasn't having any effect - Zelenskyy held a meeting with Ukrainian religious leaders asking them to communicate with their colleagues abroad because "the church has great influence on...state leaders." That was followed a few days later by an article in The Hill (a moderately right-leading publication) suggesting that Ukrainian evangelicals needed U.S. support. 

If my assumption is correct, Zelenskyy is an even more impressive leader than I thought. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Why did Speaker Johnson change his mind about aid to Ukraine?

Over the last few days, Speaker Mike Johnson has done an about-face on the U.S. providing aid to Ukraine.  In case you didn't know, a group called Republicans for Ukraine gave Johnson an "F" rating for voting against aid every time it came up in the House.  Then, when he became speaker, he continually blocked bills from coming to a vote. 

Now all of the sudden, he's risking the ire of Trump and MAGA Republicans (and possibly his speakership) in support of aid to Ukraine. What changed?

There are those who suggest that Johnson showed his hand by saying that he believes intelligence reports that "Vladimir Putin would continue to march through Europe if he were allowed." But hasn't he been getting these kinds of reports all along? Why would he suddenly believe them now?

While we'll never know for sure, I would suggest that something started happening about three weeks ago that ignited the speaker's change of heart.

In a March 26 letter, the Ukraine Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches urged U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson to vote on providing aid to Ukraine without delay...

Writers of the letter mentioned church buildings being taken away, ministers being arrested and tortured, the Russian bombings of an East Ukraine church, Feb. 28—which killed the pastor—and an apartment building, March 2—which killed 12, including five children and an evangelical pastor’s daughter and infant grandson...

The letter implored Speaker Johnson to come to the aid of evangelical churches in Ukraine because “as Evangelicals, we are being accused of working for the interests of the American Government...Appealing to Johnson’s shared evangelical faith—Southern Baptist—the letter closed by asking for “prayers and action on behalf of 8,000 Evangelical churches in Ukraine.

On March 10th, PBS ran a story titled "Ukrainian Christian Groups Face Violent Crackdown From Russian Forces."

Russia first occupied the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol in early March 2022.

And Russian Secret Services, after persecuting pro-Ukrainian activists, former government officials and human rights defenders, have since targeted the churches and their pastors and congregants.

That was followed by two different letters to Johnson from Baptist leaders in the U.S. urging him to support aid to Ukraine. The first one, dated April 8th, included the signature (among others) of Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, on which Johnson once served.

As you consider efforts to support Ukraine, we humbly ask that you consider the plight of Christians. The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine has been a tragic hallmark of the war.

The second letter to Johnson was dated April 17th and signed by several pastors.

We remind Congress that religious freedom is a basic human right that must be protected everywhere. We pray Congress has the courage to stand in solidarity with people of faith. Ukrainian Christians deserve the freedom to worship in peace and embrace their faith without fear.

We call on Congress to provide Ukraine with the financial and military support required to defend herself, stop the bloodshed, and secure freedom of religion within her borders.
I would submit to you that this is the reason Johnson did such an about-face on Ukraine. It was the specter of Putin's persecution of evangelical Christians in Ukraine that changed his mind. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm very relieved at the end result. But it's a good reminder that, to understand someone like Speaker Johnson, you always have to keep in mind where his loyalties lie. They're obviously not with national security or the lives of every day Ukrainians. Instead, they're with his tribe of evangelical Christians.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

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 reports, Israel's multilayered air defense systems were effective in stopping the barrage of drone/rocket attacks launched by Iran. As a result, Biden has warned Netanyahu that any further attacks against Iran would not be supported by the U.S. At the moment, that warning seems to have been heeded.

The amount of blood and treasure that would have been spent on an outright war between Israel and Iran is impossible to quantify. So it is important for all of us to be clear about the role played by those air defense systems in potentially avoiding a global catastrophe. It might surprise you to know who is responsible for that. So let's take a walk back through some recent history.

The concept of an "Iron Dome" over Israel dates back to 2004, when Brig. Daniel Gold, a mathematician and head of new-weapons research and development for Israel’s Ministry of Defense, invited the country’s defense contractors to propose innovative systems to protect against aerial bombardment. In early 2007, Israel’s Defense Ministry backed the project’s pilot phase with an outlay of $10 million, but then decided that offensive readiness was a higher priority and didn't allocate any more funds. Instead, Israel approached the Bush administration requesting hundreds of millions in additional support to deploy the Iron Dome. Bush said "no."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama visited Israel. 

All the cameras were on Barack Obama as he gave an emotional speech against the backdrop of the remains of around 100 spent Hamas rockets in Sderot...It was then that he made his memorable statement about someone sending rockets into his house where his daughters were sleeping, and promising that if he were elected, he would do everything in his power to protect Israel from Hamas rockets.

In 2010, President Obama proposed that the U.S. spend $205 million to spur Israel's production of the Iron Dome. Congress complied as part of a package that also included the following:

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has three initiatives with Israel to boost its home-grown capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

The so-called David's Sling Weapon System is for short-range defense; the Arrow Weapons System targets medium-range missiles; and the Arrow-3 interceptor is an upper-tier system under development.

The United States is also developing interoperability between the U.S. ballistic missile defense system and the Israeli architecture to make sure Israeli systems can be stitched in to a global umbrella.

Those are the systems that were used to deflect all of the drones/rockets that Iran launched against Israel on Saturday. Another middle east (and possibly global) war may have been prevented - all because President Obama had the foresight to take steps to prevent war. We all (including Benjamin Netanyahu and the people of Israel) owe him a huge debt of gratitude. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Trump doesn't care about abortions


Natasha Korecki put together a helpful timeline on the way Donald Trump has bobbed and weaved on the issue of abortion. For example:
  • In 1999 - before running for president as a Republican - he said, "I am very pro-choice." 
  • Two years later, (when he was considering the idea of running against Obama in the 2012 election) he claimed to be "pro-life." 
  • By March of 2016, he said that women who have abortions should be punished and vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe. 
  • Since that happened in 2022, he has been on-and-off again about a federal ban on abortions.
  • When the so-called "red wave" didn't materialize in the 2022 midterms, Trump blamed it on Republicans who insisted on abortion bans with no exceptions. 
This week, the bobbing and weaving has continued. On Monday, the former president put out a statement claiming strong support for IVF and for leaving the decision on abortion up to the states. He also warned that state and local legislators should keep in mind the need to win elections - telegraphing that he recognizes that a pro-life stand could hurt Republicans. 

Then on Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court lifted a ban on an 1864 law that made abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison for anyone who performs one or helps a woman obtain one. When asked about that on Wednesday, Trump said that the Arizona law "went too far" and released a video claiming that overturning Roe was the only goal. He said that, from the beginning, it has always been about bringing the issue back to the states - nothing else. 

All of these mixed messages stem from the fact that Trump doesn't really care about the abortion issue. When he decided to run for president as a Republican, he had to take a stand against it - and when it turned out that a majority of his base was made up of Christian nationalists, he catered to what they wanted in order to win/maintain their support. 

But what the former president doesn't seem to understand is that, for the pro-life folks, abortion is murder. And these days, most of them are coalescing around the argument that life begins at conception. So when he says things like "leave it up to the states," they hear him saying that it is OK for blue states to murder children during a pregnancy. 

Here's how Trump's former vice-president responded on Twitter:
President Trump’s retreat on the Right to Life is a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020...a majority of Americans long to see minimum national protections for the unborn in federal law. But today, too many Republican politicians are all too ready to wash their hands of the battle for life. Republicans win on life when we speak the truth boldly and stand on the principle that we all know to be true – human life begins at conception and should be defended from womb to tomb.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, said that abortion "has always been a human rights issue — not contingent on geography. Where you live shouldn't determine whether you live."

Steve Peace, BlazeTV host, is ready to give up on the whole GOP.

Now that Republicans have a chance to show they are sincerely pro-life, and act on decades of speeches and promises, they are by and large punting and cowering -- starting with the guy responsible for overturning Roe itself. Now plenty of our own teammates are also showing they're fine sacrificing kids on the altar of personal convenience...

What all of this means for Trump (and other Republicans on the ballot in 2024) is that what they want first and foremost is for this issue to quietly go away and get back to talking about the so-called "invasion" at our border. But that's not going to work. If the Christian nationalist base demands a federal ban on abortion - Trump is going to have to give them one. In the process, he loses everyone else.  

Monday, April 8, 2024

Right wingers use racism to deny systemic racism

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dismantled the Jim Crow laws of the South, but seven years later the Supreme Court made it clear that simply eliminating the "no Negroes need apply" wasn't enough when it came to employment discrimination. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger said:

...good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as "built-in headwinds" for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability.
That decision codified "disparate impact" as discriminatory, and therefore illegal.
Disparate impact refers to policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral, but result in a disproportionate impact on protected groups.

For years now I've been writing about the right wing assault on disparate impact being led by none other that Chief Justice John Roberts. If they can remove that standard, victims will be required to prove that the perpetrator intended to discriminate against them - which is almost impossible to do. 

Because of my interest in this topic, I wasn't surprised that - in this era of right wing extremism - Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote the quiet parts out loud in a piece titled, "Disparate Impact Thinking is Destroying Our Civilization." 

The most consequential falsehood in American public policy today is the idea that any racial disparity in any institution is by definition the result of racial discrimination...

As a result of this falsehood, we are eviscerating meritocratic and behavioral standards in accordance with what is known as “disparate impact analysis.”

By now you've probably noticed that this is supposed to be the "intellectual" argument behind all of the right wing attacks on systemic racism and "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (DEI) initiatives.

Mac Donald goes on to describe how "disparate impact analysis" is dumbing down the fields of medicine, law, and criminal justice. But the problem she faces (just like all of the other arguments against DEI initiatives) is that when you deny systemic racism, you have to come up with another explanation for all of the racial disparities in medicine, law, education, employment, the criminal justice system, etc. So yes, Mac Donald goes there.

We need to face up to the truth: the reason for racial underrepresentation across a range of meritocratic fields is the academic skills gap. The reason for racial overrepresentation in the criminal justice system is the crime gap. 

In other words, she claims that the disparities experienced by African Americans in this country are because they have an "academic skills gap" (ie, not as intelligent) and are more prone to commit crimes. That, my friends, is the very definition of racism. 

People who know their history will recognize Mac Donald's argument as the same one that was used as the basis for scientific racism. For decades researchers tried to prove scientifically that Black people were biologically inferior to whites in order to justify their racism. That didn't end well.

Disparate impact analysis and DEI measures are an attempt to weed out systemic racism like this:

Numerous formulas or "algorithms" used in medical decisions — treatment guidelines, diagnostic tests, risk calculators — adjust the answers according to race or ethnicity in a way that puts people of color at disadvantage.

Given how embedded these equations are in medical software and electronic records, even doctors may not realize how widely they impact care decisions.

And there's this when it comes to African American boys and the criminal justice system:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the lead author.

I could go on with other examples of systemic racism, but I'll leave it there for now. My point is that those who are attacking DEI measures and want to do away with disparate impact as the standard for proving discrimination are forced to rely on racism to back up their claims. A clear-eyed view of reality tells a very different story.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Why Christian nationalists fear freedom

For years now a lot of us have been trying to understand why white evangelical voters remain so loyal to Donald Trump. I believe that the answer to that question is complex, but Fareed Zakaria recently added something very important to the discussion. 

Modern societies protect your life and liberty so that you may individually pursue happiness and fulfillment, defining it as you please so long as you do not impinge on anyone else’s ability to do the same.

But constructing one’s own meaning of life is not easy; it is much simpler to consult the Bible or the Quran.

Zakaria goes on to describe the current rise in populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.

They offer people what the German American scholar Erich Fromm called an “escape from freedom.” A distinguished psychologist who studied the rise of fascism, Fromm argued that once human beings live through the chaos of freedom, they get scared. “The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self,” he wrote.

As someone who laboriously worked their way out of white fundamentalist Christian authoritarianism, that rings very true. As I came face-to-face with my own individual self, I experienced a moment of pure unadulterated panic. That's because I could no longer lean on the rules handed to me via authoritarians, I had to depend on myself to figure things out. David Whyte captured that moment with his poem titled "Revelation Must Be Terrible." Here's how it starts:

Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.

Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor

of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.

Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world

you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
Sara Robinson wrote a powerful series of essays about people leaving authoritarian systems. She captured why that kind of revelation can be so terrifying.
We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.

Over the last couple of decades, as we have opened our arms to create a place of belonging for those who have been marginalized, the old systems based on racism/sexism/homophobia have been challenged. All of that posed a threat to the security of a culture/tradition based on those systems. Rather than engage in the difficult task of grappling with those changes, too many white evangelical Christians simply doubled down on authoritarianism because the freedom to chose for themselves was too terrifying. 

 Those fears have been manipulated by politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley, who once said the following:

For decades now our politics and culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition; of escape from God and community; a philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice. 

Just to be clear, for Hawley, that's a bad thing.

The idea that freedom is bad has been fully embraced by the right wingers who are referred to as National Conservatives, the new right, or post-liberals - guys like Hawley, Sen. J.D. Vance, Tucker Carlson, Sohrab Ahmari, and Peter Thiel.

The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience.

It is important to wrestle with what that means. For most of us, this democratic republic was founded on the idea of economic and personal freedom. But for these folks, the idea of freedom is terrifying. That's why Katherine Stewart nailed it when she wrote this:

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

Before closing this one out I'd like to say that, over the last couple of months, I've been immersing myself in music as a way to cope. On this topic of the freedom to find our self, this one by Jacob Collier spoke to me profoundly.  

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"I'd much rather be us than them"

According to the polling aggregate at The Economist, if the 2024 presidential election were held today, it would result in a tie.

There's been a lot of chatter lately about whether these polls are accurate, and we won't know for sure until November. But if we put all of that polling controversy aside (which I am inclined to do), Simon Rosenberg has captured what's really important right now when he says "I'd much rather be us than them." There are several reasons why that statement rings true.

Fundraising

Typically a politician's ability to raise money has been deemed almost as important as their standing in the polls. I'm not totally convinced that's true anymore. But the fact of the matter is that not only is Biden raising more money, a large portion of the funds raised by Trump and the RNC are going to pay the former guy's legal fees. To the extent that money makes a difference in a presidential campaign, the edge on this one goes to Biden.

A GOP in Disarray 

While the mainstream press doesn't write much about it, there are huge battles going on amongst Republicans. We see that in the complete inertia in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Johnson can't take a step without pissing off one faction or another. But it is even more pronounced in several swing states like Florida, Michigan, and Nevada. State party leaders are a crucial part of getting out the vote in November, both up and down the ballot. This kind of upheaval will not only hamper those efforts, it could very well spread to other states.

Another way that disarray is affecting the GOP is that there is a contingent of Republicans that is overtly rejecting Trump. As we saw in the early primary states, 1/3 to 1/2 of Haley voters said they would not vote for him in the general election. Here's what they sound like:
Many of the people who served in the Trump administration are saying the same thing.

Conventional wisdom has historically suggested that once a candidate becomes the nominee, they broaden their appeal to reach out to a larger audience for the general election. Given the split inside the GOP, you'd think there would be a massive outreach effort underway right now. But the RNC is doing the exact opposite. 

Issues 

Trump has made it clear that he is proud that the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court overruled Roe v Wade. He has also promised that he will not support any effort to halt gun violence and that he will end efforts to mitigate climate change. On day one he's promised to "drill baby drill."

I've already written that the policies Trump is actually proposing would be a disaster for both the United States and the globe.

As of a few months ago, it looked like the Republican message would be focused on what they defined as Biden's failures: the economy, crime, and the border. The first of those two have been fairly neutralized with slowing inflation and an historic drop in violent crime. But once it became clear that Trump had ordered his minions to kill the bipartisan border bill, that one was neutralized too. 

Of course, Trump and Republicans will continue to lie about those issues. But they've botched things so badly that refuting their claims is not difficult. For example, they are actually attempting to revive the Reagan question about whether or not you're better off than you were four years ago when a pandemic that killed one million Americans was sweeping the country and the economy was in the midst of collapse. 

Trumpism

This one could take a while to type out. So I'm simply going to let Seth Myers do the work.

Beyond all of that, mental health professionals are speaking up to point out that not only is Trump a malignant narcissist, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is showing "unmistakable signs strongly suggesting dementia, based on his public behavior and informant reports that show progressive deterioration in memory, thinking, ability to use language, behavior, and both gross and fine motor skills."

The issue is that, unlike narcissism, dementia is a progressive disease - meaning that it will get worse over time. To the extent that Trump's handlers are trying to cover it up, they're probably just making it worse. In other words, this could be a real powder keg.

A caveat to all of this would be that eight months is a long time. All kinds of things can happen between now and November. Some of them might be good and others catastrophic. That's why I'll never be in the position of predicting outcomes to an election. 

I also suspect that some people might respond to this list by saying that none of the above will affect MAGA voters - and I would agree. The point is to back up what Rosenberg is saying. Polls aren't everything. In the end, I'd much rather be us than them.  

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Right wing disinformation is fodder for fascism

You might recall that it was John Solomon - working at The Hill - who peddled Rudi Giulian's Russian disinformation claims about the Bidens (as well as lies about the Clinton Foundation in 2016). That's why this column by Solomon is likely to break any irony meter that is still functional.  

Americans are being confronted by a painful reality that a Democrat-fed, taxpayer-funded media spin machine is increasingly creating false realities, untrue narratives and outright lies that are putting the country on a whipsaw rollercoaster where truth surfaces long after deceptive narratives or mistruths have affected elections or official actions.

At one point, Solomon writes that "experts" warned that "the deceptions of Democratic Party actors and their allies in media and government will be an issue on the ballot this November" before quoting Newt Gingrich, Kash Patel, and Tom Finton.  

So what we have are several of the biggest purveyors of disinformation claiming that it is Democrats who are running a spin machine that creates false realities, untrue narratives, and outright lies.

To understand why they're doing this, let's take a look at one of the right wing publications that has apparently put Solomon on their payroll - even after he left The Hill in disgrace. That would be RealClearPolitics (RCP), an organization that bills itself as "the only prominent news platform aggregating all serious sides" (emphasis mine).

A quick look under the hood demonstrates that, too, is a lie. For example, RCP recently handed out their new Samizdat Prize to three journalists who "have shown First Amendment courage." Those three people are:

  1. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya - who peddled disinformation about COVID.
  2. Miranda Devine - who peddled disinformation about the Bidens. 
  3. Matt Taibbi - who peddled disinformation about the so-called "Twitter files."
In other words, RCP thinks that "first Amendment courage" is demonstrated by spreading right wing (usually Russian) disinformation. That's not very both sidsy of them, is it?

But that's just one example. For a look at the bigger picture, an organization called Global Disinformation Index analyzes the disinformation risk level in various countries. In December 2022, they published their report on the United States, identifying the news sites with the lowest and highest risk of disinformation. The results are profound.


We can first of all note that ALL of the sites at highest risk are right wing organizations - with RCP right in the middle of the list. You won't find a better example of what Ornstein and Mann described as "asymmetric polarization" than that. 

What's important to note about this analysis is that it is not based on fact-checking for disinformation. Instead, here's what they do:
The GDI methodology looks at over 80 different signals in combination to generate an overall assessment of disinformation risk for a news website as a whole. The resulting score does not determine whether a site or a specific piece of content is disinformation or not. The summation of all the data collected does, however, allow GDI to measure the risk that a given site may disinform its readers.

For example, when analyzing content, they look at whether certain groups are targeted, whether sources are credible and clearly identified, and whether headlines accurately describe the content. 

So of course the publisher of RCP, David DesRosiers, had to lie about GDI's findings.

GDI labeled RealClearPolitics as a high-risk news site for disinformation. All because we include voices they don’t like. That we pair such voices with those they agree with doesn’t seem to matter to them.
What we have is a right wing media complex that is built on disinformation and lies. When they're held accountable, they respond with more lies. 

But leave it to John Solomon to take it even further. The biggest purveyor of (mostly Russian) disinformation accuses Democrats of building a "media spin machine" that is "increasingly creating false realities, untrue narratives and outright lies." That's what those of us in the mental health field call "projection." As Steve Benen pointed out years ago, he seems to have learned this skill from Karl Rove.
More than anyone I’ve ever seen or heard of, Rove identifies some of his own ugliest, most malicious, most pernicious qualities, and then projects them onto those he hates most.

In other words, Solomon says to Rove: "Hold my beer."

The most pernicious effect of all of this is that it undermines the idea that there is any truth to be found (ie, Democrats say this, Republicans say that. Who are you going to believe?). Those who believe THAT lie are simply fodder for the fascists.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sure, Trump is unfit for office. But his agenda would also be a monumental disaster!

For just a moment, I'd like to back off the fact that Donald Trump is unfit for office, is a serial liar, has been found guilty of rape/fraud, and faces 91 criminal counts in 4 different indictments. Instead, let's take a moment to think about what he and his enablers say he will DO if elected president again. 

Foreign policy

Trump will turn Ukraine over to Putin and is likely to pull the U.S. out of NATO. He's also said that he would encourage Russia to invade any NATO country that doesn't pay up. That is nothing short of an invitation to World War III.

Revenge

Trump has promised that a second term would be all about retribution.

Donald Trump and his allies have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations... 
To facilitate Trump’s ability to direct Justice Department actions, his associates have been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.  

Immigration

At almost every campaign stop, Trump makes this promise: 

To understand what that means, let's take a look at what Ron Brownstein recently wrote.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, has publicly declared that they would pursue such an enormous effort partly by creating a private red-state army under the president’s command. Miller says a reelected Trump intends to requisition National Guard troops from sympathetic Republican-controlled states and then deploy them into Democratic-run states whose governors refuse to cooperate with their deportation drive.

Blue state governors are likely to object to such a move and would have constitutional grounds to do so. At that point, Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, which would give him almost unlimited authority to use any military asset for his deportation program.

Who would be targeted? Stephen Miller, the white nationalist that Trump would likely put in charge of such an operation, told Charlie Kirk that at minimum, they're talking 10 million people. Included in that number are people who have overstayed their visas and, according to Miller, people who were let in on visas but "whose views, attitudes, and beliefs make them ineligible to stay in the country." That aligns with what Trump said last October (emphasis mine).

“I will implement strong ideological screening of all immigrants,” he said, reading from the teleprompter. “If you hate America, if you want to abolish Israel,” he continued, apparently ad-libbing, “if you don’t like our religion — which a lot of them don’t — if you sympathize with the jihadists, then we don’t want you in our country and you are not getting in. Right?”

Economy

To get some idea of what Trump's deportation operation would mean for our economy, let's take a look at what happened to Postville, Iowa in 2008 when one meatpacking plant was raided and about 400 undocumented immigrants were arrested. 

According to the Des Moines Register, not only were families torn apart, but a quarter of the town disappeared. Those left behind had to "pick up the pieces from an event that hit their town with the sledgehammer effect of a natural disaster." So just imagine that kind of thing happening in communities all over the U.S. - magnified exponentially.

Trump is also promising to escalate the U.S-China trade war he launched during his first term as president.

Trump’s trade war with China cost Americans an estimated $195 billion since 2018, according to the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. The economic battle also led to the loss of more than 245,000 U.S. jobs, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.

Finally, there will be more tax cuts, which ballooned the deficit during Trump's first term.

Climate change

Trump has promised to once again pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and roll back as many of Biden's accomplishments as possible.

Trump could slow down the progress of the clean energy transition as president by redrawing the rules for the IRA’s generous tax credits.

He would, his allies say, also scrap government considerations of the damage caused by carbon emissions; compel a diminished EPA to squash pollution rules for cars, trucks and power plants; and symbolically nullify the Paris climate agreement by not only withdrawing the US again but sending it to the Senate for ratification as a treaty, knowing it would fail.

Abortion

While Trump hasn't stated a position on a national abortion ban, he made one thing perfectly clear.

Guns

Trump promised the NRA that if he is elected, "no one will lay a finger on your firearms."

Health care

Even as the rest of his party abandoned the idea, Trump continues his promise to repeal Obamacare.

So there you have it. Even when we ignore the fact that this man is unfit for office, tried to foment an insurrection, and could end up in jail for the crimes he is alleged to have committed, a second term would be a monumental disaster for this country - on every major issue.

"With fear for our democracy, I dissent."

My title is how Justice Sonia Sotomayor concluded her dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court case granting presidents criminal immunity for...