Saturday, December 19, 2020
Not for the first time, people are having strong feelings about Pete Buttigieg.
President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he’d nominate the former Democratic presidential rival and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to become transportation secretary, and the reactions were predictably polarized. Buttigieg’s fans heralded it as a great job for a young leader and a stride for LGBTQ representation. His detractors complained that it was a political favor for an unqualified rookie—though just a few months ago he was a semi-serious contender for an even more demanding job.
Deeming Buttigieg unqualified requires a standard for what makes a good transportation secretary. Quick: Name the best secretary in the department’s history. Hell, name the current secretary. Or her predecessor. (If you can, either you work in transportation or journalism, or you’re a huge asset to your pub-trivia team.) Is the most important qualification for this job subject-matter expertise? That’s useful, but often DOT is headed by politicians with only some preexisting transportation-related background (Anthony Foxx, Ray LaHood, Norman Mineta). If nothing else, Buttigieg clearly has the brainpower to master new material.
There’s one more way to think about qualifications, though: Who can best champion the department? This is the strongest case for Buttigieg. DOT is not always a high-profile department, though it touches Americans’ lives pretty much every day, and his presence will elevate it. Because he is a slick communicator, he will be able to advocate for it publicly, and because he was a notable surrogate for Biden during the election, he’ll be able to get the president’s attention.
The most productive way to think about Biden’s selection of Buttigieg, as well as other secretaries, is as a whole: What kind of Cabinet is the president-elect trying to assemble? There doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme. In some cases, he seems to be choosing for generic leadership skills rather than subject expertise. In others, he’s picking people he trusts. In still others, he’s picking people to discharge favors he owes, either to individuals or to demographic groups.
Biden has also sought to use appointments as a vehicle for representation, echoing Clinton’s vow with a promise to have “the most diverse Cabinet anyone in American history has ever announced.” Buttigieg, who would be the first Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet official, fits that. There are many people of color, including Rice, Austin, Becerra, Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security), Marcia Fudge (HUD), Michael Regan (EPA), and Deb Haaland (Interior). There are a number of women, including the pathbreaking Treasury pick Janet Yellen.
Buttigieg was a key surrogate, and now he gets a Cabinet post. Fudge was pushed hard by Representative James Clyburn, to whom Biden probably owes the Democratic nomination as much as anyone. Neera Tanden, the Office of Management and Budget pick, has long been a loyal party soldier. Biden is rumored to be considering Diana Taylor, the partner of megadonor (and former rival) Michael Bloomberg, for some job.
More than anything, Biden appears to be emphasizing personal relationships, a natural choice for a politician who has centered his long career on connection with people. . . . a team of people who get along has the advantage of being a team of people who get along. The recent history shows that any number of approaches to a Cabinet can work—or fail.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
After three visits to doctors, it is confirmed that I broke my right wrist (I am right handed, naturally). Thankfully, surgery is not required and I will be in a cast for the next four weeks. The cast has freed up my fingers compared to the splint I was in and I can type albeit not as well as usual and I cannot use a computer mouse. Thus, I am using my laptop at home and at work since I can manage the touch pad on the laptop. My office computer is only being used to print closing documents which I cannot notarize since I cannot write legibly. It will be a long four weeks.
Meanwhile, above is a piece that was recently run in the local business paper (the entire back page much to my surprise) that looks at the scholarship I founded.
The most common religious identity among young adults in the U.S. is "none," and the majority of Americans don’t believe it’s necessary for a person to believe in God to be moral and have good values, a new survey has found.
Released Tuesday, AEI’s Survey Center on American Life investigating contemporary religion in the U.S. found that among young adults (age 18 to 29), the most common religious identity today is none. More than one in three (34%) young adults are religiously unaffiliated.
Nearly nine in 10 (87%) Americans report they believe in God, but just over half (53%) report they believe in God without any doubts at all. Of these, more than eight in 10 white evangelical Protestants (87%) and black Protestants (83%) say they are absolutely certain God exists.
Additionally, most Americans say it's not necessary for a person to believe in God to be moral and have good values. Close to six in 10 (59%) Americans say a belief in God is not a precondition to being moral and having good values, while 41% of the public say a belief in God is essential.
These statistics, the authors say, mark a “remarkable shift in recent years.”
The study also found that Americans are almost equally divided over whether it is better to discuss religious beliefs and ideas with those who do not share the same perspective, and most Americans have never been invited to church. A majority (54%) of Americans say they have not been asked to participate in a religious service in the past 12 months or have never been asked.
The survey corroborates a 2019 Pew Study survey that documented the decline of Christians and rise of religiously unaffiliated. Pew noted that the religiously unaffiliated group rose to 22.8% share of the population in 2014, eclipsing the number of Catholics in America, who fell to 20.8%.
Christians as a whole fell from 78.4 to 70% of the population between 2007 to 2014, with every major group experiencing a decline.
Ryan Burge, a political science researcher at Eastern Illinois University who analyzed data from the survey, told The Christian Post that the religious “‘nones’ are not slowing down.”
“Their share of the population is continuing to climb 1% every two years and has done so for the past 15 years or so. If current trends keep up then they will be the largest group in the United States in the next five years, statistically.”
Monday, December 14, 2020
The U.S. Supreme Court, which many predicted would roll back LGBTQ rights with its new 6-3 conservative majority, has turned down a request to hear a case that would have undercut the guarantee of full marriage equality for same-sex couples nationwide.
In its orders list Monday, the court without explanation signaled it had denied certiorari in the case, known as Box v. Henderson, which seeks to undermine the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in terms of birth certificates for children born to lesbian parents.
Despite the widely held perception marriage equality for LGBTQ families is settled law and beyond any challenge, the question before the the court was squarely framed as challenge to same-sex marriage and asked the court to “take this case to address whether Indiana’s paternity-presumption law is consonant with Obergefell.”
The petition, which had been pending since June, was an early test for newly confirmed U.S. Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom many feared would undermine LGBTQ rights from the bench given her publicly stated religious views against same-sex marriage.
Barrett’s views on the petition, however, aren’t known. It takes of vote at least four justices to agree to take up a case, but the recorded tally for any petition isn’t publicly recorded.
The petition was filed by the state of Indiana, which sought in cases of children born to same-sex parents who are women to refuse to place the name of a non-birth mother on the child’s birth certificate, even if the two same-sex parents in the relationship are married to each other.
In a filing before the Supreme Court on Nov. 23, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill contended “common sense” should allow states to presume the child born to lesbian parents had a biological father.
“In the vast majority of cases, a birth mother’s husband will, in fact, be the biological father of the child, with all the rights and obligations attendant thereto,” Hill writes. “But a birth mother’s wife will never be the biological father of the child, meaning that, whenever a birth-mother’s wife gains presumptive ‘parentage’ status, a biological father’s rights and obligations to the child have necessarily been undermined without proper adjudication.”
The state of Indiana has continuously failed in convincing courts to agree to its demands. State courts had ruled the state must place the names of both lesbian parents on their children’s birth certificates consistent with Obergefell. When the case reached the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the appellate court affirmed those decisions and concluded the law must be applied the same for different-sex and same-sex parents.
In an opposition brief to the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, lawyers with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other attorneys maintained the Seventh Circuit “correctly construed state law.”
“Based on its analysis of Indiana statutes and case law, the court of appeals found that Indiana law affords a birth mother’s husband the right to be listed on the birth certificate of a child born during the marriage, including when a child is born through donor insemination and it is known that the husband is not the child’s biological parent,” the brief says. “Having made that determination, the court of appeals held that…the same rule must be applied to married same-sex couples.”
The U.S. Supreme Court explicitly addressed the issue of birth certificates in the landmark 2015 Obergefell decision, determining same-sex couples are entitled to the “constellation of benefits” of marriage, including the issue of birth certificates for their children.
Just two years later, the Supreme Court had affirmed Obergefell applies to birth certificates in a separate case. In Pavan v. Smith, Arkansas challenged the decision as it pertains to birth certificates by refusing to place the name of the non-birth mother on the birth certificate of a child born to lesbian parents via an anonymous sperm donor.
Based on the Supreme Court’s decision to turn down the challenge, however, justices appeared to have signaled the cases are no different and reaffirmed Obergefell and Pavan’s guarantee same-sex parents to have their names on the birth certificates of their children.
Drew Anderson, spokesperson for the Indiana Democratic Party, chided Indiana state officials for seeking to challenge parental rights for same-sex couples in the first place.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has now made it clear to everyone that LGBTQ Hoosiers should have the same God-given privileges as everyone else, which includes having job security, getting married, and starting a family with the person they love,” Anderson said. “The Indiana GOP is still not long-removed from the days of Mike Pence and RFRA, and we suggest Hoosier Republicans get with the times and stop creating useless political theater that does nothing but destroys our trust and divides the state.”
Sunday, December 13, 2020
For $30, you can buy a white T-shirt on eBay that says “Don’t make me RITTENHOUSE your ass!!!” on the back, from a seller named Gabby in Anson, Texas. The sleeves are adorned with stencilled semi-automatic rifles, a skull and “2A,” for the Second Amendment. It’s one of dozens of shirts just like it. When 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse used a semi-automatic rifle that had allegedly been purchased illegally to shoot and kill two men and wound a third during Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last August, he became a hero to a large swathe of the right-wing, someone to wear your support for on your chest, or between your shoulder blades. There are now corners of the internet full of merchandise in his honor . . . . The most common slogan, across dozens of shirts and multiple sites, is simple: Free Kyle.
Last month Rittenhouse, who has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, was released from jail after posting his $2 million bail, much of it raised through crowdfunding by his supporters. More than 13,000 donors donated nearly $600,000 for his legal defense on GiveSendGo, which bills itself as the “#1 Christian Free Crowdfunding Site.”
Months of mythmaking had led to this point. His insistence that he was acting in self-defense, and his self-appointed mission to cross state lines from Illinois to “protect” Kenosha businesses, as he told a Daily Caller reporter that night, was almost immediately taken up by figures across the right. Among Rittenhouse’s many defenders were President Donald Trump, who claimed the shooter “would have been killed”; Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, who told a West Virginia radio station that Rittenhouse had shown “incredible self-restraint,” and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. . . . it would seem, with Rittenhouse, that the recruits into a deadly culture war now extend to a pool of civilian foot-soldiers for white supremacy — no matter how young, or how far outside the law.
A more recent move to embrace vigilante violence, however, suggests a self-deputization en masse. The right-wing is no longer content to leave the power of violence in the hands of the state, no matter how eagerly and often that power is used. This narrative was seeded in popular right-wing support for George Zimmerman, who killed unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. He then later sold the gun he used in an online auction for a quarter-million dollars.
There’s a strong parallel between support for Zimmerman and Rittenhouse, rooted deep in American racism — Zimmerman was acquitted of killing a Black teen outright, while Rittenhouse set out to quell an uprising for Black rights. Zimmerman’s actions were also framed as self-defense — despite the fact that, against the advice of a 911 dispatcher, he stalked Martin through his neighborhood, gun at the ready.
By contrast, Rittenhouse’s actions feel more warlike, part of an offensive charge: crossing state lines into a sea of people, gun drawn, a soldier entering enemy territory. The right-wing mindset in the era of Rittenhouse has ripened into one of total war, propped up by the vocal support of key figures in the Republican Party and silence in the remainder of its upper echelons.
In the minds of those who laud a gun-wielding teenage killer, who perhaps harbor arsenals and fantasies of their own, a decayed, degenerate social order can only be restored with shed blood. There is “order” in the act of killing, as long as the killer is white and the victim is a perceived political enemy. In the right-wing authoritarian imagination, “order” does not equate with justice, nor with the equal application of the law. It means enforcing a hierarchy of racial caste, of gender-based submission, of a Christian-centric polity. There is laudability in violence, even extrajudicial violence, that works to achieve these ends.
The embrace of Rittenhouse on the right has played out in a kind of parallel to the results of the 2020 presidential election. You could call it evidence of an epistemological crisis — if killing is morally just when it is done to maintain “order,” to thwart one’s political opponents, what else can be justified under that framework?
As the path to a Trump victory becomes vanishingly narrow, the rhetoric and behavior of the president’s supporters has become more threatening. A member of Trump’s legal team called for the official in charge of the 2020 election’s cybersecurity to be “taken out at dawn and shot.” . . . . After certifying the results of the 2020 election, Michigan’s secretary of state had armed protesters surround her home. Such bile shows no signs of dissipating. The Proud Boys, having successfully swept through D.C. in November with little opposition, plan to return later this week.
A retreat into mirrored realities — in which a killer is a hero, an election was compromised — happens in pieces. It happens in viewers’ descent from Fox News to Newsmax to One America News Network, searching for the dream of a Trumpian United States. It happens in the growing spread of militia groups, whose recruitment has ballooned in recent weeks, and in the armed protests moving through city streets, anyone in the way serving as potential collateral damage.
Cornered by the loss of an election, and with it a figurehead in which tens of millions have invested much of their identities, the right has been consumed by a bunker paranoia. A retrenchment into an apocalyptic worldview and a readiness to defend its tenets is happening all around us. Such a world needs people like Kyle Rittenhouse to keep itself spinning.