Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, April 03, 2021
Friday, April 02, 2021
The GOP Puts Far Right Ideology Above Property Rights And Public Safety
In 2002, the Weyerhaeuser paper mill in Valliant, Oklahoma, faced a drug problem. Managers at the mill in the small town, just north of the Texas line, brought contraband-sniffing dogs into the parking lot to identify suspect cars. The dogs pointed out a number of vehicles. When the cars were opened, the contraband inside was not drugs. It was guns. A dozen employees lost their job.
The firing triggered an uproar in Oklahoma. Weyerhaeuser had banned guns from its facilities; everybody understood that. The employees had obeyed that rule when they left their guns in their cars. If Weyerhaeuser now insisted that the ban applied to the parking lot, too, what were the employees supposed to do? Leave their guns at home and travel defenseless?
The Oklahoma legislature intervened. By unanimous vote in the state assembly—and a vote of 92–4 in the state senate—Oklahoma revised its firearms law to forbid businesses from policing their parking lots as Weyerhaeuser had done. The next year, the state amended the law again, this time to pound home the point even more emphatically:
No person, property owner, tenant, employer, or business entity shall maintain, establish, or enforce any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting any person, except a convicted felon, from transporting and storing firearms in a locked motor vehicle, or from transporting and storing firearms locked in or locked to a motor vehicle on any property set aside for any motor vehicle.
Every parking lot in the state of Oklahoma must now open itself to firearms, no matter the wishes of the property owner.
Over the next half decade, versions of the Oklahoma law would spread. Today, 12 other states allow virtually anyone to carry their weapon in their vehicle onto other people’s property. The property owner is forbidden to object or forbid. Eleven more states override the property rights of parking-lot owners a little less drastically. . . . Altogether, in almost half the states in the country, gun rights now trump property rights to a greater or lesser degree.
I tell this story as background to the sudden eruption of conservative outrage about the prospect of “vaccine passports”: the idea that businesses might demand proof of COVID-19 vaccination from potential customers. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has vowed to ban the practice in his state, if he can, and his rejection has been passionately echoed by other right-of-center commentators and politicians.
For now, then, the discussion about vaccine passports remains theoretical—which makes the discussion all the more impassioned and embittered. DeSantis and others are loudly advertising that with COVID-19, as with guns, their version of freedom puts greater priority on right-wing cultural folkways than on rights of property and ownership.
So it is with technology platforms too. Just as gun carriers have used state power to redistribute control of parking lots from the property owner to themselves, so do many conservatives seek to use federal power to redistribute control of the big social-media companies to their own benefit. The companies will still own the platforms, sort of—but many conservatives now want the government to write the rules about what is allowed on those platforms.
With both guns and social media, Florida has been unusually noisy about upholding folkways over ownership rights.
Florida’s “Guns everywhere!” mentality comes with a giant, Disney-size exception: A business can ban guns from its parking lots if it uses fireworks on the premises, as of course Disney World and other theme parks do. Florida also compensates employers for the risk its “Guns everywhere!” policy creates by eliminating their liability for injuries inflicted by firearms driven onto their property.
With COVID-19, too, it’s doubtful how hard DeSantis truly intends to fight business interests. The Miami Heat NBA franchise announced that beginning April 1, special sections of American Airlines Arena will be open only to fully vaccinated attendees. Social-distancing rules will be relaxed in these sections. DeSantis is not stopping that. And if DeSantis will not force the Heat to drop its rules, how much less likely is he to battle mighty Disney if it decides that a vaccination policy will speed the recovery of its business?
But the point is not to win the fight, or even really to fight the fight. The point is to announce the fight, and to keep raging about it, even if you do not in fact fight it very hard. . . . . he must reckon with a party in which anti-vaccination has joined pro-gun as an indispensable cultural marker—and as a potential veto bloc for anyone aspiring to a future Republican presidential nomination.
To appease those cultural blocs, Republican politicians must be willing to sacrifice everything, including what used to be the party’s foundational principles. To protect the gun, or to avoid contradicting the delusions of anti-vaccine paranoiacs, property rights must give way, freedom to operate a business must yield.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed the new mentality when she took to Facebook to denounce vaccine passports as “corporate communism.” It sounded crazy. But if you understand that she interprets communism to mean “any interference in the right of people like me to do whatever we want, regardless of the rights of others”—then, yeah, the property rights of corporations will indeed look to her like a force of communism.
A sizable minority of Americans want to use airplanes belonging to others, theme parks belonging to others, sports stadiums belonging to others—without concession to the health of others or the property rights of owners. With guns, with COVID-19, with tech, the new post-Trump message from the post-Trump GOP is: Private property is socialism; state expropriation is freedom. It’s a strange doctrine for a party supposedly committed to liberty and the Constitution, but here we are.
Thursday, April 01, 2021
Montana Moves Toward Legalizing Anti-LGBT Discrimination
The Montana House passed a bill Thursday that would allow people to challenge government regulations that interfere with their religious beliefs.
The approval, on a 59-38 vote, came a day after lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have made it clear the law couldn't be used to justify discrimination.
The bill has already passed the Senate and now goes to Gov. Greg Gianforte's desk for his signature. In testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in March, Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras said the governor supports the bill and “emphasizes this is not a license to discriminate against the LGBT.”
Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government would have to prove any regulations that substantially interfere with someone's religious beliefs are justified by a compelling state interest and are being accomplished by the least restrictive means possible.
The LGBTQ community opposes the bill, arguing it could lead to challenges against ordinances in several cities that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Montana Human Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Republican bill sponsor Sen. Carl Glimm of Kila has said religious freedom laws have been used to prevent things like criminal prosecution of Native Americans for possessing eagle feathers for religious reasons and to prevent schools from requiring Native American children to cut their hair in violation of their religious beliefs. He said his bill is not an attempt to allow challenges to non-discrimination ordinances.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott of Helena sought to amend the bill Wednesday to say it could not be used to challenge such ordinances or the protections granted under the Montana Human Rights Act.
Republican Rep. Frank Garner of Kalispell urged support for the amendment, saying: “Because I suspect we will pass this bill today, I support this amendment if it gives comfort to those people who feel they will be subject to it."
Republican Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish opposed the amendment, saying: “Do not make me NOT do what my God tells me I have to do.”
The amendment failed on a 47-53 vote.
Opponents said more than 300 Montana businesses and organizations oppose the legislation and that other states that have passed similar measures have faced economic backlash.
“From a small brewery in Columbia Falls to one of the largest beer companies in the world that buys our barley, businesses do not like this bill and they would like it to go away," Democratic Rep. Katie Sullivan of Missoula said on Wednesday. “I think we should follow their lead and listen. If it is our goal to make Montana business-friendly, this bill moves us in the wrong direction and will make us known for discrimination instead of entrepreneurship."
Biden's Infrastructure Plan Will Put Republicans on the Spot
Although he may not have planned it, President Biden picked an auspicious date for unveiling his big infrastructure program. Exactly 34 years ago Wednesday — March 31, 1987 — the House voted overwhelmingly across party lines to override President Ronald Reagan’s veto of an $87.5 billion highway and mass transit bill.
It wasn’t even close. The final vote tally was 350 to 73, with 102 Republicans, including most of the House GOP leadership, joining all but one Democrat to defy their party’s president and push the bill forward. The Senate joined in overriding the veto two days later.
Biden’s big new infrastructure program involves far more than roads, bridges and mass transit, but he hopes to remind Republicans that once upon a time, in a Washington of long ago, the two parties were capable of coming together to build stuff.
“Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh outlining the plan. “There’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”
His plan is Exhibit A in the paradox of Bidenism.
The president is transforming the nation’s political assumptions by insisting that active government can foster economic growth, spread wealth to those now left out, and underwrite research and investment to produce a cleaner environment and a more competitive tech sector.
“There is something old-fashioned and decidedly nonradical about Biden’s invitation to see enhanced infrastructure as a vital national interest and to mobilize government to get it done,” Price said in an interview. “The same goes for thinking of nationwide broadband as today’s rural electrification,” the latter a reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s popular initiative to bring electricity to a previously unlit countryside.
As a result, said Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster, “Republicans will face a tough challenge in trying to make something like infrastructure into something radical.” Which is why, she added, the GOP will try to focus their attacks on other aspects of the plan. “Polling,” she said, “has consistently shown broad support for the idea that rebuilding infrastructure is the best way to create jobs and get the economy moving.”
Making an argument against the plan will be challenging for Republicans because its structure means they cannot claim he didn’t try to pay for it — but they cannot abide the way he chose to do so.
In particular, Biden would partially (but not fully) roll back the Republican’s 2017 corporate tax cut. The GOP reduced the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent; Biden would raise it, but only to 28 percent. By confining all his tax increases to the upper reaches of the economy, Biden has put his conservative critics in a position of opposing spending designed to broaden prosperity in order to defend tax benefits that flow to corporations and the very few at the top.
And to the extent that some of Biden’s progressive allies — among them Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, both Massachusetts Democrats — criticize the plan for not spending enough (they have a point in certain areas), they will further undercut claims on the right that the plan is radical.
It’s far from clear how many, if any, Republicans are willing to go back to the old days of working in tandem with Democrats on behalf of what the great 19th-century Whig politician Henry Clay called “internal improvements.” But we have, at least, moved from “infrastructure week” as a standing joke into a months-long effort that will test whether our government is still capable of doing big things.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Will There be Biden Economic Boom?
After our presidential election I wrote that what had just happened felt to me as if Lady Liberty had been crossing Fifth Avenue when out of nowhere a crazy guy driving a bus ran a red light. Thankfully, “Lady Liberty leapt out of the way barely in time, and she’s now sitting on the curb, her heart pounding, just glad to be alive.” But she knows just how narrowly she escaped.
I hoped that once Joe Biden took charge my anxiety over how close we came to losing our democracy would soon fade. It hasn’t.
Just listen to Donald Trump or Senator Ron Johnson or Fox News whitewashing the ransacking of the Capitol as a Republican white boys’ picnic that just got a little rowdy. . . . . Just watch Georgia’s legislature pass a measure supposedly designed to prevent the very fraud that Powell now says never happened by creating obstacles for Black voters — even making it a crime for anyone to serve water to someone waiting hours in a voting line.
Yes, that crazy bus driver is still out there and Lady Liberty is still in danger of being run over.
Instead of the G.O.P. sitting down after the election and resolving, “Let’s complete a bridge to the votes of a diverse 21st-century America — where a G.O.P. message of immigration reform, plus pro-business, pro-law-and-order, pro-smaller-government ideas could win” — it’s decided to burn down any pieces of that bridge and compete only for a white-dominated 20th-century America.
This Trump G.O.P. must never be allowed to occupy the White House again. It cannot be trusted to cede power. It barely did so in January, and it shows no signs of regretting its behavior. Which is why, if we want to preserve our democracy, we still have the fight of our lives on our hands.
The key to winning that fight is for Joe Biden to succeed well enough and long enough for this antidemocratic Trump version of the G.O.P. to flame out and be replaced by a new, principled, center-right Republican Party, ready to compete for 21st -century America.
And the key to that is for Biden to deliver real stuff that enables all Americans to realize their full potential. And the key to that is to make sure that the $1.9 trillion stimulus and his coming $3 trillion green/infrastructure proposal actually deliver as promised. And the key to that is for Biden to not only channel his inner F.D.R. but also a little Ronald Reagan and some rip-roaring capitalism.
What will make a sustainable difference, though, is whether the Biden stimulus doesn’t just rescue the poor but also propels the private sector to start new companies and create more good jobs that improve productivity and sustainably boost living standards, so that we’re not just redividing the pie, but rather growing the pie.
[T]here are lots of signs that we could be headed for just such an explosion in entrepreneurship.
Consider this report from The Wall Street Journal on Friday: “After a year of economic shutdowns and other changes brought on by Covid-19, rents for Manhattan storefronts, apartments and work spaces have been marked down to their lowest prices in years. That is already bringing in new small businesses and residents, and has the potential to change the character of the city’s most-exclusive borough. … New York state as a whole saw its highest number of new businesses launched last year since 2007.”
If we do this right, Biden’s stimulus will fuel an already restructuring economy and supercharge it. With so much cheap money available, so much cheap access to high-powered computing, so many new services being digitized and so many new problems to solve, we have all the ingredients for a burst of innovation, start-ups and creative destruction.
If it comes, call it the “Biden Boom” — and celebrate entrepreneurs, capitalists, job creators, farmers and all those who work with their hands. Make clear that they all have a home in the Democratic Party, not just left-wing educated elites. That’s how you win the midterms.
Biden also needs to maximize his green aspirations. It’s not just about unleashing spending. It also about unleashing capitalism. The key to a green revolution is scale. You need a whole lot of everything — wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, batteries, efficient materials. And the only way to get that kind of scale is by leveraging the market — by getting all kinds of public-private partnerships going that reduce carbon and grow profits.
The government can catalyze these in two ways. The first is to use its buying power to drive down costs. . . . Then, once these green technologies are affordable, said Harvey, “you stimulate the private sector to make them steadily cheaper and more efficient by having the government set improved performance standards every year” — like California recently did, requiring the end of internal combustion engines in cars by 2035, and the way Obama did in 2012, when he required U.S. automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025.
That is how you get scale, Harvey added: “You enable the private sector to deliver public goods” — for a profit. The government makes new technologies more cost effective, and the private sector, spurred by ever-stronger standards, “makes them ubiquitous.”
That’s just smart capitalism. And it’s the surest way to ensure the success of Biden’s two gigantic spending bills and deal a knockout blow to this pathetic dumpster fire called the Trump G.O.P. That would be a gift to both liberals and principled conservatives — and to Lady Liberty.
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority
Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.
As many Americans celebrate Easter and Passover this week, Gallup updates a 2019 analysis that examined the decline in church membership over the past 20 years.
Gallup asks Americans a battery of questions on their religious attitudes and practices twice each year. The following analysis of declines in church membership relies on three-year aggregates from 1998-2000 (when church membership averaged 69%), 2008-2010 (62%), and 2018-2020 (49%). The aggregates allow for reliable estimates by subgroup, with each three-year period consisting of data from more than 6,000 U.S. adults.
The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.
Between 1998 and 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen to 60%.
Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists -- U.S. adults born before 1946 -- belong to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X and 36% of millennials. The limited data Gallup has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.
The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. The change has become increasingly apparent in recent decades because millennials and Gen Z are further apart from traditionalists in their church membership rates (about 30 points lower) than baby boomers and Generation X are (eight and 16 points, respectively). Also, each year the younger generations are making up an increasingly larger part of the entire U.S. adult population.
Still, population replacement doesn't fully explain the decline in church membership, as adults in the older generations have shown roughly double-digit decreases from two decades ago. Church membership is down even more, 15 points, in the past decade among millennials.
Among religious groups, the decline in membership is steeper among Catholics (down 18 points, from 76% to 58%) than Protestants (down nine points, from 73% to 64%).
While precise numbers of church closures are elusive, a conservative estimate is that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year.
The ultimate irony is that far right Christians who would protect religion are killing it in America. At some point, the Republican Party will also be faced with the fact that wrapping itself in religion will be increasingly repellant to a majority of Americans.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Will Trump Drag Down the GOP in Virginia's 2021 Elections?
Former PresidentTrump is already deeply involved in the 2022 midterm elections, headlining fundraisers and backing primary challengers, but he has yet to weigh in on one of this November's few races: the vote for Virginia's next governor.
While a number of the GOP candidates in the field have embraced the former president and his policies, Virginia has been trending blue in recent years, making Trump's potential presence — or absence — the contest's key X-factor.
"Even though this election nationally is likely to be seen as the first election of 2022, I think it’s doubtful that Trump would get involved in Virginia, and if he did, it would be a negative, not a positive" for Republicans, said veteran Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth.
GOP state and federal lawmakers from Virginia experienced critical losses during Trump's tenure.
Democratic Virginia Reps. Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton all ousted Republican incumbents in 2018, contributing to the Democratic takeover in the House.
The party also won control of Virginia's General Assembly in 2019, giving the Democrats total control of the commonwealth's government for the first time since 1994.
Trump lost Virginia to President Biden by roughly 10 points in November after losing it to former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by roughly five points four years earlier.
Some observers believe, however, that while Trump will avoid getting involved in the GOP's 2021 nominating convention, he will ultimately end up endorsing in the general election.
"I think he’s going to make a difference," said talk show host John Fredericks, who served as Trump's 2016 and 2020 Virginia campaign chairman. "He’s got to rally the base."
In 2017, Republicans lost their second straight bid for the Virginia governor's mansion when Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Ed Gillespie, who supported many of Trump’s policies, by nearly 10 points.
Trump never campaigned directly with Gillespie but voiced support for him on Twitter in the run-up to the vote.
Four years later, many of the candidates running in Virginia's Republican primary have thrown their arms around Trump and his policies.
State Sen. Amanda Chase, who led a poll of the GOP field last month, often describes herself as "Trump in heels" and was censured by the state Senate for her attendance at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington and her praise for the rioters who stormed the Capitol that day.
Former hedge fund investor Glenn Youngkin has also echoed Trump's skepticism about the 2020 election results, including establishing an "Election Integrity Taskforce."
Former Virginia state House Speaker Kirk Cox (R), meanwhile, has steered clear of talking about Trump on the campaign trail and did not say in an interview with the AP whether he would like to see the former president stump on his behalf.
“I would like to see everyone turn and focus on Virginia and Virginians,” Cox said.
Former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, a vocal Trump critic who lost his GOP primary last year, told The Hill that whether the eventual Republican nominee accepts an endorsement from Trump could depend on their campaign's financial situation.
Others argue that Trump's support would not be enough to outpace the Democratic momentum coming from the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
"The worst thing for the Republican Party would be to have him mobilize the Democrats in Northern Virginia," Holsworth said. "[Republicans] don’t exist anymore as an organized forced in Northern Virginia."
"The Democrats would want nothing more than a heavy Trump presence in this election," he added.
Indeed the party is already at working trying to tie the former president to the GOP contenders in the race.
Four of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Del. Lee Carter, signed a joint statement on Thursday condemning their Republican counterparts for aligning themselves with Trump.
"Is it something Democrats would use in Fairfax County? Absolutely," said Doug Heye, former deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "But also, what are the dynamics in the campaign at that point in October and November and is Trump really leading a leading part of that conversation? I don’t think we know."
"Christian" Groups Spend Millions Backing Voter Suppression Bills
Republican state lawmakers who have rolled out more than 250 bills to restrict ballot access in more than 40 states, largely in response to President Donald Trump's false claims about election fraud, are receiving financial backing from an unusual coalition of Christian and "small government" groups.
The Family Research Council, the Susan B. Anthony List and the American Principles Project — all faith-based nonprofits — are spending millions to boost a Republican-led effort to restrict voting in dozens of states after the party lost the White House and the Senate amid record turnout and mail-in voting. Meanwhile, libertarian-leaning groups like FreedomWorks, Heritage Action — the political arm of the Heritage Foundation — and Tea Party Patriots are also planning an eight-figure investment to back the effort, which has already seen 253 restrictive bills introduced in 43 states, according to a a Brennan Center for Justice analysis. Heritage Action also plans to team with allies like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to craft model legislation for state lawmakers to adopt.
"The bills being introduced are similar, and with good reason," said Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, a civil rights attorney who has worked on voting rights cases across the country. "The RNC and national Republican groups have drafted 'best practices' for voter suppression that state legislatures can use."
Trump stoked unfounded fears about mail-in voting, without any evidence, for months before the election as he floundered in the polls. He continued to claim that the election was somehow rigged or stolen after his loss but failed to provide any evidence, losing every legal battle in the process. Trump's claims raised tens of millions from his supporters, though he spent just a small fraction of that on actual legal costs while dropping far more on fundraising ads and pocketing the rest for his super PAC. Now his conservative allies are targeting donors who bought into his false election claims, justifying their push by citing voter concerns about "election integrity."
Frank Cannon, senior strategist for the Susan B. Anthony List and American Principles Project, told The New York Times that conservative activists quickly realized that the only way they could keep donations rolling in is by making the effort to restrict voting access the "center of gravity in the party."
The Family Research Council, which spent years advising Trump on anti-LGBTQ issues and "religious freedom," has also joined the push to restrict ballot access.
"We've got 106 election-related bills that are in 28 states right now," FRC president Tony Perkins said at a recent "Pray Vote Stand Townhall" alongside Michael Farris, the president of the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the Times.
"Nothing Republicans are proposing would do anything to make our elections any safer or more secure. How would shortening in-person voting hours make elections more secure? How would limiting in-person early voting make our elections safer? It wouldn't, and Republicans know that. Their proposals are simply setting up unnecessary barriers to voting to target communities of color.
Perkins made clear at the town hall that his real interest was in making sure Democrats do not win elections, noting that his home state of Louisiana has consistently voted for Republicans after the state legislature created stricter voting laws after Democrats won a Senate seat in 1996.
Republican statements about gaining a partisan advantage and using the issue to raise money undermine their claims that this new wave of restrictions are in response to voter concerns about "election integrity." But even that argument ignores the concerns of the much larger majority of voters who are not part of the GOP base, civil rights groups say.
"These efforts seek only to put up barriers to silence our voices, based on who we are, where we live or how we vote," Hannah Fried, the national director of All Voting is Local, a civil rights campaign targeting voter restrictions, said in a statement to Salon, noting that 65 million voters cast their ballots by mail in the last election. "This is not what voters want, or what voters deserve. Most of us simply want everyone to have the freedom to vote — where we all can have a say in and trust the integrity of our elections. The majority of Americans support efforts to give voters more options for voting safely — not less."