Saturday, February 04, 2023
Yesterday Vladimir Putin went to Stalingrad. It was the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the city once named after the Soviet dictator. The current Russian dictator solemnly bowed his head and knelt before a wreath laid to honor the heroes of the battle that turned the tide of World War II. The day before the ceremony, a bronze bust of Joseph Stalin had been unveiled in the city, whose name was changed to Volgograd in 1961. By then Stalin, perhaps the 20th century’s greatest mass murderer, was out of favor. But for Putin, the city is still Stalingrad, the year is still 1943, Nazis are still waging a scorched-earth war, and the heroic Russian people are still fighting a far stronger enemy in defense of the motherland. Only it’s 2023, and the enemy is the independent, democratic, much smaller nation of Ukraine, led by a Jewish president and armed by Western democracies—including Germany.
Putin’s purpose in going to Stalingrad was to connect the past war to the present one, and in doing so to rouse Russian pride and warn his enemies of their coming doom. “Unfortunately, we see that the ideology of Nazism in its modern form and manifestation again directly threatens the security of our country,” he declared in a speech to a military audience. . . . . We are again being threatened with German Leopard tanks with crosses on them.”
To grasp the enormity of this lie—the foundational lie of Russia’s war against Ukraine—it helps to know something about the history of World War II. During Putin’s visit to Stalingrad, I was rereading the classic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, a CBS radio correspondent who had been based in Berlin in the 1930s. So it was fresh in my mind how Adolf Hitler, in his first move of conquest, annexed Austria in March 1938, claiming it as a historical part of the German Reich, and then held a plebiscite in which 99.75 percent of Austrians officially voted to join Germany. Putin’s first move in this war was to annex Crimea in March 2014, claiming it as a historical part of the Russian Empire, and then hold a plebiscite in which 97 percent of Crimeans officially voted to join Russia.
Next for Hitler in 1938 came the annexation of the Sudetenland, the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia, where local Nazis, on orders from Berlin, instigated phony pretexts for a German takeover. Relentless Nazi propaganda transformed Czechoslovakia, a progressive democracy, into a hellish aggressor, and charged its president, Edvard Benes, with a litany of made-up crimes. . . . . the Fuhrer roared. “To the interests of the German Reich belong the protection of those German peoples who are not in a position to secure along our frontiers their political and spiritual freedom by their own efforts.”
It isn’t all that hard to replace the German Weltanschauung with Ruskiy Mir, or “Russian world”; Hitler the protector of oppressed German speakers with Putin the liberator of oppressed Russian speakers; Edvard Benes with Volodymyr Zelensky; the Sudetenland with the Donbas; Berlin-backed Sudeten Nazis with Moscow-backed Ukrainian separatists. In both cases, incidents in the breakaway regions were ginned up on orders from the neighboring empire, giving it an excuse to invade. . . . Eight years after starting a war in Crimea and the Donbas, Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, bringing destruction, murder, rape, occupation, annexation, deportation, threats of annihilation, and many more lies.
Putin’s claim that Russia is reliving the defense of Stalingrad shows how misleading and pernicious analogies can be. It’s generally wise to resist them—this one above all, for Hitler truly was unique. But as I made my way through Shirer’s 1,100-page book, resisting the analogies required much more effort than drawing them.
Putin raises the Nazi ghost as a way not just to discredit his enemies with a false charge, but to immunize himself from having a far more plausible charge flung at him. This is propaganda as projection—a common technique of demagogues.
In Stalingrad, Putin used the historical lie where he knew it would hurt most—against the Germans. The agony of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision, after months of hesitation, to send tanks to Ukraine reflected a genuine fear among Germans—not so much that Russia would retaliate with nuclear weapons, as Putin threatened in his speech, but that Germany’s Leopards are still Panzers, that their use in Ukraine might still evoke images of Operation Barbarossa, that the country can never live down its darkest history. . . . . the nightmare of another war with Russia still haunts Germany, but even more, the legacy of 27 million Soviet dead in World War II remains a source of almost transhistorical guilt. Putin, who served in Dresden, in East Germany, as a KGB officer, understands that he has only to say “Nazi” for the German soul to tremble.
I would like to hear Scholz, or Zelensky, or Biden, lay this ghost to rest by reversing the charge. Germany’s Leopards will be used, at last and much too late, to help Ukraine’s military defend the country against a far more numerous and heavily armed invader. The Germans were willing to lose entire divisions in the crucible of Stalingrad; the Russians are willing to do the same in Bakhmut, and they’re sending tens of thousands more troops for a new offensive in the Donbas, where cities and villages lie in ruins.
Scholz’s belated decision should be seen not as a failure to learn from history, but as one more step in Germany’s long reckoning with its crimes. The Leopards are part of the same project of national atonement as the Holocaust Memorial, in the heart of Berlin. They won’t erase the past, much less, as Putin does, deform it. They will honor it.
Friday, February 03, 2023
This week marked the third anniversary of Brexit, and it coincided with a grim verdict from the International Monetary Fund: This year, the British economy will do worse than all of the world’s major economies — including Russia. The 2016 vote to leave the European Union marked the symbolic start of the wave of populism that has been coursing through much of the Western world ever since. It was a conscious choice by a major country to have poorer economic relations with its largest market. (In 2021, the European Union took in around 42 percent of British exports.) British voters thus put nationalism and politics above economics.
On virtually every measure, from business investment to exports to employment, Britain is falling behind its peers. Think tank scholar John Springford put it simply: “If you impose barriers to trade, investment and migration with your biggest trading partner (EU), then you’re going to have quite a big hit to trade volumes, and to investment and to GDP.” Everywhere you look, Britain is feeling the pinch, from a shortage of workers to small companies struggling to send their goods into Europe to reduced traffic on the Eurostar train between Britain and Europe. Bloomberg Economics estimates that British GDP would be 4 percent higher had it stayed in the European Union.
Britons know they were conned. According to one survey, a clear majority now believe that leaving the European Union was a bad idea, and almost two-thirds want a future referendum on rejoining. The current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was a Brexiteer himself and continues to mouth platitudes about its virtues — while he faces a series of crises that has in part been generated by Brexit.
Brexit was part of a broader collapse of British confidence. After the global financial crisis of 2008, British productivity turned downward sharply and has never recovered. Austerity policies made things worse as Tory governments slashed public spending, widening inequality and heightening general anxiety. As always, when times get tough, it is easy to blame foreigners, and opportunistic politicians such as Boris Johnson did just that, promising that Brexit would cure all the evils that faced the country and lying about the costs and benefits. Johnson’s fantasies of a lean and productive “Global Britain” that, once unshackled by Brexit, would become a kind of Singapore-on-Thames have gone nowhere.
According to Financial Times reporter John Burn-Murdoch, if things continue this way, the average British family will be poorer than the average Slovenian family by the end of next year.
The effects go beyond economics. Over the years, I have listened to every prime minister from Margaret Thatcher through David Cameron. They varied in political philosophy but all had an ambitious conception of Britain’s role in the world. Though they acknowledged that Britain would never be a superpower like the United States or China, they envisioned it as an energetic, engaged global player that cared deeply about the world.
Most important, it had a long tradition of generating ideas and agendas on global issues — rooted in its legacy as a liberal, free-trading country with deep historical ties around the world. It had a voice that was heard everywhere and listened to seriously.
But over the past decade, defense spending has stagnated while funds for the foreign service, foreign aid and even the BBC have been cut in real terms. With Brexit, even the rhetoric about a larger role collapsed, as politicians ran away from anything that seemed too global.
Britain has become a middling island nation isolated off the coast of Europe, without the heft to matter on its own or to set the agenda in its partnerships. Even Washington has little time for a country that is not even part of the E.U. As journalist Neal Ascherson once feared, Great Britain has become Little England.
There is a remedy that would restore British growth, enlarge the country’s ambitions and return it to a central place in shaping a new world of great power competition. It would, of course, require that Britain return to the European Union.
Rishi Sunak is looking for a way to make a mark and turn Britain’s fortunes around. He has the solution staring him in the face. He just needs the courage to grab it.
The Republican Party and false and opportunistic right wing populists must be prevented from taking America down a similar path.
Thursday, February 02, 2023
Most Americans think the economy is in bad shape, and 6 in 10 blame President Biden. Things could soon get worse: Economists believe there is a 70 percent likelihood of a recession this year — more than double the share from six months earlier, a Bloomberg survey in December found.
Given all this, House Republicans should ask themselves: Why on earth would they do anything that could hurt the economy — and give Biden the pretext to shift blame for his economic fiascoes to them?
That’s exactly what will happen if Republicans force a debt limit fight with the president. If the United States reaches the brink of insolvency, myriad problems could follow: The stock market could plummet, interest rates could skyrocket, our national credit rating could be downgraded, millions of jobs could be lost and inflation could climb even further. And Republicans would assume ownership of the economic debacle.
Instead of the “Putin Price Hike,” as Biden has tried to explain gasoline increases, Biden will begin touting the “MAGA Price Hike” — wrapping the poor economy around House Republicans’ necks. Why would the GOP hand Biden that kind of opening?
Note also that the history of presidential elections after debt ceiling fights has not been good for Republicans.
In 1995, after Republicans took control of the House with a much larger majority than they have today, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) threatened not to raise the debt limit unless President Bill Clinton agreed to $245 billion in tax cuts, restraints on new Medicare and Medicaid spending, and a balanced budget within seven years. Republicans didn’t get most of their demands, and they paid for their brinkmanship the following year, when Clinton won reelection in a 379-159 electoral college landslide.
In 2011, Republicans again picked a fight over the debt ceiling. This time, it was the Democrats who flinched. . . . Obama’s discretionary spending was restrained — but at the cost of massive defense cuts that have hurt our ability to compete with and deter a rising Communist China. In the end, Obama had the last laugh. He won reelection the next year in another electoral college landslide, 332-206.
See a pattern? If Republicans want to all but guarantee a second Biden term, picking a debt ceiling fight is a great way to do it.
Such a fight does not make sense politically in other ways. It would unite Democrats while dividing Republicans, pitting the austerity wing of the GOP caucus against the defense hawks who oppose any efforts to cut military budgets at a time when China and Russia have locked arms to wage a new Cold War against the West.
Moreover, there is no constituency for austerity in today’s GOP. This is no longer the party of Paul Ryan. In 2016, Donald Trump brought in new working-class voters who like their entitlements and federal largesse. He campaigned by attacking Republicans for wanting to cut Social Security or Medicare.
If Republicans want to roll back Biden’s spending spree, throwing the country into a debt crisis is not the way to do it. Instead, they should do what Democrats did to get the spending passed in the first place: Win. Go out and convince voters to give the GOP control of the Senate, the White House and a bigger House majority. . . . . Putting the country on the brink of insolvency would have the opposite effect at the polls — making those GOP electoral victories less likely.
I used to believe in using the debt ceiling as leverage, but history is clear: Voters punish the party that plays chicken with the economy. . . . they alienated swing voters, who gave Democrats control of the Senate and Republicans an unexpectedly small House majority.
Now, instead of learning their lesson, Republicans are picking a debt limit fight — one that is poised to let Biden shift responsibility for his disastrous economic policies onto the GOP. That could cost them their narrow House majority — and, if history is any guide, the presidency.
Wednesday, February 01, 2023
An unrelenting assault on truth and freedom of expression in the form of laws that censor and suppress the viewpoints, histories and experiences of historically marginalized groups, especially Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities, is underway throughout the country, most clearly in Florida. The state’s Department of Education recently rejected a pilot Advanced Placement African American studies course from being offered in Florida’s public high schools.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law — which would limit students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender — Florida is at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to silence Black voices and erase the full and accurate history and contemporary experiences of Black people [and gays].
Florida’s rejection of the A.P. course and Mr. DeSantis’s demand to excise specific subject areas from the curriculum stand in stark opposition to the state-issued mandate that all students be taught “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition and the contributions of African Americans to society.”
While litigation continues, the various provisions of “Stop WOKE” and now the rejection of A.P. African American history could have devastating and far-reaching effects on the quality of education for Florida’s 2.8 million students in its public K-12 schools. . . . . As a federal judge ruled in November, the law strikes “at the heart of ‘open-mindedness and critical inquiry,’” such that “the State of Florida has taken over the ‘marketplace of ideas’ to suppress disfavored viewpoints.”
Mr. DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law relegates the study of the experiences of Black people to a prohibited category. The canceling of students’ access to accurate, truthful education that reflects their diverse identities and that of their country should chill every American.
And they are a chilling precursor to state-sponsored dehumanization of an entire race of people.
This disturbing pattern of silencing Black voices and aggressive attempts to erase Black history is one of the most visible examples of performative white supremacy since the presidency of Donald Trump. In 2019 the Florida legislature undermined Amendment 4, which a supermajority of Floridians supported and would have restored the voting rights of more than a million formerly incarcerated people.
What is happening in Florida is also happening in other states. Fifteen states now have active educational gag orders — and similar censorship measures are making their way through several state legislatures — with punishments including fines, civil suits, firing and criminal penalties for those who violate the broadly defined provisions. From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans listed 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 book titles. The content in most of the banned books involves prominent characters of color, L.G.B.T.Q. protagonists or themes and subject matter related to race and racism.
Florida’s H.B. 1557, more widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, also limits conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms and, like “Stop WOKE,” makes clear that the State of Florida seeks to suppress and target people’s identities.
Meanwhile, teachers, librarians and school officials providing guidance on diversity, equity and inclusion are said to have been pushed out of their jobs and gotten death threats. Last year ProPublica reported the chilling story of a Black educator who was chased out of Cherokee County in Georgia by a group of people incensed that she was bringing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to the school district.
Several book bans and other antitruth measures introduced in the past two years target The New York Times’s 1619 Project (and curriculum), which was created by Nikole Hannah-Jones — who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work — and is a linchpin in today’s conversations about the role of systemic racism in America’s history and its enduring impacts. In Wyoming and Texas, lawmakers and school officials have proposed measures mandating that objectively horrific historic events like the Holocaust and the trans-Atlantic slave trade be presented to American children neutrally and without judgment.
Contrary to those advancing a false morality of ignorance and hollow patriotism as justification for barring students from discussing uncomfortable facts, we know that young people of all races benefit from an accurate and inclusive education. . . . . On the other hand, research shows that education that ignores students’ awareness of race, racism and stereotypes leads to increased prejudice.
The losses to our nation, if this broad attack on our shared history is allowed to continue, are incalculable. Not only will it breed a generation of Americans indoctrinated by ignorance; it will deny them the analytical skills to understand the complex history of this experimental democracy, as well as the historical grounding to sustain it.
Moreover, it will deny future generations the full story of turmoil and triumph that is America. It will also sow the racial divisions that enable white supremacy, which the F.B.I. has identified as a major domestic security threat, to thrive.
The good news is that most Americans oppose policies like book bans and support teaching the history of race in America — positions that indicate they value and understand the importance of truth. However, we must also respond to the urgency of this moment. . . . It starts with recognizing what is happening: This is bigotry and erasure aimed at robbing America’s children of their educational birthright and all of us of a better shared future. Recognize what is happening, call it out and resist erasure.
DeSantis and the GOP must be stopped.
The GOP’s conspiracy theories and unhinged accusations work best when Republicans are in the minority, when they can throw out half-baked accusations and make leaps of logic with little consequence.
When they are in the majority, however, they must show their cards about supposed Democratic scandals. And that is already proving to be a problem for right-wing performance politicians for four reasons.
First, most voters don’t want lawmakers to spend time spinning scandals. A recent CNN poll found that 67 percent of voters (including 74 percent of independents) don’t like the way Republicans are handling their job. Seventy-three percent (including 48 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents) say Republicans aren’t paying enough attention to the country’s real issues. Likewise, a CBS poll earlier this month found that less than one-third of Americans want Republicans to spend time investigating President Biden. Every hearing that Republicans devote to distractions highlights their failure to tackle real issues.
Second, it is hard for Republicans to explain to an audience not already seeped in right-wing conspiracy theories what they heck they are talking about. . . . The cockamamie Hunter Biden “scandal,” . . . . . is a mix of convoluted, illogical accusations, as former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa explains in a Substack post.
In an actual hearing, unlike an interview with a captive right-wing media host, one has to explain the alleged scandal in a way that is comprehensible to those who haven’t spent hours soaking up bogus talking points. Democratic committee members will be able to channel what average voters are thinking: “What in the world are you talking about?”
Third, Republicans have a problem with evidence — or the lack thereof. The administration has already told Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, that it would not provide documents from the ongoing investigation of classified materials found at Biden’s home and office. Likewise, the Justice Department told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is leading the House Judiciary Committee, that it would follow long-standing practice and not turn over information about ongoing criminal probes. So what now? . . . . Beyond holding a hearing complaining about not being allowed to muck around in pending criminal cases, there is not much Republicans can do.
Moreover, in a revealing interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Jordan couldn’t exactly explain how Democrats have “weaponized” the federal government. Consider this exchange about Jordan’s claim that the FBI has “targeted” parents:—
NBC News host Chuck Todd: Well, I want to unpack a little bit. You talk about the FBI abusing powers when it comes to parents and school boards. School board members were getting death threats. These weren’t idle things. These weren’t parents just yelling and screaming.
As Todd pointed out, it’s not much of a scandal for the FBI to investigate tips and not arrest anyone. Even worse for Republicans, the videos of MAGA true-believers threatening public officials are a vivid demonstration of how conspiracy theories can whip up violent rhetoric. Democrats should be happy to discuss the subject.
Fourth, there are rakes aplenty for Republicans to step on. Each time a Republican screams that the government has been “weaponized,” Democrats should be prepared to go through the litany of real GOP abuses and outrages while in power: the failure to audit Trump’s taxes, the Justice Department’s pointless John Durham investigations, GOP governors transporting of unwary asylum seekers out of state and the abusive arrests of African American voters in Florida, to name a few.
It seems Republicans imagine their hearings will be some sort of payback for the revealing, substantive and gripping investigation conducted by the House Jan. 6 committee. But a major reason those hearings were so effective was the personnel. There were no disruptive Republicans on the panel, and there were plenty of whip-smart Democrats. Those same Democrats will be present on Republican-led committees.
In addition, Democrats have set up a rapid response group, the Congressional Integrity Project, to fire back at Republicans. The group will point out which Republican officials participated in the 2020 coup attempt and which refused to testify before the Jan. 6 hearing. Knowing the media will likely give equal time to critics of the hearings, Democrats might receive plenty of oxygen to air Republicans’ dirty laundry.
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened him, just as tsars in the 19th and 20th centuries were weakened by conflicts including the Crimean War and World War I. So when the Putin regime begins to teeter and wobble — whether in yet another instance of the merciless pattern of Russian history unforgiving of military setbacks or because of an anemic economy further degraded by sanctions, oil and gas revenues drying up or all these calamities at once . . . .
The second irony is that Putin's lawless invasion is paving the path for Ukraine's admission to NATO -something Putin likely fears the most. A column in the Washington Post by the former prime minister of the United Kingdom looks at this latter phenomemon and how Putin has set in motion forces he most opposes and that that might not have occurred but for his unprovoked war and the series of war crimes that have unfolded. Here are column highlights:
Well, we tried creative ambiguity, and see where it got us. For decades, we have used diplomatic doublespeak on the subject of NATO and Ukraine — and it has ended in total disaster.
We spent years telling Ukrainians that we have an “open door” policy in NATO, and that they have the right to “choose their own destiny,” and that Russia should not be able to exercise a veto.
And all that time we have overtly signaled to Moscow that Ukraine is never going to join the alliance — because so many NATO members will simply exercise their veto themselves.
In principle, yes; in practice, no. That has been the message.
And what is the result of all this sucking and blowing at once? What have we achieved by speaking softly out of both sides of our mouths?
The result is the worst war in Europe for 80 years. Russian President Vladimir Putin has destroyed countless lives, homes, hopes and dreams. He has also destroyed the slightest reason to sympathize with him or to humor him in his paranoia.
Along the way, he has vaporized the case against Ukrainian membership of NATO.
People used to say that the Ukrainian population was too divided on the subject of NATO membership; and before 2014 you certainly could have made that argument. Look at the numbers now. Support for NATO membership in Ukraine is now stratospheric — 83 percent, according to one recent poll.
People used to claim that Ukraine wasn’t properly militarily compatible with NATO. Today, Ukrainians are deploying a dizzying variety of equipment from NATO countries, with the utmost skill and bravery.
There is absolutely nothing that NATO could teach Ukrainians about fighting a war — in fact, there is a lot that they could teach us. Above all, people used to argue that the prospect of Ukrainian membership in NATO was “provocative” to Putin and to Russia. In truth, we should never have accepted this argument.
So look at what happened when we went out of our way not to provoke Putin. We mollified him at the Bucharest NATO summit in 2008. Ukrainians wanted a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). They got some warm words about eventual NATO membership, but no MAP. Putin attended that summit and pronounced himself satisfied with the result.
What did he do next? In 2014, he invaded Donbas and Crimea, with his trademark combination of blatant lies and brutality. Instead of properly punishing him, we responded with a policy of craven appeasement.
Far from helping Ukrainians to evict him from their country, we set up the tragicomic “Normandy Format,” under which Russia and Ukraine were treated as though they were equally at fault, when Russia was plainly the aggressor and Ukraine was the victim. Ever since then, NATO membership has been theoretically on the agenda, but everyone has known that it just wasn’t going to happen, or at least not in the political lifetimes of anyone around the table.
So, Ukrainians had the worst of both worlds. . . . And yet the reality was that NATO had done nothing to protect Ukraine and nothing to advance the cause of Ukrainian membership.
The truth is, if you had asked me before Putin’s invasion when Ukraine would join NATO, I would have said, “Roughly when hell freezes over, or not for at least 10 years.”
But then, if you had asked me whether we would now be sending Challenger tanks to Ukraine, or Abrams tanks, or whether the Germans would now be sending Leopard tanks — I would have thought you were mad. Just as I would have thought you were mad if you had told me that Putin was going to invade.
Putin didn’t invade because he thought that Ukraine was going to join NATO. He always knew that was vanishingly unlikely. He attacked Ukraine because he believed — with abundant evidence — that we were not really serious about protecting Ukraine. He attacked because he wanted to rebuild the old Soviet imperium and because he believed — foolishly — that he was going to win.
If we had been brave and consistent enough to bring Ukraine into NATO — if we had actually meant what we said — then this utter catastrophe would have been averted. . . . the logic is inescapable.
For the sake of stability and peace, Ukraine now needs clarity about its position in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. All our dodging and weaving has ended in slaughter.
Ukrainians should be given everything they need to finish this war, as quickly as possible, and we should begin the process of admitting Ukraine to NATO, and begin it now.
It would be no use if Moscow complains. They had a case once, and they were heard with respect. That case has been pulverized by the bombs and missiles of Putin.
Monday, January 30, 2023
Federal civil rights law requires employers to accommodate their employees’ religious needs unless the request would impose “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Congress didn’t bother to define “undue hardship,” so 46 years ago the Supreme Court came up with a definition of its own.
An accommodation requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost” — meaning a small or trifling cost — need not be granted, the court said in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison. In that case, an airline maintenance worker claimed a legal right to avoid Saturday shifts so he could observe the tenets of the Worldwide Church of God, which he had recently joined. Ruling for the airline, the court noted that if one worker got Saturdays off for religion reasons, the burden would fall on other workers who might have nonreligious reasons for wanting to have the weekend off.
“We will not readily construe the statute to require an employer to discriminate against some employees in order to enable others to observe their Sabbath,” the court said.
Treating religion as nothing particularly special, the decision reflected the spirit of the times but was deeply unpopular in religious circles. There have been many attempts over many years to persuade Congress to amend the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to shift the balance explicitly in favor of religiously observant employees.
[N]ow, a very different court from the one that ruled 46 years ago is about to do the work itself.
That isn’t an idle prediction but rather the surely foreordained outcome of the new case the justices recently added to their calendar for decision during the current term. The appeal was brought by a conservative Christian litigating group, First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a former postal worker, Gerald Groff, described as a Christian who regards Sunday as a day for “worship and rest.”
Mr. Groff claimed a legal right to avoid the Sunday shifts required during peak season at the post office where he worked. Facing discipline for failing to show up for his assigned shifts, he quit and filed a lawsuit. The lower courts ruled against him . . . .
The decision to hear his appeal brings the Supreme Court to a juncture both predictable and remarkable. It is predictable because Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have all called for a case that would provide a vehicle for overturning a precedent that is clearly in tension with the current court’s privileging of religious claims above all others, whether in the context of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic or anti-discrimination claims brought by employees of religious organizations. . . . . To today’s court, as Justice Alito has repeatedly expressed it, the real victims of discrimination are those who take religion seriously.
It takes the votes of four justices to grant a case, and it’s hardly surprising that this determined troika found a fourth, and most likely a fifth and sixth as well. Mr. Groff’s petition, filed in August, even describes Trans World Airlines v. Hardison as an “egregious error,” as if to remind Justice Alito of the words “egregiously wrong” he used to describe Roe v. Wade in his Dobbs opinion overruling that decision two months earlier.
The moment is remarkable for the bold activism the court is about to display. . . . . That Congress has refused for decades to revisit the meaning of “undue hardship” carries no weight with the justices pressing to revisit the issue on their own. That was certainly the view expressed by Justices Gorsuch and Alito two years ago in dissent from the court’s decision not to hear an earlier case challenging the 1977 precedent.
It may be just a coincidence, but the plaintiff who finally persuaded the justices to take his case is in fact, according to the joint statement of facts agreed to by the parties, “an evangelical Christian within the Protestant tradition.” When the court doubtless rules for him later this term, the decision will not stand for a vindication of minority rights. It will instead signify the court’s complete identification with the movement in the country’s politics to elevate religion over all other elements of civil society.
Religion is the lens through which the current majority views American society; as I have written, there is no other way to understand the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The endpoint of this project is not yet in view. Those of us not on board are left to watch, to try to understand, and to call the court out with each additional step it takes.
Expect more special rights for far right "Christians." One can only hope that in time when Christianity becomes a true minority religion in America, a future Court will strip these religious extremists of the special rights the current coourt is bestowing on them.
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.
Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the U.S., more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the antiquated laws are used to harass homosexuals, and point to new legislation, such as the “Don’t say gay” law in Florida, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality outright, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a breach of countries’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Declaring such laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them.
Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly upheld them as consistent with Vatican teaching that considers homosexual activity “intrinsically disordered,” while others have called for them to be overturned as a violation of basic human dignity.
On Tuesday, Francis said there needed to be a distinction between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality.
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.
Catholic teaching holds that while gay people must be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Francis has not changed that teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.
Despite such outreach, Francis was criticized by the Catholic LGBTQ community for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrine office that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican in 2008 declined to sign onto a U.N. declaration that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining the text went beyond the original scope and also included language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” it found problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and end penalties against them.
As long as the Catholic Church and other faith tradions label homosexuality a "sin," they will continue to fan support for anti-gay laws and bigotry against LGBT people. Modern medical and mental health knowledge has shown that the Church's 12th century dogma is false, yet Francis and far too many other religious leaders contine to opt for embracing ignorance and bigotry.
Rural resentment has become a central fact of American politics — in particular, a pillar of support for the rise of right-wing extremism. As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters; but this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas, which in some places has gone so far that the Democrats who remain face intimidation and are afraid to reveal their party affiliation.
But is this shift permanent? Can anything be done to assuage rural rage?
The answer will depend on two things: whether it’s possible to improve rural lives and restore rural communities, and whether the voters in these communities will give politicians credit for any improvements that do take place.
This week my colleague Thomas B. Edsall surveyed research on the rural Republican shift. I was struck by his summary of work by Katherine J. Cramer, who attributes rural resentment to perceptions that rural areas are ignored by policymakers, don’t get their fair share of resources and are disrespected by “city folks.”
As it happens, all three perceptions are largely wrong. . . . it’s important to get our facts straight.
The truth is that ever since the New Deal rural America has received special treatment from policymakers. It’s not just farm subsidies, which ballooned under Donald Trump to the point where they accounted for around 40 percent of total farm income. Rural America also benefits from special programs that support housing, utilities and business in general.
In terms of resources, major federal programs disproportionately benefit rural areas, in part because such areas have a disproportionate number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare. But even means-tested programs — programs that Republicans often disparage as “welfare” — tilt rural. Notably, at this point rural Americans are more likely than urban Americans to be on Medicaid and receive food stamps.
And because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays much less per person in federal taxes, so in practice major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside. These subsidies don’t just support incomes; they support economies: Government and the so-called health care and social assistance sector each employ more people in rural America than agriculture, and what do you think pays for those jobs?
What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor.
So the ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny — but that doesn’t mean things are fine. A changing economy has increasingly favored metropolitan areas with large college-educated work forces over small towns. The rural working-age population has been declining, leaving seniors behind. Rural men in their prime working years are much more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be working. Rural woes are real.
Ironically, however, the policy agenda of the party most rural voters support would make things even worse, slashing the safety-net programs these voters depend on. And Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to point this out.
But can they also have a positive agenda for rural renewal? As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, the infrastructure spending bills enacted under President Biden, while primarily intended to address climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in rural areas and small cities.
But even if these policies improve rural fortunes, will Democrats get any credit? It’s easy to be cynical. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new governor of Arkansas, has pledged to get the “bureaucratic tyrants” of Washington “out of your wallets”; in 2019 the federal government spent almost twice as much in Arkansas as it collected in taxes, de facto providing the average Arkansas resident with $5,500 in aid. So even if Democratic policies greatly improve rural lives, will rural voters notice?
Still, anything that helps reverse rural America’s decline would be a good thing in itself. And maybe, just maybe, reducing the heartland’s economic desperation will also help reverse its political radicalization.
Just as Arkansas is basically a welfare state supported by the states the likes of Sarah Huckabee Sanders - a truly destestable individual - maligns, Southwest Virginia is supported by the so-called urban crescent of Virginia extending from Northern Virgina down through Richmond and then to the Tidewater/Hampton Roads area. Overall, it's a huge monetary transfer in favor of rural areas, yet the Fox News watching, less educated citizenry continue to disparage the urban parts of the state that are literally supporting them. How do you educate the wilfully stupid and closeminded?