Missouri, And America, Apparently Need Some European Socialism

Everywhere you look, Republicans fear what they often call “European socialism.”

Here in Missouri, right-wingers, who dominate the legislature, are cutting taxes mostly for corporations and wealthy folks. And then they are asking voters to approve a regressive sales tax. They refuse to expand Medicaid (socialized medicine!) and give health insurance to folks who need it. Meanwhile, look at this:

When it comes to measuring health systems, Missouri is 44th among the states and the District of Columbia in terms of “access and affordability, prevention and treatment, potentially avoidable hospital use and healthy lives.” Get that? This state is almost at the bottom. The only states below us are Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Think about that. Missouri isn’t that much better than Mississippi, in terms of our health system. Yikes. And people are dying because of it. The Commonwealth Fund estimates as many as “86,000 deaths a year would be avoided if some states improved their health systems.” Yikes, again. (For an “estimated impact of improving performance” for Missouri, go here.)

Mittens Romney tried to use socialism to scare Americans in 2012, when he told us that President Obama was “taking us down a path towards Europe.” Would that be so bad? some might ask, especially some in Missouri who don’t have health insurance. To answer that question, I will end with an extensive quote from a recent column by Robert Reich, in which he explained how bad the Canadians and Europeans have it:

Most of them get free health care and subsidized child care. And if they lose their jobs, they get far more generous unemployment benefits than we do. (In fact, right now 75 percent of jobless Americans lack any unemployment benefits.)

If you think we make up for it by working less and getting paid more on an hourly basis, think again. There, at least three weekspaid vacation as the norm, along with paid sick leave, and paid parental leave.

We’re working an average of 4.6 percent more hours more than the typical Canadian worker, 21 percent more than the typical French worker, and a whopping 28 percent more than your typical German worker, according to data compiled by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

But at least Americans are more satisfied, aren’t we? Not really. According to opinion surveys and interviews, Canadians and Northern Europeans are.

They also live longer, their rate of infant mortality is lower, and women in these countries are far less likely to die as result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

But at least we’re the land of more equal opportunity, right? Wrong. Their poor kids have a better chance of getting ahead. While 42 percent of American kids born into poor families remain poor through their adult lives, only 30 percent of Britain’s poor kids remain impoverished – and even smaller percentages in other rich countries.

With results like that, it is too bad that President Obama isn’t “taking us down a path towards Europe.” I know some folks in Missouri who wish he would.

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“Until We Reckon With Our Compounding Moral Debts, America Will Never Be Whole”

reparation: the making of amends for wrong or injury done…restoration to good condition.

Dictionary.com

Late Wednesday night, I saw a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that linked to an article at The Atlantic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is the magazine’s national correspondent and a fantastic writer and thinker. And today I am going to ask readers of this blog to spend some time this holiday weekend and read the lengthy article, “The Case for Reparations.”

The reason you should read it is because it will enlighten you. It will make you think. It will make you smarter. It will tell you things about American history that a lot of people, particularly a lot of white people, either never knew or want to forget these days. It may even change the way you feel about the kind of commitment our 21st-century American society should make in order to attempt to right some of the wrongs that were done to African-Americans so long, and not so long, ago.

Coates explains in a blog post (“An Intellectual Autopsy”) that he has changed his mind about reparations. He once opposed the idea. Now, after doing a lot of reading and talking to people, and especially after spending a lot of time in Chicago (“where the history, somehow, feels especially present,” he says), he has changed his mind. When you read his essay, you will see why. Give it a chance. Take the time to read this amazing piece. And if you would be so kind as to give me some feedback as to what you thought about it, we can have a conversation.

reparations

The Tea Party Was The Big Winner Last Night

If you want to know how Republicans manage to keep winning elections despite what they have done to the country, you need look no further than this headline:

mitch mcconnell

That may be the dumbest headline in the history of journalism. But it serves the purpose of portraying Mitch McConnell and other Republican winners last night as being less extreme than those radical Tea Party nuts. And sadly that headline pretty much captures what passes for the common wisdom among “objective” pundits on television and in print—that the Tea Party went down to defeat in last night’s primaries.

Fortunately, the body of the story gets to the truth of the matter:

Republicans can outfox their own: Call it the Orrin Hatch Rule, named for the Utah senator who won a seventh term in 2012. When conservatives on Hatch’s right came out hard to defeat the veteran GOP lawmaker, he focused early to win their support. The same can be said for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who assiduously courted his Kentucky colleague (and Tea Party darling) Rand Paul and hired a campaign manager with Tea Party cred.

In other words, those “GOP incumbents” did not “beat” a bunch of rebellious teapartiers as that headline would lead you to believe. Those GOP incumbents actually joined the rebellion. Almost the entire Republican Party has joined the Tea Party. And if almost all Republicans are teapartiers, the rebellion is over and the rebels won.

The USA Today article pointed out what one of the most radical right-wingers in the country had to say about last night’s so-called defeat of the Tea Party:

Tea Party ally Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks for America, which was out to defeat McConnell, argues that conservatives won the war by getting mainstream Republicans to embrace their agenda. “It’s clear that there is a larger cultural shift happening here,” Kibbe said.

Here’s Kibbe’s entire statement from the FreedomWorks website:

When the establishment runs on our issues, it’s clear that there is a larger cultural shift happening here. Constitutional conservatives and libertarians are setting the agenda in the Republican Party.

Kibbe is exactly right. To give you an idea of how right he is, another right-wing reactionary named Erick Erickson, whose RedState site is as Tea Party as it gets, said the following after it was clear that Mitch McConnell would win last night:

I will proudly support Mitch McConnell. 

Proudly, he said. And Erickson started things off with a financial contribution to McConnell’s campaign. That coming from a creepy guy who once said the following:

A while back, Glenn Beck called Barack Obama a ‘racist.’ Given all the terrorists, thugs, and racists Barack Obama has chosen as close personal friends (see e.g. Rev. Wright), it’s not a stretch to say it.

And:

Is Obama Shagging Hookers Behind the Media’s Back?…I assume not. I assume that Obama’s marxist harpy wife would go Lorena Bobbit on him should he even think about it…

About the retirement of Supreme Court justice David Souter, Erickson, with all the class of a teapartier, chimed in with:

The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester ever to serve on the Supreme Court.

And my personal favorite quote from Erick Erickson is one that comports well with what a state representative from my neck of the woods said recently. Erickson didn’t like it when a county in Washington state banned certain kinds of dishwasher detergent:

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?…Were I in Washington State, I’d be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation.

That guy, that Tea Party asshole, will “proudly” give his electoral love to Mitch McConnell. And it is all because Mitch McConnell and so many other Republicans running for office have given their love to him and other right-wing radicals. They are all sleeping in the same bed.

So, no, Republicans did not beat back a rebellion last night. The rebellion ended a long time ago. The GOP is now the Grand Old Tea Party.

 

Democrats Should “Turn Up The Volume” On Social Security Expansion

My favorite U.S. Senator is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Not only does he look like Columbo, but he is as sharp as Columbo. And Greg Sargent quotes him today as being on the offensive on Social Security—a place where all Democrats should be.

Brown, who sits on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, knows that his Republican colleagues in the Senate are set to attack Social Security Disability Insurance. Fox “News” has already fired the first media shots by airing misleading segments on the alleged “Fraudulent Disability Claims Threatening Social Security Program.” The conservative media complex is following suit. The truth is that the only thing that threatens Social Security, whether it be the disability insurance portion or the retirement security portion, is the Republican Party. Brown says:

They want to separate “good” Social Security (retirement security) from ‘bad’ Social Security (disability insurance), to win support for structural reform. The attacks on disability insurance will accelerate. This is how they will try to back-door the dismantling of social insurance. But the public is with us on social insurance.

Sargent points out that Brown is “holding a Senate Finance sub-c0mmittee hearing tomorrow on the overall program” and that he thinks making Social Security an issue in the midterm election could benefit Democrats:

The electorate is older, so the field is fertile for Democrats to talk about this. We should turn up the volume.

Yes! A Democrat who gets it. But what does it mean to turn up the volume? Sargent explains:

Brown says Dems should seize this occasion to get behind a proposal that would lift or change the payroll tax cap, meaning higher earners would pay more, while adopting a new measure for inflation that would increase benefits for all seniors. Instead of getting drawn into debates about “Chained CPI” and other entitlement cuts, Brown says, Dems should make the case that stagnating wages and declining pensions and savings demand an expansion of social insurance.

Playing offense is the only way Democrats can save themselves this year. But, more important, playing offense on social insurance programs is the only way to ultimately save those programs, particularly when they are under assault by right-wing austerity zealots.

As Greg Sargent notes, Sherrod Brown isn’t alone among Democrats who want to play hardball with Republicans on Social Security:

Two Democrats in tough Senate races — Mark Begich and Jeff Merkley – have already staked out aggressive postures on expanding Social Security. It’s also supported by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin, and 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Who would have thought that at this point in the process, when many pundits and some polls predict a tough race ahead for Democrats, that our side, at least some on our side, are fighting for expansion—I said expansion!—of Social Security. Brown says:

Democrats win the argument by saying Republicans again are cutting taxes on the rich to deny Social Security beneficiaries the expanded Social Security they should get and have earned. Most of us should be willing to make that argument.

Most should. But will they?

Related to Brown’s be-aggressive campaign argument, I want to point out something amazing about the press, particularly about what conservatives call the liberal or “lamestream” media. Here is the headline from a recent Washington Post article on its latest poll:

Post-ABC News poll shows Democrats at risk in November as Obama’s approval rating falls

That sounds rather gloomy, no? Here’s the lede:

Democrats face serious obstacles as they look to the November elections, with President Obama’s approval rating at a new low and a majority of voters saying they prefer a Congress in Republican hands to check the president’s agenda, according to a newWashington Post-ABC News poll.

Man. That sounds terrible. Except that if you bother to read down to the fifth paragraph, you find this:

Democrats are not without assets as the midterm election campaigns intensify. Americans trust Democrats over Republicans by 40 to 34 percent to handle the country’s main problems. By significant margins, Americans see Democrats as better for the middle class and on women’s issues. Americans favor the Democrats’ positions on raising the minimum wage, same-sex marriage and on the broad issue of dealing with global climate change.

That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Why couldn’t the headline have read, “Americans overwhelmingly trust Democrats to handle America’s biggest problems”? Or, “Americans overwhelmingly distrust Republicans to handle country’s biggest problems”? Either of those would have been at least as true as the headline that was chosen. So why wouldn’t the liberal lamestream media use one of those alternative headlines? Because there ain’t no such thing as the liberal lamestream media, that’s why. Republicans and right-wing pundits just pretend there is in order to put pressure on outlets to falsely “balance” the reporting.

Finally, since the Post article left out some of the numbers that demonstrate just how overwhelmingly people trust Democrats over Republicans on several issues, here are three sets of them for your encouragement:

abc poll

As you can see, Republicans trail Democrats by a bunch on some of the most important issues facing us. And these numbers show why Democrats should take Sherrod Brown’s advice and go hard after tax-cutting, Tea Party-drunk candidates and talk about expanding programs and opportunities for all Americans. If we stay on offense, we just might hold our own this November.

And even if we don’t hold our own, at least we will have gone down fighting for the right things.

Christians Using Homophobia To Colonize Africa

Let’s don’t now argue over whether Christianity is, on balance, good or bad for human societies. I can come up with pretty good arguments for both sides of such a debate.

And let’s don’t argue whether or not earnest followers of Jesus, especially those who energetically attempt to convince people that their version of Christianity is the Truth, mean to do good, to improve society, to make the world a better place. Let’s assume at this point that they have the best of intentions.

But let us take a sober look at one case in the world where we know, we absolutely know, that Christianity, in its American evangelical form, has done, and is still doing, a lot of harm.

Let’s look at Uganda.

You probably remember that in February of this year, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed “The Anti Homosexuality Bill” (that’s actually the title of the legislation) into law, which would criminalize “any form of sexual relations between person of the same sex” and would criminalize “the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations.” So, if you do it or get close to doing it, you’re in trouble. And even if you don’t do it but promote it or recognize it you still have a big problem.

I will spare you the definitional details written into the law about what constitutes sexual activity, but you should know that anyone who so much as “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” can be convicted and thrown in prison, where we know, of course, there is no homosexuality going on. Serial offenders can get life sentences (that is an improvement over the original draft that called for the death penalty, which is why people like Rachel Maddow were calling it the Kill The Gays bill.)

And the crime called “promotion of homosexuality,” which includes anyone who “acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices,” can also get you some time in the slammer.

Oh, I almost forgot. The authors of this totalitarian piece of legislation thought of everything. Don’t imagine you are safe if you are a Ugandan who has gay sex or promotes homosexuality outside of Uganda. The government may attempt to get you extradited so you can face justice at home.

Now, there is a long tradition of such anti-gay laws in most of the West. Ecclesiastical courts in Europe once handled such matters, since they were considered offenses against God. But starting with the “Buggery Act 1533,” passed by the English parliament during Henry VIII’s time on the throne, sodomy became a civil offense. And up until 1861 the punishment was death. These days most Western countries have done away with such laws in one form or another (the U.S. Supreme Court officially invalidated sodomy laws in 2003), but in some parts of the world, including in the former British colony Uganda, there is still fierce opposition to homosexuality.

According to the research firm Consultancy Africa Intelligence,

The majority of countries around the world that still criminalise homosexuality are former British colonies or territories.  Sodomy laws are a common feature in 16 of the 18 African Commonwealth nations.

Make no mistake about it, in Western societies and in the colonies and territories they used to control, the opposition to homosexuality was (and is) largely based on biblical literalism, the kind that has pretty much gone out of fashion for all but conservative brands of Christianity.  And those particular expressions of conservative Christianity are motivated by the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded true believers to,

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…

If that sounds like a form of Christian colonizing to you, you are not alone. Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest and human rights activist from Zambia who has documented the attempt by American evangelicals to portray homosexuality as “evil,” has claimed that what American conservative Christians are doing in Africa is essentially “colonizing African values.” He writes:

Over the decades, the U.S. Christian Right has invested vast resources in promoting their ideologies across sub-Saharan Africa through  schools, universities, and perhaps most visibly, in the  television empires of Christian Broadcasting Network  and Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Kaoma notes that we first saw the extent of such influence during the initial controversy, beginning in 2009, over the anti-homosexuality bill that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law this year. Despite worldwide denunciation of the disturbing legislation, conservative Christians were successful in “painting LGBT-rights campaigners as neocolonialist intruders,” and eventually “anti-gay protests, policies, and violence increased.” Kaoma says,

Homophobia proved a powerful rallying point for many established leaders on the continent…These leaders found they could earn easy support from religious factions, while winning nationalist votes for denouncing the West as neocolonial.

God Loves Uganda trailer: http://ow.ly/l8WuaYou have to admit that the whole thing is pretty slick. The evangelicals are really trying to colonize African spirituality and morality by attacking homosexuality, but they are doing so by calling the defenders of human rights the real neocolonialists. And they are largely able to do all of this these days because of a coincidental relationship between African spirituality and American Pentecostal (called “charismatic” in many places) Christianity, which have in common the idea that religion is central to everything in life and that there are unseen forces at work around us at all times. When I was a Bible-believing Christian, I was part of the Pentecostal-charismatic-prosperity gospel movement and I understand what Kaoma means when he writes:

In Africa, Pentecostalism resonates with indigenous African religions and African-initiated churches holding strong belief in spirits and exorcism, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and convulsions when demons are cast out of people.

That explains why American Christians, especially those who believe that demon possession is real, are so popular in Africa and why their proposals to criminalize homosexuality and abortion, demonic to the core, are so popular. A Pew poll found that in Uganda, nearly half of the country has “experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person.” Exploiting this ignorance, and then tying it to homosexuality (and abortion), is why that same Pew poll found that nearly 80% of Ugandans, for instance, think “homosexual behavior” is “morally wrong” (98% of Kenyans so think).

And that is why when the Ugandan president signed that notorious anti-gay bill this year, the Associated Press published the following photo of “Ugandan pupils from different schools” who were taking part “in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex”:

Uganda Gays

This sad picture, this sad picture that shows kids, African kids who have been brainwashed by American theological colonizers, celebrating a form of hatred is why we here in America must be diligent to, at every turn possible, aggressively challenge the kind of religious zeal and bigotry that leads to such misguided celebrations and such hatred.

In an article posted today at Vox (“The story behind how American Evangelicals exported homophobia to Uganda”), we learn more about one guy who is trying to make evangelical zealots uncomfortable. Roger Ross Williams, a filmmaker who has won an Academy Award, made a movie last year called “God Loves Uganda,” which Vox says,

tells the story of how Americans — both abrasive political leaders and fresh-faced kids from the Midwest — exported their anti-gay culture wars to Ugandan soil.

Those fresh-faced kids from the Midwest are affiliated with an evangelical Pentecostal-charismatic organization—headquartered here in Missouri—called the International House of Prayer, whose founder allegedly heard a voice that told him to raise up a work that will touch the ends of the earth” and who has had Apostle Paul-like experiences of visiting “the throne-room of God.” These are the kinds of people doing such disturbing things in Africa and elsewhere.

Roger Ross Williams says the anti-gay law in Uganda,

is incredibly popular because the Ugandan public has been mislead to believe homosexuals and homosexuality are a threat to their life. But actually, homophobia is the real western import starting with the first missionary and sodomy laws.

He was asked, “Do you really think the average American evangelical is a party to state-sponsored homophobia in Uganda?  He responded:

An American Christian does not want to condone violence or hatred, no matter if they believe something is sin or not. But we need to keep hate out of the collection plate, and challenge pastors: you might think you’re giving money to orphans, but make sure it’s not funding homophobia! Religion is the biggest business in Africa. It’s about exposing this to Americans so they can stop the flow of money to big, massive homophobic churches that throw hate rallies. This is the reality this is what it’s like over there.

I hope Williams is right about American Christians, that if they know what is really going on in Africa that they will “stop the flow of money” behind the homophobic hysteria and direct it toward more worthy efforts. But judging by the evangelicals I have known in my life, it will have to be the younger generation of Bible believers who put a stop to it.

Obama Policy On Ukraine May Be Working: “Putin Is Hanging Himself By His Own Rope”

Charles Krauthammer’s most recent column—which continues the weird conservative criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign on behalf of those kidnapped Nigerian girls—takes a shot at President Obama for doing little about “Russia’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine,” what Krauthammer says is “the rape of this U.S. friend.” He accuses Obama of engaging in “rhetorical fatuousness.” 

The conservative columnist and Fox pundit is among many conservatives who think Obama is to blame for much of the Ukraine crisis and for Putin’s moves there. Senator Ted Cruz, echoing Krauthammer, said President Obama is “hiding behind diplomatic babble.” He told his fellow conservatives earlier this year:

When there is a vacuum of leadership in the world, it is not a good thing for America; it is not a good thing for freedom…What this administration doesn’t understand is weakness and appeasement only invites military conflict.

Hmm. Obama is standing by, weakly, as Russia rapes Ukraine and his weakness invites military conflict. Okay. Except that, so far, as Vox’s Max Fisher tells us, “Obama’s strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working.” Fisher writes:

obama putinThe official US position has been to threaten broader sanctions that seem unlikely to get the European support necessary to make them hurt, while arguing that Russia’s actions will be so self-defeating that the problem would just sort itself out.

It sounded silly, a shrug of a policy. And maybe it even was. But it also turns out to be working surprisingly well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has over-reached in Ukraine, creating problems for himself so bad that they may force him down as or more effectively than plausible American actions alone might have (although they helped). Putin is hanging himself by his own rope.

This has been so effective, and has apparently taken Putin by such surprise, that after weeks of looking like he could roll into eastern Ukraine unchallenged, he’s backing down all on his own. Official Russian rhetoric, after weeks of not-so-subtle threats of invading eastern Ukraine, is backing down. Putin suddenly looks like he will support Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election, rather than oppose it, although it will likely install a pro-European president. European and American negotiators say the tone in meetings has eased from slinging accusations to working toward a peaceful resolution.

As Fisher points out, Most of this is economic.” Global investors are backing away and “doing tremendous damage to Putin’s Russia, nudged along by the US and Putin himself.” While that phrase “nudged along by the US” isn’t likely to win President Obama any medals from Charles Krauthammer and Ted Cruz, it appears that Obama’s soberness, his careful nudging, his “hit singles, hit doubles” diplomacy is paying off. At the end of April, the President said this:

In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community.  Russia has never been more isolated.  A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them.  And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.  And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia.  Well, what else should we be doing?  Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say.  That’s not what we mean.  Well, okay, what are you saying?  Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more.  Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?  Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?

As of right now, Obama was right and his critics were wrong. Let’s hope it stays that way.

And speaking of his critics, not all of them were right-wing cheerleaders for cowboy diplomacy. At least one of them, the left-leaning mega-columnist for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, offered up some ridiculous criticism of President Obama’s diplomacy. In a piece titled as if to please Obama-haters on the right (“Is Barry Whiffing”), she wrote:

…you are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word “eventually.” And he should not set a tone of resignation babe ruthwith references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,” and muse that things may not come “to full fruition on your timetable.”

An American president should never say, as you did to the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, about presidents through history: “We’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

Mr. President, I am just trying to get my paragraph right. You need to think bigger.

An American president should never say, as you did Monday in Manila when you got frustrated in a press conference with the Philippine president: “You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.”

Especially now that we have this scary World War III vibe with the Russians, we expect the president, especially one who ran as Babe Ruth, to hit home runs.

In the immortal words of Earl Weaver, the Hall of Famer who managed the Baltimore Orioles: “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three-run homers.” A singles hitter doesn’t scare anybody.

It doesn’t feel like leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world…

What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?

Maureen Dowd is one of those lefty pundits who every now and then needs to go against type in order to shock. That’s how she stays relevant, I suppose. But before she applies another baseball metaphor to foreign policy and diplomacy again, she should make sure she understands what she is talking about. She may long for a Babe Ruth Obama, but Ruth struck out 1330 times while hitting his 714 homers. And that doesn’t count all the other outs (4,196) he made in his 8,399 at bats. He failed to get a hit 66% of the time and failed to hit a home run more than 91% of the time.

And the world is just too dangerous a place, the lives of American troops are just too much to risk, on a commander-in-chief home run hitter, when we know that “swinging for the fences” will result in many more failures than successes.

 

Local Missouri Legislator Responds To Charge That He Apparently Condones The Use Of Violence Against The Government

Late last week I posted an email I sent to a local state representative named Charlie Davis. The issue was something Mr. Davis had said on a local right-wing radio station regarding a proposed amendment to our state constitution. Well, I heard from Mr. Davis on Monday.

For the purpose of tidiness, I will post my initial email to Rep. Davis, followed by his complete response, followed by my second email to him:

______________________________________

Representative Davis,

I heard you on KZRG this morning say the following about the proposed new amendment to the state constitution:

“It gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.”

Sir, I like to think of myself as one of those “common-sense folks” who lives here in Southwest Missouri. But I’ll be darned if I know what you meant by “overextension of government” in this context or exactly what kind of overextension of government would justify a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty. Please enlighten me as to a specific circumstance in which you, a state legislator, would condone the use of violence against any government official.

Sincerely,

R. Duane Graham
Joplin, MO

_________________________________________

Mr. Graham,

I appreciate your email and also for you listening to ZKRG Radio [sic].  I will try to answer your email in as short of a response as possible.  I believe in accountability when it comes to ownership of guns.  Unfortunately it seems like we have been attempting to get law abiding citizens to be accountable and not the criminals.  We pass legislation in this country constantly that attempts to ban more and more items or actions, yet it is only the law abiding citizens that are effected.  Criminals do not follow or comply with the law.  We have had a ban on murder and rape since this country was formed yet criminals continue to commit these horrible crimes.  We have banned the sale of alcohol to minors, yet I can take you to places in our neighborhoods that these teenagers drink and party it up.  We have banned drugs of so many sorts yet we have a severe drug problem in our country.  Simply banning things is not the solution, changing hearts is.  We have to educate our children about the adverse effects of drugs and ensure they are informed and have the opportunity to make the right choices.  We have banned God and morality from our schools, not so much in our area, and kids don’t know right from wrong.  They are taught there are no moral absolutes.  Laws are not the solution, changing hearts is.

We have seen a huge push over the years to ban as many “styles” of weapons, ammo and accessories as possible.  Even here in Missouri, Representative Ellinger filed a bill requiring law abiding citizens to turn in their guns and magazines within 90 days or be charged with a felony.  Who would have turned in their guns?  Law abiding citizens? Criminals?  We know the criminals would not have.  One study indicates that ‘legal’ guns are used 2.5 million times per year to properly and lawfully protect citizens. There’s also a possibility of the gun itself being legal, licensed to someone, but the criminal carrying it had stolen it. Approx. 95% of “gun crimes” are performed with a gun that has been obtained illegally.. Therefore, gun crimes won’t really decrease by not allowing law abiding citizens to carry guns.  You mentioned in your email “a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty… Please enlighten me as to a specific circumstance in which you, a state legislator, would condone the use of violence against any government official.” I am a bit confused, I don’t remember saying we need to kill anyone.  We have a legal right to keep and bear arms, ammunition and accessories because I feel it is our Constitutional right, I never said  we should use them against a specific individual.  Peace through strength.  We have alarm systems in our homes and businesses to deter crime, that is why we put stickers in the windows and in the yard.  I do not like RAP music because of the degrading messages in just about every song but I do believe in the Constitutional right to free speech.  I simply educate my children in the content and they choose to not listen to it.  Education, that’s the key.  Educate our citizens about their responsibilities with the liberties and freedoms our Constitution protects.  Just because something is not against the law doesn’t make it ok to do it or right.

I hope this answers your question.

Regards,

 cid:image001.jpg@01CEA64A.B286C310

Charlie Davis
Missouri House of Representatives
District 162
Room 201BA
Phone: (573) 751-7082
cid:image002.jpg@01CEA64A.B286C310

_________________________________________

Mr. Davis,

Thank you for the timely and courteous reply. 

I will not attempt in this email to address some of the dubious claims you made (like, for instance, “We have banned God and morality from our schools…”). Rather, I want to follow up on the original reason I emailed you.

Your response ended with, “I hope this answers your question,” and I want to tell you that it certainly does not answer my question. In fact, with all due respect, your response seems to, purposely or otherwise, miss the point I was making by asking you the question in the first place.

You say you are “a bit confused” and that you “don’t remember saying we need to kill anyone” and that you “never said we should use [arms] against a specific individual.” Okay, let me attempt to make the issue clearer. No, you didn’t say we need to kill anyone. No, you didn’t say we should use weapons against any specific individual. Of course you didn’t put it that way. But what you did say is that we need to expand our right to keep and bear arms in this state, including the right to keep and bear ammunition, because we need arms and ammunition to protect ourselves “from an individual or from an overextension of government.”

Now, presumably, if we are to use guns to protect ourselves from either individuals or from government (in context you were talking about the federal government), that suggests we may possibly have to do so by actually firing the weapons at real people, either individuals acting on their own or acting as representatives of government. We can’t always count on the mere brandishing of arms to do the trick.

I certainly understand what it means to use guns for protection against, say, someone who breaks into your home. I get that. Bang, bang! They’re dead. What I do not understand is what it means to use guns for protection against “an overextension of government.” That sounds a lot like what happened in this country’s Civil War or, more recently, what those Bundy-friendly folks in Nevada did when they chased away federal officials with guns. If that is what you mean, feel free to say so. If you think it is okay for citizens to ultimately settle disputes against the federal government by resorting to arms, admit as much.

But if that is not what you mean, if you really don’t think disputants have the constitutional right to shoot it out with the feds, please clarify what you said on KZRG. Please explain what it might mean to say that someone can use their right to bear arms against “an overextension of government” without actually having the right to fire on a government employee who is representing the interests of the government, of “we the people.” And please explain who gets to decide what “overextension” means.

Or you could simply say that you made a mistake. You could admit that you misspoke. You could tell Missourians that you did not mean to imply that they would—if voters approve the change to our state’s constitution that you champion—have the right to challenge the authority of the federal government by aiming at and, if necessary, shooting at one of its agents. That is up to you. But hiding what you mean behind a maxim like “Peace through strength” simply won’t do.

Sincerely,

R. Duane Graham
Joplin, MO

Local Missouri State Legislator Apparently Condones The Use Of Violence Against The Government

A local right-winger, who happens to be a state legislator, was on the local right-wing-nut radio station this morning and was talking about a recent vote by our increasingly reactionary legislature to present to Missouri voters this November a new and potentially dangerous amendment to the state constitution. Before I get to what Charlie Davis, of Webb City, said, here’s how the Associated Press described the bill:

The amendment would define the right to bear arms as “unalienable” and require the state to defend against any “infringement” of that right. It would also include keeping ammunition and defending one’s “family” with a firearm as guaranteed constitutional rights.

The state constitution already protects the right to bear arms in defense of an individual’s home, property and person. Supporters contend the measure would force courts to use a higher standard of review when considering the constitutionality of gun controls.

Here’s part of what Representative Davis said on KZRG this morning:

Representative Charlie DavisIt gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.

Hmm. Our local right-wing talk radio jock didn’t bother to ask Mr. Davis what he meant by “overextension of government.” Maybe our local right-wing talk radio jock knew what Davis meant without asking. But I don’t know what he meant. Thus, today I sent the following email to Mr. Davis at charliedavis@cableone.net  and Charlie.Davis@house.mo.gov :

Representative Davis,

I heard you on KZRG this morning say the following about the proposed new amendment to the state constitution:

“It gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.”

Sir, I like to think of myself as one of those “common-sense folks” who lives here in Southwest Missouri. But I’ll be darned if I know what you meant by “overextension of government” in this context or exactly what kind of overextension of government would justify a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty. Please enlighten me as to a specific circumstance in which you, a state legislator, would condone the use of violence against any government official.

Sincerely,

R. Duane Graham
Joplin, MO

 

Missouri’s Race To The Bottom Gets National Attention: “There`s No Liberal Or Progressive Opposition Really In This State.”

Regular readers know that I have tried, when my mental state permitted, to follow the race to the bottom between Kansas and Missouri. Each state is attempting to outdo the other, in terms of reactionary politics and bad governance. It’s very sad to watch.

Since nobody does it better than St. Rachel, I present the transcript (uncorrected) from her Wednesday show, which went into the god-awful details of what is wrong with not only this state, but so many red states across the country. Please read the following, but try not to get too damned depressed:

MADDOW: In the year 2008, the great state of Missouri got rid of its limits on campaign contributions. They said rachelanyone could give any amount for candidates and election issues in that state. And when Missouri made that issue in 2008, they got — drum roll, please — they got their own Missouri version of the Koch brothers or their own Sheldon Adelson, their own Art Pope.

Once Missouri said anybody could spend anything they wanted on Missouri politics, they got their own homegrown Missouri zillionaire who thought the policies of the whole s state should be remade in his own image. And this is a new species in American politics, right? Since we started getting rid of all the campaign finance rules. We`ve got these zillionaire guys, all of the country, a lot of them operating in national politics, some of them operating in just their home state.

But the one that Missouri got, he turns out to be a doozy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX SINQUEFIELD, RETIRED FINANCIAL EXECUTIVE: You know what, there was a column written, and I hope I don`t offend anyone, but a published column who was a farmer judge in Missouri. He now owns and writes for a newspaper in central Missouri called the un-terrified Democrat. What a name. And it`s is Osage County, Missouri.

And he starts off and it`s something like this. He said, a long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said, how can we really hurt the African-American children, l permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And when they designed was the public school system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That man`s name is Rex Sinquefield, he`s the conservative zillionaire trying to use his own money to remake politics in the great state of Missouri.

He made that remark on tape there in February of 2012 when he explained it must have been the Ku Klux Klan that invented the public school system to really hurt African-American children permanently. The Klan invented public schools. He said that in 2012. He later apologized for it, saying he was sorry for making that reference.

rachel 2But after Missouri got rid of its campaign finance rules in 2008, that guy`s money is the money that has absolutely dominated Missouri conservative politics ever since. “The Wall Street Journal” profiled him in 2012. Actually, it was a few months after he made the Klan comments. “The Wall Street Journal” called him one of the super PAC men, comparing him to Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers.

By then, by the fall of 2012, Mr. Sinquefield had already spent over $20 million of his own money, all in Missouri, all since they dropped the campaign spending limits in that state. So, just between 2008 and 2012, he had already dropped more than $20 million of his own money, with plans to spend a lot more.

And that kind of money goes a long way in a single state. He said at the time that his two priorities for things he wanted to change in Missouri, were schools, which again you heard him say he feared were invented by the Ku Klux Klan to enslave people, schools and taxes.
In 2012, he personally bankrolled a ballot measure that would have basically killed all income taxes in Missouri altogether. No more personal income taxes, no more corporate income taxes. It would get rid of taxes altogether in terms of income and replace them all with a sales tax.

He got — he was working on getting that in the ballot, and unfortunately for him, polling indicated that people in Missouri basically hated the idea. And when the polling turned out really bad for his ballot measure on getting rid of all income taxes, he pulled that ballot measure in Missouri.rachel 3

But at the time, he said he thought he might be able to get Missouri to get rid of all its taxes anyway, even without this ballot measure idea that he had that didn`t work out. And he thought he might be able to get it done in Missouri anyway, because of something that was going on next door in the deep read state of Kansas.

Kansas, you probably know is in almost Oklahoma territory when it comes to how red a state it is. In 2008, President Obama won a grand total of three counties in Kansas. In 2012, he won a grand total of two counties in Kansas.

In Kansas, the Republicans control the statehouse by an almost 3-1 margin. They control the state senate, 32-8, and, of course, the governor is a Republican as well. The governor is former U.S. senator and former Republican presidential candidate, Sam Brownback, who won election in 2010 by more than a 30-point margin in Kansas.

But now, even in a state that is that red, even after Sam Brownback won the governor`s race in 2010 by more than 30 points, Governor Brownback now looks to be at risk of losing his seat this fall. He`s up for re-election in November. He`s running against a Democrat named Paul Davis, who was one of those very few Democrats in the Kansas statehouse.

The Real Clear Politics average of polling on that gubernatorial race shows that Sam Brownback is basically within the margin of error. He`s within 2 1/2 points of this very little-known Democratic challenger he`s got.rachel 4

The last Public Policy Poll in Kansas was in February. It had Paul Davis beating Sam Brownback by two points. Kansas is so red that Attila the Hun ought to be able to win an election in Kansas if he only had an “R” listed after his name on the ballot.

Sam Brownback is apparently no Attila the Hun, because Kansas is against him. His approval rating as governor is hovering around 33 percent. You think in a state that red, President Obama would have a terrible approval rating, you`re right, he does a terrible approval rating in Kansas. But Sam Brownback`s approval rating is even lower than President Obama`s is.

And some of Kansas`s bad feelings about their governor may be about all the recent reporting on a big FBI investigation into Mr. Brownback`s inner circle in state politics, including his longtime chief strategist. The FBI is reportedly looking into whether there`s pay-to-play corruption around Sam Brownback`s way of governing in Kansas, whether lobbying dollars and campaign contributions have been leveraged or even coerced in an illegal way as Governor Brownback has pushed through his legislative priorities.

So, that may be part of it, those FBI stories. There have been no indictments or anything yet, so nobody really knows what that reported FBI investigation is going to come to.
But regardless of whether team Brownback in Kansas got their favored policies passed through some illegal means or not, we`ll find out when the FBI finally speaks about what they`re looking into, whether or not they got those things, the things they got passed, passed by illegal means, the fact is, they did get a heck of a conservative agenda passed. And Kansas really seems to hate that agenda. They seem to hate those policies.

Like, this is from the internals on that Public Policy Poll. “Do you think public schools in Kansas are adequately funded or not?” Not, by a 28-point margin.

“Do you think Sam Brownback`s tax plan has been successful or not?” Not, by another giant 21-point margin.

Kansas is under complete Republican control. It`s Sam Brownback in the governor`s office, Republican control in the House, Republican control in the Senate. Their entire congressional delegation is all Republican as well.rachel5

And even after they had that total Republican control, in 2012, Sam Brownback went on a campaign of cleansing fire and worked actively to get Republicans who weren`t conservative enough ousted from the state Senate. He got nine Republicans in the Senate replaced with more conservative Republicans.

He`s not only got complete control in terms of party affiliation, he`s got complete control in terms of conservative Republican affiliation. And with that complete control, he pushed through the most important item in his agenda for the state, the biggest tax cut in Kansas history. By some measures, it is the biggest tax cut of any state in America in multiple decades.

And when Sam Brownback pushed through that really radical tax plan in 2012 and popularity expanded it in 2013, that was the policy move that got Rex Sinquefield, the Klan-invented public schools guy in Missouri, that`s what got him so excited about what might be possible next-door in Missouri.

He called what Sam Brownback did on taxes in Kansas, he said, it was, quote, “unbelievably brilliant.”

Mr. Sinquefield said in “Forbes” magazine that Sam Brownback`s visionary leadership was, quote, “schooling Missouri on tax policy.”

Sam Brownback himself wrote an op-ed claiming that his biggest tax cuts in history would be a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy. And his biggest cheerleader, other than himself, was across the state line to the east in Missouri, this guy, Rex Sinquefield, who wanted Missouri to get rid of all of its taxes, too. And he thought Kansas` experiment, Kansas` Sam Brownback government experiment would go so well that Kansas getting rid of all of their taxes would be such an economic boon to Kansas that the state next door to the east would have no choice but to follow suit.

That was the thinking. And that`s how Missouri was going to get to zero taxes, by watching how wonderfully it worked out in Sam Brownback`s all-red Kansas. That was the plan.
Turns out what Sam Brownback did in all-red Kansas has turned out to be a disaster. In January, a big warning flare was fired by the nonpartisan research service from the Kansas legislature. They found that cutting all the revenue, cutting all the income out of the state budget meant — surprise, that there was no revenue in the state budget. There was a giant hole where the revenue had been. That was the official state report in January.

Then, in March, it got much worse, when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that by law, by the state constitution, Kansas needed to increase what was it was spending on public schools, where is that money going to come from.

And then, in April, there was a huge shock in Kansas state government when the state realized that it was going to be taking in almost $100 million less that month than it expected for the month of April.

Revenues were already down a half billion year to year since last year, and then, oops, in April, it turns out, another $100 million they thought they were getting, guess we`re not getting that. That was last month. That was April.

And then, last week, the real hammer fell, when the Moody`s credit agency downgraded Kansas`s bond rating, citing Kansas` relatively sluggish recovery compared with its peers and specifically calling out Sam Brownback`s magical thinking around these huge, unprecedented tax cuts, for which he apparently had no plan for the impact of. Quote, “Eliminating a tax that`s been in place for many years and has accounted for a large share of revenue entails risks,” says Moody`s.

So, Sam Brownback has created a mess in Kansas. And “The Kansas City Star,” they say he is suffering from a political brownout between the FBI investigation into his inner circle with and his right-hand man, forever, and into how he got all of these policies passed, the state bond rating getting downgraded, the governor`s plummeting popularity. They say, you take it all together, and this amounts to, quote, “new doubts about whether Governor Brownback`s ability to win a second term in a state that is as red as any in the nation.”

On the same day that Kansas got its bond rating downgraded, in the neighboring state of Missouri, the governor there, was named Jay Nixon, he vetoed a Republican proposal to cut Missouri`s taxes the way Sam Brownback cut Kansas` taxes. Missouri is one of the few states in the nation that has a solid AAA bond rating. Governor Nixon said, listen, we`re not going to jeopardize that by doing something as reckless as what Kansas just did when they flushed their economic prospects down the toilet with a tax thing like this. Jay Nixon said Missouri Republicans are, quote, trying to follow Kansas down the fiscally irresponsible path. He said he would not stand for it and he vetoed the Republican tax cut proposal in Missouri.

But now, now, Missouri Republicans overrode that veto. They have thereby forced through a Kansas-style fiscal disaster plan for the neighboring state of Missouri.

Even with a Democratic governor, Missouri has taken a real right turn under the tender ministrations and the tens of millions of dollars of Rex Sinquefield, right? The well-funded, newly emboldened Republicans in the state of Missouri, they blocked Medicaid expansion, which led to this dramatic protest in the state capital yesterday. The protesters actually shut down business in the state senate over the Medicaid decision.

rachel 6Republicans in Missouri are trying to enshrine strict scrutiny for gun rights into the state constitution. And that may not sound like much, but that is such a fundamentalist approach to gun rights that it has really wide implications that have scared other states that have tried this. But Missouri is steaming straight ahead to put that in their state constitution.

Missouri is down to one last abortion clinic in the entire state. This year, Republicans in the Missouri legislature introduced 32 separate pieces of legislation against that one clinic. They`ve got one abortion clinic left, 32 bills this session to try to shut down or curtail the activities of that one last clinic.

With no campaign finance limits anymore and with an eager conservative godfather funding every step they take further to the right, Missouri is doing everything it can to try to turn itself into a deep-south style red state, but with what they just did on this tax issue, did they just make a decision to follow Kansas off the cliff?

Joining us now is David Helling, political reporter for the “Kansas City Star.” Mr. Helling, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate your time tonight.

DAVID HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, what did push Missouri lawmakers to proposal these very, very deep tax cuts, even as Kansas was really flaming out because of them?

HELLING: Well, part of it is Rex Sinquefield, as you suggest. He`s been heavily involved for years, Rachel, in trying to push a no-income tax agenda in the state of Missouri, as you suggest. He`s tried to get that on the ballot. He`s really a supporter of turning to sales taxes instead of income taxes.

But part of it is just philosophy. Missouri, as you also point out, really had a choice about ten years ago, will we be Arkansas and Mississippi, or will we be Iowa and Minnesota? Missouri, as you might know, is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats in most
years and then about 10 years ago, it started its slide into conservatism and it is firmly there now.

So, you put that sort of ideological approach together with Rex`s money and you get what you got this week in the legislature.

MADDOW: In terms of that path, that sort of decade-long path that you just described there, is there any equivalent force on the left or to strengthen the Democrats` hand in Missouri? Is this a transformation that`s really taken place entirely within conservative politics? Is there any counter-game?

rachel 7HELLING: Democrats have a role in Missouri, unlike Kansas where they`re virtually nonexistent. Democrats in Missouri do have some voice. Claire McCaskill, of course, is the senator, Jay Nixon the governor, both Democrats.

Republicans have not done extremely well at the statewide level. They lost the race for governor. They do have the lieutenant governorship in the state. But Democrats in Missouri have a unique challenge. They must appeal — if they are to win, they must appeal to rural voters as well as urban voters in Kansas City and St. Louis and to some degree in Columbia, in Jeff City. So, even people like Claire McCaskill and Jay Nixon strike a populist, conservative, in some senses, moderate tone with voters in the state.

There is no real — with one or two exceptions, there is no real progressive movement in the state, and that showed up in the last state elections for the legislature, the House and the Senate. Jay Nixon has virtually no working ability in that statehouse at all, Rachel, owner to
sort of convince lawmakers by the sound of his voice, to change their views. And they often listen to Rex Sinquefield, the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, also has a heavy presence in Missouri, as well as Kansas.

So, those are the voices they hear. There`s no liberal or progressive opposition really in this state.

MADDOW: I feel like I have heard that, really, just in my observations of Missouri politics, particularly with Claire McCaskill on the federal level. I continue to believe that she would make a very credible national level candidate for the Democrats.

Not because I agree with her on lots of policies. She`s nowhere near liberal like I am, but simply because she does talk in populist terms, very central terms, and she`s made that case, I think it was the Missouri Democrat way of talking to a big, broad audience.

And that`s why I was so surprised to see Governor Nixon making this case. Hey, we can`t do this. They just got their bond rating downgraded. We`ve got a AAA bond rating, we`ve got to hold on to that. That seems to me like sort of the ultimate fiscal conservative, centrist, kumbaya message, and yet, it just didn`t go anywhere.

HELLING: Right, and for that matter, Jay Nixon is a big fan in some instances of tax credits, tax breaks for big business. He tried to get the Boeing plant to come to St. Louis. He offered a huge package of tax breaks for that. He gave incentives to the auto companies to stay in the state, Rachel.

Again, that`s kind of a traditional country club banker Republican mentality. Give big incentives to big business to create jobs. That`s his approach. Again, he gets a bit of a pass, because Missouri is just that kind of a state. It`s hard to believe that an out-and-out progressive liberal candidate has any chance at the statewide level, and I think Jay Nixon senses that.

Now, a lot of — he`s not really popular among some Democrats. For example, he`s had a sort of a low-level feud with McCaskill for years about who really control s the party in the state. And Jay Nixon, to a degree, like McCaskill, really looks out for himself. You know, his own re-election is more important than electing more Democrats to the legislature so you wouldn`t have to go through what he just went through.

That`s a criticism you`ll hear of Jay Nixon. But, again, there may be a lot of self-preservation in that. Missouri, as I suggested, and as you suggested as well, is much more Southern in its approach to politics than it is industrial Midwest or in north of the state border.

MADDOW: And as you point out, that was a choice. That outlook was a choice and it has been a fascinating transformation to watch.

Dave Helling, reporter with the “Kansas City Star” — I really enjoyed your reporting on this, Mr. Helling. Thank you fore being here. I appreciate it.

HELLING: You bet. My pleasure.

Conservative Justices Rewrite The Meaning Of Government-Sanctioned Prayer

First, a little story:

Two neighbors lived peacefully in a small town. One was a committed atheist and the other a committed evangelical Christian.

It happened that the atheist needed an important favor from his Christian neighbor. The atheist asked if he might come over to the Christian’s house and talk to him about it. “Sure,” said the Christian, “be here tomorrow at 10 o’clock. But I want you to know that I will have a preacher here when you come.” The atheist thought about it for a minute. Did he really want to endure the presence of a preacher? Did he really want to subject himself to what he knew was coming? But the favor he needed was so important that he thought it would be worth it. “Okay,” said the atheist, “I’ll be there.”

The atheist arrived at the Christian’s house on time and was welcomed inside. Before the two neighbors talked about the great favor the atheist needed, the Christian asked the preacher to pray. Here’s what the preacher began to pray:

Heavenly Father, please bless these two men and give them wisdom to do the right thing today. We recognize that your son Jesus came to save us from all unrighteousness and we thank you for sending him to die on the cross for us. 

Obviously the atheist was very uncomfortable with the preacher and his prayer. It offended him and made him sort of feel hypocritical and it also served to bully him. But he needed a big favor and he dare not show his discomfort or disapproval for fear that his Christian neighbor would hold it against him and not grant his request. So, being a practical atheist—he rationalized that his neighbor was a true believer and no amount of objections to the preacher or the prayer would change his mind anyway—he kept his head bowed and his eyes closed and, more important for the task at hand, he kept his mouth shut. The preacher finished: “In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”

The atheist eventually received the favor he sought.

It so happened that the Christian neighbor was also a member of the local city council. And it so happened that some time later our atheist neighbor was scheduled to appear before the council in order to request final approval of a zoning change for some property he owned. And, of course, it happened that when the atheist showed up for the city council meeting he had to endure yet another Christian preacher who opened the meeting by asking everyone, including the atheist, to stand and pray with him. Here was the prayer:

The beauties of spring are an expressive symbol of the new life of the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent to the apostles at Pentecost so that they would be courageous witnesses of the Good News to different regions of the Mediterranean world and beyond. The Holy Spirit continues to be the inspiration and the source of strength and virtue, which we all need in the world of today. And so I pray this evening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the city council meets.

After the prayer, some of the council members, along with some of the gathered citizens, made the sign of the cross, and there was a collective “Amen.”

Now, there are two different endings to this story. You decide which one is more likely in the real world, given the circumstances:

FIRST ENDING

“Dammit!” said the atheist to himself, “It is one thing to tolerate my neighbor’s religiosity in his own house, but it is quite another to tolerate such religiosity in this the people’s house. This is as much my government as it is any Christian’s! And I shouldn’t be subtly coerced into participating in this nonsense.”

Thus, the atheist objected to the prayer before he made his appeal to the city to rezone his property and went home to await the results.

SECOND ENDING

“Dammit!” said the atheist to himself, “It is one thing to tolerate my neighbor’s religiosity in his own house, but it is quite another to tolerate such religiosity in this the people’s house. This is as much my government as it is any Christian’s! And I shouldn’t be subtly coerced into participating in this nonsense.”

But, the atheist thought, “If I object to the prayer I might piss off the council members, all of whom profess some kind of Christianity. And I really need that zoning change.” So, the atheist sat there quietly and reverently and kept his mouth shut about the prayer. He made his zoning appeal and went home.

Question: Should the city council be allowed, under our Constitution, to open its meetings with the kind of prayer quoted above?

Answer: Yes! Or so saith five conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway

catholics on courtThis week we found out how important it is that Democrats never lose another presidential election and the accompanying privilege of appointing Supreme Court justices. The Court, peopled by five conservative Christians appointed by Republicans, ruled, by a 5-4 margin, that explicitly Christian prayers (the second prayer I used in my hypothetical story is almost identical to one cited in the opinion) are appropriate for opening local town and city council meetings across the country and do not represent “an unconstitutional establishment of religion.” 

In the main majority opinion, one among many opinions in this case, we find that the supposed purpose of the prayers “is largely to accommodate the spiritual needs of lawmakers and connect them to a tradition dating to the time of the Framers.” As strange as that notion sounds to people who live in an age in which a lot of our horrible traditions have been eradicated (should we accommodate the need for someone to “connect” with the tradition of slavery or Jim Crow, for instance?), we also find a strange dismissal of the kind of intimidation that our atheist friend felt in my little story above:

The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the five catholicsprayer opportunity. No such thing occurred in the town of Greece. Although board members themselves stood, bowed their heads, or made the sign of the cross during the prayer, they at no point solicited similar gestures by the public. Respondents point to several occasions where audience members were asked to rise for the prayer. These requests, however, came not from town leaders but from the guest ministers, who presumably are accustomed to directing their congregations in this way and might have done so thinking the action was inclusive, not coercive… Respondents suggest that constituents might feel pressure to join the prayers to avoid irritating the officials who would be ruling on their petitions, but this argument has no evidentiary support. Nothing in the record indicates that town leaders allocated benefits and burdens based on participation in the prayer, or that citizens were received differently depending on whether they joined the invocation or quietly declined. In no instance did town leaders signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished. A practice that classified citizens based on their religious views would violate the Constitution, but that is not the case before this Court.

You see, if no town council member explicitly said that, say, a rezoning request was rejected because of a failure to participate in a public prayer, then the possibility of such a thing happening is not worthy of consideration. Apparently the majority on the Court assumes that a Constitution-offending city council would vote to turn down a proposal and then attach language to it that said, “We reject it because the applicant is an atheist.” Maybe there are a few public servants dumb enough to do such a thing, but not many.

But more than that, the majority completely dismisses the idea of the subtle form of coercion involved, especially when the Christian prayers are offered again and again as a matter of established practice. Our atheist friend, who thinks the entire enterprise of religious belief is City Council Meeting -Prayer 13-264.jpgnonsensical, nevertheless knows that if he were to object to the pre-meeting prayer, or merely sit quietly while others are standing during the utterance or offering “Amens” at the end, that his request for rezoning might not be seen in a favorable light by the Christian council members. That isn’t an unreasonable assumption. It’s certainly one that can be justified, knowing what we all know about human behavior. But the Court’s conservative Catholic majority said that because town leaders did not openly “signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished,” that there was nothing to worry about.

Worse still, the two extra-extreme extremists on the Court, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia (who can’t even remember the meaning of his own opinions), went further and dismissed the legitimacy of coercion in these circumstances. Thomas wrote:

Thus, to the extent coercion is relevant to the Establishment Clause analysis, it is actual legal coercion that counts-not the “subtle coercive pressures” allegedly felt by respondents in this case…The majority properly concludes that “[o]ffense . . . does not equate to coercion,” since “[a]dults often encounter speech they find disagreeable[,] and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum.” […] I would simply add, in light of the foregoing history of the Establishment Clause, that “[p]eer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion” either.

I find that a breathtakingly naive understanding of human nature, or a mind-blowing misrepresentation of how the real world works. Peer pressure by definition is a subtle form of coercion. In fact, here is how Wikipedia describes it:

Peer pressure is influence that a peer group, observers or individual exerts that encourages others to change their attitudesvalues, or behaviors to conform [to] the group norms

Here’s Dictionary.com’s definition:

social pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values or otherwise conform in order to be accepted.

Yet, we have judges sitting on the highest court in our land who have, or pretend to have, no understanding of what peer pressure means or how powerful a force it can be in certain situations.

Writing for the four dissenters, Obama-appointed Justice Elena Kagan (herself a Catholic) presented her own hypothetical cases involving such peer pressure:

A person goes to court, to the polls, to a naturalization ceremony—and a government official or his hand-picked minister asks her, as the first order of official business, to stand and pray with others in a way conflicting with her own religious beliefs. Perhaps she feels sufficient pressure to go along-to rise, bow her head, and join in whatever others are saying: After all, she wants, very badly, what the judge or poll worker or immigration official has to offer. Or perhaps she is made of stronger mettle, and she opts not to participate in what she does not believeindeed, what would, for her, be something like blasphemy. She then must make known her dissent from the common religious view, and place herself apart from other citizens, as well as from the officials responsible for the invocations. And so a civic function of some kind brings religious differences to the fore: That public proceeding becomes (whether intentionally or not) an instrument for dividing her from adherents to the community’s majority religion, and for altering the very nature of her relationship with her government.

That is not the country we are, because that is not what our Constitution permits. Here, when a citizen stands before her government, whether to perform a service or request a benefit, her religious beliefs do not enter into the picture…The government she faces favors no particular religion, either by word or by deed. And that government, in its various processes and proceedings, imposes no religious tests on its citizens, sorts none of them by faith, and permits no exclusion based on belief. When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceedingI could go on: to a zoning agency, a parole board hearing, or the DMVgovernment officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americansnone of them different from any other for that civic purpose. Why not, then, at a town meeting?

Why not? Because five conservative Christians on the Court said it is okay for local municipalities to essentially endorse Christianity by repeatedly invoking the name of Jesus at official government meetings. That’s why not.

[Photo credit: Laura Greene/HPE (city council at prayer)]
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