Archive for November, 2022

The campaign of hatred directed against LGBTQ people – posted 11/27/2022

November 27, 2022 1 comment

The Club Q shootings in Colorado Springs that left 5 dead and 17 injured were horrifying but not that surprising. For the last few years, there has been a campaign of hatred directed against LGBTQ people. In 2016 when the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando happened that was genuinely unexpected. Q Club felt more in the category of a likely event.

The best take I have seen on the Q Club shootings comes from the writer Jay Kuo. He said the Q Club attack was an “extremely foreseeable and statistically predictable result of hateful and dangerous rhetoric spewed by politicians and right wing pundits against the LGBTQ community”. Kuo used a term “stochastic terrorism”. He defined it as:

“..the public démonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.”

The Q Club shootings did not come from nowhere. They precisely fit the category of stochastic terrorism. There has been an escalation in the campaign to dehumanize LGBTQ people. Particularly over the last year, an organized effort of far right influencers have pushed the idea that LGBTQ people are “groomers” and pedophiles. A connection is asserted between queer and trans people and the exploitation of children.

I would describe what is a QAnon-type conspiracy logic. QAnon says Democrats are pedophiles and blood drinkers. There is no proof ever presented. An unsupported charge is repeated over and over. In spite of an absolute paucity of evidence, some people are won over to the QAnon world view by the repetition of the allegation. A similar dynamic is at play in the anti-gay, anti-trans campaign.

Just the use of the term “groomer” is an incitement against LGBTQ people. A groomer is a term for someone who attempts to sexually abuse children. Grooming is a set of manipulative behaviors sexual predators use to gain access to potential victims to coerce them to agree to the abuse and to reduce the risk of getting caught. Since there is no evidence of grooming, I would suggest that the goal of the far right is to intimidate and to erase any queer or trans presence from schools, libraries and public places.

The far right is objecting to the existence of LGBTQ people.

Many Republican candidates in the last election cycle ran on a platform that characterized queer and transgender people as groomers and many of their candidates won. Prominent politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov Greg Abbott have played to these prejudices as have notable influencers like FOX host Tucker Carlson. The accumulated prejudiced comments and actions of these bigots lead crazies to act.

2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Also, nationally, the number of legislative bills targeting LGBTQ people is at an all time high. You see nutty things going on like Boston Children’s Hospital facing bomb scares for its work with transgender youth. None of this is an accident.

The stochastic terrorism directed against LGBTQ people is not that different from the racist hate attacks on Asian-Americans or the antisemitic attacks on Jewish Americans. Xenophobia produced the massacre at the Young’s Asian Massage spa outside Atlanta. Antisemitism produced the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Repetition of homophobic, xenophobic and antisemitic memes and tropes on social media embolden the unhinged to act. It has been well-demonstrated that there is no shortage of mentally unstable individuals who are armed with AR-15-type semi-automatic rifles out there. Some are working on their manifestos and are ready to pull the trigger.

I place responsibility for the increase in hate crimes on the MAGA Republican movement. There is a causal link between their dehumanizing rhetoric and the rise in hate crimes. At this point, the MAGA movement should be recognized as the fascist movement it is. Fascism always creates an “us” and a “them”. MAGA divides the world into the good white Christians and “the other”, comprising minorities, immigrants, non-Christians and LGBTQ people.

Fascist politics are a politics of hierarchy. Making America Great Again is about restoring the power of white Christian men. Any progress by a minority, women, or LGBTQ people stokes feelings of victimhood among the MAGA faithful.

Sexual anxiety plays a big role in the MAGA fascist movement. There is much concern about declining white birthrates and the need for more white babies. Fascism thrives on the fantasy of a mythic past where everyone was assigned a place in the hierarchy. Men remain in charge and women are subordinate, tasked with the job of procreation Gender equity and women’s rights are taboo as they threaten patriarchal dominance.

LGBTQ people fall outside the stereotyped roles. Their existence poses a theological challenge to the MAGA evangelical Christian base.

Ironically, MAGA worships a leader who faces multiple allegations of sexual wrongdoing. If anyone was serious about an evidence-based view of sexual abuse and domestic violence, the largest group of perpetrators are clearly heterosexual men.

Behind the campaign of hatred directed against LGBTQ people is the most cynical calculation by Republican politicians. In the pursuit of absolute power, they will go very low. They made a coordinated decision to vilify a group despised by at least part of their evangelical base.

Dark money is financing much of the anti-LGBTQ advocacy. Christian Right billionaires with close links to MAGA have fueled the hate campaign. This dark money story has been very inadequately explored.

The historian of fascism, Ruth Ben-Ghiat has written that “the persecution of LGBTQ individuals is a constant of authoritarian governments around the world”. The fascist narrative in America is anything but “live and let live”. Positive values like tolerance and empathy have been replaced by a theology of hate.

All who support democracy and oppose autocracy must stand against the disgusting and dangerous campaign of hate MAGA Republicans have unleashed..

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The Supreme Court and the threat to American Indian sovereignty – posted 11/20/2022

November 20, 2022 2 comments

With Roe v Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court, it would be easy to think the centerpiece of the conservative legal agenda has been realized and that what happens next will be less consequential. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The Court, with its conservative super-majority, is just getting started reversing precedent now that it has the numbers.

One of the most important cases getting decided this term is Haaland v Brackeen, a challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act, also known as ICWA. That law was enacted in 1978 to halt the forced removal of Native children from their families.

The story of Indian child removal has gotten some attention in the last couple years because of the mass graves of Indian children found at boarding schools in Canada and the United States. As with so much of Native American history, much has been obscured.

Before ICWA, 25 to 35 per cent of Native American and Native Alaskan children were removed from their homes and placed in non-Native homes or in residential boarding schools. This taking was an effort to disintegrate Native identity and to destroy tribal nations. There is no future without children and the scale of the taking was dramatic.

The aim of ICWA was to halt this cultural genocide. In the current litigation, ICWA is supported by 497 federally recognized tribes and 23 states as a law that is foundational to tribal rights and the preservation of indigenous families.

ICWA grants Native children the right to foster care placements that favor Native communities. If a state court determines a Native child must be removed from their home, Native family or tribal members must be given priority placement. ICWA only applies in child welfare and adoption proceedings.

Sarah Kastelic, the Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, has broadly presented what she calls the recipe for colonization “consistently followed by colonizers to colonize Indigenous people”. Kastelic says there are five ingredients:

“ 1. Take the land.
2. Control the natural resources, especially water.
3. Usurp, replace indigenous governance to delegitimize Indigenous thought.
4. Undermine Native worldview, values, traditions, beliefs and
5. Sever Native children from their source of identity, from their culture, from their sense of belonging, from that sense of connectedness to something.”

The plaintiffs in Brackeen claim ICWA is unconstitutional on its face. The plaintiffs are non-Indian families who wish to adopt American Indian children (as well as the state of Texas). They argue that ICWA discriminates on the basis of race by treating Native children differently than non-Native children. Essentially they argue reverse discrimination, citing violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

They also argue ICWA provisions exceed the plenary power granted to Congress to regulate tribal relations with states and the national government.

What is shocking about the Plaintiffs’ case is their erasure of the history of racism faced by Native Americans and Native tribes. They brush over the long history of Indian child removal and minimize that experience. Even with ICWA, Native children are still removed at a rate two to three times that of white children. It seems like the plaintiffs want to pretend racism is over.

The plaintiffs’ argument that they are victims of reverse discrimination is particularly insidious. Many Americans think of American Indians as a racial group – not a political one. The distinction is critical.

Under federal Indian law, American Indian tribes are nations. During the first 90 plus years of its existence, the United States entered into and ratified more than 370 treaties with indigenous people who lived in what became the lower 48 states. Each treaty ratification represented a formal recognition by the federal government that the other parties to the treaties were fully sovereign nations. This is true under customary international law and by provision of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States defaulted on its responsibilities under every single treaty obligation with the Native tribes. In fact, there is even a 1903 Supreme Court case, Lone Wolf v Hitchcock that holds Congress may unilaterally break its treaty obligations to Indians under its plenary power. I would argue that where Native tribes are concerned, the law has long been broken although controversies in the legal forum must continue to be contested.

ICWA does not apply to all people of Native descent. It only applies to children who are “a member of an Indian tribe” or who are “eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and are the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe”. ICWA is not a race-based law.

Many Indian tribes remain extremely worried about how the Supreme Court will resolve Brakeen. Given the conservative super-majority and their demonstrated record of reversing precedent, tribal sovereignty and nationhood are on the line.

There is a history of the federal government using a variety of methods to end its nation-to-nation relationship with tribes. The 1950’s is referred to as a “termination era” since there was an aggressive effort then to break up tribal nations. Among other things, the federal government terminated recognition of 109 tribes, it removed 1.3 million acres of land from trust status and it attacked tribal criminal jurisdiction over crimes involving non-natives on tribal lands.

In 1952, the government’s Urban Indian Relocation program encouraged Native people to leave reservations with the lure of good jobs, housing and education. These promises never materialized.

In her brilliant podcast, This Land, Rebecca Nagle, a citizen of Cherokee Nation, dives deep into the Haaland v Brakeen case. She shows how the Brakeen case raises challenges that go far beyond child welfare. Right wing lawyers have targeted tribal sovereignty and conservative dark money, particularly the Bradley Foundation, has financed the litigation. More is going on in this case than meets the eye.

Nagle describes what she calls a combination of greed and charity. The law firm Gibson Dunn who represent the Brakeen plaintiffs also represent oil and gas industries and two of the largest casinos in the world. In a January 2022 federal court filing on behalf of a casino, Gibson Dunn argue that tribal gaming is unconstitutional using the same equal protection argument they use in Brakeen. There are no coincidences here.

While no one knows how the Supreme Court will rule in Brakeen, it is hard to be optimistic. Justice Neil Gorsuch has had a history of siding with Native Americans but that only makes the likely line-up 5-4 with the majority still siding with the conservatives.

At the oral argument held earlier this month, some of the conservative justices seemed clueless about Native sovereignty and how ICWA actually works. The three liberal justices and Justice Gorsuch expressed skepticism toward the plaintiffs’ arguments.

ICWA has now faced more challenges than the Affordable Care Act. If the Court finds ICWA unconstitutional, the entire edifice of American Indian law could potentially tumble. All kinds of statutes like those impacting health care, land, water and gaming rights could be adversely affected. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected in June.

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On the Phillies improbable run and what it meant – posted 11/12/2022

November 12, 2022 1 comment

It is funny being from New England. I am surrounded by Red Sox fans. My own son Josh is a Red Sox fan. My work friends are mostly Red Sox fans. But, as someone who grew up in the Philadelphia area, I am a lifelong Phillies fan. My Phillies love has deep roots.

My parents were both diehard Phillies fans. They took me to many games starting out at Connie Mack Stadium, moving on to the Vet and then Citizens Bank Park. Later in their lives, my parents watched every Phillies game on TV.

They did live to see the 2008 Phillies team of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino win the World Series. My mom had previously said that the Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was “a moron”. After the World Series, she revised her view. She said, “Charlie Manuel is a genius”.

When I was around ten, my dad took me and my friend Hank to spring training in Clearwater, Florida. Seeing the players up close I was star struck. I got autographs from Phillies stars Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons. To a little kid, the players were like gods.

I was the kind of kid who memorized batting averages and pitchers’ ERAs. In my yard playing wiffleball and later playing on the Merion Stars little league team, I grew to love the sport.

My dad took me to Connie Mack Stadium to see the Phillies play the San Francisco Giants. Late in the game, the Giants Hall of Fame slugger Willie McCovey hit a towering homer over the light tower in right field to beat the Phils. I recall crying.

The Phillies were the first team in the majors to lose 10,000 games. That happened back in 2007. If you are a Phillies fan, losing is not unfamiliar. Founded in 1883, the Phillies are the oldest continuous same-name, same city franchise in American professional sports. There have been many, many losing seasons.

In 1964, the Phils were up 6 1/2 games with 10 to play, an almost insurmountable lead. This was the team of rookie of the year Dick Allen, Jim Bunning, and Johnny Callison. They had a west coast swing. Late at night, under the covers, I listened to the Phillies-Dodgers game on my transistor radio. With earphones plugged in, I listened to the play by play. My parents assumed I was asleep. The Phillies proceeded to have an epic meltdown. The Phils did the impossible, dropping out of contention as the season ended.

My parents and I went to a June 2003 game at the Vet between the Phillies and the Red Sox. Pedro Martinez was on the mound for the Sox. We got tickets late and the only tickets available were high up in the 700 section in right field. The 700 section had a well-earned reputation and that day didn’t disappoint. Many fans were drinking and fights were breaking out. My mom turned to me and said, “You’re with your people”. Philadelphia fans are famous.

The game was fantastic. It went into extra innings. Nomar Garciaparra went six for six that day. The Phils won 6-5 when pinch hitter Todd Pratt hit a two run homer in the bottom of the 13th. Jim Thome hit two homers and Bobby Abreu had one. The Sox wasted a great effort by Pedro.

Part of the enchantment of the Phillies 2022 run to the World Series is their history of losing. In Philadelphia, there is an expectation of failure. This year the Phillies who were total underdogs smashed that. They had been counted out by all the experts.

Just to recall, they were 22-29 in early June when they fired their manager Joe Girardi and hired bench coach Rob Thomson to be manager. On June 25, their star, Bryce Harper, broke his thumb when he was hit by a pitch. At that point, most Phillies fans thought the season was over but amazingly the team started winning.

Harper did not return until August 26 but the Phillies went 32-20 without him. That gift from the Red Sox, Kyle Schwarber, ended up hitting 46 home runs, leading the National League. The Phillies barely got into a playoff spot.

Their playoff run was pure Cinderella. They won series against the Cardinals, the Braves and the Padres to make it to the World Series. The moment that floored me was when the Phils scored six runs in the top of the ninth against the National League central hchampion Cardinals. The Phillies seemed dead before that.

Even though they ended up losing the World Series, what the Phillies did was to mesmerize the whole city of Philadelphia. To say they lifted spirits doesn’t describe the positive vibrations generated. Walking around the city, the number of people wearing Phillies paraphernalia was staggering. It was eleven years since the Phillies were even in a playoff game. As Jason Kelce once said about the Eagles, “Hungry dogs run faster”. The Phillies were hungry dogs.

Life in 2022 has so many stresses. In the last year, I have seen four friends die. Over a million died from COVID. The world has largely failed to respond to climate change. The UN chief Antonio Gutteres says humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. Nuclear war emerges again as a distinct possibility.

I am thankful to baseball for taking us away from all that, if only for a short time. The pleasure of watching great games was a gift. It was hard not to marvel at Bryce Harper’s super clutch homer in game five that took out the Padres. The sheer drama kept me glued to the TV. What was particularly cool was underdogs winning. It doesn’t happen enough in life. I wished my parents, my sister, and my Phillies/Eagles fan friend Harold could have still been alive to see it.

Although it can sometimes seem unbearably slow, baseball is one of those things that keep us sane. It helps us get through and sends a message that hope springs eternal. Spring training is right around the corner.

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Violence is the road to the destruction of our democracy – posted 11/6/2022

November 6, 2022 1 comment

The violent assault on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stands out as a watershed event. It highlights the seriousness of the threat of far right domestic terrorism. Speaker Pelosi is the highest ranking government official to be victimized. Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent, such violent assaults on any political leader are unacceptable in a democracy.

The reports from the San Fransisco police and the FBI show that the goal of the attacker was to kidnap the House Speaker. He told the police after his arrest that he planned to interrogate and torture the Speaker. If she did not tell him the truth as he saw it, he was going to break her kneecaps. By breaking her kneecaps, she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, The attacker believed this would show others in Congress that there were consequences for their actions.

In his police interview, the attacker said that he considered Pelosi the “leader of the pack” of lies told by Democrats. The Washington Post has reported that the attacker, David DePape, had a “voluminous blog” that was “filled with deeply racist and antisemitic writings – as well as pro-Trump and anti-Democratic posts”.

The attacker did fracture the skull of an 82 year old man with a hammer. Politics aside, this was a vicious assault on an elderly man but instead of any thoughtfulness or self-reflection, the response of many Republicans was to spin baseless conspiracy theories to deflect blame. This is in keeping with the Republicans not owning the hate they have been spewing against opponents. It leads deranged people to act.

It should not be surprising that the MAGA movement produces David DePapes. The movement has been propelled by hate and fear of its enemies. Its enemies are not simply people with whom they disagree. MAGA turns its enemies into ridiculous dehumanized caricatures: satanic pedophiles, blood drinkers and groomers.

In assessing how our media has dealt with the Pelosi event, I do not think the context has been appropriately defined. Over the last seven years, former President Trump has stoked political violence and he has used his political rallies to train his followers to see violence in a positive light. He has been helping to create a mass psychology that sees violence as acceptable.

The Pelosi attack must be seen inside the context of Trump’s continuous vilification of his political enemies. Trump called Pelosi “crazy Nancy”, “sick woman” and he has said “she’s got a lot of problems, a lot of mental problems”. On November 7, Trump called Pelosi “an animal”. I think Trump particularly has demonized Pelosi because she has frequently called him out and clearly has gotten under his skin.

Among January 6 defendants, over ten voiced death threats against Pelosi. Greg Reffitt, a far right extremist who has been convicted of multiple January 6-related felonies, threatened to forcibly remove Congress members. He said:

“I don’t care if Pelosi’s head is hitting every step while I drag her by the ankles – she’s coming out.”

When Paul Pelosi’s attacker asked “Where is Nancy?” It evoked the creepy crowd chants from January 6 when rioters roamed Congress and in a bloodthirsty way, sought her.

From the early days of when Trump started campaigning in 2015, he has been all about political violence. Remember when he told his rally crowds to beat up protesters and he offered to pay the legal bills of his supporters who inflicted violence. Trump said things like “punch them in the face” and “knock the crap out of them”.

Cruelty has been his defining brand whether it was putting children in cages or telling border guards to shoot migrants in the leg. On January 6, Trump said “if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country any more”.

Many prominent Republicans have either remained silent or they have followed Trump’s lead on the violence. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has said,

“I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it but I will bang it down.”

There are so many examples of the over-the-top violent rhetoric from Republicans. Marjorie Taylor Greene has said Pelosi is guilty of treason, a crime punishable by death. Steve Bannon talks about putting the heads of liberals on pikes at the corners of the White House as a warning. Paul Gosar posted an anime video where he attacked and killed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword.

And it is not all talk. In 2018, Trump superfan Cesar Sayoc mailed pipe bombs to Democratic leaders before that mid-term election. In 2020, there was the plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. In October, a Pennsylvania man pled guilty to threatening to kill Rep. Eric Swalwell. Threats against members of Congress are more than ten times as high as just five years ago.

Invariably, Republicans will bring up the attack on Rep. Steve Scalise and the threat to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. There is no comparability. Democrats immediately condemned the violence in both situations. Republicans remain motivated toward violence by Trump’s demagoguery and the FOX echo chamber.

The Pelosi attack shows the MAGA Republican pattern. First downplay the attack. Then deny the harm done. Then offer disinformation and conspiracy theories. Republican Party leadership is complicit in the violence because of their inaction and failure to speak out against it.

Democracy requires an appreciation of pluralism and tolerance. For democracy to work, opposing sides must accept the results of elections. That means accepting losing sometimes. Republican election denialism is incompatible with a functioning democracy.

Benito Mussolini once said. “Blood alone moves the wheels of history”. But violence is neither moral nor patriotic. Violence is the road to the destruction of our democracy.

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