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“It Was Fun While It Lasted”: The Coming GOP-Evangelical Divorce

What are evangelical conservatives going to do? I ask the question not with any sympathy, but with a mountain of schadenfreudian glee—I am profoundly reassured about my country’s direction every time I hear Tony Perkins bemoan it. But however it’s asked, it’s a question that’s growing more and more urgent. Mike Huckabee says that if the GOP embraces same-sex marriage, “evangelicals will take a walk.” Others pooh-pooh this on the usual grounds that they’ve got nowhere else to go. But they do: back to private life. And it’s my bet that in, say, eight or 12 years’ time, that’s where a lot of evangelicals will be. Having gotten into politics to rescue America from the sinners and fornicators, I reckon a critical mass will decide by 2024 that it was fun while it lasted, but that the fight is hopeless.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch and see what the party does on same-sex marriage as these next months and years progress. I, for one, do not expect to see the senators tumble like dominoes after the push from Ohio’s Rob Portman. Too many of them are from states where adopting that position would be suicide. Remember, we’re talking here not about the mores of the state as a whole, but of its GOP primary voters. So Claire McCaskill could announce her support for same-sex marriage in Democratic Missouri. But Roy Blunt in Republican Missouri? One doubts it. Different state, really. He in fact just reaffirmed his support for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Perusing the list of GOP senators, one sees only a few who might follow Portman. Susan Collins of course; Mark Kirk; Kelly Ayotte, at least on geographic grounds, although she’s quite conservative. You get the idea. I haven’t studied the political situations of all 232 GOP House members, and I won’t, but the general picture is similar. Right now, a grand total of two GOP House members back gay marriage—Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of upstate New York. Two.

This is all pretty amusing because after Portman, some people started talking and writing as if some sort of floodgates were opening, but in reality it would be completely shocking if more than 20 of Capitol Hill’s 279 Republican solons were backing same-sex marriage as we approach 2016. There may well not be more than 10.

This is the kind of issue on which the party’s position will largely be determined by the person it nominates to be president. All the contenders are reliably anti-, yes, even Rand Paul. His libertarian disposition brings him up short of the usual epileptic hatred of gay people, but he’s against them all the same. So the party will likely head into the 2016 election with a position identical to the one it has now. The hard-shell platform, which in 2012 backed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman, may get a nip here or tuck there, which those sad Log Cabin people will tout as a great advance, but no more than that.

And, by 2016, it will be more clear than it is today that their bigoted position is a big electoral loser for them. They likely will have lost again, assuming Hillary Clinton runs. And then, staring at the grim reality of 16 straight years of Democratic governance by two people they believe to be Satan and, uh, Satan, they’ll start to make some changes. They’ll study up on the actuarial charts, and same-sex marriage is one of the changes they’ll make—maybe not whole hog right at first, but eventually and inevitably. By 2024—after Hillary, that is—the Republicans will be not all that distinguishable (at least through evangelical eyes) from the Democrats, with a platform supporting same-sex marriage, or at least tolerating it in antiseptic language.

Then what for the Christian right? They got into politics in the 1970s. Remember, Jerry Falwell himself, in a 1965 sermon called “Ministers and Marches,” denounced mixing religion and politics. But then came late-’60s tumult, Roe v. Wade, and kindred signs of the devil’s grip (preceded by the Supreme Court’s decision to take God out of the classroom). Religious conservatives got into politics to undo those things. And here we are, 50 years later, and it’s only gotten worse as far as they’re concerned. By 2024, if my forecasts are correct, things will get only worse still.

Well, how much patience can a movement have? By 2024, evangelicals will have been up to their armpits in politics for half a century. With what to show for it? A country where (I’m betting) abortion is still legal, and now Adam and Steve are saying vows. And their vehicle for their agenda, the Republican Party, will be walking away from them to a place where they smell more votes (and money).

And that’s how the GOP-evangelical divorce will happen. Not all evangelicals will leave. Maybe not even half. But a reduction in the Republican primary electorate from 50 percent evangelical, which is roughly what it is now, to 30 percent would make for some enormous improvements in how the party approaches social issues. And many evangelicals, heeding that old Falwell advice, will stop obsessing so much over this life and spend more time preparing for what they believe is the next one, where (if their own predictions are correct) they won’t feel like hating anyone anymore anyway.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 30, 2013

March 31, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Meet The NRA’s New Best Friends: Iran, North Korea, And Syria

Model international actors Iran and North Korea came together to block the adoption of a treaty regulating the $70 billion dollar arms trade at the United Nations on Thursday, no doubt endearing them to the National Rifle Association.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has been in negotiations for the past two weeks, the second attempt to gain a unanimously agreed upon text. The final draft was put before the delegates on Wednesday, with the assumption that it was set to cruise to an easy approval. That assumption was trampled once the Iranian delegation rose to break the required consensus for the treaty’s passage. Iran’s disapproval opened the door for North Korea to join in blocking the treaty. Syria also took umbrage at the text, leading to it and Iran reportedly both objecting to the lack of reference in the treaty’s final draft to foreign occupation or “crimes of aggression.” The President of the Conference quickly suspended the debate before a final vote could be held, leaving the door open to bringing the Iranian and North Korean delegations around, but the chances remain slim.

While not perfect, the treaty had still managed to appease the concerns of many advocates for stronger treaty-language. In particular, a hard fought clause regulating the import and export of ammunition and munitions made its way into the final text. Given the United States’ past hesitance in moving forward on the treaty — including its insistence that the ATT Conference work through consensus — and its current support, the late hour block from Iran and North Korea comes off as slightly ironic. The irony is even more pronounced when one considers that the Iranian delegate, in explaining his objection to the treaty, denounced the U.S.’ influence in shaping the treaty. “The right of individuals to own and use guns has been protected in the current text to meet the constitutional requirements of only one State,” Iranian ambassador Mohammad Khazeee said.

The treaty will now likely move to the General Assembly, however, where it will find the two-thirds necessary to finally pass next week. Given the crazy rhetoric present the last time it almost passed, the eventual passage of the ATT will be sure to provoke even more inflammatory opposition now. In opposing this version of the treaty, the National Rifle Association was much quieter about its lobbying effort, including a push for provisions exempting so-called “civilian firearms” from the treaty’s effects. There is no sign of that influence in the final draft of the ATT. However, the NRA still seems set to come out with a win on this one. Either the treaty is delayed, allowing more time to take it down for good, or it passes with the individual protections it supports hard-coded into the final document.

Their domestic influence will be marshaled once more though once the treaty is signed. At that point, the ATT will go to the U.S. Senate for ratification, where several Republicans have already made abundantly clear their skepticism regarding the very idea of regulating the arms trade. For years now, conservatives have used the supposed threat that an Arms Trade Treaty would entail as a fundraising tool or way to burnish their right-wing credentials. The Heritage Foundation has been slamming each successive draft of the ATT, and will now likely begin a campaign alongside the NRA to doom it in the Senate.

By: Hayes Brown, Think Progress, March 28, 2013

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marco Rubio’s Foreign Policy: Blind, Irrational, And Dangerous

In a speech at the University of Louisville this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned against U.S. “retreat” from the world, which he claimed would result in a vacuum filled by “chaos” and “tyranny.”

These remarks have been interpreted as a rebuke to the foreign policy views of Rubio’s colleague and possible 2016 rival, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). But they are more important than an example of intra-party feuding. These statements reflect the seriously flawed assumptions of Rubio and other hawkish interventionists about what American engagement in the world requires, and they reveal just how alarmist and outdated Rubio’s worldview is. And it is because Rubio’s worldview continues to be the one that prevails among Republican leaders that it merits closer inspection.

“This is what will replace us on the global stage: chaos and tyranny,” Rubio warned. On one level, this is rather crude fear-mongering, but there is more to Rubio’s argument than that. When he warned that “chaos” and “tyrannical governments” will fill a void left by U.S. “retreat,” Rubio was showing his continued reliance on the arguments of Robert Kagan, whose book, The World America Made, Rubio referred to frequently in his foreign policy address at the Brookings Institution last year.

It has become a common hawkish refrain that the U.S. cannot withdraw from any conflict or reduce its commitments anywhere in the world without inviting either chaos or risking the increased influence of authoritarian major powers or both. Kagan has been one of the strongest proponents of this view, and Rubio appears to have adopted most of Kagan’s arguments. This view both overstates the importance of an extremely activist U.S. foreign policy for international stability and underestimates the ability of rising democratic powers to assume regional responsibilities.

The idea that U.S. preeminence in the world must necessarily be “replaced” by the global dominance of authoritarian governments hasn’t made any sense in over 20 years. Today, major authoritarian powers are significantly less powerful and less ambitious in their foreign policy goals than America’s 20th century rivals. Today, many of the world’s rising powers are democratic and have no interest in falling in line behind Chinese or Russian “leadership.” So the implication in Rubio’s speech that there is a danger of another state becoming the world’s predominant military power is sheer alarmism designed to justify an exorbitant military budget that is larger in real terms than it was at the height of the Reagan-era build-up. The fear of being surpassed militarily by another major power has rarely been more unfounded, and the danger to the U.S. from pursuing a less activist role abroad has rarely been smaller. Rubio’s vision of America’s role takes none of this into account.

Another flaw in Rubio’s thinking: His definition of what constitutes engagement with and “retreat” from the world is heavily skewed by his apparent conviction that the U.S. should regularly entangle itself in the internal conflicts of other countries. According to that definition, failing to intervene or to become more involved in the conflict in Syria, for example, is viewed as equivalent to “disengagement.” Rubio wanted a larger, faster intervention in Libya, and he wants greater U.S. involvement in Syria as well. While he said that that the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in “every civil war and every conflict,” Rubio’s record to date shows that he has yet to see a high-profile foreign conflict in which he didn’t want the U.S. heavily involved.

There is no danger that the U.S. will cease to engage with the rest of the world. But there are very real dangers that U.S. foreign policy will remain overly militarized and excessively confrontational toward other states. Rubio’s foreign policy would require more of both. The greatest damage to international peace and stability that the U.S. can do is if it keeps resorting to force to handle crises and disputes as often in this decade as it did in the last. Support for “retreat” is the last thing that Americans need to worry about from their policymakers and political leaders, many of whom remain only too eager to find reasons to sound the attack.

 

By: Daniel Larison, Contributing Editor at The American Conservative, The Week, March 29, 2013

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Because Corporations Lie”: Voluntary Political Transparency Is Just Not Enough

The Securities and Exchange Commission took a bold step in considering new rules that would require publicly traded companies to disclose political donations. This is a good idea because since the Citizens United decision, corporate entities have moved away from disclosed campaign committees, and instead have begun funneling cash into secret campaign funds, mostly 501c nonprofits.

Last year, The Nation published an investigation that debunked the idea that corporate money has flowed mostly to so-called Super PACs in the wake of Citizens United. Rather, big business has embraced nonprofit trade associations and issue advocacy groups to pour hundreds of millions into direct campaign advocacy. The distinction is important because Super PACs, for all their problems, at least disclose their donors and spending records; trade associations and issue advocacy groups do not.

To the credit of reformers, particularly the Center for Political Accountability and several investor groups, many large corporations have voluntarily adopted transparency measures. While we should applaud corporations that go beyond the letter of the law in disclosing these funds, a system based on voluntary participation does not come close to solving the problem of secret political slush funds. In some cases, voluntary disclosure actually obscures the truth.

Take health insurance companies. Aetna, Aflac and WellPoint are among several that have adopted voluntary disclose rules to provide the public and shareholders with a window into their giving patterns. There’s one problem: they aren’t truthful.

In 2009, the major health insurers, including the aforementioned companies, secretly funneled over $86.2 million to the US Chamber of Commerce, a trade association, using another trade association as a proxy to move the money, to run television and radio advertisements against health reform. Aetna’s disclosures that year only revealed $100,000 to the Chamber. WellPoint and Aflac failed to report those donations, as well. The following year, during the midterm elections, Aetna again secretly provided $7 million to “American Action Network,” a social welfare nonprofit used to run partisan attack ads against Democrats, along with the Chamber, which spent over $50 million on a partisan campaign to elect mostly Republicans that year. Again, Aetna’s voluntary disclosure report made no mention of the money, which became public through an inadvertent regulatory filing.

Similarly, several major oil companies have adopted voluntary disclosure guidelines that are fairly useless. ExxonMobil and Valero Energy are two examples: Both firms proudly produce annual reports on which candidates and political parties they fund. The problem? That data can be found already on the Federal Elections Commission website and related state-level disclosure websites, so there’s nothing new. As The Nation has reported, oil companies often work through secretive trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute, which has become more active in financing campaign-related advertisements and grants to other dark money groups.

As Senator John McCain and others have noted, the hundreds of millions slushing in secret money is bound to lead to another major scandal. And that scandal will likely to produce a lot of liability for the corporations involved. Moreover, as attorney Jerry Goldfeder noted in a letter to the New York Times this week, the I.R.S. has sent a questionnaire to 1,300 nonprofit groups questioning their tax exempt status. The increased scrutiny could lead to new questions that could increase liability for corporations: Are these groups being used to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, by funneling cash to foreign governments? Are consumer brands secretly funding ads that could harm the perception of their product (as was the case with Target and their donations to an anti-gay politician in Minnesota)?

Under the current system, only corporate executives, their lobbyists, and certain politicians really understand where the money is flowing. Shareholders, the public, and reporters have a right to know, too.

By: Lee Fang, The Nation, March 29, 2013

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Campaign Financing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Affirmative Action”: An Imperfect But Essential Way To Deal With A Persistently Unfair And Unequal Landscape

In all the well-justified furor over the Supreme Court’s review of voting rights and marriage equality issues, it’s easy to forget that when this term’s opinion roll out, the odds are high that the Court will strike a major blow against affirmative action programs for college admissions.

We are all familiar with the ideological dimensions of the affirmative action issues. But we have an original piece up on the website today, from Elias Vlanton, a distinguished public-school teacher in Maryland, that cuts through the hype and compellingly addresses the human element of affirmative action, and why it is an imperfect but essential way to deal with a persistently unfair and unequal landscape for college admissions. Here’s a sample:

Tramon, Morganne, Arnetta, and Anngie were all students of mine in Advanced Placement classes at Maryland’s Bladensburg High School . Bladensburg is neither a private school, nor a “we skim the cream of the crop” magnet public school. It is in one of Washington, DCs poorest suburbs, where family income ranks in the bottom quarter of the state, and a school where less than ten percent of any graduating class makes it through college.

This semester, while Morganne proudly posts videos of her next dissection and Anngie writes another long essay in French, the Supreme Court, in deciding Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, will determine whether my students deserve to attend the colleges where they are being so successful. In addition to attending a low-performing high school, my kids are all African American and Latino. They were accepted into their elite colleges as part of those schools’ commitment to the mission of promoting diversity in higher education, the very diversity that affirmative action attempts to encourage—and that Fisher seeks to declare unconstitutional….

My four freshmen—my odds-beaters—had SAT scores hundreds of points below the average of the students admitted to their colleges. They took far fewer AP courses, and participated in fewer extra-curricular activities (since our school offers few activities other than sports). What set them apart was their class rank: they were all in the top two percent of the senior class, a function of their love of learning, their desire to do well, and their hard work to rise to the top. Despite the claim that, on the merits of their applications, they were “unqualified” for admission to the schools where they are getting As and Bs, all will graduate with honors from schools that are among the best in the country—joining my former students who graduated from Bowdoin College, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, and Stanford University .

So Chief Justice Roberts, in the end, we agree: Discrimination is discriminatory. That is why colleges must be allowed to consider the social and economic circumstances of my students when making admissions decisions—as Bryn Mawr, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Middlebury have done. My kids don’t want a leg up; but neither do they deserve a kick in the chest.

Vlanton’s passionate essay is a reminder that while so many agonize over the “injustice” of affirmative action, our country is doing a terrible job (as Kevin Carey documented in his article in the January/February issue of the Washington Monthly) of providing anything like equal opportunity in higher education.

Yes, affirmative action programs are flawed, but not half a flawed as the “color-blind” system that will be left in place if affirmative action is discarded and something more systemic is not put in its place.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 29, 2013

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Education, Equal Rights | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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