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“The Company Elected Officials Keep”: Is There Any Group Too Extreme For A Member Of Congress To Meet With?

Even among right-wing groups, the Oath Keepers organization is a pretty alarming bunch. As recently as May, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told a conservative gathering that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should be tried for treason and “hung by the neck until dead” for going “along with the program of the destruction of this country.”

A month later, Rhodes was in New York, insisting that President Obama is “trying to” create “a race war.” He added, “[T]he leftists in this country hate this country, they hate it, and they will get in bed with radical Islamists because they have a common enemy, western civilization.”

With this in mind, it was of interest to see the New York Daily News report that Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) recently spoke to an Oath Keepers chapter.

A Zeldin spokeswoman acknowledges that last month he addressed the Long Island chapter of Oath Keepers, a group of retired military, police and fire department employees who say they are committed to fighting “the tyranny we experience in our local, state and federal governments.”

The organization has dabbled in what critics call “fringe conspiracy theories,” citing concern about concentration camps and martial law in the United States. The chapter’s website includes postings by a member embracing a film that claims the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and calling President Obama a “Muslim/Extremist.”

The congressman’s office doesn’t deny Zeldin, an Iraq war veteran, attended the Oath Keepers event. Rather, the Republican lawmaker’s spokesperson said he’s met with a variety of groups “representing all sides of the ideological spectrum.”

“It is completely absurd to make it a litmus test for a member of Congress to agree with every individual or group 100% in order to meet with them,” Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena told the Daily News.

At first blush, that might seem vaguely compelling. Lawmakers often have diverse constituencies, so they’re bound to meet with a variety of organizations, some of which they’ll like, some of which they won’t.

That said, is there really no limit? Zeldin apparently doesn’t agree with “100%” of the Oath Keepers’ message, and I’m glad to hear it. But what percentage does he agree with?

Is there any group that Zeldin might consider too extreme for a member of Congress to meet with? And if so, why doesn’t Oath Keepers meet that standard?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Oath Keepers, Right Wing Extremisim | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Facts Are Staring Us In The Face”: GOP Lawmakers Vote To Increase Unplanned Pregnancy Rate

In early July, Colorado’s success with free long-acting contraceptives was trumpeted by news media. The New York Times called the results “startling” and “stunning.” “Colorado’s free birth control experiment could change the world,” ravedSFGate, a news website.

But the news was not so surprising.

After health authorities provided free contraceptives such as intrauterine devices to low-income girls and women over six years, from 2009 to 2013, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among teenagers dropped by 40 percent. The abortion rate among that group declined by 42 percent, said the Times, using figures from Colorado officials. And they reported similar declines among unmarried women younger than 25 and without high-school diplomas — a group likely to be mired in poverty if they started motherhood too soon.

Aren’t those results exactly what you’d expect when young women are given easy access to a reliable and simple-to-use method of birth control? Isn’t that what advocates of women’s reproductive health have been preaching for decades?

Here’s the surprise: The Colorado state legislature has refused to provide $5 million to renew the program, despite its dramatic results. Apparently, its members were cowed by opposition from the usual coalition of right-wing religious groups, such as Colorado Family Action. (The initial funding was provided by an anonymous donor.)

“We believe that offering contraceptives to teens, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, while it may prevent pregnancy, does not help them understand the risks that come with sexual activities. We should not remove parents from the equation,” Colorado Family Action said in a statement.

Allow me to interpret the statement from CFA: If teenage girls have sex, we want them to get pregnant and suffer for it. This sort of political falderal makes me want to bang my head on my desk. If we want to reduce unintended pregnancies — which leads, of course, to a reduction in abortion rates — we know how to do it: Provide free contraception, preferably long-acting and reversible methods such as IUDs. Yet, the very right-wingers who denounce abortion rights refuse to support widespread contraceptive use.

While the figures from Colorado are dramatic, rates of teen pregnancy have been falling for decades. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States reached its peak in 1990 and has been dropping since then.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that works to advance reproductive health, the decline, at least since 2003, has “little or nothing to do with teens’ delaying sex. … Instead, the decline in teen pregnancy in recent years can be linked to improvements in teens’ contraceptive use.”

In the late 1990s, reproductive experts started to notice that unintended pregnancies had dropped, especially among teenagers, as they began using long-acting birth control methods such as Norplant, which was implanted under the skin, and Depo-Provera, administered through injection. The advantage lies in ease of use: Women don’t have to remember to take a daily pill.

Still, even with the successes of recent decades, the United States has a higher rate of unintended pregnancies — more than half are unplanned — than virtually any other industrialized country. And 40 percent of those end in abortion, according to Guttmacher researchers.

Cultural and religious conservatives insist that teaching teens to abstain from sexual activity is the answer. But the states most likely to insist on that approach — my home state of Alabama is one — have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Alabama has the 15th-highest rate of teen pregnancy, according to federal statistics. Mississippi, equally conservative and even poorer, has the second.

If you still don’t believe it, take a look at Bristol Palin, daughter of Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Once a spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, she pledged after her first child not to have sex again until she married. She is now pregnant with her second child as a single mother.

The facts are staring us in the face: We know how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the poverty they so often drag in their wake. We know how to dramatically reduce the rate of abortions. It’s simply crazy that we refuse to do what works.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary, 2007; The National Memo, July 11, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Colorado Legislature, Contraception, Teen Pregnancy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Church Of Organized Labor”: Scott Walker’s Evangelical Faith And Union-Busting Do Not Go Hand In Hand

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is better known for his union-busting prowess than his evangelical faith, but in recent months he’s been talking more openly about the latter. And for good reason: his bid for the Republican presidential nomination may well rise or fall on whether he can persuade his fellow believers to rally behind him rather than, say, Mike Huckabee. Walker has fashioned a religiously resonant brand (“Our American Revival”) for his free-market gospel, and the early polls from Iowa suggest evangelicals buy it.

But if history is any indication, evangelicals’ faith could complicate Walker’s anti-labor stance. For as much as Walker sings the praises of neoliberalism, evangelicalism has often resonated with the conviction enshrined in the old Wobblie hymn: There is power in a union.

Evangelicals played pivotal roles in launching the American labor movement. Andrew Cameron—a Scottish immigrant, accomplished printer, and devout believer—helped to found the National Labor Union in 1866. The longtime Chicagoan went on to become internationally known for his advocacy on behalf of the (then controversial) eight-hour workday. For Cameron, organized labor was more than just compatible with Christianity; it was a fundamentally Christian response to Gilded Age capitalism, which, whatever the free market boosters said, was patently unfair. As he put it in an 1867 edition of the Workingman’s Advocate, his nationally-circulated labor paper, “Poverty exists because those who sow do not reap; because the toiler does not receive a just and equitable proportion of the wealth which he produces.” Cameron—who constantly quoted the Bible and never missed a chance to point out that Jesus had been a workingman—went to his grave believing that “the Gospel of Christ sustains us in our every demand.” He was hardly alone. Industrializing Chicago was a hub for pro-union Christianity.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, evangelicals such as James W. Kline held major leadership positions in the American Federation of Labor and its member unions. In 1911 Kline, then president of the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, traveled to San Francisco and was in the midst of heated strike negotiations when he received a telegram from his Bible class back home. It read in part, “God bless you in your efforts to do that for which the Master came.”

Throughout the Great Depression evangelicals, like many other Americans, poured into labor’s swelling ranks. Matthew Pehl has shown that, in Detroit, a number of African American religious leaders successfully persuaded their flocks to give organized labor—with its long history of racially exclusionary practices—another chance. Such breakthroughs keyed the United Automobile Workers’ campaign to turn Motor City into a union town. Meanwhile, in and around the Missouri Bootheel, Pentecostal-Holiness revivals propelled white and black sharecroppers alike into the ranks of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU). In his book Spirit of Rebellion, Jarod Roll points out that STFU locals often opened their meetings with prayers, hymns, and bible readings. Little wonder that one Arkansas farmer later recalled, “When they first started talking about the union I thought it was a new church.”

To be sure, this is not the whole story. Important books by Darren Dochuk, Bethany Moreton, and Kevin Kruse underscore that during these same New Deal years and on into the Cold War, corporate executives worked with leading evangelicals to baptize free enterprise as the best way forward for “Christian America.” But their success was never complete. In a deeply researched new study, Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf show that even in the deeply conservative postwar South, the moral status of organized labor remained a live question. A number of believers insisted, in the words of one protest banner, “Religion & Unionism Go Hand In Hand.”

They still do, even among some present-day evangelicals—including members of Walker’s own nondenominational congregation. Meadowbrook Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, will not be mistaken for the crusading Moral Majority of old. Its leaders may share some of the same conservative views, but they typically steer clear of direct political engagement. This commitment to quietism was sorely tested starting in 2011, however, when Walker’s assault on public unions stirred up dissension within the congregation. In the wake of their governor and brother in Christ signing the now-notorious Act 10 into law, some at Meadowbrook were infuriated, others elated. People on both sides of the issue called for their senior pastor, John Mackett, to weigh in, which he declined to do. Some left the church, but the trouble did not so easily subside. The fact that, as late as 2013, Mackett was still calling for his members to end the “turmoil” and “slander” and “name calling” suggests that pro-union sentiment at Meadowbrook was strong and persistent.

So don’t be fooled. Especially if the Walker campaign’s bid to consolidate support among religious conservatives succeeds, it may start to seem like evangelicalism and anti-labor are of a piece. The reality is that while union-busting may be the reigning GOP orthodoxy, it is far from settled gospel truth.

 

By: Heath W. Carter, Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University; The New Republic, July 12, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Evangelicals, Organized Labor, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Do People Believe Myths About The Confederacy?”: Because Our Textbooks And Monuments Are Wrong

History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley once said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as the Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done and why. The resulting mythology took hold of the nation a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest, as Michele Bachmann did in 2011, that slavery was somehow pro-family and why the public, per the Pew Research Center, believes that the war was fought mainly over states’ rights.

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation they spread, which has manifested in our public monuments and our history books.

Take Kentucky, where the legislature voted not to secede. Early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won parts of Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Maryland, which did not secede, sent 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, but it also sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Still, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland: That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”

In fact, the thin gray line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Robert E. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. It didn’t. Instead, Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early ransomed $200,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to about $3 million today. But Frederick now boasts a Confederate memorial, and the manager of the town’s cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

Neo-Confederates didn’t just win the battle of public monuments. They managed to rename the war, calling it the War Between the States, a locution born after the conflict that was among the primary ways to refer to the war in the middle of the 20th century, after which it began to fade. Even “Jeopardy!” has used this language.

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded over states’ rights. Yet when each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended the delegates: “Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.” Governments there had exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some no longer let slave owners “transit” across their territory with slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for — white supremacy:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Despite such statements, neo-Confederates erected monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, South Carolina’s monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1963, claims to explain why the state seceded: “Abiding faith in the sacredness of states rights provided their creed here.” This tells us nothing about 1863, when abiding opposition to states’ rights provided the Palmetto State’s creed. In 1963, however, its leaders did support states’ rights; politicians tried desperately that decade to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and civil rights.

So thoroughly did this mythology take hold that our textbooks still stand history on its head and say secession was for, rather than against, states’ rights. Publishers mystify secession because they don’t want to offend Southern school districts and thereby lose sales. Consider this passage from “The American Journey,” probably the largest textbook ever foisted on middle school students and perhaps the best-selling U.S. history textbook:

The South Secedes

Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to disturb slavery where it already existed. Nevertheless, many people in the South mistrusted the party, fearing that the Republican government would not protect Southern rights and liberties. On December 20, 1860, the South’s long-standing threat to leave the Union became a reality when South Carolina held a special convention and voted to secede.

The section reads as if slavery was not the reason for secession. Instead, the rationale is completely vague: White Southerners feared for their “rights and liberties.” On the next page, the authors are more precise: White Southerners claimed that since “the national government” had been derelict ” — by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and by denying the Southern states equal rights in the territories — the states were justified in leaving the Union.”

“Journey” offers no evidence to support this claim. It cannot. No Southern state made any such charge against the federal government in any secession document I have ever seen. Abraham Lincoln’s predecessors, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, were part of the pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party. For 10 years, the federal government had vigorously enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. Buchanan supported pro-slavery forces in Kansas even after his own minion, territorial governor and former Mississippi slave owner Robert Walker, ruled that they had won an election only by fraud. The seven states that seceded before Lincoln took office had no quarrel with “the national government.”

Teaching or implying that the Confederate states seceded for states’ rights is not accurate history. It is white, Confederate-apologist history. “Journey,” like other U.S. textbooks, needs to be de-Confederatized. So does the history test we give to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens. Item No. 74 asks them to “name one problem that led to the Civil War.” It then gives three acceptable answers: slavery, economic reasons and states’ rights. (No other question on this 100-item test has more than one right answer.) If by “economic reasons” it means issues with tariffs and taxes, which most people infer, then two of its three “correct answers” are wrong.

The legacy of this thinking pervades Washington, too. The dean of the Washington National Cathedral has noted that some of its stained-glass windows memorialize Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. There’s a statue of Albert Pike, Confederate general and reputed leader of the Arkansas Ku Klux Klan, in Judiciary Square.

The Army runs Fort A.P. Hill, named for a Confederate general whose men killed African American soldiers after they surrendered; Fort Bragg, named for a general who was not only Confederate but also incompetent; and Fort Benning, named for a general who, after he helped get his home state of Georgia to secede, made the following argument to the Virginia legislature:

What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction . . . that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. . . . If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. . . . By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. . . . The consequence will be that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile Earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.

With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what the Confederacy was about and our Army honoring Southern generals, no wonder so many Americans supported the Confederacy until recently. We can see the impact of Confederate symbols and thinking on Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine in a Charleston, S.C., church, but other examples abound. In his mugshot, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, wore a neo-Confederate T-shirt showing Abraham Lincoln and the words “Sic semper tyrannis.” When white students in Appleton, Wis. — a recovering “sundown town” that for decades had been all white on purpose — had issues with Mexican American students in 1999, they responded by wearing and waving Confederate flags, which they already had at home, at the ready.

Across the country, removing slavery from its central role in prompting the Civil War marginalizes African Americans and makes us all stupid. De-Confederatizing the United States won’t end white supremacy, but it will be a momentous step in that direction.

 

By: James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont; The Washington Post, July 1, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, Slavery | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“From Someone Who Was Raised In Privilege”: Jeb Bush Wants Us To Work More For The Collective Good. Who’s The Socialist Now?

Former governor Jeb Bush’s announcement this week that he thinks people should work more hours puts him in direct opposition to the two leading contenders on the Democratic side – both of whom are pushing proposals that will allow people to work less. This could mean that 2016 will be an election in which work hours play a central role.

Bush’s comment came during a speech in which he listed the things that Americans need to do to reach his target of 4.0% annual GDP growth “as far as the eye can see”: increase labor force participation, work longer hours, and increase productivity. (It was not the first time that Bush said that he thought people should work more – he previously argued for raising the normal retirement age for Social Security.)

The sight of someone who was raised in privilege and relied on family connections to make his careers in business and politics telling the rest of the American public that they have to work more will make good fodder for Bush’s political opponents. But this position is actually held by many people in policy circles in both political parties.

Even if almost no one thinks that Bush’s 4.0% permanent growth target is remotely plausible, those that agree with his premise that Americans need to work more argue that we need more workers in order to sustain economic growth at all. In particular, they posit that, as our population ages, we will have to keep people in the work force beyond the current retirement age and get more hours of work from them each year until they do retire.

This view is striking given that the United States – and most of the rest of the world – has been suffering from the opposite problem for the last eight years: we don’t have enough jobs for the people who want them. The United States, Europe, and Japan all have fewer people working than would like to work because there is insufficient demand in the economy. Obviously we can’t both have a shortage of workers and a shortage of jobs at the same time.

One of the theories that is getting widely (and wrongly) repeated is that none of us will have work because robots are taking all the jobs. But, while the robots taking all our jobs story is an exaggeration, the basic point is right: we are seeing rising productivity, which means that we can produce more goods and services with the same amount of labor. Productivity, including that spurred by technological innovation, is the basis for rising living standards.

Historically, the benefits from higher productivity are higher pay and more leisure – if we go back a century, for instance, work weeks of 60 or even 70 hours a week were common. But while the American work week has been largely fixed at 40 hours a week for the last 70 years, other countries have pursued policies to shorten the work week and/or work year through paid sick days, paid family leave, and paid vacation.

Several European countries have actively pushed policies of work sharing as an alternative to unemployment: the government compensates workers, in part, for a reduction in hours rather than paying unemployment insurance to someone who has lost their job. Germany has led the way in pushing work sharing policies, which is an important factor in its 4.7% unemployment rate. And, as a result of work sharing and other policies, the average worker in Germany puts in almost 25% fewer hours each year than workers in the United States, according to the OECD. Most other wealthy countries are similar to Germany: in the Netherlands, the average work year is 21% shorter than in the US and, in Denmark, it is 20% shorter.

The leading Democratic contenders are proposing policies to bring the US more in line with the rest of the world’s work weeks. Secretary Clinton indicated that she will support paid family leave and paid sick days, although she has not yet produced specific proposals. Senator Bernie Sanders, the other leading contender, also supports paid family leave and paid sick days, and he recently offered a proposal that would guarantee all workers two weeks per year of paid vacation. That might seem like small change compared to the five to six weeks a year that is now standard in Europe, but it would be a huge gain for tens of millions of workers.

There is a long way yet before the parties select their nominees, but if the general election ends up being a contest between Jeb Bush and either Clinton or Sanders, it will present the country’s workers with an unusually clear choice. We will have one candidate who wants to ensure that people can work less but keep the same standard of living, and another who wants people to work more hours and retire later for the good of the country’s economy – and the latter candidate is the one who doesn’t identify as a socialist.

 

By: Dean Baker, The Guardian, July 12, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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