Should teaching CRT be banned?

July 6, 2021 • 9:15 am

There are as many interpretations of Critical Race Theory (CRT) as there are interpreters, and while I agree with its motivation (equality of opportunity), and with some of the tenets I see in it (e.g., the pressing need to fix inequalities that began with slavery and bigotry centuries ago, or the need to call out clear instances of racism), I disagree with others (e.g., the ideas that all whites are infused with subconscious bias and the Kendi-an notion that inequality of proportions automatically implies bigotry). But it’s one thing to disagree with some aspects of a theory, and another to ban its teaching altogether.

And that’s what many states are doing now: banning the teaching of CRT or of their interpretations of what it says. These initiatives are nearly all, as far as I can see, from Republicans, though some liberal parents are opposed to teaching the more divisive aspects of CRT in secondary schools. The New York Times op-ed below asserts (correctly, I think) that banning the teaching of CRT or its perceived principles in secondary schools is “un-American”. The authors identify themselves as a libertarian (Kmele Foster), a progressive (Thomas Chatterton Williams, I think), a moderate (Jason Stanley, I think), and a conservative (David French).

And they agree, as do I, that these laws are, in effect, censorship, for they ban the promulgation of ideas because those ideas could make students uncomfortable. Read on, and click on the screenshot:

They changed the title in the last hour but the article is the same. Why do you think they changed the title? I have no idea.

Here’s how the authors describe some of the new laws:

In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have all passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms, and in some cases, public universities, too.

Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”

Texas House Bill 3979 goes further, forbidding teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It also bars any classroom from requiring “an understanding of the 1619 Project” — The New York Times Magazine’s special issue devoted to a reframing of the nation’s founding — and hence prohibits assigning any part of it as required reading.

Right off the bat you can see problems with the laws. Teaching evolution, geology, Western medicine, or any fact that contradicts the Bible or Qur’an, for instance, could cause resentment by religious people (but see below). Emphasizing the degree of economic inequality among Americans could make those in the upper classes uncomfortable.

As for Texas’s law, what the “authentic founding principles” of the United States are could be seen as racist in part. Even at the Constitutional Convention the “founders” determined that each slave would count as only 3/5 of a person for purposes of taxation and representatives.  The Constitution and Declaration of Independence do not condemn slavery, and tacitly accept it (Constitutional amendments and later legal clarifications fixed that.) The ringing words of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” could be said to have been violated right off the bat.

No, not all men were seen as “created equal” nor endowed with even the same basic rights. These things should be taught in American history classes. I would not, of course, go so far as the 1619’s projects assertion that slavery was intentionally baked into the founding documents from the outset, nor would I want an ideologically slanted newspaper like the NYT determining how our children are taught history.

As the authors note, any teaching of American history in an honest way will make people uncomfortable. How can you teach about slavery, about the ripping apart of African families and forced servitude under horrible conditions, without making people uncomfortable? How can you teach about the extirpation of Native Americans without making people uncomfortable? As our former University President Hannah Gray said, “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.” That was intended for college students, but should also apply, in a more diluted form, in secondary schools.

Of course there are things that I wouldn’t want taught in classrooms: divisive practices like demonizing white children or telling them that they’re all racists, or accepting the 1619 Project’s claim that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery. But I prefer to leave these matters to the judgments of school districts and teachers than to legislatures.

The authors point out the necessarily fraught nature of teaching history in America, but object to the new laws on two further grounds, and with these I also agree:

a.) The laws are imprecise. I quote:

Because these laws often aim to protecting the feelings of hypothetical children, they are dangerously imprecise. State governments exercise a high degree of lawful control over K-12 curriculum. But broad, vague laws violate due process and fundamental fairness because they don’t give the teachers fair warning of what’s prohibited. For example, the Tennessee statute prohibits a public school from including in a course of instruction any “concept” that promotes “division between, or resentment of” a “creed.” Would a teacher be violating the law if they express the opinion that the creeds of Stalinism or Nazism were evil?

Other laws appear to potentially ban even expression as benign as support for affirmative action, but it’s far from clear. In fact, shortly after Texas passed its purported ban on critical race theory, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a list of words and concepts that help “identify critical race theory in the classroom.” The list included terms such as “social justice,” “colonialism” and “identity.” Applying these same standards to colleges or private institutions would be flatly unconstitutional.

b.) The laws amount to censorship. By banning the teaching of ideas or even the use of specific words (see the Texas think tank’s recommendations above), these laws violate the First Amendment, which applies to all public schools. To quote again:

These laws threaten the basic purpose of a historical education in a liberal democracy. But censorship is the wrong approach even to the concepts that are the intended targets of these laws.

. . . . Let’s not mince words about these laws. They are speech codes. They seek to change public education by banning the expression of ideas. Even if this censorship is legal in the narrow context of public primary and secondary education, it is antithetical to educating students in the culture of American free expression.

With such politically motivated control of school curricula, American education is at the mercy of the ideologies and political view of those in power. And those powers will change over time. We cannot allow this to happen.

So why can’t legislatures ban the teaching of evolution because it makes religious children uncomfortable as well?  Well, the government does retain certain rights to ensure that subjects are taught “properly”. That’s why both federal appellate courts and the Supreme Courts have declared the teaching of creationism and intelligent design illegal, for they are considered religious doctrine: teaching them violates the First Amendment.

CRT does not do that. Certain aspects of CRT violate principles of fair and objective teaching, but not the Constitution itself.

So what do the authors propose to do, then, given that CRT is already being taught, and, as we know, often in invidious and divisive ways that even liberal parents find objectionable?  And this is where the authors offer weak tea as a solution:

A wiser response to problematic elements of what is being labeled critical race theory would be twofold: propose better curriculums and enforce existing civil rights laws. Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, and they are rooted in a considerable body of case law that provides administrators with far more concrete guidance on how to proceed. In fact, there is already an Education Department Office of Civil Rights complaint and federal lawsuit aimed at programs that allegedly attempt to place students or teachers into racial “affinity groups.”

But “proposing better curriculums” won’t solve the problem unless you specify what you mean by “better”. Even liberal high schools have constructed curriculums (curricula?) that I consider propagandistic and divisive. People are not going to unite behind any one curriculum, as each group has its own agenda.

As for enforcing civil rights laws, that’s already being done, and perhaps will solve some of the problems associated with teaching about ethnic groups, like creating “affinity groups” that, as the authors imply, could be construed as illegal. But in the end, it will be hard for people to agree, given the Zeitgeist, how our kids should be taught history.

I have no solutions, but I know that no solution should involve government mandates about what can and cannot be taught if such matters don’t violate the Constitution. I’d rather trust teachers, school boards, and parents than to trust the government. In that way the process at least becomes a bit more democratic.

But perhaps you feel differently, and this is the place to discuss the new anti-CRT laws.

 

Arkansas going bonkers: passes illegal abortion ban, proposes illegal bill to teach creationism

March 12, 2021 • 9:30 am

I don’t know what’s going on in Arkansas, but they’ve signed one illegal abortion bill into law this week, and the legislature will consider a bill to teach straight creationism (no, not Intelligent Design [ID] and not “scientific creationism) in public schools. These bills are clearly meant to test Roe v. Wade —and the validity of teaching the Bible as science—in the new, extra-conservative Supreme Court.

As you may recall, Roe v. Wade started in Texas, where Norma McCorvey (“Roe”) brought suit against the state for its law prohibiting all abortions except those to save the mother’s life. The case was appealed up to the Supreme Court, where a 7-judge majority ruled that abortion could not be completely prohibited, striking down the Texas law. (McCorvey gave birth before the Supreme Court ruled, and put the baby up for adoption.)

You may also remember that the legality of abortion depended on the trimester. As Wikipedia notes:

The Court settled on the three trimesters of pregnancy as the framework to resolve the problem. During the first trimester, when it was believed that the procedure was safer than childbirth, the Court ruled that the government could place no restriction on a woman’s ability to choose to abort a pregnancy other than minimal medical safeguards such as requiring a licensed physician to perform the procedure. From the second trimester on, the Court ruled that evidence of increasing risks to the mother’s health gave the state a compelling interest, and that it could enact medical regulations on the procedure so long as they were reasonable and “narrowly tailored” to protecting mothers’ health. Since the beginning of the third trimester was normally considered to be the point at which a fetus became viable under the level of medical science available in the early 1970s, the Court ruled that during the third trimester the state had a compelling interest in protecting prenatal life, and could legally prohibit all abortions except where necessary to protect the mother’s life or health.

Well, Arkansas has passed a law identical to the Texas law that was declared unconstitutional. The governor signed it on Tuesday. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Click on the screenshot to read the CNN report.

An excerpt:

Arkansas on Tuesday became the first state in 2021 to enact a near-total abortion ban — a bold step by abortion opponents seeking to renew challenges to the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationally.

The court, which now leans conservative, has shown it is open to considering abortion restrictions, a perceived opportunity that many anti-abortion advocates have pushed lawmakers to pursue.

The Arkansas bill, SB6, bans providers from performing abortions “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency,” and makes no exceptions for instances of rape, incest or fetal anomalies. Those found to violate the law could face a fine of up to $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

“I will sign SB6 because of overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said in a statement. “SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law.”

The abortion law is slated to go into effect 91 days after the end of the Arkansas legislative session, which is currently set for May 3, according to Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the Senate bill.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood plan to challenge the law. Further, Supreme Court already has ample material if it wanted to overrule Roe v. Wade. Perhaps it has no appetite to do so. Can a lawyer weigh in here?

Of the 11 so-called gestational bans — which bar abortions past a certain point in pregnancy — passed since the start of 2019, none have gone into effect after most of them have been blocked by judges. Those include a similar near-total abortion ban passed in Alabama in 2019 and an 18-week bill passed by Arkansas in 2019.

“The Supreme Court has about 20 bills in front of them that they could take up if they wanted to,” said Gloria Pedro, regional manager of public policy and organizing for Arkansas and Oklahoma at Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, the group’s advocacy arm. “So writing a bill that’s the equivalent of a demand letter to SCOTUS, it’s just impractical and a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.”

About the rape and incest inclusion, Senator Jason Rapert, sponsor of the bill, said this: “”How could we look at any human baby and say that they are not worthy of life simply because their birth was a result of a violent act.”

They are not clearly thinking about the mother, who, besides being traumatized by a rape or incestuous act, has to carry its fetal result for nine months.

***************

Now about their regressive creationism. . .

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas has a good article on the history of teaching evolution (or not teaching it) in that state. It turns out that the U.S. government’s legal stand on teaching creationism was largely forged by cases in that state.

The Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) began when a high-school biology teacher, Susan Epperson, sued for the right to teach evolution in her biology class. That was illegal since Arkansas had a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution (this was in 1968!). The state Supreme Court upheld the law, but the Big Supreme Court overturned it on First Amendment grounds. As the encyclopedia notes, “In issuing the majority opinion, Justice Abe Fortas noted ‘that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma’.”

That brought an end to rules outlawing the teaching of evolution. In another famous it violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment because “creation science” was not science but religion. I love to quote judge Overton’s final paragraph of that decision:

The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls or by a majority vote. Whether the proponents of Act 590 constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government. No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government, of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others.

At that time, “scientific creationism” was the confected way to try sneaking religion into the classroom. Later Intelligent Design became an even sneakier way, for it didn’t mention God, only a “designer.” However, Judge John E. Jones III, presiding in a federal district court in Pennsylvania, saw through this ruse, striking down the Dover Area School District’s requirement that ID be taught alongside true evolution. Again, the decision was based on First Amendment grounds, since Jones deemed ID “not science”, but a religious view.

With that long introduction, here’s the very short bill filed yesterday in the Arkansas legislature. It drops the charade of ID and “scientific creationism” and says that a teach may teach creationism if they want:

Under present federal law, this bill is unconstitutional, as it allows teachers to teach a religious view in public school classrooms. It will be struck down, for I can’t imagine that the Supreme Court, conservative though it is, allowing the teaching of Biblical creationism, much less any religious doctrine, in a public school. If the judges somehow see creationism, ID, or “scientific creationism” as “science” worthy to be taught alongside evolution, they are truly ignorant, nay, stupid. 

h/t: Guy

Steve Bannon among four people indicted in New York for fraud

August 20, 2020 • 9:45 am

Athough Steve Bannon was scheduled to speak here a while back, that never took place, though the University refused to ban him. Now it looks as if he won’t be here for a long while.

Hot off the press (click on screenshot for details):

Bannon, of course, was Trump’s former campaign manager. He and three others face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum of 20 years in prison!

A few details from the report:

Bannon is among four people indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors to the online “We Build the Wall” campaign.

Manhattan federal prosecutors allege that Bannon, campaign leader Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”

“We Build the Wall” began as a GoFundMe campaign in late 2018, designed to raise money directly from the public to build a border wall in the face of Congressional opposition.

While Kolfage publicly guaranteed that he would not take salary or compensation, and that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward the wall, the indictment alleges he actually took more than $350,000 for personal use and took steps to conceal it.

It’s both ironic and horrific that a campaign designed to keep poor immigrants out was actually used to enrich the promoters.

h/t: Ken

Tennessee effectively bans abortions

June 20, 2020 • 11:00 am

Tennessee, by a majority vote of both its House and Senate (68-17 in the former, 23-5 in the latter) has effectively spit in the face of the Supreme Court, blocking abortions that were already deemed legal in Roe v. Wade. Read about it in this CNN report (click on the screenshot below). In fact, with its new regulations, Tennessee may have banned almost all abortions, since the threshold criterion (the presence of a fetal heartbeat) can occur as early as six weeks—before many women even know they’re pregnant.

Both chambers of the Tennessee legislature are, of course, Republican, but I don’t know how the vote along party lines, though I can bet that nearly all Republicans voted for the bill.

If you remember, Roe v. Wade tossed the regulations to the states, but ruled that abortions cannot be prohibited in the first trimester (12 weeks), might be subject to “reasonable health regulations” in the second (12-24 weeks), and can be prohibited by the states in the third trimester (24 weeks-term), so long as exceptions are allowed to preserve the mother’s life and health.

The new law makes hash of that. As CNN notes:

The legislation — which prompted immediate legal action from several abortion rights groups — effectively bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks, through 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The bill would make exceptions to protect the life of the woman, but not for instances of rape or incest. Abortions after viability, which is around 24 weeks, are already illegal in Tennessee except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger.

The Tennessee bill punishes abortion providers with up to 15 years in jail and a $10,000 maximum fine. It also prohibits an abortion where the doctor knows the woman is seeking an abortion because of the child’s race, sex, or a diagnosis indicating Down syndrome.

Under the bill, a doctor would have to inform the pregnant woman of the gestational age, perform an ultrasound and display the images, and check for a fetal heartbeat and play it out loud before proceeding. The woman can decline to view the images or hear the heartbeat.

The bill also requires abortion providers who provide more than 50 abortions a year to post notices that medication abortion involving a two-drug process could be reversed if the second pill has not been taken, though claims of potential abortion reversal are “not based on science and do not meet clinical standards,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Six weeks is well before the fetus is viable, though of course that will inevitably change as medical advances allow us to keep embryos alive at earlier and earlier stages. But this bill, clearly designed to force a court test of abortion law, may also be designed to give judges some leeway to move the threshold earlier than the first trimester, though I don’t see the Supreme Court reversing its earlier decision.  The notion that this bill will give higher courts some “wiggle room” comes from this part of the CNN report:

The Tennessee bill comes as several red states have passed restrictive abortion laws with the hopes of forcing a broad court challenge to the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wadethat legalized abortion nationwide.
At least eight other states, with Republicans in control of the legislature, passed abortion restrictions last year based on gestational limits. Judges have blocked all of the laws that have been taken up in state-level challenges.
Tennessee Republicans acknowledged that this legislation is a “risk,” so to protect against legal challenges and if a court strikes down the six-week ban, the bill includes a “ladder” provision, which would generate new prohibitions, adding add two weeks of gestation if the previous bill is turned back by the courts.
Tennessee governor Bill Lee, who is a Republican, has ten days to sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without signing it.

What’s for sure is that courts will intervene immediately to block the bill from going into effect until it’s adjudicated by higher courts, as on its face it is unconstitutional. Indeed, according to the WBIR article below, legal challenges have already been mounted by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.  If appellate courts affirm the law, it will surely end up in the Supreme Court. But given the new “semi-liberal” Roberts court, which would have to reject the stare decisis of Roe v. Wade to change its decision, I’m not as worried about this as I used to be.

h/t: Ken

A large percentage of conservatives (indeed, of U.S. adults) subscribe to a bizarre Bill Gates conspiracy theory

May 24, 2020 • 9:30 am

It’s unbelievable what Trump supporters, Republicans, and conservatives can bring themselves to believe, but this new Yahoo/YouGov poll shows that bizarre and unevidenced beliefs are held by a substantial proportion of not just those on the Right, but of all U.S. adults. This article (click on screenshot below) centers on both Bill Gates and the coronavirus, particularly a vaccine. The poll was conducted in May, and you can link to the main results by clicking on the screenshot below.

 

The most bizarre contention, debunked by Snopes, is that Bill Gates is using his money and promoting Covid-19 vaccinations to create an authoritarian country where everyone will be surveilled via the implantation of microchips (presumably inserted surreptitiously during vaccination).  As Snopes notes,

primary focus of that foundation, and of Gates’ philanthropy in general, is the reduction of inequalities in health outcomes, with a focus on the developing world. Via these organizations, he also funds research into technological solutions to public health problems in the poorest communities globally. Since 2015, he has been raising alarms about the world’s potentially catastrophic lack of preparedness for a pandemic.

In part because of his advocacy for vaccines, Gates has also been a major recipient of the anti-vaccine movement’s vitriol for well over a decade. Years of manufactured animosity built by false claims from these anti-vaccine groups have, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, combined with the dubious claims of doomsday soothsayers and cryptocurrency Youtubers to create a sprawling COVID-19 conspiracy theory centered on Gates.

The basic allegation against Gates goes like this: He is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to push a vaccine with a microchip capable of tracking you along with the rest of the world population.

Snopes debunks this, saying that Gates’s only remotely related argument is that perhaps people should have certificates of either immunity after having contracted the virus or after having been vaccinated, and those documents could be used for travel and entering new countries. Whether they will be required is up to the countries, not to Gates. That’s about it.

So that’s the basic allegation. How many Americans agree with it? See the chart below of the poll’s results, and weep copiously.

Yes brothers and sisters, friends and comrades, 44% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats—one in five Dems—accept this bizarre theory. Indeed, half of all those who get most of their news from Fox News accept the theory, while only 26% think it’s false. As expected, those who voted for Trump four years ago have statistics almost identical to those of Republicans in general. Those who are most sensible are the Democrats, those who get most of their news from the liberal station MSNBC, and those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But even the latter categories show more than a quarter of people saying that they aren’t sure whether the microchip implantation theory is true.

Why on earth does anybody believe such a palpably false myth, one supported by no facts at all? Well, for the Right, it’s tribalism, with right-wing tribalism going along with an antivaxer stance. It’s above my pay grade to dilate on why the right is so suspicious of vaccines given that many conservatives support them, but some how it’s taken hold. The Yahoo site gives details:

The new Yahoo News/YouGov survey shows that skepticism about a possible coronavirus vaccine is already taking root on the right. There is little partisan disagreement over vaccines in general: 83 percent of Americans consider childhood vaccines either “somewhat” or “very” safe, and more than 80 percent of Democrats, independents and Republicans share this view. The same goes for concerns over the safety of “fast-tracking” the vaccine through the typical research and regulatory process: 73 percent of Americans are at least somewhat concerned, with little difference by party affiliation.

But when it comes to actually getting vaccinated, Clinton voters are nearly 30 points more likely to say they will (72 percent) than Trump voters (44 percent). A majority of Trump voters say either that they plan to skip the shot (29 percent) or that they aren’t sure (27 percent), even though the president himself has been pushing hard for a vaccine. 

As a result, only half of Americans (50 percent) now say they intend to get vaccinated “if and when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available,” with nearly a quarter (23 percent) saying they won’t — a 5-point decline in the percentage of “yes” responses and a 4-point gain in the percentage of “no” responses since the previous Yahoo News/YouGov survey two weeks ago. The rest (27 percent) say they’re not sure.

With 83% of Americans considering childhood vaccination safe, half of us still won’t get vaccinated when there’s a safe coronavirus vaccine. This is the downside of all the doubt sowed by the conspiracy theorists: it makes people less likely to get vaccinated. And this isn’t the same as ignorant suspicion of evolution or advocacy of flat-earthism, for doubt about tested vaccinations leads to sickness and death. There are no fatal complications of creationism.

There’s more misinformation and tribalism concerning—yes, you guessed it—hydroxychloroquine, which has been unproven as a virus preventive and seems positively harmful when given to those already infected. Have a look at this:

Vaccines are not the only subject of misinformation. Another example with dire implications is hydroxychloroquine. A majority of Fox News viewers (53 percent), along with nearly half of Trump voters (49 percent) and Republicans (44 percent), think the antimalarial drug is an effective treatment against COVID-19 — even though study after study has not proved that to be true. In fact, a new study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received the drug had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not.

Far fewer Trump voters, meanwhile, say that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective (just 17 percent) or that they are not sure (34 percent) — an upside-down perspective that may have something to do with the fact that the president told reporters Monday that he has been taking the drug for the last “couple of weeks” as a preventive measure.

In contrast, only 5 percent of Clinton voters say hydroxychloroquine is effective. Seventy-three percent of Clinton voters say it is not.

The poll also found that a plurality of Trump voters (41 percent) say they would take hydroxychloroquine if it were available to them. Only 4 percent of Clinton voters say the same; 80 percent say they would not take the drug. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that hydroxychloroquine should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals because it can trigger fatal heart arrhythmia in COVID-19 patients.

Well, physicians who are responsible doctors won’t treat infected people with the drug, and I hope that they won’t write prescriptions for it as a preventive. But some will. The upshot is that trust in science in general will be eroded, as well, I think, as trust in vaccinations.

As we saw from the statistics above, the Left isn’t resistant to the blandishments of misinformation, either. For example, on the issue of “reopening” cities and states, we see this:

The left is not immune to picking and choosing its preferred version of events. Democrats (58 percent) are more likely than Republicans (33 percent) to believe that “coronavirus-related deaths have surged” in early-to-reopen red states such as “Florida, Georgia and Texas” — as are Americans in general (45 percent). Yet average daily deaths have declined in Georgia and Florida since reopening, while holding roughly steady in Texas.

The statistics for reopened states were given on the news last night, and, as the poll notes, they contravene the Left’s scenario that prematurely reopened states will suffer huge tolls from a resurgence of the pandemic. That hasn’t happened so far, and yet the Left believes it more than the Right. Again, tribalism. It is, of course, possible that these states will suffer another onslaught of the virus, and our best attitude should be a wait-and-see one.

There are a bunch of other results, all showing tribalism in belief about what’s true, even when we don’t have sufficient data yet (well, what did you expect in such a religious nation?):

But views on reopening are starting to diverge as well. Asked in previous Yahoo News/YouGov polls whether stay-at-home orders were the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 or whether “the cure is worse than the disease,” majorities of Americans, both Democratic and Republican, said the former. Now for the first time, a majority of Republicans (53 percent) say the cure is worse. Among Trump voters and Fox News viewers, that number skyrockets to 59 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

On the right, nearly every question about reopening is trending in the same direction. Pluralities of Republicans (44 percent) and majorities of Trump voters (55 percent) and Fox News viewers (61 percent) now support the protesters demanding an end to lockdown measures. Wide majorities of these right-leaning groups also say they are more concerned about lifting restrictions too slowly than too quickly; most Americans — by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin — still say the opposite. And while 62 percent of Americans say they’re more worried about the impact of the coronavirus on people’s health than on the economy, the right disagrees: 63 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Trump voters and 73 percent of Fox News viewers say they’re more worried about the economy.

This is going to cause another fractious election result, which we knew anyway. I still think Trump will lose, and have bet a few hundred bucks on that result; but I’m appalled at how many American continue to support a man who’s so obviously mentally ill—a narcissist of the first water—and how many still buy into his ridiculous statements. As I’ve said, I lived through the Sixties—through Nixon, Reagan, and W., but I never thought I’d live to see a President and an administration so dysfunctional. And, even worse, how many Americans support Trump. Do they really admire the guy, or are they using him as a cudgel against the Left and what it represents to them (lax immigration policy, more concern for racism, and so on)?

And I have no idea why tribalism has increased so much in the last decade or so. Even the Reagan years seem almost halcyon compared to the today’s seemingly irreparable divisions in the ideology of Americans. I’d be interested in hearing readers’ take on this.

Apropos, here’s a photo sent in by reader Barry:

h/t: Ken

Only in America: Paul Broun brandishes a semiautomatic rifle in his bid for Congress

April 13, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Paul Broun is a Tea Party Republican who was a state representative in Georgia until 2015; he lost in the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He also lost in a 2016 Republican primary race for a seat in Congress.

He’s now running for Congress again this year, and here’s one of his campaign videos. Lest those of you who aren’t blessed enough to live in America think this is a fake, it isn’t. And in case you wonder what his gun is, an AR-15 is a semiautomatic weapon, classified as an “assault weapon.” These illegal in 7 states, though a few states allow ownership if you’re grandfathered in. Georgia, like all states south of Maryland, allows them.

Note the coded racism  (“looting hordes from Atlanta”, a largely black city), the characterization of socialism as satanic, and the reference to this gun as a “Liberty Machine.” He even offers to give one of those Liberty Machines to one “lucky person” who signs up for email updates from his campaign site.

This video could have been made by The Onion. But again—it’s real!

Wikipedia has a bit more on this ad:

A campaign video where Paul Broun offered to give away an AR-15 rifle to “to one lucky person who signs up for email updates” from his campaign website. The video showed him walking through grass and shooting a rifle. The video says that during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic that Americans might need an AR-15 to shoot “looting hordes from Atlanta”. Broun lives in Gainesville, a white majority city about an hour outside the state capital Atlanta, which is a majority African American city.

In a phone interview Broun said that the phrase “looting hordes from Atlanta” was “not racial”, saying “Only the liberal press would take that kind of position” and “There are a lot of white people in Atlanta as well.” Broun was dismissive of the idea that his rhetoric might concern Georgian African-Americans or that it might increase the risk of innocent African-Americans being shot in majority-white neighborhods, and claimed “it’s about black people having the means of protecting themselves just as much as white people or Hispanic people or Asian people”.

Watch and weep. 

Two congresspeople, including AOC, threaten to delay passage of stimulus bill

March 27, 2020 • 11:00 am

I’ve pretty much written off Republicans, but among us Democrats there’s one annoying snake in the grass, a snake who goes by the monicker of AOC. Truly, I am amazed at the number of people who admire her, and even suggest she’d make a good president. I see her as having some good positions. and is generally on the right side of issues (even though her solutions are often ludicrous), but someone who’s not that bright, and is following a script laid out by the Justice Democrats, who recruited her to run for Congress. I also believe she’s an anti-Semite and somewhat of a narcissist—as well as a social-media “influencer” along the lines of Trump. And now she (along with a Republican in the House) is threatening passage of the stimulus bill (see also here).

Passage of largest ever American relief bill could be delayed. 

With many lawmakers scattered around the country, House leaders will attempt on Friday to pass the $2 trillion economic stabilization plan by voice vote, but the plan could be delayed a day if any lawmaker insists on a recorded vote.

At least one Democrat and one Republican have suggested they might do so.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan for a voice vote is highly unusual for a measure of such consequence. Leaders settled on it so that lawmakers who wanted to speak could make their views known and others would not be required to be physically present.

But there is a risk: Technically, the House cannot legislate without the presence of a quorum, defined by the Constitution as a simple majority. (The House currently has 430 members; 216 are required for a quorum.) If even one member asserted that the House lacked a quorum and called for a recorded vote, the House would have to cease its business until 216 lawmakers arrived.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, warned on Wednesday that she might do so. Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, has also hinted that he might try to slow the bill’s passage, stoking anger among fellow lawmakers.

“If you intend to delay passage of the #coronavirus relief bill tomorrow morning, please advise your 428 colleagues RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend ~$200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt,” Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

This will not endear Ocasio-Cortez to Nancy Pelosi or AOC’s home-state Senator Chuck Schumer, both of whom are supporting a voice vote that won’t require the Congress to be physically present at the Capitol.  AOC’s opposition to the bill, and desire to delay its passage, comes from her view that it gives too much to corporations. But the bill will pass, and AOC is making trouble as a kind of juvenile tantrum, something she’s quite adept at.

Retaining abortion rights through legislation

May 18, 2019 • 10:15 am

I wish I’d thought of this, but I didn’t think hard enough. While the Supreme Court can overturn state laws banning abortion because they’re unconstitutional (Roe v. Wade was decided on the grounds that abortion violated the right to privacy embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause), I don’t think the Supreme Court can overturn federal laws legalizing abortion. What bit of the Constitution could they use to do that? Well, I’m not a lawyer, but Elizabeth Warren, as recounted in Andrew Sullivan’s column this week, has proposed putting the specifications of Roe v. Wade (conventionally legal abortions during the first trimester) into a law, and a federal law can’t be overturned by the states.  Click on the screenshot to read (the other two items are the mendacious pardons handed out by Donald Trump and Game of Thrones, a show I’ve never watched and in which I have no interest.

Sullivan argues that on many issues, like interracial and gay marriage, the Court has led public opinion, with liberal approbation growing after the court legalized these once-controversial practices. But public approval for abortion rights hasn’t budged since Roe v. Wade; the good news is that public sentiment is pro-choice and, if anything, that is growing:

Roe was decided in 1973. Unlike many other progressive Court decisions, this one didn’t budge public opinion. In 1975, two years after Roe, some 22 percent favored a total ban on abortion in a Gallup poll; today that number is … 18 percent. Back then, 54 percent favored a middle ground: keeping the procedure legal under restricted circumstances. Now it’s 50 percent. Twenty-one percent believed in 1975 that abortion should be legal in every circumstance; today that number is 29 percent.

So yes, there has been some change, with a small shift toward public support for abortion rights.

Sullivan recounts his own conflict about abortions, one shared by Christopher Hitchens. He’s personally opposed to it (he calls it a “grave evil”, drawing on his Catholicism), but sees it as a public good: that is, society is better off letting women make the choice. And he argues, as I have, that it’s a losing proposition to argue for “choice” by saying “women have a right to an abortion because it’s their own body”.  Talk of rights won’t budge those who see abortion as murder, and so we have, and will always have, an impasse, especially with believers. When you assert that something is a “right”, you have to defend that right, and I’d prefer the pro-choice people to lay out their arguments for their views rather than declare abortion a “right.”

I happen to think that abortion should be allowed by a woman’s choice up to birth, as any line drawn will necessarily be arbitrary, and my own feeling is that fetuses don’t even begin to be sentient until they’re born,—at which time they can be adopted. Others will draw lines at other places, as most of them have. Sullivan mentions the laws in Europe—both Germany and Denmark don’t allow abortion after 12 weeks—and those seem even more arbitrary to me.

Sulivan on the impasse:

I can see why the court acted, although I think it made a big mistake. Abortion involves two fundamental and, in this case, directly conflicting American commitments: to life and liberty. We hold this truth to be self-evident: that life matters. We should affirm it always. And I have yet to read a single argument that clearly delineates with any objective authority when a human life, once initiated, becomes a human person. It’s an invisible line that is devilishly hard to draw. So although I have no doubt that a fertilized zygote is human life, I just can’t see that life the way I see a toddler or someone in their 80s. But I can grasp its basic humanness. To deny this reality seems to me to miss one key aspect of the debate.

At the same time, this is about the mother’s body. And in our ownership of our physical body lies our inviolability under the Constitution. We all have a natural right to our own bodies — and if we do not, then we have no natural right to anything, and America’s promise is a lie. The integrity of women’s bodies is therefore a core principle, inferentially buried in the Constitution. The right to life, in this case, is literally, physically, inside the bounds of liberty, i.e. within a woman’s body.

That’s my belief, after a lifetime of trying to think about this subject. And this is a particularly agonizing conclusion because the bodies involved are those of only half of humanity, women. This is not dispositive, but it behooves men to defer at least in part to the convictions of women who are in this predicament, or could be. For a gay man like me, this is doubly true. A certain humility is due.

I’m all for federal law saying something like “no state can restrict abortions before X weeks of pregnancy is over”, and yes, the American public does support Roe v. Wade in general. But would Congress support such a bill? I don’t think it could get through a Republican Senate, and surely Trump‚ or any Republican President, would veto it. But we can always hope for change a year from November.

This is sensible (is Sullivan still a conservative?):

. . . there was a reason that public opinion was moving in a pro-choice direction before Roe. The abstraction of ending abortion as a cause is far easier to support than the grim reality of enforcing an actual, tangible ban. And national legislation — or even a federalist outcome, where different states choose different options — would, in my view, highlight the government’s overreach in policing women’s bodies in the red states that would impose a restrictive regime, compared with the freedom in neighboring states. I think such a reality would move public opinion more firmly in a pro-choice position. It would certainly make the extremism of some of the anti-abortion laws crystal clear to voters. It’s astonishing to me, for example, that the Alabama law actually exempts fetuses used in IVF procedures. They don’t need to be protected, it appears. “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant,” explained a state senator in the debate. This is an enormous gift to pro-choicers. It really does prove that for some, this is not about human life. It’s about controlling women’s bodies. If that is revealed in a post-Roe era, the momentum will be with legal abortion.

I say this as someone deeply committed to the view that abortion is always a grave evil. I could not personally have anything to do with one. But I live in a pluralist society, I will never have to be involved in such a deeply personal decision, and I am equally dedicated to respecting the sincere convictions of my fellow citizens, and their unalienable right to sovereignty over their own bodies.

The bit about exempting IVF eggs from the law really is telling, isn’t it?

 

Andrew Sullivan on the Democrats and immigration

October 26, 2018 • 1:30 pm

In his weekly column in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan, inexorably moving leftwards, still chastises Democrats for failing to deal with immigration—something that Trump is making hay out of as the caravan from Central American inevitably heads northwards. Sullivan notes that the Democratic failure is promoting authoritarianism in the U.S. and putting a strain on liberal democracy, but not because of the burden of immigrants. It’s because the electorate sees illegal immigration as a problem, and until the Democrats address it one way or the other, and do so explicitly, the public, thinking Dems are in favor of open borders, are going to support Trump. Here’s his piece (click on screenshot). Read the whole thing, and you’ll see that Sullivan favors humane immigration laws, despises Trump’s policies, and abhors separating children from their families.

His analysis takes national sentiment about immigration as a given, but for the time being that’s something we simply must deal with. I’ll leave you with Andrew’s words, with which I agree, especially the bit in bold:

All of it is putting unprecedented strain on liberal democracy in the West itself. The connection between mass migration and the surge in far-right parties in Europe is now indisputable. Without this issue, Donald Trump would not be president. As we can see right now in front of our eyes, elections can turn on this. Which is why Trump is hyping this caravan story to the heavens — and why, perhaps, the last few weeks have seemed less promising for a “blue wave.” David Frum is right: “If liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals will not do.” And unless the Democrats get a grip on this question, and win back the trust of the voters on it, their chance of regaining the presidency is minimal. Until one Democratic candidate declares that he or she will end illegal immigration, period, shift legal immigration toward those with skills, invest in the immigration bureaucracy, and enforce the borders strongly but humanely, Trump will continue to own this defining policy issue in 2020.

This is not a passing crisis. It is the new normal, and its optics do nothing but intensify the cultural panic that is turning much of the West to authoritarianism as a response. The porousness of the West’s borders are, in other words, becoming a guarantee of the West’s liberal democratic demise. This particular caravan will take a while to make it to the U.S. border, if it ever does. It will surely lose some followers on the way. It may peter out altogether.

But the caravan as a symbol? Its days are just beginning.

h/t: Simon

Tom Nichols explains why he’s leaving the GOP to become an Independent

October 8, 2018 • 1:45 pm

Tom Nichols is (or was) a “never Trumper” Republican who is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and teaches at the Harvard Extension School. (Wikipedia also informs us that he’s “a five-time undefeated Jeopardy champion.”) He writes a lot for The Atlantic, and in its pages this week he tells us why he’s leaving the GOP (he left once before in 2012, but now is leaving for good). He’s not becoming a Democrat, but an Independent; still, this shows that some Republicans can change their minds.

And the article has a lot to say about both parties, with Nichols not leaving the Democrats unscathed. Click on the screenshot to see what he said:

His reasons are multifarious, but center on the Kavanaugh affair, which made Nichols realize that the GOP has no substantive goal beyond power itself.

It was Collins, however, who made me realize that there would be no moderates to lead conservatives out of the rubble of the Trump era. Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and took a pass, and with all due respect to Senator Lisa Murkowski—who at least admitted that her “no” vote on cloture meant “no” rather than drag out the drama—she will not be the focus of a rejuvenated party.

. . . Politics is about the exercise of power. But the new Trumpist GOP is not exercising power in the pursuit of anything resembling principles, and certainly not for conservative or Republican principles.

Free trade? Republicans are suddenly in love with tariffs, and now sound like bad imitations of early-1980s protectionist Democrats. A robust foreign policy? Not only have Republicans abandoned their claim to being the national-security party, they have managed to convince the party faithful that Russia—an avowed enemy that directly attacked our political institutions—is less of a threat than their neighbors who might be voting for Democrats. Respect for law enforcement? The GOP is backing Trump in attacks on the FBI and the entire intelligence community as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the web of lies, financial arrangements, and Russian entanglements known collectively as the Trump campaign.

And most important, on the rule of law, congressional Republicans have utterly collapsed. They have sold their souls, purely at Trump’s behest, living in fear of the dreaded primary challenges that would take them away from the Forbidden City and send them back home to the provinces. Yes, an anti-constitutional senator like Hirono is unnerving, but she’s a piker next to her Republican colleagues, who have completely reversed themselves on everything from the limits of executive power to the independence of the judiciary, all to serve their leader in a way that would make the most devoted cult follower of Kim Jong Un blush.

. . . But whatever my concerns about liberals, the true authoritarian muscle is now being flexed by the GOP, in a kind of buzzy, steroidal McCarthyism that lacks even anti-communism as a central organizing principle. The Republican Party, which controls all three branches of government and yet is addicted to whining about its own victimhood, is now the party of situational ethics and moral relativism in the name of winning at all costs.

These are truefacts, but, as I said, Nichols doesn’t spare the Democrats. And I have to admit that, as a registered Democrat, I was embarrassed at my own party’s behavior at the hearings, especially that of Dianne Feinstein, who seems to be in her dotage. For my party, too, it seemed to be more about getting revenge for their own failed Supreme Court nomination than about getting at the truth. It was grandstanding. Here’s Nichols, and I agree with him here on the Democrats’ behavior during the hearing.

As an aside, let me say that I have no love for the Democratic Party, which is torn between totalitarian instincts on one side and complete political malpractice on the other. As a newly minted independent, I will vote for Democrats and Republicans whom I think are decent and well-meaning people; if I move back home to Massachusetts, I could cast a ballot for Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Representative Joe Kennedy and not think twice about it.

But during the Kavanaugh dumpster fire, the performance of the Democratic Party—with some honorable exceptions such as Senators Chris Coons, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Amy Klobuchar—was execrable. From the moment they leaked the Ford letter, they were a Keystone Cops operation, with Hawaii’s Senator Mazie Hirono willing to wave away the Constitution and get right to a presumption of guilt, and Senator Dianne Feinstein looking incompetent and outflanked instead of like the ranking member of one of the most important committees in America.

Well, I won’t dwell on the Democrats’ missteps, as at least they were on the right side. And I’ll still keep voting for them. But if they ever want to regain power in at least one branch of the government, they have to clean up their act. Who’s running that railroad?

Lesson: there are some Republicans capable of reason and adhering to principle. They’re just very few.