Ryan

May 052011
 

Bin Laden’s death at the hands of SEAL Team Six on Sunday has sent shockwaves around the world. The mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks who stayed out of reach of American forces for nearly a decade, given up as missing before President Bush was out of office, was found and slain in his plush Pakistani compound by America’s finest. In life bin Laden was a constant reminder of the limitations of American power, his survival daily proof that the Great Satan could be humbled and best. His death, and when it came, may be the last stand of the violent movement he personified. His defeat is not only vindication for an American public hungry for some kind of justice for the World Trade Center but one of the final nails in the coffin of the ideology of violent struggle he championed throughout his life.

The most obvious impact of bin Laden’s death is on the future of Al Qaeda. While global in nature the beating heart of the organization was bin Laden himself.  He was the big money behind the group with a multi-million dollar fortune and fundraising operations the world over Known for being highly charismatic bin Laden was crucial for keeping the factions in Al Qaeda working together. It is very telling that new recruits to the organization did not swear their allegiance to the cause but to the man himself. Following the success of the September 11th attacks his star power, and by extension his organization’s, skyrocketed. Bin Laden was able to cultivate the mystique of a holy warrior striking righteous blows against the mighty Americans and living to tell the tale. His continued survival built up the myth of bin Laden with each day he remained alive and free a constant reminder of his victories over the Americans. His star power certainly didn’t hurt his ability to draw recruits to the organization. Killing bin Laden didn’t just destroy the man, it destroyed the myth he had built up. Just as Robert E. Lee’s image of invincibility in the North was wrecked following his defeat at Gettysburg bin Laden’s death destroys the idea that any terrorist can remain beyond the reach of the United States.

His death could also spell doom for Al Qaeda. Over the past decade American forces under Presidents Bush and Obama have tracked down Al Qaeda leaders and key commanders capturing the ones they could take alive and killing those they couldn’t. The constant attrition on the mid and upper levels of the organization, while having no obvious impact, could not have been healthy for the terrorists. Any organization, regardless of purpose, needs more than just its brilliant founders to lead the way. They need to build a deep bench of talent who can step up when the first generation falls or steps aside. The constant whittling away at this second string has left bin Laden’s followers with a much smaller reserve of talent.  Following his death the most likely candidate to take control is his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri who is certainly no bin Laden.  With no clear successor Al Qaeda will be scrambling to piece together some kind of working leadership at a time when it can least afford it. The seizure of hard drives and other vital pieces of intelligence during the raid on his compound puts the security of information for Al Qaeda up in the air. As likely as it is that Al Qaeda operatives are preparing for retaliatory strikes against the US it would not be far-fetched to assume at least a few are sleeping with one eye open wondering if and when the US will come for them.

On a grander scale bin Laden’s death couldn’t have come at a better time. Jihadi terrorism gained much of its allure from the repressive nature of the governments of the Arab World. The long-term survival of stability of these governments, along with the naked brutality used against peaceful resistance, sent a message to would-be reformers that change can only come through violent action. Leaders took advantage of this impression channeling the rage of their restive people against Israel and the West further encouraging angry radicals to join the jihad abroad instead of causing problems at home. Tahrir Square loudly and soundly refuted this status quo. With the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt non-violent political opposition had gained its first real successes in Arab history. As long as violence was perceived as the only option for bringing about real political reforms peaceful resistance would always be seen as a pipe dream. Victory in Cairo legitimized the methods of the Egyptian activists inspiring similar revolts in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain with even autocratic Saudi Arabia and theocratic Iran feeling the rumblings of discontent. When compared to the relatively dismal track record of jihadi groups which to date have yet to overthrow a single government, drive the US out of any Middle Eastern country, destroy Israel, or bring about any meaningful change the runaway successes in Tunisia and Egypt are likely much more appealing thanks to having worked as advertised. Every government brought down by the mostly peaceful Arab Spring is another nail in the coffin of jihadi terrorism.

Bin Laden’s death is, like the man himself, much bigger than the elimination of one notorious terrorist. Without him Al Qaeda has lost a valuable source of funding, recruitment, and the invincible reputation that came with his continued survival. His death coming during the height of the Arab Spring is a powerful contrast to the wave of peaceful democratic revolution sweeping across the Middle East showing the people of the Middle East there is another, better option than taking up the cause of holy war.  This is not to say a bright future is certain.  The revolts are still being fought out in the streets of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya.  Al Qaeda may be on its way out but they could always find new leadership and recover.  The Taliban, in spite of losing a useful ally in bin Laden, continues to fight on in Afghanistan.

Events shaping the world offer the United States a golden opportunity to bring about an effective and lasting end to the threat of jihadi terrorism.  The operation to take out bin Laden showed us the United States has highly effective, precise tools for fighting terrorism.  Osama bin Laden was not brought down by an armored column but by a team of elite Navy SEALs.  Unlike bloody insurgency operations in Iraq or drone strikes in Pakistan the SEAL team was able to accomplish their mission without inflicting any civilian casualties.  Occupation of territory has similarly proven less than effective.  Attempting to suppress terrorist havens in Afghanistan mostly succeeded in pushing bin Laden into Pakistan and tying down large numbers of American soldiers.  The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, far from successfully winning hearts and minds, have led to substantial civilian and military casualties, massive debt, and mostly succeeded in upsetting the Arab world more.

Change abroad should go hand in hand with change at home.  In the past ten years we have seen steady encroachments on our civil liberties all in the name of security and the War on Terror.  Yet for all that effort what consistently brought down terrorist plots and high value targets was not earned through the groping hands of the TSA or warrantless wiretapping but through conventional intelligence methods.  Bin Laden’s demise is an excellent moment to show the world that we can do the right thing and our current flirtation with authoritarian mechanisms is a temporary aberration.  Most of all we must do this for the sake of our rights.  It is our duty to future generations that they do not inherit diminished rights because of a moment’s panic.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Apr 222011
 

Yesterday Congressman Cliff Stearns’ (R-Fl) amendment to the 9/11 first responders aid bill went into effect.  What is this amendment you ask?  One that has the gall to question the patriotism of the heroes of that terrible day:

“(5) DISQUALIFICATION OF INDIVIDUALS ON TERRORIST WATCH LIST.-No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as an eligible WTC responder. Before enrolling any individual as a WTC responder in the WTC Program under paragraph (3), the Administrator, in  consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the  individual is on such a list.”

It is exactly what it says it is. To add insult to injury the amendment was added to the bill without dissent with this odious provision going into effect yesterday. There are no words that can truly describe the depth of the disrespect shown by both parties in Congress.

With fears of Muslim takeover fanned by the Cordoba House controversy and Peter King’s radicalization circus Congress has, in the name of “pragmatic politics” acquiesced to the worst in us.  Saying any group of people, including the greatest heroes of the past decade, can be investigated as terrorists by Congressional fiat attacks the foundations of our criminal justice system.  Ever since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1789 one of the bedrock principals of our legal system is probable cause.  Searches, arrests, and indictments cannot be obtained for any charge without first proving there is a very solid, justifiable reason to be poking around in the private lives of American citizens.  With a simple voice vote Congress has swept aside any need for probable cause declaring everyone who worked at Ground Zero in the days and weeks following 9/11 is now a suspect for terrorism.  As far as our elected representatives are concerned “pragmatic” politics trumps the rights of American heroes.

What is worse are the chilling implications of this act.  When the best among us, the heroes who rose to the call, can be declared terror suspects then any one can be put under the same microscope for no better reason than “national security” or “practical politics.”  If the Ground Zero workers can be thrown on the pyre of a new witch hunt on Congressional whim then what is stopping legislators from tossing others into the flames in a fit of political hysteria?

CORRECTION: The provision was included in the bill passed last year.  The amendment’s effects as per the Huffington Post went into effect yesterday which they learned through an unnamed source.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Apr 062011
 

In the fall of 2010 the Tea Party was swept into power on a wave of voter discontent promising to turn the country around by reigning in out of control government spending.  They were riding high on populist anger pushing a hard ideological line as the solution to our nation’s problems.  Five months later the Tea Party’s approval ratings have plummeted, Republican governors riding the wave have seen their support evaporate, and the oncoming government shutdown has put the ascendant Republicans in a serious bind.  Regardless of the cause of the Tea Party and GOP’s woes can be summed up in one word.

Overreach.

No one can deny the Tea Party-fueled gains of the Congressional Republicans in the 2010 elections.  They trumpeted their victory as a mandate by the voters to pursue a ultraconservative antigovernment agenda.  Yet for all the claims of strong support what the mandate they received was less clear.  A large part of their victory in 2010 was thanks to highly depressed voter turnout especially among groups that Obama depended on for his 2008 victory.  With only 41% of voters bothering to come to the polls as opposed to the low 70s that we saw in 2008 probably the clearest thing the voters did say was they had enough with government as usual.  With the certainty of victory the hard-right Tea Party candidates in Congress and state government moved forward to make the perceived mandate a reality.  Ironically enough it was putting their agenda into action that has led to a serious case of buyer’s remorse across the board.

In Congress the Tea Party, ignoring polls showing Americans’ first priority was job creation as opposed to cutting the deficit, went all ahead full with their agenda starting with the infamous forcible rape bill.  They followed up with attacks on NPR and Planned Parenthood threatening to cut off the flow of government assistance for both.  While the Culture Warriors fought personal battles at the expense of the American public the House leadership continued to thunder on high of the dangers of the growing deficit.  They demanded immediate cuts across the board regardless of their economic impact.  When questioned on the economic impact of mass federal layoffs Speaker John Boehner responded to these concerns with a blunt “So be it”.  When the Democratic-held Senate refused to play ball and roll over to the House Boehner and the House GOP doubled down on their stance of cuts, cuts, and more cuts leading to a string of stopgap continuing resolutions to keep the lights on.  In spite of following their agenda to the letter the Tea Party, far from seeing their political stock rise, has recently taken hard blows to their support.  From previous highs of 50% support the Tea Party has fallen to a new low of 32% and Americans now seeing the Tea Party as being as much a part of the problem as the Democrats and Republicans.  The hard-line calls by the Tea Party for government shutdown, a course Boehner himself fears will benefit the Democrats, coupled with the refusal by ultraconservative Republicans to compromise with the Senate have largely run afoul of American popular opinion.  With strong majorities holding out for a compromise and tiny slivers supporting the white-knuckle showdown that now seems all but inevitable the Tea Party has charted a truly dangerous course for the GOP.

The recent disasters for the Tea Party are hardly confined to the Beltway.  A recent string of anti-union measures and rhetoric pushed in MichiganOhioWisconsin, and Maine have far from rallying public opinion have sparked ferocious backlash.  In Florida Governor Rick Scott’s unilateral actions and disregard for the state legislature have turned his own party against him.  In Wisconsin where the labor fight has most strongly come to a head the expected easy re-election of incumbent Republican David Prosser to the state Supreme Court has come down to a narrow margin with the challenger, virtual unknown Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg, just barely ahead flipping 19 counties that went for Scott Walker in 2010.  With a storm of recalls gathering the troubles for the Wisconsin GOP, riding high on the Tea Party’s wave, have only just begun with labor increasingly agitated and energized into action across the Rust Belt.
Each of these skirmishes have helped build up what will be a game-changing showdown in Washington.  Both sides in Washington are spoiling for a political fight with each citing dearly-held principles.  Yet in spite diffuse opinion forming on impending shutdown the Tea Party is taking very serious risks.  In every one of their previous attempts to advance their cause they have been met with popular backlash and buyer’s remorse.  Their insistence during the 2010 campaign that government shutdown should not only be an option but actively sought by lawmakers has left the recentprotests to the contrary hollow and has enraged Tea Party activists calling for a firm stand in a fight where the stakes couldn’t be higher.  Far from being an effective cure for our woes some economists fear a prolonged shutdown spiraling back into a deep recession.  Beyond the economic impact is the direct effects of shutting down our federal government.  In the event of a shutdown over 800,000 federal workers would be furlough and stop receiving a paycheck, 30% of all tax refunds will remain unsent, states would face serious cuts in funding for programs like unemployment pay, and soldiers fighting overseas would continue their dangerous work without pay just to name a few.  If a last-minute budget deal cannot be reached then the Tea Party, thanks to their sound and fury, run the risk of being stuck with the blame.  They may soon discover that ideological purity doesn’t matter when the public doesn’t like what your ideology does to them.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.  The United States cannot afford courting economic disaster because the most radical faction of one political party cannot put aside ideology for the sake of the public good.

Also posted at Ryan’s Desk

Mar 142011
 

To say the states of the Union are facing fiscal problems would be an understatement. With nearly every state in the country facing serious budget deficits as the recession takes its toll and stimulus funds drying up states are doing whatever they can to stay above water. Whether through steep cuts in spending in Texas, structural reforms in California, or weakening public unions in the Midwest all are united in their search for an answer. Nowhere is a more radical effort being waged than in the state of Michigan.

 

The Republican-controlled Michigan State Senate recently passed a highly controversial bill to address the fiscal crises facing state. In the name of fiscal responsibility a group of state officials appointed by the governor known as emergency financial maangers would gain virtually unchecked power over all aspects of the local government in their charge. Some argue thesepowers are necessary to address the multitude of fiscal problems in Michigan by giving the emergency managers the extra leverage needed to get the job done. As they see it emergency managers are necessary to clean up the state’s problems and they have been used successfully in Michigan previously. This does not answer the question of if the new powers, or the changes to process, go too far.

 

The first line crossed is in the process of declaring a state of fiscal emergency. The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act grants a considerable amount of unchecked power to the governor’s office. In the new bill the governor would have the final say on if a local government is in a state of fiscal emergencyi. The governor have the sole power to appoint the emergency manager with no outside review or confirmationii. The new manager, once appointed, could only be removed by the governor or impeachmentiii. The law goes further by giving emergency managers full immunity from any legal liabilityiv.

 

So why would the emergency managers need protection from legal sanction? The Fiscal Accountability Act gives the emergency managers unprecedented authority over their municipalities. The list of powers given to the managers is staggering in its breadth and scope. Once in place there is little the emergency managers cannot do. From the outset they completely control the process being given the sole responsibility of developing the financial plan for the municipalityv. The plan does not need any outside approval of any kind; the public has no opportunity to vote on the issue. The state fiscal emergency remains until the emergency manager declares the crisis has been resolvedvi.

 

During this time the manager is charged to issue “all orders necessary” to make the plan happenvii. This is backed up by substantial authority explicitly spelled out in the bill. The manager is given the power to create the budgetviii, sell or transfer local government assetsix, and remove non-elected local officialsx at their sole discretion. They handle all contract negotiations and, at their discretion, can unilaterally terminate themxi. If a manager is put in charge of a school district they are given the power to set their educational planxii. Any municipal official deemed by the emergency manager to have “not reasonably” carried out an order can be barred from access to municipal facilities, mail, and internal informationxiii. In spite of being in a state of fiscal emergency the municipality is required to foot the bill for the emergency manager’s pay, expenses, and staff for the durationxiv.

 

These powers, while staggering in their totality, are not the most potent they receive. With the approval of the state treasurer they can waive any need for competitive bidding on any contract over $50,000xv. Based on their sole discretion and judgment they can recommend the municipality be declared a debtor and placed under their complete controlxvi or worse yet be legally dissolvedxvii. The governor alone makes the final call. Most astonishingly the law makes legal appeal of any of these actions impossible. The only chance given to the local government is during the investigation process which requires the municipality to request appeal with a 2/3rds majority votexviii. Once an emergency manager is appointed the locals have no legal recourse between the manager’s legal immunity and the law’s restrictions.

 

What is happening in Michigan could be waved away as unique, radical measure born of an economically devastated and desperate state. It could be argued given Michigan’s genuinely terrible situation extreme action might be justified. This all assumes that what happens in one state will remain in one state. Currently 44 of the 50 states of the Union are facing serious fiscal problems. While Michigan’s situation is especially grim they are not the only state with local governments facing serious deficits. We have already seen how Scott Walker’s union-busting bill in Wisconsin has been copied in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, and is being seriously considered in Maine. Public outcry proved, in the short term, to be in vain in Wisconsin and other governors press ahead in spite of the lack of popular support. If Michigan puts this law into effect what would stop other states from considering their own version of the Michigan solution?

 

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

iSenate copy of Michigan HB 4214, Sec. 15(1)

iiIbid Sec. 15(4)

iiiIbid Sec. 15(5d)

ivIbid Sec. 25(1)

vIbid Sec. 18(1)

viIbid Sec. 24

viiIbid Sec. 17(1)

viiiIbid Sec. 19(1b)

ixIbid Sec. 19(1r)

xIbid Sec. 19(1n)

xiIbid Sec. 18(1c)

xiiIbid Sec. 17(1)

xiiiIbid Sec. 17(2)

xivIbid Sec. 15(5e)

xvIbid Sec. 19(3)

xviIbid Sec. 23(1)

xviiIbid Sec. 19(1cc)

xviiiIbid Sec. 15(3)

 

Feb 232011
 

The clash over Governor Scott Walker’s effort to strip Wisconsin’s public unions of the right to collectively bargain has reached a new level of intensity. This morning Governor Walker gave his ultimatum to the absent Senate Democrats: return to Madison or state workers will receive layoff notices. In the latest of a string of escalations Walker’s stubborn refusal to compromise or negotiate has inflamed passions on all sides of the debate. The governor insists that his actions are backed by the people of Wisconsin riding the political wave that swept him into office. In spite of this his claims of popular mandate as justification are running aground of growing grassroots opposition to his radical agenda.

Scott Walker has advanced his union-busting bill under the cover of his recent election as vindication of his platform. Walker has insisted from the beginning his plan is in line with his platform of fiscal responsibility. Walker’s unsupported spending aside it is highly unlikely that most voters think of rolling back labor rights as necessary for fiscal responsibility. The elimination of the right of public employee unions to collectively bargain was something Walker never argued for while on the campaign trail. Far from being a major element of his message Scott Walker never discussed the possibility of breaking the backs of the public unions of Wisconsin. It would make sense for him to cite the public’s backing for an issue he actually discussed unless being successfully elected to state office allows the officeholder to campaign retroactively.

All of this assumes Walker has the public at his back. If anything Walker’s plan is running headlong into strong political winds. Before being sworn in the governor only enjoyed a 41% approval rating. His hardball tactics, far from inspiring the public with his resolve, have largely succeeded in solidifying public support for the unions. The growing opposition is not limited to college students, unions, and Democratic activists. The President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce recently released a statement declaring that while they support pushing for a balanced budget, “That support ends at the adversarial way elected officials are approaching it.” She goes on to say that with Wisconsin’s long history of collective bargaining, “policy changes of this magnitude should be thoroughly debated for an adequate period of time, in good faith by both sides, with all potential consequences considered.”

Scott Walker’s most recent escalation, the threat of layoff notices, has exposed how weak his hand is. By Walker’s own statement no layoffs will happen yet. In Wisconsin public employees receive early notices of being laid off as prior warning. A layoff notice does not put anyone in the unemployment line. The actual layoffs are scheduled for July. This is not to say the threat of people losing their jobs over the budget fight is not serious but the details take a lot of the wind out of it. If anything it comes across as more of a desperate bluff than a genuine threat. That Walker’s ploy sounds more like hostage taking than negotiation undermines the credibility of his claims of seeking a fiscally responsible budget.

Scott Walker’s union busting campaign has been disguised as fixing a fiscal emergency. His claims of enjoying the public’s mandate to act so radically are adrift. For all his bravado in public Walker is sitting on a ticking time bomb. In Wisconsin any public official can be recalled if they have been in office for a year. With the budget bill only needing three votes to be defeated eight of the Republicans who supported it are in danger of facing a recall. One of the most popular chants is to recall Walker himself. While he will not be vulnerable until 2012 his allies in the state legislature are not so lucky. As the public’s anger rises Scott Walker and his party will reap the whirlwind sown by their ruthless campaign against a century of workers’ rights.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Feb 182011
 

The political situation in Wisconsin has come to a head following the proposal of a budget bill by newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker which would for all intents and purposes strip public employees with the exception of police, firefighters, and state troopers of the right to collectively bargain. Governor Walker has claimed this radical measure is necessary to avert a deficit crisis for the state of Wisconsin. The situation has rapidly escalated with Walker threatening to call out the National Guard shortly after introducing the bill. Demonstrations broke out almost immediately with Wisconsin State Senate Democrats leaving the state to prevent a vote on the bill. The conservative media has advanced in full force unconditionally supporting the Governor’s union-busting measure claiming the state is on the edge of total chaos. Glenn Beck has taken to the airwaves claiming the city of Madison is rioting as has the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Voices like Rush Limbaugh and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan have repeated this assertion of chaos in the street. Above all they have consistently advanced the argument that gutting the rights of workers is necessary to balance Wisconsin’s budget.

All of these arguments and claims by the conservative movement are bald-faced lies.

This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. These claims of civil disorder in the streets and a deficit crisis are completely at odds with the facts. Contrary to the fear-mongering claims of Glenn Beck the demonstrators in Madison have remained orderly and peaceful. The Madison Police Department released a statement today saying they are proud of the way the protestors have conducted themselves. The only advisory from the Madison Police to the public is a notice to motorists of greater congestion in the vicinity of the Capitol. If you don’t believe the police there are the photos submitted by people in Madison showing large, energetic, and perfectly peaceful crowds. Hardly what one could seriously call a riot.

The next falsehood being circulated is the claims of a deficit crisis. The line of reasoning goes that it is only possible to balance the budget by completely destroying the right of public workers to collectively bargain. It skips straight past negotiations, furloughs, and other austerity measures to one of the most extreme solutions possible. 44 states are currently facing serious budget problems and yet the only other state considering such a radical tactic is Ohio. With such an extraordinary measure being advanced and the National Guard being readied in case of strikes it sounds like the deficit in Wisconsin must be insurmountable. This again is wrong. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau issued a report on January 31st asserting the bulk of the budget shortfall of $202 million was caused by a series bills supported by Governor Walker. Quite contrary to his claims of union benefits and salaries being the cause it was his own deficit spending that created the alleged crisis.

Governor Scott Walker has created a crisis and rapidly escalated it in a bid to crush the public employee unions of the state of Wisconsin. There wouldn’t be a budget crisis of Walker genuinely practiced what he preached on the campaign trail. There are no facts supporting any of the claims of civil disorder or a deficit crisis. Walker’s attempt to ramrod a rollback of the rights of workers by a century has nothing to do with fiscal conservatism and everything to do with political opportunism. His readying of the National Guard over budget negotiations is extraordinary overkill. If Governor Walker was genuinely interested in serving the people and balancing the state budget he should sit down with the state workers and negotiate not threaten them with an unnecessary and malicious attack on their most basic rights.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Feb 012011
 

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

Focus on the Family, one of the many intellectual children of Dr. James Dobson, represents another facet of the Religious Right’s machinery and organization. Unlike their sister group theFamily Research Council Focus on the Family is much less of a lobbying organization and does most of their work outside of DC. While the FRC keeps their headquarters in Washington DC Focus on the Family runs their operations from Colorado Springs, a city dubbed the “Evangelical Vatican” thanks to the high concentration of world-famous megachurches and larger-than-life pastors. This distance from Washington has done little to dent their influence and effectiveness as a major force in the Religious Right. By leaving the heavy lobbying efforts to other organizations Focus on the Family serves as one of the main spearheads of grassroots operations across the country with allies around the world.

Focus on the Family was founded by Dr. James Dobson in 1977 to promote and uphold family values in the United States. Focus on the Family styles itself as less overtly political than other organizations. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide” is their mission statement. Nowhere do they overtly proclaim support for traditional Republican Party positions instead focusing exclusively on religious slogans and imagery. In spite of recent shakeups in their finances and leadership the organization has kept up their main operations with little disruption: the dissemination of Christian fundamentalist propaganda. To Focus on the Family separation of Church and State exists to protect churches from government coercion, not to establish a secular government. On this ideological foundation they advance laws based on their religious beliefs on many issues including gambling, educational policy, the teaching of intelligent design, gay rights, abortion, and women’s rights.

The main front Focus on the Family engages is traditional marriage. Focus on the Family has consistently and most heavily engaged in the fight against gay marriage by offering their own brand of marriage counseling as the public face of the effort. Their main argument against gay marriage include claims of the downfall of Western civilization as one of the many consequences. To advance their efforts Focus on the Family raises and spends millions of dollars a year for advertising and advocacy campaigns. One of their more direct approaches is the Love Won Out Ministry, a group that claims to “cure” homosexuality. To provide further support they publish a number of studies claiming scientific basis to support their claims. These publications have been denounced by the American Psychological Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists as unscientific and promoting an atmosphere of hate. The war against gay rights, while a major focus of effort for the organization, is just a part of Focus on the Family’s crusade to reclaim America in the name of the cross.

As part of advancing their objectives Focus on the Family uses their prominent position and network of allies in the Religious Right to rally support for their agenda. One excellent example is the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Officially the Task Force is not affiliated with Focus on the Family in any meaningful fashion. Their main office is in Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs and their current Chairman is Shirley Dobson who assumed the position in 1991. During the Bush Administration the Task Force coordinated the observances thanks toannual presidential proclamations giving them unofficial but clear government support. Non-Christian groups that applied to participate were regularly ignored. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, through their PAC Focus on the Family Action, they spent millions of dollars in support of John McCain’s campaign following the selection of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential nominee. They bankrolled an extensive mailing campaign predicting doom and gloom if the GOP lost the 2008 election. Focus on the Family does not put all their proverbial eggs in one basket. They have a network of international affiliates in New ZealandAustraliaIndonesiaSingapore,TaiwanIreland, and Africa just to name a few.

Focus on the Family presents another facet to the Religious Right’s political machine. Unlike the Family Research Council they work largely in grassroots efforts eschewing a heavy emphasis on Washington lobbying for a substantial propaganda arm and international reach. While they escaped being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center Focus on the Family remains a powerful force in the Religious Right. With substantial funding and support Focus on the Family in spite of recent shakeups and setbacks remains on the front lines as a crucial element for Christian fundamentalists in the Culture War.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Jan 242011
 

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

In the political circles of the Religious Right few have better connections and influence than long-time Christian conservative Gary Bauer. Yet in spite of his considerable influence he has largely stayed out of the spotlight. Unlike the more famous megapastors like the late Jerry Falwell or John Hagee Bauer does not need the notoriety and attention to advance his cause. This has enhanced his effectiveness in the movement as a very capable behind the scenes organizer founding and leading several highly influential and well-funded socially conservative PACs.

Bauer has been with the Religious Right since it first became a major force in American politics. His political career began in 1982 when he was appointed to the position of Deputy Undersecretary for the Department of Education by President Reagan. He was later promoted to Undersecretary at the same department and served in this role until 1987 when he was named domestic policy adviser to the President. While in office he headed Reagan’s Special Working Group on the Family which presented their study on family issues in “The Family: Preserving America’s Future” in 1986. It declares, “This fabric of family life has been frayed by the abrasive experiments of two liberal decades.” Very true to Christian Fundamentlist thinking Bauer casts followers of traditional family values as a persecuted element of society in dire need of government protection. In particular he singles out abortion, teen sex, children born out of wedlock, and the divorce rates blaming these all on a decline of solid Christian values.

In 1989 following the election of George H.W. Bush Bauer left the White House and was recruited by the Family Research Council, a rising star of the Religious Right. As President of the organization Bauer expanded the small group from a budget of one million with a staff of three to a $14 million operation and a headquarters in Washington DC. To improve their muscle he founded FRC Action, a political action committee, in 1992. He followed up in 1996 with the founding of the Campaign for Working Families who would make their mark in the 1998 midterm elections by raising $7 million for Christian conservative political candidates. Under Bauer’s tenure the FRC and its allies established themselves as a formidable force in the Republican Party and the pro-life movement. Along with cementing their lobbying and fundraising prowess the FRC bulked up their information campaigns to shape the political discourse. From humble beginnings Bauer’s leadership turned the FRC into the political powerhouse it is today and made a name for himself as a staunch Culture Warrior.

With his position assured in 1999 Bauer resigned as President of the FRC to campaign for the Republican nomination for President. Central to his campaign was the emphasis on moral values decrying the “culture of death” in America. Bauer’s run for the Presidency, thanks to a crowded field, would end in February of 2000 when he dropped out of the race. Following his defeat Bauer would found another PAC, American Values, and was tapped as president of Christians United for Israel. Like his other PACs American Values would quickly establish itself as a strong member of the Religious Right’s growing army of lobbying groups. In the mid 2000s Bauer’s group would sign up with the secretive Arlington Group with his presence touted as a badge of honor for the organization.

In spite of his relatively low profile Bauer has remained an active figure in the Culture War. During the Bush Supreme Court nomination debates Bauer weighed in against Harriet Miers taking part in the campaign to derail her nomination on the grounds that she was a “stealth candidate” who appeared to be a conservative but would advance liberal ideas once on the high court. Following the nomination of Samuel Alito Bauer, along with other prominent Christian conservatives, came out in support of Bush’s new pick for the Supreme Court rallying a campaign to ensure Alito’s nomination. Bauer has remained highly active since with regular articles at Human Events and his reputation as a successful and influential organizer. Since 2008 Bauer in particular has been vocal in his support of Governor Sarah Palin for her strong socially conservative credentials. In spite of losses and setbacks he has continued to press the Religious Right’s case to make their vision for America reality.

Bauer’s history and track record makes him one of the more effective and dangerous operatives in the Christian fundamentalist movement. He rarely takes center stage, leaving the spotlight to more bombastic and flamboyant figures working to build up the Religious Right’s political and organizational muscle. So far he has seen considerable success on this front with his most successful PACs exercising considerable influence and power in Washington to this day. Working behind the scenes and day to day in Washington Bauer continues to be a major force in the movement. With his string of successes and connections Gary Bauer’s involvement in any major campaign or candidate is a clear sign that the social conservative establishment has a major stake in the outcome.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Jan 102011
 

On Saturday the United States saw unfold a terrible tragedy that has left many dead, including a Federal judge and a nine year old girl, and more wounded.  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona only just escaped death by luck and remains in critical condition.  Yet this act did not take place in a vacuum.  It happened hot on the heels of one of the most vitriolic and downright vicious elections in recent memory.  Now this charge may sound hyperbolic until you look at snippets from the 2010 campaign trail with examples like an appeal to “Second Amendment remedies”, resorting to the “bullet box” if the ballot box fails, declarations that Obama’s election was an assault on America’s soul, the urging of  “don’t retreat, just reload”, declarations that the Vietnamese are after “my” seat, and the infamous target map.  It cannot be said with any certainty that any one of these acts was what led to the bloodbath this past Saturday.  It is highly unlikely that the increasingly hostile political climate, with the flames recklessly and cynically fanned by political personalities, candidates, and elected officials, had nothing to do with the tragedy in Tuscon.  If this were an isolated incident, a one-time act by an unhinged individual, then such claims would be over the top, laughable, and easily dismissed.

If only that were the case.

Far from being a single act by a lone gunman Saturday’s explosion of violence has much in the way of recent and infamous company.  In early 2009 a Pennsylvania man ambushed and killed several police officers out of fear that the new Obama administration was going to take his guns away.  A little more than a month later abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, a man repeatedly called a  “baby killer” by political pundit Bill O’Reilly, was gunned down in his church.  In February of this past year a small plane deliberately rammed the IRS building in Austin, Texas.  In August a lone man exchanged fire with California Highway Patrol officers while on the way to attempt to attack the Tides Foundation, a frequent target of the rants of Glenn Beck.  October 25th saw the brutal beating administered by a Rand Paul supporter to a MoveOn activist in Kentucky.  Most recently, only just on the heels of the Tuscon attack, was today’s discovery of the dead body of the Congressional affairs director for Progress Energy in a burning car.

These attacks show a disturbing pattern of violent action rising to meet the siren song of violent rhetoric.  Far more troubling is the increasingly cavalier attitude public personalities are taking to the handling of freedom of speech.  In none of these incidents, so far, has an apology for previous violent speech been offered.  There has been no attempt by the loudest voices to dial back the heat but to stoke the flames to a roaring inferno.  All the while the oh-so-objective media has supplied the fuel to these modern day demagogues by giving them coverage without consideration for content and creating sensation for the sake of puffing up ratings.  Instead of shunning such radicals, as a civil society should, they have been consistently given the loudest megaphone the broadcast world can find.  They rage freely with no concern for the potential consequences of abusing a position of public trust ducking responsibility every time they are cornered.

There is something terribly wrong with this picture.  Far from what the old child’s rhyme says words have the greatest power of all.  In virtually every cosmology the world over speech and writing are of divine origin.  Skalds, bards, messengers, and scribes were under divine protection and their speech given great weight.  Our ancestors understood that words have the power to undo kings and lay low empires.  Our own history validates this.  It was not the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord that pushed the colonies to secede from Britain but the bold words of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson that ignited the hearts of the first American patriots.  While bloody battles and the hail of lead would begin and end the Civil War it was the clarion call of the Emancipation Proclamation that truly turned the tide of the conflict and our nation’s history.  It was the words of Upton Sinclair that led to the creation of the FDA and the soaring dream of Dr. Martin Luther King that lit the night during the battle for Civil Rights in the 1960s.  Now we have loud, shrill voices screaming for attention with no regard for the effect their speech may have on society.

This dangerous, reckless attitude has already borne much in the way of poisonous fruit.  Our ancestors understood that as much as freedom isn’t free rights come with responsibilities.  Part of why we keep those rights is because we have a civil society which will defend both our rights and protect those who exercise them from retribution.  It is this lack of violence in the political sphere, just as much as the blood and honor of America’s finest on battlefields the world over, that secures the blessings of liberty for both us and our posterity.  The attack in Arizona is a rare moment where, on the brink of madness, we can stop and pull ourselves back from the abyss.

If we do not pull back from the brinksmanship that dominates our discourse then we will fall into something much worse.  Hopefully it will not take another shooting, another bombing, or a Congressman beating a Senator senseless to drive home how serious our situation truly is.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Dec 222010
 

Socialism, even though it has yet to become a major political force in America, has manged in the last two years to dominate the political dialog.  This is very ironic and surprising considering there is only one federal elected official who actually is a Socialist.  In spite of that the backbone of the opposition to health care reform, a plan very similar to one proposed by no less than Richard Nixon, was cries of government takeover and socialism.  Recently the Senate Minority Leader decried the recent health care reform, highly inadequate Net Neutrality rules, and financial reform as a government takeover of the economy.  Some of the opposition to the First Lady’s nutrition bill was on the grounds that it was government interference in private lives.  We have seen elected officials go so far as to block a bill to provide for the health care of 9/11 first responders because the bill would be funded by closing a tax loophole exploited by outsourcing companies.

All of these actions show a much larger and far more worrying pattern.  Consistently the cry of socialism has been taken up against any form of government action that does not favor entrenched interests.  The message from these declarations has gone beyond opposing a specific political philosophy to railing against public or community action of any kind.  In the minds of the proponents of this extreme philosophy action for the public good is an inherent threat to civil liberties regardless of what the action actually is or why.  In this Ayn Randite worldview life is everyone for themselves and greed is enshrined as inherently virtuous.  It is this philosophy that has shoved the political spectrum in Washington DC so far out of whack that Richard Nixon, the original Red fighter, would be an unrepentant big government liberal.

This entire line of thinking is fundamentally inhumane and immoral.

It says you should take the check from BP and waive right to suit because justice hurts profits.

It says enforcing fairness in the marketplace for all players, large and small, will wreck our economy.

It says heroes, in spite of great courage, do not deserve anything from the society they gave everything for.

It says good health is a commodity one must purchase even if the cost runs you out of house and home.

It says look out for number one and anything you step on while climbing the ladder of success deserved it.

It asks us, in exchange for promises of wealth, power, and security to cast aside obsolete ideas like honor, family, public good, and community.

This is not, by a long shot, principled opposition to communism and socialism.  These people are not the glorious watchmen on the battlements of democracy.  This is naked contempt for any act or idea that asks us to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

This philosophy is nothing less than the sanctification of antisocial behavior as virtuous.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk