Jan 052012
 

I wanted to elaborate on a post I made on my blog yesterday about the results of the Iowa Caucus. I’ve been writing a lot about the Republican Party and it’s pro-fundamentalist Christian agenda. As a disclaimer, I used to consider myself something of an independent. I felt I could vote Republican or Democrat, based on the platform and credentials of the candidate in question. It wasn’t until the GOP sold out to the Religious Right that I felt compelled to register as a Democrat. The GOP had removed any possibility of me voting Republican because as a Pagan I will not vote for a party whose platform marginalizes me as a person, or my beliefs and my right to exercise those beliefs.

I am not and have never been what some people refer to as a bleeding heart liberal. I get a chuckle when I find myself accused of that on various social networking platforms. I despise the politics of the far-left as much as I do those of the far right. I no more want my rights taken away by do-gooders motivated by personal health and environmental health than I do by those motivated by “spiritual” or “moral” health. One wants my freedom to choose what I eat and another wants my freedom to belief what I want. If I don’t want a Big Mac, I will make that choice, thank you very much. And if I don’t want the Bible, I won’t read one. It’s called the First Amendment.

But right now, as I see it, the bigger threat comes from what used to be the far right of the Republican Party. As Iowa brings into focus, these people have over the past decade or so, become mainstreamed. It has been a long process, one I’ve chronicled elsewhere, but the Religious Right’s plans for America have ripened. They have become kingmakers, as witnessed by their machinations on behalf of Bush, under whom America came very close to theocracy. And now they’re back for round 2 and more focused, better funded, and more powerful than ever before, and they have the apparatus of the Republican Party to work for them. Wealthy corporations + major political party + religion = an unholy trinity if I ever saw one.

For me it comes down to this: As I asked on my blog, if these people can render the world’s second largest religion, Islam, a cult without First Amendment protections, where does that leave small alternative religions like Paganism? The message is the same to all of us: the U.S. Constitution was based on the Bible (it obviously was not), America was founded by God (contrary to the facts of the historical record). and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, written to bar the federal government from the establishment of any religion, actually established Christianity as the state religion of the United States (remember Pat Robertson’s “There is no such thing as … separation of state and church … in the Constitution. It’s a lie of the left”?). That’s the narrative. And they’re sticking to it no matter how often we point out those pesky facts.

The base laps it up because the base loves it. The base wants to believe it. And there are enough people out there ignorant of their own Bible, ignorant of history, to actually believe this stuff.

The fact that it’s wrong-headed nonsense won’t protect any of us from the consequences. The Nazis and Communists and other ideology-driven groups throughout history, including the Catholic Church and the Puritans, have been wrong too, but that didn’t help their victims. Remember, conservative Catholics among this bunch actually think the Crusades weren’t so bad after all (so does, significantly, Rick Santorum, who came in second in Iowa) and that the Inquisition actually helped people (it was those Protestants that were the bad guys). They even want to change our school textbooks to reflect this new “history” of theirs.

It is difficult to see a positive outcome for minorities of any type in the event of a Republican win in 2012. We have already seen the direction of their agenda in the Tea Party-driven legislation from 2010 onward, much of it heavily influenced by fundamentalist Christian focus on what is often termed “the culture war,” including especially women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality. Adding layers of bureaucracy to police our bedrooms and our private lives is hardly a move toward smaller, less intrusive government. It never really was about the size of government for the Religious Right, though, but about the focus of that government. It’s permissible to have a big government that does what they want it to do. A big government that focuses on regulation of Wall Street or corporations, on the other hand, is anathema.

We’ve seen Pagans blamed for 9/11; we’ve seen fundamentalists preach against the “pagan culture” of America (the Catholic Church is issuing the same warnings in Argentina). We’ve seen things like this: “The government schools are anti-Christian, atheistic and pagan, and they are against God, family, and country” and that these Pagan-influenced government schools promote a culture of “immorality and death” We’ve seen the planet attacked and our own devotion to it mocked. We’re back to early Christian rhetoric: we are rock and tree worshipers, people who follow false idols. The Republican candidates endorse this thinking. If they get away with attacking Islam with impunity (and the mainstream media certainly enables these attacks), Pagans can’t hold out much hope. They hate Paganism already: the Bible teaches them too. When their attention focuses on us, we will find ourselves marginalized and disenfranchised as well.

We all have our beliefs; According to the Constitution, all beliefs are equal. According to the Republican base on the other hand, the First Amendment does not mean all religions are equal. We can differentiate here between religious “truths” and the law because to the base, they are one and the same. Because Christianity is true and all other religions are false, and, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it, truth trumps tolerance, U.S. law must recognize the privileged position of the “one true religion.” When fundamentalist Christians (including the entire crop of 2012 presidential hopefuls) talk about “religious freedom” they are talking about their (Christian) religious freedom; the rest of us have none. The consequences for the rest of us – look at Newt Gingrich’s plan – are not difficult to imagine under such a scheme.

We barely dodged theocracy under the Bush administration. We may not be so lucky again, and it is a risk we cannot afford to take.

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

Nov 042010
 

The recent midterm elections have been a hard reversal for Obama and the Democratic Party. That is the media narrative and it is correct. While correct it is far from being the whole story. The current political climate in the United States is very volatile and the election was a very clear message sent by the voters. The voters were not just rejecting Obama and the Democratic Party’s lackluster performance. They cast a vote of no confidence on the federal government and business as usual in DC.

Going into the election Obama and the Democrats were down in the polls across the board. Just as misery loves company the majority party was not alone in their lack of support. Congressional Republicans are in surprisingly enough a worse position in the polls in spite of their victories on November 2nd. A recent Rasmussen poll found 59% of all Americans believe that the new GOP Congress will disappoint them by 2012. This isn’t a liberal front group of some kind saying this. Rasmussen is a polling group that has worked with the Republican Party and Fox News for decades. Congressional job approval is at record-setting lows casting the approval ratings of both parties into a harsher light. With voter turnout at 42% coming on the heels of the record-breaking turnout of the 2008 elections the majority cast their vote of not worth the effort. When you take a step back from the manufactured message it becomes clear that people no longer believe government or the political parties in Washington genuinely represent or care about their interests.

This lack of faith in federal government is not surprising. The past decade has been a serious rollercoaster regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum starting with 9/11 and ending with the financial market crash. During the first decade of the millennium partisan conflict became a much larger part of the business of government on both sides of the aisle. With the mediocre efforts of the Democrats providing little relief and Republican policies having been responsible for the crash in the first place the disapproval of both parties by the public is completely justified.

The circumstances that created the Tea Party and energized the Republican Party have their own consequences. Promises of investigations, confrontations on spending and the debt ceiling, and opposition to Obama could quickly backfire. As much as the Tea Party rails against government spending that same spending in R&D, the military, law enforcement, infrastructure, and basic bureaucracy leads to a lot of paychecks. If there was a serious disruption in the ability to pay these workers that would take more money out of an already fragile economy. The debt ceiling is an equally thorny issue; if the US were to fail to raise it and defaulted on our debt that would be an economic catastrophe. As the primary season and the defeat of Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell has shown the Tea Party is willing to go after Republicans who fall short on their expectations even if that means losing the seat in the general election. This is likely to encourage confrontation instead of negotiation leading to gridlock and continued federal impotence.

Ironically enough this federal gridlock will make it much easier for state and local elected officials to stand out if their methods are successful. With the federal government in all likelihood bogged down in partisan bickering lower levels of government will need to take on greater burdens and come up with new solutions to their problems. By necessity, and thanks to increasing access to information given by the Internet, the political center of gravity is going to shift away from Washington and to state and local governments. This is not to say some kind of new civil war is brewing on the horizon. More than anything else people are trying to get by and will take any port in a storm.

So what does this mean for our community? All in all its going to be pretty messy regardless of your political persuasion. An extended recession, one that might get worse, is going to be hard on our community. More than ever we need to turn to each other with open arms and leave petty partisan bickering to the professionals in Washington. We need to work together, find ways to help each other, and do what is best for our communities. Our shared spirituality and experiences are far greater ties that bind than any letter next to a candidate’s name can cut. Times like these are ones where we need any who can do their part to step up and work together regardless of who they voted for. The road is rough ahead but as long as we stand together we’ll be ok.

Also published at http://ryansdesk.blogspot.com/2010/11/looking-forward-to-2012.html

 Posted by at 9:03 am
Nov 022010
 

With the election today there’s quite a few opinions shooting around the web particularly about the Tea Party.  With all the rhetoric flying around the issues at stake have mostly flown under the radar.  I think its time we really sat down to take a look at the Tea Party, some of its more well-known members, and their campaign platform.

First off let’s take apart the platform the Tea Party has chosen to stand on.  They have defined it by five broad slogans in the Contract From America that they will identify the constitutionality of every new law, demand a balanced federal budget, simplify the tax system, audit the federal government for constitutionality, and finally repeal Obamacare.

Now identifying the constitutionality of every new law is a great sounding idea and auditing the federal government for constitutionality dovetails with that perfectly.  Who wouldn’t like hearing that a party is promising to demonstrate where the constitutionality of their actions come from, on its face that stance is perfectly reasonable.  This of course assumes this plank is only what it says on its face.  The question not answered by this nice slogan is a pretty basic one: who determines constitutionality?  There are multiple competing schools of thought as to what interpretations of the Constitution are the right ones.  This plank practically begs the question of who is the final arbiter and by what measure are they determining something to be Constitutional.  After all there is that pesky little “necessary and proper clause” which gives Congress the power to take any action that is deemed necessary for the United States.

Now most Tea Partiers will respond, “We’ll interpret it exactly as written and not take anything out or put in things that aren’t supposed to be there.”  If that is the case then why does Christine O’Donnell doubt the constitutionality of separation of Church and State which is clearly spelled out in Article VI section 3 and again in the First Amendment?  If the Constitution is inviolate holy writ then why are there so many Tea Party candidates clamoring for an amendment to remove birthright citizenship?  How can one claim on one hand the Constitution is sacred and untouchable one minute then the next start trotting out their plans to edit and rewrite very important parts of the allegedly untouchable document?  It also leads me to question how consistent the Tea Party and its candidates really are on what is and is not a valid interpretation if they are so willing to break out the whiteout.

Now demanding a balance federal budget is one of those perfectly reasonable things to say on its face.  In this one especially the devil is in the details.  For all the shouts of  “Cut spending!’ and “the deficit is out of control!” or “People are tired of runaway federal spending!” there are very few that actually detail how this balanced budget is going to happen.  When coupled with the cry against excessive taxes adds an additional element to the campaign for a balanced budget.  Once you take one half of the budget process, namely raising revenue, off the table then all you are left with is cuts.  Lots of cuts.  Namely several hundred billion in cuts.

So what elements of the federal government are going to be rolled back that won’t cause further pain and harm down the road?  If you cut unemployment you are going to make several million people homeless in very short order.  If you cut Medicare you’ll end up with a lot of seniors going into bankruptcy thanks to medical expenses they can’t afford.  If you cut Social Security, the sacred cow of American politics, then you can bet those seniors who would have been badly off with the Medicare cuts are going to be even worse off now.  “But we’ll eliminate waste and pork!” the deficit hawks cry.  The largest source of waste, the Pentagon, has been clearly made off-limits and never touched by the Tea Party.  Once you take the Five Sided Pork Palace out of the equation then you’re left with nowhere near enough waste to bring the budget close to balancing.  Pork spending, for example, is estimated by the CBO to constitute maybe 5% of the federal budget.  Cutting pork from the federal budget would have about the same effect for balancing the budget as repainting the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Simplifying the tax system is another great slogan.  When asked about how they would do it the common Tea Party response is to replace the allegedly unconstitutional income tax (which by the way is authorized by Constitutional amendment) with a nationwide flat tax.  The biggest problem with this idea is that implementing it would kill any possibility of a balanced budget.  A flat tax code, unless it had rates of at least 35%, would not be able to pay all of the federal government’s outstanding obligations for basic things like the deficit, the interest payments on the national debt, or even keeping the lights on.  For such a system to work most of the federal government would have to be eliminated.  That includes things like funding for the Interstate highway system, the military, funding for already cash-strapped schools, veterans’ benefits, money for food inspections to make sure that Oscar Meyer doesn’t decide to slip sawdust into their hot dogs, federal law enforcement, and of course keeping federal prisons open and the lights on.

Now to get to the big ticket one: repealing Obamacare.  First off this is an empty promise.  There are no election projections that show the Tea Party as having any shot at capturing 2/3rds of both chambers of Congress, the number needed to override a presidential veto so the odds of this happening can be safely said at least for the next two years as being somewhere between slim and none.  The blanket repeal of Obamacare ignores a lot of the details in the law in the drive to overrule what has been defined as a “socialist” program, little things like kids being able to be on their parent’s coverage until they’re 26, banning denial of care based on pre-existing conditions, excessive rate hikes, and other nasty practices that the insurance industry loves so much.  Now I think the health care reform act falls far short of where it should be and didn’t do enough to address the issue I DO like those provisions.  I like them very much.  Throwing out all of HCR would toss out what reform is worth mentioning in the bill.

What gets me most about the Tea Party is those five slogans is their entire list for how to fix the country.  No concrete proposals, no specific ideas for actually addressing the issues in front of us, just lots of great marketing slogans.  Running a government is far more complicated than just shouting, “protect the Constitution!” and “No new taxes!” until you’re blue in the face.  The claims of taking back government from a Marxist Fascist (two mutually contradictory ideas) dictatorship tend to ring hollow when you have candidates who refuse to speak to the press, have journalists arrested by private security, regularly allude to using “Second Amendment remedies” or that “violent uprising is on the table”, and that we are a Christian nation regardless of little things like freedom of religion.  When you have candidates who shout for freedom and stifle it on the campaign trail or worse yet call for open violence as an acceptable political option that makes me question if their stances are nothing more than a handy pose to get into power.  Talk is cheap, action is not.

Now as far as Pagans are concerned I think the forces that brought the Tea Party to center stage are a serious danger to our community.  The demagoguery of people like Glenn Beck has incited fear of America being taken over by invisible enemies, that the rats are in the walls and chewing their way in.  They cry we must go back to our past, to being a truly Christian nation, and reclaim America from the alleged plotters.  They encourage a naked us vs. them kind of thinking that is very good at excluding people from the public process, particularly those who are already on the fringes.  People like us.

Whether the Tea Party calls for it or not, their us vs. them, all or nothing rhetoric, campaign stances, and actions have inflamed dangerous passions in our country.  This kind of politics requires an Other to oppose.  Unfortunately, given the relative poverty and lack of influence in our community, that makes us all too easy a target.

Also published at http://ryansdesk.blogspot.com/2010/11/ill-pass-on-tea.html

 Posted by at 2:18 pm
Nov 012010
 

The US mid-term election is tomorrow. What will be the outcome? Will the GOP regain the House and/or the Senate? This is your chance to make your prediction on the outcome. I’ll include mine below.

Prediction 1 - There are a total of 435 seats in the US House. After the election, how will the seats be divided between Democrats, Independents, and Republicans?

Prediction 2 -There are 100 US Senators. After the election, how will the seats be divided between Democrats, Independents, and Republicans?

Bonus - how did you come up with your guess? Analysis on a race by race? Crystal ball? Tarot cards? Runes? Oracle?

Double Bonus - predict the outcome of your local Governor’s race.

My predictions?

The House – 244 Republican, 191 Democrat

Senate – 54 Democrats, 46 Republican

Bonus – Pure guess based on what races seem safe and what ones are toss-ups.  I think the GOP will do well, but not as well as some are predicting.  I’ll be happy with the outcome, although I’d rather Republicans gain control of the Senate than the House.  Hopefully they won’t get both the House and the Senate.  This election will throw sand in the gears of government and slow the Federal government down.  I loves me some gridlock.  Give us all a chance for a breather, a chance to assess, before the 2012 election. Hopefully by then this country might have a bit more consensus on some important issues.

Double Bonus – I’m in Minnesota.  Dayton(D) is ahead of Emmer(R), but it is almost a dead heat.  I think Emmer is going to squeak it out, but I wouldn’t place even a single dollar on that bet.  Personally I’m not happy with either candidate.  Emmer is a weak candidate and he doesn’t excite me.  Dayton is a mess and graded himself an “F” on his last performance as an elected official.  Horner is running as an Independent and hasn’t a chance.