Archives for category: Politics

Now that Florida is a red state, the legislature plans to offer vouchers to every student. The legislators expect to do maximum damage to public schools, which will inexorably lose funding and students. Nothing has been said about how to pay for the proposal. Voucher schools in the state are mostly religious and are completely unregulated. Neither their principals nor their teachers need to be credentialed. They are also free to discriminate on any grounds.

The Miami Herald reports:

Florida Republican lawmakers this year will consider offering every K-12 student thousands of dollars each year for their families to spend on education.

Parents would have access to state-funded accounts and use them to pay for private school tuition plus a wide variety of school-related expenses.

The proposal, if approved, would make the state’s school voucher program bigger than ever. But one key fact about the pitch remains elusive: its cost. It could total billions of dollars.

House Speaker Paul Renner said last week he plans to make the proposal, House Bill 1, a priority during the annual legislative session, which starts March 7.

The measure is already being fast-tracked. It will have its first committee hearing Thursday morning in Tallahassee.

So far, the measure carries no financial impact statement. That’s despite the knowledge that hundreds of thousands more children would be eligible for annual payments of about $8,000 each.

The cost, according to the staff analysis, is “indeterminate.” And that “is not reasonable,” said Norín Dollard, a senior research analyst at Florida Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on quality of life issues for Floridians. The group issued a report on voucher funding in September.

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS NEW STUDENTS WOULD BE ELIGIBLE

About 266,000 Florida children attend private schools without using any current state scholarship or voucher, Dollard notes. All would be eligible for education savings accounts under the proposal. In addition, approximately 150,000 children receive home schooling.

HB 1 would provide accounts to as many as 10,000 of them in the first year, with more to come in following years. Conservative back-of-the-napkin math suggests that if just 25% of the newly eligible students participate, and those currently in the program remain, the added cost would reach $600 million, Dollard said.

As participation grows, the total could approach $4 billion or more within five years, she added. If that’s the policy decision in leadership, so be it, Dollard said. But it needs to be funded somehow.

A RECURRING FINANCIAL OBLIGATION

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, focused on that issue during a hastily called Monday evening Zoom meeting to discuss the measure with public education advocates.“

“We have very, very serious concerns,” Eskamani said during an interview. “This is an annual shift of money. Where is it coming from?”

When unveiling the measure at a news briefing, Renner said it was too early to know how much money might be needed. Much depends on how many children want to avail themselves of the vouchers, he said, and where the Legislature sets per-student funding for the year.

At the same time, Renner stressed his goal is to further open school choice so “no one is left out.” The bill would eliminate most eligibility restrictions, though it would prioritize children whose family income is at or below 185% of the federal poverty level — or $55,500 for a family of four.

It also would broaden uses of the money beyond private school tuition to include education expenses such as tutoring, testing and college courses. It would allow students to bank up to $24,000 for those uses, and further permit children already attending private schools without state support to request a share of the funds.

“To effectively deliver a quality education, policy makers and education advocates must accept that every student has unique learning needs, that education dollars belong to the student and not a system, and that public school choice offers every student an opportunity to customize their own education,” Renner said Tuesday, when asked about the associated costs.

A SPIKE IN PARTICIPATION IS EXPECTED

Dollard and others said they anticipate wide interest in participation, with much of it coming from families already paying for private schools. In Arizona, which has a similar education savings account program, the state reported 80% of applicants never attended public schools.

That flips the idea of money following the student on its head, Dollard suggested, because those students never had their education covered by state money in the first place.

School district finance officers said they understood the leadership’s position that the details aren’t firm enough to know the full financial impact.

But using the state’s most recent voucher expansion plan as a guide, they had concerns that this initiative would take money away from district budgets and leave them little ability to plan.

That’s what happened the last time the state expanded vouchers in 2021 with the taxpayer-funded Family Empowerment Scholarship. Officials touted the program as adding $200 million for vouchers, allowing 61,000 more children to afford private school.

Districts saw some money go out the door, but nothing like what happened in 2022. Halfway through the 2021-22 school year, school budget officers across the state learned that three times the amount of money they had set aside to send to voucher programs would be required, based on updated attendance figures from the state.

In some counties, such as Pasco, efforts to provide employee raises were derailed as the money officials expected to use was diverted to the vouchers. All told, the cost had grown to $1 billion.

The current year has provided similar sticker shock. The Legislature approved a budget with no specific amount set for the scholarships. By the second education funding calculation in July, the price tag had increased to $1.3 billion.

That meant the Miami-Dade County school district would have to send $225 million from its budget to the voucher program, for example, and the Hillsborough County school district would send $75 million.

When the third calculation came out this week, districts learned they would be losing even more. If the state lifts the eligibility restrictions, Pinellas County Schools chief finance officer Kevin Smith predicted, it will become even more difficult to predict the financial impact.

He suggested the state should at least consider taking the money out of the public education funding program and create a separate line item.

That way, schools would know what to expect and they could budget appropriately. In recent years, the DeSantis administration has taken the position that unexpected changes in enrollment can pose a financial strain on local school districts.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article271630112.html#storylink=cpy

After especially awful massacres, the public expects Congress to take meaningful steps to limit access to guns. Sandy Hook. No action. Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland, Florida. No action. The Pulse Nightclub. No action. The Las Vegas music festival massacre. No action. Uvalde. No action. The recent massacres in California? What do you think? Why no action? The Republicans block every attempt to enact meaningful restrictions.

CNN posted a summary of where America stands internationally a day before the killing of 11 people in Monterrey Oark, California.

CNN) – Monterey Park. Atlanta. Orlando. Las Vegas. Newtown. Parkland. San Bernardino. Uvalde.

Ubiquitous gun violence in the United States has left few places unscathed over the decades. Still, many Americans hold their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, as sacrosanct. But critics of the Second Amendment say that right threatens another: The right to life.

I insert here that my understanding of the Second Amendment is that it pertains not to the right of every individual to “bear arms,” but to the maintenance and arming of a “well-regulated militia.”

For a time in the 1990s, the Supreme Court agreed, and let stand a decade-long ban on assault weapons.

The 2nd Amendment says:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The CNN article continues:

There are 120 guns for every 100 Americans, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (SAS). No other nation has more civilian guns than people.

More guns than people!

Read the article.

Far-right extremists concocted a cascading series of so-called culture wars that have no basis in fact or reality. Their purpose is to undermine public trust in teachers and public schools, paving the way for divisive “school choice,” which defunds public schools.

Teachers are intimidated, fearful that they might violate the law by teaching factual history about race and racism. Students are deprived of honesty in their history and social studies classes. Schools are slandered by extremists. Needless divisions are created by the lies propagated by zealots whose goal is to privatize public funding for schools.

First came the furor over “critical race theory,” which is not taught in K-12 schools. CRT is a law school course of study that examines systemic racism. The claim that it permeates K-12 schools was created as a menace threatening the children of America by rightwing ideologue Chris Rufo, who shamelessly smeared the teachers of America as purveyors of race hatred that humiliated white children. Rufo made clear in a speech at Hillsdale College that the only path forward was school choice. The entire point of Rufo’s gambit was the destruction of public trust in public schools.

Then came a manufactured brouhaha over transgender students who wanted to use a bathroom aligned with their sexual identity. The number of transgender students is minuscule, probably 1%. And yet again there was a furor that could have easily been resolved with a gender-neutral bathroom. Ron DeSantis made a campaign ad with a female swimmer who complained that she competed against a trans woman. What she didn’t mention was that the trans woman was beaten, as was she, by three other female swimmers.

And then came the nutty claim that teachers were “grooming” students to be gay. Another smear. No evidence whatever. Reading books about gay characters would turn students gay, said the critics; but would reading about elephants make students want to be elephants?

Simultaneously, extremists raised loud alarms about books that introduced students to dangerous ideas about sexuality and racism. If they read books with gay characters, students would turn gay. If they read about racism, they would “hate America.” So school libraries had to be purged; even public libraries had to be purged. One almost expected public book burnings. So much power attributed to books, as if the Internet doesn’t exist, as if kids can’t watch porn of all kinds, as if public television does not regularly run shows about American’s shameful history of racism.

As citizens and parents, we must stand up for truth and sanity. We must defend our schools and teachers against libelous claims. We must oppose those who would ban books.

Of course, parents should meet with their children’s teachers. They should partner with them to help their children. They should ask questions about the curriculum. They should share their concerns. Learning benefits when parents, teachers, students, and communities work together.

Jan Resseger keeps close tabs on education in Ohio, which is constantly under attack in the legislature. In this post, she reviews what happened in the past year. The “good” consists of bad things that didn’t happen. The Republican-dominated legislature is intent on constant privatization of public funds. Ohio is rife with failing charters and ineffective vouchers. The legislature wants more failure. The chair of the House Education Committee, Andrew Brenner, calls public schools “socialism.” The Ohio legislature deserves a spot on this blog’s Wall of Shame.

Jan Resseger wrote:

In the midst of the big 2022 Christmas week storm, a frozen sprinkler-system pipe burst at the Ohio Statehouse and flooded the state senate chamber. This year in Ohio’s gerrymandered, supermajority Republican legislature, democracy itself has been so severely threatened that many of us wondered if the event was an expression of cosmic justice.

As Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor retired due to the state’s mandated age limit,O’Connor—herself a Republican—condemned legislators who created one gerrymandered legislative and Congressional district map after another, O’Connor told the Associated Press: “My advice to them was, please review the Constitution and maybe go back to, what is it, fourth or fifth grade and learn about our institutions… And maybe, just maybe, review what it was like in Germany when Hitler intimidated the judiciary and passed those laws that allowed for the treatment of the Jewish population… This country cannot stand if the judiciary is intimidated.” The AP reports that, “In retirement, she has pledged to champion a constitutional amendment that fixes Ohio’s redistricting process…”

BAD THINGS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN IN 2022

The 134th Ohio General Assembly did not pass Ohio Senate Bill 178 to hollow out the Ohio State Board of Education and shift its primary responsibilities (including overseeing the Department of Education itself) to a new cabinet Department of Education and the Workforce under the Governor. Politics have already to some degree invaded the Ohio State Board of Education, because the governor already appoints 8 of its 19 members. And during the past two years there have been several legislative/gubernatorial interventions to gerrymander the districts of elected members to favor Republicans, and to fire unruly members and appoint new members who would be more faithful to Ohio Republicans’ priorities.

In 2022, the Ohio Senate passed SB 178 to move the important functions of the State Board of Education under the governor’s control, to insulate the state board from the will of the people, and to remove many of the State Board’s responsibilities. In December, during the last week of the legislative session, SB 178 was heard by the House Education Committee, but the bill never came up for committee vote and never was acted on by the Ohio House. At 2:30 AM, before the the 134th General Assembly permanently adjourned at 6:30 AM, Senate President Matt Huffman inserted the entire 2,144 page SB 178 into HB 151 to ban transgender girls from sports, inserted another amendment to ban school vaccine mandates, and sent the entire package back to the Ohio House, where it failed by 6 votes. Although this problematic bill failed in the 134th General Assembly, Senate President Matt Huffman has pledged another attempt during 2023 to politicize the State Board of Education in the 135th Ohio General Assembly.

A Mass of Culture War Bills Will Die Because They Never Came Up for a Vote (For details, see Honesty for Ohio Educationor the Northeast Ohio Friends of Public Education.)

  • HB 322, HB 327, and HB 616 to ban teaching and materials about divisive concepts including racism and sexual orientation.
  • HB 529 to demand that school curricula be posted online.
  • HB 454 to ban gender affirming care for minors.
  • HB 704 to affirm that gender identity is identifiable at birth according to DNA.
  • HB 722 to ban discussion of any ‘sexually explicit’ content and establish a ‘parents bill of rights.’
  • SB 361 to enable former military troops to become teachers with relaxed credentialing.
  • SB 365 to include curriculum about free market capitalism in educational standards.

HB 290, the “Backpack” universal education savings account voucher programnever came up for a vote in the 134th General Assembly. Most people expect, however, that a similar bill will be introduced in the 135th General Assembly, perhaps as part of the FY 2024-2025 biennial budget bill. For more information see here.

GOOD THINGS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN IN 2022

The Ohio Legislature did not pass HB 497 to eliminate the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. After HB 497 passed the Ohio House by a margin of 82-10 and after the bill was unanimously endorsed by the Ohio State Board of Education, HB 497 was never considered by the Ohio Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee and never forwarded for a vote by the full Ohio Senate. The bill died with the end of the 134th Ohio General Assembly. The bill would have eliminated mandatory retention in third grade of any student who does not reach a proficient score on the state’s third grade achievement test. Research demonstrates that holding kids back in grade damages self esteem and makes it more likely that students will drop out of school before graduating from high school. For background see here.

BAD THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2022…

Keep reading to learn about the “Bad Things That Happened in 2022” and the One Good Thing That Happened.

Jan concluded her post:

There is no reason to believe that in 2023 the legislative majority of Ohio’s 135th General Assembly will be supportive of Ohio’s public schools. Persistence will be required as advocates press for the full six year phase-in of adequate school funding under the Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding Plan. And, as Ohio Public Education Partners declares, we must demand that the Legislature “rejects the school privatization agenda, which includes school voucher schemes (and) charter schools….”

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews Dana Milbank’s new book about the crackup of the Republican Party. As I have often said, Milbank is my favorite columnist in the Washington Post.

Thompson writes:

Dana Milbank’s The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party is based on his quarter of a century of political reporting. From 1992 to the present the Republicans won the popular vote only once. There were calls for diversity in their party in order to reach more voters, but it went in the opposite direction. In the 1990s, the false and polarizing propaganda of Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, and Fox News took off, as Newt Gingrich became the key political driver of an ideology that would dismantle legislative norms and institutions.

This piece only has room for a brief overview of the 90s. I assume that readers will see and will be shocked by the cruelty and lies of that decade, and how they foreshadow today’s assaults on democracy.

Milbank starts with the suicide of the Clintons’ aide, Vince Foster. Rush Limbaugh, who called the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton “the White House dog,” claimed, “Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton.”

The prime donor of Gingrich’s political training organization, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) was Mellon Scaife. Scaife then joined with Christopher Ruddy, who would become Donald Trump’s friend and informal advisor, to found Newsmax. They said Vince Foster’s death showed that Bill Clinton “can order people done away with … God there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously.” (By the way, such words didn’t keep Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating or Congressman J.C. Watts from helping to lead GOPAC.)

Brett Kavanaugh, who assisted in Ken Starr’s investigations of Bill Clinton and helped draft the Starr Report, knew as early as 1995 that “I am satisfied that Foster was sufficiently discouraged or depressed to commit suicide.” But he spent two years investigating, thus legitimizing, what Milbank called “all of the ludicrous claims.” In Kavanaugh’s files, that were released two decades later, were 195 pages of articles by Ruddy and Limbaugh’s transcript on the case.

Milbank writes that once Gingrich became Speaker of House in 1995, he “threw the weight of the speakership behind the Foster conspiracy theory.” That year, Ruddy, Scaife and Newsmax, would spread the lies further.

(By 2016, Rep. Pete Olson said that Bill Clinton admitted to A.G. Loretta Lynch that “we killed Vince Foster.” And Trump said the charges that Foster was murdered are “very serious.” And Milbank concluded that Justice Kavanaugh was not the most ideological of the Supreme Court’s majority, but he was the most political.)

Milbank explains how rightwingers encouraged violence. After the Waco tragedy of 1993, G. Gordon Liddy said of the ATF agents, “Kill the son-of-a-bitches.” Sen. Jesse Helms said “Mr. Clinton better watch his guard if he comes down here (North Carolina). He’d better have a bodyguard.”

Moreover, even though the Fish and Wildlife Department didn’t have helicopters, Rep. Helen Chenoweth said they were “sending armed agency officials and helicopters” to enforce regulations and “if they didn’t stop, I will be their “worst nightmare.”

In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Building killed 168 people; Timothy McVeigh said his terrorist act was designed “to put a check on government abuse of power.” But some rightwingers claimed the bombing “was really a botched plot” by the FBI.

Also, Limbaugh asserted, “President Clinton’s ties to the domestic terrorism of Oklahoma City are tangible.” And Gingrich responded by defending the “genuine fears” of rural America regarding the federal government, and doubled down on repealing of the assault weapons ban.

Milbank goes into detail recounting how Gingrich “changed forever the language of politics.” Gingrich quoted Mao saying, “Politics is war without blood.” And he repeatedly made charges such as the Democrats “‘trash’ America, indict the president and give the benefit of every doubt to Marxist regimes.”

In 1977, a year before Gingrich was first elected, Milbank reports that a Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. After 15 years of his “relentless” attacks, that number was down to 18%. Gingrich then undermined congressional norms that encouraged compromise and constructive actions. During his legislative career, committee and sub-committee meetings dropped by nearly half. By 2017, they had dropped by almost 75%. The ability of Presidents to get laws passed was also undermined. Presidents’ legislative victories dropped from 73% of the agenda under Nixon. At the beginning of the Clinton term, he had a victory rate of 87% but by 2016, President Obama’s rate was 13%.

Another pivotal change occurred after the 1996 defeat of Bob Dole. Republican aide Margaret Tutwiler said, “We’re going to have to take on [board] the religious nuts.” A couple of decades later, White evangelicals were only 15% of the US population but about 40% of Trump’s voters.

And with the arrival of Karl Rove’s anti-gay “whisper campaign” against George W. Bush’s opponent, Ann Richards, personal attacks escalated dramatically. Another example of campaign lies was the attack on Sen. John McCain’s mental stability, and the claim he had “fathered an illegitimate black child.” Actually McCain had adopted a daughter from a Bangladesh orphanage.

Although I had been horrified by the behaviors of the rightwing, Milbank’s details provided me a much better understanding of how the views I’ve held allowed me to remain excessively optimistic. I used to believe that it was deindustrialization and the loss of economic opportunity (accelerated by Reagan’s job-killing Supply Side economics) that mostly fed the racism which propelled Trump into the White House. Now I’m convinced by Milbank’s evidence that it was racism – not economics – that spurred Trumpism.

Also, I had misremembered Mitch McConnell’s record in the 1990s. In 1993, McConnell joined Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in defending the Confederate flag on the Senate floor, saying, “My roots … run deep in the Southern part of the country.” And he stood before a huge Confederate flag at a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

In 1997, McConnell said in a fundraising letter, “Help to protect our country from a potentially devastating nuclear attack.” And he alleged, Clinton’s White House was “sold for ILLEGAL FOREIGN CASH”

I’m assuming that readers of this blog will quickly understand how the Alt Facts spread by politicians like Gingrich are linked to today’s crises. By 2018, only 16% of Republicans trusted the media over Trump. In 2020, people who said they were “very happy” dropped to 14% compared to the previous low of 29%.

Two years later, the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer showed how the worsening rhetoric was putting people in danger. In 2019, hate crimes increased by 30%, and over 18 months in 2020 and 2021, the FBI nearly tripled its domestic terrorism caseload. FBI director Christopher Wray said, “The violence in 2020 is unlike what we’ve seen in quite some time.” And who knows what the numbers are in the wake of Trump’s response to the subpoenaing of the Secret documents?

The 25-year rightwing siege and Trumpism has put our democracy at risk. Being from Oklahoma City, I’m increasingly worried about the chances of bloodshed. And I’m doubly concerned after reading The Destructionists.

In 1994, Vice President Al Gore explained, “The Republicans are determined to wreck Congress in order to control it – and then wreck a presidency in order to recapture it.” Now, Milbank concludes. “A quarter century after a truck bomb set by an antigovernment extremist … Republicans have lit a fuse on democracy itself.”

Dean Obeidallah, a regular contributor to CNN, describes the Texas GOP’s defiant rejection of democracy. In an earlier post, I pointed out that the state convention booed Senator Jon Cornyn for daring to negotiate a bipartisan gun control deal (which did not include any of President Biden’s demands). That was the mildest of their actions.

He writes:

CNN) – Disturbing video from the Texas Republican Convention this weekend shows convention-goers mocking GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw — a Navy SEAL veteran who lost his right eye to a bomb in Afghanistan — with the term “eye patch McCain.”

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson coined the derisive nickname after the Texas lawmaker dared to express support for beleaguered Ukraine following Russia’s barbaric attack on it.

But apparently even more heinous in the eyes of some attendees is that Crenshaw rejected former President Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. One man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat can be seen yelling in an online video, “Dan Crenshaw is a traitor!” and “He needs to be hung for treason!”

As despicable as the behavior toward Crenshaw was, even more alarming were the actions taken by the Texas GOP and the convention’s 5,000-plus delegates.

The gathering rejected the outcome of a democratic election, supported bigotry toward the LGBTQ community and imposed far-right religious beliefs on others by seeking to have them enshrined into law. And that wasn’t half of it.

In fact, the convention showed us one thing: Texas Republicans are no longer hiding their extremism. Instead, they are openly embracing it.

Even before the opening gavel, they gave us a glimpse of the party’s extremism in the Lone Star State by banning the Log Cabin Republicans from setting up a booth at the convention.

Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi cast the deciding vote on the move to bar the group that has advocated for LGBTQ Republicans for decades. “I think it’s inappropriate given the state of our nation right now for us to play sexual identity politics,” Rinaldi told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Once it formally got underway, the convention took a number of appalling and un-American actions. First, delegates approved a measure declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected.” In short, the Texas GOP — like Trump himself — is embracing a lie because it’s unhappy with the election results. Put more bluntly, the Texas GOP voted to reject American democracy.

Republican delegates also booed John Cornyn, the senior US senator from Texas, at the convention Friday because of the Republican lawmaker’s role leading negotiations to reach a Senate deal on a bill to stem gun violence. Those legislative efforts follow last month’s horrific shooting that claimed the lives of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

The platform approved at the convention called for repealing or nullifying gun laws already in place, such as the Gun Control Act of 1968, which prevents felons and other dangerous people from being able to purchase a gun legally. Apparently, the Texas GOP believes that even dangerous people should have a constitutionally protected right to buy a gun.

The Texas GOP platform also embraced ramping up anti-abortion rhetoric in public schools. For example, the platform states that “Texas students should learn about the Humanity of the Preborn Child, including … that life begins at fertilization.” It even seeks to force students to watch “a live ultrasound” and for high-schoolers to read an anti-abortion booklet that critics say “includes scientifically unsupported claims and shames women seeking abortion care,” according to The Texas Tribune.

It sounds like the curriculum that you might find in a theocratic government such as the Taliban — not one in the United States funded by taxpayer dollars. But the GOP in large swaths of this country is no longer hesitant to support laws to impose its religious beliefs — as we see with measures some Republicans champion that would totally ban abortion. The GOP convention’s document additionally urges officials “not to infringe on Texas school students’ and staffs’ rights to pray and engage in religious speech.”

The Texas GOP platform also does its best to demonize those in the transgender community. It describes transgender people as suffering from “a genuine and extremely rare mental health condition.” And it sees sexual reassignment surgery as a form of medical malpractice.

The platform takes aim at gay Americans as well with the statement that homosexuality is “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Instructively, the Texas GOP platform did not include such language in 2018 and 2020.

This platform gives us a glimpse into the views of the Republican base on key issues that in turn will pressure GOP elected officials in Texas — and possibly beyond the state — to adopt similarly extreme positions or run the risk of a primary challenge from an even more extreme Republican.

What caused this move to the far right? Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, told The Texas Tribune about the state GOP’s new extreme platform, “Donald Trump radicalized the party and accelerated the demands from the base.” He added alarmingly, “There simply aren’t limits now on what the base might ask for.”

I agree — in part. I don’t think Trump radicalized the base — rather he simply gave people permission to be who they always wanted to be.

But I agree with Rottinghaus that there are now no limits for what the GOP base might seek — be it rejecting election results it doesn’t agree with to enacting more laws based on extreme religious beliefs. And that should deeply alarm every American who wants to live in a democratic republic.

The convention also issued a call to repeal the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for every citizen of voting age.

The only thing the Texas GOP neglected to do was pass a resolution congratulating the shooter at Uvalde for exercising his “God-given right” to use his AR15 as he saw fit.

Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect is one of my favorite thinkers, and I am glad to share his latest with you. Republicans like to say, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott did, that this is not the time to “politicize” the issue of gun control, in the midst of a massacre of students and their teachers. But, if this is not the right time, when is? This horrific event was not an accident, it was the result of Republican policies that put the rights of gun owners over the right to life. Republicans have used politics to put the lives of children, teachers, grocery shoppers, and other citizens at risk. Now is the time to say so.

Republicans on the Wrong Side of Public Outrage
Their opposition to gun laws and assault on women’s health should be center-stage issues. 
Here’s the bizarre thing about mass gun violence that takes the lives of schoolchildren and the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade: Public opinion is not with the right. It is overwhelmingly in favor of banning civilian purchase of assault weapons. It is overwhelmingly in favor of keeping Roe. And yet a party that espouses these and other extreme views is on the verge of taking over the country. If we let it.

What can prevent this grim fate is resolute leadership that stands with most Americans—and also hangs this lunacy around the necks of Republicans and makes them squirm. In his first statement on the mass murder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that the shooter was dead. You can imagine how much comfort that offers parents.

Other Republicans have offered reassurance by pointing out that the killer acted alone. No, he did not. He had multiple Republican accomplices who keep blocking gun control and valorizing guns with open-carry laws.

They also like to term the Texas shooting a “tragedy.” No, it was not. It was preventable homicide of children. Political allies of abortion zealots who worry about the alleged rights of the unborn need to look to the rights of living children.

President Biden was at his best in his statement on the Texas school shooting. He called out both the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers. He ridiculed gun nuts who conflate hunting rifles with assault weapons.

When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong. What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone? Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick.
Biden’s expression of appalled sympathy was from the heart. “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” he said. Biden has been there.

Maybe the president’s first statement on the shooting was not the time to call out the Republicans who resist even the mildest gun legislation. But this is no time to temporize for fear of rural voters or pro-gun Democrats. The vast majority of citizens are sick of this carnage.

Biden needs to follow up by sending Congress legislation that goes beyond poll-tested “commonsense” measures like background checks and the extension of existing regulations to gun shows. We need to ban all military weapons, and to identify the wall-to-wall opposition with Republicans, and dare them to block it.

Biden is facing political headwinds on inflation and supply shortages. But on gun control and women’s health, public opinion is with him, and Republicans look like fools. There is nothing shameful about maximizing the partisan advantage. In a democracy, that’s what leadership is all about.
~ ROBERT KUTTNER

Steven Rosenfeld runs a project for the Independent Media Institute called “Voting Booth.” His posts are informative. This one reviews the Republican primary for Governor in Pennsylvania, where all the candidates swear fealty to Trump and the Big Lie.

He writes:

Another extreme wing of the Republican Party is emerging, and it’s not all Trump.

J.D. Vance, the Ohioan who grew up poor, joined the Marines, got a Yale law degree, wrote a bestseller about his hardscrabble upbringing, became a venture capitalist, and panned Donald Trump before becoming a convert to Trumpism and winning Ohio’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, is one brand of 2022’s Republican candidates—a shapeshifter, as the New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens noted.

“He’s just another example of an increasingly common type: the opportunistic, self-abasing, intellectually dishonest, morally situational former NeverTrumper who saw Trump for exactly what he was until he won and then traded principles and clarity for a shot at gaining power,” Stephens said in a conversation with New York Times liberal columnist Gail Collins that was published on May 9.

But the GOP’s frontrunner for governor in Pennsylvania’s crowded May 17 primary field, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, is an entirely different Republican: a man of deep religious and political convictions who, if he wins the nomination and the general election, could be problematic for Americans who do not want elected officials to impose their personal beliefs on the wider public, whether the topic is abortion, vaccines, denying election results, or calling on God’s help to seize political power.

Mastriano’s current lead among nine candidates, with nearly 28 percent, could be taken two ways. He could be an extremist, like Trump in 2016, who won because too many contenders split the mainstream vote in a low-turnout primary. (In 2018, less than one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s voters turned out—suggesting that 2022’s winner may be nominated by as little as 5 percent of its state electorate.) Or, if Pennsylvania’s GOP were more firmly in control of its nomination process, Mastriano’s support might pale next to the establishment’s pick.

It remains to be seen if voters’ allegiances will shift as May 17approaches, especially as the Democrats’ likely nominee, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has signaled that Mastriano is the Republican he would most like to run against in the general election by launching TV attack ads. Centrist Republicans also are attacking Mastriano, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reports it’s not working.

Mastriano’s prospects, and his chances in the upcoming general election in the fall as another breed of 2022’s GOP mavericks, suggest that wider currents are roiling American politics, including, in this national battleground state, a mainstreaming of white Christian nativism.

Mastriano is a retired Army military intelligence officer and Army War College historian (whose error-filled 2014 biography of a World War I heroic Christian soldier embarrassedits university press). In uniform, he served overseas in Eastern Europe, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His career in elected office started in a predictable rightward fashion: proposing a bill to ban abortion. But after 2020’s election, he emerged from local ranks as an early and fervent member of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” cavalry who sought to subvert the certification of its winner, Pennsylvania native Joe Biden, who officially beat Trump by 80,000 votes.

Mastriano invited Big Lie propagandist Rudy Giuliani and others to legislative hearings. On January 6, 2021, he bussed Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol, and newly surfaced videosshow that he followed them past police barriers. He opposed COVID-19 mandates, and in mid-2021 started calling for an Arizona-style “audit” of the state’s 2020 presidential election results. But unlike Arizona’s effort, led by the Cyber Ninjas’ Doug Logan, another deeply observant but more private Christian, Mastriano is vocal about how much his religion influences his politics.

A New Yorker profile by Eliza Griswold on May 9 characterizes Mastriano as a white Christian nationalist—a term he rejects—who, before the January 6 Capitol riot, “exhorted his followers to ‘do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.’”

On the 2020 election denial front, Mastriano is not alone. Although he was leading in a crowded field, there are other candidates for governor who have been falsely proclaiming that Democrats stole their state’s 2020 election and the presidency, and even forged Electoral College documents sent to Washington, D.C.

“If you thought Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate was the worst development in Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP primaries, wait until you hear about the Republicans running for governor,” wrote Amanda Carpenter, a political columnist for the Bulwark, an anti-Trump Republican news and opinion website.

“They’re all election conspiracists.” she continued. “The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.”

But Mastriano is not a mere Trump imitator. He is cut from an older, more gothic American political cloth: mixing a nativist piety, conspiratorial mindset, and authoritarian reflexes. The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized his unbending religiosity as belonging to the “charismatic strand of Christianity.” The New Yorker’s Griswold concluded that “Mastriano’s rise embodies the spread of a movement centered on the belief that God intended America to be a Christian nation.”

This political type is not new, wrote Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist and historian, in 2006 in American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, which detailed how George W. Bush’s evangelism tainted his presidency. However, Mastriano’s ascension, coupled with a Trump-fortified U.S. Supreme Court that’s poised to void a woman’s right to abortion, affirms today’s reemergence of a radical right.

“Christianity in the United States, especially Protestantism, has always had an evangelical—which is to say, missionary—and frequently a radical or combative streak,” wrote Phillips. “Some message has always had to be preached, punched, or proselytized.”

Add in Mastriano’s embrace of Trumpian authoritarianism, and the Keystone State’s leading GOP candidate for governor is proudly part of this pantheon. As the Inquirer wroteon May 4, he “often invokes Esther, the biblical Jewish queen who saved her people from slaughter by Persians, casting himself and his followers as God’s chosen people who have arrived at a crossroads—and who must now defend their country, their very lives.”

“It is the season of Purim,” Mastriano said, according to the paper’s report of a “March [campaign] event in Lancaster, referring to the Jewish holiday celebrated in the Book of Esther.” The gubernatorial candidate continued, “And God has turned the tables on the Democrats and those who stand against what is good in America. It’s true.”

A Heavy Hand?

It’s hardly new for Republicans to demonize Democrats. But under Trump, the enemies list has grown to include not just the media (Mastriano has barred reporters from rallies and abruptly ended interviews), but America’s “secular democracy” (as Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of Jesus and John Wayne, put it in Griswold’s piece for the New Yorker). This targeting includes the government civil servants who administer elections and the technology used to cast and count votes.

When it comes to election administration, if elected governor, Mastriano gets to appoint the secretary of state, the state’s top election regulator. He also has pledged to sign legislation to curtail voting with mailed-out ballots, which was how 2.6 million Pennsylvanians—about 38 percent of voters, including nearly 600,000 Trump voters—cast 2020’s presidential ballots. (As of May 10, nearly 900,000 voters had applied for a mailed-out ballot for 2022’s primary.) Such a policy shift, if enacted, would deeply inconvenience, if not discourage, voter turnout.

Mastriano, if elected, could also play an outsized role should the presidency in 2024 hinge on Pennsylvania’s 19 presidential electors. In the wake of the 2020 election, as Trump and his allies filed and lost more than 60 election challenge suits, one of their arguments was the U.S. Constitution decrees that state legislatures set the “time, place and manner” of elections. That authority could include rejecting the popular vote in presidential elections and appointing an Electoral College slate favoring the candidate backed by a legislative majority, which, in Pennsylvania, has been Republican since 2011’s extreme gerrymander.

Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of recent litigation over this power grab, the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine.” If elected governor, Mastriano could hasten a constitutional crisis, because under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which was designed to say how competing slates of presidential electors are to be resolved, the governor—not the state legislature—has the final say, according to Edward B. Foley, a widely respected election law scholar.

“A key provision of the act says that if the [U.S.] House and Senate are split [on ratifying a state’s Electoral College slate], the governor of the state in dispute becomes the tiebreaker,” Foley wrote in 2016, when scholars were gaming post-Election Day scenarios in Trump’s race against Hillary Clinton. While speculating about 2024 is premature, there’s some precedent to heed.

After the 2020 election, 84 people in seven battleground states that Biden won, including Pennsylvania, sent listsof unauthorized Trump electors to the National Archives in Washington. Two of Mastriano’s primary opponents, ex-congressman Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, signed the fake Electoral College slates. Mastriano, however, did not.

With days to go before the primary, Josh Shapiro, the Democrats’ likely nominee for governor (he is running unopposed in the party primary) is already running anti-Mastriano TV ads seeking to tie the Republican candidate to Trump. (Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, faces term limits and cannot seek reelection.) Shapiro’s strategy to elevate Mastriano is “dangerous,” according to Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, as it affirms Mastriano’s credentials to voters and could backfire in the fall—in a replay of Trump’s 2016 victory in the state.

“A Gov. Mastriano, Shapiro’s new TV spot says, would effectively ban abortion in the Keystone State and, the narrator continues, ‘he led the fight to audit the 2020 election,’” Bunch wroteon May 8. “‘If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.’ Cue the Satanic music, maybe the only clue that the Shapiro campaign thinks these are bad things. The commercial’s closing pitch: ‘Is that what we want in Pennsylvania?’”

“The answer, for far too many people in a state where the wife-cheating, private-part-grabbing xenophobe won by 44,292 votes in 2016, would, unfortunately, be ‘yes.’”

But a Mastriano primary victory would be more than the latest affirmation of the ex-president’s sway over swaths of today’s GOP. It heralds the rise of “radicalized religion,” as Phillips wrote in American Theocracyabout fundamentalists and George W. Bush’s presidency, merged with more recent Trumpian authoritarianism.

“Few questions will be more important to the 21st-century United States than whether renascent religion and its accompanying political hubris will be carried on the nation’s books as an asset or as a liability,” Phillips wrote. “While sermons and rhetoric propounding American exceptionalism proclaim religiosity an asset, a sober array of historical precedents—the pitfalls of imperial Christian overreach from Rome to Britain—tip the scales toward liability.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a projectof the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Voting Booth is a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote a fascinating column about Steve Schmidt’s recent revelations about important political figures. Like the good historian she is, she connects the dots.

At home, a big story broke over the weekend, reminding us that the ties of the Republican Party to Russians and the effect of those ties on Ukraine reach back not just to former president Trump, but at least to the 2008 presidential campaign of Arizona senator John McCain.

Late Saturday night, political strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked on a number of Republican political campaigns including McCain’s when he ran for president in 2008, began to spill what he knows about that 2008 campaign. Initially, this accounting took the form of Twitter threads, but on Sunday, Schmidt put the highlights into a post on a Substack publication called The Warning. The post’s title distinguished the author from those journalists and members of the Trump administration who held back key information about the dangerous behavior in Trump’s White House in order to include it in their books. The post was titled: “No Books. No Money. Just the Truth.”

Schmidt left the Republican Party in 2018, tweeting that by then it was “fully the party of Trump. It is corrupt, indecent and immoral. With the exception of a few governors…it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders…. Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and our values.” Schmidt helped to start The Lincoln Project, designed to sink Trump Republicans through attack ads and fundraising, in late 2019.

The apparent trigger for Schmidt’s accounting was goading from McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain, a sometime media personality who, after years of slighting Schmidt, recently called him a pedophile, which seems to have been a reference to the fact that a colleague with whom Schmidt started The Lincoln Project was accused of online sexual harassment of men and boys. Schmidt resigned over the scandal.

Schmidt was fiercely loyal to Senator McCain and had stayed silent for years over accusations that he was the person who had chosen then–Alaska governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential candidate, lending legitimacy to her brand of uninformed fire-breathing radicalism, and about his knowledge of McCain’s alleged affair with a lobbyist.

In his tweetstorm, Schmidt set the record straight, attributing the choice of Palin to McCain’s campaign director and McCain himself, and acknowledging that the New York Times had been correct in the reporting of McCain’s relationship with the lobbyist, despite the campaign’s angry denial.

More, though, Schmidt’s point was to warn Americans that the mythmaking that turns ordinary people into political heroes makes us unwilling to face reality about their behavior and, crucially, makes the media unwilling to tell us the truth about it. As journalist Sarah Jones wrote in PoliticusUSA, Schmidt’s “broader point is how we, as Americans, don’t like to be told the truth and how our media so loves mythology that they work to deliver lies to us instead of holding the powerful accountable.”

Schmidt’s biggest reminder, though, was that the director of the 2008 McCain campaign was Richard (Rick) Davis, a founding partner of Davis Manafort, the political consulting firm formed in 1996. By 2003, the men were representing pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Yanukovych; in July 2004, U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow for exposing Russian government corruption; and in June 2005, Manafort proposed that he would work for Putin’s government in former Soviet republics, Europe, and the United States by influencing politics, business dealings, and news coverage.

From 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the U.S. State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. In 2016, Manafort went on to lead Donald Trump’s campaign, and the ties between him, the campaign, and Russia are well known. Less well known is that in 2008, Manafort’s partner Rick Davis ran Republican candidate John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Schmidt writes that McCain turned a blind eye to the dealings of Davis and Manafort, apparently because he was distracted by the fallout when the story of his personal life hit the newspapers. Davis and Manafort were making millions by advancing Putin’s interests in Ukraine and eastern Europe, working for Yanukovych and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Schmidt notes that “McCain spent his 70th birthday with Oleg Deripaska and Rick Davis on a Russian yacht at anchor in Montenegro.”

“There were two factions in the campaign,” Schmidt tweeted, “a pro-democracy faction and…a pro Russia faction,” led by Davis, who—like Manafort—had a residence in Trump Tower. It was Davis who was in charge of vetting Palin.

McCain was well known for promising to stand up to Putin, and Palin’s claim that she could counter the growing power of Russia in part because “[t]hey’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska” became a long-running joke (the comment about seeing Russia from her house came from a Saturday Night Live skit).

But a terrific piece in The Nation by Mark Ames and Ari Berman in October 2008 noted: “He may talk tough about Russia, but John McCain’s political advisors have advanced Putin’s imperial ambitions.” The authors detailed Davis’s work to bring the Balkan country of Montenegro under Putin’s control and concluded that either McCain “was utterly clueless while his top advisers and political allies ran around the former Soviet domain promoting the Kremlin’s interests for cash, or he was aware of it and didn’t care.”

Trump’s campaign and presidency, along with Putin’s deadly assault on Ukraine, puts into a new light the fact that McCain’s campaign manager was Paul Manafort’s business partner all the way back in 2008.

Note: Richardson has a list of sources at the end of her post. For some unknown reason, WordPress did not permit me to copy her notes. I inserted some but not all. Open the post to check the links.

Myah Ward of Politico Nightly interviewed Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine about the depressing fact that one million Americans have died due to COVID. It’s fair to say that he was outraged by the many thousands of unnecessary deaths, encouraged by Republican politicians and by hostility to science. One man, not mentioned here, could have persuaded his followers to get vaccinated and boosted, as he did. Donald Trump. But while he rightly took credit for the rapid development of vaccines, but did nothing to discourage the anti-vaxxers.

1 million deaths. Did you ever think we’d get here?

For me, the big reckoning was the fact that we’ve not really come to a real national dialogue about what happened after May 1, 2021. That was the day the White House announced that there are so many Covid vaccines that any American who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated. Yet we lost another 200,000-300,000 Americans after that date. Those who were defiant to vaccines were overwhelmingly in red states, and the redder the county as measured by Trump voters in the 2020 election, the higher the vaccine refusal and the greater the loss of life.

It wasn’t by accident. It was a deliberate effort by members of the House Freedom Caucus, in the House, some U.S. senators, amplified nightly on Fox News.

I don’t even call it misinformation or disinformation anymore. I call it anti-science aggression, to convince millions of Americans not to take a Covid vaccine. And at least 200,000 Americans between May 1 and the end of 2021 died needlessly from Covid because of it. And everyone’s afraid to talk about it because it’s very unpleasant to have to point out that these deaths occurred along such a strict partisan divide. Even the White House won’t talk about it in that way.

So, with an exhausted public, how would you re-engage Americans at this point? Is it by having these “unpleasant” conversations?

You can understand the first wave of deaths in New York in the spring of 2020. You can even start to understand the second wave of deaths in the summer of 2020, in Texas, in the southern U.S. when we’re just trying to understand it. But then as you move forward, you have to start to come to terms with the fact that a majority of the deaths were probably preventable. And certainly just about all of the deaths after May 1 were preventable. And I think that needs to be front and center. That these are not accidental deaths. The people who lost their lives and died after May 1 were themselves victims of anti-science aggression. If you look at the big-picture threats to the U.S. that we spend billions of dollars every year to combat, like global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, or cyberattacks. Anti-science aggression kills more Americans than all those things combined by far. And yet we don’t recognize it as such. That’s critically important to point that out.

Alongside Americans being “done” with the pandemic, there’s also the concern about Covid funding running out if Congress doesn’t act. How important is this money in your view?

We have to recognize that the mRNA boosters are not holding up as well as we’d like. We’re going to have to probably go — unless we come up with a better technology, which I think we should, but that’s a different matter — we’re gonna need to ask the American people to get boosted yet again. And we’re gonna have to provide those vaccines.

And we’re going to need an ongoing amount of Paxlovid, for instance. I mean, why am I talking to you right now? I’m talking to you right now because I’m the beneficiary of Paxlovid, which I’m on right now, and I’m the beneficiary of having my second booster. And even though it’s not ideal to ask Americans to continue to boost, it’s still going to be essential.

The White House is warning we could see 100 million infections this fall. How do you see this fall and winter unfolding?

I know that’s what the White House is doing, but I don’t quite understand the logic of jumping to fall and winter. We still have two big peaks that are hitting us before fall and winter. We have this current BA.2.12.1, which is now about to become the dominant variant. It’s so transmissible, all you need to do is give a dirty look to that subvariant and you become infected. It’s up there with measles. So that’s issue No. 1. And issue No. 2 is we’ve had a terrible wave of Covid-19 both for the last two summers in Texas in the southern United States. I’m expecting that again. Even before the fall, we’re going to have another wave over the summer from variant TBD, to be determined.