Republicans running out of excuses for losing: Lessons from Conor Lamb’s victory

When you run against a handsome candidate (holding a baby lamb, yet) you’re bound to lose. At least according to GOP reasoning.

Not to rub it in, but it must totally suck to be a Republican candidate these days.

Democrat Conor Lamb squeezed out a narrow victory in a Pennsylvania congressional district that Donald Trump won by 20 points. In 2014 and 2016, Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate against the Republican incumbent, Rep. Tim Murphy, who had held the seat since 2003. Except the staunch anti-abortion congressman had to resign when he was caught suggesting in text messages to his lover that she get an abortion.

The district had been rated R+11 by the Cook Political Report. Republicans and outside groups poured a gusher of money into the race between Lamb and GOP State Rep. Rick Saccone—about $10.7 million on the GOP side from outside groups, compared with $2.6 million on the Democratic side. But as the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love.”

Even though Saccone still hasn’t conceded, the rest of his party knows that the loss is a disaster, even if the preferred term is “wake-up call.” The GOP tried to spin the loss of this congressional seat in more ways than a field full of wind turbines in a tornado, but they just looked dumber and dumber.

The nitwits on Fox & Friends chalked up Lamb’s victory to his good looks: “Absolutely, cuteness counts,” said co-host Brian Kilmeade. Here was the take from ThinkProgress:

Rather than contemplate that Trump’s popularity has sagged or that Saccone’s conservative policy proposals did not win votes, perhaps it was easier to blame the outcome on the dashing good looks of the 33-year-old Democrat trumping those of the 60-year-old Republican — though it is worth noting that septuagenarian Donald Trump beat out more than a dozen younger candidates in his 2016 run.

And speaking of looks: Possibly the most innovative excuse came from a GOP strategist who chose to remain anonymous (wouldn’t you?) in this comment to The Washington Examiner when he blamed it all on Saccone’s mustache. ″It’s a porn stache,” the strategist said. Hey, if my party’s president was embroiled in a scandal with adult film star Stormy Daniels, I wouldn’t bring up anything with the word “porn” in it. Just sayin’.

Many in the GOP blamed the candidate himself for running a “lackluster campaign.” From a story on Huffington Post:

“This may not be nice to say: The fact is that the Saccone campaign was a joke. If we had a candidate who could walk and chew gum at the same time, we would have [easily] won the race,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, in a statement.

Ever think it might be something else, GOP? Like your policies are unpopular, your incumbents look weak and scared when they run away from their own constituents, your president’s approval numbers are circling the drain, and you’re ignoring the will of the American people on issues like DACA, health care, and gun violence?

Before the election, Saccone and the Republicans tried to paint Lamb, a center-left Democrat, as a flaming liberal. GOP ads touting their big tax scam bill had no effect, so they went after Lamb personally: He was weak on crime and was hit with everything else in the usual GOP playbook, including the culture wars. He was “Nancy Pelosi’s little Lamb.” Obviously, when all else fails, bring up Nancy Pelosi.

Saccone himself minced no words. “The other side,” he said, “… has a hatred for our president … for our country. I’ll tell you some more, my wife and I saw it again today. They have a hatred for God.”

Yet after Lamb won, the GOP claimed that the guy who had a hatred for God (Lamb is a devout Catholic, BTW) secretly ran as a Republican all along, or at least as a conservative Democrat. That’s quite a conversion in 24 hours.

Not so fast, Lyin’ Ryan.

Probably the most ridiculous excuse came from Trump himself. The weekend before the election, Trump spent an hour at a Saccone rally either insulting people or bragging about himself to his red-meat base, predicting that Saccone would win easily. After the loss, during a private fundraiser in Missouri for GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley, Trump said the only reason Lamb won was because … he was like Trump. According to an audio recording from the fundraiser sent to The Atlantic:

“The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis,” Trump said. “He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’ ”

Spoiler alert: Lamb never said any of those things. Seeing how Trump seems to get policy ideas and talking points from Fox & Friends, I’m surprised he didn’t mention Lamb’s looks, too. Other claims from Trump officials that Lamb “really embraced Trump’s policies and positions” are just as laughable. Said an analysis on CNN:

Instead of blaming Saccone or crediting Lamb, it makes far more sense to consider that the President’s performance in office was the key factor in Pennsylvania. Having purchased what Trump was selling once, Americans have been carefully assessing what their votes bought.

You can use whatever cliches you want: The winds have changed, the tide has turned, the handwriting is on the wall. But there’s a definite blue wave at work. The Pennsylvania race might be the first House seat that flipped, but Democrats have flipped 39 seats from red to blue in state races since Trump took office. The Cook Political Report keeps changing its ratings, making House races more and more favorable for Democrats. Currently, the score is that only three districts with a Democrat in office are rated as toss-ups, while 27 GOP seats are toss-ups. There are actually more solid Democratic seats (175) than Republican seats (167). The generic congressional ballot polling on midterm elections keeps favoring Democrats, although the percentage point difference grows and shrinks.

The latest entry from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another election soothsayer, points out that recent House special elections all featured “pronounced swings” against Republicans, and there are two more tests coming up.

As things stand, two other congressional districts will have special elections before the 2018 midterm election: AZ-8 on April 24 and OH-12 on Aug. 7. Based on the 2016 election, the presidential lean of the two districts favors Republicans — R +24.5 in AZ-8 and R +14.1 in OH-12. However, if the swings in those contests follow the average swing during the Trump era (D +13.7), they will be competitive races. This is particularly true of OH-12, which would see its Republican lean essentially neutralized by the average swing in congressional contests. The PA-18 result should scare Republicans, but if the GOP loses OH-12 just three months before the midterm election, those fears will grow exponentially.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight sees a huge enthusiasm gap between voters in the two parties. He claims that a Democratic wave could become a tsunami, mostly because of high voter turnout in traditionally blue areas.

Republicans have one less excuse for their string of really awful special election performances. It’s true that other measures aren’t as bad for Republicans as these special elections — for instance, they trail Democrats by “only” 8 or 9 percentage points on the generic congressional ballot, which suggests a close race for control of the House this year that only narrowly favors Democrats. By contrast, the 16- or 17-point average Democratic overperformance in special elections so far suggests a Democratic mega-tsunami. …

There were signs of an enthusiasm gap even within Pennsylvania 18 on Tuesday night. According to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, turnout in Democratic-leaning Allegheny County equaled 67 percent of presidential-year turnout, but voters turned out at only 60 percent of presidential levels in Republican-leaning Westmoreland County. That sort of turnout gap suggests that registered-voter polls could be underrating Democrats in this year’s midterms — and could turn a challenging year for Republicans into a catastrophic one.

We need to take all of this with shakers full of salt until it’s time to vote in the fall—especially in the Senate, with 26 Democratic incumbents facing re-election, some in tough races. Still, candidates with a “D” after their names can see the enthusiasm, while many in the “R” column must be sweating bullets. Combine that with the huge number of women candidates (Emily’s List now says the number of candidates seeking assistance has reached an unheard-of 34,000), the newly registered 18-year-olds who are focusing like lasers on gun violence, Trump’s miserable approval ratings, and the continuing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and you just might have that big blue wave after all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 18, 2018.

Kids will lead on gun reform when lawmakers won’t

Thank you.

As we look at video and photos of the hundreds of thousands of students who walked out of class to fight for gun reform, we can be thankful that they’re not afraid to step up.

Hundreds of students at our local suburban school in Illinois, Oak Park and River Forest High School, joined with others around the country to remind elected officials that the rules have changed. No longer will the issue of gun safety fade away after a mass shooting.

You bet we’ve had #Enough.

Because the kids aren’t going to let that happen.

The National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, and Republican lawmakers still think they can just wait it out until the country’s attention turns to the latest Trump scandal. But the game has changed. These kids and their protests are going to be in their faces. Especially on Election Day, when those who have turned 18 make their way to the polls for the first time.

Many of the students, including the adult onlookers, were dressed in orange, the color that has come to symbolize the gun control campaign. This was a silent march and protest. Instead of chants, students marched in the street while adults faced them from the sidewalk, many holding signs simply saying, “Thank you.”

Many students carried signs. Some signs listed the names of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, with the admonition, “It ends now.”

Many of the signs simply pleaded their case:

  • No more devastation, because I want an education.
  • It could have been us.
  • Give us a shot with life, not bullets.
  • Books, not bullets.
  • Schools, not war zones.
  • We march because they can’t.
  • Protect people over guns.
  • Congress: Protect children.
  • How many deaths will it take?
  • Ask yourself: Do you need that gun?
  • Teachers are teachers, not security.
  • #NeverAgain.
  • #WeWantChange.
  • Fear has no place in school.
  • Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.
  • We are the future.

Yes, you do.

We know Congress won’t do anything right now, given its current makeup. And while some states are passing laws, it’s only a first step.

Multiple polls show that vast and growing majorities of Americans favor common-sense gun safety measures, such as universal background checks for all gun sales (even private ones), a ban on assault-style weapons, a ban on bump stocks, three-day waiting periods to buy weapons, prevention of sales of firearms to people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors, restrictions on gun purchases by those who have been reported to law enforcement as being a threat to themselves or others, expanding treatment and screening of the mentally ill, and limits on the size of ammunition magazine clips, and the creation of a national database on gun sales.

Lawmakers on the wrong side of the gun safety issue are going to get a big wake-up call come November.

One couple brought their granddaughter, knowing how frightening the future might be. Let’s follow this toddler’s advice and flex our electoral muscles over gun reform.

Let’s keep it safe for kids like her. And vote!

Who ISN’T corrupt in the Trump White House? Kellyanne Conway is latest example

Grifters all: Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway is just the latest Trump appointee to face ethics charges, even if there’s no downside for her.

White House senior economic adviser Gary Cohn is the latest to join the revolving door of Donald Trump appointees who are running for (or being pushed toward) the exits. One name we’d love to add to that list is Kellyanne Conway.

Conway, the senior adviser who loves to brag that she’s been offered the post of communications director “many times,” was found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, the law that forbids officials in the executive branch to campaign as a part of their official duties. This latest violation was in reference to appearances on (where else) Fox News, during which she advocated for the election of Alabama Republican and shopping-mall exile Roy Moore to the Senate.

The White House Office of Special Counsel found that she overstepped the bounds of the Hatch Act. Not that anything will happen to @KellyannePolls, who remains one of Trump’s staunchest backers and can always be counted on to lie in the face (remember her “alternative facts” claims?) of any cable TV interviewer.

Nope, she’s still hanging around. According to a report from The Washington Post:

The OSC’s letter to Trump read: “In passing this law, Congress intended to promote public confidence in the Executive branch by ensuring the federal government is working for all Americans without regard to their political views. Ms. Conway’s statements during the Fox & Friends and New Day interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”

The punishment for the violation was left to the White House, which wasted little time making clear that there wouldn’t be any punishment.

“Public confidence in the Executive branch.” There’s an oxymoron in the time of Trump. With chartered jets, first-class air travel, $31,000 dining room sets, and $139,000 doors, there’s no reason for confidence anywhere. That doesn’t even include the guilty pleas and indictments of Trump officials being racked up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. So far.

Conway, of course, had been found in violation of ethics rules before when she became a shill for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. Nothing happened to her then, either. Nor did anything happen to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when he promoted one of his own private ventures, The LEGO Batman Movie.

Which brings us to the question: How egregious does an offense have to be to get fired from this White House? Because there’s a long list of guilty parties, and most of them are still hanging around.

The Hatch Act, also called “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” was passed in 1939 in response to charges that some Democrats had used jobs in the Works Progress Administration as rewards, also having those in WPA jobs as campaign workers. The law was named for its sponsor, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Carl Hatch.

Full disclosure: Our daughter actually worked for the Obama White House for six years, albeit in a lower-level capacity. But she had to undergo a rigorous security clearance, with FBI agents visiting our neighbors (she was not long out of college) to find out information about her. Neighbors jokingly asked us if she was signing up to work for the CIA.

But when it came to the Hatch Act, there was no question about the delineation of roles. Every employee was told in no uncertain terms: You. Do. Not. Campaign. As. Part. Of. Your. Official. Job. Every employee attended a mandatory reminder session every year. No political phone calls from White House phones. No email from government computers. The list of advisory rules went on and on.

Of course, that was then, under President Obama, who obviously thought that laws applied to him and to those his administration hired. During the Trump years, there apparently are no rules.

Some complain that the Hatch Act is outmoded in today’s world, especially in an age of constant TV presence and social media. Maybe that’s true. But it’s still the law.

The WaPo piece adds that two other administration officials also were found to have violated the Hatch Act in some of their tweets backing or attacking certain candidates: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and social media director Dan Scavino. Apparently nothing happened to them, either.

Now that Trump has officially launched his re-election campaign, the White House Office of Special Counsel took the step of issuing new guidance:

“For example, while on duty or in the workplace,” the guidelines read, “employees may not: wear, display, or distribute items with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ or any other materials from President Trump’s 2016 or 2020 campaigns; use hashtags such as #MAGA or #ResistTrump in social media posts or other forums; or display non-official pictures of President Trump.”

HA! Yeah, like that will stop any Trump appointee from doing any of those things. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will probably wear a red “Keep America Great” hat while holding the press briefings.

Columnist Jennifer Rubin, also writing in The Washington Post, makes the point that Trumpland stopped worrying about following any rules from Day One.

The expectation of compliance with the law and concern about the appearance of impropriety are entirely absent from this administration for one very simple reason: Trump has set the standard and the example. Don’t bother with the rules. If caught, just make up stuff. …

The brazenness with which this administration tramples rules designed to prevent both corruption and the misuse of taxpayers’ money for personal or political purposes should not surprise, but it should draw our condemnation. Congress has encouraged this lawlessness by failing in its fundamental duty of oversight and in failing to beef up ethics rules.

Going forward, no president should be able to withhold release of his tax returns, or maintain control of active businesses. No president should allow his unqualified family members to hold high government posts — especially when they cannot even qualify for a security clearance. No president should be allowed to enrich himself while in office. (It is bad enough that they do it after they leave office.)

We won’t be holding our collective breaths waiting for any of that.

Son-in-law Jared Kushner, who incredulously still has a job as Trump’s senior adviser despite the yanking of his “temporary” top security clearance, is now said to have a security clearance lower than the White House calligrapher.

But let’s give the calligrapher a pass. The calligrapher, Patricia Blair, has been in that office for many years and has served three presidents. The only reason she has any security clearance at all is that she needs access to the president’s schedule to ensure the accuracy of invitations.

So at least when it comes to beautiful handwriting, maybe the White House has some standards after all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 11, 2018.

Thanks for celebrating women with new Barbies, Mattel. Now make them normal size.

Don’t get me wrong, Mattel: I’m thrilled to see these role models. But why did you have to make them so skinny, as usual?

In honor of International Women’s Day, the toy giant Mattel is releasing a new batch of Barbies based on real-life women who can only be called “sheroes.” But even sheroes need a little meat on their bones.

“Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models past and present in an effort to inspire more girls,” Mattel said in a news release announcing the new group of 17 dolls. The new figures are based on a series of women from around the globe of different nationalities, ethnicities, races, cultures and vocations, all of who have made a difference in the world. They are listed as either sheroes or “inspiring women,” such as aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson and artist Frida Kahlo.

The 2018 sheroes include boxing champion Nicola Adams, fashion designer and entrepreneur Vicky Martin Berrocal, chef Hélène Darroze, soccer player Sara Gama, actress and philanthropist Xiaotong Guan, conservationist Bindi Irwin, Wonder Woman filmmaker Patty Jenkins, snowboarding champion Chloe Kim, windsurfer Çağla Kubat, golfer Lorena Ochoa, designer and entrepreneur Leyla Piedayesh, volleyball champion Hui Ruoqi, ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and journalist Martyna Wojciechowska. You can link to the accomplishments of all these women at the online news release.

These accomplished women join other Barbies inspired by women of note of past years, including gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas, film director Ava DuVernay, ballerina Misty Copeland, and fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad. Mattel started its Barbie sheroes series in 2015.

Now, a few of these dolls, such as the Barbie based on model and body activist Ashley Graham, who gained fame by breaking the stereotype of the skin-and-bones mannequin and being a “curvy model,” a term she prefers over “plus-size,” have more realistic proportions. There is some height difference, too, in these new models. But most of them have the dimensions that could still fit into all of the skinny Barbie fashions, from the slinky black sequined “Solo in the Spotlight” gown to every bikini Barbie ever wore to the pool in her Dream House.

Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wasn’t thrilled with the look of the new dolls, saying, “they couldn’t house a vital organ among them.”

Remember those charts a few years back that showed how Barbie’s proportions would translate if she were a real woman? She’d have a 16-inch waist, according to one chart, which would be 4 inches thinner than her head and leave room for only half a liver. Her wrists would be 3.5 inches around, her ankles would be 6 inches around, and she’d likely have to walk on all fours.

Which seem like some major impediments to the feats accomplished by Earhart, the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, Kahlo, a legendary artist, and Johnson, a mathematician hired by NASA to calculate the trajectory of the first American-manned flight into space. …

Creating the Inspiring Women dolls ($29.99 each) with more realistic proportions would have meant other Barbie clothing and accessories wouldn’t fit them, which may have struck designers as limiting.

But it would have been symbolic and powerful to use this new series as a line in the sand — a moment to say, “Real women in history deserve realistic body types. Here you go.”

Here is an interview Stevens did on the subject, in which all three women agreed that Mattel missed a major opportunity.

The study about Barbie’s unrealistic dimensions cited by Stevens was sponsored by in 2013. Rather than just dump on Mattel, the study drew attention to eating disorders, including anorexia, and the fact that too many girls obsess about their weight and body image. seems to be a for-profit company with rehabilitation centers for alcohol, drug, and behavioral disorders, including eating disorders. So even if its motives in the study were to increase business, that doesn’t make the conclusions any different.

An even bigger reason for the almost-one-size-fits-all-Barbies is that, with the millions of Barbies sold, Mattel needs a standard manufacturing process so that Barbie doll molds can be used interchangeably. Having several of them in multiple sizes would cost more. And some changes have been made: In 1998, Barbie’s waist actually grew bigger, and her bust grew smaller.

Mattel says it chose the new figures after polling 8,000 mothers around the globe and finding that “86% of moms surveyed are worried about the kind of role models their daughters are exposed to.” It adds, “Barbie honors women who have broken boundaries in their fields and have been an inspiration to the next generation of girls with a one-of-a-kind doll made in their likeness.”

Fair enough, and laudable. Girls need more and better role models from all walks of life, and from all over the world. It’s moving to see dolls in all different skin tones, with every color and texture of hair, sometimes even covered with a head scarf. But it would be even healthier to expand the manufacturing process to include dolls of more normal size.

There’s no doubt that Barbie is big — make that YUGE — business. According to Mattel’s “Fast Facts About Barbie” page:

  • Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts (who knew?)
  • Barbie stands 11.5 inches tall.
  • Barbie has had more than 180 “inspirational” careers.
  • Barbie is the most popular fashion doll ever produced, and the brand continues to dominate sales in the fashion doll segment with gross sales in 2014 of $1.01 billion worldwide.
  • Although she has never won an election, Barbie has run for president six times.

COME ON, MATTEL. You can do better than that. Couldn’t we at least have a Gov. Barbie or Mayor Barbie, or something?

It’s been decades since I played with a Barbie doll, and it was never my go-to choice of plaything anyway. My strongest memory of playing with Barbie was when a friend discovered that some—not all—of Barbie’s clothes actually fit the Ken doll, too. Was some toy designer deep within Mattel having a little fun at the public’s expense? Or were they more open-minded than we thought? I guess we’ll never know.

Our two daughters were never big Barbie aficionados, either. I know they both received one each as birthday gifts, but some of their friends looked down their noses when the girls admitted that they had only one Barbie. Whereas we used to change Barbie’s outfits depending on our chosen adventure for the fashion doll, apparently as years passed, that practice morphed into the need to have multiple Barbies, each with their own outfits, hairstyles, and career choices. No, our girls cast the Barbies aside and instead turned their vast collection of stuffed animals into opposing armies (they were “Beanie Baby Wars” in our house), supposedly to determine whether cats or dogs would achieve world domination. As I recall, the outcomes were usually a draw.

But back to the Barbie sheroes. To be fair, many of the women used as Barbie models were thrilled with Mattel’s new emphasis on women empowerment, unrealistic body types be damned.

So thanks, Mattel. Let’s celebrate women’s accomplishments all month—and every month! But let’s remember that most women come in all sizes and shapes, not just those who fit into a size zero bathing suit.

Gun reform will be up to states — for now

The fight is being led by student activists like Cameron Kasky of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died in a mass shooting on Feb 14. Even though they realize change will come slowly, they won’t stop fighting.

The new energy in the fight for common-sense gun safety laws is being felt nationwide. But given the current makeup of Congress, it’s highly unlikely that anything meaningful will pass in 2018.

Some states, however, are looking to succeed where Congress is failing. Laws are starting to be passed, one by one, area by area.

When 17 people died in a mass shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students started a mass movement that is turning the politics of gun reform upside down. Major corporations are severing ties with the National Rifle Association, ending longtime discount programs for NRA members. Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that the chain no longer would sell assault-style weapons or high-capacity magazines, and that the minimum age to purchase a gun was now 21. By the end of the day, Walmart followed suit to raise the minimum age of gun and ammunition sales to 21 (the company dropped the sale of assault-style weapons in 2015). The grocery chain Kroger, which sells guns through its Fred Meyer stores in four Western states, also joined the club of refusing to sell to anyone under 21.

At the same time, Dick’s Sporting Goods went further. In a press release, the company called for a ban an assault weapons, universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and a universal database of those who are banned from buying any firearms. Despite Donald Trump’s seeming embrace of some of these ideas (at least temporarily), congressional action is unlikely.

Progress is slow and incremental, but that’s to be expected. At least until Nov. 6, when some lawmakers fighting gun restrictions might find themselves out of a job.

Stricter gun laws are backed by growing numbers of Americans. These proposals are supported by majorities of Americans in numerous polls (sometimes by as much as 97 percent):

  • Restrictions on gun purchases by people who have been reported as dangerous to law enforcement by mental health providers.
  • Expanding screening and treatment for the mentally ill.
  • Universal background checks for all gun purchases, even private ones.
  • Prevention of sales of firearms to people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors.
  • A raise in the age limit on gun purchases to 21 years old, especially for assault-style weapons.
  • A ban on the sale of “bump stocks,” such as those used by the shooter in the Las Vegas massacre, which have the effect of turning a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic one.
  • A three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
  • Creation of a national database with information about each gun sale.
  • Limits on the size of ammunition magazine clips.

It’s doubtful the NRA saw that kind of support coming.

Some states have passed or are considering action. Here’s at least a partial roundup:

Oregon was first out of the gate. The new measure, passed only six days after the Valentine’s Day mass shooting, bans people convicted of stalking and domestic violence or under restraining orders from buying or owning firearms and ammunition. The state Senate passed the bill, 16-13; the state House had passed it on Feb. 15, 37-23. Gov. Kate Brown, who lobbied hard for the bill, has said she will sign the legislation. This bill addresses the so-called “boyfriend loophole” so that partners, and not just married partners, are covered in the legislation.

Republican Knute Buehler, a gubernatorial candidate, joined House Democrats in voting for the bill. “I think survivors of domestic violence shouldn’t have to live in fear that their abusers can obtain a firearm,” Buehler said. Guess he can see which way the wind is blowing.

Of course, there is federal legislation proposed to close the boyfriend loophole. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, applies only to married abusers. But it’s not being debated because it would take away someone’s right to buy a gun, even if it’s an unmarried domestic abuser. Research by Everytown for Gun Safety shows that “the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be shot and killed.”

Northeast states are banding together. Democratic governors in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have announced a partnership to fight gun violence. The “States for Gun Safety Coalition” already has drawn three new members outside of the original four: Delaware, Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico.

The governors said Congress should be taking action, but, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it, “We’re not going to hold our breath and we’re not going to risk our children’s lives.” Said Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo: “Governors from both sides of the aisle are coming together to take action on gun violence. We cannot afford to wait another minute for Washington.”

According to a CNN story on the new plan:

The coalition will start a multi-state task force to trace the sale and use of out-of-state guns in crimes, the group’s memorandum says. Intelligence agencies and law enforcement from the coalition states also will share information — for example, about individuals disqualified from possessing a firearm.

The group also will start a Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium, likely through state universities. The state leaders hope such dedicated research will pick up the slack where the federal government has dropped the ball.

The current lack of gun violence research is due to federal government policies, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said.

“We have to remember that the federal government has had a provision in place now for over 20 years that effectively bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence. So it has devolved to the states, now for over 20 years, and our thought is perhaps if we can do it in a coordinated way, the more of us at it, hopefully  the better result and meaningfully propelling things like smart gun technology,” Murphy said.

Illinois is considering — and passing — gun safety measures. Large rallies greeted lawmakers in the state capital as the Illinois House was set to consider multiple bills. Buses full of gun safety activists from Moms Demand Action traveled to Springfield to rally for their cause. Also on hand in support of the proposals were Chicago Cardinal Blase Kupich, gun safety activist Father Michael Pfleger, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

This young demonstrator in Illinois has it right.

The House passed measures banning the sale of bump stocks, raising the age to purchase an assault weapon to 21, and instituting a three-day waiting period for assault weapons sales. It deferred action on some others, including setting up a hotline to report dangerous persons and a proposal to ban high-capacity magazines and the civilian use of body armor. That bill was named in honor of a Chicago police commander who was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 13. That officer’s accused killer was wearing body armor and had a semiautomatic weapon with a high-capacity magazine.

But the big win was passage of a Senate-passed measure to license gun dealers, which was first introduced in 2003. The bill requires training of all employees and videotaping of certain areas of the dealerships. Proponents say it will limit straw purchases of guns, while the NRA-Illinois predictably warned that gun dealerships would close. (Like that’s a bad thing?) The bill now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican facing a tough re-election battle. He has a conservative primary challenger, State Rep. Jeanne Ives, who voted against the gun dealership licensing bill and who is urging Rauner not to sign it. Rauner has not indicated whether he will sign the bill, but he has 60 days to decide, which gives him breathing room before the March 20 primary.

Even Florida is considering some action. It was less—a lot less—than the Stoneman Douglas students wanted, but the Florida Legislature took a few baby steps, although nothing has passed yet. The Florida Senate rejected bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks that the students sought (a bump stock ban did pass a Florida House committee). Lawmakers also rejected creating a firearms registry and requiring that private gun sales be done through a licensed dealer. There’s a reason Florida is called the “gunshine state.”

Instead, they are considering several related measures, including giving law enforcement more power to seize guns in cases of threats or potential danger and setting up a “school marshal” plan, with $67 million to train teachers to use guns. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has announced $500 million for school safety, including metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks. But there is a movement, led by some Florida mayors, to back a state constitutional amendment banning assault weapons.

In a rare weekend session, the Florida Senate first seemed to pass (by voice vote) a ban on AR-15s, only to backtrack when votes were counted. But arming teachers was still A-OK.

Vermont is considering some restrictions. The Green Mountain State has a rural hunting culture and some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country. But now the Legislature is considering two possibilities: letting law enforcement remove guns from those considered at extreme risk of harming themselves or others, and expanding background checks.

Washington state has similar ideas on the table. Among the proposals are raising the age to purchase an assault weapon to 21, instituting background checks, banning bump stocks, and creating a program so students can report potential threats.

Wyoming removes immunity provision from stand-your-ground bill. Lawmakers ignored NRA threats and made the measure the same as current Wyoming law, which allows people to use force in self-defense but only if “reasonable.” A group called Wyoming Gun Owners and the NRA had sent notes to legislators warning against the change, threatening that such a move would affect their NRA scores.

Of course, several states are going in the opposite direction, and loosening gun restrictions. According to a story in The New York Times:

  • Indiana is proposing abolishing the $125 lifetime fee for a license to carry a handgun and allowing weapons in churches that are attached to schools.
  • Kansas is considering lowering the age at which people can carry hidden, loaded guns in public to 18 from 21.
  • In South Dakota, a “self-defense” bill would allow people to carry guns on the grounds of schools or churches. Another proposal would allow “law-abiding citizens” to carry a gun without a concealed-carry permit.
  • In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered safety information to be distributed to all schools. He wants assurances that all schools have completed “safety audits” and that all have emergency plans. (Well, it’s Texas—you wouldn’t expect anything else, right?)
  • An Oklahoma school district has installed bullet-proof shelters in several classrooms. Of course, that doesn’t help much if it’s your own teacher shooting the gun, as happened in Georgia.

Oh, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has appointed a committee to study the matter (there’s real leadership for you). The Legislature is considering both gun restrictions and loosening of gun laws.

Support for gun safety measures is “surging” in the polls, says a report by Politico. And the biggest growth in such support is coming from a surprising source.

Much of that increased support comes from Republicans, according to Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.

“Republican support for tougher gun laws is at its highest point since Morning Consult and POLITICO began tracking the issue,” said Dropp. “In this week’s poll, 53 percent of Republicans indicated they supported stricter gun laws, compared to 37 percent [of Republicans] who said the same following the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.”

That’s why it’s no surprise that even some Republicans in Congress are considering going against their NRA overlords and moving forward on some gun restrictions. These are mostly GOP House members in suburban districts who are feeling the heat on guns. Here’s a Washington Post story quoting a piece from the Washington Examiner:

This quote, from GOP Rep. Ryan Costello, who represents Philadelphia suburbs, is key: “The gun safety issue, or movement, is much more organized, much more effective.” Costello added that gun safety has “now taken on more priority” as one of those “quality of life, safety issues” that “a lot of suburban voters look at.”

It’s still unlikely to happen in this Congress, given GOP stubbornness, Donald Trump’s wavering positions, and his nonsensical rants about (among other things) arming teachers. Senate GOP leaders made clear that they would be willing to make only limited changes on gun laws, such as giving state and local officials more incentive to report relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went so far as to shelve plans to vote on any gun laws and instead focus on banking legislation.

But hey, we’ll take support for common-sense gun safety laws wherever we can get it.

Until the midterm elections. Then all bets are off.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, March 4, 2018.

Watch out, NRA: There’s new momentum in gun reform fight

Thousands of teenagers from multiple high schools across Florida descended on the state capital to demand reforms in gun laws.

Something is definitely different in the movement for stronger gun safety laws this time around.

The impetus comes from the honest and heartfelt pain, anger, and eloquence of the teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 of their classmates and teachers were killed by an expelled student with an AR-15 in the Valentine’s Day mass shooting. Their televised speeches and media appearances criticizing the National Rifle Association and legislative inaction have gone viral worldwide.

These students are unafraid to call out the NRA or state and federal lawmakers. As one Stoneman Douglas student, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky, said in an op-ed published on CNN:

We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises. And so, I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now.

Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience—our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of school.

But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account. This time we are going to pressure them to take action. This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses.

There are right-wing conspiracies and smear jobs claiming that the students are being coached by adults, or that the entire Parkland shooting was a “false flag” fictional event, designed to take away people’s guns. In the most ridiculous assertion, some conspiracy nuts charge that the students aren’t students at all but are paid actors who “move from crisis to crisis.” Some threats are more serious: Kasky himself reported on Twitter that he was receiving death threats. At least media outlets are exposing the right-wing lies for what they are, and Google has removed some of the most outlandish conspiracy videos about the Parkland survivors from YouTube.

While these student leaders are obviously students, many have speaking and academic experience that’s coming in handy. Student David Hogg, managing editor of the student TV station at Stoneman Douglas, described how students in debate classes and on the debate team researched and argued about gun control last fall, gathering information that serves them perfectly right now in their media interviews and talks with legislators. Disputing the “paid actor” conspiracy theory, Kasky, a veteran of high school theater, joked to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “If you had seen me in our school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, you would know that nobody would pay me to act for anything.” When people remarked after her impassioned speech that student Emma González should run for president, she said she already was president—of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. In her AP Government class, she’s learned all about the influence of special interest groups in American politics, including the NRA—knowledge that served the students well in their successful fight to get companies to sever ties with the gun lobby. Those kids are good.

So a group of telegenic and social media-savvy teenagers is moving the goal posts, just by being unafraid to speak the truth. As a result, there are other signs of movement in the fight for gun safety.

Record numbers are volunteering. The gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action is reporting record turnouts at meetings around the country and unheard-of numbers of new volunteers. Within one week of the shooting, the gun reform group had 75,000 new volunteers ready to join the Parkland teens’ #MarchForOurLives and #NeverAgain movements and work to enact gun safety laws. According to a story from Huffington Post:

For instance, a meeting in Maine that usually has about 20 attendees had over 250 people turn up on Sunday, a meeting in Raleigh that usually has two dozen participants had more than 350 on Monday, and an “advocacy day” calling for action from legislators in Missouri ― which about 150 people attended last year ― had more than 300 participants this week.

Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts says she knows the fight is “a marathon, not a sprint.” But she welcomed the younger new allies.

“I’m excited to let them lead and see where they’ll take us,” Watts said. “There is strength in numbers. We need every generation to get involved. It’s going to be up to the next generation to make sure this work gets finished. This is going to take a while ― and take every American.”

Student protests are growing. Thousands of high school students protesting gun violence and mass shootings marched in the Florida state capital of Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C. Students across the country joined in. There have been reports of student walkouts in schools in multiple cities, including Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh.

About 300 students walked out of classes at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois to protest school shootings. They’re planning bigger walkouts for March 14 and April 20. (Photo by Cathy Cerniglia)

Other student groups organized walkouts in Illinois, Virginia, Minnesota, Arizona, and Michigan. There’s a walkout planned on March 14 for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim. A major nationwide student school walkout is scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students killed 13 people and injured 21. That effort is being coordinated by the official National School Walkout Twitter account, which already has more than 100,000 followers.

And you’d better believe that these kids will all register to vote and deliver their message at the ballot box. A story on Think Progress quotes one of the D.C. student protesters: “I understand marching isn’t automatically going to change legislation … but it’s not just about change,” Montgomery Blair High School student Jedediah Grady told Mother Jones reporter Kara Voght. “Next year I’ll be able to vote.”

Poll numbers for better gun laws are rising. Public support for gun safety measures, already in the majority range, is reaching an all-time high. A new Quinnipiac Poll described such support as being at “record levels.” Support for universal background checks is now at 97 percent, and support for a nationwide ban on assault weapons is at 67 percent.

“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than two years,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Republican lawmakers are feeling the heat. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been severely mocked on Twitter and elsewhere for his initial mealy-mouthed responses to the Parkland shooting, always with references to the millions he’s received from the NRA in campaign contributions. He didn’t fare any better during a CNN Town Hall in Florida, where he was roundly criticized by Parkland parents and student survivors for his inaction. including refusing to say he wouldn’t continue to accept NRA money. By the end of the evening, however, Rubio suggested that he was open to some actions, such as raising the legal age to purchase a rifle and to reducing the size of magazine ammunition clips. (To me, limiting magazine clips should be a no-brainer. That could be the single most effective reform, because shooters always have to buy new ammunition. If they can’t fire as fast, and if their weapon won’t fire as many bullets at once, they’ll have to stop and reload. They’ll kill fewer people.)

Multiple media outlets are publishing lists of lawmakers who have received NRA money. A double-page ad in The New York Times listed the names and phone numbers of 276 members of Congress who have been on the receiving end of NRA contributions. The $230,000 ad was paid for by Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety.

Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman was repeatedly booed during a recent town hall when he offered to discuss what he called “reasonable restrictions within the parameters of the Second Amendment.” Coffman’s Denver-area district contains the Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora, the site of a 2012 mass shooting during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in which 12 people were killed and 70 were injured. Littleton, the site of the Columbine massacre, is just over the district line.

How things have changed. Colorado passed gun restrictions after the Aurora shooting, but two Democratic state lawmakers were recalled in 2014 because of those new laws. Now, Democratic candidates seem more willing to take on both their GOP opponents and the gun lobby over the issue, demanding that Coffman return his NRA campaign contributions.

“Thoughts and prayers” don’t cut it anymore. It took long enough, but it’s doubtful we’ll be hearing those words again anytime soon in responses to gun violence. Slate reports that GOP lawmakers have gotten the message that the empty phrase is worse than meaningless, even if they’re still not willing to take any meaningful action.

Either way, the backlash seems to have worked, in the narrowest sense. The public responses to Parkland suggest that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become sufficiently toxic that politicians have learned not to deploy it as part of their public response to tragedy. Of course, the quiet expiration of one specific phrase does not mean Republican lawmakers are doing anything beyond thinking and praying about gun violence. Many of them still offered variations on the promise to pray for victims and the Parkland community. But it does mean they have been successfully shamed into changing one tiny aspect of their behavior. In the dismal context of the American conversation about guns, that just might count as a positive step.

Even Donald Trump is playing lip service. He’s testing the waters on such issues as background checks and banning bump stocks. During a White House “listening session” with parents and survivors of both the Parkland shooting and the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of 26 students and teachers, Trump listened as tearful parents and students described their experiences. Most strongly disagreed with Trump’s NRA-backed proposals for arming teachers and ending gun-free zones around schools. His words about mental health also rang hollow, since he signed a law reversing President Obama’s moves to make it harder for mentally ill people to buy guns.

And given Trump’s track record on not following through on his promises, why should anyone in that group meeting in the White House State Dining Room believe what he says, anyway?

So what are your plans for March 24? The main #MarchForOurLives event will be in Washington, but related marches are being planned all over the country. The group’s website is still in its early stages, but it offers a chance to organize your own local march, to donate money, or even to buy “Merch for the March”—T-shirts and other apparel. The group’s Facebook page lists a growing number of sister marches in cities across the country, even including one at the U.S. Embassy in London. Hundreds of thousands of people already have indicated that they intend to protest with their feet.

I have a feeling that the combined numbers of people in those marches might dwarf even the enormous numbers of those at the Women’s Marches.

The phrase “single-issue voter” often refers to Republican voters who consider a candidate’s stance on abortion to be a make-or-break position. In this year’s midterms, guns could very well be the single issue that Democratic voters think is most important. A story in The Independent put it bluntly:

John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said: “The public is united behind common-sense gun laws. Members of Congress can step up or voters will throw them out.”

No one thinks the path to common-sense gun laws will be easy or quick, and activists have had their hearts broken too many times in the past in the face of congressional inaction. But this time, there’s a new generation of activists who won’t back down.

Be afraid, GOP and NRA. Be very afraid.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 25, 2018.

Despite Trump’s praise of Rob Porter, domestic violence remains a deadly threat

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has received 4 million calls, texts, and chats in the last 20 years.

The emerging facts and photos about former White House staff secretary Rob Porter spell out a dark truth about the prevalence of domestic abuse.

It happens no matter how “strong” women are. White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway foolishly argued in a CNN interview that White House communications director Hope Hicks, who is dating Porter, was “immune” to such abuse because she was a “strong woman.”

Earth to Kellyanne: The perpetrator can be a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, like Porter, or a high school dropout. He can work at the White House or be unemployed. He can be a Mormon or not take part in any religion at all. As Porter’s first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, the one with the black eye in the photos, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post:

Abuse comes in many forms. It is visited on the poor and the rich, the least educated and the most, people with a strong and deep network of friends and family and those without a support structure. And an abusive nature is certainly not something most colleagues are able to spot in a professional setting, especially if they are blinded by a stellar résumé and background.

Domestic violence is an equal-opportunity evil. It transcends race, economic status, income level, education level, religion, political party, sexual orientation, and ethnic background.

Of course, in the case of this White House, it wasn’t just one case. Speechwriter David Sorensen also resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse. Instead of having a black eye like Colbie Holderness, Sorensen’s ex-wife, Jessica Corbett, alleged that Sorenson ran a car over her foot and put out a cigarette on her hand.

Rob Porter was one of more than 100 White House staffers with only an interim rather than a permanent security clearance (a scandal all by itself) as late as last November. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders keeps telling ever-changing stories on why that’s so. When she’s not spouting that nonsense, she’s making laughable claims that “we’ve condemned domestic violence in every way possible.” Sanders touted the fact that the budget proposed by Donald Trump “fully funds” the Violence Against Women Act.

As if there should ever be any question about that funding. But in the age of President Grab-’em-by-the-pussy, nothing is sure.

Here are some quick facts about domestic violence:

  • The United Nations reports that worldwide, 35 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
  • Every day, an average of three or more women in the U.S. are murdered by husbands or boyfriends, says a report from the American Psychological Association.
  • Also from the APA: One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. More than one in three women and more than one in four men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every year, some 10 million women and men are victims of violence by their intimate partners.
  • In 2016, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (and loveisrespect, the hotline’s partner project for teens) answered nearly 325,000 calls, texts, and chats. The hotline (1-800-799-SAFE, or 7233) is open 24/7. Together, both programs have responded to a total of 4 million communications over the last 20 years.

Those are some pretty big numbers and impressive statistics. But apparently they aren’t big enough for Donald Trump.

Just like he did with the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia (some “very fine people”), Trump refused to condemn Porter. Likely because of his own checkered history with women and the charges from 22 women about his own sexual misconduct, Trump always falls back on the “he denied it”  and “he says he’s innocent” lines, refusing to acknowledge the obvious. He praised Porter’s work (“We wish him well. It’s obviously been a tough time for him”) without a word about how tough it’s been for the two wives and girlfriend who were abused.

Comedian and satirist Randy Rainbow has some ideas why.

Trump was finally forced to grudgingly admit that he was “totally opposed” to domestic violence.

“I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know.”

We all know? Actually, we don’t know, because Trump tends to excuse men accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and trolling for teenage girls in shopping malls. Why acknowledge the harm done to women when there are so many great, stand-up guys to praise?

The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, a law that former Vice President Joe Biden always claims as one of his proudest accomplishments. It established the Office on Violence Against Women as part of the Department of Justice. Congress has reauthorized the law three times, although there have been fights over funding and pushback by Republicans over whether the law should apply to same-sex partnerships. (It does.) It also has been expanded to cover Native American women and undocumented immigrants, although since Trump took office, there have been numerous reports that many of those women now fear deportation if they report a partner and thus are making fewer calls.

Here’s what that office’s website has to say about domestic violence:

Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life — therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society’s next generation of victims and abusers.

Yet Trump, the guy “totally against domestic violence,” hasn’t even nominated anyone to head the Office of Violence Against Women.

Actually, the most chilling facts about domestic abusers are these: More than one-half of all mass shootings in the United States are related to domestic or family violence. And nine of the perpetrators of the top 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern America committed violence against women, threatened violence against women, or disparaged women. Those with a history of domestic abuse are supposed by be barred from buying guns. But the quick-check doesn’t affect the guns already owned or those obtained in states with lax gun laws.

If all of this is not enough to take domestic abuse — not to mention the issue of gun safety — seriously, I don’t know what is. And in case there was any doubt: Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school, reportedly had a history of abusing an ex-girlfriend, fighting with the ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, and stalking and threatening other girls at school.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 18, 2018.

Path to resistance may travel through faith

A paper “quilt” of collages depicts numerous approaches to resistance.

There are countless ways to resist the current (and with any luck, temporary) occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Ever since the 2016 election and a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, people across the country have found ways to fight back. To resist.

Almost immediately, grassroots organizing evolved into local Indivisible groups. The thousands of groups across the country are locally based and have local agendas, although the group offers coordinated actions each week. “We’re not the leaders of this movement: you are,” the Indivisible website reminds us. The website also lets users search for local groups and events in their own areas.

Marching; attending town halls; calling, emailing, and pressuring elected officials; running for office; and (especially!) voting and getting others to vote all have been hallmarks of the modern resistance movement. While those tactics are hardly brand new, they have intensified and multiplied. But people have always protested, worldwide.

Some images of protest are burned into our brains. Who can forget the anonymous man who faced down Chinese tanks in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in a huge student-led protest in 1989? The wave after wave of Indians protesting the British salt tax during the 1930 Salt March led by Mohandas Gandhi, only to be beaten and arrested by British troops? And we remember the searing image of Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis as a young man in 1965, joining the throngs going across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on a voting rights march and getting his skull cracked by state troopers’ batons.

This protest photo went viral. (REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman photo)

More recently, there was the July 2016 photo of a calm lone woman who stood up to police officers dressed in riot gear amid the protest of cops shooting an unarmed black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The protestor, Iesha Evans, was detained, and she later took to Facebook to assure friends that she was alive and well. Just as important was her message: “I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel!”

Anyone reading this may or may not believe in a higher power, and even such beliefs may not lead to political activism. But for some, the path to resistance is grounded in their faith.

Throughout history, resistance and protest movements have included people of faith, from every culture and every religion. Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, 500 years ago and set the Protestant Reformation in motion. Gandhi based his movement of nonviolent civil disobedience in the early to mid-20th century in India at least partly on the Hinduism and Jainism he learned from his mother, along with a respect for all religions.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement and protests throughout the South in the 1950s and 1960s. He and a group of 60 pastors and other civil rights leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which he was the first president. Many clergy were involved in the civil rights movement and in protests against the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

An East German Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Christian Führer, started weekly prayer meetings in 1982 at his church in Leipzig to spread the message of peace during the Cold War. By October 1989, those meetings grew to the point where 70,000 people were on the streets to protest the Berlin Wall; a week later, the wall came tumbling down.

Despite acts of terrorism from Islamic extremists, the vast majority of Muslims around the world have been vocal against those attacks. In June of 2017, 10,000 Muslims gathered in Cologne, Germany, to rally against Islamic extremism. The sponsoring group was called NichtMitUns, or Not With Us. At the same time, some 300 imams in Austria signed a declaration calling ISIS the “black sheep” of Islam.

Today, using faith as a basis of protest is no different. Here are just two examples.

The Rev. John Pavlovitz writes about channeling his faith into the need to resist on his well-read blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said. Besides calling out Trump, he doesn’t shy away from criticizing conservative evangelicals who support him. And he’s unapologetic about resisting.

If you’re waiting for me to apologize for emotionally wounding someone with the suggestion that they may not be all that keen on people of color, or that they’re likely afraid of gay people, or that their nationalism is showing because they defend what’s happening here—it’ll be a long wait.

You may want to ask why you’re more willing to protest those who protest, than you are to speak into the injustice itself; why the only thing you feel burdened to openly resist is our resistance. You may be fighting the wrong battle, here.

If you’re more outraged by the tone of this President’s critics, than by his bigotry, dishonesty, misogyny, racism, and environmental recklessness—you’re enabling him, you’re normalizing him, you’re encouraging him.

The Rev. William Barber II has built a movement around Moral Mondays. Barber, who also served as president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, started Moral Mondays in 2007. What started as a move to protest actions by the North Carolina Legislature on issues such as voting rights and living wages has turned into a national movement. A Washington Post story about Barber described what’s behind his activism:

Barber’s admirers say his sermons and speeches, which have intertwined the religious tenets of love, justice and mercy that exist in all faiths with an American vision of morality baked into the Constitution, steal the moral high ground long claimed by political conservatives. …

Between 2013 and 2014, more than 1,000 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience orchestrated by Barber at the state house in response to legislation.

Barber was one of the first in handcuffs.

He believes that the image of religious leaders getting arrested in full garb fired up like-minded people and was impossible for the media to ignore.

And if newspapers wrote about the arrests, they had to write about the reason behind the arrest.

Those supporting Trump aren’t afraid of using their faith as a basis for that support, even when that support is hypocritical. Eighty-one percent of conservative evangelicals backed Trump in the 2016 election—a figure that has dropped by a mere three percentage points despite continued revelations about Trump’s obviously nonreligious lifestyle. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Trump “gets a mulligan” for his alleged affair with and payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels. And don’t discount religious “influence” from foreigners: The National Prayer Breakfast in Washington had more than three times the number of Russian attendees this year than it usually does.

I recently returned from a weekend retreat with some 60 women from two Chicago-area churches. Our theme for the weekend was “Resistance and Hope.”

We were more than ready for it. Many in our group—women ranging from college-age to those in their 90s—joined the Chicago Women’s Marches in both 2017 and  2018. Our involvement in political activities varies greatly, and, while many felt energized by the Women’s March, some wondered exactly what the best direction for all of that energy should be.

The Rev. C.J. Hawking

Our retreat leader was the Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, a faith-based organization that addresses workplace injustices. She is also a pastor specializing in social justice at another Chicago-area church and an adjunct instructor in labor and social movements. One of the first things we learned is that resistance can be defined many ways and take many forms.

“Resistance,” C.J. told us, “is an outward expression of the inward longing for all of us to be united as one human family.” She told of times in the labor movement when she had been arrested (14 times!) and described instances of wage theft where workers later found justice. For instance, a couple working at a car wash weren’t being paid a fair wage and didn’t get paid when there were no cars to wash in bad weather, even though they had to be at work. When both the father and mother were ill, the owner threatened to fire them if they didn’t show up to work, so their teenage children had to skip school to fill in. Arise Chicago found similar situations at car washes throughout the city. It took court intervention to resolve the injustice.

Resistance can take a faith-based approach, C.J. reminded us. Two of the original resisters can be found in the first chapter of Exodus. In Egypt, Pharaoh worried that the transplanted Israelis were becoming too numerous and made them slaves. He ordered two Hebrew midwives, Shiph’rah and Pu’ah, to kill any male newborns of Hebrew mothers. But they resisted and let the babies live. When Pharaoh demanded an answer why, they told him, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19). It’s just like a man to buy that excuse.

You certainly could say that Jesus was a resister. Even the presence of Jesus on Earth was “to start a movement, not to build up institutions,” C.J. said. She firmly believes the resistance movement has a place for a faith-based contingency.

A 45 RPM adapter to protest the 45th president.

C.J. also gave us all a new protest symbol. If you’re old enough to remember buying singles, or 45’s, you remember the little plastic insert (official name: 45 RPM adapter) that allowed the 45 RPM record to fit and play on a turntable with a thin silver spindle that was designed to play an LP album at 33 RPM.

What better image to serve as a metaphor to adapt and fight the presidency of No. 45?

The path of resistance is different for each individual. Not everyone has the physical health or stamina to march. Taking part in such actions, with the chance of getting arrested, raises red flags for those worried about how an arrest record might affect chances of employment.

So whether your path to resistance takes you through a house of worship or not, that path will be what’s right for you. It’s just as important to protest an injustice at a local workplace or municipality as it is to participate in a national march.

“This isn’t about destroying what we hate,” C.J. said. “It’s about saving what we love.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Feb. 11, 2018.

Not just Cleveland Indians: It’s time to retire ALL offensive Native American logos

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian takes a look at the predominance of Native American images in American culture.

The news that the Cleveland Indians are finally retiring Chief Wahoo, the offensive, grinning image that serves as the team’s logo, is long overdue. But actually, it’s long overdue to get rid of every offensive image of Native Americans on sports teams, advertising, products and even official government seals.

The Indians won’t remove the image until 2019, which means the silly face with the single feather will still be on team uniforms, hats, and banners at Cleveland’s Progressive Field throughout the season. The team probably thinks it will earn public relations points for Chief Wahoo’s retirement while it unloads Indians’ merchandise that’s still in stock. (“FINAL YEAR!” You can see the ads now.)

The Indians are not the only team with a name or image that co-opts an offensive image of a Native American for profit—that’s true for teams throughout professional and college sports. Some have changed team names or removed the worst of the images, but too many still keep the red-faced logos.

As bad as the logos are, fan behavior (especially when fueled by alcohol) can be even worse. Use of these logos often encourages some fans to emulate the teams’ images, showing up to games wearing headdresses and other interpretations of Native American garb.

Here are just a few examples—and a look at a new exhibit at Washington’s National Museum of the American Indian that highlights the problem.

The Washington Redskins are still one of the biggest offenders, but don’t expect team owner Daniel Snyder to come up with a new team name. “We’ll never change the name,” he told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.” Oh, and Snyder also donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Most sports team owners tend to be Republicans who donate money to GOP politicians while demanding local tax breaks for new stadiums.

In Illinois, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (full disclosure: my alma mater) retired the mascot of Chief Illiniwek in 2007. For years, many groups, including Native American organizations, had lobbied for the removal of the barefoot dancer dressed in buckskin and feathered headdress and adorned with orange and blue warpaint who danced and entertained the crowds at halftimes of football and basketball games. It finally came down to money: The NCAA ruled that no post-season tournaments could be held on the campus as long as the mascot was still around.

But fans refuse to give up “the Chief.” At a recent home basketball game, a student dressed in full chief regalia prepared to make an appearance, only to be stopped by a faculty member armed with a smartphone camera. As described in the Chicago Tribune:

Jay Rosenstein, a professor and filmmaker who has made a documentary critical of the symbol, said he went to the arena to investigate his suspicion that university employees were helping the Chief, an act he said would undercut the university’s agreement with the NCAA.

He overheard security guards talking about the Chief’s planned appearance, he said, and while recording with his cellphone, followed them to a bathroom he believed served as a staging area.

He said he walked in and encountered Illinois graduate Ivan Dozier, who portrayed the Chief from 2010 to 2015 and is part of the Honor the Chief Society.

Dozier’s version is slightly different. He said he spotted Rosenstein in a concourse and ducked into the bathroom to avoid a confrontation. Rosenstein soon entered, Dozier said, holding up his cellphone.

“He caught me between the urinal and the sink,” Dozier said. “It was definitely a violating experience. There was no way he would have known what he would have seen when he walked in.”

Rosenstein was arrested (“unauthorized video recording”) but the local state’s attorney declined to prosecute. He’s on paid administrative leave while the university investigates. And it wasn’t the only incident.

It was the third Chief-related dispute in recent months to draw police attention. In October, anti-Chief protesters temporarily blocked the route of the homecoming parade, and in a separate incident, a school employee allegedly tore up posters during a presentation Dozier was giving on Chief Illiniwek.

Eleven years after the removal of the Chief Illiniwek mascot, the university still hasn’t chosen a new one. A Tribune editorial thinks more is needed:

Sorry, but simply picking a new mascot isn’t going to solve the problem. College kids who fervently believe the Chief must live on aren’t going to be swayed by the new mascot in town, be it Eagle, Tiger, Bear or Duck.

They might be willing, however, to hear out a reasoned, back-to-basics discussion about how and why a prancing, headdressed mascot in war paint is offensive to many Native Americans. That’s the tack that Chancellor Robert Jones wants to take, and we think it’s the right move.

For some time now, the country has been moving — albeit slowly — away from stereotypical depictions of Native Americans. In the 1990s, the Marquette Warriors became the Golden Eagles. New York’s St. John’s University Redmen are now the Red Storm, and Miami University (Ohio) switched from the Redskins to the RedHawks.

See? It’s not hard to do.

The Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of the American Indian has a new exhibit called “Americans.” It gives a history of the how images of Native Americans became so prevalent in American life. This introductory video, “The Invention of Thanksgiving,” takes a look at that process.

The Los Angeles Times offered a glimpse of the new exhibit, which will run through 2022, in a recent story.

“Many Americans have no interaction with American Indians,” says Paul Chaat Smith, who co-curated the exhibition with Cécile R. Ganteaume, “yet they do know these images and symbols really well and have emotional connections with them.”

A central gallery, which serves as the exhibition’s spine, gathers examples of the ways images of indigenous people have been employed over the centuries: early government seals, fruit crate labels, a Native Barbie doll, an Indian brand motorcycle and even the aforementioned Tomahawk missile. It’s part of the phenomenon that Smith describes in his 2009 book, “Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong,” in which the American Indian became “a kind of national mascot.” …

“It’s looking at how those events entered the national consciousness and lingered there, and how, over time, they entered the popular culture,” says Ganteaume, who is also the author of the highly informative companion book, “Officially Indian: Symbols That Define the United States.” “We are walking the visitor through a shared history that is the history of the country.”

That shared history is wildly complicated. It is one of brutal dispossession, moments of triumph, curious celebrity and a historical narrative that has over time inextricably woven together the Indian with the American in ways that are both meaningful and spurious: the Indian Removal Act, the Battle of Little Bighorn and the tale of Pocahontas, who over the centuries has evolved from key historical figure to Disney princess to racialized term employed by a sitting U.S. president in reference to a senator’s purported Native heritage. …

But the most common visual trope when it comes to American Indians is linked to the cultures of the Plains: the image of an Indian man in an eagle feather headdress.

That image has been featured on T-shirts, matchbooks, feed sacks, baking powder (the still-popular Calumet), hydraulic brake fluid, World War I Army uniforms, fruit company logos, the cover of Cher’s 1973 “Half Breed” album and pouches of chewing tobacco (Red Man — still going strong). There are countless others.

The museum’s website lists other examples: the Land O’Lakes Butter maiden, classic Westerns and cartoons, episodes of Seinfeld and South Park. “Pervasive, powerful, at times demeaning, the images, names, and stories reveal the deep connection between Americans and American Indians as well as how Indians have been embedded in unexpected ways in the history, pop culture, and identity of the United States,” the website adds.

Hey, you think Donald Trump will ever stop referring to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas”? Nah, me neither.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 4, 2018.


#MemoDay: A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. “To call Devin Nunes Donald Trump’s lapdog would be an insult to dogs and laps,” said comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

Congressional Republicans have shown they are willing to sacrifice what little honor they had left by backing the release of the infamous Devin Nunes memo alleging abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department. Too bad they will get nothing for their trouble but the increased enmity of the men and women of the entire U.S. intelligence community.

The memo is a tempest in a teacup. A nothingburger. To quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The focus of the memo written by GOP staffers from the House Intelligence Committee is the FISA warrant application for Carter Page, the former foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Page used to be an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, specializing in Russia and other Eastern European countries. He lived in Russia from 2004-07. A Bloomberg profile of Page described him as having “deep ties to Russian business” and being highly critical of U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The memo is an obvious attempt to undermine the ongoing investigation of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. It is filled with cherry-picked facts, claiming that a surveillance warrant on Page was obtained and renewed with information from a person “with an anti-Trump agenda” without mentioning other intelligence sources justifying the warrant. Here’s how The Washington Post sums it up:

It accuses former officials who approved the surveillance applications – a group that includes former FBI Director James B. Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and current Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — of signing off on court surveillance requests that omitted key facts about the political motivations of the person supplying some of the information, Christopher Steele, a former intelligence officer in Britain. …

The memo is not an intelligence document and reflects information the committee has gathered, which Democrats, the FBI, and Justice Department have criticized as incomplete and misleading.

The memo’s release has been strongly opposed by those in the intelligence community because of the obvious harm it could cause for intelligence agents. The plans for the release even drew a public rebuke of Trump from the FBI.

The Post story further quoted California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committe who (unlike Nunes) has read the intelligence reports. Schiff pointed out the obvious: “No, Mr. President it’s worse than that. The country’s top elected leader has agreed to selectively and misleadingly release classified info to attack the FBI — that’s what would have been unthinkable a short time ago.”

Trump was on a Twitter rampage before the memo’s release, claiming that those same top people at the FBI and the Department of Justice obviously were “in favor of Democrats.” Here’s a reaction to that silly statement from one Democratic senator.

The memo’s release is drawing predictable reactions. Trump and congressional Republicans are thrilled, even though there’s no there there. Trump claimed that “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.”

I can think of lots of people who should be ashamed, and they all have an “R” after their names.

Trump and Republicans further claim they are releasing the memo because of the need for “transparency.”

You know what would be really transparent? The release of Trump’s taxes. That would give Mueller lots of information about the Trump family’s business dealings in Russia, and the American people could see just how deep those ties run.

Here’s one Republican who wasn’t so thrilled with the memo’s release.

When Macbeth speaks the line quoted at the beginning, he is referring to life, which he now sees as meaningless. His wife is dead, he has committed multiple murders, he has betrayed everyone around him, he is haunted by ghosts, and his power as king is fractured and gone. How long until Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress realize that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage”?

We can only hope that Republicans’ hour may be running out before too long.

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