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Texas marches toward Gilead, and tries to drag the rest of the country along with it

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Since the Supreme Court’s decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, establishing a woman’s right to an abortion as constitutionally protected, the Republican party, guided by the so-called “Christian” right, has made the undermining of that right its predominant task, with a single-minded focus unsurpassed by any other policy initiatives, including even cutting taxes. Because the direct victims of this relentless effort to restrict or criminalize the right to an abortion are always women, the oppressive nature of forcing women to bear unwanted children has been couched in disingenuous, high-minded religious dogma (“respect for life”) in an effort to disguise its inherent misogyny. What is occurring right now in the state of Texas dramatically shows that this devaluation of women through enforced control of their reproduction choices has now reached an inflection point of sorts, the natural culmination of a decades-long effort by religious conservatives, through the Republican party, to seize control from women over their own bodies.

Women dressed as “handmaids” greet soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing in 2018.

Unlike the hundreds of anti-choice laws passed by Republican state legislatures in this country up until this year, the Texas “fetal heartbeat” law which criminalizes any abortion performed after six weeks, or when a supposed “fetal heartbeat” may be detected, does not rely on the state for its enforcement. Rather, the Texas law provides a mechanism allowing private citizens opposed to abortion to take matters into their own hands against women they deem unworthy of bodily integrity, by specifically targeting those who assist such women in terminating their unwanted pregnancies.

As explained by Harvard emeritus professor of constitutional law Laurence Tribe and University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, writing for the New York Times:

Not only has Texas banned virtually all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy (a point at which many women do not even know they’re pregnant), it has also provided for enforcement of that ban by private citizens. If you suspect that a Texan is seeking to obtain an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, not only will you be able to sue their provider to try to stop it, but if you succeed, you’ll be entitled to compensation. (And what’s known as the litigation privilege would likely protect you from a defamation claim even if you’re wrong.) The law, known as S.B. 8, effectively enlists the citizenry to act as an anti-abortion Stasi.

The transformation of the anti-choice movement with this new law permitting private citizens to terrorize other private citizens based on their own interpretation of Christian dogma represents a significant escalation in the efforts by so-called Christians (mostly of the white, Evangelical variety but involving many conservative Catholics as well—among others) to impose their theocratic, misogynist beliefs upon women. By allowing any private citizen to file such risk-free lawsuits against whoever they believe is assisting in terminating a pregnancy, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature intentionally sanctioned a form of vigilante justice to be meted out by the religious right against women and those institutions and individuals who support them.

Sabrina Tavernise, who authored the Times initial reporting on the Texas law last week, highlighted its implications.

“If the barista at Starbucks overhears you talking about your abortion, and it was performed after six weeks, that barista is authorized to sue the clinic where you obtained the abortion and to sue any other person who helped you, like the Uber driver who took you there,” said Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University.

As Tribe and Vladeck explain, the reason the law was drafted this way was to try to forestall constitutional challenges—normally only viable when the state is the actor—before the law takes effect. By (in effect) deputizing private citizens, the law cannot, in theory, be challenged as an impermissible, unconstitutional state action before its implementation. Tribe and Vladeck acknowledge that in this respect, the law may be quite effective, “set[ting] an ominous precedent for turning citizens against each other on whatever contentious issue their state legislature chose to insulate from ordinary constitutional review.”

This is because legal challenges to a law’s constitutionality invariably list a state official as a defendant, in order to allow judicial review of any particularly loathsome law before it is used to inflict harm. There is no recognized “defendant” to sue here for purposes of making that challenge because the law simply permits any private citizen to sue. The ultimate purpose of the Texas law (scheduled to go into effect on September 1, 2021) is to embroil abortion providers and others in hundreds of expensive lawsuits brought by other Texas citizens, thus pushing them into bankruptcy.

Its other purpose is to instill fear; as several reproductive services and abortion providers put it in in their complaint seeking an injunction against the law, it essentially “plac[es] a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them.” The providers’ attempt to secure an injunction relies on the untested premise that although no specific state actor can be named, governmental organizations involved in enforcing the law can still be named as defendants in an effort to stop it.

As Tribe and Vladeck point out, in addition to the obvious deterrent impact on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies, this law, if permitted to stand, would spawn hundreds of copycat laws in other states, not only targeting abortion, but pitting citizens against other citizens in matters as far-reaching as gun control and environmental regulation. In other words, it is a recipe for social chaos. In that vein it’s worth noting that nowhere does the Texas law seem to contemplate the reactions likely to be elicited against such private citizens who choose to try to impose their beliefs on strangers by virtue of its provisions. Legal experts have also weighed in, saying that the law makes a “mockery” of the traditional legal system that requires parties to have suffered actual damages before bringing suit. 

One of the distinct hallmarks of The Handmaid’s Tale is the overwhelming paranoia of the society it portrays, specifically the fact that the religious dictates and government edicts governing social interactions are enforced through widespread fear and social distrust. That distrust is deliberately and carefully cultivated and maintained so that citizens feel compelled to inform on one another, whether out of self-preservation or religious fervor, just as this Texas law is intended. Ultimately, that fear and paranoia are the most efficient tools to fulfill the government’s true aim, which is simply maintaining its own power.

The corollary lesson of both the book and the TV series is that all of the rights which people take for granted can be whisked away in a moment by an unscrupulous, cynical government which learns how to stoke its citizens’ worst impulses through a toxic mixture of religious zealotry and government power, particularly when a national crisis avails it of the opportunity.

While it is often problematic to cite dystopian fiction as an indicator of current political trends, the fact that Atwood’s novel was directly inspired by the anti-choice rhetoric of the Reagan era and the accompanying backlash by so-called ”Christian” groups against women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights, exempts it from that category of fiction deemed “science fiction.” As Atwood herself has stated, the work is actually “speculative” fiction, but in the decades since its publication,  the future as imagined by Atwood has come closer and closer to established fact, particularly as a Supreme Court now transformed by an overtly anti-choice conservative majority stands poised to overrule Roe or thoroughly gut what protections it still provides for women.

With this law, Texas, and the Republican party which controls it, have brought us one step closer to that future.


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Gaetz and Greene’s joint fundraising efforts are hemorrhaging money

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Not well, it turns out! The Daily Beast now reports that the Put America First tour has been hemorrhaging money, with less than $60,000 in reported contributions raised for events that cost almost $290,000 to put on. Team Creepy has, in other words, lost something approaching a quarter million dollars on this tour. And that’s even though Team Creepy was, in the months immediately after the Republican attack on the Capitol building, raking in cash as two of the most prolific Republican fundraisers in the House.

This is not necessarily dire news for the Republican pervert-plus-insurrection duo. A major goal of the Gaetz-Greene appearances is probably just as proof that they can still make such appearances without being booed off the stage; while both have been distanced by House Republican colleagues who really, really do not want to appear in new photographs next to someone who might at any moment be led away in handcuffs for raping a minor or who might pipe up yet again with rhetoric comparing vaccinations to the Holocaust, they are teaming up to prove that among the nastiest element of the Republican base, they both remain welcome.

It’s a dare, of sorts, to their colleagues: cut us loose if you want, but know that among a good chunk of the Republican base, we are the heroes they want to follow, not you.

Unfortunately for Greene and Gaetz, the sort of Republicans who like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene do not seem to be the sort of Republicans who have a lot of disposable income. The Daily Beast reports that the Put America First committee has only received four donations that topped $500 … ever.

There are other signs that members of the pro-Trump, pro-insurrection, pro-sex-crime Republican base are feeling a bit more sluggish in their support than they were earlier in the year. Ticket sales for an announced tour pairing Donald Trump with fired Fox News sex pest Bill O’Reilly have so far been slow, either indicating that support for Trump is petering out a bit, at least when “supporting Trump” requires paying Ticketmaster money, or that Everybody Hates Bill O’Reilly to such an extent that not even Trump supporters are willing to pay to see Trump if Bill O’Reilly is his scabby warmup act.

Similarly, a new “Freedom Phone” being marketed to paranoid Trump conservatives as being the ultimate answer to your super-secret communications needs is being blasted to hell and back for being a seemingly obvious scam—a cut-rate Chinese-made phone with software that may or may not be secure to begin with.

That somebody’s trying to scam conservatives for a quick buck, mind you, is not news. That it might not be working? That’s unheard of.

It’s too early to say what any of this means for the future. Events can and almost certainly will overtake whatever short-term trends Gaetz and Greene are swimming through at the moment. Matt Gaetz, for example, could be arrested for sex crimes. That might sharply reduce donations to his campaign—or, because Republicanism, might double them. Marjorie Taylor Greene might find new fame with a campaign comparing Tide Pods to the Holocaust; she might also stick a fork into an electrical outlet because she thought she saw a communist inside it. It’s anybody’s guess.

For the moment, though, we know that Greene and Gaetz have now bled something quickly approaching a quarter million dollars on a national redemption tour that nobody asked for and that will itself not likely survive whatever new scandals the pair jumps into next. So that’s something.


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Republicans are discovering that they’ve done too good a job in separating their base from reality

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Most “slippery slope” arguments are just another example of right-wing mushroom farming used to push back against even the most modest proposals. As in Rep. Madison Cawthorn suggesting that asking volunteers to go door-to-door offering COVID-19 vaccine is the first step into “constructing a mechanism” that will reach into every home in America to “take your Bibles.”

But what Republicans built in their anti-reason agenda wasn’t so much a slope as the pathway to the top of a cliff. All along the tattered rightward edge of what was the “alt right” just a period of months ago, people from high school drop-out bar owners to college drop-out real estate scammers have discovered that all they had to do to pocket millions from a party already tumbling through the void was to do exactly what Vladimir Putin had taught them: Get on social media and confirm every racist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual position that had been minted from the Know Nothings to date.

Why hasn’t Q spoken in months? Why should he? Who would even notice in a party where a senator is waging a daily battle to charge a doctor with a felony for trying to protect the country?

The weaponization of social media against the Republican base has been amazing, and absolutely predictable. What Russia did in 2016 was nothing more than putting a modest military budget behind a digital crowbar that could open the nation along lines of weakness. It knew where to find those lines because Republicans drew big circles around them every election cycle. Russia didn’t create a million bots to spread a ridiculous message that the system was unfair to white people and overly generous to Black people by coincidence. They just took the script Republicans had been selling for years. Once you can believe six impossible things before breakfast, there really is no limit.

Of course, none of this means that the Republican Party is doomed to fade away. Republicans have made a blatant and so far successful effort to cripple the election system in America. They’ve demonstrated that they can turn out record numbers in support of an agenda that left a million people dead. And they’ve turned mumble-mumble racism into an overt, out-and-proud bigotry that has touched the hearts of millions of America’s most downtrodden: middle class white people.

So what have they got to worry about?

Well … in the last week, Republicans have noticed that the up = down machine has put them in a position where 90% of the people dying from COVID-19 are their people. That’s because 90% of Democrats are already vaccinated and 99.5% of those dying are unvaccinated. Who are those unvaccinated? Oh, right, the Republican base that’s been taught scientists, doctors, and experts can’t be trusted. 

Over the course of that week, Republicans who still think of themselves as party leaders have begun to get louder about suggesting to their followers that maybe, just maybe, taking five minutes out of their day to not die would be a good thing. And this is the kind of response they’re getting.

You know what they say: How are you going to get them back in the land of boring old reason once they’ve seen all the glittery lights and spectacular claims of Bigfoot driving UFOs land?

But it’s worse than that. For Republicans who ever actually cared about the traditional Republican agenda, eh. That’s all gone. For those who care about nothing but their own personal power, they’re out of luck as well. Just ask former Rep. Scott Tipton. Tipton was a conservative Republican who checked all the boxes. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He frequently angered environmental groups with a push to privatize public lands. He was solidly against reproductive rights as well as gay marriage, supported by wads of cash from the oil and gas industry, and he easily won election for 10 years. Then Tipton was knocked out of his primary by a woman who claimed to have inside knowledge about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming arrest as well as secret documents that would reveal the QAnon truth about the pizza-ordering  cannibals in Congress.

Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t step into a seat that was formerly held by a Democrat. She ousted Rep. Tom Graves, who had one of the most conservative ratings in the House. Cawthorn took over Mark Meadows’ former seat in a district freshly gerrymandered to make it super Republican safe, but in doing so Cawthorn actually defeated well-funded conservative businesswoman Lynda Bennett, who was the choice of not just Republicans in the state party but also endorsed by Donald Trump. It’s easy to say that Cawthorn won in spite of posting an Instagram photo celebrating his visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation residence while explaining that a visit to see “the Führer’s” home was on “my bucket list.” But a more truthful framing would be that Cawthorn won because of his unabashed adoption of white supremacist positions.

What most Republicans in leadership positions today are just beginning to discover is that they are the alt-right. The white nationalist agenda that was cautiously courted along the fringe a decade ago is now the mainstream. If there is still a pro-business agenda, it exists only so much as it locks in racism. If there’s still a social conservative agenda, it survives only as a means of tacking a halo onto actions of hate. And the media outlets that Republicans were counting on to keep the base in line have discovered that it’s even more lucrative to feed them to the volcano god who pays Tucker Carlson’s bills.

The new Republican Party demands that America explicitly cover up slavery, Jim Crow, and every expression of racism. Why teach kids about the Civil Rights era when obviously Black people have always had the edge over poor, struggling, mistreated whites? In the last few years, Republicans have already tried to revive the idea that Joseph McCarthy was a hero. Don’t worry—they’re also holding pedestals open for George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. 

Republicans have thought they might cut the bleeding off with a Justin Amash here and a Jeff Flake there. But those who see just signing onto “yes, Donald” as a solution to their electoral ills are missing the big picture. If there was anyone who still cared about “traditional conservative values,” they can forget it. And if all they care about is their personal power, they won’t have that either. 

There’s always another Boebert in the weeds.


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Republicans continue dragging out infrastructure talks, while calling Democrats ‘unreasonable’

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Transit. It’s only an essential, core part of what we like to call “transportation.” Portman says Democrats are “not being reasonable.” Apparently that’s because Democrats want to adhere to existing law under it that says the federal gas tax-funded Highway Trust Fund has to be split 80% for highways and 20% for transit. Republicans want to renege on that, arguing that transit systems already got COVID-19 funding (to make up for lost revenue from the pandemic) and shouldn’t get more from this bill.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, chair of the Banking Committee which has jurisdiction over transit, is frustrated. “The Republicans don’t have great interest in public transit,” he said. “Their proposals are far too inadequate.” He added that “there’s been a tradition of fairly good public transit funding, but it doesn’t seem to be on the table from them yet.” Brown continued “I just want to get to an agreement where they take seriously public transit funding, and they haven’t yet.” Sen. Jon Tester—a member of that bipartisan gang—was more succinct. “Republicans hate transit, Democrats like transit.[…] It’s that simple.”

It’s not entirely that simple, though, because what this is is another manufactured excuse from Republicans to keep on dragging this thing out. They are also arguing about “broadband, Davis-Bacon requirements, and rescinding unspent COVID funds” according to an aide. So, pretty much all of it? Even if there is a weekend miracle and the gang produces something on Monday, there’s no guarantee at all that there will be 10 Republicans interested in voting even to start talking about it next week. If they were that close, they would have agreed to starting the process on Wednesday.

The Democrats in charge of making Biden’s plan happen in the Senate are prepared for the contingency of having to fold this “hard” infrastructure piece into the larger budget reconciliation bill that can pass with just Democratic votes, the part of the Biden plan that would transform the lives of millions, in a really good way. They’ll vote for this bipartisan thing if it ever happens, though most who aren’t in the gang will do so grudgingly because the damned thing has to get done so they can have the good stuff.

That good stuff, chief economist Mark Zandi at Moody’s reports “will strengthen long-term economic growth, the benefits of which would mostly accrue to lower- and middle-income Americans.” The report also concludes that concerns about inflation that Republicans have been shouting about are “likely misplaced” and “overdone.”

“It is a unique opportunity,” Zandi told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “The economic environment is ripe for game-changing policies that address long-running, pernicious problems that only government can address, because the scale of the problems is so large.” His report says that the failure to pass the  bills—the entire $4.1 trillion package either as two bills or combined into one—”would certainly diminish the economy’s prospects.”

“The nation has long underinvested in both physical and human infrastructure and has been slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change, with mounting economic consequences,” the report says. “Greater investments in public infrastruc­ture and social programs will lift productivity and labor force growth, and the attention on climate change will help forestall its increas­ingly corrosive economic effects.”

That’s critical analysis for the Democrats to keep front and center in this last push to get the job done, to make the bills as expansive as possible (yes, climate change policies, yes expanding health care, yes fixing the safety net, yes education).


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