I’ve heard there are three topics never to be discussed among friends: politics, sex, and religion. So before I begin and lose a bunch of friends- a caveat-the following blog is not meant to disparage Christianity. Rather, it describes how a certain element on the right are using (some would say distorting) their faith to further political agendas.
It never fails to amaze me as each new salacious scandal involving Trump erupts, that the choir of the religious right raises its voice even louder in his defense. Franklin Graham is one who comes to mind. I shouldn’t be surprised. Trump got the support of 81% of evangelical Christians during the 2016 election and his favorability ratings among that group remain high. The reasons behind this could fill pages, but to me it seems the overarching theme is a “fear of the other” and a desire to keep our country from evolving away from a predominantly white, Judeo-Christian nation.
One term for this paradigm of society is “Christian nationalism”. Sociologist Andrew Whitehead defines Christian nationalism as “an Old Testament-based worldview fusing Christian and American identities”. But when we’re talking politics, this viewpoint can’t simply be described as Christian nationalism but also as “dominionist”, meaning that a particular sectarian view of God should control all aspects of life and human institutions.
Again when we’re talking politics, there’s a particular element that aren’t just being hypocritical-they’re putting their money where their mouth is. Welcome to “Project Blitz”. The term “Project Blitz” is no accident. It’s intended to invoke war connotations, because this is a religious war in the minds of the people fighting it. Project Blitz is no joke. It’s a major legislative initiative with the goal of passing a package of Christian-right bills at the state level across the country. Its main organizers are groups like Wallbuilders, the National Legal Foundation, and the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, which is the principal “bill mill”. On the surface the bills seem to be unrelated and vary widely in content, but the underlying agenda is the same.
So far this year 71 bills have been introduced nationwide, and this only counts the bills being tracked by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Some examples are the National Motto Display Act, the Bible Literacy Act, and the Clergy Protection Act. The strategy is to follow the approach of pro-corporate ALEC. (See my August 2017 blog, “You Don’t Know ALEC!”)
Project Blitz has a 116 page playbook. Bills are organized in 3 tiers “according to the degree of opposition they anticipate”.
Tier 1: Legislation Regarding Our Country’s Religious Heritage (Let’s stop right there. 1. The title says it all-it assumes we have one religious heritage. 2. Many historians argue that the notion America at its founding was intended to be a Christian nation is a fallacy. It’s a distorted view and historically inaccurate that America is a Christian nation-just because most Americans have been Christian. The founding fathers wanted a nation where all faiths were defended according to historian John Fea. You can’t argue religious liberty but only Christian religious liberty.)
The strategy with Tier 1 bills is to go for soft targets and begin with “small victories”. These focus on less controversial issues with the intent of getting legislators comfortable with the concept. The initial bills will be built upon later. One example is “The Motto Bill” that has been passed in some states and requires the motto “In God We Trust” to be placed in public schools.
At the launch of Project Blitz on February 16, 2016, pseudo-historian and mastermind behind the strategy, David Barton, explained to state legislators that the bills in Category 1 are, “kinda like whack-a-mole for the other side. It’ll drive them crazy that they will have to divide their resources out in opposing this… they won’t know what to do with this and it’ll be great!”
Tier 2: Resolutions and Proclamations Recognizing the Importance of Religious History and Freedom. This seeks to make government a partner in the Christianizing of America. One example is the Proclamation Recognizing Religious Freedom Day or the Establishment of a Whitehouse Faith and Opportunity Initiative that Trump signed on Thursday. Barton said the bills in Category 2 ought to be “probably pretty easy to pass,” although “[the opposition is] gonna be a lot more virulent in their attacks. A lot more mean in their attacks. They’ll talk about theocracies and Christian nation and whatever.” According to the Project Blitz playbook legislators should worry much, because these arguments usually aren’t harmful in general elections.
Tier 3: Religious Liberty Protection Legislation. Tier 3 has 3 subcategories: public policy resolutions and two dealing with protections for religious practices. These types of issues are being framed as protecting the rights of the right. Examples include anti-gay adoption bills and exemptions for professional licensing. How that works is that pharmacists, mental health professionals, and other medical personnel could cite religious reasons for not providing care to LGBTQ persons, dispensing contraceptives, or performing abortions. According to the playbook, the model bills in Category 3 may “have the greatest immediate impact on protecting religious liberties.” However, “some of them also are the most hotly contested,” and opposition “will often be well-organized and well-financed, and the arguments made are more dangerous because they will often play the same inside and outside the statehouse.”
You may have noticed that many of the bills being promoted by Project Blitz are geared toward denigrating the LGBTQ community and advancing the right to discriminate. The playbook says that they seek “not to let those who want to run roughshod over religious liberty dictate the terms of the discussion, but to be ready to engage them with facts and figures and research that challenge their assumptions.” Project Blitz proponents claim that “their model public policy resolutions ‘rely heavily on the research that demonstrates the deleterious physical and mental health effects of same-sex intercourse and gender identity ‘transformation’.” And they don’t try to hide their agenda. The goal is to “define public policies of the state in favor of biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality.” Project Blitz offers “data” they suggest shows “that LGBTQ people tend to be diseased, dysfunctional or both—and that they pose a threat to children and to society. “
What happens in Washington gets all the attention, but much of the time when we’re looking over there the worst damage is being done at the state level. Under this administration and without a change in the balance of power at all levels of government, Project Blitz is on course to be a modern day Crusade. Science, reason, the right to choose, the right to love whom you want, and ironically enough, real Christian values will be the casualties of this war.
posted by Amy Levengood
Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News
“Nobel, Nobel, Nobel!” Those were the chants of the crowd at a rally Trump held in Michigan on Saturday evening. While a formal ending to the Korean War and achieving peace on the peninsula may be a prize-worthy achievement, you will forgive me if I meet the prospect with a horse-size dose of skepticism. Putting aside the pesky little fact that a man who at the same event threatened to “shut down the country” if he doesn’t get his border wall, Trump is hardly a person who deserves a little gold star let alone the globe’s most prestigious award.
The question arises- if he’s so hell-bent on kumbayaing with Kim Jong Un, why is the Commander in Chief assembling the most hawkish cabinet since Andrew Jackson? We should have known when during the campaign, he flippantly discussed nukes like they were water balloons. Back in February Politico reported that the administration called for the development of two new types of nuclear weapons. In its Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon said that nuclear weapons could be used to respond in “extreme circumstances” including non-nuclear attacks. Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan said “that nuclear weapons could be used to respond to a severe non-nuclear attack is “stabilizing” -the old “peace through strength” argument.
The newly assembled cabinet, which Trump claims is “almost the cabinet he wants” (Isn’t he in charge of the nominees?) is a virtual off-Broadway production of War and Peace-minus the peace.
In the role of National Security Advisor- exit stage left H.R. McMaster, enter stage right-John Bolton, the mustachioed champion of right-wing think tanks and advocate for regime change. Just take a Google at some of the groups with which he’s affiliated, such as Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG) , The Gatestone Institute, oh and don’t forget the NRA. There wasn’t much we as citizens could do on this front. National Security Advisor is an appointed position, and as such didn’t require confirmation hearings.
In the role of Secretary of State- exit stage left Rex Tillerson, enter stage right-Mike Pompeo. We fought hard on this one. But we can’t just blame Rand Paul, whose turn around on this nominee was bouncier than the curls on top of his head. Six Democrats and one Independent decided to go along for the ride:
✔️Sen. Joe Donnelly (IN) ✔️Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND) ✔️Sen. Doug Jones (AL) ✔️Sen. Angus King (ME) ✔️Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) ✔️Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO) ✔️Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)
We could spend an entire blog dissecting the reasons why these senators jumped the party line, but it mainly boils down to being Blue in a Red state -except for the usually sensible Angus King of Maine. I’m not sure what happened there. Chalk it up to a funky lobster roll.
Let’s face it. Denying Pompeo the position at State was an uphill battle given that he had already been through the confirmation process successfully for CIA Director. Now –downstage Pompeo, upstage-Gina Haspel as CIA director. Here’s a case of what we know about Haspel being so bad that it’s scary to even think about what we don’t know. What we do know is that during the 2nd Bush administration Haspel was personally in charge of “Cat’s Eye”, a secret prison in Thailand known as a CIA “black site”. Men held there were kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured. Alberto Mora, former chief counsel of the Navy under Bush 43 once wrote regarding Haspel, “...she can be presumed to have felt the piercing cold, experienced the bleak darkness and heard the deafening, ceaseless music; she directed and then oversaw the application of pain—the blows, the hanging from shackles, the confinement in coffin- or suitcase-size boxes, the suffocation when water was inhaled time and again; and she heard the cries and groans and saw the bruises, the loss of consciousness, and the blood. And all of this not for a moment, but ceaselessly for weeks on end.” As if committing war crimes weren’t enough, Haspel then ordered the destruction of all video evidence of the crimes and wanted the site in Thailand to be burned down after its closure.
Haspel’s nomination has not been well-received. On April 23, 109 retired generals and admirals sent a letter to the Senate saying they were “deeply troubled” at the thought of Haspel as CIA director given her links to torture programs. At least two Republican Senators, John McCain and Rand Paul, have balked at her nomination. (We’ll see which side Paul lands on this time.) A sign that Haspel’s nomination may be in jeopardy is that there have been no reports of push-back or pressure from the White House in support of their nominee.
Confirmation hearings for Haspel are scheduled for May 9th. Along with the retired generals and admirals who expressed their misgivings, 40 national advocacy and civil liberties groups have also sent a letter to all 100 Senators urging them to oppose the nomination.
Throughout American history we’ve had many second chances at righting the ship of democracy. The Civil War, the civil rights struggles, and fights for LGBTQ equality come to mind. We’re imperfect and thus a nation of second chances. Gina Haspel has told Senators in private meetings that she would never restart the CIA’s enhanced interrogation and detention program. But I’d like to remind members of Congress and the Nobel committee, for that matter, the words of the late Dr. Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
posted by Amy Levengood
Following in the footsteps of the Keystone 8, Midstate female state representatives sworn into office in 2015 : from left Rep. Sue Helm, R-Susquehanna Twp.; Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-Jacobus; Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover; Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks County; Rep. Patty Kim, D-Harrisburg; Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Cleona; Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Lower Allen Twp.; Rep. Mindy Fee, R-Manheim; Rep. Lynda Schlegal Culver, R-Sunbury; and Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County.
Dan Gleiter | firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Gleiter | dgleiter@pennlive.)
In honor of National Women's History Month I wanted to share with you the stories of eight women in Pennsylvania politics, the first women to win elected offices in the PA House of Representatives. Before I do, however, it would be neglectful for me to not give you some background.
The battle for equal rights for women was, and still, is a slow fought tangle of disappointments for many women. Just when it seems that women take one step forward many others take two steps back. One might wonder how that can be?
I have no answer for that, except to say the battle against women moving upward is a hellish one. None but the strongest survive, because to be honest, moving into foreign territory can be a dangerous move. At the least, when permitted through the doors into the man’s world, there is a whole new set of rules of which to live. At worst, it can be like an urban gang turf war. Happily, at best women are cheerfully accepted. The majority lies somewhere in between.
Only the strong survive. But when they do, they pave the way for others: our sisters, our daughters and other young women of our future.
In the case of the eight women known as the Keystone Eight, it opened the door to women in PA to serve their fellow Pennsylvanians with dedication and a zest for better lives for everyone.
In 1920 women had finally won the right to vote, too late for any to run for office that year. However, on November 22, 1922 there were 38 candidates who would run for office. Of those, the winners were the Keystone Eight:
Rosa Stein de Young was not only one of the first eight women elected to the PA House, but she was also the first woman who was Jewish. Though she only served in the house for a short while, deYoung made good use of her time following her term in office.
In 1936 de Young was appointed by Philadelphia Mayor Wilson to serve as chair of the Philadelphia Theater Control Board. She also served on the boards of the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood and the Child Study Association.
Sarah Gertrude MacKinney, was from Butler County, who beat her four male counterparts by a landslide of 300 votes. She was a teacher in four counties: Crawford, Butler, Allegheny and Mercer before becoming a librarian at Grove City College. She later entered in the manufacturing business.
Also well known for her efforts in the Women’s Suffrage Movement MacKinney founded the League of Women Voters in Butler County and served as Vice President of the 14 County District of the Federation of Pennsylvania Women.
Though these were the first women elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, one woman, Flora Vare, was also elected to the state senate in the same election. Unfortunately, I was unable to find information on Vare.
It should be said that many women have served in Pennsylvania politics since these first women paved the way. However, it is sad to say that today there are no Pennsylvania women holding federal seats.
posted by Pam Garlick
Information for this article was obtained from the History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives 1923 to 2005, written by Jeanne H. Schmedlen for the PA House of Representatives.
If a psychologist were to analyze the Democratic Party, she may conclude that it suffers from self-defeating personality disorder. Whether it be trampling all over their own message, not having a concise message in the first place, or when they do not coming together to defend it to the death, Democrats are notorious for sinking their own ship. Take for example the 2016 election. Many in the party believed and rightly so that it was theirs to lose. With a fairly robust economy, plenty of money in the campaign coffers, and an opponent so outrageous that no sentient being would possibly cast a vote for him, they would simply ride the coattails of a popular president, Barak Obama, straight into the White House. Then things began to unravel. As the party schlogged through a contentious primary, enter the Republicans and Russian trolls and hackers who exploited the rift between the so-called Bernie wing and the more centrist Clinton faction, a rift which almost derailed the convention and continues in some circles to this day. I contend that the post-mortem jury is still out on 2016, (We don’t know the full scope of Russian interference.) but what lingers is a party which doesn’t quite yet know what it wants to be when it grows up. In other words, the Democrats on so many occasions are their own worst enemy.
In my nostalgia for simpler times, you remember those- back when America equaled good and Russia bad, when a president playing footsy with brutal dictators was an anathema, and the mere suggestion of holding the executive office for life would have been grounds for impeachment- I came across a column by the late Molly Ivins. With her biting wit and well-honed folksy Texas style, she lays out the reasons why she wouldn’t be supporting a Hillary Clinton run for president in 2008. Ivins argued that the party’s fear of supporting positions the majority of Americans favored would ultimately hurt them, and that Clinton would be the candidate of compromise that the Democrats couldn’t afford to promote. Down to the very issues, Ivins’ message sounds eerily familiar. For example:
What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority(66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.
Ivins wrote that in 2006, and between then and now something funny has happened with an affiliate of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) whose function is to elect democrats in the House. That something funny happened right here in Pennsylvania, but there are reports of similar occurrences elsewhere in the country. Just ask Mark Pinsley. Mark is a business owner and a progressive activist running for PA Senate in the Lehigh Valley’s 16th district. He’s also an active member of Indivisible Berks. In a March 4th article in the DailyKos, Mark writes:
On Friday, I was in Harrisburg preparing to submit my petitions to become the Democratic nominee for the Pennsylvania Senate’s 16th District. At the same time, news of an underhanded plot broke in the Washington Post about the DCCC’s attempt to push a fellow progressive into the primary race against me. They swooped into the area and tried to convince Greg Edwards, the most outspoken progressive, and only candidate of color, to drop out of the PA 7th Congressional race. In an attempt to induce him to meekly surrender to the establishment, they offered him support in the state senate race against me.
As I mentioned earlier, the DCCC’s odd behavior is not limited to Pennsylvania. In Texas in the Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional District, the DCCC launched what some are calling a “scorched earth” campaign against progressive candidate, Laura Moser. The DCCC went as far as publishing an opposition research memo against Moser on their website. In the Texas case, the DCCC’s meddling backfired and actually propelled Moser into a run-off with primary challenger, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. DNC Chairman Tom Perez reacted to the DCCC’s moves saying, “I wouldn’t have done it. We’re at our best as Democrats when we talk about the issues. … I don’t believe we should be anointing candidates. The people in Texas are the people who should be making the choices in Texas.”
Today Democratic primaries are being held in Illinois. In the state’s 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Dan Lipinski is running against first-time candidate Marie Newman. The race is tight. Lipinski’s father, William, held the seat before him, and combined the two have held the district for 35 years. Lipinski is an odd duck in the Democratic Party. He voted against the Affordable Care Act, the DREAM Act, and legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. He opposes abortion and voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Lipinski told the New York Times, “The Democratic Party is endangering its future by moving too far to the left. This is part of the reason Donald Trump won. Democrats have chased people out of the party.” Newman’s campaign manager has said, “Lipinski is a Democrat in name only. “He likes to say he’s a centrist, he’s not. He is a Republican,” Newman herself said. “There is not a division in the Democratic Party — he just is a dinosaur.” But the DCCC and party elders like Nancy Pelosi have stepped in to back Lipinski, even though their chosen candidate seems out of touch with the views of voters in the district, 2/3rds of which identify as pro-choice.
None of this indicates that every nominee must toe the party line à la the Tea Party, or that far left candidates are right for every seat. Nor do I think that Democrats have the luxury at this point in time to subject each candidate to a purity test. Look what happened just last week in western PA. Conor Lamb, while rejecting Republican attacks on healthcare and excoriating them for their embrace of tax cuts for the wealthy, was not exactly displaying progressive bona fides on issues like guns and tariffs. Many will argue he caved to the old guard of the party, others will say he ran in a way that reflected the red-leaning district. But the most important lesson to be learned from the special election in PA 18 is that the winning candidate captured the attention of those he was running to represent and tapped in to the grassroots energy rather than tamping it down.
Which brings me back to Molly Ivins. Her article I referenced was specifically meant to send a message to the people running the Democratic Party and was really a call for leadership. She wrote:
The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.
Mark Pinsley couldn’t be more right when he says in his article, “This is the fight for the soul of our party and one we cannot afford to lose.” But will it be an ideological struggle or a battle between the establishment and the will of the people? As they say in Texas, " That's two different buckets of possums."
Click here to read Mark Pinsley's full article: The Frontline in the Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party
posted by Amy Levengood
The name of our organization Indivisible Berk implies that we cannot be divided. Also implied by our country’s name, is that we are made up of “United States.” Yet, as is often the case as elections approach, we are divided. Mostly in two directions - Democrat or Republican - but also in other directions like Independents, Libertarians, Green and more.
Today, I want to concentrate on the two larger groups Democrats, often referred to as liberal or blue and Republicans, known as conservatives or red. I chose to do this because they create the color that is part of the analogy I hope to form in this blog.
As I stated, Indivisible and united are in many ways synonymous, though a closer examination of the words gives more accurate meanings.
According to TheFreeDictionary.com:
Looking at the dictionary definition of these words you find that they are very different. And that is where we find ourselves when heading toward an election. Although we may want to stay united, our differences too often cause us to be divided. The worst example of this would be the Civil War.
There are likely few who want to see the divide created by our differences lead to another civil war, however, the divide currently taking place in our country is deepening. One might wonder if there is any chance of narrowing it again.
Could it be as simple as creating the color purple? As we learned as children the color purple is the result of combining the colors blue and red. Can we do it as simply with our personal beliefs?
The answer is yes and no. It can be done, but not simply. It takes people willing to listen to one another in an effort to better understand the other.
Better Angels holds workshops in locations throughout the United States where people learn to work in harmony in spite of their differences. In fact, it is said that many of the people who attend start out enemies and end as friends.
That doesn’t say they have changed their perspectives and political views, but it does say they have built respect for one another and an ability to work harmoniously when possible. You will find more information on Better Angels here.
I conducted my own informal survey on Facebook and although I did not have many respondents, I did see common ground. For one thing, everyone was in agreement, there needs to be a multi-party system for electing our leaders. With multiple parties there are going to be differences, but differences can be good. As one person stated, if we had a one party system we’d be a dictatorship. Frightening thought. Right?
The people I surveyed also stated they believe that although we may not be acting like it, they feel we still have some common ground, that to many people the most important things are that they and their families can live safe and prosperous lives.
The task of creating purple is not an easy one, as can be seen in a segment on 60 Minutes where Oprah Winfrey hosts a discussion group in Michigan similar to the ones conducted by Better Angels. Click to view video. In just the few seconds of this short preview it is obvious there was much to overcome before reaching a level of respect where the participants could actually communicate effectively.
Could this work here in Berks County? That remains to be seen as we approach another election, but one thing for certain, if blue and red do not find common ground, there is a good chance we will no longer be “indivisible.”
posted by Pam Garlick
In February, McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether an individual with ties to Vladimir Putin, Alexander Torshin, had funneled money to the NRA for political purposes, a move which if true would violate federal law. Following that report, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to both the Treasury Department and the NRA containing specific questions regarding the matter. One of Wyden’s demands was that the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network hand over documents related to Torshin and the NRA. (Click here to read Treasury Letter and February NRA Letter.)
Apparently Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wasn’t too impressed with the response from the gun lobby group, because yesterday the senator sent a follow-up letter to the NRA’s chief lawyer, John Frazer, asking for further clarification. Wyden bluntly challenged the organization to “categorically state your organizations have never, wittingly or unwittingly received any contributions from individuals or entities acting as conduits for foreign entities or interests.” Frazer responded to Wyden’s February letter with the typical boilerplate stating, “As a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with the United States elections.” Wyden honed in on a portion of Frazer’s letter which said, “significant contributions from unknown entities are vetted to ensure the legitimacy of donors.” Wyden responded by asking what vetting procedures were used for such donations. What’s important to note is that Frazer didn’t directly deny that the NRA received any money from Russia.
The Russia investigation produces more characters than War and Peace. Like many figures in the inquiry, Alexander Torshin seems to be here there and everywhere. Torshin had a shady record even before he popped up in connection with the NRA. As was mentioned, Torshin is a close ally of Putin. He’s been implicated in a money laundering scheme by Spanish judicial authorities. In a 500 page report, Spanish authorities outlined how Torshin, who was once a senator and is now the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, used his position in government to assist organized crime figures in laundering money through properties and banks in Spain.
Torshin has been methodically cultivating ties to the NRA for the past 6 years. He claims it was those connections that allowed him to be a foreign election observer in the 2012 U.S. presidential race. Torshin is also a paid lifetime member of the NRA and led a delegation of senior NRA leaders to Russia in 2015.
As for Trump, Torshin has mentioned on Twitter that he knows him and has a connection with him through the NRA at their 2015 convention. But in 2017, the White House denied that Trump and Torshin had ever met. And when comedian Larry David accused Trump of being a racist, Torshin defended him on Twitter. Torshin did meet with Donald Trump, Jr. at the NRA’s 2016 convention.
Interestingly Torshin has been keeping a low profile in the last few months. For example, last February he was part of the Russian delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast. This year he didn’t attend.
No one knows the extent of the FBI’s evidence regarding Russia and the NRA, but it makes sense that the Russians would seek to use the powerful gun lobby group as a tool. Part of Russian interference in the 2016 election involved sowing discord around controversial issues such as guns in order to create further political divisions.
What is also interesting is that The NRA reported that they spent almost $55 million on the 2016 election, including $30 million to Trump. That’s triple what they gave Romney in 2012. Most of the money was spent by an arm of the NRA which isn’t required to disclose donors. There are some close to the organization who say the actual spending was closer to $70 million.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said recently, "The National Rifle Association has not been contacted by the FBI or any other investigative body." The group also denies any wrongdoing and says the FBI investigation is about Torshin, not them. But Democrats on Capitol Hill may beg to differ. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters to two NRA officials back in January asking about their contacts to Torshin. It’s not clear whether she received a response. "Whether there was an effort by Russia to create a backchannel or assist the Trump campaign through the NRA is a question the (Intelligence) Committee has endeavored to answer," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in an NPR interview. "Much work remains to be done concerning that thread of our investigation, although it is not at all clear that the Majority will permit the Committee to do so."
In other words, stay tuned!
Read how money laundering is dirtying our political system: NRA, Russia and Trump: How 'dark money' is poisoning American democracy
posted by Amy Levengood
I spend a great deal of time on social media sites. It started as a way for
me to interact with potential readers since I’m a writer, and a place where I
could find camaraderie with other writers. Something has happened along
Everyone knows that what you see online isn’t always true, right?
Especially when it comes to buying the latest pill that will cure some ail, or
a face cream that will miraculously erase years of lines and wrinkles.
Just a minute, I need to backup a minute. I started the last paragraph with
an assumption that might not be true. Does everyone know things online
aren’t always true?
If you go to Facebook, the social media site I use most often, you will find
tons of posts and reposts that make one wonder if the person who posted it
really believes what they are posting. Our current President has often
talked about “Fake News”. However, it is not something you only find on
the news - it has entered social media with the verocity of a hungry baby
finally finding the nipple of the bottle containing her next meal.
That verocity is driven by a person’s determination to have their opinion
heard. In fact, they are so driven, at times they don’t even consider whether
what they are posting is fact or fiction or maybe something in between -
we’ll call that a distortion.
I want to note that I make the latter statement with hope in my heart
because some of the posts I’ve seen seem to stir up hate more than
anything else. Hate of immigrants and refugees, hate of past presidents or
presidential candidates, even hate toward the youth who spoke out about
gun control after the Florida school massacre.
But is it just hate they are stirring? Could they also be stirring the pot of
voters, hoping to get a few more to jump into their political stew?
Before I share some examples, I recently complained about these posts to
someone here at Indivisible Berks (ID) who reminded me about the recent
findings from the investigation of Russian campaign tampering. I looked
into this and found that due to this at least Facebook is trying to locate the
false postings and eliminate them.
It seems to me that maybe the Russians are not the only ones using this
tactic. And, just in case anyone accuses me of being biased to the left -
they are correct by the way - my integrity as a journalist keeps me
checking all posts that seem suspect. Still, most I have found are coming
from the conservative right.
Here is one example:
To find out if this photo was actually what it seems - a photo of Barack Obama - I went to
Snopes, a fact-checking site that investigates not only Facebook posts, but any rumor that seems to be going around. They found it to be FALSE. It was a photo that was photoshopped. I often double check with other fact check sites. Like with the following example:
In the case of this YouTube post, the actual footage seen is real. It was
from a segment run on the Jimmy Kimmel show posted on in January of
2016, meant to show how people react to even bad things if it is presented
to them as positive.
Unfortunately, the post seen is presenting this as people congratulating
North Korea on having the hydrogen bomb.
Click here to view the video on FB
This is one that falls under distortion. It was the heading, date and context
that was misleading. It was posted in September 2017 after the war of
words between NK’s leader and ours. This post does show that often there
is a thin line between fact and fiction that makes it difficult to decipher
which it is. Sadly it was made to seem as though the people commenting
were California liberals, when these were actually random people on the
street, thus again stirring the stew.
Last, I will tell you about a post of a homeless woman who claims Donald
Trump has allowed her to live in one of his hotels rent free. She even
claims he sends her flowers every week.
Click here to view video on FB
This story is a bald-faced lie! My source at Hoax Slayer has assured me
this was a fake. The video made the rounds during the election and seems
to have resurfaced once again as a reminder of how kind DT can be to
those going through difficult times.
I could fill this up with more examples, but I would rather leave you with a
suggestion. Some people may say ignore these posts. I say don’t. If they
are allowed to continue making the rounds of social media many will serve
to create more disharmony where disharmony is not needed.
My son put it well, “I long for the days when I went on Facebook and mostly
saw pictures of what people had for their last meal.”
More might share his feelings. I say be an activist and work toward
honesty. First check with the fact check sites I use. You will find more if you
do a search. Check with more than one to make sure they are in
agreement about the veracity of the post. If it is a lie, get it removed by
clicking the three dots at the upper right hand corner of the post and
clicking “Give Feedback on this Post.” You will have several choices.
In case you think that won’t work, I had one post I wanted very much to use
for this article. It has been removed. It would have demonstrated just how
hateful these posts can be.
I once was reprimanded by FB for posting a link to my latest novel on too
many groups in one day. I certainly hope FB is doing the same to people
who are posting lies. There is one thing for certain, they won’t if they don’t
Links to the fact-checking sites I use:
Let me close with this. So no one thinks I am one-sided in what I do, I just
found out that Melania Trump did not hire an exorcist to clean
posted by Pam Garlick
Almost a decade before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech titled “Give Us the Ballot” in which he talked about the importance of equal voting rights. In it he said the following:
"So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others."
With the first election of 2018 quickly approaching (PA18-March 13th) it’s imperative that we’re aware of the obstacles that get thrown in the way of full voter participation. From new and stricter voter ID laws to partisan-configured congressional districts, it’s a multi-front crusade. Challenging gerrymandering in the courts is just one method of attack at our disposal. The war is far from over, but we who support the complete exercise of voting rights regardless of party have just lost one key battle.
Last week, Newark-based District Court Judge John Michael Vazquez (a 2015 Obama appointee who came with a “well-qualified” rating from the ABA and blue-slipped by both New Jersey Democratic senators) announced that a 1986 consent decree with the Republican National Committee (RNC) was allowed to expire on December 1, 2017 and would not be extended. In the 1980’s the RNC was twice charged with violating the Voting Rights Act. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) took the RNC to court, accusing it of disenfranchising tens of thousands of African-American voters. The result was that the RNC agreed to enter into a consent decree, which would prohibit the party from certain tactics being used to suppress the vote. One of the devices being used was so-called “voter-caging”.
If there ever was a double entendre, “voter caging” is one in the most vile sense. Literally it refers to placing or “caging” categories of mail in steel shelves and files. In regard to voter suppression “voter caging” is the practice of sending mass direct mailings to registered voters by non-forwardable mail. Lists of those voters called “caging lists” are then compiled from the returned mail and purged from voter lists. Voters get knocked off the voter rolls because they fail to answer registered mail sent to where they’re not currently living-maybe because they’re in college or in the military! When voters show up at the polls they may be challenged and forced to cast a provisional ballot. If they can show that they recently moved or the address is in error, their vote may be counted. If not-“tough luck”! Voter caging is a way to file law suits in court targeting mass challenges to voters.
Voter caging is nothing new-it’s been happening since the 1950’s. The practice has been declared illegal under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but many state laws have no such prohibition. The RNC has used the practice to target demographic groups they deem favorable to the opposing party. Conducted under voter list maintenance or “ballot security”, voter caging is used to disenfranchise minority voters in large numbers. The RNC was supposed to have stopped the practice in 1986 in accordance with the consent decree case, but it occurred in unprecedented numbers in the 2004 election. For example, during that election 130,000 mailings were sent by the RNC to predominantly minority areas in Philadelphia. The same thing happened in Cleveland, OH that year, where 35, 000 mailing were returned. The RNC then sent “poll watchers” out to challenge those voters right to vote, which brings me to my final point.
The 2018 election is just 10 months away. Without the consent decree, your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen. But one thing people should be concerned about is Trump’s past assertions of millions of people voting illegally and his allegations of voter fraud in cities like Philadelphia. If he and the RNC employ “vigilantes” to start showing up at the polls in the name of “ballot security”, we could again see minorities disenfranchised from the voting process and as Dr. King said, not living as democratic citizens.
Listen to University of California, Irvine elections law expert Rick Hasen discuss the consent decree. Hasen also publishes the Election Law Blog.
posted by Amy Levengood
Last week I wrote about the Trump administration’s directive to the CDC to ban seven specific words from future documents. See Brought to you by the "Ministry of Truth" It seems surreal that we are even having this conversation, but if you’re paying attention you will have noticed the administration’s authoritarian reach has gone far beyond words.
If you haven't been paying attention-not to worry. Someone is doing it for us and her name is Amy Siskind, a writer and Wall Street executive who’s work has focused on the advancement of women and girls. Siskind is co-founder and president of The New Agenda, a national organization working on issues including economic independence and advancement, gender representation and bias, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Shortly after the 2016 election Siskind started a list. “I read a bunch of articles about authoritarianism. They said the changes would happen so quickly that you wouldn’t realize what was happening in front of you unless you took note,” Siskind remembers. Many of the articles she read recommended keeping a record of the “erosion of democratic norms” occurring, so that’s what she did. Siskind began posting her lists on Medium and now posts them weekly on Facebook and Twitter as well. Siskind’s first list contained 9 items. We’re now on #58 and up to 133 items this week alone. In July the Library of Congress began archiving her weekly entries.
Siskind says she’s not looking to catalogue a host of people’s typical complaints about politicians but rather to detail “things that are uncharacteristic of our democracy”, like the Trump campaign’s payouts to his businesses and his attacks on the FBI.
Below are some examples of what Siskind has been compiling:
"The Trump regime closed the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, a group created by Obama in 2015 to help local officials protect against extreme weather and natural disasters."
"Intercept reported Trump’s WH is considering set a of proposals developed by Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer to provide the CIA and WH with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official US intelligence."
"On Thursday, the Trump regime rolled back an Obama-era rule which required trains carrying highly explosive liquids to install electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021, to help prevent fiery train wrecks."
"Politico reported while on Air Force One with Trump, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said the country is at risk of a “coup d’etat” by Mueller. In a phone interview later, Gaetz stopped short of calling for Trump to fire Mueller. (#77 week 57) Later Fox News also used the word “coup” in a chyron."
"On Tuesday, Trump signed $700 billion defense policy bill, while complaining about provisions included by lawmakers to force a more aggressive policy toward Russia. Trump has yet to impose sanctions voted on by lawmakers."
"On Sunday, the Kremlin was the first to share that Putin called Trump to thank him for sharing intelligence which thwarted a terrorist bomb plot in St. Petersburg. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later confirmed the call."
"This was the second time Trump and Putin have spoken in the past three days, and both calls were first made public by Russian sources. Trump’s Oval Office meeting in Week 26 was also reported by Russian sources."
"The WH released an odd readout of the call between Trump and Putin. It is highly unusual for leaders to publicly disclose sharing intelligence information, or to publicly thank each other."
Like many of us, Siskind’s life was turned on end by the 2016 election. She spends about 20 hours a week on compiling her lists and plans to keep it up throughout the Trump era. “We have to have a way to trace back to where we were,” she says, “to trace our way back to democracy.”
posted by Amy Levengood
Did your mother ever threaten to wash your mouth out with soap when you were a kid? I bet it wasn’t because you said diversity, fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, science-based, or evidence-based.
We’re 11 months into this presidency and words are being banned. On Thursday officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were ordered by the Trump administration to cleanse the seven words mentioned above from future budget documents.
A longtime CDC analyst told the Washington Post that when the order came down from the administration, the reaction in the room was “incredulous”. CDC officials were given alternative word options in some cases. For example, instead of using “evidence-based” or “science-based” they may say, “The CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes." The CDC official who spoke to the Post wished to remain anonymous, but said a “growing backlash” should be expected. "Our subject matter experts will not lay down quietly," the official said. "This hasn't trickled down to them yet."
Of course, administration officials are denying the reports. "The assertion that HHS has 'banned words' is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process," Health and Human Services spokesperson Matt Lloyd said.
Critics of the administration’s moves have not been shy about voicing their objections. "To pretend and insist that transgender people do not exist, and to allow this lie to infect public health research and prevention is irrational and very dangerous," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a written statement. "The Trump administration is full of dangerous science deniers who have no business near American public health systems like the CDC," she continued. "They are actually going to kill Americans if they do not stop."
Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government affairs for Planned Parenthood called the order “reckless” and “unimaginably dangerous”. "You cannot fight against the Zika virus, or improve women's and fetal health, if you are unable to use the word 'fetus.' You must be able to talk about science and evidence if you are to research cures for infectious diseases such as Ebola," Singiser said. "You must be able to acknowledge the humanity of transgender people in order to address their health care needs. You cannot erase health inequities faced by people of color simply by forbidding the use of the words 'vulnerable' or 'diversity'."
This blatant censorship hasn’t limited itself to seven words. Since Trump took office his administration has raised questions about how to address issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion rights. According to the Washington Post, Health and Human Services (HHS), Justice, Education, and HUD have all changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. HHS has removed information about LGBT individuals from its website. The agency has also removed questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from several surveys of the elderly.
Has the word “authoritarianism” crossed your mind yet? In George Orwell’s novel 1984, "Newspeak" was the official language created by “the Party” to meet the ideological requirements of the totalitarian state. In the appendix to his novel, “Principles of Newspeak”, Orwell explained that Newspeak is “a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning”. "The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc (the name of the political regime), but to make all other modes of thought impossible." Sound familiar?
In other words, if we don’t say it, write it, or read it- it doesn’t exist. That’s a slippery slope that leads right down to the kind of censorship, state control of media, and information voids that characterize countries like North Korea and Eritrea. Is that the company we want to keep?
After Thursday's briefing Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, summed it up best, "Here's a word that's still allowed-Ridiculous!"
posted by Amy Levengood