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In This Time of War, I Propose We Give Up God

From The New York Times, by Shalom Auslander:

This weekend, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Passover, the name of which comes from the story of God “passing over” the homes of our distant ancestors on his way to slaughter the first born sons of evil Egyptians. Our forefathers, the story goes, marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood in order to spare their own sons the awful fate of their enemies.

In this time of war and violence, of oppression and suffering, I propose we pass over something else:

God.

Two aspects of the Passover story have troubled me since I was first taught them long ago in an Orthodox yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y. I was 8 years old, and as the holiday approached, our rabbi commanded us to open our chumashim, or Old Testaments, to the Book of Exodus. To get us in the holiday spirit, he told us gruesome tales of torture and persecution.

“The Egyptians,” he told us, “used the corpses of Jewish slaves in their buildings.”

“You mean they used slaves to build their buildings,” I asked, “and the slaves died from work?”

“No,” said the rabbi. “They put the Jewish bodies into the walls and used them as bricks.”

My father was something of a handyman at the time, and this seemed to me a serious violation of basic building codes, not to mention a surefire way to lose a home sale.

“Is this brick?” the interested couple asks.

“No, no,” says the realtor. “That’s corpse.”

But just as troubling — even more so today in light of the brutal slaughter taking place in Ukraine — were the plagues themselves.

God, the rabbi said, struck all the Egyptians with his wrath, not just Pharaoh and his soldiers. Egyptians young and old, innocent and guilty, suffered locusts and frogs, hail and darkness, beasts running wild and water becoming blood. Mothers nursing their babies, the rabbi explained, found their breast milk had turned to blood.

“Yay!” my classmates cheered.

But Pharaoh, the story continues, still wouldn’t relinquish his slaves. Technically this was God’s fault as he “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” but the issue of free will wouldn’t begin troubling me until my teens. And so God, in his mercy, started killing babies.

“Every firstborn son in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the firstborn of the servant girl.” Exodus 11:5.

Surely, I wondered, there were some Egyptians who didn’t whip Jews, who didn’t have anything against Jews at all? Surely there were Egyptians horrified by slavery, Egyptians who disagreed with Pharaoh as often as we do with our own leaders?

“Everyone?” I asked the rabbi. “He struck everyone?”

“Everyone,” the rabbi said.

“Yay!” my classmates cheered.

God, it seems, paints with a wide brush. He paints with a roller. In Egypt, said our rabbi, he even killed first-born cattle. He killed cows. If he were mortal, the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims would be dragged to The Hague. And yet we praise him. We emulate him. We implore our children to be like him.

Perhaps now, as missiles rain down and the dead are discovered in mass graves, is a good time to stop emulating this hateful God. Perhaps we can stop extolling his brutality. Perhaps now is a good time to teach our children to pass over God — to be as unlike him as possible.

“And so God killed them all,” the rabbis and priests and imams can preach to their classrooms. “That was wrong, children.”

“God threw Adam out of Eden for eating an apple,” they can caution their students. “That’s called being heavy-handed, children.”

Cursing all women for eternity because of Eve’s choices?

“That’s called collective punishment, children,” they can warn the young. “Don’t do that.”

“Boo!” the children will jeer.

I was raised strictly Orthodox. Old school. Shtetl fabulous. Every year, at the beginning of the Seder, we welcome in the hungry and poor Jews who can’t afford to have a Seder themselves. It’s a wonderfully human gesture. A few short hours of God later, at the end of the Seder, we open the front door and call out to Him, “Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that did not know you!”

And God does. With plagues and floods, with fire and fury, on the young and old, the guilty and innocent.

And we humans, made in his image, do the same. With fixed-wing bombers and cluster bombs, with self-propelled mortars and thermobaric rocket launchers.

“Why did God kill the first-born cattle?” my rabbi said. “Because the Egyptians believed they were gods.”

Killing gods is an idea I can get behind.

This year, at the end of the Seder, let’s indeed throw our doors open — to strangers. To people who aren’t our own. To the terrifying them, to the evil others, those people who seem so different from us, those we think are our enemies or who think us theirs, but who, if they sat down around the table with us, we’d no doubt find despise the pharaohs of this world as much as we do, and who dream of the same damned thing as us all:

Peace.

0

When You’re a Colossal Dick for the Sake of Being a Colossal Dick

From Esquire, by Charles P. Pierce:

One of the more under-examined facets of the modern American conservative movement is the tactic of being a colossal dick simply for the sake of being a colossal dick. (Some experts trace this phenomenon back to former Senator Rick Santorum.) The energy behind this tactic is very often the inherent structural racism that has charged American conservative politics ever since it allied itself with the remnants of American apartheid in the mid-1960s. It has been a long march, but recent events have made clear that the time of those remnants has come around at last. So American conservatives can be colossal dicks just to be colossal dicks.

On Tuesday, a proposal seemed to be sailing through the House of Representatives that would name a Florida federal courthouse after Joseph Hatchett, the first Black man to serve on that state’s supreme court. The measure was supported by the entire Florida congressional delegation, and it is the kind of legislation that House members don’t even have to be fully awake to support. But this is 2022, and there is absolutely nothing normal about the House Republican caucus. From the New York Times:

But in a last-minute flurry, Republicans abruptly pulled their backing with no explanation and ultimately killed the measure, leaving its fate unclear, many of its champions livid and some of its newfound opponents professing ignorance about what had happened. Asked what made him vote against a measure that he had co-sponsored, Representative Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, was brief and blunt: “I don’t know,” he said.

Back to sleep, Vern.

Explanations were quickly forthcoming.

With little notice and nothing more than a 23-year-old news clipping, a right-wing, first-term congressman mounted an 11th-hour effort on the House floor to persuade his colleagues that Judge Hatchett, a trailblazing judge who broke barriers as the first Black State Supreme Court justice south of the Mason-Dixon line, was undeserving of being honored. The objector was Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia. Shortly before the House vote, he began circulating an Associated Press article from 1999 about an appeals court decision that Judge Hatchett wrote that year that struck down a public school policy allowing student-approved prayers at graduation ceremonies in Florida. The decision, which overruled a lower court, held that the policy violated constitutional protections of freedom of religion.

In other words, the Republicans in the House killed a bill that would honor a true pathfinder because, as a judge, he enforced the First Amendment. They did so in order to mollify the same idiot rookie who referred to the January 6 insurrectionists as an “ordinary tourist group.” Expect a lot more of this ass-showing if the Republicans take over the House in the fall, and don’t expect Kevin McCarthy to do anything about it whether he’s speaker or not.

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Quote of the Day

“Well, what I would say is that what’s happening today in Ukraine is a reminder that democracy is fragile, that democracy must be defended, and that each one of us in a position to do so has an obligation to do so.

Clearly, I think Leader McCarthy failed to do that, failed to put his oath to the Constitution ahead of his own personal political gains. And I think that, at the end of the day, each one of us is responsible for our own actions and activity.

But, if we don’t stand for our Constitution, if we don’t stand for democracy, if we don’t stand for freedom, if we — if we forget that our oath to our Constitution is an oath to a document, it’s not an oath to an individual, we have got to always remember that, or our democracy is in peril.” —-Liz Cheney

1

Fraud Endorses Quack

From The Bulwark, by Charlie Sykes:

Happy Monday.

In case you missed it over the weekend, Donald J. Trump endorsed Dr. Oz for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. Rolling Stone’s headliner writer nailed the story: “Fraud Endorses Quack.”

Ironically (given all that they have swallowed so far), this has caused a good deal of agita among Trumpist apologists. Via the Daily Beast: “Trumpworld Goes Into Meltdown After Trump Endorses Dr. Oz.”

“This endorsement could divide MAGA in the only way that matters: he could lose America First conservatives over it,” Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak wrote

Lesser-known pro-Trump media personalities also stepped into the fold, including Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter, who wrote: “It’s pretty hard for me to fully express how disappointed in Trump I am for endorsing Oz.”

Sad, I know, because who could have possibly known that boarding the Trump Train would lead to… this.

Trump’s endorsement of Oz is actually his second crack at picking a senator for Pennsylvania. His first anointed candidate, Sean Parnell, dropped out after allegations of spousal abuse. But the Oz endorsement was too much even for the scrofulous Parnell.

Because turds don’t polish themselves, some in the MAGAverse were quick to blame Trump’s decision on his “staff.”

“This is happening because Trump’s surrounded himself by staff who are on McConnell’s payroll & hostile to the MAGA agenda. Everybody telling Trump who to endorse in primaries works for The Swamp. They played him. Again,” tweeted Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who was recently tossed under the Trumpist bus, when TFG rescinded his previous endorsement.

Erick Erickson also blamed “staff,” singling out a scapegoat named Susie Wiles as the presumably wily Rasputin behind the Trump-Oz bromance.

Bold efforts, gentlemen, but the reality is that Trump’s embrace of Oz is very much on brand. One former television huckster reaching out to another — an alliance of ambitious charlatans.

Let’s just check the tape. Last December, Scientific American ran an opinion piece headlined: Dr. Oz Shouldn’t Be a Senator—or a Doctor.

While holding a medical license, Mehmet Oz, widely known as Dr. Oz, has long pushed misleading, science-free and unproven alternative therapies such as homeopathy, as well as fad diets, detoxes and cleanses. Some of these things have been potentially harmful, including hydroxychloroquine, which he once touted would be beneficial in the treatment or prevention of COVID. This assertion has been thoroughly debunked.

The scams were not mere lapses in judgement. Business Insider listed all the times that Oz has made false or baseless medical claims.

Oz repeatedly claimed that raspberry ketones are ‘the No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.’

Oz has said astrological signs “may reveal a great deal about our health.”

He’s also said umckaloabo root extract “has been incredibly effective at relieving cold symptoms” even though it isn’t.

Oz recommended using lavender soap to cure leg cramps.

And on and on.

Trump’s endorsed candidate is so embarrassing that a group of doctors wrote an open letter urging Columbia University to fire the celebrity quack.

“Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine… Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

Like Trump, Oz has been unapologetic about his scams, which drew the attention of the body that he now seeks to join:

In June a Senate subcommittee heard testimony from Oz on false advertising of weight loss claims and Sen. Claire McCaskill queried the doctor about the statements he made on the show.

“I do personally believe in the items that I talk about on the show,” he said at the hearing. “We have to simplify complicated information. We have to make the material seem interesting and focus on the ‘wow’ factor.”

Here’s the key: Trump loves all this.

Trump could have gone with David McCormick, the former Bridgewater CEO, who had remade himself into a born-again Trumpist. A former Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs during the George W. Bush administration, McCormick, who graduated from West Point, earned the Bronze star, and has a PhD from Princeton. He is married to a former high ranking Trump official (Dina Powell), and has surrounded himself with Trumpist loyalists like Hope Hicks.

But Trump chose Oz, because he’s Trump, the founder of Trump Steaks, Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka, Trump Mortgage, Trump: The Game, Trump Magazine, Trump University, Trump Ice, Tour de Trump , Trump Network, and Trumped! 

In Oz, he sees a kindred spirit. The former president is not endorsing Oz despite the fact that the doctor peddles disinformation; to the contrary, this is what attracts him and binds him to his fellow television huckster.

Explaining his endorsement, TFG gushed about Oz’s long television career, saying that being on TV was “like a poll. You know, when you’re in television for 18 years, that’s like a poll, that means people like you.”

Blame the staff all you want, but this is pure, undistilled Trump.

3

Mmm Hmm. Yes, I See. Do Go On.

“Well what I would do is, I would, we would, have tremendous military capability and what we can do without planes, to be honest with you, without 44-year-old jets, what we can do is enormous, and we should be doing it and we should be helping them to survive and they’re doing an amazing job.”
— Trump, asked what the U.S. should do about Ukraine

1

Well, Duh. “The fool’s gold of Trump’s decertification plan”

From the Washington Post:

Benjamin L. Ginsberg practiced election law for 38 years, representing Republican candidates and parties and is a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Bob Bauer served as White House counsel during the Obama administration and is a professor at the New York University School of Law. David Becker is executive director and founder of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research and a former trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Voting Section. Ginsberg and Bauer are co-chairs of the Election Official Legal Defense Network, a project of CEIR.

As Donald Trump flails about trying to “rescind” the 2020 presidential election and castigating Republicans who point out the Constitution doesn’t allow that, here is a heads-up for state legislators considering doing his bidding: You were elected to office by the same voters using the same ballots on the same day.

If somehow Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent, so was yours.

If Joe Biden shouldn’t be in the White House, you shouldn’t be in your statehouse.

Wisconsin Republicans pushing that state’s special counsel investigation and those supporting the Cyber Ninja charade in Arizona or the “audits” being attempted in several states and counties apparently aren’t aware of the implications of their claims or how elections work.

You cannot disqualify just one race on an illegal ballot. Simply put, it is impossible.

If a ballot is disqualified because someone voted fraudulently, then all votes for all offices on that ballot must be disqualified, including the votes that likely gave Republican legislators their majorities in key battleground states.

Recall that in 2020, Trump lost but that Republicans did very well down ballot. Republican voters in swing areas, mostly suburbs, split their tickets by abandoning Trump but voting for Republican congressional and state candidates, including for state legislatures. Republicans gained a net 141 seats and two legislative chambers, while Democrats won no new chambers.

The recent report by Wisconsin special counsel Michael Gableman illustrates the peril Republicans face in pursuing decertification efforts and claims of fraudulent election results. Gableman, who was appointed by Republicans in the state Assembly, has alleged that rules for voting in nursing homes during the pandemic along with election officials’ acceptance of private grants for Wisconsin cities constituted “unlawful conduct in the 2020 Presidential election [that] casts grave doubt on Wisconsin’s 2020 Presidential election certification.”

Consider just the nursing home claim. Citing 12 claims of voting fraud, the report extrapolates that, because 92,000 people live in such facilities, there is “rampant fraud and abuse” amounting to “tens of thousands of illegal ballots,” casting “doubt on the 2020 Presidential election result.” The report does not offer math to support this remarkable extrapolation. Nor does Gableman acknowledge that if fraud on that scale were true, it would cast doubt on all 2020 Wisconsin races, certainly including the eight Assembly races Republicans won by margins of less than 10 percent, including four by 2,000 votes or fewer. If votes are illegal in the presidential race, they are illegal in all other races.

It’s a similar story in other states where Republicans continue to allege that fraudulent votes elected Biden. In Arizona, Republicans control the state Senate 16-14 and the House 31-29, with a series of competitive races expected in the next decade under a new commission-drawn map. In Pennsylvania, Republicans won seven state House seats in 2020 by fewer than 2,000 votes and 13 races by less than 10 percent, and they face a less friendly map after redistricting. In Michigan, a new redistricting commission drew maps with more competitive districts, giving Democrats their best shot at legislative control in several decades.

As even an attorney who represents Gableman explained recently to an Assembly committee, trying to decertify the 2020 election now is a sideshow since there is no legal mechanism or legal authority to do so once Congress certifies the electoral college votes. States cannot undo their certification 15 months later, as even Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) knew to tell Trump.

But it becomes something more than a sideshow if disqualifying ballots for unproven fraud is the 2024 game plan for the Trump loyalists running for secretary of state or for county and municipal offices with responsibilities for overseeing elections. Nearly two dozen Republican secretary of state primary candidates have denied the accuracy of the 2020 election or called for decertification of Biden’s victory. While many are running in heavily Republican states, Trump-inspired candidates are also competing in the presidential battlegrounds of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.

It is worth asking all secretary of state candidates some questions: Would they have certified the 2020 election? And under what circumstances, with what hard evidence, would they refuse to certify future elections? Do they recognize that invalidating a vote for one office means invalidating the votes for all offices on a ballot? Their answers will be revealing, and Republican officials whose elections may be called into question should pay attention.

These issues spotlight the crucial role of election officials — the people charged in our democracy with calling balls and strikes. When umpires or referees call a game so that the team they favor wins, we recognize that as an “illegal fix.”

When they make claims that betray a basic lack of knowledge of how elections work, we should call them what they are: unqualified for the office.

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The Lunatic Fringe Is a Key Republican Constituency

By Charles P. Pierce:

There is one sure way to know that the former president* and his apparently deathless enablers are getting worried, and that is that the tub-thumping about Hunter Biden and his laptop is getting louder and more frenzied.

On Monday, at a committee meeting, Rep. Matt Gaetz went bananas, waving around a flash drive that he said contained the contents of the famous laptop. He tried to get it entered into the record, only to be blocked by the chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler. Gaetz responded by leaping to the electric Twitter machine with a barbered video in which Nadler appears to allow the contents of the flash drive to be placed in the record. There is no reason to believe that the flash drive contains what Matt Gaetz says it does. There are two good reasons not to believe it: 1) there is no chain of evidence, and 2) Matt Gaetz’s lips are moving.

Fox News is running a clock on how many days the other networks have gone without mentioning this little diversionary vaudeville. All of their teevee superstars are on the case, as are most of their “contributors.” (Miranda Devine, another Aussie import at the New York Post, seems to be the point person in print.) So far, the more respectable press seems to be busy covering a ground war in Europe and the investigation into an actual coup over here. Laudable. However, you know what story has disappeared? Ginni Thomas’ cheerleading for the coup. Hell, her husband is back at the Supreme Court like nothing happened. Indeed, the Republicans in DC are going out of their way to tut-tut her past as irrelevant to the special committee’s mandate. From The Hill:

“Justice Thomas is a great American and an outstanding Justice. I have total confidence in his brilliance and impartiality in every aspect of the work of the Court,” [Mitch] McConnell said in a statement. [Kevin] McCarthy, during a press conference at a House GOP retreat, said that he didn’t think Thomas should recuse himself from future Jan. 6-related cases. “No, I think Justice Thomas could make his decisions like he’s made them every other time. It’s his decision based upon law,” McCarthy said. 

By all accounts, Ginni Thomas, the wife of a Supreme Court justice, has imbibed deeply from the Well of the Crazy and gone back several times for a refill. When her text messages to the then-White House chief of staff were revealed, the most startling thing about them was Thomas’ apparent belief in fringe conspiracies and speculation straight from the wild and uncharted wastes of the Internet. For example:

“Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states.”

“Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

“The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

“Sounds like Sidney [Powell] and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

All of this has precisely the same relation to reality as an accusation that Joe Biden is actually an illusion placed in our minds by the zookeepers on Talos IV. It is a banana-nut sundae of the mind. And somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of our fellow citizens believe this bafflegab either whole or in part, and they vote accordingly. And every Republican politician knows it, and they act accordingly.
 
Without the support of the far fringes of both the conservative worldview and, it should be said, of human cognition, the Republican Party has no natural mass constituency anymore. And that’s a situation that the party has spent decades fashioning. The “watermarked ballots” are no more real than were the lagoons of poisons that Colin Powell assured the UN were dotting the Iraqi landscape. The prison barges off Gitmo are no more real than Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens with their multiple identities and their Cadillacs. They’ve sold this bunkum—and succeeded politically while doing so—for decades. At this point, why wouldn’t the working assumption for any ambitious conservative politician be that the voters most critical to his success will believe any goddamn thing you tell them, so long as it paints Democrats as evil and minority citizens as freeloading thieves? Why wouldn’t our ambitious conservative politician lean heavily on the strategic use of projection to create an illusory version of what they were actually doing? Why wouldn’t Ginni Thomas believe what she believes?
 
There are days when I believe that the former president* is the only Republican politician who actually understands all of this. Without question, he is a natural liar and conman; both are essential skills for anyone in Manhattan real estate. That has enabled him to see the dangerously deranged conservative Republican mind as an opportunity rather than a threat. And, in a roundabout way, we have come back to Hunter Biden’s laptop, which has become a kind of totem for the conservative faith, one last station of the cross before which all must genuflect. In an interview this week, the former president* recited the current litany in all its paranoid glory. And he prayed once again for the intercession of Our Father, who art in the Kremlin.
 
“How is it that the mayor of Moscow, his wife gave the Biden family three and a half million dollars? I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer,” Trump said. “I’m sure he knows.”
 
It is possible that Vladimir Putin has gone, in the felicitous phrasing of the late George V. Higgins, as soft as church music in the splendid isolation of his Kremlin digs. The Ukraine debacle might be proof enough of that. But I think, no matter how deeply he has sunk into delusion, he must look at this country and think we’ve all gone around the bend.