Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A Clear and Present Danger

The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious NationalismThe Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism by Katherine Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” uncovers a clear and present danger to the United States and may well presage the destruction of our representative democracy.

Katherine Stewart’s deep dive into the world of Christian Nationalism — a form of fascism to be sure — exposes the actors and the money trying to turn back the clock of the country’s progress since the Great Depression. The right-wing’s key is to contaminate our understanding of the First Amendment’s notion of separation of church and state, so clearly articulated by Thomas Jefferson, with the claims that the U.S. was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation and the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the church from the state.

From this false foundation, she bares the right-wing’s plans to take over the country’s public school system and replace it with a combination of private religious schools — all teaching the conservative version of Protestant Christianity. These right-wingers attack the progress of our nation by claiming public schools’ indoctrination of our children with sinful and perverted ideas such as climate change, evolution and science in general. Never mind that it’s the right-wing that wants to do the indoctrination. The Christian Protestant view on health care focuses on reproductive health — that is, abortion and contraception, of course; and on LBGT issues as well — a war Texans are seeing waged by right-wing leadership.

As for financing this the implementation plan was to get like-minded politicians elected and pliant judges appointed that shared the Protestant Christian view of the First Amendment and governance she names names: Charles and David Koch, the DeVos family, the Mercers and all the usual suspects of the billionaire plutocrat class. But, and this is really my only quibble, she mentions, almost in passing, the libertarianism in the Christian Protestant takeover of the economic system making, again in passing, reference to the Austrian school of economics. She was right to attribute the political traction to the rise of the “Moral Majority” in the 1970s and the political kickstart with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. But, as she points out, there was far more going on than the public knew.

In fact, this movement started in the 1950s, with Charles Koch’s interest in the public choice theories of one James McGill Buchanan, a Nobel laurate economist who not only wanted to return the United States to John C. Calhoun’s racist 1850s but also to the total free market economy by tearing government out at the roots. Buchanan’s theory and his tactics and strategy were well documented in “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America” by award winning Duke University historian Nancy MacLean. In fact, MacLean’s book on Buchanan along with Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” are essential companion reading to Stewart’s incredible journalism.

Stewart’s book came out during the disastrous term for Donald Trump and here is where she makes points to show how the clear and present the danger is ow for the United States and other world democracies. The Christian Protestant leadership admires the dictators of the world. In fact, she “blows the lid” off the Trump and his defenders about the Russian alliance with the movement and electing Trump. For example, she exposes Franklin Graham’s defending Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and having multiple meetings with Putin. Further, with Vice President Mike Pence’s “blessing,” Graham met with Russian Orthodox Church leaders “for the purpose of strengthening relationships between the U.S. Congress and the Duma.” How this treason hasn’t been investigated isn’t clear to this reviewer.

Stewart ends the book on an optimistic note, saying that while the right-wing has made immense progress, the good people on the other side of their issues still can thwart this fascist takeover. I wish I shared that optimism.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Paxton is scum

Parents of a trans child who reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton over dinner are now under investigation for child abuse

"Parents of a trans child who reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton over dinner are now under investigation for child abuse" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

In 2016, when Texas tried to stop transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice, there were protests, press conferences and a whole lot of anger directed toward the state’s elected officials.

But one mom tried something different — she invited Attorney General Ken Paxton to have dinner at her house with her 8-year-old transgender son. Amber Briggle told The 19th recently that Paxton and her son washed up together in the bathroom before dinner.

“He turns around and looks and says, ‘This is nice. It’s been a while since I had kids this age,’” Briggle told The 19th.

More than five years later, Paxton has helped set in motion a targeting of families with trans kids unlike anything experts or lawyers say they’ve ever seen — and the Briggles are now caught in the crosshairs.

According to their attorney, they are one of several families who are being investigated for child abuse for providing gender-affirming medical care to their children.

“Raising a transgender child in Texas has been one long political emergency,” they said in a statement provided by their lawyer. “It always seemed like this day would come. Now it has arrived.”

In late February, Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that equated certain gender-affirming medical treatment with child abuse. Gov. Greg Abbott then issued a letter directing the state’s child welfare agency to investigate “any reported instances of these abusive procedures.”

While most gender-affirming care focuses on “social transition” — allowing a child to express their gender how they’d like — some transgender children take puberty blockers, a completely reversible medical treatment that's prescribed for a wide range of situations beyond transition. Paxton and Abbott also cited concerns over gender-affirming surgeries that are rarely, if ever, used on children.

Since Abbott’s letter, The Texas Tribune has been able to confirm that Child Protective Services has opened investigations into at least five families — and the real number may be much higher. A spokesperson for the agency said they could not confirm the number of active investigations due to pending litigation.

The Briggle family said in their statement that a CPS caseworker interviewed them and their children and inspected their house.

“We showed her all the food in our cabinets, the kids’ artwork on the walls, the toys, books, and games in the family room … The gardens and trampoline in the backyard. The beds piled with blankets and stuffed animals,” they said in the statement. “It was impossible for her not to feel the love in our home.”

The investigator told them they were “clearly doing something right,” according to the statement. But the investigation remains open.

“We are the family you would want to place a foster child with, not the family whose children should become foster kids themselves,” they said. “And yet, the government is attempting to rip our family apart because we love our children unconditionally. Is this who we are, America?”

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Lambda Legal has managed to block one of these investigations from proceeding with a temporary restraining order. A judge is set to consider a statewide injunction on Friday, though that hearing is stayed at the moment while Paxton appeals the restraining order.

The Briggle family, in their statement, called on people in Texas and around the country to push back against these policies.

“We need you to not normalize this state terrorism through your silence. Don’t just wring your hands. We need you to draw a line right here,” they wrote. “It is not acceptable that some Americans have to flee their homes to secure their civil rights. Stop telling us to move. Help us.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Nancy MacLean's warning of the risk to our nation's democracy


Last week, you all, I tried to let as many people as I know that Award winning Duke University historian Nancy MacLean, author of “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America,” would be speaking about the right-wing underpinnings of the January 6 insurrection. She did so today on a live YouTube webcast from the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Here is a video of her presentation.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

More of Greg Abbott's lies: This time it's the grid

 The Dallas Morning News watchdog writer Dave Lieber’s Jan. 27, 2022 column is an important read for all Texans. The column relies on facts and fact-checking, citing the work of Ed Hirs, an energy scholar at the University of Houston. Hirs’ Jan. 21 white paper is a 17-page, meticulously sourced and documented condemnation of the Texas Energy grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott and his right-wing, radical henchmen. “A Decade of Deliberate Inaction: Root Causes and Fallout from the Deadly Texas Power Failure of 2021” puts Hirs’ findings against Abbott’s rhetoric, the presentations at some town halls by ERCOT CEO and president Brad Jones and statements by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from North Richmond Hills. Basically, Abbott, Jones and Hancock are liars — flat out liars.

 Here’s the bottom-line on all this: The Texas stand-alone grid is an abject failure of the promises of a competitive market to benefit consumers with lower prices; and, at times a deadly failure in the delivery of services In fact, Hirs proves the competitive model has done the exactly the opposite of those promises. It is neither delivering lower prices to consumers nor is it reliable at times of electrical stress on the grid. If you don’t believe that, go back to last year’s deadly freeze that stole the lives of at least 240 Texans and possibly as many as 700 innocent people. (Talk about right to life.) In fact, the failure of the grid has long been known and here’s the key paragraph in Hirs’ paper:

 “Generators failed during the winter storm in February 2021 with many of ‘the freeze-related outages occurring at temperatures above the unit’s stated ambient design temperature.’ Stripping away everything else, the system operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, failed because generator companies did not invest in weatherization practices after a similar failure in 2011. For eight of the 10 years prior to 2021, the average wholesale price of electricity in ERCOT was too low for generator companies to earn returns on capital. Consequently, they had every incentive not to invest in weatherization. The ERCOT market rewarded volatility at the expense of reliability, despite a decade of warning.”

Like many Americans and fellow Texans, I wonder how conservatives — especially the “Christian” conservatives — reconcile their tenets of faith with their politics and actions. I am not only talking about the protect-the-rich and screw-the-poor politics, although that’s certainly bad enough; but I am also talking about something far more basic. I am talking about their lack character.

 Over and over, the teachings of churches, religions and catechisms mandate the true believer be honest; be a truth-teller and not knowingly lie. And yet, Abbott, and indeed the Republican Party, continue to lie and deceive the public by word and deed. And, a point that applies more specifically to Greg Abbott. Lawyers are held to a higher standard of honesty and conduct. That’s according to the Texas Bar Association’s Code of Ethics, which buries that in Rule 4.01. But a rule it is.

 So, when Abbott is on the hustings, all that talk about books, the border and the reliability of the electrical grid are pretty much lies. Of course, we have a way to understand the lies and the entire “competitive” or “market model.” But to do so, one has to be familiar with the work of James McGill Buchanan and his public choice theory. I’ve discussed it before when I’ve written about “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America,” by Award winning Duke University historian Nancy MacLean. 

Texans deserve better. The State Bar deserves someone on its rolls better than Greg Abbott. I doubt it will happen, but at least I know what’s going on. I pray the long arc of history will bring justice and accountability will prevail.

Friday, January 7, 2022

The Coup Continues

 MacLean was interviewed on Democracy Now! about four years ago. Here is that interview with Amy Goodman.

As we pass through the anniversary of the January 6 Trump-fomented insurrection, we continue to see warnings that the coup continues. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., posts to Facebook daily that the Republicans in the United States House talk about stealing the 2022 mid-term elections. This is a real threat given that more than 30 states have passed voter suppression laws already.

Democracy in Chains proves that economist James McGill Buchanan’s “public choice theory” was born of the anti-integration racism of the 1950s and notion that no one should take money from those who have it to offer public services to those who need it. To do so, the political system and the United States Constitution must, at all costs, protect property rights. Thus, Buchanan developed a weapon for the capitalist/billionaire class to destroy the United States’ middle class. Words like “freedom,” “liberty” and “libertarian” were redefined and weaponized. They now apply to the capitalists and wealthy who would eliminate all public services except for law enforcement and the military. And, how convenient that would be when the population finally realizes too late that peaceful solutions would no longer work.

While Professor MacLean’s book got a fair bit of publicity in 2017, as my previous posts pointed out, the public knows little about these plans, in large part distracted by the hot-button socials issues like gay rights and abortion. The Buchananites really don’t care about these things, but they are useful wedge issues while the right-wing forces march on to their goals. After years of infiltrating the state legislatures and the judiciary, we are now closer to the denouement. With Texans like Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and others leading the charge, a Convention of the States is poised to convene to radically change the Constitution. Once that’s done, so are we as a true democracy. Look to the Pinochet regime in Chile for where the United States will be.