Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

They’re Not Even Trying To Be Consistent. Or Honest. Or Historically Accurate.

Texas can regulate abortion but New Jersey can’t regulate guns.

And lying to Congress is a crime:

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By the way (from historian J. M. Opal):

The 2nd Amendment, ratified in 1791, reads: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Responsible readings of this sentence note that it locates gun rights within the framework of militia service, not as an individual entitlement. By contrast, the 5th Amendment, ratified the same year, says that “No person” shall be denied due process.

Militias aside, there is also the “keep and bear” part of the 2nd Amendment to consider. In the founders’ era, to “keep” meant to own and possess something inside one’s home, while “bear arms” referred specifically to shouldering a musket or rifle in an army or militia.

Nowhere does the amendment declare or suggest a right to “go armed,” the term used in that era for carrying a weapon such as a pistol or dagger, either openly or in secret.

The Fix Is In at the Supreme Court

The draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade is built on the assumption fetuses deserve special treatment while denying that assumption is being made. Liza Batkin explains with “Deceit in Plain Sight” for the New York Review of Books:  

Justice Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization would have you believe that the forthcoming decision to overrule Roe v. Wade is a display of great judicial restraint and independence. The draft is written in the language of solemn duty: we do not want to take away abortion rights, the conservative justices say, but it does not matter what we want. “We can only do our job,” Alito writes, “which is to interpret the law,” and to do so regardless of personal preferences or public opinion. In the draft decision’s logic, it was Roe that exercised “raw judicial power” and Dobbs that will remedy this error by returning “the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

These claims to neutrality and humility should make you nauseous and irate. For one thing, they come in the middle of a decision that would wield extraordinary power, disposing with a nearly half-century-old fundamental right and reshaping the lives of millions of Americans. It’s also skin-crawling that these justices pretend to be concerned with empowering “the people” through their representatives after eroding the voting rights and electoral rules that would have allowed them to be adequately represented.

This performance of duty comes from justices who have routinely championed religious interests, were nominated by Republican presidents, and have all been affiliated with the Federalist Society, an organization dedicated to promoting conservative legal ideology. While only Justice Barrett has made explicit her personal opinions about abortion, stating in a co-authored law review article in 1998 that it is “always immoral,” the others are clearly not sacrificing their moral or political views for some higher charge.

You don’t need to look very far to see that the decision is a power grab cloaked in false modesty. The flaws in the majority’s central argument, that Roe was wrong to recognize a fundamental right to abortion, have been well-exposed elsewhere. But there is another deceit at play here: while claiming fidelity to the constitutional text, the majority’s draft is steeped in unexplained views about the importance of protecting fetuses at all stages of development—views that do not come from the Constitution but have traditionally been the purview of conservative and religious antiabortion advocates, and that are exactly the kind of personal belief the majority claims not to rely on.

The issue of abortion since Roe has been a battle between competing rights: a pregnant person’s right to control their reproductive choices, and the state’s interest in protecting the potential life of a fetus. To balance these different interests, the Court has historically tried to avoid opining on the legal or moral claims of fetuses, since the issue teems with conflicting beliefs. One way to establish when the state’s interest in protecting potential life becomes compelling, the Court recognized in Roe, was to determine “when life begins.” But after a brief survey of opposing religious, philosophical, and theological views, the Court steered clear of the mire and landed instead on the line of viability, which protects the right to abortion until the fetus can survive outside the womb.

If you take Alito at his word, the Dobbs majority has managed to sidestep this balancing act altogether. The draft decision proclaims that it is “not based on any view about when a State should regard prenatal life as having rights or legally cognizable interests” and says little about the source, strength, or timing of the state’s interest in potential fetal life.

But the majority has not avoided the issue. While claiming high-minded neutrality, they hint over and over at views about the importance of protecting fetal life. Early in the opinion, Alito explains that abortion “is fundamentally different” from all other liberty interests “because it destroys what [Roe and Casey] called ‘fetal life’ and what the law now before us describes as an ‘unborn human being.’” As a result, the right to abortion presents a distinct and “critical moral question.” The draft makes this point four times.

There is, however, no reason to assert that abortion at all stages of a pregnancy presents a unique and “critical moral question” unless one already gives weight and legitimacy to moral claims for the protection of fetuses at all stages of development, starting even as soon as conception. How else can we explain the draft opinion’s circular insistence that the right to abortion is different from other rights simply because it destroys fetuses, which merely defines what an abortion does?

The terms the draft uses, too, are revealing. In veering from the “potential life” invoked by Roe and Casey and repeating without qualification the language used by the Mississippi legislature along with antiabortion amicus briefs that defend the rights of the “unborn human being” and the “unborn child,” the majority divulges its allegiances. The footnotes tell the same story. In addition to citing a large array of prior dissenting opinions by conservative justices which have no legal authority, the draft draws on amicus briefs and articles dedicated to proving that fetuses are people. Alito’s majority does all of this while claiming that it “has neither the authority nor the expertise to adjudicate” disputes about “the status of the fetus” and citing language that courts must not “substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies.”

While we rally to protect the right of pregnant people to make decisions about their bodies and futures (and desperately hope that this draft decision does not become law), we should recognize what’s going on here. The [reactionary] justices are preparing to abuse their power, cause grievous harm, and treat us—the “people” they pretend to empower—like fools, assuming we won’t notice the contradictions they’ve left in plain sight.

It’s Been Coming. It’s Why Elections Truly Matter

Two Washington Post columnists react. First, Monica Hesse:

This is for the girl right now hiding in the bathroom stall with two pink lines on a pregnancy test and the rest of her life in front of her.

On Monday evening, Politico published a leaked document that seemed to signal that the Supreme Court may soon overturn Roe v. Wade. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in a draft opinion that would end federal protection of abortion access. The official decision won’t be announced until later this summer, and meanwhile, it’s time to think of the girl in the bathroom stall and everyone else who has been or ever will be in her position, and of everyone who put her there.

. . . Conservative voters elected conservative politicians who appointed conservative judges. A machine decades in the making, . . . a decision that cleanly establishes a divide in America: men, who will have control over the most intimate parts of their bodies, and women, who will have control over their bodies only in some states, at the whim of some legislators.

“A right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions,” Alito wrote in the draft opinion. He makes no mention of the things that are rooted in the nation’s history and traditions: slavery, disenfranchisement, discrimination. . . .Bodily autonomy should not be granted to women because of history and traditions; it should be recognized because of their innate dignity as human beings. . . .

There were always abortions, after all. They happened with Mason jars, and they happened with knitting needles, and they happened in bedrooms, and they happened without painkillers, and they happened with women squeezing one another’s hands so tightly their knuckles were white, and they happened, and they happened, and they happened. The overturning of Roe would not mean the end of abortions. It would just mean the end, in certain states, of safe, legal abortions.

Alito’s opinion is barbarous and cruel. It is broad where it could have been narrow. It is scathing where it could have been compassionate. It is, as discussions about abortion often are, so preoccupied with scrambling for the moral high ground that it pays no attention to the women being trampled underfoot.

This is for the girl right now hiding in the bathroom stall with two pink lines on a pregnancy test. The girl who is going to find a way to not be pregnant anyway, no matter what the Supreme Court ends up saying in June. . . . 

Next, Paul Waldman:

. . .  Many have noted that this decision [assuming it holds] will be extremely unpopular; polls show that between 60 and 65 percent of Americans say Roe should remain. The draconian laws Republicans are already proposing at the state level could be even more unpopular.

But if those facts allowed [anybody to think] this day would not come, they were clearly misguided. The coming nightmare for reproductive rights is in large part a product of minority rule. It’s what Republicans have painstakingly constructed over the course of decades, and it might take just as long to dismantle it — if Democrats can do that at all.

Opinions on abortion have been remarkably resistant to change for the past 50 years. The antiabortion movement’s attempt to convince the public that abortion is murder was a failure, and that likely won’t change in the post-Roe world.

Conservatives know that perfectly well. But the whole point of building the apparatus of minority rule was for moments like this. To do popular things, you don’t have to twist the system in knots and eliminate democratic accountability. You do it to stop popular things you don’t like, enable yourself to do things the public doesn’t want, and hold on to power no matter what.

The details should be familiar by now. The Senate gives two votes to every state, so 40 million Americans in California, most of them Democrats, get the same representation as 580,000 Americans in Wyoming, most of them Republicans. That is then levered into the electoral college, which is why the past two Republican presidents took office despite having lost the popular vote.

That (plus unprecedented ruthlessness in refusing to allow a Democratic president to fill an open seat) gets you a conservative Supreme Court supermajority — appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, confirmed by GOP senators who represent a national minority — enacting a conservative legal revolution the public never asked for.

That court then validates nearly every effort by state Republicans to insulate their own power through voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering. That will enable them to outlaw abortion over the objections of their own state populations, knowing that district lines have been drawn in a way that predetermines the outcome of elections.

It’s a closed loop, an interlocking system that insulates Republicans from accountability.

There are times when Democrats can overcome it, for example by electing governors in swing states such as Wisconsin and North Carolina. But because it’s almost impossible for Republicans to lose their hold on state legislatures, they can hamstring and undermine the governor much as congressional Republicans . . . will to President Biden if they take control of Congress in this fall’s elections.

Now consider where they’re going now that Roe is apparently dead. Forget about 15-week bans and six-week bans; a couple dozen Republican-run states will probably outlaw abortion entirely, perhaps with a grudging exception to save the life of the pregnant woman . . . 

But even that will not be enough. GOP state legislators are working to ban abortion in other states; in Missouri, one Republican state legislator has introduced a bill to allow anyone to sue over an abortion that occurred anywhere if “sexual intercourse occurred within this state and the child may have been conceived by that act of intercourse”. . . .

And it isn’t just abortions. In the antiabortion movement, most forms of birth control — including birth control pills, Plan B and even IUDs — are widely and wrongly considered “abortifacients,” the moral equivalent of abortion. Once laws outlawing abortion are passed, this is where the movement will likely turn its attention — and Republican legislators who worry only about primary challenges from the right will face pressure to go after birth control.

Meanwhile, the next time Republicans have complete control in D.C., they’ll push for a nationwide ban on abortion. The planning is already underway.

If your response is to say, “That would never happen — it would be too unpopular,” remember, that’s exactly what some said about overturning Roe. The whole point of minority rule is that you don’t have to worry about what’s unpopular.

Part of the sinister genius of minority rule is that if it is constructed with enough care and comprehensiveness, it can be demoralizing to the majority, which sees no way around it, at least in the short term. . . .

Overcoming that demoralization will require a psychological fortitude on the part of Democrats, and a commitment to do what Republicans did: to work not just for the next election but for a project that will unfold over decades. Even if you don’t get what you want from one president or one Congress, you have to take small steps until you reach your ultimate goal, knowing victory is never assured and will be a long time in coming.

That’s what the people who wanted to outlaw abortion committed themselves to, and now their victory is here. It can be reversed, but it will not be easy. . . .

Unquote.

Americans, mainly women, fought for years to make abortion legal so women would have more control over their bodies and thus their lives. The court decisions talk a lot about whether there’s a right to privacy, but it’s always been a contest between individual freedom and religious dogma. Here in America, unlike most places, freedom is losing:

The story of abortion rights in the 21st century can be seen in two world-shaking developments this past week [this is from the New York Times in September].

In the first, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively upheld drastic new abortion restrictions in Texas. A few days later, Mexico’s high court paved the way for nationwide legalization.

It may be tempting to see Mexico’s ruling as the more surprising, catapulting the world’s second most populous Catholic country on a deeply contentious social matter.

But experts say it is the United States that stands out. Since 2000, 31 countries, many just as pious as Mexico, have expanded access to abortion. Only three have rolled it back: Nicaragua, Poland and the United States.

Elections matter.

Russia Ain’t the Soviet Union Anymore

Two European academics who have studied Russia’s culture and politics explain why the war in Ukraine is much more than a response to NATO. They also explain why segments from the most extreme Fox News programs are replayed on Russian TV:

In recent weeks, many analysts — especially those trying to find a logical justification for the Russian war in Ukraine — have argued that the Kremlin was reacting to a perceived threat from NATO encroachment and the Western alliance’s push into Russia’s sphere of influence.

While that may be so, such explanations miss an important point. . . . 

Gay parades and cancel culture

In his sermon approximately two weeks into the war, on March 6, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church justified the invasion of Ukraine as necessary to defend Orthodox Christians against Western values and gay pride parades. On March 24, during a meeting with young artists, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained about cancel culture, arguing that much the way J.K. Rowling was criticized for her opposition to transgender rights, the West was now “trying to cancel a whole 1,000-year culture, our people … Russian writers and books are now canceled.”

Russia presents itself as being at the forefront of the global culture wars, leading the resistance to liberal values. Russian anti-Westernism has religious implications: According to its own narrative, Russia is guarding true Christian faith, as embodied in the Eastern Orthodox church, from Western attempts to distort it, whether through Marxism in the 20th century or liberalism in the 21st.

Ukraine plays an important role in this story. It is depicted as part of the “Russian world,” the cradle of Russian civilization, which for many centuries was centered not around Moscow but around Kyiv, capital of today’s Ukraine. Ukraine’s choice to orient itself toward the West and reconcile a Slavic Orthodox identity with liberal democratic values is thus dangerous to this Russian vision of itself.

Global Christian Right

The arguments about gender freedoms and cancel culture that we hear today from Patriarch Kirill and Putin are nothing genuinely Russian. They derive from a global Christian right ideology, which Russian conservatives learned about in the 1990s.

Right after the end of the Cold War, Christian right activists, especially from the United States, flocked into Russia; among them were Focus on the FamilyCoMission and the World Congress of Families. From the 1990s onward, Russian conservatives have argued that the frustrations of their society falling apart result from painful liberal socioeconomic reforms. Their argument combines elements of a late-Soviet conservative social ethos, Russian Orthodox traditionalism and huge transnational influences.

Today’s Russian discourse on traditional values is a hybrid of Christian right ideas from the global culture wars and nostalgia about Russia’s great Soviet and even greater imperial and Orthodox Christian past.

The whimsical West

This type of Russian cultural conservatism was marginal until around 2010, when it started to migrate to the center of Russian political life — decisively so during Putin’s third term as president. For Putin, the traditional values discourse was a good pretext for political repression — exemplified in the treatment of the Pussy Riot women — and a shield against rising opposition, which demanded more freedoms.

Traditional values and the defense of Christianity were a suitable foundation for the new Russian foreign policy mission: becoming the leader of those countries and actors that were not, were no longer or had never wanted to be “liberal.”

In the process of “learning” the global culture wars, Russian conservatives not only defined their national identity in relation to a global Christian conservatism, but also acquired a precise vision of the West as spiritually hollow and failing. Christian conservatives flocking to Russia conveyed an image of the West that was torn, weak and doomed, because it no longer had children, no longer had values, and did not even distinguish between men and women. As a result, many Christian conservatives from the United States and Europe  looked to Russia with hope.

Christian conservatives’ image of a failing and doomed West began to dominate views of Russian conservative elites during the late 2000s. But Russian elites saw their Western conservative partners as part of that failing West: they too were weak and pitiful heralds of a West in decline.

Russian triumphalism

This account of the West helped give birth to a new Russian triumphalism. Russian media filled with TV shows and “documentaries” on “Gayropa” and “Sodom.” These shows conjured up a caricature of weak “gayish” Western males and women who lost their femininity by competing with men in spheres where they could achieve nothing serious.

Russian media frequently stressed the oddity that many Western democracies nominated women as defense ministers, as if that was the ultimate proof that the West has lost its ability to defend itself. In this collective image of a weak West, Russia depicted itself (to the inside and outside) as the country of strength, the bulwark of traditional families: with strong men, fertile women and children properly guarded against subversive homosexual propaganda.

Russian triumphalism

This image is without any empirical foundation, but that was not important. It resulted in an internal perception of Russia as world messiah and a force preventing the world from sliding into the chaos of evil, with a special mission of saving the world from liberal depravities. The Patriarch’s March 6 sermon expressed precisely that worldview.

Fascinated by this flattering vision of Russia, elites, it seems, overestimated Russia’s strength and underestimated Ukraine’s. The Kremlin also appears to have underestimated the strength and unity of the collective West, which appears not as corrupted and not as weak as Russia imagined. Pointedly, J. K. Rowling, whom Putin mentioned as a victim of Western cancel culture, refused his characterization and accused Putin of killing civilians instead.

Unquote.

Everybody should keep in mind that 21st century Russia isn’t the 20th century Soviet Union. There are no communists in power now. Putin is yet another neo-fascist authoritarian, the kind that rules over HungaryBrazilIndiaTurkey, the Philippines and elsewhere. That’s why our former president and other Republicans admire Putin and those like him. The days when being an anti-Communist meant being anti-Russia are long gone.

The Original Sin

These are the opening and closing paragraphs of a review in The New York Review of Books (the review is “Uncanny Planet” by Mark O’Connor; the book is Second Nature: Scenes from a World Remade by Nathaniel Rich):

In the opening lines of the Bible, having brought forth the world and everything in it, God makes his inaugural address to Adam and Eve. “Be fruitful, and multiply,” he tells them, “and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” God’s first, foundational decree explicitly casts the relationship between humanity and nature as one of separation and control. The whole sorry business with the serpent, the forbidden fruit, and the banishment doesn’t come about for another two chapters, but if you were in the mood for a little heretical revisionism you might argue, just for fun, that the true original sin can be located not in man’s first disobedience, but in God’s first command.

The attitude toward nature that He defines and sanctifies with those words is, after all, precisely the attitude that led human beings to exploit nature so ruthlessly, and for so long, that the planet is now in danger of becoming unlivable for vast numbers of its inhabitants, both human and nonhuman. Our adherence to this view of the world and our place within it, in other words, has amounted to its own kind of Fall. . . .

[The first line of Stewart Brand’s original Whole Earth Catalog — “We are as gods and we might as well get good at it” —] recalls Francis Bacon’s characterization of his scientific work, and by implication that of the scientific method itself, as rescuing humanity from its fallen state. Bacon saw science and technology as the means by which we could reclaim our former oneness with the divine. The “true ends of knowledge,” he wrote, were in

a restitution and reinvesting (in great part) of man to the sovereignty and power (for whensoever he shall be able to call creatures by their true names he shall again command them) which he had in his first state of creation.

The path of knowledge that led us out of Eden will, if we follow it long enough, eventually lead us back. . . . 

Though Rich’s book is hardly what you’d call a polemic, the stories in it gather toward an argument, which could be seen as a less nakedly utopian version of Bacon’s aims. There are over 7.5 billion of us on a rapidly warming planet; the seas are rising, the forests are burning, and every year hundreds of species go the way of the passenger pigeon. There is no reversing the Fall. There is no going back to whatever might be meant by “nature.” We must become “as gods,” not in order to return to a state of prelapsarian wholeness, but to move forward to some kind of livable future.

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