My Sojourn in Gilead

I read “The Handmaid’s Tale” decades ago, but as many have noted when discussing the upcoming release of the Hulu miniseries, its theme is more relevant than ever. That’s because a beady-eyed Christo-fascist gender role-absolutist who thinks women should be compelled to hold funerals for miscarriages is one bloated, erratic, 70-year-old junk food junkie’s heartbeat away from the presidency.

In Atwood’s dystopian novel, the Christo-fascist nation that replaces the United States is called the Republic of Gilead. Oddly enough, I have some experience dwelling in a place called Gilead.

My mom was a hippie in the 1970s and an indulgent single mom with a laissez faire parenting style. But she had no qualms about foisting my sister and me off on her fundamentalist Christian parents during the summer so she could enjoy some free time.

I don’t blame her, but the abrupt imposition of rules and structure gave my sister and me whiplash every year. Never more so than when our grandparents began shipping us off to a summer camp run by Bible-believing Christians. The name of the camp was, I shit you not, Camp Gilead.

It was a regular summer camp in some ways. There was canoeing and arts and crafts. There were wienie and marshmallow roasts around the campfire. But there was also religious indoctrination. Campers were compelled to attend chapel daily, and girls were required to wear long skirts to the services.

To comply with the rule, I pulled a skirt over my shorts and wore it to chapel with my customary t-shirt, high-top Converse sneakers and a hideous green-and-white striped hat I’d won at the fair by throwing darts at balloons. I also carried a small Swiss Army-style knife at all times in my front pocket — a kid could get away with that sort of thing back then.

During one particularly tedious sermon, I put my feet up on the hymnal rack in front of my hard, wooden pew, partially unlaced my sneakers and practiced tying nautical knots with my shoestrings. I soon got them in a terrible tangle that tied my feet together.

As I struggled to extricate myself, one of the church ladies began playing the hymn that signaled the service was coming to an end, and we were all compelled to rise for the closing prayer. I could stand up, but try as I might, I couldn’t undo the knot in my shoelaces or break them.

Hoping that the supervising adults’ eyes were closed during the prayer, I hiked my skirt up to my waist, dug the knife out of my shorts pocket, bent down and cut my shoelaces. It worked, and I was able to walk out of the chapel in the orderly recessional rather than hopping as if in a sack race.

Weird how reading a review of an upcoming miniseries on a Christo-fascist dystopia can recall childhood memories. Anyone else planning to watch “The Handmaid’s Tale?”



The Turkish Referendum: The US is Now on the Wrong Side of History

Turkey held a referendum yesterday in regard to the structure of the Turkish government. On its face it was intended to modernize the 1980 constitution, which was drafted after the last military takeover to preserve the Kemalist system. The referendum involved constitutional reform that increases the power of the President of Turkey.

The plan turns Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. Among the numerous changes:

  • The role of prime minister will be scrapped. The new post of vice president, possibly two or three, will be created.
  • The president becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retains ties to a political party.
  • He or she will be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
  • The president alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.
  • Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.
  • The number of MPs will increase from 550 to 600.
  • Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on the same day every five years. The president will be limited to two terms.

There appear to be a number of observed and reported irregularities in the voting and the tallying of the votes regarding the referendum.

As Arab News reports:

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s two main opposition parties on Sunday said they would challenge the results putting the ‘Yes’ camp ahead in the referendum on expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after alleged violations.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said that whatever the final result, it would challenge two-thirds of the vote, saying: “There is an indication of a 3-4 percentage point manipulation of the vote.”
The deputy head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Bulent Tezcan, denounced “violations” by the election authorities in allowing ballot papers without an official stamp to be used.
Another CHP deputy head, Erdal Aksunger, said it could appeal up to 60 percent of the vote.
“Believe me, this election is not over,” he told CNN Turk, quoted by the Dogan news agency. “This is totally invalid. We are declaring this here.”
He said that the CHP was appealing 37 percent of the ballot box results, and this figure could eventually rise to 60 percent. “Since the morning, we have detected violations,” he said.
Turkish media said that CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was convening a special meeting of its executive board.

The EU had its monitors on site because Turkey still has an open application to join the European Union. Both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) sent monitors.

… observers from the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said on April 17 that the legal framework for the referendum “remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum.”

The monitors also said the referendum campaign was conducted on an “unlevel playing field” and that the counting of ballots in the April 16 referendum had been marred by “late procedural changes.”

President Erdogan responded by calling out the EU and its monitors:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan treated a crowd of supporters gathered outside his presidential palace on Monday evening to a speech laced with invective against Europe, saying his victory in a referendum on Sunday took place under conditions that were democratic beyond compare.

“We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George,’” Erdogan said, using the names as stand-ins for his European critics. “All debates about the constitutional referendum are now over.”

This, unfortunately, fits with President Erdogan’s ongoing attempts to reorient Turkey away from an EU he perceives as perpetually dragging its feet regarding Turkish membership (he is not wrong) and from the EU’s attempts to restrict his power and his remaking of Turkish politics and society. Even more unfortunate was the President’s response to the outcome of the referendum.

I think that it is highly likely that despite what the EU monitors have observed and reported, and the challenges by Turkish opposition parties, that the outcome of the referendum will stand. This will significantly increase President Erdogan’s power, which he is eligible to wield all the way through the 2029 Turkish elections if repeatedly reelected. In many ways this referendum put the democratic process to work to achieve a very anti-democratic and authoritarian outcome, or at least an anti-democratic outcome that will allow Erdogan to become more authoritarian. In many ways it is the logical follow on from last summer’s abortive coup. Regardless, it is neither a positive outcome for Turkey, nor was the President’s response to this in his call to Erdogan a good thing.

(Full disclosure: One of my former students, from my first year assigned to USAWC, has been accused by the Erdogan government of participation in the failed coup. I was his front line supervisor/academic advisor and his research advisor/supervisor. I have been unable to reach him or his wife since the night the coup began. The last time I heard from him was in 2015 when I wrote a letter of reference for his application to a Belgian graduate program while he was assigned at NATO headquarters. He is an excellent officer, a true gentleman, and a loyal Turk.)



Friday Morning Open Thread: Good Friday / Easter Weekend

Bless this man, now and forever. A twenty-three minute podcast might be a little long first thing, but I understand many people use their commutes for good listens like this.

Salutations to those of our Balloon Juice community who will be observing Good Friday, a supremely significant Christian holiday that nonetheless sits oddly in our modern American calendar (Financial markets will be closed, but it’s not a federal or state holiday.) We’ll have a three-day weekend here in the People’s Commonwealth, because Monday is (the original & only true) Patriots’ Day, also known to some as Marathon Monday.

What’s on the agenda as we wrap up another long week?

There’s also another big protest march scheduled this weekend:

An idea that sprung from a law professor’s tweet after President Trump’s inauguration will unfold Saturday on the Mall, where thousands of protesters plan to call on Trump to release his personal tax returns. The demonstration is expected to be the largest of more than 100 affiliated protests planned across the country.

The Tax March, which falls on the nation’s traditional April 15 deadline to file taxes, is expected to be one of the most high-profile demonstrations of the Trump era since protesters around the world participated in women’s marches — marches that served as an unprecedented rebuke to Trump’s presidency on his first full day in office. Presidents are not required to release their tax returns but have done so voluntarily dating to the 1970…

Marchers in Washington are expected to be joined by those in more than 100 other cities across the country and around the world, including New Orleans, San Antonio, Nashville and London, organizers say.

In Washington, organizers have worked with government agencies, including D.C. police and the National Park Service, to obtain permits. The Park Service permit indicates that organizers expect up to 10,000 people.

Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the Park Service, said the Tax March and the Science March the following weekend are among the largest protests the agency is expecting this spring in Washington.

The Tax March will begin at noon Saturday on the west lawn in front of the Capitol, with a lineup of speakers that includes Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). From there, protesters will march west along Pennsylvania Avenue NW before ending near the Lincoln Memorial. The event is expected to end about 4 p.m.

In an interview, Raskin referred to polls during the presidential campaign that showed a majority of Americans — and a majority of Republicans — believed that Trump should release his tax returns. Raskin said Congress couldn’t have meaningful conversations about a tax revamp without knowing whether proposed tax laws would be a financial boon to Trump and his businesses…

Official TaxMarch website here. (They have a great logo.)



Monday Morning Open Thread: Pesach Sameach

Passover doesn’t actually begin until sunset, of course, but those who observe the holiday will be celebrating instead of reading this blog when that happens. The ritual retelling of history sung in the YouTube is, I’m told, very much a living text, open to interpretation for the current moment. In some moments, more apposite than others, per the Washington Post:

When Veronica Ades’s guests gather around the Seder table, they’ll read the list of the 10 plagues, just as Jews around the world will do on Passover.

But at Ades’s table, the plagues won’t be blood and frogs and lice. Her guests will read the first plague: “neo-Nazis.” Then “Fake news. Freedom Caucus. The electoral college. The American Healthcare Act.”

When Ades hosts a Seder, she says, “I don’t really understand not being political.”

The springtime holiday of Passover, when Jews retell the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt at a ritual meal laden with food and symbolism, has long been a vehicle for political commentary. A story about liberation from slavery lends itself to that.

This Passover, which begins Monday night, the nation’s preoccupation with politics and the flurry of activism since President Trump’s election are inspiring a new crop of amateur writers to try their hand at updating the age-old Passover story…

The plague of frogs bit seems almost a little too easy…

Apart from that, what’s on the agenda for the start of another week?



Open Thread: Mike Pence (R-Gilead), Chieftain of the ‘Prayer Warriors’

Today, per the NYTimes, “Pence and Ailing Senator Deliver Votes to Block Family Planning Money“:

Senate Republicans, aided by Vice President Mike Pence and an ailing Georgia colleague who hobbled into the Senate chamber on a walker, voted on Thursday to proceed with a measure to undo an Obama administration rule preventing states from blocking funding for family planning clinics that also provide abortions.

The vote was one of a string of showdowns to reverse Obama-era regulations, but this one unfolded with all the drama of numerous past conflicts over abortion funding — with Mr. Pence casting the deciding vote in his role as president of the Senate.

Taking money away from Planned Parenthood has been a longstanding goal of congressional Republicans, but each effort has been blocked by Democrats and President Barack Obama.

Even full control of Washington by Republicans has not made the process easy…

In case anyone was wondering about the ‘Mike Pence is suuuper weird devoutly religious, you guys!’ articles earlier this week — now you know. The GOP was signalling to its Talibangelical base: Pay no attention the foul-mouthed Commie-loving free-spender in the Oval Office; when push comes to shove, Our Man Mike will cast the deciding vote against slutty women, uppity browns, and every other unsettling social development since 1956.

From the Washington Post, “Karen Pence is the vice president’s ‘prayer warrior,’ gut check and shield“:

Friends and aides… say she is the Pence family “prayer warrior,” a woman so inextricably bound to her husband that even then-candidate Trump understood her importance and consulted her in critical campaign moments…

The Pences were married in a Roman Catholic church in 1985 but later became evangelical Christians.

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.

Supporters and critics alike cite her as a force behind her husband’s socially conservative stances, including his opposition to gay marriage and the religious freedom law he signed as governor of Indiana, which opponents worried would allow business owners to discriminate against gays and lesbians by citing religious concerns.
Read more



Open Thread: Professional ‘Christians’, Whited Sepulcher Edition

Let it not be forgotten — Erick ‘Voice of the GOP Gated Community’ Erickson is studying for a theology degree. He knows his interpretation is the very opposite of what his professed Messiah preached, but he knows even better that the GOP leaders he’s sucking up to worship Ayn Rand a lot more fervently than that antique domestic terrorist Yeshuah ben Joseph. Nick Kristoff, in the NYTimes:

Then spoke Pious Paul of Ryan: “But teacher, is that wise? When you cure her, she learns dependency. Then the poor won’t take care of themselves, knowing that you’ll always bail them out! You must teach them personal responsibility!”

They were interrupted by 10 lepers who stood at a distance and shouted, “Jesus, have pity on us.”

“NO!” shouted Pious Paul. “Jesus! You don’t have time. We have a cocktail party fund-raiser in the temple. And don’t worry about them — they’ve already got health care access.”

Jesus turned to Pious Paul, puzzled.

“Why, they can pray for a cure,” Pious Paul explained. “I call that universal health care access.”…


Read more



Today In Domestic Terrorism and Stochastic Violence: Insufficient Responses

For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.President Washington’s Letter to the Jewish Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island

In yesterday’s post on this subject I referenced that 98 US Senators had signed onto a letter decrying anti-Semitism.

Today all 100 Senators have now signed on.

Yesterday White House Spokesman Sean Spicer made the following statement at his press conference:

“I want to acknowledge that there’s been an additional wave of threats to Jewish community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices,” Spicer told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“I share the president’s thoughts that he vehemently hopes that we don’t continue to have to share these reports with you. But as long as they do continue, we’ll continue to condemn them and look at ways in which we can stop them,” he said.

Today the Jewish Community Center Association of North America called on Attorney General Sessions to:

“We are frustrated with the progress in resolving this situation,” the letter reads in part. “We insist that all relevant federal agencies, including your own, apply all the resources available to identify and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators, who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in communities across the country, to justice.”

“JCCs have demonstrated incredible resilience over the past several weeks, relying on long-practiced measures to ensure that we can safely and effectively serve communities across the continent. We will not allow anti-Semitism to get in the way of our providing our invaluable programs, and we urge Attorney General Sessions to be an even stronger partner to us.”

The full text of the letter can be found here.

While the letter signed by all 100 Senators, Democratic and Republican, and the White House statement are appropriate, they are, frankly, insufficient. They are insufficient because this is not just an issue of harassment and violence directed at Jewish Americans. There has been an increase in attacks against religious and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBTQ Americans of all religions and ethnicities since the election. Churches with predominantly Hispanic and LatinX or immigrant congregants are being targeted. As we’ve documented here several times, Indian Americans – whether Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian – are being targeted. LGBTQ Americans are being targeted.

A man shouting antigay slurs attacked two men at a restaurant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of New York City in the early morning hours on Sunday, leaving one man stabbed and the other with a slashed face.

Gothamist said that police are looking for the suspect, whose face was briefly caught on surveillance video before he attacked the other men and fled.

The New York City Police Department said that the unidentified suspect entered Crown Fried Chicken at about 5 a.m. on Sunday and attacked a 34-year-old man with “a cutting instrument” while shouting antigay slurs.

After slashing the man’s face, the suspect stabbed a second man in the torso and slashed his shoulder, still hurling insults and homophobic invective.

Here’s the surveillance video (does not include violence) of the alleged perpetrator (h/t RawStory)

The response is also insufficient because the only significant change over the past several months is the election and inauguration of the President. There hasn’t been a spike in unemployment. The stock market hasn’t crashed. There hasn’t been a major national disaster with effects that could possibly be correlated with these incidents. There hasn’t been a foreign inspired/orchestrated attack on Americans within the US. The US and its coalition partners are winning the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Every possible indicator we would even conceivably consider as an explanatory variable to explain the increase in hate crimes, stochastic violence, and to be very precise in the terminology, domestic terrorism* is the election and the inauguration.

Now I want to be very, very, very, very clear: I am not accusing the President of being an anti-Semite. Or a racist. Or anti-Muslim. Or a bigot of any kind. And that’s why the letter signed by all 100 Senators and Sean Spicer’s statements are insufficient. It is insufficient because it doesn’t matter at all whether the President or anyone who works for him and with him are any of these things. The leadership and much of the membership of the various Klan, neo-NAZI, white supremacist, white nationalist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim (Islamophobic), anti-immigrant (legal and/or undocumented) groups and organizations have all come out in support of the President and his agenda. Many of them, both leaders and members, have stated that the President’s message speaks directly to them. That he has been the biggest boon to their recruiting and activities in decades. That what he says and what he is proposing doing/is doing is what they both think needs to be done and what they want to see done in the US.

It is this sad, unfortunate reality that makes the official Senatorial and Administration responses insufficient. A sufficient response would include the President giving a prime time address denouncing all of the increase in hate crimes, stochastic violence, and low level domestic terrorism* directed at American religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ Americans, immigrants, and visitors to America in no uncertain terms. Additionally he should make it clear in such an address that these types of activities are un-American and are intolerable to Americans of good conscience regardless of political party affiliation, ideology, religion, and ethnicity. Finally, he should create a Federal Law Enforcement Task Force to investigate and prosecute the sharp increase in hate crimes, stochastic violence, and low level domestic terrorism since his election and inauguration. This would be sufficient. Every other response is simply fluff.

* Domestic terrorism is defined in 18 U.S. Code § 2331. The relevant part has been emphasized.

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
(Added Pub. L. 102–572, title X, § 1003(a)(3), Oct. 29, 1992, 106 Stat. 4521; amended Pub. L. 107–56, title VIII, § 802(a), Oct. 26, 2001, 115 Stat. 376.)