NEW YORK — Gov. Kathy Hochul took executive action Monday to allow medically trained National Guard troops to fill in for hospital workers who are refusing to get their COVID-19 shots despite the state’s vaccine mandate in health care settings. The mandate requires doctors, nurses and other health care workers statewide to show proof of receiving at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by midnight Monday in order to continue working. Hochul said Monday morning she didn’t know how many health care employees in New York won’t be able to work once the mandate takes effect and that she signed an ...
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CPAC Hungary, Day 1: Conservatives vilify media and vow the left will be 'exposed, demonized and crushed'
On Thursday morning in Budapest, the first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to be held in Europe began with a flourish. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered the opening keynote address, laying out a 12-point "open source" plan for right-wing advocates around the world to replicate the "Christian conservative success" of his nation. Hungary, said Orbán, "is the laboratory where we have come up with the antidote to progressive dominance."
One key ingredient of this "antidote," Orbán said, was that conservatives must decide to "play by our own rules." He also advocated the values of "national conservatism" (a central theme on the right these days —more on that tomorrow); a foreign policy based on national interests — a clear reference to the criticism Hungary has received for its tepid and uncertain condemnation of Russia's war on Ukraine; and preemptively "expos[ing] the intent of your enemy," a defense of Hungary's "don't say gay" law barring minors from accessing LGBTQ books or other content. In a tribute to CPAC itself, he also called for building institutions that can pass on conservative principles and crafting alliances with other right-wing actors around the world.
For the past several years, Hungary has increasingly taken on the dimension of a right-wing utopia among American conservatives, particularly as a number of movement intellectuals and media figures have made pilgrimage to Budapest on academic and think tank fellowships or thanks to speaking invitations. (In a recent Salon Talks conversation, Jordan Klepper of the "Daily Show" discussed his own visit to Hungary.) And while Orbán's government has faced growing tensions with its European neighbors — in recent months, the EU has moved to sanction both Hungary and Poland for their illiberal policies on academic and press freedom, LGBTQ equality and women's rights and judicial independence — it has basked in the admiration of U.S. conservatives and Republican leaders.
That admiration didn't seem to waver on Thursday as CPAC's co-organizer for the event, the Hungarian Center for Fundamental Rights, apparently rejected the press credentials of numerous major U.S. media outlets that had sent reporters in person to cover the conference, including VICE, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vox and others.
That rejection was in keeping with another point in Orbán's plan for "Christian conservative success": that conservatives must "have your [own] media."
"You can only present the stupidity of leftist progressives if you have the media to do it," he said. Politics and media should, in theory, be separate, he admitted, but "the Democrats are not playing by these rules." Given that, he said, the right needs more and more shows like that of "my friend Tucker Carlson" that could air "day and night, 24/7, as you say over there."
Orbán wasn't the only speaker to vilify the media. In one particularly fiery speech, Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republicans' Club, declared that America First conservatives "demand nothing short of an American Orbánism," under which they "will establish a form of conservatism that sees the media as the enemy and actually conserves that we hold near and dear. Our national renewal will be preceded by a historic rebuke of not just the soulless Marxist elites of the left, but also the greedy, bloodthirsty neoconservatives and neoliberals of the right. They will be exposed, demonized and crushed beneath the waves of a rising tide of populism."
According to Ernst Roets of AfriForum, "there's apartheid happening in South Africa" right now, but this time around, white Afrikaners are the victims of oppression.
While many of the first day's speakers, predictably, targeted "wokeism" in general, one presenter took the theme to an audacious new level. Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of AfriForum, a right-wing South African organization primarily dedicated to spreading the claim that white South African farmers are the victims of an ongoing "white genocide," argued, "There's apartheid happening in South Africa" now, but this time around, it's white Afrikaners who are victimized at the hands of Black citizens. In an offense-begging appropriation of terminology, he argued, "When the left implements apartheid, it's not a crime against humanity; it's a noble cause. And if you criticize their apartheid" — meaning the alleged oppression of white South Africans — "that somehow that makes you the racist… We've gotten to the point where if you're against government overreach, that makes you a Nazi or if you do not want your heritage to be destroyed, that somehow somehow makes you authoritarian."
But perhaps the overarching theme of Day One was the call to build a unified international right, that would find strength enough in its common antipathy against the left to overcome whatever differences in doctrine or ideology it may have.
István Kovács, the strategic director of Hungary's Center for Fundamental Rights, which co-sponsored the event, declared, "Alone, Hungary is not sufficient. Alone, we're doomed to failure against the opponents we're talking about. We have to join forces and then we can win," with everyone working together "in a coordinated manner." He later added, "The cooperation of right-wing institutions, right-wing think tanks is one of the nightmares of the liberal elite."
Judit Varga, Hungary's minister of Justice who, at a right-wing conference in Brussels this February, defended her government's near-total ban on Muslim immigration and its restrictions of LGBTQ rights, also called for a united front. "However brave we are," she said, Hungary's 10 million people alone "are not sufficient. This is why we want to build alliances to attract the like-minded and to strengthen voices that fear for their nation and homeland. … This is why we're grateful you came to Budapest to give us further spiritual ammunition and so that you can also have takeaways when you go home to strengthen your own mission. Dear friends, the future is ours."
Orbán himself said, "We have to stand up for this fight, and in this fight we can only be successful together." He went on, "We need to have allies in one another. We have to coordinate the movement of our troops because we are facing a big battle. 2024, he said" — with both a U.S. presidential election and European Parliament elections — "is going to be an all-important year."
"The left has been warning about the vast right-wing conspiracy for years," added Alvino-Mario Fantini, editor in chief of the quarterly magazine European Conservative. "Well, let's give it to them."
Why banning abortion is antisemitic and means 'lights out' for 'freedom of religion and freedom from it'
We ought to revive that old-time, pre-Roe, religion according to which an embryo is an embryo, not a person. That’s what I said last week.
Before 1973, the year the US Supreme Court decided Roe, the most opposed to abortion were Catholic dioceses. Other religions were indifferent or in favor of women’s ultimate authority over their bodies.
Indeed, to argue that an embryo is an embryo, not a person – or that a fetus is a fetus, not a person – was to push forward the cause of freedom of religion and freedom from it. Choice covered both.
Analysis by the Southern Baptist Convention found that Roe was consistent with this double-sided liberty. W. Barry Garrett, in 1973 a correspondent of The Baptist Press, said that the ruling was not just tolerable. It advanced “religious liberty, human equality and justice.”
“Does the decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people? Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions.”
The reverse is also now true. … Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion if they so choose.
The decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law. Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.
That’s one pro-Roe religious angle. There’s another.
By coincidence, it was given fresh circulation Wednesday by a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing about the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on Roe.
Here’s Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who, like the entire House Republican Conference, favors stripping abortion rights:
When I was young, before I learned how babies came about, I thought when they said, 'my main my body, my choice,' they were talking about whatever was inside of the woman was part of her body.
The baby is not the body of the woman that it's inside of.
It's another life. It's not the body of the woman.
To the casual political observer, this seems ordinary. After all, the power of the anti-abortion movement rests of the idea that the “baby” is a life unto itself, completely separate from the life of the mother. Abortion, we are told, is murder on account of a “life” being taken.
Pert near everything about the half-century-long “pro-life” movement presumes, and indeed depends on, two lives being in question. Anti-abortionists believe the law should privilege the “baby’s” life. This sincere religious faith drives the movement for “fetal personhood.”
But what if they are not separate? What if there’s only one life?
What if that, too, were a matter of sincere religious faith?
Well, there’s no if.
According to Rabbi Karen Kriger Bogard, abortion is not only a matter of a women’s personal autonomy. Access to it is required by Jewish law.
“In the Torah, there's a story about two men fighting,” she told me. “One accidentally pushes a pregnant woman. There’s no other damage. She has a miscarriage. Exodus says the one responsible shall be fined.
“The very next verse talks about a life for a life, an eye for an eye. Clearly there is a distinction between what life is and what life isn't.”
Put another way, if the “baby” were a life, the life of the man who caused the miscarriage would be forfeit. After all, justice calls for “a life for a life, an eye for an eye.” However, “the baby” isn’t a life, according to the Book of Exodus. Therefore, a fine is all that’s required by law.
This is not a fringe Jewish view, Rabbi Bogard told me. Indeed, according to a prominent rabbi commenting in the Torah – or “the law” – “a fetus is considered a part of the pregnant person's body,” Rabbi Bogard said, “which is equivalent to their thigh” (my italics).
“Jewish law distinguishes between when a person is pregnant and when a person is giving birth,” she said. “It says in the Talmud when a person is having trouble giving birth, they should abort the fetus and ‘take it out limb by limb.’ In Jewish law, existing life comes before potential life.
“You’re required to put the living before the not-yet living.
“However, if most of the child is born, we don't touch it. We don't trade one life for another. It's explicit in our text about when life starts.”
Again, this isn’t fringe.
This is the consensus across reform, conservative and orthodox Jewry. A truly marginal view comes from “pro-life” ultra-orthodox Jews aligned with the larger white evangelical Protestant community.
Today, in a letter to the editor of the New Haven Register, Cecily Routman, president of the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, said the Jewish consensus is upside down. “Abortion is prohibited in Judaism,” she said. “It is judged to be the unwarranted taking of a life within a life.”
I don’t think Thomas Massie, the Kentucky congressman, intended to express a tenet of his sincere religious faith. (Maybe he did.) But it’s pretty clear, when taken with Cecily Routman’s claim, that believing that the body of the “baby” and the body of the woman are two separate things is an expression of a tenet of sincere religious faith.
It’s also pretty clear, to my way of thinking anyway, that the “pro-life” program depends on getting the rest of us – from atheists to Jews to Unitarians to Hindus – to think the same way. By cementing that view in the public mind, the path toward “fetal personhood” is made clear.
If this court upholds a state law based on a tenet of a sincere religious faith like the idea that a fetus is a person, it’s not only lights out for abortion. (“Personhood” would mean abortion is murder.) It’s lights out for that double-sided liberty: freedom of religion and freedom from it.
So repeat after me with as much (religious) feeling as you can.
A fetus is a fetus.
It’s part of its mother.
They are one.
Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, listed those developments at the start of the hearing. She highlighted threats that have led Colorado officials to receive active shooter training and obtain bullet-proof vests, with morale among elections administrators nationwide worryingly low.
“In light of these challenges, we must support the election officials working on the front lines of our democracy,” Klobuchar said.
In addition to relatively new concerns related to holding elections in a pandemic, ranking Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri noted foreign and domestic adversaries persist in targeting election infrastructure and spreading online misinformation.
Violence sparked by online sources
Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said misinformation remained an issue in administering elections.
Online misinformation inspired the racist killer of 10 Black people at a Buffalo grocery store last weekend, and has led to threats against elections bureaucrats, he said.
Recently passed state laws limiting ballot access in the name of election security also arose from unfounded misinformation, Hewitt said. The laws, passed in many Republican-led states since the 2020 elections, lend legitimacy to theories that elections are not secure, he added, worsening the risk of violence.
“They are giving those who want to sow violence, doubt and misdirection in the election process … political camouflage for their threats and their attacks,” he said. “Put simply, these laws undermine our democracy and its promise.”
Wesley Wilcox, the Republican supervisor of elections for Marion County, Florida, said he also had been subjected to threats, despite the state’s strong performance in the 2020 election cycle.
“Florida was touted as the gold standard and model for voting in the 2020 election,” he said. “But lately the accolades have waned and high-fives for job well done have ceased. Instead, they’ve been replaced by threats of violence against us or our families.”
There’s not even enough paper
One new problem for this election cycle is the supply chain backlog, which has limited elections offices’ access to a basic but crucial item needed for elections: paper.
Louisiana Secretary of State R. Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, said his state had to contact every paper producer in North America “to ensure we will have the supplies we need.”
“This is a crisis that demands immediate attention and bipartisan action,” Ardoin said. “It is not an exaggeration to say that if this situation is not handled, it could lead to a serious erosion in the confidence of our elections.”
The increase in voting by mail has only heightened the need for paper supplies, Ardoin said. That was one reason to promote in-person voting, he said.
Leigh M. Chapman, the acting secretary of state for Pennsylvania appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, declared Tuesday’s primary elections in the commonwealth a success, “with minimal issues.”
One issue, though, a breakdown in Lancaster County’s process for counting 22,000 early-vote ballots that required those ballots to be hand-counted, reinforced a request from Chapman’s department to allow pre-canvassing.
Pre-canvassing is the process of election officials counting ballots that have come in before Election Day. While 37 states allow pre-canvassing, Pennsylvania is among those that do not, making it harder for election officials in the commonwealth to report vote totals earlier and deal with Election Day issues as they come up, Chapman said.
She added that Florida’s pre-canvassing regime allowed election watchers to call the state in the 2020 presidential election on Election Day. Major networks didn’t call the result in Pennsylvania, by contrast, until four days later.
Big Lie barely mentioned
Senators and a witness panel made up of current and former state election officials mostly avoided discussion of former President Donald Trump’s false claims about malfeasance in the 2020 election that caused his loss. The false narrative has gained prominence within the Republican Party nationwide, including among elected officials and candidates in this year’s election.
While not mentioning Trump or his supporters by name, Chapman said it was “especially disturbing” that some disinformation has come from those “with a sworn duty to defend our democratic process.” She was clear about the integrity of the 2020 election and the harm that lies about voter malfeasance cause to confidence in U.S. democracy.
“The November 2020 election in Pennsylvania, like every election since, was free, fair and secure,” she said. “Allegations of illegal activity in Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election have been repeatedly dismissed in more than two dozen federal court cases and debunked by independent fact-checkers. Repeating this falsehood over and over harms our democracy and voters’ confidence in our elections process.”
Senators aired familiar partisan arguments about voting accessibility and security during portions of the hearing.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican of Texas, said that expanding nontraditional avenues of voting, like mail-in voting, was inviting fraud.
“Democrats keep moving in the direction of election chaos,” he said.
Ardoin told Cruz his office couldn’t quickly enough process absentee ballots to be sure that they were legitimate.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, asked Chapman if mail-in ballots had presented any problems in this week’s primary elections.
She answered they had not.
Wilcox said in an opening statement his goal was to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.
Alex Padilla, a Democrat who joined the Senate after serving as the California secretary of state, told Wilcox that slogan can be used as a pretext to restrict voting rights, with too much attention paid to stopping nearly nonexistent cheating and not enough focus on making voting easier.
“If you look at data, we’ve got the harder-to-cheat part down because voter fraud in America is exceedingly rare,” he said. “What I first get frustrated by is my colleagues forget about the first part, the easier-to-vote part.”
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