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Far-Right Climate Denial Is Scary. Far-Right Climate Acceptance Might Be Scarier.

Warming’s coming.
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

The reality of climate change has a well-known liberal bias.

Once you accept that the (so-called) free market’s price signals have guided humanity to the brink of destruction, laissez-faire conservatism becomes a filthy joke. And once you recognize that industrial policy in India could determine the fate of your grandchildren — just as the past century of industrial policy in the developed world has (literally) shifted the ground beneath Bangladesh’s feet — jingoistic nationalism becomes a childish indulgence. Global carbon emissions can’t be curbed without accepting more government intervention in national economies, and more international oversight of nation-state governance. There’s plenty of room for debate about exactly what policies the science demands. But the data can’t be reconciled with any ideology that rejects humanity’s interdependence, or venerates individual accumulation over some conception of the collective good. And this is why the far-right has had such a hard time believing what the scientists, wildfires, and floods have been telling them.

Or that’s the story we liberals have been telling ourselves, anyway. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if this notion — that one can’t reconcile the scientific consensus on climate change with right-wing ideology — isn’t its own form of denial.

In his new book The Uninhabitable Earth, (New York’s own) David Wallace-Wells argues that one implication of contemporary climate science is that, in the not-too-distant future, there might not be enough food for everyone on the planet (unless those in the well-fed West accept a leaner diet):

Climates differ and plants vary, but the basic rule of thumb for staple cereal crops grown at optimal temperature is that for every degree of warming, yields decline by 10 percent. Some estimates run higher. Which means that if the planet is five degrees warmer at the end of the century, when projections suggest we may have as many as 50 percent more people to feed, we may also have 50 percent less grain to give them. Or even less, because yields actually decline faster the warmer things get. And proteins are worse: it takes eight pounds of grain to produce just a single pound of hamburger meat, butchered from a cow that spent its life warming the planet with methane burps.

To a progressive, the science summarized here clearly demonstrates that the Green New Deal (or a decarbonization program on a similar scale) is needed pronto, and that we must make our food systems less wasteful, our agricultural technologies more innovative, and the distribution of resources within countries — and between them — more equitable. But those are hardly the only political conclusions one might draw from Wallace-Wells’s grim prognosis.

For one thing, a central point of The Uninhabitable Earth is that humanity’s best-case scenario is now likely to be a two-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures. Which means it’s plausible that an increasing scarcity in humanity’s food supply is already inevitable. Technological advances could make that outcome less likely; but various agriculturally destructive feedback loops could make it more so.

Perhaps the widespread recognition of scarcity will be a boon to the left, underscoring the necessity of robust redistribution, vegetarianism, and social solidarity. But the right’s worldview is also — at least superficially — compatible with a world of unavoidable austerity. One reason pundits mock Donald Trump’s zero-sum conception of trade is that, in a context where real resource constraints place no hard limits on growth, China’s prosperity need not come at our expense. And yet one could plausibly interpret the scientific consensus on climate as saying that non-zero-sum conditions aren’t long for this Earth. Eventually, there won’t be enough grain to keep a chicken in every pot; or at least not enough to maintain America’s per-capita hamburger consumption, allow the Chinese middle-class to enjoy a rising standard of eating, and keep those in the most impoverished corners of the globe alive. Malthus may have been less wrong than he was hasty.

This is a distinctly pessimistic reading of our climatic reality. But it is a scientifically defensible perspective that’s been growing more defensible with each passing year. And while this dour version of climate realism is not inherently reactionary in its implications, its progressive implications are contingent on the premise that maximizing the living standards of the global one percent (a category that includes much of the American middle-class) is less important than preventing millions in the developing world from dying from starvation. By contrast, if one insists that the U.S. government must put “America first,” then taking the most dire implications of climate science for granted makes Trump’s zero-sum, nationalist worldview appear more coherent, not less.

It is worth remembering that a pillar of Adolf Hitler’s rationalization of conquest and genocide was an assertion of ecological scarcity. “The annual increase of population in Germany amounts to almost 900,000 souls,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “The difficulties of providing for this army of new citizens must grow from year to year and must finally lead to a catastrophe, unless ways and means are found which will forestall the danger of misery and hunger.” This premise informed the Nazi regime’s attempts to secure “living space” for the German people through both the extermination of the Jews, and the deliberate starvation of 30 million Eastern Europeans. Hitler’s genocidal Malthusianism was, of course, completely divorced from agricultural reality. The next fascistic tyrant’s may not be.

Regardless, the far-right need not wait for future food shortages to cast climate science as a rationale for ultranationalism. Even in our present era of indefensibly ill-distributed abundance, one can credibly claim that the third world’s growing affluence poses an existential threat to our own. After all, China’s share of global carbon emissions is twice that of the U.S., and rapidly rising. And while India’s carbon footprint is currently relatively small, it’s poised to explode in the coming decades, as the Earth’s second-most populous country continues to industrialize. If you accept the consensus projections for carbon emissions over the next half-century — but reject the idea that all human lives have inherent value (as, by all appearances, many of our current leaders do) — you can argue somewhat coherently that sustaining the American “way of life” requires keeping the Global South down. In fact, the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro made this very observation late last month.

To be sure, no amount of climate fatalism could render Shapiro’s sarcastic proposal coherent. In all circumstances, initiating a nuclear war creates more problems than it solves. But the world’s wealthiest nations may not need to drop bombs on India to stunt its development. It is quite possible that merely refusing to help that country cope with its metastasizing water crisis (which our carbon emissions helped create) will be enough to achieve that evil end.

None of this is to say that Trumpian nationalism is not, in the final analysis, an irrational response to climate change, even on its own terms. Making massive investments in renewable technology — and giving the innovations away to developing nations — seems far more likely to preserve the ecological basis of American prosperity than any attempt to suffocate industrialization in the Global South. Our species’s greatest asset has always been its singular capacity for large-scale cooperation on complex, novel problems. If there is way to sustain a decent civilization for another few centuries anywhere on Earth, I believe it will involve expanding our capacity for solidarity, not contracting it.

But climate models won’t make that argument for progressives. And raw data on carbon emissions certainly won’t tell American voters why they have a moral obligation to the people of the Maldives. It seems possible, however, that in the not-too-distant future, far-right demagogues will be telling us why we don’t. Today, the Trumpists deride those who insist that America can afford to take in more refugees — and pay out more foreign aid — as “globalists.” Tomorrow, they may call us “climate deniers.”

For now, much of the global far-right does not believe in the dire effects of climate change. But there’s reason to think those effects are already making people believe in the far-right. Some scholars argue that climate played a pivotal role in triggering the Syrian civil war — and thus, much of the migrant crisis that fueled the resurgence of right-wing nationalism in much of Europe. Even if that thesis is wrong, there is no question that climate change will condemn far more people to statelessness than events in Syria have. It isn’t hard to imagine how the climate migrants’ losses could become the nationalist right’s gains.

Hungarian president János Áder, an ally of far-right prime minister Viktor Orbán, recently called for more aggressive efforts to combat climate change because worsening ecological conditions will “trigger migration.” Given the Orbán government’s fundamental opposition to mass immigration — and the ostensible popularity of such opposition within Hungary — Áder’s acceptance of the link between the climate and migratory pressures doesn’t just function as an argument for reducing carbon emissions. It also serves as one for empowering border enforcement hardliners. After all, if you accept the climate science, then this migration problem is only going to get worse — which means that only unsentimental nationalists can be trusted to protect our people from the huddled masses to come.

Beyond the issue of immigration, there is a significant amount of political science research positing a correlation between material abundance and liberal pluralism. Such research suggests that in circumstances of scarcity, people might naturally gravitate toward more conformist and authoritarian attitudes and social structures. A nasty, brutish, and hot world — routinely upended by massive storms and agricultural failures — may be one in which mass publics are less tolerant of social difference, and more eager to submit to a political leviathan.

All of this underscores the necessity of minimizing temperature rise. But it also suggests that revitalizing faith in liberal, universalist ideals is an indispensable component of “climate readiness.” In 2019, it is banal to say that the environmental movement’s primary challenge is political. By now, advocates are well aware that IPCC reports can’t force governments to mount an aggressive response to the crisis. But there is another, less appreciated dimension of difficulty: Persuading governments to mount an aggressive response to the crisis won’t force them to mount a just response. Some critics of the Green New Deal — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s inchoate plan for achieving fully renewable social democracy — have lambasted the proposal for wedding action on climate to an explicitly egalitarian moral and ideological vision.

They should consider the hazards of the alternative.

Climate Science Invites Liberal Solutions — or Fascist Ones

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Classy anti-gun reform tactics on display in New Hampshire yesterday

For a lot of workers, there’s a big catch to Amazon’s wage increases

In response to public pressure and increasing scrutiny over the pay of its warehouse workers, Amazon enacted a $15 minimum wage for all its employees on 1 November, including workers at grocery chain Whole Foods which it purchased in 2017.

All Whole Foods employees paid less than $15 an hour saw their wages increase to at least that, while all other team members received a $1-an-hour wage increase and team leaders received a $2-an-hour increase.

But since the wage increase, Whole Food employees have told the Guardian that they have experienced widespread cuts that have reduced schedule shifts across many stores, often negating wage gains for employees.

“My hours went from 30 to 20 a week,” said one Whole Foods employee in Illinois.

climate change

Far-Right Climate Denial Is Scary. Far-Right Climate Acceptance Is Scarier.

By Eric Levitz

The scientific consensus on climate change is quite compatible with a zero-sum, nationalist worldview that pits “the West” against the third world.

The new GOP stonewalling strategy extends to Jared

The top White House lawyer on Tuesday said the Trump administration will refuse to provide Congress with information about senior adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance, slamming House Democrats for “overly intrusive document requests.”

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said the administration would brief the House Oversight Committee about the White House’s process for granting security clearances, but he balked at the committee’s demand for information specific to Kushner, setting up a potential subpoena fight between the powerful House panel and the White House.

“These actions suggest that the Committee is not interested in proper oversight, but rather seeks information that it knows cannot be provided consistent with applicable law,” Cipollone wrote in a letter to Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings. “We will not concede the Executive’s constitutional prerogatives or allow the Committee to jeopardize the individual privacy rights of current and former Executive Branch employees.”

By his own standards on trade, Trump is doing terribly

President Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed Tariff Man, is set to become the $100 Billion Man.

If the trends of the past year and economists’ expectations hold true, trade data to be released Wednesday will show the U.S.’s deficit in goods and services with the world topped $600 billion in 2018. That means Trump’s presidency will have seen the U.S. trade shortfall – the main metric by which he judges countries to be winning or losing – grow by more than $100 billion.

Put another way, by Trump’s own benchmark the U.S. is 20 percent worse off than it was at the end of 2016, just before he took office.

Shocker: rather than quietly following the rules, the Trump White House is refusing to turn over documents to House Democrats

The White House launched a fire-breathing public relations response to House Democrats while the Trump administration has refused or delayed turning over documents in 30 investigations by a dozen different committees, according to House Democrats.

The delays buy time for White House officials to weigh important legal decisions, including whether to invoke executive privilege claims or a policy that provides immunity for senior White House aides. 

… Officials who refuse to comply could be held in contempt by the Democratic-controlled House and hauled into court, according to lawyers familiar with the process. But Congress has historically been very reluctant to take that path.

More fallout from Michael Cohen’s testimony: New York State is now looking into the Trump Organization’s insurance policies

New York State regulators have issued an expansive subpoena to the Trump Organization’s longtime insurance broker, the first step in an investigation of insurance policies and claims involving President Trump’s family business, according to the company and a person briefed on the matter.

The subpoena was served late Monday on the company, Aon, one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the world, as part of an inquiry by the New York State Department of Financial Services.

It came just days after Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, indicated in congressional testimony that the Trump Organization inflated the value of its assets to insurance companies.

mueller report

Five Reasons Why Republicans Won’t Abandon Trump Like They Ditched Nixon

By Ed Kilgore

Nixon had weaker intraparty support than Trump, who will benefit from likely polarization over the Mueller report.

Trump’s former fixer is back on Capitol Hill today, but we won’t get to see the latest installment of The Michael Cohen Show

Michael Cohen was supposed to report to prison Wednesday to begin serving a three-year sentence for tax crimes, tax evasion and lying to Congress. Instead, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer will be on Capitol Hill talking about the crimes he is now accusing Trump of committing.

Cohen, who is now slated to begin his prison term May 6, is back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for his fourth appearance in the last eight days, concluding his closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that began last week.

AOC faces scrutiny after reports emerge that her chief of staff helped create two “dark money” PACs

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)’s chief of staff helped establish two political action committees that paid a corporation he ran more than $1 million in 2016 and 2017, federal campaign finance records show.

The arrangement, first reported by conservative outlets, left hidden who ultimately profited from the payments — a sharp juxtaposition with Ocasio-Cortez’s calls for transparency in politics. She has called dark money “the enemy to democracy.”

“There is no violation” of campaign finance law, Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News on Tuesday. It is unclear whether she had knowledge of the payments to Chakrabarti’s corporation.

Almost one in ten of the 76,000 undocumented migrants who crossed the border in February were unaccompanied minors

A surge of migrants along the US-Mexico border has US Customs and Border Protection at the “breaking point,” the Trump administration said Tuesday.

More than 76,000 people were apprehended crossing illegally or without proper papers in February, the highest number of “encounters” in any February in the last 12 years, according to CBP.

Of the 76,000, 7,250 were unaccompanied children and 40,385 were people who came with family members.

The increase in families and unaccompanied children crossing the border marks a significant change in demographics – and a challenge to CBP, as in previous years single adults had largely been a majority of those crossing the border.

Since October, there’s been a 300% increase in the number of families apprehended compared with the same period in fiscal year 2018, according to CBP.

Cory Booker and Joe Biden’s primary bids could be bogged down by their historic support of charter schools

They likely will encounter strong headwinds in primaries where voter sympathy for striking educators in Los Angeles, Oakland and West Virginia has positioned teachers’ unions to wield serious power. In several of the recent strikes, the explosive — and often loosely regulated — growth of charters was a central complaint.

In 2016, teachers’ unions quickly got behind the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and faced a backlash from some activist members over her affinity with charters. That experience has union leaders putting candidates like Booker on notice that they will have to answer for their records.

Teachers are suspicious not only of Booker. The Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of charter expansion through Race to the Top, the signature K-12 education policy of his administration, will have former Vice President Joe Biden facing tough questions from teachers, should he join the race.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts once advocated shifting public education to an “all-voucher system.” Loosening the “ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home” and provide a “shakeout” that might address economic segregation, she wrote in 2003.

donald trump

Report: How Trump Managed to Bury His High School Transcript

By Matt Stieb

By getting other alumni to apply the pressure, Trump reportedly convinced his high school to dig up his records and bury them somewhere else.

Hannity weighs in on the anti-Semitism conversation on the left

Corn is king in 2020

“This should be an early test of whether candidates are really committed to attacking the climate crisis,” says Scott Faber, an Environmental Working Group lobbyist who focuses on agricultural issues. “You can’t be for the status quo with ethanol and also be for saving the planet.”

So far, though, it looks like the status quo is going to prevail: Every leading 2020 Democrat who has taken a position on ethanol is for it.

Democrats still seem to think they can revive their brand in farm country by pledging allegiance to the government’s long-standing efforts to prop up ethanol. Iowa is America’s top ethanol producer, with 44 plants that help support more than 40,000 jobs, and so far none of the Democrats competing there have broken the faith.

A reminder that, for some older Trump critics, the Mueller report carries a mortal urgency

“I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well — he really can’t stand.’ ” recounted Mitchell Tendler’s son Walter, who lives in San Diego. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”

Mitchell Tendler began to fade. He had outlived two implantable defibrillators and was on his third. The devices had kept him alive but now posed a problem for the medical imaging he needed in the hospital. Doctors gave him some painkillers, and then he had a final thought.

“It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler recounted, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.”

climate change

It’s No Surprise That a Global Existential Crisis Bothers Prospective Parents

By Sarah Jones

Almost four in ten Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that adults should consider the effects of climate change before having children.

Trump may run in 2020 out of fear of losing executive privilege

At some point on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, Mr. Trump took the time to sign a $35,000 check to his lawyer, who had made hush payments to prevent alleged sexual misconduct from being exposed before the 2016 presidential election. It was one of 11 occasions that Mr. Trump or his trust cut such checks, six of which were provided this week to The New York Times.

“The $35,000 is an indication of the quality of that evidence, and it both shows the extent of Trump’s leading role and now leaves little doubt that he faces criminal prosecution after he leaves office for the same offenses for which Cohen will serve time,” said Robert F. Bauer, a law professor at New York University and former White House counsel for President Barack Obama.

Indeed, some people close to Mr. Trump have privately predicted that he will ultimately choose to seek a second term in part because of his legal exposure if he is not president. While there is no legal consensus on the matter, Justice Department policy says that a president cannot be indicted while in office.

Another reason for New Yorkers to be happy about the broken deal in Long Island City

WaPo scoop on Amazon’s agreement w/Arlington, VA: The government has to give Amazon advance notice *every time* someone makes a public records request involving Amazon to the county/state:

https://t.co/ofKPgjqwOd

@SuzyKhimm

A record level of self-harm in the United States

The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by two public health nonprofits.

The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6 percent increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday. That was a slower increase than in the previous two years, but it was greater than the 4 percent average annual increase since 1999.

In most states, deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicides increased in 2017. In five – Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and Wyoming – those deaths fell.

Deaths from synthetic opioids, including the narcotic pain reliever fentanyl, rose 45 percent. Such deaths have increased tenfold in the past five years.

donald trump

Big Majority of Americans Think Trump Is a Criminal

By Ed Kilgore

Looks like the country is strongly predisposed to believe freshly uncovered evidence of Trump crimes before and after he took office.

NYPD PR faces a challenge to spin this old-school move

When Tasha Darbes tried to park her car on West 218th Street early Sunday, she noticed temporary “No Parking” signs were everywhere.

The street is home to Columbia University’s athletic fields, and the NYPD was hosting its flag football championship there Sunday.

Inwood resident Dave Thom took several photos Sunday showing cars with NYPD parking placards up and down the block. Some of the placards were expired. One car had a handwritten sheet in the window reading, “On Police Commissioner’s Flag Football Team.”

The NYPD said it relocated 30 cars by tow.

Just days ago, Mayor de Blasio vowed to crack down on so-called placard abuse—government cars abusing parking rules.

Another Cohen-related challenge for the Trump Organization

New York state regulators have issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization’s insurance company as part of an investigation into the president’s family business, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News on Tuesday.

The subpoena was issued to Aon insurance company, the person with direct knowledge said, in an investigation of the insurance policies and claims tied to Trump’s namesake firm.

Questions about the Trump family’s business practices intensified last week after Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, told the House Oversight and Reform committee that Trump provided inflated assets to an insurance company.

Asked by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., if Trump ever inflated the value of his assets to an insurance company, Cohen replied, “Yes.”

Life appointments are getting longer under Trump

The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Allison Jones Rushing, 37, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, making her the youngest federal judge in the country.

“She has practiced law for nine years. How many cases has she tried to verdict or judgment? Four. Has she been the lead attorney on any of those cases? No,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the Senate floor. “That is the most scant, weakest legal resume imaginable for someone who’s seeking a lifetime appointment to the second-highest court of the land.”

Trump is dramatically reshaping the nation’s federal courts. With Rushing’s confirmation, he has now gotten 32 circuit judges, 53 district judges and two Supreme Court justices confirmed. That’s so many circuit judges ― more than any other president confirmed by this point in his first term ― that 1 in 6 seats on U.S. circuit courts is now filled by a judge nominated by Trump.

An unexpected Trump administration departure

Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who used his post to tackle difficult public health issues from youth vaping to opioid addiction – surprising early skeptics worried about his drug industry ties – resigned Tuesday, effective in about a month, according to an administration official.

Gottlieb, who has been commuting weekly to Washington from his home in Connecticut, wants to spend more time with his family, the official said. The 46-year-old physician, millionaire venture capitalist and cancer survivor known for a self-assured, sometimes brash, manner lives in Westport, with his wife and three daughters – nine-year-old twins and a five-year-old.

A senior White House official said Gottlieb had spoken to the president, who liked the FDA chief and did not want him to leave. While Gottlieb had some policy disagreements with the White House, he is well respected, and could be invited back to another post, two officials said. The move came as a surprise to some FDA officials because he has recently hired senior staff and was aggressively pushing a host of new initiatives.

politics

The House’s Sweeping New Probe May Be the Biggest Threat to Trump Yet

By Barbara McQuade

The House Judiciary Committee may uncover more Trump misconduct than Mueller. But if they’re not careful, they could undercut the special counsel.

What makes Methodists’ anti-LGBT decision unique

What I find missing from most of the accounts on what the Methodists did is the much broader context of mainline Protestantism. I believe the Methodists are the sole significant holdout in a trend that has moved Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Congregationalists toward an open and affirming stance. This is a denomination that’s active in the World Council of Churches. So it’s a setback that goes beyond the Methodist ranks.

Yeah, Sarah’s piece does a better job than this one at WaPo, from a similar perspective.

The schisms in the other churches occurred earlier over related issues.

Yes, but the right side won in the other denominations – at least in terms of hanging onto the traditional denominations. The Methodists have been regularly voting down a change even as others have embraced it. What was different this time is that so many people expected a different outcome. Particularly after the bishops approved the One Church Plan. 

What I’m saying is that there already exist more conservative branches of those denominations that you mentioned. The Lutherans have the Missouri Synod, for example

Yes, and there are some conservative Methodist branches, too.

I have argued that the real divisions among Protestants these days aren’t so much the traditional denominational ones, but a big and growing split between mainline and fundamentalist groupings.

My understanding is that the conservative Methodist branches are pretty small, comparatively speaking.

I was told by multiple people that if only the American conferences of the Methodist church had voted on the issue, the OCP would have passed.

What makes the Methodists unique among mainliners is that the fundamentalists are hanging onto the big traditional denomination instead of going with one of the conservative groups–which they would have done had they lost this vote.

Ed Kilgore [4:48PM]

And yes, the international dimension mattered a lot with the Methodists. The winning side was basically a coalition of southerners and Africans. t’s a very similar dynamic to what happened with Anglicans, though US Episcopalians basically defied the Anglican Communion, which didn’t follow up on threats to toss them out because of all the U.S. money

I’ve heard the fundamentalism (at least on this issue) of African churches attributed to two different things: competition with a highly homophobic Islam, and the domination of nineteenth century missionary activity in Africa and Asia by evangelicals.

Thanks partly to colonial-era laws and the efforts of 19th century missionaries from Europe, homosexual activity is illegal in many African countries, and that does put some Methodist congregations in a bind. Of course, delegates from those countries could have just voted for the OCP, and continued to govern their congregations in ways that wouldn’t run afoul of local law or their own doctrinal commitments.

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