Lazy Caturday Reads

Bette Davis

Good Morning!!

I’m not an economist, but I’m going to post some economic news today. Dakinikat is an economist, and maybe she will weigh in on what’s happening.

Talks between Democratic Congressional leaders and Trump administration representatives have broken down.

CNN: Stimulus talks break down on Capitol Hill as negotiators walk away without a deal.

Negotiations over the next stimulus package intended to bolster the economy and help struggling Americans pay their bills have stalled on Capitol Hill with Democrats and Trump administration officials walking away after talks broke down on Friday and devolved into partisan finger-pointing.

At a hastily scheduled news conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club Friday evening, President Donald Trump laid out the executive actions he said he would pursue if Congress does not reach a deal.

No additional discussions are planned after nearly two weeks of daily meetings, and lead White House negotiators Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said they were recommending Trump move ahead with a series of executive orders.

Trump said Friday the actions would include a payroll tax deferment, extending unemployment benefits, extending an eviction moratorium and deferring student loan payments and forgiving their interest.

It’s not at all clear to me that any of this would be legal, especially cutting the payroll tax, which would starve Social Security and Medicare. Trump is obviously dying to do that. Back to the CNN story:

Cher

Trump said “they’re talking about” deferring the payroll tax until the end of the year. “And I can extend it at a certain period … and it will be retroactive until July 1,” he said. “I’m going to enhance unemployment benefits through the end of the year,” he added, without specifying any amount.

But the executive orders are expected to meet fierce resistance from Democrats who plan to challenge them in court. Democrats warn that executive action taken will be insufficient to address the extent of the economic and public health crisis faced by Americans during the pandemic.

CNN: Coronavirus has already dealt a blow to Social Security’s finances. Trump’s payroll tax holiday could make it worse.

This isn’t a far-off problem that retirees’ grandchildren would face. If this economic downturn is as bad as the Great Recession a decade ago, then the Social Security trust funds could run out of money in 2029, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. After that, beneficiaries could see a 31% cut in retirement payments.

The program’s trustees had projected earlier this year that the trust funds would be depleted in 2035, but that did not take the coronavirus pandemic into account.

It would be the first time the estimated insolvency date was within a decade since the crisis of the 1980s, which prompted several changes, including raising the retirement age, said Shai Akabas, the center’s director of economy policy.

“An already urgent situation has become even more pressing,” Akabas said, noting the severe drop in payroll tax revenue. “We expect that that trend is going to continue for many years as it takes the labor market to recover.”

Donna Reed

From Business Insider: Trump implementing a payroll tax cut through executive order would blow a hole in Social Security and Medicare’s finances, economists warn.

“Trump’s scheme would weaken the Social Security and Medicare trust funds by diverting the revenue from the employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and potentially the employer’s share of Medicare taxes, from the programs’ trust funds,” the memo from the Center for American Progress said.

Earlier this year, Congress deferred the employer-portion of the Social Security tax (6.2%) through 2022 under the CARES Act. But they replaced the lost money with an infusion of general Treasury funds.

Trump, the memo said, lacks the authority to appropriate funds, which is Congress’s purview.

Many economists say that implementing a payroll tax cut through an executive order wouldn’t lead to a bump in wages for most workers, since the executive branch can only defer tax payments up to a year and not forgive them. Wiping out the payment requires Congress to act.

Legally, employers remain on the hook for any delayed payment. Firms would likely keep the money since they fear being saddled with a hefty tax bill if Congress didn’t move to forgive it.

Obviously, the fact that this would be illegal won’t stop Trump from trying it.

Paul Krugman weighs in on the economic crisis we face: Coming Next: The Greater Recession. Krugman argues that without a second stimulus package being enacted very soon the economy is going to get much worse.

I’m not sure how many people realize just how much deeper the coronavirus recession of 2020 could have been. Obviously it was terrible: Employment plunged, and real G.D.P. fell by around 10 percent. Almost all of that, however, reflected the direct effects of the pandemic, which forced much of the economy into lockdown.

Ava Gardner, 1946

What didn’t happen was a major second round of job losses driven by plunging consumer demand. Millions of workers lost their regular incomes; without federal aid, they would have been forced to slash spending, causing millions more to lose their jobs. Luckily Congress stepped up to the plate with special aid to the unemployed, which sustained consumer spending and kept the nonquarantined parts of the economy afloat.

Furthermore, evidence from austerity policies a decade ago suggests a substantial “multiplier” effect, as spending cuts lead to falling incomes, leading to further spending cuts.

Put it all together and the expiration of emergency aid could produce a 4 percent to 5 percent fall in G.D.P. But wait, there’s more. States and cities are in dire straits and are already planning harsh spending cuts; but Republicans refuse to provide aid, with Trump insisting, falsely, that local fiscal crises have nothing to do with Covid-19.

Bear in mind that the coronavirus itself — a shock that came out of the blue, though the United States mishandled it terribly — reduced G.D.P. by “only” around 10 percent. What we’re looking at now may be another shock, a sort of economic second wave, almost as severe in monetary terms as the first. And unlike the pandemic, this shock will be entirely self-generated, brought on by the fecklessness of President Trump and — let’s give credit where it’s due — Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

In other news, Chief Justice John Roberts is showing his true colors when it comes to abortion.

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern at Slate Magazine: John Roberts’ Stealth Attack on Abortion Rights Just Paid Off.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in June Medical v. Russo was hailed by many liberal court watchers as a win for reproductive rights, as the court declined to overturn Roe v. Wade and formally eliminate the right to an abortion. On Friday, however, a federal appeals court ruled that June Medical significantly narrowed the constitutional right to abortion access. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel swept away an injunction that had blocked Arkansas from enforcing a slew of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that patients pregnant as a result of rape notify their rapists before terminating their pregnancy. The appellate court’s decision confirms that Chief Justice John Roberts’ controlling opinion in June Medical will serve as a tool to eviscerate abortion rights. Those who briefly heralded him as a champion of reproductive freedom were too caught up in the halftime show to see the game.

Olivia de Havilland

Friday’s ruling in Hopkins v. Jegley greenlights four Arkansas regulations passed in 2017. The first of these laws requires clinics to report the names of abortion patients under 18 to local law enforcement. These clinics must then preserve the fetal tissue and treat it like criminal evidence. The second law forces abortion providers to spend “reasonable time and effort” acquiring a patient’s medical records for her “entire pregnancy history” before performing the abortion. The third law grants equal rights over fetal remains to both partners, with no exception in cases of rape. A patient must notify her partner before the abortion and ask which method of disposal he prefers. If both partners are minors, the patient’s parents get to decide how fetal remains are disposed of. If the patient is a minor but her partner is an adult, then he—not the patient—makes the choice. These rules effectively prohibit medication abortion, which occurs at home, where the provider cannot control the disposal of fetal remains. The fourth and final law bans the safest and most common procedure for second-trimester abortions.

Abortion rights advocates challenged this legislation, arguing that they impose an unconstitutional burden on abortion access. A federal district court agreed in 2017, and blocked the new regulations. In Friday’s decision, three Republican-appointed judges on the 8th Circuit cleared away that injunction. The lower court had analyzed the laws under Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the 2016 Supreme Court decision that required courts to weigh the medical benefits of an abortion restriction against its burdens. But the Supreme Court’s decision last month in June Medical, the 8th Circuit wrote, overturned that standard.

One more story, just for laughs: Jerry Falwell Jr. was forced out of his job as president of Liberty University because of that photo he posted of himself with his pants unzipped and his arm around a woman with her pants also unzipped. Politico: Falwell placed on ‘indefinite leave’ from Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr., one of President Donald Trump’s leading evangelical supporters, has agreed to take “an indefinite leave of absence” from his role as president of Liberty University after the release of a viral photo that showed him vacationing on a yacht with his pants unzipped, holding a drink, and with his arm around a woman.

Lauren Bacall

“The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell, Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately,” the university said in a statement on Friday.

The decision came a day after a top House Republican called on Falwell to resign as president of the large Christian school. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference and a former pastor, said that Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling.”

Falwell earlier in the week was widely condemned, including by some conservatives, for posting and then deleting the yacht vacation photo. Liberty University has a strict code of conduct for students that, among other things, prohibits students from having sexual relations outside of a “biblically-ordained” marriage and consuming media with lewd lyrics, sexual content and nudity.

At Slate, Ruth Graham explains Why That Falwell Jr. Yacht Photo Was the Final Straw.

Students on Liberty’s campus are forbidden from drinking alcohol, and are instructed to dress modestly. A poster on Reddit compiled Falwell Jr.’s potential violations in the yacht photograph and an accompanying video, and calculated that a student captured in the same scene could have accrued more than $9,000 in school fines and 900 hours of required service, and possible expulsion.

Faculty and alumni who have been critical of the school’s direction under Falwell Jr. were both shocked and gratified by the news of his leave of absence. “For at least a decade, Liberty’s faculty have labored under Falwell’s increasingly autocratic leadership and been shamed by his public behavior besides,” said Marybeth Davis Baggett, who taught English at Liberty for 17 years and resigned this spring after publishing an op-ed calling for Falwell Jr.’s removal based on his handling of the coronavirus crisis. “One man cannot act this way without many enablers, and any meaningful reform of the school will require a thorough and brutally honest inquiry into the LU culture.”

Jane Fonda, photo by Genevieve Naylor, 1962

Falwell Jr., a businessman with a law degree and no pastoral experience, took over the college when his father died in 2007. He has built the school into a sports powerhouse with a campus filled with luxury amenities, and conservative activists and politicians regularly speak there. The school now boasts more than 15,000 residential students, and more than 100,000 students online.

But Liberty has also been under almost constant national scrutiny since Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump in early 2016, months earlier than other white evangelical leaders embraced the crude casino magnate’s candidacy. Falwell Jr. began 2020 by calling for parts of Virginia to secede from the state and join West Virginia. As the coronavirus crisis encroached, Falwell Jr. initially dismissed it as “hype,” and called a Liberty parent who questioned him on Twitter a “dummy.” He was then criticized for welcoming back any students who wanted to return to campus after spring break. (Fewer than 2,000 of 15,000 residential students ultimately returned, and Liberty has avoided any outbreaks.) In May, Falwell Jr. tweeted a racist image in an attempt to needle Virginia governor Ralph Northam. He eventually deleted the tweet and apologized, but multiple Black employees publicly quit their jobs soon afterward; several high-profile Black athletes also departed. None of these media dust-ups seemed to dent Falwell Jr.’s favorability in the eyes of his hand-picked board of trustees.

There’s much more at the link if you’re interested.

So everything is still FUBAR, but as Dakinikat wrote yesterday, we can still be kind to ourselves and support each other through these terrifying times. As I learned in my recovery from alcoholism, it always helps to live one day at a time. We’re still here, and there’s still a chance we can rid ourselves of Trump and somehow hold onto and rebuild our democracy.


Tuesday Reads: Hide and Go Seek Authoritarian Style

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Protesters for women’s rights march to the Alabama Capitol to protest a law passed last week making abortion a felony in nearly all cases with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Montgomery, Ala.Butch Dill / AP

I woke up to electricity and drinkable water in the faucet so it’s a good day down here in New Orleans.  That still doesn’t mean we’re not living in a Banana Republic these days.  Folks are taking to the streets today in support of women and their doctors jointly deciding what health care is required.  We also have a series of court cases on deck for refusal to do right by House Subpoenas. 

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s March, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups are organizing nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday to protest the wave of new state laws banning abortion.

The “extreme bans on abortion [are] stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access,” the groups said on the “Stop The Bans” protest website.

And Don McGahn was a no show defying a house subpoena to appear before Jerry Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee.. 

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn defied a congressional subpoena Tuesday by declining to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the direction of the White House.

The hearing room chair reserved for McGahn sat empty behind microphones, as committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York opened the scheduled hearing.

“This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” Nadler said, referring to the White House’s instruction to McGahn not to appear. “Let me be clear: This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.”

“We will hold this president accountable — one way or the other,” Nadler said.

The New York Democrat had warned in a letter to McGahn late Monday night, “The committee has made clear that you risk serious consequences if you do not appear tomorrow.” The committee could hold McGahn in contempt.

The call for starting an impeachment inquiry is building as House Dems met in a closed meeting with Speaker Pelosi (Via Politico).

House Democratic leaders sparred internally on Monday over whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies rejecting the call to move forward for now, according to multiple sources.

Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Joe Neguse of Colorado — all members of Democratic leadership — pushed to begin impeachment proceedings during a leadership meeting in Pelosi’s office, said the sources. Pelosi and Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cheri Bustos of Illinois — some of her key allies — rejected their calls, saying Democrats’ message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.

Raskin — a former law professor — said he wasn’t advocating impeaching Trump but suggested that opening an impeachment inquiry would strengthen their legal position while allowing Democrats to move forward with their legislative agenda.

Pelosi dismissed this argument, asking Raskin whether he wanted to shut down the other five committees working on Trump investigations in favor of the Judiciary Committee.

“You want to tell Elijah Cummings to go home?” Pelosi quipped, referring to the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.

And in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee stood up and demanded Trump’s impeachment. Pelosi then countered, “This is not about politics, it’s about what’s best for the American people,” said a member who attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Russian Potted Plant in the White House and his saplings continue to say they will fight all subpoenas.  Let’s see how this works out as an appeal for yesterday’s court  action will cross the desk of Judge Merrick Garland.

President Donald Trump’s attorneys have vowed to appeal Monday’s decision in favor of a House committee seeking his financial records, but people on Twitter were thrilled about where the case will end up.

“We will be filing a timely notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told Politico.

The current chief judge there is Merrick Garland, who President Barack Obama nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016 after Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died.

Senate Republicans stalled the nomination, refusing to vote or even hold a hearing until after the presidential election. Trump won and appointed Neil Gorsuch instead, which meant Garland remained on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he could now play a role in the looming showdown between the president and House Democrats.

Cases are heard by panels of three judges randomly assigned, so Garland is not necessarily going to hear the appeal (unless the decision is reviewed by the full court). But, the irony of the situation was not lost on Twitter users:

Yes. He appears to be asking for impeachment.

In a pre-Trumpian world, this sequence of events would set off a political crisis. In the surreal landscape we inhabit, it barely registers. But it is worth noting that Trump continues to commit impeachable offenses at an unprecedented pace. Last night’s threats to make good on his “lock them up” promises are merely one more in another recent flurry. The space between Trump’s long-standing authoritarian rhetoric and the deployment of his powers of office is slowly collapsing on several fronts.

Consider some of the events of recent days. Sunday, the New York Timesrevealed that Deutsche Bank’s internal investigators raised concerns that the portfolios of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner involved money laundering. Trump is suing Deutsche Bank to block it from complying with congressional investigators. The notion that the president is entitled to engage in red-flagged dealings with money launderers, and conceal it from Congress and the public, is a wild transgression of transparency norms.

The same day, the Times reported Trump is preparing pardons for several American war criminals. Trump has long fantasized about war crimes and human-rights violations as part of his idealized military, from repeating a fantasized historical account of General Pershing shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood to proposing that the United States seize Iraqi oil as spoils of war. His prospective pardoning of war criminals are steps toward institutionalizing this vision as de facto law.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Michael Cohen told a closed House panel that Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, encouraged him to lie to Congress in 2017. Cohen’s lie concerned his handling of a deal to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow. The subject of the lie is itself a massive scandal: Vladimir Putin, who habitually corrupts foreign politicians with bribes disguised as lucrative deals, was dangling a contract worth several hundred million dollars, with no financial risk or downside to Trump.

Cohen has testified that Trump encouraged him to lie by repeating, in his characteristic mobster code — “There’s no Russia” — a cover story both men knew to be false. (Trump of course signed the letter of intent for the Moscow Project.) The new report shows that Sekulow was involved in crafting his false testimony, and that, far from the president’s lawyer freelance ordering perjury, Cohen understood Trump to be working through Sekulow:

Marcy Wheeler is on fire about this.  It’s not taking folks long to notice that the RNC wrote a big fat check to McGahn’s law firm. So, inquiring minds would naturally jump to a quid pro quo …

Supporters of legal access to abortion rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, March 2, 2016, as the Court hears oral arguments in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which deals with access to abortion. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

We also know that there are likely good reasons for Trump to be furiously trying to bury any attempt to get his full tax records.  This is from WAPO and Catherine Rampell.

When you look at the short span of President Trump’s political career, one question jumps out: How much of his craziest, most paranoid and norm-violating behavior is motivated by a desire to keep his financial arrangements secret?

It began with Trump’s bizarre refusal to release his tax returns, in defiance of both a nearly half-century practice and Trump’s own promise that he’d do so.

Then there was his refusal to divest from his sprawling multinational empire, or even put it into a blind trust — either of which would have forced at least some information disclosure to a third party.

There were also the interviews and tweetstorms calling journalists who report on his finances “enemies of the people,” and suggestions that federal officials who audit him are anti-Christian.

As well as his implicit threat in 2017 that he would fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III if he crossed a “red line” by examining Trump’s personal financial dealings.

Also, his curious personnel priorities. Once it became clear that House Democrats would exercise their explicit statutory authority to get Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to prioritize confirmation of Trump’s IRS general counsel nominee ahead of confirmation of a new attorney general. This IRS general counsel pick, mind you, also happened to have previously advised the Trump Organization on tax issues.

Trump’s treasury secretary has also been spending so much time safeguarding Trump’s tax returns, in violation of that explicit statute, that the activity is reportedly crowding out his day job.

All of which raises the question: Why exactly is Trump (and the rest of his administration) expending so much energy and political capital to keep these documents hidden? What could possibly be so disturbing or incriminating to justify such an effort?

One theory is that, maybe, if Trump’s tax returns or other financial records become public, his supporters would learn that he’s not nearly as rich as he says. Another is that his finances are not exactly on the up and up.

Of course, both explanations could be true.

Go read the rest for more on  Don the Con.   Meanwhile, enjoy some Leslie Dracarys Jones.

So, this is plenty to read and think about today.  I’m still trying to rest my eyes while keeping up with things.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Lives

Peonies, by Claude Monet

Good Morning!!

Even as we worry about Trump and Bolton starting a war with Iran and about the Democrats refusing to follow the Impeachment road map provided by Robert Mueller, American women must face the fact that our very personhood is being attacked.

Personally, I have decided that I will not vote for any man for president. The right of women to make decisions about our own bodies is too important.

Here’s the latest on the War on Women:

NBC News: Missouri Senate passes bill to outlaw abortion at 8 weeks.

Missouri’s Senate has passed what its authors call one of the nation’s most stringent anti-abortion bills, which would outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

The Republican-led Senate passed the bill, dubbed Missouri Stands With The Unborn, by a margin of 24 to 10 early Thursday morning….

Missouri’s move comes hours after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that would introduce a near-total abortion ban in that state. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

Louisiana is following suit with its own “heartbeat” abortion ban, which was approved unopposed by the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

Abortion right activists are mobilizing in Alabama. The Washington Post: Governor signs Alabama abortion ban, which has galvanized support on both sides, setting up a lengthy fight.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As a crop duster with a banner saying “Abortion is okay” hummed above the capitol, circling back and forth around the governor’s mansion, a group of women below let out a cheer.

Amaryllis by Piet Mondrian (1910)

“Just another day in Alabama,” said Mia Raven, director of People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER) House. “We knew this would pass and we got ready.”

Amanda Reyes, who works with an abortion fund, was wearing an “I’m on the pill” T-shirt, complete with instructions printed on the back detailing how to get a medical abortion. She also looked skyward: “Here it comes again! That’s just the coolest thing.”

Hours after the Alabama Senate voted late Tuesday to ban abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest — women’s rights activists and abortion rights advocates said the decision to approve the nation’s strictest abortion measure has energized them. Knowing that the bill was designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, they are gearing up for the fight.

The Washington Post: Louisiana ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban nearing final passage.

BATON ROUGE, La. — A proposal to ban abortions in Louisiana as early as the sixth week of pregnancy continued to speed through the state legislature Wednesday, the same day Alabama’s governor signed the nation’s most restrictive law against the procedure.

Without objection, the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee backed legislation to prohibit abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, similar to laws passed in several conservative states that are aimed at challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Louisiana’s ban, however, only would take effect if a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi.

Louisiana’s so-called fetal “heartbeat bill” is sponsored by state Sen. John Milkovich, one of several measures that lawmakers are advancing to add new restrictions on abortion. Senators already have supported the bill, which will next receive full House consideration, one step from final passage. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has indicated he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

The New York Times sums up the current abortion landscape: ‘The Time Is Now’: States Are Rushing to Restrict Abortion, or to Protect It.

Alex Katz, Tulips 4, 2013

States across the country are passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in decades, deepening the growing divide between liberal and conservative states and setting up momentous court battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America….

The national race to pass new legislation began last fall, after President Trump chose Brett M. Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, adding what some predicted would be a fifth vote to uphold new limits on abortion. Red states rushed to pass more restrictions and blue states to pass protections.

Now, as state legislative sessions draw to a close in many places, experts count about 30 abortion laws that have passed so far.

That is not necessarily more than in past years, said Elizabeth Nash, a legal expert at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

What’s different is the laws themselves, which have gone further than ever to frontally challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established federal protections for abortion.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Interestingly, these extreme laws could be interfering with right wing plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Flowers in a Glass Vase by John Constable (c. 1814)

Even Pat Robertson thinks the Alabama law is too “extreme.” The Washington Post: Televangelist Pat Robertson: Alabama’s abortion ban is ‘extreme’ and has ‘gone too far.’

Longtime televangelist Pat Robertson decried Alabama’s new abortion ban as “extreme,” saying on his show on Wednesday that the state legislature has “gone too far.”

Alabama’s law, which has been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, includes a penalty of up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions and has no exceptions for rape or incest, Robertson noted on his show.

“They want to challenge Roe vs. Wade, but my humble view is I don’t think that’s the case I’d want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose,” Robertson told viewers of CBN’s “The 700 Club” on Wednesday.

David G. Savage at The Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe vs. Wade — at least not soon.

The Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Thursday morning and are expected to debate and discuss — for the 14th time — Indiana’s appeal of court rulings that have blocked a law to prohibit certain abortions.

The high court’s action — or so far, nonaction — in Indiana’s case gives one clue as to how the court’s conservative majority will decide the fate of abortion bans recently passed by lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed her state’s ban into law on Wednesday.

Pot of Geraniums, Henri Matisse

Lawmakers in those states have said they approved the bans in an effort to force the high court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The justices have many ways to avoid such a sweeping ruling, however. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in his 14 years on the high court, has typically resisted moving quickly to decide major controversies or to announce abrupt, far-reaching changes in the law.

Roberts’ history, along with the court’s handling of abortion cases in recent years, suggests he will not move to overturn the right to abortion soon, or all at once, and is particularly unlikely to do so in the next year or two with a presidential election pending.

At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick makes a similar argument: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan.

One could feel sorry for Chief Justice John Roberts. He is, after all, caught in an unsightly squeeze play between anti-abortion zealots in Alabama, and slightly less wild-eyed anti-abortion zealots in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana (the court seems unable to make a decision on whether to grant the Indiana petition it has been sitting on for months now). There’s finally a five-justice majority within striking distance of a decades-long dream to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the anti-choice activists are getting ahead of themselves like slurring drunks at a frat party and making everything more transparently nasty than it need be.

Hibiscus by Hiroshige (c. 1845)

There are easy and near invisible ways for the high court to end Roe. That has always been, and remains, the logical trajectory. As Mark Joseph Stern has shown, when Brett Kavanaugh came onto the court, with his dog whistles and signaling around reproductive rights, it became clear that he would guide the court to simply allow states to erect more and more barriers to abortion access (dolphin-skin window coverings on every clinic!). The five justices in the majority would do it all while finding ways to say that such regulations were not an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. The courts and state legislatures could continue their lilting love songs to the need for the states to protect maternal health and to help confused mommies make good choices, and nobody need dirty their hands by acknowledging that the real goal of three decades’ worth of cumbersome clinic regulations and admitting privileges laws were just pretexts for closing clinics and ending abortion altogether.

Read the rest at Slate.

(Mostly) male legislators are ignoring the realities of actual women’s lives.

When Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, for example, was asked if the law would allow for incest victims to obtain abortions, he responded: “Yes, until she knows she’s pregnant.”

He did not elaborate on how someone would have an abortion before she knows she’s pregnant, outside of claiming, “It takes time for all the chromosomes to come together.”

Flower Garden by Gustav Klimt, 1905

Women’s bodies, lives, and futures are quite literally in the hands of men who seemingly couldn’t pass a high school health class. That’s part of what’s so hard about watching these debates: It’s not just that women’s rights and autonomy are being legislated away, but that it’s being done by complete morons.

This lack of remedial understanding of women’s bodies is not limited to Alabama. Representative John Becker of Ohio, a Republican, for example, sponsored a bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions, but claimed that it would have an exception for ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. “That treatment would be removing the embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus,” he said, explaining a procedure that doesn’t exist and isn’t medically possible.

There is also Texas state Representative Dan Flynn, a Republican, who believes abortion requires cutting into a woman’s uterus, or Vito Barbieri, the Idaho state Representative, a Republican, who thought you could give a woman a remote gynecological exam by having her swallow a tiny camera.

Shannon Dingle at USA Today: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama’s abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.

Roses and Lillies by Henri Fantin-Latour (1888)

I was that 11-year-old pregnant by rape in Ohio, except I had just turned 12 and lived in Florida….She is 11. She has experienced and is experiencing violating trauma. Maybe someday she will tell her story, but today is not that day.

I can tell my story, though. I was newly 12. I lived in a suburb of Tampa. I had gotten my period a couple years before, and it came regularly once it started. I knew to expect it every 32 days.

It was July, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, when days 33, 34, 35 and more passed with no period. I had read in one of my sister’s Seventeen magazines that periods aren’t always regular, so I figured this was my first one of those.

It wasn’t….I never chose to have sex at such a young age, but abusers in my family chose to rape me. I had lost count of the number of times by then. With a dad high ranking in the county sheriff’s office, I didn’t trust going to the police. I had tried to tell teachers and church volunteers, but that never went anywhere, either.

Please go read the rest if you haven’t already.

Women and girls in the U.S. are in real danger. For me this is the number one issue for women in the upcoming presidential election.

As always, this is an open thread.


Thursday Reads: Joe Biden Is Not An Ally To Women (And Other News)

Good Morning!!

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Biden, so maybe I’ve just ignored his stance on reproductive rights. I did not know Biden was wobbly on the issue. I had even forgotten that Biden is a Catholic.

I couldn’t find anything recent on Biden’s abortion stance, except this piece at HuffPost from March 6: Biden In 1974: Women Don’t Have Sole Right To Say What Should Happen To Their Bodies.

When former Vice President Joe Biden was a freshman senator he said in a 1974 interview with Washingtonian that he believed the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling clearing the way for legal first-trimester abortions “went too far,” and that he didn’t “think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

In the interview, which took place just two years after Biden’s wife and two-year-old were killed in a car accident, Biden — then the youngest senator in U.S. history — said his anti-abortion views were part of his “socially conservative” outlook.

“My wife said I was the most socially conservative man she had ever known,” he said. “When it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother.”

Biden claims his remarks were “taken out of context.”

But Biden didn’t limit his anti-abortion views to rhetoric. He also advanced legislation on the subject.

In 1981, for example, Biden proposed the Foreign Assistance Act, which barred U.S. aid from being used for any medical research on abortion. It’s still in effect to this day. He has also voted in support of the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion procedures.

Joe Biden interview with American Magazine, September 2015

“Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994.

He also supported former President Ronald Reagan’s “Global Gag Rule,” which prohibits the U.S. funding any nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on reproductive health care if they also offer abortion. President Trump was quick to revive it in 2017.

Biden’s approval rating from the pro-choice activist group NARAL has fluctuated throughout his career. In the 1990s, his score wavered between 34 and 46 percent ― a pretty abysmal scorecard for a Democrat. In recent years, however, it’s shot up to 100 percent.

Biden has also consistently voted in support of banning so-called “partial-birth” abortions ― the medical term for which is “dilation and extraction.” These procedures are often politicized despite heart-wrenching stories from women whose lives were saved because of them.

Two articles on Biden and abortion from 2015:

America Magazine: Vice President Biden’s comments about abortion in America interview kick off new conversations.

In an exclusive interview with America released at the beginning of this week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. affirmed that pro-life people “absolutely, positively” are welcome in the Democratic party and that he believes, as a Catholic, that “abortion is always wrong.” His comments, very different from most contributions to the political conversation about abortion, are blurring some long-established lines in the culture wars and generating significant interest in the media and among commentators….

“It has been hard…I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God­-fearing [and] non­-God­-fearing people that have a different view,” Biden said. He continued, “Abortion is always wrong…But I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of [the country].” (See the exchange, which begins at the 13:30 mark, in the full interview embedded at the bottom of this post.)

Fr. Malone also asked Mr. Biden if there was room for people who are pro-life in the Democratic party. The Vice President responded resolutely: “Absolutely. Absolutely, positively. And that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged.”

No. Just no. Anyone who is “pro-life” in the sense of opposing women’s reproductive rights should not be welcome in the Democratic Party.

Mother Jones: Biden’s Abortion Record Could Cause Him Problems in a Presidential Bid.

Biden has been an inconsistent supporter of reproductive rights, sometimes backing the legal right of women to choose how to handle a pregnancy, while often hewing to his Catholic faith and moralizing against all abortions. Even today, when he and Clinton would most likely agree on most of the policy substance of ensuring access to abortion clinics, Biden sticks to a pro-life view in his personal politics.

Biden the gaffe machine

During the early part of his career, abortion rights groups griped about Biden as an unreliable ally. “Joe Biden moans a lot and then usually votes against us,” a Planned Parenthood official said in 1986.

When he first entered national politics, Biden was willing to stand alongside politicians who wanted to make abortion illegal. In a Washingtonian profilepublished the year after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a nationwide right to abortion, Biden unequivocally criticized the ruling. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion,” he said. “I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

He put that view into practice in 1982, voting in the Judiciary Committee for a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned Roe v. Wade by declaring that the Constitution offered women no inherent right to abortion, and that the federal government and states would be free to regulate or ban abortion as they pleased. Under that amendment, state laws that restricted abortions would have superseded more permissive federal laws.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

As Biden continues to agonize about getting into the 2020 presidential race, this is something that needs to be spread far and wide among Democrats. With Roe v. Wade likely to be overturned soon, Women cannot accept a candidate who doesn’t wholeheartedly support women’s right to control their own bodies.

The Kushners and the Trumps

Charles and Jared Kushner

I’m reading the new book by Vicky Ward, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. I can tell you that the Kushner family can definitely compete with the Trump’s in terms of corruption. Until now I had no idea just how much of a monster Charles Kushner is. No wonder Trump likes Jared so much. Ward was interviewed on Democracy Now this morning.

The New York Times has a story on the Kushners this morning: The Kingdom and the Kushners: Jared Went to Riyadh. So Did His Brother.

In late October 2017, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, dropped into Saudi Arabia for an unannounced visit to the desert retreat of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was in the process of consolidating his power. The two men talked privately late into the night.

Just a day earlier, Mr. Kushner’s younger brother, Josh, then 32, was flying out of the kingdom.

Jared came to talk policy, but Josh was there on business.

The founder of an eight-year-old venture capital firm, Josh Kushner had spent the three days before his brother’s arrival at an investor conference, where Prince Mohammed had promised to spend billions of dollars on a high-tech future for Saudi Arabia.

As others sat through speeches in a gilded conference hall, several participants said, the younger Mr. Kushner frequently ducked out for more exclusive conversations with Saudi officials.

Some government ethics lawyers say those conversations — never hidden, but not previously reported — create the appearance of a potential conflict of interest. Although Jared Kushner severed his ties with his brother’s company and divested his interest in his brother’s funds around the time he entered the White House, he was nonetheless discussing American policy with the rulers of the kingdom at virtually the same time that his brother was talking business with their top aides.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Mike Pence and Russia?

Franklin Graham and Mike Pence

Check out this creepy scoop from Think Progress: Why was Franklin Graham schmoozing with a sanctioned Russian official this month?

Franklin Graham, America’s most prominent evangelical leader, says Vice President Mike Pence signed off on his trip to Russia earlier this month. While there, Graham met with sanctioned Kremlin officials — even as U.S. investigations ramped up into Moscow’s election interference efforts. One official Russian governmental social media account touted the meeting as a way to “[intensify] contacts between the State Duma and the U.S. Congress.”

In an interview with RIA Novosti, a major Russian state-run outlet, Graham said he called Pence directly to tell him of the trip. “He was very happy to hear the news,” Graham said. “And he admitted that he fully supported my decision.”

Neither Pence’s office nor the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association responded to ThinkProgress’s requests for comment.

According to interviews in Russian media and photos on his own social media accounts, Graham, currently the chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveled to Moscow earlier this month to meet with a number of prominent Russian figures. Most notably, Graham had a sit-down meeting with Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who is close to President Vladimir Putin and who has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2014 for his role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Click on the link to read the rest.

More stories to check out, links only:

The New Republic: Nihilist In Chief: The Banal, Evil, All-Destructive Reign of Mitch McConnell.

Fast Company: Amazon could soon force you to go on a diet,according to one futurist.

Palm Beach Post: Not just Cindy Yang: Royals, felon, pop stars, others got access to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

Seattle Times: FBI joining criminal investigation into certification of Boeing 737 MAX.

The New York Times: Doomed Boeing Jets Lacked 2 Safety Features That Company Sold Only as Extras.

Miami Herald: Two mystery parties try to restrict release of documents in Jeffrey Epstein civil suit.

Trump Inc: Trump’s Moscow Tower Problem.

Politico: Aides struggle to see strategy in Trump’s Conway, McCain fights.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: The Usual Insanity Reigns in Trump World

Good Afternoon!!

As usual, there’s way too much news out there this morning. In Trump world, there’s never an opportunity to catch your breath and focus on one important thing. I can’t cover everything, so here are some random stories that caught my interest.

Cecile Richards has a new book out–Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead: My Life Story–and she included some creepy revelations about Jared and Ivanka Kushner. People Magazine: Planned Parenthood CEO Says Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Offered ‘Bribe’ to Stop Abortions.

In a riveting passage from Cecile Richards’ new memoir, the Planned Parenthood chief says Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were, during Donald Trump’s 2016 transition as president-elect, so eager to be recognized as shrewd political dealmakers that the soon-to-be first daughter and her husband made an offer that felt like a “bribe”: an increase in federal funding for Planned Parenthood in exchange for its agreement to stop providing abortions.

Richards says she “reached out” to Ivanka at the suggestion of a friend, in hopes of finding an ally in the Trump White House. Ivanka insisted on bringing Jared, so Richards asked her husband Kirk Adams to come with her.

According to a statement from Planned Parenthood given to Time.com, the purpose of the meeting “was to make sure that Ivanka Trump fully understood the important role Planned Parenthood plays in providing health care to millions of people and why it would be a disastrous idea to block people from accessing care at Planned Parenthood.”

After Richards explained this, she writes that Kushner told her Planned Parenthood “had made a big mistake by becoming ‘political.’ ”

“The main issue, he explained, was abortion,” Richards writes. “If Planned Parenthood wanted to keep our federal funding, we would have to stop providing abortions. He described his ideal outcome: a national headline reading ‘Planned Parenthood Discontinues Abortion Services.’”

According to Make Trouble, Kushner said that if Richards agreed to the plan then funding could increase, but he urged them to “move fast.”

“If it wasn’t crystal clear before, it was now. Jared and Ivanka were there for one reason: to deliver a political win,” she writes. “In their eyes, if they could stop Planned Parenthood from providing abortions, it would confirm their reputation as savvy dealmakers. It was surreal, essentially being asked to barter away women’s rights for more money. It takes a lot to get Kirk mad, but it looked like his head was about to explode.”

Richards explained that there was “no way” Kushner’s proposal would work and that they’d continue to fight for funding.

“‘Our mission is to care for women who need us, and that means caring for all of their reproductive needs — including safe and legal abortion,’” she recalls saying.

Can you imagine the nerve? In Trump world, everything is about money. These people can’t even begin to conceive of the notion that there are people with personal values that are non-negotiable.

There’s another new book about Trump world–this time by Trump booster Ronald Kessler. Still, a few embarrassing tidbits are coming out in advice of its release date.

The Cut: Trump Reportedly Called Jared Kushner a ‘Little Boy.’

According to journalist Ronald Kessler in his new bookThe Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game, when Kushner addressed reporters during a live television appearance, President Trump told the aides watching with him, “Look at Jared, he looks like a little boy, like a child.”

Kessler also claims that Trump once told Kushner and his daughter, Ivanka, that “they never should have left New York,” and he “made it clear to them that he would not mind if they gave up their White House roles.” [….]

Trump calling Jared “a child” seems rather unfair. Not only has president given his son-in-law a set of absurdly stratospheric, decidedly adult responsibilities, Kushner clearly looks more like a haunted doll than a little boy.

Kessler writes that Kellyanne Conway is the “number one leaker” in the White House except for Trump himself, who leaks as as an “anonymous source” to specific reporters in hopes of positive coverage. According to Kessler, Melania Trump is an important adviser to her husband, and she once “walked out on” Trump in 1998 when she found out he was cheating on her. Now you don’t have to read the book, which reported is filled with Trump boosterism.

Luke Harding, who wrote the terrific book Collusion, has a new piece on Paul Manafort’s machinations at The Guardian: Former Trump aide approved ‘black ops’ to help Ukraine president.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort authorised a secret media operation on behalf of Ukraine’s former president, featuring “black ops”, “placed” articles in the Wall Street Journal and US websites, and anonymous briefings against Hillary Clinton.

The project was designed to boost the reputation of Ukraine’s then leader, Viktor Yanukovych. It was part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort carried out by Manafort on behalf of Yanukovych’s embattled government, emails and documents reveal.

The strategies included:

 Proposing to rewrite Wikipedia entries to smear a key opponent of the then Ukrainian president.

 Setting up a fake “thinktank” in Vienna to disseminate viewpoints supporting Yanukovych.

 A social media blitz “aimed at targeted audiences in Europe and the US”.

 Briefing journalists from the rightwing website Breitbart to attack Clinton, when she was US secretary of state.

Manafort’s Ukraine strategy anticipates later efforts by the Kremlin and its troll factory to use Twitter and Facebook to discredit Clinton and to help Trump win the 2016 US election. The material seen by the Guardian dates from 2011 to 2013.

Read the rest at The Guardian.

Another interesting long read from The Guardian by Donna Ladd: Dangerous, growing, yet unnoticed: the rise of America’s white gangs. It’s a portrait of one man–Benny Ivy–who as a kid joined “one of the oldest and largest white gangs in the US, the Simon City Royals.”

The Royals’ roots date to Chicago’s North Side in 1952, when two violent white “greaser” gangs – the Ashland Royals and Simon City – guarded Simon Park turf as Puerto Ricans moved in.

Early greasers were immigrants, often Italian, maligned by wealthier whites for greasing machines in blue-collar jobs. In 1968, the greasers united as the Simon City Royals, often rumbling with the nearby Latin Kings as well as the white supremacist Gaylords. (Their rhetoric is familiar: a Gaylords nostalgia websitecalled Latino gangs “storage bins for illegal immigrants”.)

The Royals were one of the biggest and most violent street gangs in Chicago by the 1970s, when they joined the Folk Nation alliance with the Black Gangster Disciples, began admitting Hispanics and, later, women and black members.

But by the 1980s, the gang had weakened after its leadership got locked up or killed.

Strength shifted to prisons, and the brand spread to midwestern and southern states like Mississippi, where the Royals are now one of the largest and most violent gangs in the state.

Surveys of young Americans have shown that 40% identifying as gang members are white, but police tend to undercount them at 10% to 14% and overcount black and Hispanic members, says Babe Howell, a criminal law professor at City University of New York who focuses on crime and race.

“Police see groups of young white people as individuals, each responsible for his or her own conduct, and hold young people of color in street gangs criminally liable for the conduct of their peers,” she says.

Much more at the link.

Trump is insisting on sending National Guard troops to the southern border because he heard about a so-called “caravan” of migrants marching across Mexico. We now have a “president” who uses to executive ordered to deal with fake crises. Trump probably doesn’t know that U.S. troops can’t take any actions against people to enforce domestic laws because of the Posse Commitatus Act. So he’s sending the troops down there anyway instead of just letting them train to do their real jobs. So what about this “caravan?”

The New York Times: ‘You Hate America!’: How the ‘Caravan’ Story Exploded on the Right.

It was the kind of story destined to take a dark turn through the conservative news media and grab President Trump’s attention: A vast horde of migrants was making its way through Mexico toward the United States, and no one was stopping them.

A Central American woman gives water to a baby as a large group of immigrants sets up camp for a few days at a sports center in Matias Romero in Mexico’s Oaxaca state late Monday. (Felix Marquez / Associated Press)

“Mysterious group deploys ‘caravan’ of illegal aliens headed for U.S. border,” warned Frontpage Mag, a site run by David Horowitz, a conservative commentator.

The Gateway Pundit, a website that was most recently in the news for spreading conspiracies about the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., suggested the real reason the migrants were trying to enter the United States was to collect social welfare benefits.

And as the president often does when immigration is at issue, he saw a reason for Americans to be afraid. “Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming,” a Twitter post from Mr. Trump read.

The story of “the caravan” followed an arc similar to many events — whether real, embellished or entirely imagined — involving refugees and migrants that have roused intense suspicion and outrage on the right. The coverage tends to play on the fears that hiding among mass groups of immigrants are many criminals, vectors of disease and agents of terror. And often the president, who announced his candidacy by blaming Mexico for sending rapists and drug dealers into the United States, acts as an accelerant to the hysteria.

That’s the fake story, now for the real story.

The New York Times: Inside an Immigrant Caravan: Women and Children, Fleeing Violence.

MATÍAS ROMERO, Mexico — With a sarcastic half-smile, Nikolle Contreras, 27, surveyed her fellow members of the Central American caravan, which President Trump has called dangerous and has used as a justification to send troops to the border.

More than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, waited patiently on Wednesday in the shade of trees and makeshift shelters in a rundown sports complex in this Mexican town, about 600 miles south of the border. They were tired, having slept and eaten poorly for more than a week. All were facing an uncertain future.

“Imagine that!” said Ms. Contreras, a Honduran factory worker hoping to apply for asylum in the United States. “So many problems he has to solve and he gets involved with this caravan!”

The migrants, most of them Hondurans, left the southern Mexican border city of Tapachula on March 25 and for days traveled north en masse — by foot, hitchhiking and on the tops of trains — as they fled violence and poverty in their homelands and sought a better life elsewhere.

This sort of collective migration has become something of an annual event around Easter week, and a way for advocates to draw more attention to the plight of migrants.

But this particular caravan caught the attention of Mr. Trump, apparently after he heard about it on Fox News. In a Twitter tirade that began Sunday, he conjured up hordes of dangerous migrants surging toward the border. He demanded that Mexican officials halt the group, suggesting that otherwise he would make them pay dearly in trade negotiations or aid cuts.

Mr. Trump even boasted that his threat had forced Mexico’s government to halt and disperse the caravan participants. But there was no evidence of that on Wednesday.

Read the rest at the NYT.

What stories are you following today?