I’m going to focus on the abortion battle today. I think it is completely inappropriate for abortion to even be a public issue in the first place, but of course regulating women’s bodies and lives has been a goal for powerful men since ancient times.
I was around before abortion became legal in this country–in fact I was around before birth control was legal for unmarried women. For me it feels like what is happening now is an incredible betrayal. Although women have never been treated in our culture as fully equal with men, the Roe v. Wade decision made it possible for women to make great strides in education and work. Now, nearly fifty years later, the progress toward equality has been halted. Women of child-bearing age are being treated like broodmares once again.
The good news is that the majority of U.S. voters are not on the same page with right wing Republicans and the justices they have managed to put on the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court. We saw this in Kansas when voters rejected a referendum to make abortion illegal in the state. We saw in the mid-term elections when voters clearly saw abortion as one of the top issues. We saw it during the latest midterm elections, when abortion was shown to be a significant issue for voters. We saw it recently in Wisconsin, where voters election Janet Protasiewicz, a pro-choice Democrat, to the State Supreme Court, giving liberals a majority.
Conservatives are finding out the hard way that abortion isn’t a 50-50 issue anymore.
Janet Protasiewicz’s 11-point blowout victory this week for a state Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin was just the latest example of voters who support abortion rights outnumbering — and outvoting — their opponents. There was little polling in Tuesday’s race, but in a 2022 midterm exit poll of the state, a combined 63 percent of Wisconsin voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 34 percent thought it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Moreover, for the 31 percent of 2022 voters who said abortion was their most important issue — second only to inflation at 34 percent — they overwhelmingly backed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (83 percent) and Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes (81 percent), who lost narrowly to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson.
Going back to the 1990s, Gallup polling showed Americans divided roughly evenly between those who called themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Exit polls from the 1990s and 2000s showed voters who said abortion or “moral values” were most important to their vote supported Republican candidates in greater numbers.
But those surveys were conducted when a right to an abortion was law of the land. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year ending that constitutional right has exposed Americans’ broad opposition to the strict abortion bans adopted or proposed in GOP-controlled states. And it’s revealed that public surveys on the matter probably need more nuanced questions now.
There’s a long history of abortion polling. In the 2000 presidential election, the Los Angeles Times national exit poll found more George W. Bush voters rated abortion as one of their two most important issues than Al Gore voters, and voters were divided 50-50 on whether abortion should remain legal or be made illegal (though with exceptions).
That poll offered three options when measuring voter sentiment on abortion: keep it legal, make it illegal with exceptions or make it illegal with no exceptions.
Now, a four-point question probably best measures where Americans sit on the issue: legal in all cases, legal in most, illegal in all and illegal in most. The 2022 national exit poll used this device, finding that 29 percent of voters believed abortion should be “legal in all cases,” while another 30 percent thought it should be “legal in most cases.” That left 26 percent who thought it should be “illegal in most cases” and only 10 percent who said it should be “illegal in all cases.”
That leaves roughly six-in-10 voters supporting legal abortion in most cases — with the median voter supporting some restrictions — and just over a third who want it to be entirely or mostly illegal.
NY Magazine cover, by Barbara Kruger
The recent decision by reactionary Trump judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas is getting very bad reviews. Kacsmaryk claimed to have the power to tell scientists at the FDA that mifepristone, an abortion pill that has been approved and shown to be safe for more than 20 years, should be banned nationwide. Some recent reactions:
Congratulations are in order for Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk. The competition is fierce and will remain so, but for now he holds the title: worst federal judge in America.
Not simply for the poor quality of his judicial reasoning, although more, much more, on this in a bit. What really distinguishes Kacsmaryk is the loaded content of his rhetoric — not the language of a sober-minded, impartial jurist but of a zealot, committed more to promoting a cause than applying the law.
Kacsmaryk is the Texas-based judge handpicked by antiabortion advocates — he is the sole jurist who sits in the Amarillo division of the Northern District of Texas — to hear their challenge to the legality of abortion medication.
And so he did, ruling exactly as expected. In an opinion released Friday, Kacsmaryk invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the abortion drug mifepristone and, for good measure, found that abortion medications cannot be sent by mail or other delivery service under the terms of an 1873 anti-vice law.
Even in states where abortion remains legal. Even though study after study has shown the drug to be safe and effective — far safer, for instance, than over-the-counter Tylenol. Even though — or perhaps precisely because — more than half of abortions in the United States today are performed with abortion medication.
My fury here is not because I fear that Kacsmaryk’s ruling will stand. I don’t think it will, not even with this Supreme Court. Indeed, another federal district judge — just hours after Kacsmaryk’s Good Friday ruling — issued a competing order, instructing the FDA to maintain the existing rules making mifepristone available. Even Kacsmaryk put his ruling on hold for a week; the Justice Department has already filed a notice of appeal; and the dispute is hurtling its way to the Supreme Court. (Nice work getting yourselves out of the business of deciding abortion cases, your honors.)
No, my beef is with ideologues in robes. That Kacsmaryk fits the description is no surprise. Before being nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017, Kacsmaryk served as deputy general counsel at the conservative First Liberty Institute. He argued against same-sex marriage, civil rights protections for gay and transgender individuals, the contraceptive mandate and, of course, Roe v. Wade.
At his confirmation hearings, Kacsmaryk testified that federal judges are bound “to read the law as it is written and not read into it any policy preference that they might have had before they were judges.”
Well that was a blatant lie. Read the whole article at the WaPo.
At first blush, all of that might seem to make the decision’s chances of surviving review by a Supreme Court dominated by conservative justices quite promising.
But legal scholars said on Monday that the poor quality, breathtaking sweep and unknown collateral consequences of the Texas decision might cause at least some of the Supreme Court’s conservative justices to wait for a case that would allow them to take more measured steps.
“If you’re a justice looking for a case in which to undermine the administrative state, this is not a particularly elegant one,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor and historian at the University of California, Davis. “Everything about this case makes it an imperfect vehicle, except for the fact that it’s about abortion and the administrative state. This is boundary testing.”
Jonathan H. Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said the new case, should it reach the Supreme Court, might meet a reception similar to that of the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act. In 2021, by a vote of 7 to 2, the court said that the 18 Republican-led states and two individuals who brought the case had not suffered the sort of direct injury that gave them standing to sue.
Despite the conservative majority’s misgivings about the health care law, Professor Adler said, “when push came to shove and they were presented with a fundamentally deficient legal theory, only two justices were willing to give that legal theory the time of day.”
History may repeat itself in the Texas case, he said. “I view some of the administrative law aspects of this case to be similar,” he said, noting that there were significant threshold issues involving the plaintiffs’ standing to sue, whether they had exhausted other avenues for relief and whether they had taken too long to bring an action.
The pharmaceutical industry plunged into a legal showdown over the abortion pill mifepristone on Monday, issuing a scorching condemnation of a ruling by a federal judge that invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug and calling for the decision to be reversed.
The statement was signed by more than 400 leaders of some of the drug and biotech industry’s most prominent investment firms and companies, none of which make mifepristone, the first pill in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. It shows that the reach of this case stretches far beyond abortion. Unlike Roe v. Wade and other past landmark abortion lawsuits, this one could challenge the foundation of the regulatory system for all medicines in the United States.
“If courts can overturn drug approvals without regard for science or evidence, or for the complexity required to fully vet the safety and efficacy of new drugs, any medicine is at risk for the same outcome as mifepristone,” said the statement.
What the DOJ is doing:
Also on Monday, the Justice Department filed a motion asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to stay the ruling by Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas until the department’s appeal of the case could be heard. Judge Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who has written critically of Roe v. Wade, had issued only a seven-day stay of his ruling to allow the government a chance to appeal.
“If allowed to take effect, the court’s order would thwart F.D.A.’s scientific judgment and severely harm women, particularly those for whom mifepristone is a medical or practical necessity,” said the Justice Department motion, which noted that mifepristone was also used in treating miscarriages.
It added: “This harm would be felt throughout the country, given that mifepristone has lawful uses in every state. The order would undermine health care systems and the reliance interests of businesses and medical providers.”
The appeals court gave the plaintiffs, a coalition of groups and doctors who oppose abortion, until midnight Tuesday to file a response.
For example, one study, with ties to anti-abortion nonprofit the Charlotte Lozier Institute, relies on the anonymous experiences of users on one particular website. The study uses 98 blog posts made over the course of 10 years. The authors note that the small sample group is one of the study’s limitations.
However, despite the limited scope of the study, the conservative Christian judge writes that “eighty-three percent of women report that chemical abortion ‘changed’ them — and seventy-seven percent of those women reported a negative change” — citing the study of 98 anonymous blog posts.
In another example, the judge cites an analysis that suggests a link between negative mental health outcomes and abortion written by abortion researcher Priscilla Coleman whose study has been denounced for years by abortion researchers and whose other work has previously been retracted by leading journals.
Julia Steinberg, an expert on mental health and abortion, told Reuters in 2012 that most women in the study who experienced mental health issues after having an abortion had also experienced them before the abortion. The Guttmacher Institute also debunked the study in a letter.
Clearly, Kacsmaryk is woefully unqualified to be a federal judge.
In interviews, several legal and medical experts said Kacsmaryk’s decision was unprecedented and clearly ideological. His language and reasoning, they said, closely mirrored arguments and concepts put forward by the anti-abortion movement — at the expense of scientific consensus in some instances.
The experts pointed to several key examples of the extreme nature of Kacsmaryk’s 67-page ruling, including his use of politicized terminology and apparent endorsement of the contentious idea of “fetal personhood.” Here are the parts of the ruling experts found most striking….
In his ruling Friday, Kacsmaryk used various terms closely associated with the anti-abortion movement, according to the experts who were interviewed. Notably, Kacsmaryk referred to the two-pill regimen that is the most common way to terminate a pregnancy in the U.S. as “chemical abortion,” rather than “medication abortion.” The plaintiffs in the suit, a group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, use the same term in their filings and messaging.
“‘Chemical abortion’ is absolutely not a scientific or medical term. It is something that has been utilized and propagated by those who want to ban abortion or restrict abortion,” said Dr. Jenni Villavicencio, an OB-GYN who is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ lead for equity transformation.
Villavicencio characterized “chemical abortion” as an “emotive” term meant to inspire fear about the risks of ending a pregnancy.
She also highlighted Kacsmaryk’s references to a fetus as an “unborn human” or an “unborn child.”
Kacsmaryk wrote that mifepristone “blocks the hormone progesterone, halts nutrition, and ultimately starves the unborn human until death.” [….]
Kacsmaryk’s references to an “unborn child” align with other parts of his decision in which he suggests that any potential “side effects” or “significant complications” caused by mifepristone should apply to both the pregnant woman and “to the unborn humans extinguished by mifepristone.”
Such wording, experts said, references the concept of “fetal personhood”: the idea promoted by the anti-abortion movement that a fetus should be recognized as a person with constitutional rights from the moment of conception. Under that theory — which many legal analysts and abortion rights advocates oppose — an abortion would be considered murder.
On Friday, a Trump-appointed judge with a long history of anti-choice activism ordered the FDA to take a medication that is safely used to perform most abortions off the market, based on the thinnest of legal rationales. The same day, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gaslit the nation by saying he’d seen no need to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of largess he received from a right-wing billionaire.
These two apparently disparate events are fruit of the same poison tree. They each reflect a fundamental problem with the GOP’s decades’ long effort to remake the nation by packing the federal courts with extremists: A judiciary at odds with, and even contemptuous of, most of the nations’ citizens is not sustainable.
A brief history of SCOTUS’s decline since Bush v. Gore
During what can now fairly be titled the federal courts’ “Trump Era,” Americans’ trust in the judicial branch has plummeted. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overruling Roe, 58 percent of the nation now disapproves of how the Supreme Court is handling its job, and less than half the country has confidence in the institution. This is hardly a surprise; indeed, what’s surprising is how long it has taken most of the nation’s citizens to realize that the packed Supreme Court has become a partisan tool of the Republican Party, and a direct adversary to the nation’s foundational principles of democracy and civil rights.
Even before Trump and Mitch McConnell packed the Supreme Court with a right-wing supermajority, GOP-appointed justices were pursuing a brazenly anti-democratic project, which only became more audacious as each judicial attack was met with little pushback.
Even before Trump and Mitch McConnell packed the Supreme Court with a right-wing supermajority, GOP-appointed justices were pursuing a brazenly anti-democratic project, which only became more audacious as each judicial attack was met with little pushback.
In addition, the court ruled in 2019 that the US Constitution places no limits on the partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts that, in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Tennessee, has so diluted the votes of many citizens as to make a farce of the democratic process. In addition, it appears several justices are interested in a dubious reading of the Constitution that would prevent governors and state courts from addressing such largely GOP-driven gerrymandering, even when it squarely violates the state constitutions state courts and elected officials are charged with enforcing.
The Roberts court also set out to open political campaigns to brazen corruption by gutting campaign finance laws, including in the 2010 Citizens United case, which voided key limits on dark money in political campaigns, as well as a 2021 decision that protected the identities of many dark money donors from even being disclosed. But these deeply partisan decisions proved only to be a preamble for what was to come.
As the two years since Trump’s failed insurrection against democracy have demonstrated, the vast majority of GOP “leaders” either support, or are unwilling to oppose, the Republican Party’s movement toward outright authoritarianism. And that same tendency is evident in the rulings of Trump Era judges.
In last year’s Dobbs decision, the Trump Era Supreme Court supermajority used a case that was initially about a 15-week abortion ban to overrule Roe entirely. As I observed after a draft of the decision was leaked, it was all but inevitable that the GOP, along with the Court, would be met with a public backlash. But that backlash is only leading to a doubling down upon extremism, including among some right-wing jurists.
It should not be surprising, however, that extremists the GOP has installed in the judiciary — chosen for their ideological fervor, not their political savvy — are determined to use their lifetime judicial appointments to impose right-wing economic, political and social policy agendas on the nation, whether the nation wants them or not.
It’s not at all surprising that the right wing courts are so focused on controlling women’s bodies. I’m feeling discouraged and overwhelmed with rage and fear over what is happening, but it does seem as if a majority of Americans are now pro-choice, and they are voting on these issues. So there’s hope. Please share your thoughts on these articles and feel free to discuss any other issue that is important to you.
Take care, Sky Dancers!
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Cliffs of Varengeville, gust of wind, by Claude Monet
We can all agree that the right-wingers on the Supreme Court have created problems not only for women, but for all of American society. They seem determined to turn this country into a theocracy dominated by so-called “christians” who don’t follow Jesus’s teachings. In fact, they don’t seem interested in the New Testament at all. They prefer the fire and brimstone god of the Old Testament.
Linda Greenhouse, who reported on the Court for The New York Times for many years before leaving in 2021, has returned with an important op-ed.
Federal civil rights law requires employers to accommodate their employees’ religious needs unless the request would impose “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Congress didn’t bother to define “undue hardship,” so 46 years ago the Supreme Court came up with a definition of its own.
An accommodation requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost” — meaning a small or trifling cost — need not be granted, the court said in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison. In that case, an airline maintenance worker claimed a legal right to avoid Saturday shifts so he could observe the tenets of the Worldwide Church of God, which he had recently joined. Ruling for the airline, the court noted that if one worker got Saturdays off for religion reasons, the burden would fall on other workers who might have nonreligious reasons for wanting to have the weekend off.
“We will not readily construe the statute to require an employer to discriminate against some employees in order to enable others to observe their Sabbath,” the court said.
Treating religion as nothing particularly special, the decision reflected the spirit of the times but was deeply unpopular in religious circles. There have been many attempts over many years to persuade Congress to amend the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to shift the balance explicitly in favor of religiously observant employees. Between 1994 and 2019, more than a dozen such bills were introduced. None emerged from Congress.
And so now, a very different court from the one that ruled 46 years ago is about to do the work itself.
Now the Court has agreed to hear a case that may move us further away from the separation of church and state.
The appeal was brought by a conservative Christian litigating group, First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a former postal worker, Gerald Groff, described as a Christian who regards Sunday as a day for “worship and rest.”
Flood at Port Marly, by Alfred Sisley
Mr. Groff claimed a legal right to avoid the Sunday shifts required during peak season at the post office where he worked. Facing discipline for failing to show up for his assigned shifts, he quit and filed a lawsuit. The lower courts ruled against him, with the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressing no doubt that the disruption and loss of morale Mr. Groff’s absences caused in the small rural post office where he worked exceeded the de minimis threshold that the Supreme Court’s 1977 precedent requires an employer to demonstrate.
The decision to hear his appeal brings the Supreme Court to a juncture both predictable and remarkable. It is predictable because Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have all called for a case that would provide a vehicle for overturning a precedent that is clearly in tension with the current court’s privileging of religious claims above all others, whether in the context of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic or anti-discrimination claims brought by employees of religious organizations.
The court in 1977 worried about the burden on nonreligious workers from accommodations granted to their religious colleagues. To today’s court, as Justice Alito has repeatedly expressed it, the real victims of discrimination are those who take religion seriously.
Read the rest at the NYT link.
The wingnuts on the Supreme Court have already dealt a terrible blow to women’s rights by giving “christian” evangelicals what they long dreamed of–overturning nearly 50 years of women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices. The reversal of Roe v. Wade also drove a truck through the wall of separation between church and state, since the anti-abortion movement is largely based on “christian” evangelical “values.” Ever since that decision, republicans in state legislatures have worked to make getting an abortion more difficult than ever–in some ways more difficult than before Roe.
Kansans may have resoundingly rejected an antiabortion referendum last year, by a striking double-digit margin, to ensure reproductive rights remain enshrined in the state constitution, but that wasn’t deterrence enough for the state’s Republican legislators. Nor was, apparently, the Republican Party’s relatively poor performance this past midterm cycle—one largely defined by the fall of Roe v. Wade. “I’m hearing a lot from my constituents who believe we should continue to do more to help the unborn,” Wichita state senator Chase Blasi told reporters earlier this month, proposing a law that would allow cities and counties to regulate abortions, in spite of state protections.
These first few weeks of 2023 suggest it’s not that Republican lawmakers missed the abortion memo—they simply don’t seem to care. In Washington, a newly empowered Republican House passed an antiabortion bill during its first full week in the majority. And across the country, Republican state lawmakers continue the crusade against reproductive rights, attempting to find ways to circumvent popular opinion, and even statutory protections.
“We knew all along that they weren’t going to be satisfied with overturning Roe v. Wade,” Abby Ledoux, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, says of antiabortion lawmakers and activists in an interview with Vanity Fair. Reflecting on the slew of legislation that has been introduced in state houses across the country so far this year, Ledoux adds, “They’re not done and they’re coming for more rights.”
Wind-Beaten Tree, by Vincent Van Gogh
Since the start of the year, across 27 states, more than 105 bills that would restrict abortion have been filed or prefiled—(meaning, not all of them have been formally introduced), according to Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Many of these bills would ban abortion—some at fertilization; six bills—filed in Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Texas, Wyoming, and West Virginia—would specifically target medication abortions, according to the fund; others would impose harsh criminal penalties for doctors and abortion-seekers. Of course, not all of these bills are expected to pass, but they do lay bare the ever changing legal and political landscape in post-Roe America.
It isn’t just the overt attempts at restricting abortion access that concern reproductive rights activists. But also what Ledoux refers to as “underhanded attempts” and “work-arounds” that have the potential to “subvert democracy, to thwart the will of the people, and to really rig the game” in pursuit of unpopular political agendas. For instance, in Ohio, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would require a supermajority threshold of 60%, as opposed to a simple majority of voters, to pass ballot measures to amend the state constitution. Similar legislation was also introduced in Arizona.
The Biden administration is weighing a plan to declare a public health emergency that would free up resources to help people access abortions.
….Both abortion rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers have urged the Department of Health and Human Services and President Biden to take such a step in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which they say has created a “full-scale reproductive health crisis” across the U.S.
The lawmakers argued that such a move would allow the administration to help support states that protect abortion, deploy Public Health Services Corps teams and give the government “the ability to accelerate access to new medications authorized for abortion.”
….”There are discussions on a wide range of measures … that we can take to try to protect people’s rights,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told Axios during a pair of Monday public events that touched on reproductive health access.
“There are certain criteria that you look for to be able to declare a public health emergency. That’s typically done by scientists and those that are professionals in those fields who will tell us whether we are in a state of emergency and based on that, I have the ability to make a declaration,” Becerra added,when asked about a public health emergency declaration on abortion.
He said that there hasn’t been a “full assessment” on what a declaration on abortion would look like and whether conditions merit it, but there’s still “an evaluation” on the topic.
More details at the Axios link.
Dodges Ridge, by Andrew Wyeth
Speaking of politicians trying to take away our rights, Ron DeSantis is going further than almost any other governor. He really doesn’t want school children to learn anything about LGBT issues or about the history of African Americans in the U.S.; and he’s banning so many books that the library shelves in schools are nearly empty.
An unrelenting assault on truth and freedom of expression in the form of laws that censor and suppress the viewpoints, histories and experiences of historically marginalized groups, especially Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities, is underway throughout the country, most clearly in Florida. The state’s Department of Education recently rejected a pilot Advanced Placement African American studies course from being offered in Florida’s public high schools.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law — which would limit students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender — Florida is at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to silence Black voices and erase the full and accurate history and contemporary experiences of Black people. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union, the A.C.L.U. of Florida and Ballard Spahr filed a lawsuit on behalf of university professors and a college student opposing the “Stop WOKE” law and, along with a second lawsuit, won a preliminary injunction blocking Florida’s Board of Governors from enforcing its unconstitutional and racially discriminatory provisions at public universities.
Florida’s rejection of the A.P. course and Mr. DeSantis’s demand to excise specific subject areas from the curriculum stand in stark opposition to the state-issued mandate that all students be taught “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition and the contributions of African Americans to society.” [….]
Mr. DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law relegates the study of the experiences of Black people to a prohibited category. The canceling of any students’ access to accurate, truthful education that reflects their diverse identities and that of their country should chill every American. Not only do these laws offend First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression; to the extent they harm certain groups on the basis of race, gender or other protected status, they also violate principles of equal protection. And they are a chilling precursor to state-sponsored dehumanization of an entire race of people.
This disturbing pattern of silencing Black voices and aggressive attempts to erase Black history are one of the most visible examples of performative white supremacy since the presidency of Donald Trump.
There’s much more at the NYT link.
On DeSantis’s book banning project:
This is what a Florida school now looks like because of a new DeSantis law.
Students arrived in some Florida public school classrooms this month to find their teachers’ bookshelves wrapped in paper — or entirely barren of books — after district officials launched a review of the texts’ appropriateness under a new state law.
School officials in at least two counties, Manatee and Duval, have directed teachers this month to remove or wrap up their classroom libraries, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. The removals come in response to fresh guidance issued by the Florida Department of Education in mid-January, after the State Board of Education ruled that a law restricting the books a district may possess applies not only to schoolwide libraries but to teachers’ classroom collections, too.
House Bill 1467, which took effect as law in July, mandates that schools’ books be age-appropriate, free from pornography and “suited to student needs.” Books must be approved by a qualified school media specialist, who must undergo a state retraining on book collection. The Education Department did not publish that training until January, leaving school librarians across Florida unable to order books for more than a year.
Breaking the law is a third-degree felony, meaning that a teacher could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for displaying or giving students a disallowed book.
I can just imagine the kinds of people who would take one of those “media specialist” jobs and then undergo “state retraining.”
The efforts to conceal titles in Manatee and Duval have stirred outrage from educators and parents, many of whom shared images of bare wooden shelves or books veiled behind sheets of colored paper. Teachers wrote in Facebook posts and text messages that they are angry and disheartened. District officials in both counties have emphasized that the removals are temporary and will last only until staff can determine whether the titles meet the standards imposed by Florida law.
Stormy Weather, by Alexander Nepote
Michelle Jarrett, president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Media, which assists school library administrators and programs statewide, said that “closing and covering up classroom libraries does nothing to ensure Florida’s students remain on track for reading success.” [….]
And Marie Masferrer, a board member of the Florida Association for Media in Education and a school librarian who used to work in the Manatee County system and remains in close touch with former colleagues in that district, said they have told her that students are struggling.
At one school, “the kids began crying and writing letters to the principal, saying, ‘Please don’t take my books, please don’t do this,’” Masferrer said.
If DeSantis runs for president in 2024 against Trump, we are going to witness a Republican shit show that will be far worse than 2016 and 2020. DeSantis may be pandering to the crazies, but Trump has truly gone over the edge.
Four-and-a-half years later, Trump is now touting his trust of Putin over American intelligence agencies as a source of pride.
In a post on his Truth Social account, the former president attacked former officials at the FBI and CIA whom he accused of trying to undermine his presidency by investigating his campaign’s multiple contacts with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential race.
“Remember in Helsinki when a 3rd rate reporter asked me, essentially, who I trusted more, President Putin of Russia, or our ‘Intelligence’ lowlifes,” he wrote. “My instinct at the time was that we had really bad people in the form of James Comey, McCabe (whose wife was being helped out by Crooked Hillary while Crooked was under investigation!), Brennan, Peter Strzok (whose wife is at the SEC) & his lover, Lisa Page. Now add McGonigal & other slime to the list. Who would you choose, Putin or these Misfits?”
I’m getting a headache just reading all this stuff. I hope I’m not giving you one too.
Fishing Boats in Rough Weather, by Ludolf Bakhuizen
The New York Times disclosed extraordinary new revelations this past week about prosecutor John Durham’s years-long quest to delegitimize the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In 2019, this obsession of President Donald Trump was initiated by his attorney general, William P. Barr, but as the Times found, Durham’s effort was itself profoundly tainted.
Now, because Democrats have 51 Senate seats after gaining one in the midterm elections, they have subpoena power on Senate committees that were previously divided. That means the Judiciary Committee is in a position to investigate the Barr-Durham escapades.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Judiciary Committee chair, is signaling such an intent. In an emailed statement, Durbin said that reports of Durham’s “abuses” are “outrageous,” and “one of many instances” in which Trump and Barr “weaponized the Justice Department.”
Durbin added that his committee “will do its part and take a hard look at those repeated episodes, and the regulations and policies that enabled them, to ensure such abuses of power cannot happen again.”
That’s encouraging, but how far will this investigation go? The Times report finds that Barr relentlessly pushed Durham to substantiate Trump’s theory that the Russia investigation was a conspiracy by intelligence and law enforcement against him. But Durham’s effort petered out “without uncovering anything like the deep state plot” invented by Trump and Barr.
Worse, the Times also found bizarre irregularities. Durham relied on Russian intelligence memos to access emails of an adviser to financier George Soros, in hopes of finding evidence of improper collaboration between law enforcement and the Hillary Clinton campaign. It never materialized.
That, plus Barr’s habit of publicly hinting that Durham was on the trail of major wrongdoing — unscrupulously serving Trump’s political interests — were strongly opposed internally by Durham’s top deputy, the Times reports. Similarly, Durham leaned on the department’s inspector general to change his 2019 conclusion that the Russia probe was not politically motivated.
More at the WaPo.
Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather, Vincent Van Gogh
Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told House Republicans on Tuesday that he will step down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography.
Santos told the meeting he will step down because “he’s a distraction,” according to a Republican lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. The conversation comes one day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)….
Emerging from the meeting, Santos declined to comment, saying, “I think you should talk to leadership if you want details pertaining to committees.”
It sounds like it wasn’t really Santos’ decision, lol. I guess McCarthy was sick and tired of the press hounding him about Santos.
That’s all I have for you today. Have a great Tuesday, everyone!
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Folks may think they’re done with Covid-19, but Covid-19 is not done with us. I’m thinking of JJ and her daughter Bebe who struggled with the virus and lost dear friends. Covid deniers in the US and other places have made hell on earth for the rest of us with their blatant acts to ensure its spread. Not only do they cough on you, but they seem hell-bent on proving themselves right. Well, another one bites the dust. Death may take a vacation, but it also has a deep sense of Irony. That’s my literary take, but the deal is you can’t fight scientific findings with Iron Age folk tales. You do not want to see people dying of anything, but most of all, from stupidity. This is from The Daily Beast. “Conservative Activist Dies of COVID Complications After Attending Anti-Vax ‘Symposium’.”
“I am truly heartbroken to learn that my dear friend Kelly Canon has passed away from complications from Covid pneumonia. Just yesterday around 4pm she told a group of friends that she definitely felt better and that the docs had told her she had ‘turned the corner’ with improved blood test results. She was talking about wanting to come home. Later last night she developed an acute abdominal issue, was given pain meds and put on the ventilator,” wrote Maggie Clopton Wright“
Canon had announced on Facebook in November that her employer granted her a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. “No jabby-jabby for me! Praise GOD!” she wrote at the time. https://t.co/rUyh7Qz4sy
More recently, Canon had been an outspoken critic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic-related restrictions. In one of her final Facebook posts, Canon shared several links to speeches she attended at a “COVID symposium” in Burleson in early December devoted to dissuading people from getting the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available. The event was organized by God Save Our Children, which bills itself as “a conservative group that is fighting against the use of experimental vaccines on our children.”
Canon had shared similar content on Twitter, where her most recent post was a YouTube video featuring claims that the coronavirus pandemic was “planned” in advance and part of a global conspiracy.
As news of her death spread Tuesday, pro-vaccine commentators flooded her Facebook page with cruel comments and mocking memes, while her supporters unironically praised her for being a “warrior for liberty” to the very end.
I’m not sure she deserves to be mocked, but her example is not one to follow. That may not be the case in this Congress.
Kevin McCarthy is likely to appoint Marjorie Taylor Greene to a new Oversight select subcommittee to "investigate" COVID, according to the NYT.
MTG compared mask rules to the Holocaust and has been fined for refusing to follow Covid guidelines in Congress.
What a sorry little God he would be if he weren’t more open-minded than his closed-minded children who insult him by their demeaning image of him and use that caricature as their puppet who “reveals” to them alone what he wants for their country or political party!
Whether such proselytizing zeal is disguised aggression, megalomania, or repressed self-doubt that feels both threatened and driven to convert others to dispel that doubt, these are very dangerous people and should never be part of government or have their theological views of the Second Coming guide an administration’s foreign policy toward Israel and that tinderbox of the Middle East.
And yet, unbeknownst to themselves, these individuals render the nation an inestimable service by being a constant reminder of the very reason for upholding this Separation of Church and State. The Founding Fathers believed that religion was, and must always remain, a private affair because bringing the volatility of “religious enthusiasm” into the public arena would only trivialize religion and destabilize a nation. They feared the political effects of interdenominational feuding, the polarization caused by doctrinal differences, the demonization of dissenters, and the eruption of religious intolerance and hatred.
There was also a second reason why the Founders feared religion in politics — the rise of religious opportunists who would inflame political passions to promote themselves. Religion would become in the hands of these charlatans a theatrical performance and political tool to hypocritically showboat their “piety” to manipulate voters for political gain.
An unscrupulous politician could disguise his lack of convictions by holding his finger to the wind to determine which way the wind was blowing and telling his audience whatever he thought it wanted to hear. This individual well understood the art of inciting “enthusiasm” or hysteria toward some plan of action and call it “the Will of God.”
The Founders would have blanched at politicians returning to their constituents and pandering to their sincerely held religious convictions to gain a following or court popularity — not that they couldn’t take part in religious services as private citizens, but not as representatives of their government lest people think they were lending the prestige of their office to their particular church or religion.
These Founders also knew their Bible, as it played such a pivotal role in their 18th-century world. They knew of Christ’s admonition in Matthew 6 about not playing the hypocrite by standing on the street corner and making a public display of one’s piety, for one would have already received one’s reward. Instead, one should withdraw to one’s room, close the door, and in privacy pray to God as grandstanding didn’t count as prayer with the Lord! As experienced men of the world, they knew only too well how politicians might cynically abuse religion to seek power and votes.
They were also highly educated, even erudite, men, especially Thomas Jefferson, whose library contained a Who’s Who of “great authors,” one of whom was the celebrated French playwright Moliere, author of “Tartuffe,” the embodiment of religious hypocrisy. It is both an uproarious romp into the glacial regions of inner emptiness, as well as a manual for observing the bobbings and weavings of unctuous sanctimony raised to high art.
In that great patrician school of Parisian sophistication, it was thought that the only way to effect moral change was never by sermons but by ridicule. Many don’t mind being considered a scoundrel, but never a fool! Castigat ridendo mores (“Comedy corrects manners”) was the essence of Moliere’s art that skewered human folly by laughter alone.
This caustic mockery of his characters and the gales of laughter that broke forth from the audience were much more effective in pillorying vice than sermons delivered from Notre Dame’s pulpit. Moliere, the French Aristophanes, was and always has been a moral institution for the French, who can laugh at themselves in his characters with no loss of face.
Jefferson and his colleagues well understood that some members of government might be tempted to play Tartuffe on the political stage. One Tartuffe, or a group of them, could do untold harm to a nation by using religion for political ends. To the educated, the 18th century was an age of taste and decorum, moderation and dignity, and everything had its proper place. Religion especially could never be allowed to be vulgarized or cheapened by demagogues toying with people’s religious emotions.
There would be no limit to their unbridled ambition and religious hypocrisy in saying whatever would ingratiate themselves to the favor and trust of an audience. So profound was their cynical abuse of religion for being elected that they would wax rhapsodic on the metaphysical subtleties of Hottentot theology if they thought it would secure them a “leg-up” over their political rivals at election time.
I must admit that I’ve never understood the religious right, the moral majority, or the radicalism of Emp-ty G. One line of my father’s family–Huguenote French Protestants and Jewish folks–fled Alsace Lorraine after the region after the Catholic Church was handed all their belongings and began the persecution of both groups when Napolean handed them the region. Both sides of my family had signers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, so I had a firm grounding in staying out of another’s religion. I was horrified by Pat Robertson’s minions when they moved on Iowa and captured the Reagan version of the Republican Party.
During the "ReAwaken America" event at Christian hate-preacher Greg Locke's tent church, former SNL cast member Jim Breuer mocked flu shots, vaccines, and Damar Hamlin. pic.twitter.com/4JKEDDO6kr
Days after he won his gavel in a protracted fight with hard-right Republicans, Speaker Kevin McCarthy gushed to a friend about the ironclad bond he had developed with an unlikely ally in his battle for political survival, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
“I will never leave that woman,” Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, told the friend, who described the private conversation on the condition of anonymity. “I will always take care of her.”
Such a declaration from Mr. McCarthy would have been unthinkable in 2021, when Ms. Greene first arrived on Capitol Hill in a swirl of controversy and provocation. A former QAnon follower who had routinely trafficked in conspiratorial, violent and bigoted statements, Ms. Greene was then widely seen as a dangerous liability to the party and a threat to the man who aspired to lead Republicans back to the majority — a person to be controlled and kept in check, not embraced.
But in the time since, a powerful alliance developed between Ms. Greene, the far-right rabble-rouser and acolyte of former President Donald J. Trump, and Mr. McCarthy, the affable fixture of the Washington establishment, according to interviews with 20 people with firsthand knowledge of the relationship, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it.
Their political union — a closer and more complex one than has previously been known — helps explain how Mr. McCarthy rose to power atop a party increasingly defined by its extremes, the lengths to which he will go to accommodate those forces, and how much influence Ms. Greene and the faction she represents have in defining the agenda of the new House Republican majority.
“If you’re going to be in a fight, you want Marjorie in your foxhole,” Mr. McCarthy said. Both he and Ms. Greene agreed to brief interviews for this article. “When she picks a fight, she’s going to fight until the fight’s over. She reminds me of my friends from high school, that we’re going to stick together all the way through.”
It is a relationship born of political expediency but fueled by genuine camaraderie, and nurtured by one-on-one meetings as often as once a week, usually at a coffee table in Mr. McCarthy’s Capitol office, as well as a constant stream of text messages back and forth.
Mr. McCarthy has gone to unusual lengths to defend Ms. Greene, even dispatching his general counsel to spend hours on the phone trying to cajole senior executives at Twitter to reactivate her personal account after she was banned last year for violating the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy.
Ms. Greene, in turn, has taken on an outsize role as a policy adviser to Mr. McCarthy, who has little in the way of a fixed ideology of his own and has come to regard the Georgia congresswoman as a vital proxy for the desires and demands of the right-wing base that increasingly drives his party. He has adopted her stances on opposing vaccine mandates and questioning funding for the war in Ukraine, and even her call to reinvestigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to show what she has called “the other side of the story.”
Vice President Kamala Harris commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by imploring Americans to work to enshrine abortion rights into law.
“For nearly 50 years, Americans relied on the rights that Roe protected,” Harris said at a speech delivered in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sunday. “Today, however, on what would have been its 50th anniversary, we speak of the Roe decision in the past tense.”
“Here, in Florida, health care providers face prison — prison! — for up to five years for simply doing their job,” Harris said. “And now the state has also targeted medication abortion, and even threatened Florida pharmacists with criminal charges if they provide medication prescribed by medical professionals.”
President Biden moved to support legal access to chemical abortions.
Fillette portant un panier, Young Girl Holding a Basket, 1888, Berthe Morisot
If the supreme court hadn’t overturned it last June, undoing a longstanding precedent and inflicting untold harm to women’s well-being and dignity, Sunday 22 January would have been the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v Wade.
Over those 50 years, Roe changed American life dramatically. Abortion became a routine part of life, a resource people planned their lives around having. In contrast to its political controversy, abortion in the Roe era was – as it is now – aggressively common. Approximately one in four American women will have an abortion at some point in the course of their reproductive lives.
The figure lends credence to the pro-choice assertion that everyone loves someone who had an abortion – and the accompanying quip that if you think you don’t know a woman who has had an abortion, you really just don’t know any women who trust you enough to tell you. But part of the legacy of Roe is not just that these women you know and love have been able to have freer, healthier, more volitional lives, but also that their abortions, for many of them, are not worth confessing. For most, abortions were not tragedies to be whispered about, or life-altering moments of shame, but banalities, choices to which they were unquestionably entitled, and from which they could move unconflictedly on. But Roe is gone. Now, for many women, these choices are crimes.
It’s worth reflecting on what we had during those 49 years. While it stood, Roe offered a promise: that women’s lives need not be circumscribed by so-called “biological destiny”; that gender – its relations, performances, and obligations – might not be something that is imposed on women, but something that they take up and discard on their own terms. In the Roe era, this frank entitlement by women to determine the courses of their own lives was the decision’s greatest legacy. Individual women’s distinction and determination, or their conflictedness and confusion, or their ambivalence and exploration: once, before Roe, these parts of a woman’s personality almost didn’t matter; they were incidental eccentricities along the inevitable road to motherhood. Roe made it more possible for women’s lives to be determined by their characters, not merely by their bodies.
It is easy to speak of Roe’s impact in material terms – the way it enabled women’s long march into paid work and into better paid work, how it was a precondition for their soaring achievements in education and the professions, their ascents into positions of power and influence. So little of the vast and varied lives of twentieth-century American women could have been achieved in the absence of abortion or birth control – these women, their minds and careers, are gifts the nation could never have received if they’d been made to be pregnant against their wills, or made to care for unplanned, unlonged-for babies.
But it is less easy to discuss the sense of dignity that Roe gave to American women, the way that the freedom to control when and whether they would have children endowed American women, for the first time, with something like the gravitas of adults. Roe opened a door for women into dignity, into self-determination, into the still wild and incendiary idea that they, like men, might be endowed with the prerogatives of citizenship, and entitled to chart the course of their own lives.
On this anniversary episode, we are going to look at the reality that people are facing in a post-Roe America, both those seeking care and those providing it. Without Roe, a key component of reproductive care has become illegal or restricted for more than 20 million people, throwing many into painful and life-threatening situations. We are joined by Community Organizer, Kaitlyn Joshua, who experienced firsthand how new restrictions on abortion endanger the lives and well-being of pregnant people, and Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB-GYN, reproductive health educator, author, and Executive Director of Mayday Health, an organization focused on providing information on abortion access and options for people, regardless of where they live.
You may listen to the podcast at the link.
I think we have enough today to discuss and think about. By the way, you reap what you sow.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
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Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century
The Supreme Court is in the news and not in a good way. You know about John Roberts’ failed “investigation” into the leak of the draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but did you know about the secret documentary on Brett Kavanaugh? Here’s the latest:
The Supreme Court’s internal investigation into who leaked a draft of the opinion last year overturning the landmark decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion included talking to all nine justices, the marshal of the court said on Friday.
But the justices — unlike dozens of law clerks and permanent employees of the court — were not made to sign sworn affidavits attesting that they had not been involved in the leak of the draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade and that they knew nothing about it.
The clarification by the marshal, Gail A. Curley, who oversaw the inquiry, followed widespread speculation over its scope and limitations. In a 20-page report on Thursday, Ms. Curley disclosed that the investigation had not turned up the source of the leak while leaving ambiguous whether it had extended to interviewing the justices themselves.
“During the course of the investigation, I spoke with each of the justices, several on multiple occasions,” Ms. Curley said on Friday. “The justices actively cooperated in this iterative process, asking questions and answering mine.”
She added: “I followed up on all credible leads, none of which implicated the justices or their spouses. On this basis, I did not believe that it was necessary to ask the justices to sign sworn affidavits.”
Ms. Curley did not indicate whether she searched the justices’ court-issued electronic devices and asked them to turn over personal devices and cellphone records, as she did with other personnel. She also did not address whether she had interviewed any of the justices’ spouses, another question that arose after her report was made public.
It wasn’t much of an investigation if even Gini Thomas was not questioned, and the most likely suspects–the right wing justices– weren’t required to sign affidavits. But no one really expected Roberts to do a serious investigation when he won’t even deal with the justices’ political activities and conflicts of interest. What a weakling he is.
A secretly made documentary expanding on allegations of sexual assault against supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh has premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival.
Four year old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647
Justice, a last-minute addition to the schedule, aims to shine a light not only on the women who have accused Kavanaugh, a Donald Trump nominee, but also the failed FBI investigation into the allegations.
“I do hope this triggers outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy in a Q&A after the premiere in Park City, Utah. “I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers.”
The film provides a timeline of the allegations, initially that Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when she was 15 and he 17. She alleged that he held her down on a bed and groped her, and tried to rip her clothes off before she got away. Kavanaugh was also accused of sexual misconduct by Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that he exposed himself and thrust his penis at her face without her consent at a college party.
About the film:
The first scene features Ford, half off-camera, interviewed by the film’s director Doug Liman, whose credits include Mr and Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity. Justice features a number of interviews with journalists, lawyers, psychologists and those who knew Ford and Ramirez.
“This was the kind of movie where people are terrified,” Liman said. “The people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes.”
In the film, Ramirez, who previously told her story to Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, also shares her story on-camera. Ramirez is referred to as someone “they worked hard for people not to know”, her story never given the space it deserved until long after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court in October 2018….
The film then details how the circles around Ramirez and Kavanaugh responded, showing text messages of a discussion when Ramirez’s allegations were about to go public, of a mutual friend being asked by Kavanaugh to go on record to defend him. Another friend refers to it as “a cover-up”.
The New Yorker included a statement from a group of students at the time in support of Kavanaugh. A year later, the film shows that two of them emailed the New Yorker to remove their names from the statement.
Ramirez’s lawyers claim they contacted Republican senator Jeff Flake, who was involved in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, to explain what happened to her. The next day Flake called to delay the confirmation and insist on a week-long FBI investigation.
But the film details how the FBI failed to call on the many witnesses recommended by Ramirez’s lawyers. Footage is shown of the film-makers meeting with a confidential source who plays tape of Kavanaugh’s classmate Max Stier, now a prominent figure in Washington running a non-profit, who allegedly witnessed Kavanaugh involved in a similar act of alleged drunken exposure with a female student at a dorm party at Yale. The woman has chosen to remain anonymous and this is the first time this recording has been heard.
While Congress’ biggest Donald Trump antagonists are household names to political junkies — think Liz Cheney, Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin — there’s a lesser-known Trump adversary who may have been more effective than the others: Doug Letter.
Portrait of Cleopea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671, by Hans Asper
The former House general counsel was involved in every political brawl between House Democrats and Trump that has defined Washington politics for the past four years. Letter helped guide the work of the Jan. 6 select committee, played a critical role in both Trump impeachments and strategized the certification of Joe Biden’s win — before violent rioters upended those plans on Jan. 6, 2021….
In a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO, the House’s former top attorney described his tenure battling a former president who tested the limits of executive power at every turn, resisting efforts at accountability in ways that previous chief executives had not. But he has faith that his work helped to stem future presidential attempts to push constitutional boundaries, lending more power to lawmakers.
“I just feel like the Biden administration and future administrations are not going to act like the Trump administration,” Letter said. “They’re not going to show such ignorance of our system and think that the executive branch can ignore the legislative branch. That’s not the way it works.”
Doug Letter on January 6:
Letter was returning to the House floor from some basement vending machines when he ran into Speaker Nancy Pelosi being whisked from the Capitol under heavy guard. Don’t go back up there, one official told him. An angry mob had breached the building.
But Letter, in a panic, said he had to retrieve several giant binders that were full of sensitive strategy and scripts for the day’s proceedings. He opted to forgo evacuating with Pelosi and instead raced back to the chamber.
“I was the last person in before they locked the doors,” Letter recalled.
The attack on the Capitol led to the Jan. 6 select committee, where the House’s then-top attorney charted a legal strategy that Letter now describes as one of the hallmarks of his tenure.
Through his work on that panel, Letter secured at least two streams of information that became a core element of the committee’s voluminous findings: Trump’s confidential White House records and the Chapman University emails of attorney John Eastman, an architect of the then-president’s bid to subvert the 2020 election.
Letter also won court fights to obtain telephone records from Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward, who took part in Trump world’s plan to send false electors to Congress. And he helped direct the House’s strategy to hold certain Trump advisers in contempt of Congress, which resulted in prosecutions of Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon.
“We had a whole enormous number of people that, as we now know, were putting together this massive, not just a conspiracy, but a whole bunch of conspiracies, to attack our democracy,” Letter said.
Read the rest at Politico.
Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art
As you know, I went to a meeting in my over-60 apartment building awhile back. Most of the people there weren’t wearing masks. I came down with something a few days later, and it dragged on for weeks. I thought others here in the building were being careful too, but I was wrong. We haven’t talked much about Covid-19 on the blog lately, but yesterday I read this article that really angered me, and I want to share it with you.
In photos of 2023’s World Economic Forum—or Davos as it is commonly called, after the Swiss resort town where it annually occurs—you might not notice the HEPA filters. They’re in the background, unobtrusive and unremarked upon, quietly cleansing the air of viruses and bacteria. You wouldn’t know—not unless you asked—that every attendee was PCR tested before entering the forum, or that in the case of a positive test, access was automatically, electronically, revoked. The folks on stage aren’t sporting masks (mostly), so unless you looked at the official Davos Health & Safety protocol, you wouldn’t be aware that their on-site drivers are required to wear them. You also might be surprised to learn that if, at any point, you start to feel ill at Davos, you can go collect a free rapid test, or even call their dedicated COVID hotline.
It’s hard to square this information with the public narrative about COVID, isn’t it? President Joe Biden has called the pandemic “over.” The New York Timesrecently claimed that “the risk of Covid is similar to that of the flu” in an article about “hold outs” that are annoyingly refusing to accept continual reinfection as their “new normal.” Yet, this week the richest people in the world are taking common sense, easy—but strict—precautions to ensure they don’t catch COVID-19 at Davos.
In addition to high-quality ventilation, masks, hotlines and PCR testing, some have noted the signature blue glow of Far-UVC lighting, demonstrated to kill pathogens in the air, although this is unconfirmed. We can be certain, however, that the testing, high-quality ventilation, and filtration protocol is effective at preventing the kind of super-spreader events most of us are now accustomed to attending.
t seems unlikely to me that a New York Times reporter will follow the super-rich around like David Attenborough on safari, the way one of their employees did when they profiled middle-class maskers last month. I doubt they will write “family members and friends can get a little exasperated by the hyper-concern” about the assembled prime ministers, presidents, and CEOs in Switzerland. After all, these are important people. The kind of people who merit high-quality ventilation. The kind of people who deserve accurate tests.
Why is the media so hellbent on portraying simple, scientifically proven measures like masking—in environments absent of high-quality ventilation, full of people who do not have easy and consistent access to tests—as ridiculous and unnecessary as hundreds of people continue to die daily here in the U.S.?
Why is the public accepting a “new normal” where we are expected to get infected over and over and over again, at work events with zero precautions, on airplanes with no masks, and at social dinners trying to approximate our 2019 normal?
Very good questions. I guess the rich are entitled to protection, but the rest of us can just get sick and die for all they care. I hope you’ll go read the whole article at Slate.
Finally, a couple of articles about the upcoming fight over the debt limit:
Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter
While those newly deployed extraordinary measures are largely behind-the-scenes accounting maneuvers, Yellen told Amanpour that “the actual date at which we would no longer be able to use these measures is quite uncertain, but it could conceivably come as early as early June.”
Speaking exclusively to CNN from Senegal, Yellen said that after the measures are exhausted, the US could experience at a minimum downgrading of its debt as a result of Congress failing to raise the debt ceiling. The effects of the federal government failing to make payments, she argued, could be as broad as a “global financial crisis.”
“If that happened, our borrowing costs would increase and every American would see that their borrowing costs would increase as well,” Yellen said. “On top of that, a failure to make payments that are due, whether it’s the bondholders or to Social Security recipients or to our military, would undoubtedly cause a recession in the US economy and could cause a global financial crisis.”
“It would certainly undermine the role of the dollar as a reserve currency that is used in transactions all over the world. And Americans – many people would lose their jobs and certainly their borrowing costs would rise,” she continued.
Shortly after last year’s midterm elections, a senior congressional Democrat called White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and asked how the administration planned to prevent the new Republican House majority from using the debt ceiling — and the threat of a default that could wreck the economy — to force spending cuts.
Klain said the White House’s plan was straightforward, according to the lawmaker: Refuse to entertain any concessions, and launch a barrage of attacks highlighting the GOP position that would force Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to fold.
“This debate is simple: We want to do the responsible thing, and they want to take the entire American economy hostage to cut Social Security and Medicare,” said the member of Congress, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. Klain told the lawmaker that the fight could result in substantial political benefits for the Democratic Party. “The point he was making was clear: You can’t negotiate with people who take hostages.”
Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie
But the question remains what the administration will do if Republicans won’t raise the debt limit without negotiations.
House Republicans have increasingly signaled that they will force a showdown with the administration over the nation’s debt ceiling, which sets a statutory limit on how much the federal government can borrow….
Many GOP lawmakers have said that they will not approve a debt ceiling increase without cuts to spending programs that the Biden administration has vowed to protect, creating an impasse with no clear resolution.
…[A]dministration officials [have] conclude[d], at least for now, that the only viable path is to press Republicans to abandon their demands to extract policy concessions over the debt limit — a position they have publicly reaffirmed in recent weeks. The Biden administration is focused on pressing the GOP to unveil a debt limit plan that includes spending cuts, with the hope that such a proposal will prove so divisive among Republicans that they are forced to abandon brinkmanship. This strategy stems in part from the belief among White House officials that it would be enormously risky either to negotiate policy with the GOP on the debt limit or try to solve it via executive order — and they appear willing to put that premise to the test.
How about having Biden and surrogates travel around the country educating voters about the consequences of either letting Republican crash the economy or letting them destroy Social Security and Medicare? Just a thought.
What are your thoughts about all this? What other stories do you recommend?
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I’m still thrilled by the vote on abortion rights in Kansas. I actually wasn’t terribly surprised, because Kansas has been showing signs of turning purple recently. I also believe that the majority of women everywhere are enraged by the SCOTUS decision to take away a right that has transformed American women’s lives. But it’s so exhilarating to know that in Kansans voted in numbers approaching the turnouts in presidential elections. There are other signs that Republicans may regret trying to turn back the clock on women’s rights. Here are some reactions to the “earthquake” in Kansas.
Kansas voters resoundingly decided against removing the right to abortion from the State Constitution, according to The Associated Press, a major victory for the abortion rights movement in one of America’s reliably conservative states.
The defeat of the ballot referendum was the most tangible demonstration yet of a political backlash against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had protected abortion rights throughout the country. The decisive margin — 59 to 41 percent, with about 95 percent of the votes counted — came as a surprise, and after frenzied campaigns with both sides pouring millions into advertising and knocking on doors throughout a sweltering final campaign stretch.
“The voters in Kansas have spoken loud and clear: We will not tolerate extreme bans on abortion,” said Rachel Sweet, the campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which led the effort to defeat the amendment.
Ms. Sweet told supporters that a willingness to work across partisan lines and ideological differences helped their side win.
Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in Kansas — and abortion rights activists made explicit appeals to unaffiliated voters and center-right voters. In interviews last week in populous Johnson County, Kan., a number of voters said they were registered Republicans but opposed the amendment — a dynamic that almost certainly played out across the state, given the margin.
“We’re watching the votes come in, we’re seeing the changes of some of the counties where Donald Trump had a huge percentage of the vote, and we’re seeing that just decimated,” said Jo Dee Adelung, 63, a Democrat from Merriam, Kan., who knocked on doors and called voters in recent weeks.
When abortion rights organizer Jae Gray sent canvassers out into the Kansas City suburbs for the state’s upcoming referendum, they armed them with talking points aimed at all voters — not just liberals.
Painting by John White Alexander, 1856-1915
“We definitely used messaging strategies that would work regardless of party affiliation,” said Gray, a field organizer for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. “We believe every Kansan has a right to make personal health-care decisions without government overreach — that’s obviously a conservative-friendly talking point. We were not just talking to Democrats.”
The effort paid off. On Tuesday, Kansas voters decisively defeated a ballot measure that would have set aside abortion protections in the state’s constitution, paving the way for additional restrictions or even a total ban. That victory was fueled by an opposition coalition that mobilized a large swath of the state’s electorate — including Republican and independent voters — to turn out in historic numbers….
Nearly 60 percent of voters ultimately rejected the amendment, with more than 900,000 turning out to the polls — nearly twice as many as the 473,438 who turned out in the 2018 primary election.
“Kansas turned out in historic numbers … because we found common ground among diverse voting blocks and mobilized Kansans across the political spectrum to vote no,” Rachel Sweet, the campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, said at a news conference Wednesday.
There’s much more about how Kansas organizers did it at the WaPo link.
The political impact of what happened in Kansas will be most directly felt in the November midterm elections – particularly in races for governor and attorney general after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, throwing the issue of abortion to the states. The June ruling has led to bans on the procedure being enforced in several states while opening the door to more restrictions in others. At least four other states will be voting on abortion-related ballot measures this November, but Democratic strategists are looking to the Kansas result to extrapolate lessons for states where abortion won’t be on the ballot.
“As the first state to vote on abortion rights following the fall of Roe v. Wade, Kansas is a model for a path to restoring reproductive rights across the country through direct democracy,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We know that Kansas will not be our last fight, or our last victory.”
Democratic and Republican operatives acknowledged Wednesday that the result in Kansas, while limited to one state, could shift the way each party approaches the midterms. Democrats, buoyed by polling and the Kansas result, will likely attempt to make abortion a top issue in key races, hoping to link their Republican opponents to the support for stricter abortion laws….
“We already knew that the majority of Americans support abortion rights, but last night’s results in Kansas showed us that it’s also a motivating factor for voters,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Democratic operative and the managing director at progressive consulting firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. “We’ll likely see more Democratic candidates learn from Kansas and lean in on the threat and urgency of abortion bans across the country and start communicating that directly to voters.”
There was every reason to expect a close election.
Instead, Tuesday’s resounding victory for abortion rights supporters in Kansas offered some of the most concrete evidence yet that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has shifted the political landscape. The victory, by a 59-41 margin in a Republican stronghold, suggests Democrats will be the energized party on an issue where Republicans have usually had an enthusiasm advantage.
The Kansas vote implies that around 65 percent of voters nationwide would reject a similar initiative to roll back abortion rights, including in more than 40 of the 50 states (a few states on each side are very close to 50-50). This is a rough estimate, based on how demographic characteristics predicted the results of recent abortion referendums. But it is an evidence-based way of arriving at a fairly obvious conclusion: If abortion rights wins 59 percent support in Kansas, it’s doing even better than that nationwide.
It’s a tally that’s in line with recent national surveys that showed greater support for legal abortion after the court’s decision. And the high turnout, especially among Democrats, confirms that abortion is not just some wedge issue of importance to political activists. The stakes of abortion policy have become high enough that it can drive a high midterm-like turnout on its own.
None of this proves that the issue will help Democrats in the midterm elections. And there are limits to what can be gleaned from the Kansas data. But the lopsided margin makes one thing clear: The political winds are now at the backs of abortion rights supporters.
Nearly 60% of voters in Kansas, typically a deep-red state that Donald Trump easily carried two years ago, rejected a ballot referendum that would have amended the state constitution to remove the right to abortion.
The amendment, artfully entitled “Value Them Both,” represented the first ballot initiative on abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June. Abortion opponents described it as a corrective to a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling which found that the Kansas constitution protects abortion rights, while pro-choice groups warned it would swiftly allow Republican lawmakers to enact a total abortion ban.
Afternoon Promenade, Arthur Wardle (1864-1949).
Republicans never exactly admitted that, repeatedly casting pro-choice warnings about a potential ban as lies and disinformation, even after the Kansas Reflector obtained audio recordings in mid-July of a Value Them Both Coalition staffer telling Republican officials they had abortion-ban legislation waiting in the wings once the amendment passed.
The ballot initiative seemed designed to disadvantage abortion rights supporters from the get-go. It was scheduled for a vote not in the general election in November but in the August primary, which in Kansas traditionally draws few Democrats (since many Democratic candidates run unopposed) or unaffiliated voters, who cannot vote in either party’s primaries. Pro-choice advocates also charged that the ballot initiative’s language was intentionally misleading, designed to confuse voters about what a “yes” or “no” vote meant and including irrelevant provisions, such as public funding for abortion, that don’t actually exist in the state….
On Monday, the eve of Election Day, Kansas voters received an anonymous mass text message that transparently seemed to double down on that tactic, falsely suggesting that a “yes” vote would protect “choice.” The message, which the Washington Post discovered was sent on behalf of a PAC led by former Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican, read, “Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights. Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”
In the face of all those obstacles, an energized electorate turned out and soundly rejected the Republicans’ ballot initiative. And how are Republicans taking this loss?
Faced with these facts, conservatives and anti-abortion advocates rationalized the outcome in various ways, from claiming that they were the real victims of disinformation campaigns to downplaying the significance of the results to suggesting that the initiative failed because it didn’t go far enough.
In the first category, the Value Them Both Coalition led the way, writing in a statement, “Over the last six months, Kansans endured an onslaught of misinformation from radical left organizations that spent millions of out-of-state dollars to spread lies about the Value Them Both Amendment. Sadly, the mainstream media propelled the left’s false narrative, contributing to the confusion that misled Kansans about the amendment.” The coalition went on to warn that Kansas was about to become an “abortion destination,” and, channeling the Terminator, vowed that despite this “temporary setback,” “We will be back.”
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which sent student canvassers to knock on some 250,000 doors in the Sunflower State, made similar charges: “The abortion lobby’s message to voters was rife with lies that ultimately drowned out the truth.” And Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, lamented, “We are disappointed Kansans couldn’t see past the big money that flooded the state, confusing voters about an abortion-neutral amendment that would give them the freedom to vote on abortion policy.”
Actually, both sides spent about the same amount, according to The New York Times. Read more Republican rationalizations at Salon.
Justice Samuel Alito, in drafting Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said he and the other justices who joined him in ending a constitutional right to abortion had no ability to foresee what the political implications would be. Even if they could know, he added, justices have “no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision.”
Andrée Bonnard and her dog, 1890, Pierre Bonnard.
Does Alito genuinely write his opinions with no concern at all of what the practical political consequences might be?
In overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision he said was “egregiously wrong,” Alito asserted that the place to decide the morality and legality of abortion is not the Supreme Court but the political process in 50 states.
So what does Alito think now, in the wake of Kansas voters resoundingly rejecting a proposal to remove protections for abortion rights from their state constitution?
These are not gotcha questions. Alito presumably would answer that what happened in Kansas on Tuesday is precisely the kind of democratic process that the Supreme Court “short-circuited,” as he wrote in Dobbs, when it established a national right to abortion by judicial edict even as the issue remained deeply unsettled in the society.
They are questions, however, that highlight how life is full of surprise and paradox, even for a Supreme Court justice who specializes in blustery self-assurance. Alito’s career as an advocate for social conservatism began long before he joined the court. His record is replete with deference to religious tradition and skepticism of loosening sexual mores on all fronts, including gay rights. His references to “abortionists” in the Dobbs opinion hardly conceal his personal disdain. There can be little doubt of how he would have cast his ballot if he were a Kansas voter.
Yet the Kansas result raises an arresting possibility: Alito’s long-term legacy may well be as the justice who facilitated a national consensus on behalf of abortion rights. Quite unintentionally, today’s hero of the “pro-life” movement could end up being a giant of the “pro-choice” movement.
Read the rest at Politico.
For the first time in a very long time, I’m feeling hopeful that Democrats can hold A the Senate and that we may still save democracy in the U.S. I know there’s a long way to go, but I really think the Kansas result is significant. President and Attorney General Garland are also taking action to preserve abortion rights. A couple more articles:
President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order to help ensure access to abortion in light of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer to eliminate the constitutional right to the procedure.
The President said the order helps women travel out of state to receive abortions, ensures health care providers comply with federal law so women aren’t delayed in getting care and advances research and data collection “to evaluate the impact that this reproductive health crisis is having on maternal health and other health conditions and outcomes.”
Biden spoke of the “chaos and uncertainty” that has ensued in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision and said, “Women’s health and lives are on the line.”
“Emergency medical care being denied to women experiencing miscarriages, doctors uncertain about what they can do to provide for their patients, pharmacists unsure whether they can fill prescriptions that they’ve always filled before, a tragic case of rape survivors, including a 10-year-old girl forced to travel to another state for care,” Biden said before signing the order.
The lawsuit seeks to invalidate Idaho’s “criminal prohibition on providing abortions, as applied to women who are suffering medical emergencies,” Garland said.
The lawsuit argues that it would force doctors to violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that requires hospitals receiving federal funds to ensure anyone coming to a hospital for emergency treatment is stabilized and treated.
“If a patient comes into the emergency room with a medical emergency jeopardizing the patient’s life or health, the hospital must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that patient,” Garland said. “This includes abortion when that is the necessary treatment.”
Idaho’s law—set to take effect on August 25—”would make it a criminal offense for doctors to provide the emergency medical treatment that federal law requires,” he said.
What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following today?
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