Thursday Reads: This Sh**t Never Ends!

Bette Davis

Good Afternoon!!

As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.

The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.

Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.

Cary Grant, 1960

Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:

Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:

Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….

The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.

Ava Gardner

Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.

Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.

The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.

So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?

…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.

Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)

Marcello Mastroianni

Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.

Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.

Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.

A few more pardon stories:

Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.

CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.

The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.

Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”

Lauren Bacall

Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.

“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.

That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Michael Caine

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:

The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?

NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?

CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.

The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.

Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.

Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.

Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.

CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?

Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.

BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.

Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.

 


Monday Reads

womanreadingblackbackground1939

Good Morning!!

Today is another slow news day, and that could be bad news for some folks in Norfolk, Nebraska. Dakinikat alerted us to the story yesterday, and now it’s in the process of going viral. So far the headlines on the story seem highly understated. From the Lincoln Journal-Star: Obama float at Norfolk parade sparks controversy.

It was the parade float that elicited the loudest cheers Friday at Norfolk’s Fourth of July parade. The crowd lining the streets clapped and laughed as the flatbed truck went by.

But one loud voice rose above the rest: “This is not OK,” Glory Kathurima said. “That’s not OK.”

She kept repeating herself as the float passed, she says. She started to raise her phone to take a picture of the blue truck with the outhouse on its flatbed, along with a dark figurine in overalls propped up by a metal walker.

And nailed to the sides of the wooden privy, two signs in all-black capital letters: “OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY.”

Kathurima’s daughter Malaika saw the disrespectful depiction of the President of the United States, and asked her mom, “Mommy, what does that mean? What’s so funny?”

Kathurima moved to Nebraska from Kenya when she was Malaika’s age and became a naturalized citizen a few years ago. She’s raised her daughter in Norfolk and has found ways to explain the meaning of skin color. She’s turned on the TV and pointed to President Obama, showing Malaika that there was someone that looked like her — half Kenyan, half American.

“I’m angry and I’m scared,” Kathurima said. “This float was not just political; this was absolutely a racial statement.”

If a 9-year-old can see the problem, you’d think the parade organizers in Norfolk would have at least foreseen what the reaction to the float would be from normal people across the country. But apparently they didn’t.

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Parade committee member Rick Konopasek said the float wasn’t meant to be any more offensive than a political cartoon would be….

“We don’t feel its right to tell someone what they can and can’t express,” he said. “This was political satire. If we start saying no to certain floats, we might as well not have a parade at all.”

Konopasek and parade announcer Wally Sonnenschein said the outhouse float was the most popular one in the parade, and the three judges awarded it an honorable mention.

“It’s obvious the majority of the community liked it,” Konopasek said. “So should we deny the 95 percent of those that liked it their rights, just for the 5 percent of people who are upset?”

Konopasek and Sonnenschein actually claimed that the float demonstrated the freedom of speech and independence that the country celebrates on the Fourth of July, and that “the man who built the float has been a longstanding member of the community, and people shouldn’t be quick to judge him for expressing his opinions.” How odd then that the “man who built the float” didn’t put his name on his handiwork and he is still anonymous, according to Omaha.com.

A Fourth of July parade float that depicted a figure standing outside an outhouse labeled the “Obama Presidential Library” has created a stir on social media and is also receiving criticism in Norfolk, Nebraska.

The float, in Norfolk’s annual Independence Day parade, was on a flatbed trailer being pulled by a blue pickup truck. The figure was dressed in overalls and standing next to a walker outside of the outhouse. The hands and head of the figure were greenish and appeared to be zombielike; the hands were pressed against the sides of the figure’s head. Miniature American flags were atop the float and on the truck.

 Neither the float nor the pickup identified a sponsor; a sign in the windshield said it was entry No. 29.

Why isn’t “the man who built the float” expressing pride in his creation?

Actually the design of the float wasn’t original. I’ve seen this depiction of Obama before. From Huffington Post:

The presidential library outhouse comparison has become somewhat of a conservative meme in recent years. A similar structure was on display at Montana’s state Republican convention in 2012. And last fall, an outhouse with a “presidential library” sign drew criticism in a small New Mexico town.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out in the next few days. Certainly if this is not racism per se (I think it is), it demonstrates a shocking lack of respect for the office of the Presidency. Will Norfolk parade officials continue to defend the float? Will “the man who built the float” come forward and defend what he did? Stay tuned.

In other news,

In his latest column, E.J. Dionne calls attention to “an article in draft” by Joseph Fishkin & William E. Forbath called “The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution” (PDF).  The article addresses the issue of economic inequality, and is the basis for a planned book by Fishkin.

Dionne writes that Tea Partiers and other “conservatives” constantly talk about the Constitution to justify their extreme views on multiple issues. Dionne argues that “progressives” should “think constitutionally” too, and “challenge conservative claims about what the Constitution really demands.”

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In the May issue of the Boston University Law Review, Joseph R. Fishkin and William E. Forbath of the University of Texas School of Law show that at key turning points in our history (the Jacksonian era, the Populist and Progressive moments and the New Deal), opponents of rising inequality made strong arguments “that we cannot keep our constitutional democracy — our republican form of government — without constitutional restraints against oligarchy and a political economy that maintains a broad middle class, accessible to everyone.”

Their article is called “The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution,” though Forbath told me that he and Fishkin may give the book they’re writing on the topic the more upbeat title “The Constitution of Opportunity.” Their view is that by empowering the wealthy in our political system, Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United directly contradict the Constitution’s central commitment to shared self-rule.

“Extreme concentrations of economic and political power undermine equal opportunity and equal citizenship,” they write. “In this way, oligarchy is incompatible with, and a threat to, the American constitutional scheme.” …. they make a similar critique of what they call an excessively “court-centered” approach to constitutionalism. “Constitutional politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries” was very different and the subject of democratic deliberation. In earlier eras, they say, the Constitution was seen as not simply permitting but actually requiring “affirmative legislation . . . to ensure a wide distribution of opportunity” and to address “the problem of oligarchy in a modern capitalist society.”

 The authors remind us of Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that “the inevitable consequence” of placing “economic and financial control in the hands of the few” would be “the destruction of the base of our form of government.” And writing during the Gilded Age, a time like ours in many ways, the journalist James F. Hudson argued that “imbedded” in the Constitution is “the principle” mandating “the widest distribution among the people, not only of political power, but of the advantages of wealth, education and social influence.”

The idea of a Constitution of Opportunity is both refreshing and relevant. For too long, progressives have allowed conservatives to monopolize claims of fealty to our unifying national document. In fact, those who would battle rising economic inequalities to create a robust middle class should insist that it’s they who are most loyal to the Constitution’s core purpose. Broadly shared well-being is essential to the framers’ promise that “We the people” will be the stewards of our government.

Fishkin’s proposed book sounds like a worthwhile companion to Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

A somewhat related article from Raw Story by Bill Moyers and Co., July 4th note to tea partiers: Your politics would baffle the Founding Fathers.

Editor’s note: These days, if you see a protester donning a tricorn hat and waving a Gadsden Flag, it’s a safe bet that he or she is a Republican activist who’s furious about “death panels” or the prospect of the government meddling in the Medicare program. But the tea party movement isn’t the first to claim itself to be the true defenders of the Constitution, or to enlist its Framers in a political cause. Throughout American history, activists across the ideological spectrum have insisted that the Framers would roll over in their graves upon encountering the perfidy of their political opponents.

The reality is that the Framers disagreed about almost everything, and produced a Constitution that was filled with expedient compromises. As Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard University, pointed out in her book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, “Beginning even before it was over, the Revolution has been put to wildly varying political purposes.” Between 1761, when the first signs of discontent with England became apparent in the Colonies, and 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, Lepore wrote that Americans debated an “ocean of ideas” from which “you can fish anything out.”

One of the few areas where the Framers approached a consensus was a belief that their Constitution shouldn’t be fetishized. According to Lepore, it was none other than Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human.” 

Read an excerpt on Constitutional originalism from Jill Lepore’s book at the Raw Story link.

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From NBC News: Pope Francis Meets Abuse Victims, Begs Forgiveness for Church.

The pontiff invited six victims of abuse from Ireland, Germany and Britain to attend an early-morning private Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence next to St. Peter’s Basilica where he lives.

 Francis called the abuse a “grave sin” decrying how it was hidden for “so much time” and “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”

“I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons,” the pope said in his homily. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse.” ….

Francis strongly praised the victims’ courage in speaking up and shedding “light on a terrible darkness,” telling the mass he is deeply aware of their deep and unrelenting pain.

“Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God,” he said, adding that the victims’ willingness to come to the Vatican “speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness.”

I guess it’s a start, but I agree with victims advocates who say it’s too little, too late. What concrete actions is the Church going to take to identify abusers and potential abusers before they act out? Child sexual abuse is a systemic problem that has continued for centuries. It’s difficult to see how it can be overcome with apologies and meetings with a few survivors.

I’ll end with a fascinating story from New Scientist, via Raw Story: Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France.

The oldest confirmed case of Down’s syndrome has been found: the skeleton of a child who died 1500 years ago in early medieval France. According to the archaeologists, the way the child was buried hints that Down’s syndrome was not necessarily stigmatised in the Middle Ages….

The new example comes from a 5th- and 6th-century necropolis near a church in Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France. Excavations there have uncovered the remains of 94 people, including the skeleton of a young child with a short and broad skull, a flattened skull base and thin cranial bones. These features are common in people with Down’s syndrome, says Maïté Rivollat at the University of Bordeaux in France, who has studied the skeleton with her colleagues….

Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France – life – 04 July 2014 – New Scientist#.U7qdknlOXEd <!—->

Rivollat’s team has studied the way the child with Down’s syndrome was buried, which hasn’t been possible with other ancient cases of the condition. The child was placed on its back in the tomb, in an east-west orientation with the head at the westward end – in common with all of the dead at the necropolis.

According to Rivollat, this suggests the child was treated no differently in death from other members of the community. That in turn hints that they were not stigmatised while alive.

Another researcher of Down’s Syndrome in ancient history, John Starbuck of Indiana University, says drawing cultural conclusions from the method of burial is very difficult. Read more at the link.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Are Women People?

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Good Morning!!

Question for today: Are women human? Are we people in the eyes of our government? We’ve been told that corporations are people. We know that white men are people–that was established by the U.S. Constitution when it was ratified in 1789.  Since that time, there have been amendments that granted some rights to non-white men and to women. We can vote now. Does that mean our government recognizes our humanity?

Today our ultra-conservative, mostly Catholic Supreme Court will hear two cases that bring this question to the forefront, and the Court’s decisions may give us some answers to the question of whether American women are officially people with individual rights.

From MSNBC: Supreme Court to hear birth control case

Depending on whom you ask, Tuesday morning’s oral argument at the Supreme Court is about whether Obamacare can keep treading on religious liberty – or it’s about a woman’s right to access contraception on her employee insurance plan, no matter what her employer thinks of it. Either way, it is the first time the Affordable Care Act will be at the nation’s highest Court since it was first largely upheld as constitutional. The same two men as in that case, current Solicitor General Don Verrilli and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement, are facing off to argue over a narrower provision.

Before the Supreme Court decides whether the contraceptive coverage required of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law governing religious liberty, it has to settle the threshold question: Does a corporation even have religious liberty?

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I think the question about the rights of women is far broader than that. Without access to birth control and abortion, a woman has no real autonomy as a human being. If she becomes pregnant–even through rape–she loses the ability to make choices about her future life. It has been a relatively short period of time since women have had the power to make those choices. But that power has led to other advances for women–such as the right to prosecute a rapist or an abusive boyfriend or husband, the right to have credit in her own name, the right to an education, and entry into careers from which women were previously blocked. We can only hope that the justices see clearly what their decisions will mean for women’s lives and women’s personhood.

Back to the MSNBC article:

Hobby Lobby Stores, an Oklahoma-based, evangelical-owned craft chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Mennonite-owned cabinet maker in Pennsylvania, sued the administration and got two very different answers from the lower courts. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared of Hobby Lobby that “such corporations can be ‘persons’ exercising religion.” In ruling on Conestoga’s bid for exemption from the requirement, the Third Circuit disagreed: “For-profit secular corporations cannot exercise in religious exercise.”

The companies are among the 47 for-profit corporations that have objected to their company plans complying with the minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Under those regulations, contraception is covered fully, without a co-pay, as preventive care. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood object to a handful of contraceptives that they speculate can block a fertilized egg, which is neither documented in the science nor the medical definition of abortion. Other for-profit plaintiffs object to any birth control coverage at all….

The Obama administration says that the government has a compelling interest in women’s health and in gender equality. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to classify contraceptives as preventive care after considering testimony from medical experts, who cited the country’s high rate of unintended pregnancy and the persistence cost barriers to accessing effective birth control.

Some legal experts argue that to rule for Hobby Lobby would be imposing religion on others, by forcing the women who work for such companies to pay the cost of their employers’ religion. Frederick Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young, has even argued in a brief before the Court that doing so would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

What will SCOTUS decide?

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At NPR, Nina Totenberg offers some scary quotes from Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby:

“We believe that the principles that are taught scripturally is what we should operate our lives by … and so we cannot be a part of taking life,” explains Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.

“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” adds CEO and founder David Green.

Using birth control is “taking a life?” Apparently one of the arguments Hobby Lobby is using that–contrary to scientific facts–some forms of birth control are equal to abortion. So is every sperm is sacred too? Should men be prosecuted for masturbating? But those questions are not likely to be asked, because it is already legally established that men are people.

 

At the WaPo, Sandra Fluke writes: At the Supreme Court, a potential catastrophe for women’s rights.

Unlike my congressional testimony in 2012, which was about Georgetown University — a Catholic-affiliated university — refusing to include contraception in student insurance because it was a religiously affiliated school, the institutions arguing before the Supreme Court are not houses of worship or religious non-profits. The Affordable Care Act already includes special arrangements for those types of organizations. These are private, for-profit corporations — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — that want to be excluded from health insurance and employment laws because of bosses’ personal views.

Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.

Depending on the court’s rulings, the cases’ outcomes could deny millions of women coverage of any or all forms of birth control, limiting women’s ability to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. As I testified, women also need birth control for many other medical reasons, including relief of painful health problems like endometriosis.

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And, Fluke argues, recognizing a right for corporations to hold religious views will open the door to

Allowing any private employer to dictate which laws fit inside its religious beliefs could upset the necessary balance of both religious liberty and employee health and safety laws. Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees’ insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment — all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn’t agree with could be eliminated.

Furthermore, SCOTUS could not limit these proposed “religious freedoms” to Christians.

Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition, our valuable religious protection laws ensure that anyone is free to practice any religion they want, including religions whose belief systems and practices many of us would disagree with vehemently. In fact, far-ranging beliefs that are not associated with any organized religion could be used to justify a corporation’s practices as well.

Sahil Kapur of TPM points out that Justice Scalia, who might be expected to vote in favor of a corporate “right to religious freedom,” will have to deal with one of his previous rulings: Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness and that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

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At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser addresses the right wing organizations that have waged a concerted war against women’s rights during the past several years: Read This One Document To Understand What The Christian Right Hopes To Gain From Hobby Lobby.

2009 was a grim year for social conservatives. Barack Obama was an ambitious and popular new president. Republicans, and their conservative philosophy, were largely discredited in the public eye by a failed war and a massive recession. And the GOP’s effort to reshape its message was still in its awkward adolescence. If the conservative movement had a mascot, it would have been a white man dressed as Paul Revere and waving a misspelled sign.

Amidst this wreckage, more than two hundred of the nation’s leading Christian conservatives joined together in a statement expressing their dismay at the state of the nation. “Many in the present administration want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development,” their statement claimed, while “[m]ajorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.” Meanwhile, they feared that the liberals who now controlled the country “are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”

The signatories to this statement, which they named the “Manhattan Declaration,” included many of America’s most prominent Catholic bishops and clergy of similar prominence in other Christian sects. It included leaders oftop anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, and of more broadly focused conservative advocacy shops such as the Family Research Council. It included university presidents and deans from Christian conservative colleges. And it included the top editors from many of the Christian right’s leading publications.

Perhaps most significantly, however, the document’s signatories includes Alan Sears, the head of one of the two conservative legal groups litigating what are likely to be the two most important cases decided by the Supreme Court this term. Indeed, the Manhattan Declaration offers a virtual roadmap to understanding what religious conservatives hope to gain from Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, two cases the justices will hear Tuesday which present the question whether a business owner’s religious objections to birth control trump their legal obligation to include it in their employee’s health plan.

Read the gory details at the link.

hillary_clinton_human_6423

Finally, I ask that everyone read this year-old article at Time Magazine by Jessica Winter, Subject for Debate: Are Women People? It is both darkly humorous and deadly serious.

All my adult life, I’ve been pretty sure I’m a sentient, even semi-competent human being. I have a job and an apartment; I know how to read and vote; I make regular, mostly autonomous decisions about what to eat for lunch and which cat videos I will watch whilst eating my lunch. But in the past couple of months, certain powerful figures in media and politics have cracked open that certitude.

You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)

Please go read the whole thing. It’s not long.

So . . . those are my recommended reads for today.  What stories are you following? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.

 


Thursday Reads: The Not-Quite-Humanness of Mitt Romney

Good Morning!!

I had never seen the diagram above before until last night when I was browsing through reactions to Mitt Romney’s latest insensitive remark, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” That’s when I found the above diagram at Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia:

Hypothesized emotional response of human subjects is plotted against anthropomorphism of a robot, following Mori’s statements. The uncanny valley is the region of negative emotional response towards robots that seem “almost human”. Movement amplifies the emotional response.

The idea is you can make an emotional connection to a robot; but a robot that is very close to looking and acting human, but not quite, will elicit disgust. This could explain the reactions of revulsion that many people have toward Mitt Romney. From Wikipedia:

If an entity looks sufficiently nonhuman, its human characteristics will be noticeable, generating empathy. However, if the entity looks almost human, it will elicit our model of a human other and its detailed normative expectations. The nonhuman characteristics will be noticeable, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

Sullivan suggests that Romney is “probing zombie territory.” I found this a very helpful way to think about the way Romney presents himself in public. He is trying very hard to act like a regular human being and he almost succeeds, but not quite–sort of like the fake humans in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.


Mitt Romney is a pod person!

Another behavior I’ve noticed about Romney is his tendency to get almost manic and go way overboard–as he was doing down in Florida in his attack on Newt Gingrich and in his glee at winning the primary (only the second he has won). I mentioned to Dakinikat yesterday that I thought Romney could use some lithium carbonate to bring him back down to earth.

According to Sullivan, others are picking up on this tendency too. Sullivan links to a series of photos by Dan Amira at New York Magazine, with this introduction:

Mitt Romney came into the 2012 presidential race with a reputation as a stiff, humanoid robot. Consequently, he’s been making a concerted effort to seem more warm and friendly when interacting with voters on the campaign trail. But there’s a happy middle ground between “robotic” and “maniac on ecstasy” — a middle ground that seems to elude Romney on a regular basis.

Here’s one of the photos.

I really need to read Andrew Sullivan more often. He writes:

I was chatting with a Mormon friend the other day and asking him what Mormons make of Mitt on this uncanny valley question. The phrase he came up with is “the Mormon mask.” It’s the kind of public presentation that a Mormon with real church authority deploys when dealing with less elevated believers, talking to them, and advising them. The cheery aw-shucks fake niceness in person is a function in part, some believe, of the role he has long played in the church: always a leader.

Because, make no mistake about this: Mitt Romney is a Mormon church leader. I mentioned before that I’ve been reading The Real Romney, by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. Here’s a 2008 quote from Mitt that introduces the chapter on the Romney family history:

I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.

Mitt Romney has served his church in official leadership roles since 1977, when he became a counselor (essentially second in command) to the president of the Boston “stake.” Romney was only about 30, much younger than most who ascend to this position. But Romney was seen as special. He later became a Bishop and then stake President. As such he was in charge of “about a dozen congregations with close to 4,000 members all together.”

Romney’s great great grandfather Miles A. Romney heard Joseph Smith speak in England, and soon after emigrated with his family to the U.S. to become one of the 12 original Smith apostles. Romney’s ancesters helped to build the earliest Mormon temples, and they unquestioningly followed orders from Smith, and later Brigham Young, to marry multiple wives and travel to far away places at the whims of these church leaders. Romney’s great grandfather, Miles P. Romney along with his three wives and twenty-one children, started a polygamous Mormon colony in Mexico. That is where Mitt’s dad George was born. George returned to the U.S. at age seven.

Yesterday I read quite a bit of an e-book by Michael D. Moody, who was a classmate of Mitt Romney’s at BYU. Moody’s ancestors were also among the earliest followers of Joseph Smith. Moody’s book is called Mitt, Set Our People Free! A 7th Generation Mormon’s Plea for Truth. It is written in the form of an open letter to Mitt from one who has “left the cult.” The “letter” was actually written in 2008, but Moody believes it is just as relevant today.

As undergraduates, Romney and Moody belonged to a BYU booster club, the Cougar Club (BYU didn’t permit Greek fraternities). The club raised large amounts of money for the church and the university. Moody writes that

…in 1970-71…the Cougar Club buzzed that you planned to run for President someday and it became a fait accompli by 2006. Early and aggressively, you began your long-planned push for the U.S. presidency. After making all the right business moves and a few snazzy dance steps to the political right, you were suddenly a top tier contender for the Republican nomination with significant insider support and a freshly reinvented persona.

Moody was surprised when he heard Romney repeatedly tell interviewers and supporters that he had never intended to run for office–it just happened somehow. In fact Moody can’t understand a lot of the things Romney says that he (Moody) knows to be lies.

Moody had been somewhat rebellious during his early years at BYU and ended up getting suspended and then drafted and sent to Vietnam. It was there the Moody began having contact with non-Mormons and began to learn the history of the religion that had been hidden from the faithful–like the fact that the Book of Mormon had obviously been written by Joseph Smith himself and that the book contained many sections that had been plagarized from the King James Bible.

Still, even when he came home from Vietnam, he returned to BYU, joined the Cougar Club, and gave the religion he had been born into another chance. After he graduated, Moody went into politics specifically to support Romney’s push for the presidency and to be prepared to be one of Romney’s cabinet members when the time came. He writes:

I did my duty to the Mormon Gods and ran for Governor to expand our Kingdom and help you lead the world into the Millenium. Actually…by then I had begun my long journey out of the cult.

Moody is no longer a Mormon, but he says that Mitt Romney is still a true believer. One of the beliefs that many Mormons hold is the “White Horse Prophecy.” Moody writes:

Like previous generations, we were reared to believe the U.S. Constitution needed saving, and the LDS Church would do it. We knew our reward, because of primordial valience, was a chance to play major roles in the ensuing end day events. Jesus and “God the Father” had told the prophets, and our patriarchs had told us personally. We were a special generation.

That the U.S. Constitution is in [immanent] danger and will “hand by a thread as fine as silk fiber” in the latter days before the LDS Church rides to its rescue….The Church priesthood holders (men like Romney and Moody) will sweep in like knights to save the Constitution then set it aside to reestablish the theocratic Kingdom created by Joseph Smith and nearly perfected by Brigham Young. The stated plan is to pave the way for the political Kingdom of God and Joseph Smith’s version Millenial Kingdom on Earth.

A few days ago, Salon published an article by Sally Denton, another former Mormon and author of books on Mormon history, on Mitt Romney and the White Horse Prophecy.

When Mitt Romney received his patriarchal blessing as a Michigan teenager, he was told that the Lord expected great things from him. All young Mormon men — the “worthy males” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is officially known — receive such a blessing as they embark on their requisite journeys as religious missionaries. But at 19 years of age, the youngest son of the most prominent Mormon in American politics — a seventh-generation direct descendant of one of the faith’s founding 12 apostles—Mitt Romney had been singled out as a destined leader.

From the time of his birth — March 13, 1947 — through adolescence and into manhood, the meshing of religion and politics was paramount in Mitt Romney’s life.

In the early 1960s Romney’s father George confided his political ambitions in his youngest son, then a teenager. Mitt actively participated in his father’s campaign for governor of Michigan, and during George’s three terms as governor Mitt was often in his father’s office, privy to major decisions. He attended the Republican convention with his father in 1964, and was kept abreast of his father’s failed campaign for President in 1968 (Mitt was a missionary in France).

Denton writes that [although the official church denies it] the White Horse Prophecy is “ingrained in Mormon culture and passed down through generations by church leaders…” She writes:

In this scenario, Romney’s candidacy is part of the eternal plan and the candidate himself is fulfilling the destiny begun in what the church calls the “pre-existence.”

Several prominent Mormons, including conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck [read more here], have alluded to this apocalyptic prophecy. The controversial myth is not an official church doctrine, but it has also arisen in the national dialogue with the presidential candidacies of Mormons George Romney, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and now Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney himself has dismissed this notion.

“I don’t think the White Horse Prophecy is fair to bring up at all,” Mitt Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune when he was asked about it during his 2008 presidential bid. “It’s been rejected by every church leader that has talked about it. It has nothing to do with anything.”

Maybe not, but I still want to know more about Romney’s religion. What I’ve learned already is pretty strange–that God was once a man living on another planet, that “priests” like Mitt Romney will be masters of their own planets after death and that they will be able to take as many wives as they wish in the afterlife. That Mormon women can’t get into heaven unless they are married and and their husbands help them through. That women must stay married to the same man even after death and must be prepared to make way for his multiple wives and their children in the afterlife. And BTW, did you know that Romney’s family baptized Mitt’s confirmed atheist father-in-law as a Mormon a year after he died? No wonder Romney doesn’t want to talk about his religion!

I suppose it isn’t any more wacky than a lot of the stuff in the Christian old testament, but the fact that all this nonsense was sold to people in the 19th and 20th centuries and is people like Glenn Beck are still buying it and converting in the 21st century is pretty hard for me to accept. I don’t think that’s bigotry–it’s self-preservation. We’ve already seen what can happen when fanatical fundamentalist Christians start getting control of political parties and throwing their weight around in government and the culture as a whole (Susan Kommen, anyone?).

In light of all this, I find this statement by Romney in the CNN Florida debate to be very troubling:

The conviction that the founders, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, were writing a document that was not just temporary and not just for one small locale but really something which described the relationship between God and man — that’s something which I think a president would carry in his heart.

So when they said, for instance, that the creator had “endowed us with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I would seek to assure that those principles and values remain in America and that we help share them with other people in the world, not by conquering them, but by helping them through our trade, through our various forms of soft power, to help bring people the joy and — and — and opportunity that exists in this great land.

Am I crazy to be a little concerned about this guy? This post is getting very long, so I’ll end here. But I doubt if this will be the last time I bring up the Romney/religion issue. So far Romney has been allowed to skate on this. No one wants to ask him about it for fear of being labeled a bigot. I don’t care. I just want to keep another theocratic candidate from sneaking past our useless corporate media.

So… that’s it for me and my Romney obsession. What are you interested in today?


“Krugman’s Army” Open Thread

Photo from #OccupyWallStreet sent to Paul Krugman by a reader

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg was all over #Occupy Wall Street, claiming the protesters were trying to destroy the jobs of Wall Street Bankers and other denizens of Wall Street, and threatening that somehow the protests would cause NYC to be unable to pay municipal workers.

I guess one of his advisers must have told him it might not be a good idea to deny that people have a right to assemble in public and air their grievances, according to the U.S. Constitution, because now Bloomberg is singing another tune.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Monday that he’ll allow the Wall Street protesters to stay indefinitely, provided they abide by the law, marking his strongest statement to date on the city’s willingness to let demonstrators occupy a park in Lower Manhattan.

“The bottom line is – people want to express themselves. And as long as they obey the laws, we’ll allow them to,” said Bloomberg as he prepared to march in the Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Avenue. “If they break the laws, then, we’re going to do what we’re supposed to do: enforce the laws.”

Bloomberg said he has “no idea” how much longer the Wall Street demonstration will last. “I think part of it has probably to do with the weather,” he said.

I think someone needs to send the Mayor a copy of the Constitution with the first amendment highlighted. He still thinks he gets to decide if American citizens can gather and protest on public property.

I wonder what Bloomberg will say about what the protesters plan to do next? From the New York Daily News:

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are planning to get in the face of some of New York’s richest tycoons on Tuesday.

A “Millionaires March” will visit the homes – or, more realistically, the gleaming marble lobbies – of five of the city’s wealthiest residents.

On the target list: NewsCorp CEO Rupert Murdoch, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, conservative billionaire David Koch, financier Howard Milstein and hedge fund mogul John Paulson.

Between 400 and 800 marchers plan to go to their homes to present them with oversize checks to dramatize how much less they will pay when New York State’s 2% tax on millionaires expires at the end of the year.

This is starting to get interesting. I admit I find the call and response routine of the protesters kind of annoying, but that’s OK. We annoyed a lot of old folks when we protested the Vietnam War too. Annoying old folks is one of the responsibilities of the young.

Meanwhile, in Boston, police are warning the protesters to go home or else:

Boston police were warning the more than 1,000 Occupy Boston protesters tonight that if they do not leave the Rose Kennedy Greenway and Dewey Square areas that authorities would move them out.

Police were visible around the areas in small batches tonight, while protest organizers held a meeting on the Greenway, answering questions from the demonstrators.

Occupy Boston, in a statement last night, answered the police warning by issuing a call “for any and all people to join the occupation as soon as possible.”

“From the beginning, occupiers have worked tirelessly to maintain a positive working relationship with city officials. Today’s threats by the Boston Police Department represent a sudden shift away from that dialogue,” the statement said.

The mayor’s office, however, has said the city will make no effort to clear the original Dewey Square tent city tonight, but police have said that if protesters do not leave the Greenway, the authorities would clear both the Greenway and Dewey Square.

Hmmmm…sounds like Mayor Menino is out of sync with the cops. Very interesting. Minx says the Atlanta police are itching to crack some heads too. The cops just never understand that when they attack protesters they only draw more attention to them and their grievances.


vpResident Evil on Fox: Waterboarding “good policy”

Fox News has just posted RAW DATA: Transcript of Cheney on ‘FOX News Sunday’. I’m not a lawyer and I’m certainly no expert on national security. I try to keep to economics because I have training and expertise there. Some times, because I’ve been given front page privileges, I bring things up that I’ve read because they just shake me to my core. I really believe from the bottom of what I feel is right and wrong that the policies pushed on this country by Dick Cheney were beyond pale and the U.S Constitution. I’d like to compare Cheney’s thoughts to some other Americans who have known the privilege of serving the American public and taken oaths to uphold our Constitution. I consider these Americans to be the experts that I am not on matters of the U.S. Constitution and Liberty.

250px-Brandeisl

Here is a quote from a great American justice that encapsulates what I feel right now as I share the contents of that interview.

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal — well-meaning but without understanding.

Louis D. Brandeis

Then, there are these thoughts from two great Presidents and Statesmen.

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

Thomas Jeffersonjefferson

The history of liberty is the history of the limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it. When we resist the concentration of power we are resisting the powers of death. Concentration of power precedes the destruction of human liberties.

Woodrow Wilson

Then, there is the granddaddy of all liberty quotes.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

Read the rest of this entry »