Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Reading

Legacy of Lies — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on Sean Spicer’s record at the White House podium.

Sean Spicer’s resignation, on Friday morning, after six months of routinely lying from the White House lectern and then ending on-camera briefings altogether, once again raises one of the most important questions of the Trump era: What is the red line that Trump must cross for his aides to quit on principle? For Spicer, the answer was a new boss he didn’t like. Trump, over the objections of Spicer and Spicer’s closest White House ally, Reince Priebus, the President’s chief of staff, hired Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier and frequent Trump surrogate on TV, as his new White House communications director.

The hire is unusual for several reasons. The role of communications director, a job that has been vacant since May, when Michael Dubke, a low-key Republican strategist, resigned from the position, is traditionally reserved for campaign operatives. Scaramucci is a Wall Street guy—he started at Goldman Sachs and later founded his own investment firms—and a former host on the Fox Business channel. Before the Trump campaign, his experience in politics was more on the fund-raising side than on the strategy side. In the Trump campaign, which was small, he took on a broader role as an adviser to the candidate and appeared frequently on TV, where he stood out because he was less ideological than the usual pro-Trump pundits.

More unusual is the way Scaramucci was hired. In a normal White House, the chief of staff is in charge of hiring. For the President to overrule his chief of staff on such an important position is an enormous embarrassment for Priebus. During a briefing on Friday afternoon, Scaramucci tried to downplay the friction between him and Priebus, but for months he has been telling people of his frustrations with the chief of staff. Scaramucci was originally asked to run the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, but Priebus blocked Scaramucci from taking the job, even after Scaramucci sold his investment firm to take it.

Scaramucci then appealed directly to Trump to find him another position. He had three meetings scheduled with the President, and they were all cancelled. Scaramucci believed that Priebus, who is in charge of Trump’s schedule, worked to keep him away from Trump. Scaramucci “had to go over the top and directly to the President,” a source familiar with the episode said. “The problem is that Trump is in such a bubble now, he doesn’t know what the hell is going on.” Scaramucci was offered the ambassadorship to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in Europe.

If Priebus thought he had rid the White House of Scaramucci, he was wrong. In recent weeks, Scaramucci was a familiar figure at the Trump Hotel in Washington, meeting with reporters and Trump advisers. Ostensibly, he was there because he was working as an official at the D.C.-based Export-Import Bank. But, clearly, something else was in the works.

For Spicer, Trump’s decision to install Scaramucci above him—the press secretary reports to the communications director—was too much to take. Given the highs and lows of Spicer’s time at the White House, this was an unusual choice of hills to die on. Spicer began his tenure as press secretary with a bizarre rant about how Trump’s Inauguration audience “was the largest audience to ever witness an Inauguration, period.” (It wasn’t.) For someone who was never fully inside the Trump circle of trust, the performance had the ring of an eager gang initiate committing a crime to please the boss. Trump, who regularly watched the briefings, which were broadcast live on cable news, reportedly complained about Spicer’s pale suits and later seemed to become aggravated that Spicer was becoming famous, or at least infamous. Spicer’s temper tantrums, ill-fitting suits, and mispronunciations turned him into a pop-culture sensation.

But it was Spicer’s lies and defense of lies that he will be remembered for. Spicer defended Trump’s lie about how there were three million fraudulent votes in the 2016 election. He spent weeks using shifting stories to defend Trump’s lie about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. In trying to explain the urgency of the attack on Syria, Spicer explained, “You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Last week, he lied about the nature of the meeting at Trump Tower in June, 2016, between senior Trump-campaign officials and several people claiming to have information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about adoption,” Spicer claimed, bizarrely, because Donald Trump, Jr., had already admitted that the meeting was about Russian dirt on Clinton. On March 10th, Spicer came to the lectern wearing an upside-down American flag, which is a signal of dire distress.

Despite the repeated humiliations of standing before reporters and saying things he had to know were untrue, what finally made working at the White House intolerable for Spicer was a minor staffing issue. Scaramucci comes to his new job with a good reputation. He is not a conservative ideologue—he is pro-choice, a moderate on gun control, and anti-death penalty—and he is well-liked by reporters. But working for Trump can have a corrosive effect on good people. Scaramucci’s task is to, without sacrificing his own reputation, communicate on behalf of a President who routinely lies. Scaramucci has his work cut out for him.

Saving Planned Parenthood — Becca Andrews in Mother Jones on how an obscure Senate rule may have saved Planned Parenthood.

Planed Parenthood received good news late Friday afternoon: Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough released a determination that says certain provisions in the Republican’s latest Obamacare replacement bill, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA),” violate the 1985 Byrd Rule. That means some of the bill’s provisions—including the one to defund Planned Parenthood for one year—cannot pass without a full 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans currently only hold 52 of the Senate’s seats.

The Byrd Rule, named after Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, states that any legislation that directly affects the federal budget by decreasing spending or increasing revenue can be passed through reconciliation, the process that Republicans are using to try and pass their latest health care law. But some of the bill’s provisions don’t appear to qualify: As my colleague Kevin Drum points out, the provision that would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds probably “doesn’t pass muster because it doesn’t affect total spending, only where money can be spent.” “This means that, should the Senate proceed to the bill, these provisions may be struck from the legislation absent 60 votes,” the parliamentarian’s decision explains.

“Targeting Planned Parenthood because we provide abortion is an obvious violation of the Byrd Rule because the provision’s primary intent is clearly political, and the budgetary impact is ‘merely incidental’ to that purpose,” said Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Other casualties of the bill include the replacement to Obamacare’s individual mandate, which under the BCRA would have meant that anyone who had a lapse in coverage for more than a month and then signed up on the exchange would have had to wait six months for full coverage to take effect. The parliamentarian also stated that the measure in the BCRA to restrict federal tax credits from being used for abortion violates the Byrd Rule.

It’s possible that Republicans will try to overturn the parliamentarian’s decision, but doing so would violate decades of precedent in the Senate.

Sky Faerie — Clay Routledge in the New York Times on defining religion.

Are Americans becoming less religious? It depends on what you mean by “religious.”

Polls certainly indicate a decline in religious affiliation, practice and belief. Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent.

Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion, or at least the death of what you might call the “religious mind” — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice does not reflect a decline in this underlying spiritual inclination.

Ask yourself: Why are people religious to begin with? One view is that religion is an ancient way of understanding and organizing the world that persists largely because societies pass it down from generation to generation. This view is related to the idea that the rise of science entails the fall of religion. It also assumes that the strength of religion is best measured by how much doctrine people accept and how observant they are.

This view, however, does not capture the fundamental nature of the religious mind — our awareness of, and need to reckon with, the transience and fragility of our existence, and how small and unimportant we seem to be in the grand scheme of things. In short: our quest for significance.

Dozens of studies show a strong link between religiosity and existential concerns about death and meaning. For example, when research participants are presented with stimuli that bring death to mind or challenge a sense of meaning in life, they exhibit increased religiosity and interest in religious or spiritual ideas. Another body of research shows that religious beliefs provide and protect meaning.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. Consider that roughly 30 percent of Americans report they have felt in contact with someone who has died. Nearly 20 percent believe they have been in the presence of a ghost. About one-third of Americans believe that ghosts exist and can interact with and harm humans; around two-thirds hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.

These numbers are much higher than they were in previous decades, when more people reported being highly religious. People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.

When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.

A great many atheists and agnostics, of course, do not think U.F.O.s exist. I’m not suggesting that if you reject traditional religious belief, you will necessarily find yourself believing in alien visitors. But because beliefs about U.F.O.s and aliens do not explicitly invoke the supernatural and are couched in scientific and technological jargon, they may be more palatable to those who reject the metaphysics of more traditional religious systems.

It is important to note that thus far, research indicates only that the need for meaning inspires these types of paranormal beliefs, not that such beliefs actually do a good job of providing meaning. There are reasons to suspect they are poor substitutes for religion: They are not part of a well-established social and institutional support system and they lack a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning. Seeking meaning does not always equal finding meaning.

The Western world is, in theory, becoming increasingly secular — but the religious mind remains active. The question now is, how can society satisfactorily meet people’s religious and spiritual needs?

 Doonesbury — House hunt.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Short Takes

Trump withdraws U.S. from TPP.  (The Senate never ratified it.)

Foreign aid for family planning nixed if there’s even a whiff of pro-choice.

Marco Rubio caves on Tillerson vote.

Clean-up underway after tornadoes touch down in Florida.

Rescue teams hold out hope for survivors of avalanche in Italy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Heartbeat Away

Ohio has passed legislation that would force women to carry a baby to term even before they know they’re pregnant.

Ohio lawmakers passed a bill late Tuesday that would prohibit abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — at around six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant.

If Gov. John Kasich (R) signs the bill, it would pose a direct challenge to Supreme Court decisions that have found that women have a constitutional right to abortion until the point of viability, which is typically pegged around 24 weeks. Similar bills have been blocked by the courts. Because of this, even many antiabortion advocates have opposed such measures.

But some Ohio Republicans said they were empowered to support the bill because of President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion nationally.

“New president, new Supreme Court justice appointees, change the dynamic,” state Senate President Keith Faber (R) told WHIO-TV after the vote. Asked if he believed it could withstand a constitutional challenge, he replied he felt “it has a better chance than it did before.”

[…]

Abortion rights groups immediately condemned the measure, including how it was passed: as a last-minute amendment to an unrelated bill. They said it contains no exceptions for rape or incest. And they noted that the Ohio legislature is set to vote on another abortion restriction, one that would ban the procedure at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Aside from the fact that this turns the woman’s body over to the state without so much as a clue she is pregnant in the first place, the legislation is based on junk science that endows a clump of cells with more rights than the woman who is carrying it.

If that isn’t fascism, then it’s damn close.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back To When?

Via C&L, we meet a Trump voter who wants to take her country back to a time when we didn’t have “the homosexuals” and “the abortions.”

A voter named Barbara explained that she was motivated to support Trump because “morality and values” were important to her.

“Based on what the country was based on,” she said. “I think that the laws that Obama has passed, the way the country has — I call it down turning. Some of the other people are proud of it and happy for it. I personally am against it, the homosexuals, the abortions. All the stuff, I am against.”

“When Donald Trump says ‘Make American Great Again,’ is that what you hear?” Dickerson wondered. “That it’s going to go back to before the time that you’re now describing?”

“That’s part of it,” Barbara agreed.

I’m not sure how far we’d have to go back in time to make Barbara happy.  If history is any guide, there have been gay people since the days that the first Homo Sapiens got together and checked out the hunky dude in the tight loincloth from the next cave over.  Abortion has been around since people figured out where babies come from.

Actually, I get where Barbara is coming from.  She wants gays back in the closet and abortions in the back alley so that we can all go on with our lives pretending that everyone is happily straight and that all babies are bundles of joy.  There were no teens driven to suicide because of bullying or being disowned for being “different,” no families torn apart by religious bigotry and poorly-suppressed reality, and there was no rape or incest or life-threatening birth defects.  Life was perfect until Barack Obama came along and in eight years just ruined it all.

PS: “The Homosexuals” and “The Abortions” sounds like the line-up of an ’80’s heavy-metal band concert.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Then You Pay For It, Marco

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was not happy that Congress didn’t pass funding for dealing with the Zika virus, especially now that the outbreak in the U.S. is happening in his back yard.  However, he’s also not happy that any woman who contracts the virus might consider having an abortion if it happens that her child will be born with severe birth defects.

“I understand a lot of people disagree with my view – but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws. And when you present it in the context of Zika or any prenatal condition, it’s a difficult question and a hard one,” Rubio told POLITICO.

“But if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life.”

And what kind of life would that be for a child born with severe microcephaly?  This is what I want to know from people who are staunchly pro-life and the mindset that “erring on the side of life” is somehow better than the alternative of not bringing a human being into a life of pain and suffering, not to mention the cost to the family, and I don’t mean just financially.  Being forced to bring a child into a world where their quality of life will never hope to achieve anything other than misery is not “life.”

It’s so easy to piously decree how someone else should face a truly devastating decision by citing a bumper sticker and then making it the law of the land.  And even if a woman chooses to bring forth a child with birth defects, will Marco Rubio and the vehemently pro-lifers stand by her with more than just their moralistic platitudes and actually help pay for the extra care and support that a special needs child requires?  Somehow I don’t think so.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Full Human Being

Melissa McEwan in BNR on the Supreme Court ruling on Texas’s restrictive abortion laws.

…I was born the year after Roe v. Wade was decided, and from the time I was old enough to comprehend even the most cursory facts of abortion law, I understood, even before I could articulate it, that whether my government allowed me control over my own body and the agency to make decisions about my own reproduction communicated how much I was respected and valued as a full human being.

My very first public act of political resistance was leading a walkout in my 8th grade confirmation class in protest of a minister who wanted to show us a graphic anti-abortion film. I was officially labeled a troublemaker, and the minister told me I would be pregnant or dead by the time I was 16. I was neither.

I have always understood intimately that abortion law is not, and has never been, just about access to abortion, but also about how we value women.

For as long as I can recall, I have heard that the anti-choice position is about valuing life — but that language of life virtually always refers to fetuses and never to the people who carry them.

The worth and quality of my life is greater when I am afforded autonomy, agency, consent, and choice.

I am eminently willing to concede that people can have a good faith disagreement about when human life begins, but that has absolutely no bearing on resolving the dispute over legal, safe, and accessible abortion.

My life, right now, is not so precious that any other human being could be compelled to use their body to support mine for the next nine months (at least). No other human being is obliged to give up an organ for me, even if it would save my life. Nor bone marrow, nor blood, nor skin. People who are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are being asked to do something no other people are asked to do for another person, which exposes the truth of the anti-choice position: Fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them.

It is an inescapable result of that position that I would feel devalued. A living, breathing, thinking adult woman whose life is considered to be worth less than a potential life.

[…]

The question is not really when life begins. The question is whether we recognize women and other people with uteri as humans whose lives have intrinsic value and the rights of autonomy, agency, consent, and choice. It is only because such a vast swath of our population cannot or will not answer a resounding and unqualified “yes” to that question that there is even space for an obfuscating debate about when life begins.

Today, the Supreme Court made a decision that says women’s lives have value; that women’s choices have value; that women’s agency has value.

Read the whole article.

Short Takes

Supreme Court strikes down restrictive abortion rights.

Supreme Court upholds ban on gun sales to those convicted of domestic violence.

U.K. politics in meltdown after Brexit.

Volkswagen agrees to settle U.S. emissions scandal for $14.7 billion.

Clinton and Warren hit the campaign trail in Ohio.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fraud Wins

The Los Angeles Times has a detailed report on how the anti-choice group “Center for Medical Progress” conned the nation into believing that Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts.

She was subdued and sympathetic on camera. Her recollections of collecting fetal tissue and body parts from abortion clinics in northern California lent emotional force to the anti-abortion videos that provoked a furor in Congress last summer.

In footage made public last July, Holly O’Donnell said she had been traumatized by her work for a fetal-tissue brokerage. She described feeling “pain…and death and eternity” and said she fainted the first time she touched the remains of an aborted fetus.

Unreleased footage filed in a civil court case shows that O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed. David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who made the videos, is heard coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes, instructing her to repeat anecdotes, add details, speak “fluidly” and be “very natural.”

“Let’s try it two more times,” he told her at one point.

Later, O’Donnell protested: “I don’t want to tell that story again. Please don’t make me again, David.”

For more than two years, Daleiden and a small circle of anti-abortion activists went undercover into meetings of abortion providers and women’s health groups. With fake IDs and tiny hidden cameras, they sought to capture Planned Parenthood officials making inflammatory statements. O’Donnell cooperated with the filmmakers, offering an inside view of the fetal tissue trade.

The videos sparked numerous investigations into Planned Parenthood and efforts in Congress to strip the organization of its federal funding.

Now, Daleiden, head of the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress, and his associates contend that they were acting as investigative journalists, seeking to expose illegal conduct. That is one of their defenses in lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and other groups, accusing them of fraud and invasion of privacy.

But unpublicized footage and court records show that the activists’ methods were geared more toward political provocation than journalism.

The Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley took a detailed look at published and unreleased video footage, sworn declarations, excerpts of recorded dialogue and other court records from the lawsuits against Daleiden.

The truth is that in every state investigation into Planned Parenthood’s methods of operation, no one has turned up any wrongdoing.  And yet those states, including Florida, have cut off funding to the agency, some in defiance of federal law.

In short, these “pro-lifers” perpetrated a public fraud, were caught, and are going on trial for it, but they still got away with it because states run by anti-choice Jesus-shouters changed the laws and put women and their families in danger by depriving them of medical services from many clinics, few of which provided legal abortion services.

HT digby.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Is It Or Isn’t It Murder?

Ever since Donald Trump spoke the truth about the way most anti-abortion supporters feel — that a woman should be punished for having an abortion — the rest of the anti-choice crowd has been tying themselves in knots trying to back away from the logical conclusion that if abortion is murder, then the perpetrators should face criminal penalties.  Mr. Trump himself has changed his story several times and now, to no one’s surprise, is blaming MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for asking the question in the first place.

All the other GOP candidates are being asked the same question, and they are all finding ways to separate themselves from the answer Mr. Trump gave and yet not destroy their credibility with the anti-abortion crowd.  That leads to some rather convoluted responses, including this bit of wheel-spinning from Ohio Gov. John Kasich on ABC on Sunday:

KASICH: Well, George, I hope they — they do repeal “Roe v. Wade” and then, you know, it will be up to the states to decide how — how they want to proceed. It will be up to them to figure out what they want to do. And that’s precisely what we would do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said there are legitimate and constitutional restrictions that could be put on abortion.

What are they?

KASICH: Well, George, I don’t — you know, when you say constitutional restrictions or whatever (INAUDIBLE)…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are your words.

KASICH: — the only thing I would tell you is I’ve been — yes, well, I don’t — I don’t know when I said it or why I said that in particular. It’s probably out of context. But, look, I am opposed to abortion in except the case of rape, incest and life of the mother. I hope “Roe v. Wade” will be repealed. And — and then it will be turned to the states and the states will have to figure out exactly what the restrictions ought to be, period, end of story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So but if — if you believe that abortion is taking of an innocent life, how would you enforce a ban on that activity?

KASICH: Well, that will be up to the states to figure out what they want to do. And, you know, obviously, when we have seen these comments that have come out earlier this week, it’s the first time I’ve seen the pro-life and the pro-choice people come together to say, you know, that we’ll have to basically work this out and trying to punish a woman would not be the appropriate way to behave.

And I think it’s going to take people, in a reasonable way, working through it.

Nice try, Governor.  “States rights” is the argument that segregationists and homophobes have been using to justify their bigotry for generations.

The most glaring inconsistent and bullshit argument is that decisions on abortion laws should be left up to the states.  But if abortion is murder, does that mean that he’s okay with it being left up to the states?  If Ohio jails a woman for having an abortion but California has drive-through abortion clinics, is that okay with him, too?  Murder is murder, regardless of state boundaries.  But hey, if it’s left up to the states, it’s all good.

Trying to temper your stand on a controversial issue that you know will backfire if you say what you really think is what passes for being a “moderate” today.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sunday Reading

Penalty Phase — According to Zoë Carpenter in The Nation, women are already being punished for getting an abortion.

So much for Donald Trump’s relative moderation on reproductive health. During a Republican debate back in February, he offered what for today’s GOP counted as a heretical defense of Planned Parenthood. “Millions of women are helped” by the group, he said, though he also argued that it should be cut off from federal funding.

But during an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, Trump swung himself to the outer fringes of the anti-abortion movement. “There has to be some form of punishment” for a woman who chooses to end a pregnancy, Trump said, though he didn’t specify what that might entail. What about consequences for the man who got her pregnant? That’s different, said Trump.

There are a few other conservatives who share this view—notably, National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who believes the proper punishment is hanging; and the co-chair of Ted Cruz’s pro-life committee, Troy Newman, who supports some sort of unspecified punishment for women, along with execution of abortion providers. But in general the anti-choice movement sticks to a careful public message that describes women as victims in need of protection from profit-hungry doctors. And indeed, facing criticism from his rivals, Trump backed down, and issued a statement clarifying his position to be that if abortion were to be criminalized, doctors—not women—should be prosecuted.

Obviously, criminalizing women who end their pregnancies in a country where one in every three women will do so has grotesque implications for public health and the criminal-justice system. Since at least 1500 BC women have risked imprisonment, pain, illness, and death in order to end pregnancies. There’s plenty of evidence in the historical record that criminalizing abortion makes it more dangerous, but none suggesting it will end the practice.

In fact, many states already criminalize women who end pregnancies themselves. Thirty-eight states have some sort of fetal homicide law, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some exempt pregnant women, specifically, but many don’t. At least 17 people have been arrested or convicted for self-induced abortions in the United States, including Purvi Patel, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for feticide. In 1990, a Florida teen who couldn’t afford an abortion shot herself in the abdomen, and was charged with third-degree murder. In 2009, a teenager in Utah paid a man $150 to beat her up, hoping it would cause a miscarriage; she was charged with solicitation to commit murder.

Meanwhile, pushed by the same activists who claim women shouldn’t be punished, states have been making legal abortion less and less accessible. Nearly 300 new restrictions on abortion services passed between 2011 and 2015. Texas lost half of its clinics in two years; only one remains open in Mississippi, and two in Louisiana. There are indicators that the closures are prompting more women to think about self-inducing. In 2011, when states enacted more than 90 restrictions, Google searches related to at-home abortions jumped by 40 percent, according toThe New York Times. The states with the highest rates for searches about how to a pregnancy happen to be those that restrict abortion the most.

Laws that restrict access to legal abortion services and those that criminalize self-induced abortion are on a collision course, and it’s women who are caught in the middle. As Dani McClain reported recently, the problem is big enough that legal experts have formed a new coalition to help women who are prosecuted for taking medication or otherwise trying to end their own pregnancies—which, the group says, has become “the only available or acceptable method of abortion to growing numbers of people.”

Feel The Math — Paul Krugman on Bernie Sanders’ tough road ahead.

The Sanders campaign has come much further than almost anyone expected, to the point where Sanders can have a lot of influence on the shape of the race. But with influence comes responsibility, and it’s time to lay out some guidelines for good and bad behavior.

The first thing to say is that it’s still very unlikely that Sanders can win the nomination. Don’t tell me about national polls (and cherry-pick the polls that show your guy getting close); at this point it’s all about delegate counts, where Clinton has a substantial lead with the voting more than half over. The Times’s Upshot has a nice calculator that takes account of what we know about demographic factors – Sanders does well in very white states and in caucuses, not so much elsewhere – and lets you experiment with various overall leads in what remains of the race. To overtake Clinton in pledged delegates, Sanders would need to win by about a 13 point margin from here on in…

[…]

Now, as the bumper stickers don’t quite say, stuff happens. But at this point it’s something like a 90 percent probability that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. Anyone denying that arithmetic is basically pulling a con job on Sanders supporters.

So what does that say about appropriate behavior on the part of her rival? Two things, I’d argue.

First, the Sanders campaign needs to stop feeding the right-wing disinformation machine. Engaging in innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt is, at this point, basically campaigning on behalf of the RNC. If Sanders really believes, as he says, that it’s all-important to keep the White House out of Republican hands, he should stop all that – and tell his staff to stop it too.

Second, it’s time for Sanders to engage in some citizenship. The presidency isn’t the only office on the line; down-ballot races for the Senate and even the House are going to be crucial. Clinton has been raising money for other races; Sanders hasn’t, and is still being evasive on whether he will ever do so. Not acceptable.

Oh, and the Sanders campaign is saying that it will try to flip superdelegates even if it loses the unpledged delegates and the popular vote. Remember when evil Hillary was going to use superdelegates to steal the nomination? Double standards aside, what makes the campaign think that he will get any backing from a party he refuses to lift a finger to help?

It’s important to realize that there are some real conflicts of interest here. For Sanders campaign staff, and also for anyone who has been backing his insurgency, it’s been one heck of a ride, and they would understandably like it to go on as long as possible. But we’ve now reached the point where what’s fun for the campaign isn’t at all the same as what’s good for America.

Sanders doesn’t need to drop out, but he needs to start acting responsibly.

Aretha — David Remnick in The New Yorker on the Queen of Soul.

Late on a winter night, Aretha Franklin sat in the dressing room of Caesars Windsor Hotel and Casino, in Ontario. She did not wear the expression of someone who has just brought boundless joy to a few thousand souls.

“What was with the sound?” she said, in a tone somewhere between perplexity and irritation. Feedback had pierced a verse of “My Funny Valentine,” and before she sat down at the piano to play “Inseparable,” a tribute to the late Natalie Cole, she narrowed her gaze and called on a “Mr. Lowery” to fix the levels once and for all. Miss Franklin, as nearly everyone in her circle tends to call her, was distinctly, if politely, displeased. “For a time up there, I just couldn’t hear myself right,” she said.

On the counter in front of her, next to her makeup mirror and hairbrush, were small stacks of hundred-dollar bills. She collects on the spot or she does not sing. The cash goes into her handbag and the handbag either stays with her security team or goes out onstage and resides, within eyeshot, on the piano. “It’s the era she grew up in—she saw so many people, like Ray Charles and B. B. King, get ripped off,” a close friend, the television host and author Tavis Smiley, told me. “There is the sense in her very often that people are out to harm you. And she won’t have it. You are not going to disrespect her.”

Franklin has won eighteen Grammy awards, sold tens of millions of records, and is generally acknowledged to be the greatest singer in the history of postwar popular music. James Brown, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Otis Redding, Ray Charles: even they cannot match her power, her range from gospel to jazz, R. & B., and pop. At the 1998 Grammys, Luciano Pavarotti called in sick with a sore throat and Aretha, with twenty minutes’ notice, sang “Nessun dorma” for him. What distinguishes her is not merely the breadth of her catalogue or the cataract force of her vocal instrument; it’s her musical intelligence, her way of singing behind the beat, of spraying a wash of notes over a single word or syllable, of constructing, moment by moment, the emotional power of a three-minute song. “Respect” is as precise an artifact as a Ming vase.

“There are certain women singers who possess, beyond all the boundaries of our admiration for their art, an uncanny power to evoke our love,” Ralph Ellison wrote in a 1958 essay on Mahalia Jackson. “Indeed, we feel that if the idea of aristocracy is more than mere class conceit, then these surely are our natural queens.” In 1967, at the Regal Theatre, in Chicago, the d.j. Pervis Spann presided over a coronation in which he placed a crown on Franklin’s head and pronounced her the Queen of Soul.

The Queen does not rehearse the band—not for a casino gig in Windsor, Ontario. She leaves it to her longtime musical director, a seventy-nine-year-old former child actor and doo-wop singer named H. B. Barnum, to assemble her usual rhythm section and backup singers and pair them with some local union horn and string players, and run them through a three-hour scan of anything Franklin might choose to sing: the hits from the late sixties and early seventies—“Chain of Fools,” “Spirit in the Dark,” “Think”—along with more recent recordings. Sometimes, Franklin will switch things up and pull out a jazz tune—“Cherokee” or “Skylark”—but that is rare. Her greatest concern is husbanding her voice and her energies. When she wears a fur coat onstage, it’s partly to keep warm and prevent her voice from closing up. But it’s also because that’s what the old I’ve-earned-it-now-I’m-gonna-wear-it gospel stars often did: they wore the mink. Midway through her set, she makes what she calls a “false exit,” and slips backstage and lets the band noodle while she rests. “It’s a fifteen-round fight, and so she paces herself,” Barnum says. “Aretha is not thirty years old.” She is seventy-four.

Franklin doesn’t get around much anymore. For the past thirty-four years, she has refused to fly, which means that she hasn’t been able to perform in favorite haunts from the late sixties, like the Olympia, in Paris, or the Concertgebouw, in Amsterdam. When she does travel, it’s by bus. Not a Greyhound, exactly, but, still, it’s exhausting. A trip not long ago from her house, outside Detroit, to Los Angeles proved too much to contemplate again. “That one just wore me out,” she said. “It’s a nice bus, but it took days! ” She has attended anxious-flyer classes and said that she’s determined to get on a plane again soon. “I’m thinking about making the flight from Detroit to Chicago,” she said. “Baby steps.”

Even if the concert in Windsor was a shadow of her stage work a generation ago, there were intermittent moments of sublimity. Naturally, she has lost range and stamina, but she is miles better than Sinatra at a similar age. And she has survived longer than nearly any contemporary. In Windsor, she lagged for a while and then ripped up the B. B. King twelve-bar blues “Sweet Sixteen.” Performing “Chain of Fools,” a replica of the Reverend Elijah Fair’s gospel tune “Pains of Life,” she managed to make it just as greasy as when she recorded it, in 1968.

Before the show, I was talking with people in the aisles. More than a few said they hadn’t seen Franklin or paid much attention to her recordings for years. It was an older crowd, but they hadn’t come to see an oldies show. What reawakened them, they said, was precisely what had reawakened me: a video, gone viral, of Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at last December’s Kennedy Center Honors. Watch it if you haven’t: in under five minutes, your life will improve by a minimum of forty-seven per cent.

Aretha comes out onstage looking like the fanciest church lady in Christendom: fierce red lipstick, floor-length mink, a brocaded pink-and-gold dress that Bessie Smith would have worn if she’d sold tens of millions of records. Aretha sits down at the piano. She adjusts the mike. Then she proceeds to punch out a series of gospel chords in 12/8 time, and, if you have an ounce of sap left in you, you are overcome. A huge orchestra wells up beneath her, and four crack backup singers sliver their perfectly timed accents (“Ah-hoo!”) in front of her lines. Aretha is singing with a power that rivals her own self of three or four decades ago.

Up in the first tier, sitting next to the Obamas, Carole King is about to fall over the rail. She is an honoree, and wrote “A Natural Woman” with her first husband, Gerry Goffin. From the moment Franklin starts the first verse—“Looking out on the morning rain, / I used to feel . . . so uninspired”—King is rolling her eyes back in her head and waving on the music as if in a kind of ecstatic possession. She soon spots Obama wiping a tear from his cheek. (“The cool cat wept!” King told me later. “I loved that.”)

King hadn’t seen Franklin in a long time, and when she had Franklin was not performing at this level of intensity. “Seeing her sit down to play the piano put me rungs higher on the levels of joy,” King says. And when Franklin gets up from the piano bench to finish off the song—“That’s a piece of theatre, and she’s a diva in the best sense, so, of course, she had to do that at the perfect moment”—the joy deepens.

King recalls how the song came about. It was 1967, and she and Goffin were in Manhattan, walking along Broadway, and Jerry Wexler, of Atlantic Records, pulled up beside them in a limousine, rolled down the window, and said, “I’m looking for a really big hit for Aretha. How about writing a song called ‘A Natural Woman.’ ” He rolled up the window and the car drove off. King and Goffin went home to Jersey. That night, after tucking their kids into bed, they sat down and wrote the music and the lyrics. By the next morning, they had a hit.

“I hear these things in my head, where they might go, how they might sound,” King says. “But I don’t have the chops to do it myself. So it was like witnessing a dream realized.”

Beyond the music itself, the moment everyone talked about after Franklin’s performance at the Kennedy Center was the way, just before the final chorus, as she was reaching the all-out crescendo, she stripped off her mink and let it fall to the floor. Whoosh! Dropping the fur—it’s an old gospel move, a gesture of emotional abandon, of letting loose. At Mahalia Jackson’s wake, Clara Ward, one of Aretha’s greatest influences, threw her mink stole at the open casket after she sang “Beams of Heaven.” The fur is part of the drama, the royal persona. When Franklin went to see Diahann Carroll in a production of “Sunset Boulevard,” in Toronto, she had two seats: one for her, one for the mink.

Backstage in Windsor, I asked Franklin about that night in D.C. Her mood brightened. “One of the three or four greatest nights of my life,” she said.

Doonesbury — Bully-bros.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Glutton For Punishment

Donald Trump’s unfavorability rating is in the 60% range.  Yesterday he decided that wasn’t good enough; he’s gotta hit 100%.  This may help.

“Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say yes, they should be punished,” Trump replied.

The problem with that is that while a great number of anti-choice advocates think that women decide to get abortions the same way they decide to get a manicure, they know that saying that they should be punished for getting one is way over the line.  Mr. Trump does not have a problem with blurting out whatever he says without thinking it through.  Thus this.

After the shit hit the fan yesterday afternoon, he reversed himself, releasing a statement saying that no, of course women shouldn’t be punished; how could you think I could ever say such a thing?

About the unfavorability rating: he may be as popular with the general electorate as a raging case of shingles, but among the primary base, he’ll still win.  In fact, this may even help him.  He thinks that translates into popularity among everyone.  He hasn’t thought that one through, either.

PS: Someone needs to explain to him how the Supreme Court works.

Short Takes

President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.

No charges filed in the Minneapolis shooting of an unarmed man by two police officers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina because of the recently-passed LGBT law.

Ice sheet forecast suggests disastrous sea level rise by 2100.

F.D.A. eases abortion pill access.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Rick Scott Hates Women

Well, yes, I know that’s a dramatic headline, but what other conclusion can you come to when you read this?

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed a law on Friday that cut state funding to clinics that perform abortions.

State funding of abortion was already prohibited in Florida, but the law signed by the Republican governor also cut off funding for preventive services at clinics that also provide abortions.

The law appeared to be aimed at Planned Parenthood, which said on Friday that it could mean the end of birth control, cancer screenings, tests for diseases and other services for thousands of low-income women in Florida.

The organization said in a statement that it serves more than 67,000 patients in the state each year, and that many of them rely on public funding to pay for their health care.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the new law seemed “designed to rip health care away from those most at risk.”

Mr. Scott signed the law along with 67 other bills addressing a variety of topics, including medical marijuana and the composition of a highway commission in Miami-Dade County.

But he did not specifically comment on the abortion law, which has been controversial. In a news release, his office tersely said it “revises regulations for licensed abortion clinics.” The law also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or for the clinic to have a transfer agreement there.

To be completely fair, Planned Parenthood does not limit its services exclusively to women.  It provides health services to men as well, and yes, men do need to avail themselves of breast cancer screening.  So to say that by signing a bill that takes away funding from Planned Parenthood is part of Mr. Scott’s hatred of women is unfair.  He apparently hates all poor people, regardless of gender.

The rule on admitting privileges is on the books in several other states, mostly notably Texas, where it is already under review by the Supreme Court.  The article does not say whether or not the Florida Legislature has allocated funds to pay the legal cost of the inevitable lawsuits that will arise out of this new law, but I’m sure that Gov. Scott will find some way to pay for it; probably by cutting more money from public education.

Thursday, March 3, 2016