Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce — It Didn’t Start With Trump.

Joe Biden kicked up a fuss the other day by saying something…un-smart. (Ex-tree! Ex-tree! Read allaboutit!) He suggested that the current president* is a historical one-off and that, once we are rid of him and have fumigated the White House thoroughly, the normal routine of governing the country will resume and everybody can have drinks with each other at the end of the day. If there is one issue that desperately needs litigating in the Democratic Party’s primary process it is this:

Resolved: this presidency* is the logical outcome of 40 years of modern conservatism and its effect on the Republican Party. If it wasn’t this guy, it would’ve been somebody else.

It is pointless for any Democratic candidate to run for any office without acknowledging this fact. We’ve been banging this tin drum around the shebeen here since it opened, but not enough people have embraced the truth of it. (An aside: I really like some of my Never Trump brethren, but they should go back to their own party and clean out the stables. During an election year, and especially during the Democratic primaries, as far as I’m concerned, they all can take a seat.) The problem is the party, and what it’s become.

The party is the problem, because of what it’s become—a vehicle for bigotry, religious fanaticism, rigged elections, retrograde social policies, renegade plutocracy, staggering wealth inequality, scientific ignorance, reflexive stupidity, violent populism, white supremacy, and a view of the American electorate that is all switch and no bait. (Did I miss anything?) Three times since 1981, the Republicans have produced a president who basically embodied all of these things, just to varying degrees. Ronald Reagan played fast and loose with the truth; is that business about trees causing air pollution really any nuttier than whatever it was that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago tweeted at 5 a.m. this morning? George W. Bush launched a war on false pretenses and made this a nation that tortures people and is proud of it. Is that any better than what’s going on at the border now? The question isn’t how the Republicans produced this particular disaster of a president*. The question is what took them so long.

And it is a root and branch thing, too. The federal judiciary is salted thick now with judges who will reinforce in the law all that is destructive in conservative politics. That Alabama state legislature that passed that horrific assault on women’s rights? You watch. At least two of those cats will be in Congress within the next decade. These people and these policies have something close to an unbreakable lock on the United States Senate. And there is no sign within the Republican power elite that anyone is willing or able to control what the party has become. There’s no Frankenstein, hauling his ass over the polar ice to chase down the monster that has escaped the lab.

The only possible way to change the Republican Party is to force it to answer for itself, over and over again. One of the biggest mistakes ever made in American politics, as the redoubtable Driftglass reminds us almost daily, was the Democratic Party’s blunder in letting the Republican Party off the hook for the various catastrophes wrought by the administration of C-Plus Augustus. Iraq, Katrina, and the Economic Collapse should have been hung around Republican necks in the same way, and for the same reasons, that Democratic politicians had to talk for 20 years about the mannequin the Republicans made out of George McGovern, whom Bobby Kennedy once called the most decent man in the Senate.

This cannot be allowed to happen again. If a Democrat is elected in 2020, that person should use all the powers of the office to demonstrate once and for all that the prion disease afflicting the Republicans now has reached terminal stage and that the GOP is a mad dog, snapping at phantoms in midair, and endangering the public health and welfare. Mitch McConnell should be made an object of anger and ridicule, and that work should come from the top. The mad dog is at the door.

Can A Fetus Get A Passport? — Carliss Chatman in the Washington Post speculates on the legal ramifications of granting a fetus full personhood.

Alabama has joined the growing number of states determined to overturn Roe v. Wade by banning abortion from conception forward. The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, as the new statute is called, subjects a doctor who performs an abortion to as many as 99 years in prison. The law, enacted Wednesday, has no exceptions for rape or incest. It redefines an “unborn child, child or person” as “a human being, specifically including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.”

We ought to take our laws seriously. Under the laws, people have all sorts of rights and protections. When a state grants full personhood to a fetus, should they not apply equally?

For example, should child support start at conception? Every state permits the custodial parent — who has primary physical custody of the child and is primarily responsible for his or her day-to-day care — to receive child support from the noncustodial parent. Since a fetus resides in its mother, and receives all nutrition and care from its mother’s body, the mother should be eligible for child support as soon as the fetus is declared a person — at conception in Alabama, at six weeks in states that declare personhood at a fetal heartbeat, at eight weeks in Missouri, which was on the way to passing its law on Friday, but at birth in states that have not banned abortion.

And what about deportation? Can a pregnant immigrant who conceived her child in the United States be expelled? Because doing so would require deporting a U.S. citizen. To determine the citizenship of a fetal person requires examination of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which declares, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The word “born” was not defined by the drafters. Presumably, they intended the standard dictionary definition: brought forth by birth. Our dates of birth are traditionally when our lives begin; we do not celebrate our dates of conception or the date of our sixth week in utero. But in states with abortion bans, “born” takes on new meaning. Now legislatures assign an arbitrary time during gestation to indicate when life, personhood and, presumably, the rights that accompany these statuses take hold. This grant of natural personhood at a point before birth brings application of the 14th Amendment into question and may thus give a fetus citizenship rights — but only in those states. There are no laws that allow the United States to deny citizenship rights to a natural-born citizen merely because they reside with, or in, a noncitizen.

Detaining any person without arraignment or trial violates the Constitution and international human rights laws. A fetus has not committed a crime, not been arraigned or charged, not weathered a trial by a jury of its peers, not had the opportunity to confront its accuser. These laws redefining personhood surely mean that a pregnant woman cannot be incarcerated, as doing so requires confining a second person without due process.

The Alabama state Senate passed the country’s most restrictive abortion legislation May 14 that could set a precedent for other legislative bodies.

If personhood begins in utero, a fetus will need a name and a Social Security number to begin exercising private rights and using public resources. A Social Security number is necessary to claim a child on taxes. It is also a requirement to act on behalf of a child privately, like opening a bank account, buying savings bonds or obtaining insurance coverage. Typically, parents apply for a Social Security number when they obtain a birth certificate, but if states declare that personhood begins at some earlier arbitrary point in time, they will need to provide evidence, perhaps through a life certificate, that this new person exists and resides in their state. Once the life is established, can a mother insure a six-week fetus and collect if she miscarries? Will the tax code be adjusted in these states to allow parents to claim their unborn children as dependents at conception? If so, can a woman who suffers more than one miscarriage in a fiscal year claim all of her children?

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires a census every 10 years to count all persons residing within the United States. If a fetus is granted personhood, it should be included in the count. The census currently asks about the age and date of birth of each household resident. Will it now include the date of conception in select states so that fetuses may be counted? There is the potential to unfairly skew census data and disproportionately apportion representatives and resources to those states.

These questions highlight the unintended and potentially absurd consequences of sweeping abortion bans. At the heart of the issue is how the 14th Amendment’s definitions of personhood and citizenship should be applied. States have been allowed to define the personhood of unnatural creatures — such as corporations — since very early in our nation’s history. In exchange for this freedom, states are not permitted to go back on their deal. In other words, once personhood rights are granted, a state may not deny life, liberty or property without due process, nor may a state deny equal protection under the law. States have never had the right to define the personhood of people. This was a subject — influenced either by place of birth or by complying with immigration and naturalization requirements — for the Constitution and federal law. State grants of natural personhood challenge this norm.

When states define natural personhood with the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, they are inadvertently creating a system with two-tiered fetal citizenship. This is because Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey create a federal floor for access to the right to choose — a rule that some ability to abort a fetus exists in the United States. If these cases are overturned, that eliminates only the federal right to abortion access. Overturning Roe would not prohibit a state from continuing to allow access. In a post-Roe world, in states like New York that ensure the right to choose through their constitutions and statutes, citizenship will begin at birth. In states that move the line to define life as beginning as early as conception, personhood and citizenship will begin as soon as a woman knows she is pregnant.

Trying to define citizenship and personhood based on the laws of each state creates some far-fetched and even ridiculous scenarios. If we follow that logic, we’ll tie our Constitution into a knot no court can untangle.

Doonesbury — House Rules.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Justice Roberts Has A Moment

From the Washington Post:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the Supreme Court’s liberals Thursday night to block a Louisiana law that opponents say would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave it with only one doctor eligible to perform the procedure.

The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.

This is not a ruling on the case itself.  It is just a block on the law taking effect while it works its way through the courts.  But it’s a hopeful sign that the hard-core right wing majority may not be so hard core and may not be a majority.

It’s interesting to note that Chief Justice Roberts has come down on the side of sanity in a few recent rulings, including keeping Obamacare intact.  That does not relieve him of the odious rulings he’s sided with such as the decimation of voting rights (“Racism?  What racism?”) in Shelby County v. Holder and the granting of First Amendment protections to a checkbook in Citizens United, nor his dissent on same-sex marriage, but this ruling, for now, indicates there may be some hopeful signs that he’s not a complete dick when it comes to basic constitutional protections.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Passing The Cynicism Test

The Senate was unable to pass the proposed ban on abortions after twenty weeks.

By a vote of 51 to 46, the measure fell well short of the 60-vote threshold required for the Senate to break a Democratic filibuster. The outcome was not a surprise, and the vote fell mostly along party lines.

The Senate voted on a similar measure in 2015. At that time three Democrats — Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted in favor of it. All three are up for re-election this year in states that Mr. Trump carried, and all of them voted in favor of the measure again on Monday. Two Republicans — Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted against it.

The bill, which has the strong backing of the Trump administration, is identical to one that passed the House in October and similar to legislation that has been adopted in 20 states. It would make nearly all abortions after 20 weeks illegal; anyone who performed the procedure could face a potential prison term of five years, fines or both, though exceptions could be made when the life of the mother was at risk, or in cases of rape or incest.

“To those who believe in this issue, we will be back for another day,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chief sponsor of the bill, said in advance of the vote. To his colleagues who supported the measure, he said: “You’re on the right side of history. You’re where America will be. It’s just a matter of time before we get there.”

The Senate floor debate offered supporters and opponents of abortion rights an opportunity to speak expansively about Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion — and they took it.

“Forty-five years after Roe v. Wade, abortions are safer today than getting your tonsils out,” declared Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. “A lot of women are alive today because of Roe.” She called the ban “part of a broad and sustained assault by Republican politicians on women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies.”

It’s no coincidence that the Republicans brought the bill to the Senate floor now, at the beginning of the campaign year for the mid-terms.  They wanted a sound bite for the ads they’re planning to run against Democrats defending their seats in red states such as Indiana and Missouri.

It’s no surprise whatsoever that the GOP would do it.  That’s not the issue.  What is the issue is that they would keep trying to exploit the people who are in the throes of making one of the most difficult decisions in their lives, if not the most personal and private, and hold it hostage to a political campaign.

But in the era of Trump, it’s to be expected.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

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