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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Another Shooting. Another Attack On Planned Parenthood.

This shooting is at least the fifth high-profile crime at a Planned Parenthood clinic since the release of the Center for Medical Progress’s undercover sting videos this July. In early September, a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington, was ruled to be an arson. A second arson at a clinic in Thousand Oaks, California, came one month later. Two other attempted arsons have taken place at a clinic in Aurora, Illinois, and at one under construction in New Orleans.
The events are still raw, thus I woke up today with reports of an additional death, but to assume it is related to abortion is not exactly a reach. As Irin Carmon notes, Colorado is both pretty pro-choice in respect to laws and a major focal point of battles.  The divisions in that state was also seen in the Romer v. Evans case, where local pro-gay policies were attacked by means of a state-wide referendum.  The battle over Planned Parenthood isn't new either as seen by this four year story that easily could have mostly been simply republished after the latest controversies.

Abortion along with other things for which it is but a part (e.g., women's equality) has long been a major political football, the book Linda Greenhouse co-authored arguing that it is wrong to blame Roe v. Wade in particular, especially since the effort started before the opinion was handed down.  Put aside that abortion is not the only area where rights are enforced by the courts, rightly so, and it results into political controversy.  Abortion has gone national yet again, the latest the let's be blunt, asinine controversy over fetal tissue. Again, nothing really new, as Lepore's piece noted in 2011: 
The fury over Planned Parenthood is two political passions—opposition to abortion and opposition to government programs for the poor—acting as one. So far, it has nearly led to the shutdown of the federal government, required Republican Presidential nominees to swear their fealty to the pro-life lobby, tied up legislatures and courts in more than half a dozen states, launched a congressional investigation, and helped cripple the Democratic Party. What’s next?
And, the issue has gone down to f-ing birth control.  In the past, multiple Presidents, including Republicans, supported birth control. Michelle Goldberg wrote a good book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, which covered some of the history here. George Bush (41) was a major supporter too.  This was in the age where being a pro-choice Republican wasn't such a courageous act.  Again, Lepore, who is one of the best popular historians of the day:
Before the mid-nineteen-sixties, birth control had largely been privately funded; clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood ran on donations, grants, and fees for service. “I cannot imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a proper political or governmental activity or function or responsibility,” Dwight Eisenhower said in 1959. “That’s not our business.” But by 1965, as concerns about overpopulation, worldwide, began to dominate policy debates, Eisenhower had reversed his position on family planning, serving with Harry Truman as co-chairman of a Planned Parenthood committee.
There is and must be some common ground here. There are ways to deal with women's health, unwanted pregnancies and other matters for which a strongly anti-abortion individual (use that term advisedly, since some might accept the choice) can find room for agreement with a pro-choice individual who accepts abortion as moral in various instances or simply thinks it is a woman's choice.  There is also a more minimal line in the fucking sand.  The line that opposes use of violence.  A co-pastor died here. That is just a blatant fu to religious people, akin to the doctor murdered in the vestibule of a church.  Is there no shame here?  No room to voice the horror of tactics even if abortion horrifies you?  Simply saying you are against violence isn't enough. We are for/against various things and blandly say that.  It's easy.  It is something else to firmly, strongly say something and show you mean it by act and deed. At some point, ENOUGH.

Those who support abortion rights can and must do more. For instance, when so much time is spent/wasted on fake controversies, even a special committee set up to let's admit it -- death makes one take the gloves off -- troll (some honest opposition is involved here too, but as the heroine in that Nigerian novel noted, even "good" motives doesn't cover the bad sometimes), what about some effort to deal with clinic violence and related issues?  Equal time at least would seem warranted.  To show some that anti-abortion isn't just -- and I don't think it is though it's infected by it -- anti-women hypocritical actions infused with a retrogressive religious belief.

We will never totally stop the unhinged in this country but there are things we can do. Each incident like this also brings to the fore the issue of guns. What more regulation can do here will be a matter of seeing all the details, but as in other areas, there is an overall effect here. Each action, like each action of our lives, need not directly do something.  But, in some fashion they can matter.  Careful responses (see, e.g., the House bill after the Paris bombings regarding Syrian refugees) should be the name of the game in the promotion of all policies, even ones "we" think good ones.  Nonetheless, enough with this lame need for specificity, as if unless something clearly would have stopped "x," it is pointless.


The below is part of the whole thing here, since I think it is representative of a wider issue, but tack it on at the end here since it might seem personal. The personal provides our direct reactions to things that touch upon wider issues and should not be unduly belittled.  I do remain a bit wary about such things and try to not cite personal examples in my discussions.  This is partially out of privacy, but also since it is somewhat limiting.

I recently noted (in response to this article) that in the battle of two anti-choice candidates in Louisianan, a lesser evil might be the end result.  For instance, noted (as did Mother Jones, after he won) how Edwards supports Medicaid expansion.  He also is better than Vitter (yeah that guy) in other ways. Ann Northrup on Gay USA, after her co-host Andy Humm noted he won and noted the Medicaid issue, simply noted in an "of course" tone agreeing he would be better. Someone was upset though -- she seemed to think I selectively wanted women to settle here though I over and over again tried to show (1) as I do loads of times at the blog, support abortion rights (2) the basic concept of lesser evil and how it applies to everyone.

Not listening, it was a lost cause, even when I tried (but for some reason why I was asking was apparently mysterious) to suggest a hypo pre-Roe v. Wade where both candidates often were against abortion.  Someone who is usually supportive of me argued that I was somehow selectively using examples that burdened women (multiple cites to gay men, e.g., or how Medicaid expansion helps women to no avail) particularly since abortion only "affected women."  At some point, a tad pissed off, I added that when a man's daughter is denied rights here being argued to be the most important of them all ("bodily autonomy" in general now not as core as women's autonomy, I guess).  The person did not apologize or say "I understand what you are saying but" ... she is left wondering how I can say gays might themselves suffer in ways lesbians do not. IOW, this is the only case where women particularly are harmed at this level. 

One of the articles cited above noted: "Alan Guttmacher had watched a woman die of a botched abortion, and had never forgotten it." It deeply affected him and he felt it was his life's work to address such issues.  Men died yesterday. When a girl or women doesn't have an abortion she might otherwise choose to have, men are affected.  They for one thing become fathers of children who are born and out in the world.  It is patently obvious that abortion specifically affects females and some other matter affects some other group.  But, doesn't just affect them. 

Among other things, this mind-set is tragic, in part since it helps promote what the people hate -- an idea that something is really important to only "them," and "them" might be a bigger group than some might wish to think. RBG, for instance, has noted that abortion rights are particularly a class issue.  Limits particularly harm those without the means. So, even those who might need an abortion at some point (not covering all women) might belittle the importance of this issue. Fill in the blank there too.

This goes back to the lesser evil thing. Anti-choice rhetoric, for instance, is threatening in various respects.  But, there are degrees there, just as there are in anything of great importance.  Sometimes, the best we can do is limit the damage.  So, when anti-choice individuals and group in some serious way strongly oppose violence, it matters.  Some will sneer.  They will (rightly) think these people are still doing a lot of harm.  But, we do not live in utopia.  Limited advancements are still advancements and some strange bedfellows will be in place.

And, some bare minimum here is very important. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Christmas Display Litigation Season Begins

Some time back, I started to read Supreme Court cases (now lower court cases are easy to access too) regarding holiday displays and have done so here as wellTen Commandments monuments and other displays also have been a long term matter of court dispute.  These are more blatant in a fashion, especially compared to holiday displays that try to include a range of religious symbols or water down the one (creche) with wishing wells and other stuff.  This is part of a range of things that might broadly be deemed "ceremonial deism" in some fashion along with national days of prayer, "God We Trust" on currency or in court rooms and so on.

I try to keep perceptive here that there are more serious concerns among matters of religious dispute, including burdening people's access to health care or marriage licenses that are the same as those of everyone else because of the religious views of some people.  Also, we have ISIS, an international example of a group giving "religion" a bad name. And, the term is used advisedly, since this discussion is correct.  There is a link there to President Obama saying that no religion "condones the killing of innocents."  Have you checked your history, Mr. President.  If you want people not to denigrate Islam or religion for extremists who self-represent as Islam, fine.  But, let's not have Presidents try to define "Islam" or "religion,' especially not in such a naive fashion.

But, every dispute is not of grand importance, and smaller ones can touch on major issues.  Denying someone the right to read some "trashy" book is a big deal, even if it is only a matter of keeping out of the local library, the person able to get it various other ways.  It's topical anyways since Thanksgiving is addressed in cases like Lynch v. Donnelly, including the dissent separating its religious and secular components, and the plurality opinion in the next major case noting that over our history, some Thanksgiving proclamations (which Madison and Jefferson deemed a problem, but then I'm not for appealing to history as much as some originalists) were blatantly sectarian in nature.

[Talking about Thanksgiving, some point out the whole pardoning the turkey deal -- cue appropriate West Wing scene -- is moronic, and insulting really given how few people are pardoned these days. I think one can argue that the President has helped prisoners in various ways, including in respect to getting them out of prison, but the argument has bite.  Would not take it that seriously though -- there are going to be stupid rituals.  So, use them to do something productive such as addressing human prisoners. 

Another topical issue (three football games now on Thanksgiving) would be the rather lame idea that its name led to officials being tougher on the Washington Redskins.  Whatever it takes to change the damn name, I guess. Finally, there are various ways to enjoy the holiday without eating animal products. Many already don't really do the whole turkey deal and personally back in the day pre-vegetarianism, I preferred chicken. Some chicken substitutes actually are rather tasty, but no, this is not merely a matter of Tofurky. There are range of foods for thanks giving meals.]

The most important thing here is to respect religious diversity in this country, which leads to what some might think of as lame but still praiseworthy attempts to cover various bases in public schools or other public celebrations of the holiday season. The courts continue, after all, to be more sensitive when young children are involved, and various Jewish children in the past had let's say at best mixed feelings regarding school Christmas pageants and the like. Take a basic thing. Saying "Happy Holidays" is ridiculed as anti-Christian, when it really amounts to a reasonable approach to cover everyone.  Some celebrate Christmas in some fashion or don't care, but they shouldn't care either if you say "Happy Holidays." Note too the inclusive presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving as to compared to more religious ones of the past.

Thus, the most troublesome cases is where one holiday or religious symbol (like one form of the Ten Commandments) are publicly endorsed by the government or even by some major employer (if not a First Amendment issue, respecting religious liberty in other contexts still is important) is some blatant fashion.  This includes celebrating the holidays of some majority group and not even in some fashion recognizing those of other faiths.  Now, religious diversity (e.g., the whole "Judaeo-Christian" deal) can have its own issues. But, even-handedness is generally better than one-sided endorsement. Basic respect is not really a trivial thing.

Litigation can seem to be about trivial things. Thus, we have holiday displays that have a creche, which is a representation of the miraculous version of Jesus' birth. The difference in a fashion between Jesus and Jesus Christ, Christ not just being his last name. Notice, e.g., the presence of an angel in the linked example. To many, the creche might just seem a relatively bland symbol of Christmas, a holiday many (hey, me included) celebrate without believing in the whole affair.  But, public endorsement of religious symbols is touchy.  It is not too surprising minor differences led to great disputes, down to Catholic schoolchildren being hit for refusing to use Protestant Bibles.  Minor or not, this is a type of "establishment" of religion, favoring one form over another.  Shouldn't be a majority rules either.  The fact so many are Christian as compared to Jewish or Christian of the type that might actually oppose use of such symbols (there is also division among Jews regarding the menorah) shouldn't determine things.

The cases ultimately split depending on how blatant the display involved. A creche in a wider display without some special governmental connection or blatant intent to promote religion allowed, a freestanding creche in a key government location not.  This was a close call, 5-4, with four justices annoyed the creche was not allowed both times, four would have denied the creche both times and three others upset a menorah (and even a Christmas tree in a display of religious symbols) was allowed as a representation of religious diversity. And, given the changing membership of the Court, the staying power of this rule is somewhat unclear. Justice Kennedy would have allowed the creche and generally supports public displays, except for something blatant like a permanent cross on top of City Hall.  Likewise, as part of an open public forum, especially if a notice is present that no governemnt endorsement is present, a freestanding creche or cross or menorah can be left alone on public land.

I'm inclined to follow Justice Stevens' rule, which very well have at best one vote* on the current Court, that "The Establishment Clause should be construed to create a strong presumption against the installation of unattended religious symbols on public property." Leave religious symbols, putting aside things like museum showings and such, to private parties.  There are ways to acknowledge holidays with religious components without using symbols that many deem holy.  I realize there might be hard line drawing issues there, but as a basic rule, it seems sensible.  It is not the current federal constitutional rule, but good policy is not always a clear demand that is enforced in the federal courts.

Local areas should at least have the option of having a special rule here as applied to public fora. The only way to avoid allowing unattended symbols here would be a general ban. This might work in some cases, but in others, it would make sense to allow some unattended displays. The same applies in other contexts. A public college might want to fund all college club newspapers, but funding a religious publication is not the same thing since required funding of religion is a specific wrong religious liberty should avoid, granting some hazy lines.  Not according to current precedent. This leads to some controversy when some group pushes for equal time, the ultimate case the Supreme Court decided involving a KKK group wanting to include an unattended cross if menorah was allowed. And, perhaps some Pastarfarian or whatever group wants their symbol included when a locality sets up a holiday display with other symbols.  Again, the government generally has broad speech powers, but when religion is involved, it isn't quite the same. 

This would also counsel against freestanding displays on public land that people reasonably associate with the public in general.  A religious event in a public park can be associated with the parties involved.  A big creche, even with some disclaimer many won't see or be able to read unless they go up close, in a park reasonably might be deemed a public message.  The Establishment Clause makes religious displays a bit different than other types of expression, governmental endorsement selectively of concern.  This goes both ways -- the First Amendment specifically respects religious beliefs by protecting free exercise of religion; non-establishment also does so by equally not favoring some over others.  At least somewhat more care is warranted.

Such a clear line might not be present in various cases, but the power of symbols and the importance of holidays again warrants special care. Everyone is not likely to be happy -- I recall Nat Hentoff once being concerned about use of a Christmas tree in a public school or library some such.  It was after all a "Christmas" tree ... was there a Hanukkah bush available?  I personally think a Christmas (and the very word) tree often has a secular connotation at this point, but hey, grew up Catholic, so biased, right?  Still, cliche or platitude it might be, some common sense and basic respect for fairness and even-handedness can be useful here.  This includes public officials taking notice of the diverse celebrations around this time of year, Christmas itself but a late Christian form of longstanding end of year celebrations.

Context ultimately matters here and again recognize there are degrees. I don't think holiday displays are quite as "passive" as some make them out to be in these cases, especially when there are various degrees of governmental involvement.  And, a "passive" sign that says "In Jesus We Trust" would not be allowed.  It still is not as bad as some other things, especially when part of displays that do honor various holidays (though there is a tendency to favor some here, thus "Christmas" season brings in other holidays, holidays that might be relatively minor to the religions).  Plus, there are ways to show basic fairness.  Happy holidays!


* Justice Breyer was okay with a disclaimer, Ginsburg was concerned with the flimsy nature of the disclaimer and Sotomayor once joined a dissent regarding a cross display.  Kagan had a good dissent in an invocation case involving a public meeting, but separated it from legislative prayers generally.  Inclined to think she would at best be a vote for endorsement concerns, not Stevens' strict rule.  She argued the cross case for the government but that isn't really determinative.  So, who knows.

BTW, the video is not exactly supportive of my p.o.v., but is a good representation of some people's ideas about the question. Concern for certain particularly religious symbols and so forth is anti-Christmas etc.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Christmas Before Thanksgiving?

A bombing plot led Supergirl's Thanksgiving episode to be pushed back from this week. But, one week early is pretty on time as these things go. Meanwhile, a special Young & Hungry Christmas episode was on earlier tonight. The main show is its hiatus now. Anyways, the episode was pretty lame, the only notable thing was two recognizable faces as guest stars.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Brown v. Board of Education

I spoke about this case (cases really) earlier in the month after reading the oral argument transcripts of the first two arguments; there also was a third for Brown II: Relief.  Noted that I might have some more to add and do have a few things. (One thing to add as well: taped oral arguments available at Oyez.com start sometime early in the Warren years. Chief Justice Warren has this voice that really adds authority as he opens the argument.)

The episode seemed to need to cover too much material in the time period and if anything did so with what seemed like a bit more time for calls than before. I say "seem" because maybe it was the same time but the span of time and material covered in a compressed time was a bit telling in this case. The episode had some clips with Linda Brown and Thurgood Marshall as well as something on the famous doll studies plus some photos used as exhibits in one case. But, I think it could have used a bit more in the video segments on the original plaintiffs.

I think it would have helped too if it was clearly noted that even John Harlan himself separated social and civil equality, putting public school integration in the first category.  One of the guests noted that the ruling showed Harlan as a prophet, but this was someone that not only wrote an opinion a few years after Plessy that upheld segregated schools but didn't even honestly uphold the "equal" part of separate and equal.  This is a case where the seemingly absolutist words of the Constitution are a bit less so, which is generally true, but a particular learning experience here.

(The guests did agree that Plessy reflected the times as compared to leading them -- the acceptance of segregation already long in place by that point. This recognition of the times a case is decided in is important as compared to an ahistorical treatment that relied on principle alone. Again, as Justice Souter noted in his Harvard address, the justices at the time probably thought their rule sensible and an advancement of the state of the law they grew up experiencing. After all, as applied to schools, even Justice Harlan accepted the rule that ultimately was seen as obviously wrong.)

It was also noted that it was Frankfurter's idea to use "all deliberate speed." He would be a logical person, especially after the death of Robert Jackson, to promote such a conservative go it slow approach. Still, reading the oral arguments, the Eisenhower Administration itself  referenced that very concept when discussing proper remedies.  The government's brief was also influential in the opinion's statement that original understanding was not conclusive one way or another - basically the re-argument was a useful delaying mechanism, the issue of remedy (part of the questions presented) to be re-argued in Brown II given now the parties knew the outcome.

One more thing that comes to mind was a reference to Parents Involved, including a quote from Chief Justice Roberts plurality opinion. They could have used a clip from the opinion announcement to use his own voice.  C-SPAN was perhaps too polite to note that his appeal to Brown was a tad ironic since Thurgood Marshall himself supported race based affirmative action of the sort rejected here.  He did not write the opinion, of course, but seems his views would be a tad notable. It also shows how later generations can interpret things differently. Using the opinion to reject race based affirmative action is not quite as much of a stretch as appealing to original understanding to oppose school segregation, but this passage from Brown has bite here too:
This discussion and our own investigation convince us that, although these sources cast some light, it is not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced. At best, they are inconclusive.
Thus, the 4-1-4 ruling. Harder questions these days, I guess.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pennies Are Pretty Pointless

I agree with John Oliver that pennies really should not be still a thing. Just round off. Can even use the extra for some good cause. Think new Muppets show is at least okay, so that not a great shot. And, do pick up pennies, in part to avoid getting back more when something is like thirty-one cents or whatever. And, dogs can eat other coins too. But, no segment bats 1.000. The ability to reject pennies is true but not limited to them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States

This is an interesting and powerful edited version of personal writings of Gordon Hirabayashi, who challenged the curfew and removal order of Japanese as a loyal citizen of the U.S. and man inspired basically by a Quaker faith. His view from inside of prison is particularly powerful. Gets a bit repetitive late, after we get the gist of his sentiments. It ends with a personal summary of his later work and overturning of the convictions.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jane the Virgin

I caught the first two episodes of this takeoff of telenovelas and can see how it has addictive qualities. Darn the lead is hot. Plus, she's actually over 30. So it's okay.