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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Road to 70 Hits A Snag

Great effort K-Rod! First time since the early 60s where the team lost a series, natch were swept, to a team with over 100 losses. I have a feeling that this is more an act of shooting the messenger on Afghanistan than anything else. Shame really.

Your U.S. Supreme Court

New cases taken include applying gun rights to the states. Meanwhile, the original plurality winners won in yesterday's runoff. How about instant run-off voting? Over ten million dollars could have been saved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Road to 70 Wins?

As the Twins and Braves keep two races alive, the Mets had another pathetic loss, though this time such a loss to the Nats matters little.

Health Care Again

And Also: The blog is getting too crowded and Paul Campos has too many just plain awful comments, but Scott again provides a reason to go to LGM (if there are more than three involved, even the name no longer works!) ... anti-child rape defense edition. OTOH, recently TalkLeft specifically RIP-ed someone involved in the murder of his wife. Absurd.

Roads, schools and universities, sewers, police, fire departments, libraries, weather reporting, parks, science and medical research, courts to process criminal and civil issues, hospitals and emergency rooms, power, drinkable water, worker safety laws, food safety, irrigation systems, public records, emergency aid, social security, disability insurance, veteran's care, student loans, natural resource protections, farm aid, investments in technology, bank deposit insurance, animal control, disease and poison control, disaster relief, building codes, product safety, patent protection, flood control, space exploration.

-- Things Your Taxes Pay For (comment)

A few Democrats of one committee of one body of Congress voted with the Republicans against the public option, two versions. Four of five committees support it. But, a few conservative Democrats refuse to join with their party and the majority of the public to vote for sanity. So be it. Get the damn thing out of the damn committee, and let's see if these same Dems will join with the Republicans to block health care writ large. For what does government do for us to trust it, anyway? It after all allows people like you to the party.
[T]he problem that health care reform was meant to solve is not that costs are too high, but that millions of Americans lack health insurance. You know, health care is a right, middle class security, dynamic economy and competitiveness, etc.

An interesting argument that too much wonk is self-defeating can be found here. We now have the absurd debate going on about "mandated" health insurance ... in fact, some argue it is unconstitutional. The fools errand of bipartisanship (well, it did work above ... the wrong way) has been shown. The use of a means as an end itself has its limitations. So is focusing on costs or details, and now putting forth the bottom line -- health care is a right. People basically think of it that way already. It is like time old privileges and immunities of Englishmen that in time were seen as basic rights, rights that amounted to self-evident truths. Even if the details might be tricky.

This has to be kept as a basic sentiment here. Oh, the need for a sound economic system will help, and will help convince those whose insurance is not at risk or who might have some sort of doubts on the right side. Governmental power alone provides too much flexibility really, talk of ideal policy in a tone that in effect damns it to defeat even (sigh) though it's a good idea with majority support. Still, pragmatics often help the cause. But, the basic justice of it has special force. We have to pay for the services cited above -- we cannot "opt out," even if we might not need one or the other thing. And, we also realize that even if we might not, others will, and how they go, we as a nation go. We are in this together. Not that some Dems appear to care.

I don't know what the final bill will amount to, so I do not talk of details as such here. Oh, some like to pretend as there are clear lines of what "Obamacare" (as if it was his bill, as if he was Congress) will be. But, the wonkish details are not as important as the basics. Still, this talk of mandates is b.s. From my understanding, the idea appears to be that if you don't get insurance, you need to pay a tax. SFW!!! It is absurd that people have problems with this. Any number of things, let's say environmentally ideal homes, provide tax breaks. Why is having health insurance, particularly when even those who cannot pay still have a legal right to basic care, so different? Still, if health care was simply a right, like police services, we would think nothing of charging people. Even if they aren't themselves robbed. Are those services above pro rata? Or, is it no substitutions?

People argue you need not have car insurance since you don't need a car, ignoring all for which it is a necessity, the remainder who pay for the insurance of those who drive to provide them various goods and services. But, push come to shove, I bet few really are against mandatory car insurance, even if they realize a majority find a car a necessity. It is not seen as a burden as such, but a logical path, a means to provide a public good -- safety from uninsured drivers. Why is health care, ever so more basic to our well being, so understood by so many sane nations, different? Yes, unprincipled hackery helps.

Well, Detroit won and the Jets are 3-0. Life is full with possibilities with the right approach.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The So-Called "So-Called Right of Privacy"

And Also: Detroit won for the first time since 2007, but the blackout policy (didn't sell out; wonder why) meant that the heavily unemployed locals could not watch it on regular television. The Jets had to meet some adversity to win their game. This is good overall. The NFL are assholes on this, overall.

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

-- Lawrence v. Texas

The "right to privacy" is a much maligned one, even for many supporters of the ground covered. Jamal Greene joined the club ("The So-Called Right to Privacy"), while noting it is no more, the protections subsumed now under the "liberty" aspect of the Due Process Clause. This, so it is argued, provides it with a more text based hook and "Privacy was never an apt moniker for the rights they have characteristically sought to protect." Thus, we are told:
When Warren and Brandeis wrote of a right to privacy in their 1890 article, they had in mind civil suits against gossip-mongers and paparazzi, not constitutional defenses against abortion prosecutions.

Brandeis decades later constitutionalized the right in his famous Olmstead v. U.S. dissent, a dissent not cited at all in the article here. This is particularly shoddy, but in spirit not totally out of character of efforts like these. As Glenn Greenwald might say, thus this discussion is not necessarily meant to target one particular person, but a general theme. If one reads the beginning of the law review article, we see a germ of an idea that goes long beyond gossip-mongers, even if that is the specific concern. One does not have to read much, since the first paragraph includes this broad principle:
Gradually the scope of these legal rights broadened; and now the right to life has come to mean the right to enjoy life, -- the right to be let alone; the right to liberty secures the exercise of extensive civil privileges; and the term "property" has grown to comprise every form of possession -- intangible, as well as tangible.

Similarly, as cited in Roe, such common law civil rights applied in a case involving a tort claim where refusal to search a woman's body was upheld. Again, not cited here. Much easier to get to a desired end when matters that hurt your case are ignored or glided over. OTOH, this makes it harder to take the argument as seriously. So it goes. Thus, we jump to Griswold, as if no previous case spoke of privacy [links found therein notwithstanding] and told "Privacy protected by the Bill of Rights, Justice Douglas seemed to say in, but not in so many words." This as if there is some deduction required by "Various guarantees [of the Bill of Rights] create zones of privacy."

It is admitted that there was a certain "common-sense" connection to the marital bedroom and "privacy" but that the right (as found in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, though the opinion went beyond them) was of a limited nature to bar evidence, and was of "no use to individuals seeking to avoid the reach of the criminal law altogether." This is where it's useful to remember that Griswold did not shoot out like Athena from Zeus' head. For instance, as cited in Griswold, there were cases involving criminal laws covering associations, where privacy was secured. The activity as a whole, not solely evidence blocked from prosecution. But, the two are connected: the need for special checks to invade privacy inherently means there is something protected.

The privacy right is not absolute. So, the "altogether" is an exaggeration as well. We are told that Roe was a problem since privacy does not seem to "bear the weight of justification for an exemption from abortion restrictions." Why exactly? It helps to just assume a conclusion without actually defending it -- "preserving potential human life is spectacularly weighty." Thus, it "seems" remarkable that the right to privacy as applied here does not only outweigh that interest, but "reject it altogether." Why is the right to potential life at say one week "spectacularly weighty" vis-a-vis privacy? Since the right to choose an abortion is far from absolute, when is it rejected altogether? Is the right of a woman's health "weighty" enough to override?

We are then told that a stream of cases after Roe extending liberty rights avoided the term "privacy" as such. This is fair enough, but they repeatedly tend to cover similar ground. Thus, Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur (forced maternity leave) spoke of "a right to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion." Moore v. City of East Cleveland (expansive definition of "family") spoke of "freedom of personal choice" and "a private realm of family life" (citing a 1944 case; the message is that Griswold is sort of disfavored, but perhaps it should be that it was firmly grounded). If we jump ahead, we can also include Lawrence here. Justice Harlan's Poe v. Ullman dissent is also well cited; it too singled out the "privacy of the home" and the "most intimate of all personal relationships."

Use of language like "unwarranted government intrusions" might appease those who think the "right to privacy" is tainted, but what exactly does "privacy" mean if not that? It is telling that the majority of Lawrence cites Stevens' dissent over Blackmun's, but then who remains on the Court? Stevens rephrased things: "the individual's right to make certain unusually important decisions that will affect his own, or his family's, destiny." What sort of important decisions? Stevens says it himself in his Bowers dissent -- "private conduct." Public life leads to some important decisions too; but, private/intimate ones are of special importance, a special sphere often outside the power of the state.

It is often argued that "private" is confusing since various rights under its rubric seem pretty public. What is "public" overall about deciding whether or not to have a child? Modern life pushed the state more into such intimate matters, true enough, but that just underlines the importance of more protection of the right to privacy. Louis Brandeis knew that well, using the common law -- which develops with the needs of time -- to help countermand both private and public use of modern tools that invade such privacy. This is also seen in end of life decisions.

This applies as well to the lower court ruling where Judge Stevens cited his understanding of "privacy" as quoted above. Greene argued it was "profoundly weird" for the privacy right found in Griswold et. al. to apply -- it involved a couple who wanted the father present at the birth of his child at a public hospital. But, Stevens noting that their claim (which failed 2-1, via his own opinion) was not the "same privacy" cited in Brandeis' law review article does not mean it did not make sense. Once upon a time, the birth would be a private act at home. The act still retains a private aspect, just like a patient should have some right to choose who visits him/her in a hospital. Brandeis/Warren did not oppose people seeing pictures of their weddings ... they wanted to have some control over it all the same.

It is noted that the "liberty" interest also is hooked up with the right to equality. The "right to privacy" is cited as a species of "liberty" at any rate -- rights applied against the state such as this are secured by the Due Process Clause. Roe explicitly said as much, not using the "penumbra" approach of Griswold. Ironically, as noted by the article, the latter approach provided an arguably narrower path. "Liberty" is a broad, open-ended term. Privacy or whatever provides a way to apply it to a certain area. How is the new path more text based? If anything, the charm (?) is that it is more open-ended now. And, liberty has to be applied in an equitable matter, and often certain groups benefit in particular.

I'm not sure how "privacy" hurts the cause as such, especially since the language used in the opinions tend to use related words or terms. If gender equality (not developed as such at the time of Roe) is a better fit, so be it, but use of gender liberty rights over gender privacy is helpful, how? It might be that the right to privacy was not adequately discussed early on, the right therefore got a bad reputation, and different words are a better fit in practice. This might fit pragmatically, but let's not use that to ignore the substantive differences are somewhat thin. Justice Scalia suddenly is not convinced; a "compelling state [public] interest" suddenly does not disappear if different language is used. Complaints about arbitrary line drawing or slippery slopes remain.

And, "private" is used to cover ground that is not totally private all the time, and the word is not suddenly deemed absurd. Private life is much regulated; is it not "private" any more? [Well, okay, don't answer that.] We speak of "private" choices like who to marry or who to invite to your wedding, even if the public knows who you wed and the event itself might take place in a public locale. Critics can always say abortion choices are not really "intimate" or "personal liberties" since a third party is involved. The article does not say there is no privacy right at all, including tort related. But, the criticisms can apply there too. So, no "private property" since it is fill with public involvement. Sounds a bit absurd.

The "right to privacy" is used against various groups, e.g., in the area of funding of abortion. That is, the choice is protected, but public funding would be different. But, Stevens' acceptance of this path in various respects underlines "liberty" does not help that much in this respect. The problem is that the state is acting inequitably here. It is selectively funding certain private choices -- to have the child over having an abortion. And, "private" again is robbed of much meaning at all if government involvement suddenly makes an act or place totally "public." To the degree the word is misconstrued, it is writ large, not just in this specific context. Cf. the long practice of not targeting marital rape -- doing so doesn't suddenly mean the bedroom is public.

I think "privacy" contains a certain core quality that retains its value, even if different terms are used such as "personal autonomy" or so forth. If it has a negative connotation, fine, but the cases and discussion continue to cite the principle in so many words all the same. Thus, Lawrence focused on the intimate matter at hand, saying various more matters of public concern (e.g., prostitution, economic matters treated differently) were not involved. Before ending with a basic living constitutional approach, the opinion ended its discussion of the matter at hand thus:
The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.

Privacy seems not quite dead yet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Games pushed back for the Jewish holiday, four NY (NY/NJ) teams played at the same time this afternoon, all winning. The Jets and Yanks (clinched) had a bit more trouble, while the Mets had a complete game (!) and the Giants a shutout. Oh, the Lions won.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blood That Cries Out From the Earth

And Also: Rachel Maddow had another piece on the hypocrisy of the efforts against ACORN and a taste of why can be found here by someone who has acted against a real problem, contractors run amuck. This includes real allegations of child sex rings.

Blood That Cries Out From the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism by James W. Jones is an interesting discussion, the link providing a couple essays that provides its core aspects in short essay form. I really liked the first couple chapters that provides a summary of religious terrorism after a personal statement from the author. He is not just an expert in religion, one who has done casework with those in prison, but who had an eyewitness view of 9/11. This adds force to such comments as:
Understanding an action in no way means excusing it; explaining an action in no way means condoning it. ...

Must we resort to the same tactic [demonization of the other] -- which is so costly psychologically and spiritually -- in order to oppose terrorism? Or can we counter religiously motivated terrorism without becoming like them?

Noting that both words are so disputed that it results in a situation of "combining the unknown with the obscure," the author does provide a thumbnail definition of "religious terrorism" -- use of violence, often in symbolic but deadly actions, in the service of sacred goals or values. The author is careful to note that terrorism is a complex matter (involving psychology, politics, economics, religion, and culture) that should not be examined in a simplistic matter. A summary:

[1] Profound experiences of shame and humiliation from outside or inside group [stunted childhood development discussed as one aspect here ... failure to form a realistic perspective of the world]

[2] Splitting of humanity into black/white camps, demonizing other/"social death"

[3] Wrathful, punitive idealized deity or leader (self or other demonized to encourage this) ... see John Dean on authoritarian personality?

[4] Conviction that purification is needed / shedding of blood ... sacrifice

[5] Fascination of violence [Left Behind series discussed]

Three case models are provided: Islamic terrorism, Aum Shinrikyo (thus Buddhism also has violent tendencies), and American Apocalyptic Christianity (a somewhat disconcerting discussion of how this influenced Bush policy is included here; it seems somewhat out of place). A somewhat tedious psychological discussion of how stunted development can lead to a terrorist mind-set follows. The book does underline early that the terrorist is not a monster, but are quite ordinary when looked upon from afar. And, the conclusion argues that a different view of religion, focusing on peace, non-violence,* not a stereotypical view of others and ultimately "tolerating ambiguity."

After all, terrorism, an acceptance of "social death" necessary for the violence involved, requires a self-assurance that ultimately can be deemed blasphemy -- a belief that imperfect humans can know the divine enough to justify such a path.


* For instance, the Hebrew prophets often denounced use of sacrifice, a type of scapegoating which terrorism is but an exaggerated form of, used over good works. Also, "Islam" means "peace" ... but notice how close that is to "Shalom" and "Jerusalem" (City of Peace).

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Yoo" Is Finally Brought To Trial

Not a big fan of Law & Order ... tired of its standard plot and snide defense attorneys, but Glenn Greenwald recommended the season premiere (having serious dramas at 8 with Jay Leno on at 10 seems a bit off). It finds a way to bring a Bushie to trial for torture, and it was pretty good. It should have noted "enemy combatants" are on the say-so of the executive though. Innocents were tortured.


ACORN: The ACORN framing report cited by Rachel Maddow can be found here. Discussion over at Slate is interesting too. Some note the actors are obviously fake, so the people involved might have seen it as some sort of test to show they kept the details private. Or, that people realized when dealing with people from the streets the best way was to humor them. Fair enough, but even playing acting respecting teen sex slavery, particularly when you get tax dollars and a lot of bad press, is simply stupid. But, yes, the clowns were not "reporting," since they only selectively provided information. For instance, they did not note the number of times they were kicked out.

Twins: An interesting medical novelty points to the fact that birth, not conception, matters in the eyes of the law. Also, the trickiness of definitions is shown in another way: they are "twins," since it's one pregnancy and one birth. I don't know how far to take this, but it does make me think of various reproductive choice questions. "Contraceptives" including those that stop implantation etc. Strict following of definitions without context will lead you to a brick wall at times.

The Good Wife: Rory Gilmore's last boyfriend, a rich schmuck, is the young nemesis on The Good Wife. Well, at least, a lead character isn't dating him. He's also in a gross out movie. A lot of schmukc roles out there, I guess. Anyway, as I noted, that show might have predictable legal moves (first off, she discovers hidden evidence to get her client off, showing her chops -- how realistic!). But, there are signs of good character interaction, including a quick scene with her son. Character also balances out the suspect legal moves in Drop Dead Diva.

Tiresome: A PSA for breast cancer awareness uses a sexy babe to remind that those who like them should care about that issue. This tedious knee-jerk post, unfortunately a strand seen there at times, translates this to mean: "[b]ecause the only way to get people to care about women dying of breast cancer is to remind them that tits are stake." As a few in the comments note, no, it means that for some that could help.*


* The blog is sex friendly, but when an ad uses sex to promote a good cause, suddenly it's all sexism alert!!!! Similarly, a post a few months back was horrified that a woman was fired because she wouldn't wear a far from overly sexy uniform to be a barmaid. Sex friendly at times requires a bit more perspective.

BTW, that blog (as with TPM) has one of those annoying comment streams where I have problems signing in. But, I comment enough places, I guess.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ken Burns

A good review of Ken Burns' (he's all over ... saw him on Dave, he's on Rachel Maddow tonight) new documentary hits to the charms and problems:
America's redwood forests are not private play areas or profit centers for aristocrats and entrepreneurs. Here, everyone can drive or walk in. It's the essence of democracy, declares Burns, and he's right.

Working from that premise, he creates a masterful historic document, a vivid portrait of the land set against the stories of those who worked to acquire it and then protect it against those who still would dismantle or compromise it.

But the series, which runs through next Sunday, also plays like a video Ph.D. thesis. It's full of poetic ruminations by distinguished historians and rhapsodic odes to ancient Sequoias that were growing before the time of Christ.

It feels, too often, like a lecture at a very proper institution where the class is expected to maintain reverential decorum.

I can say the same about Michael Moore, who also is all over (Democracy Now!, Larry King, Keith Olbermann, etc.) ... he fights the good fight, but I don't quite like his m.o. -- sort of the fat man making a stink approach. As I recall, someone once compared his display at an Academy Awards ceremony as compared to a more restrained comment by another person there.

A full reporting on ACORN would be nice

And Also: Accidental pregnancy via a one nighter with someone much younger with few prospects? Abortion might come to mind as a possibility. Maybe not on television. More on The Good Wife with your Gilmore Girls connections. The first episode, a bit ironic given the Law & Order cast connection, showed a good defense attorney need not be a seedy sort.

An actually useful report on ACORN would be a magazine level piece that discusses the organization, its history & goals, how successful they have been, and in this context also cover its flaws and problems. And, put it in context -- that is, government funding? How much as compared to others? This would be an honest and productive path while the skewered reporting now, driven by controversy based on politics, is not how journalism should work. [Rachel Maddow's segment tonight, perhaps the first of several, was a start in the right direction.]

The slapdash job of reporting, for some reason promoted by Jack Shafer, is akin to reporting on the Catholic Church by focusing on its child molestation charges, efforts by certain Catholic groups to promote controversial political causes, and largely ignore the rest. And, this for an institution that the general public actually knows about. This would help you learn something, but what exactly is another question. Me personally, I never heard of ACORN, though I might have read about it in passing at some point, until the attacks on Obama. I doubt I am unique in this regard.

Doing this for certain conservative organizations, let's say those who are against abortion, would reasonably be deemed unfair. So, what is ACORN? Wikipedia as usual helps provide a thumbnail sketch:
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. ACORN has over 400,000 members and more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters[1] in over 100 cities across the U.S.,[2] as well as in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. ACORN was founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado.[3] Maude Hurd has been National President of ACORN since 1990.

We learn about the issues they focus upon:
* 1.1 Predatory lending and affordable housing
* 1.2 Living wages
* 1.3 Katrina relief
* 1.4 Education
* 1.5 Voter registration
* 1.6 Gun control
* 1.7 Home Defender Program

Do we hear about this in the coverage of ACORN? Do we hear about their efforts against predatory lending, helping to lead to major settlements? Their efforts to help the victims of Katrina? Not really. Being told that they are "advocates for poor people" is not quite that. This is simply shoddy journalism. If ACORN is such a big deal, so dangerous and worthy of scorn, we should know more about it. Instead, again Shafer finds this appealing for some reason, we get a caricature approach.

Are there problems? Yes. As with many major institutions (and charities), there have been various troubling incidents, including embezzlement by a brother of the founder [again, this occurs in any number of institutions we accept as benign] and a few cases of paid voting registration workers padding their lists [which ACORN reported and was widely exaggerated; Republican Party operatives were also caught breaking the law, in lesser reported incidents ... meanwhile, actual governmental actions in Florida, Ohio and elsewhere caused major problems with actual voters ... Mickey Mouse et. al. not actually voting].

Likewise, there are various accounts of problems with management, which is quite unsurprising given the size and nature of the organization. The organization also appears to be somewhat loosely organized, thus the possibility that some local offices or workers can do things that do not follow the dictates of the group overall. OTOH, an organization based on a community centered approach might not be as shocked as others that some members in need of housing or other protections might dabble in prostitution. Sen. Vitters might relate. [This account is kind of amusing in a fashion on that front.] In some cases, to the degree the teenage prostitution stuff was accepted, things can go too far. This is however far from unique to ACORN and a few vids does not mean -- as some gleefully imply -- we should toss the baby out with the bathwater.

A reasonable reporting approach could be useful in helping an organization with various beneficial aims & a history of doing much good to address such problems, just as reporting pushed reforms in the Catholic Church as to their sex scandals. Such reporting, as with police abuse or whatnot, will show some bad things being done by overall benign institutions. Again, it would be useful if the reporting informs the public of the relatively small amount of government funds provided, what the funds was used for overall, and point to the problems with those who get much more money. Ironically, the House bill* targeting ACORN ... if handed correctly ... could do just that.

If reporting on these vids were done in such a context, it could be a useful thing. The coverage, which even reported this one aspect in a somewhat slipshod fashion, leads me to be dubious.


* I made a couple comments to that post, including noting the progressive potential of good public officials (here a prosecutor and law clerk) becoming members of Congress and noting the House bill is problematic. The bill does potentially have a broad reach, but its title and selective singling out of ACORN in its text point to the selective nature of its content and its overall bill of attainder qualities.

It is different from the more singularly anti-ACORN Senate amendments, so a conference version must be made.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shareholder Protection Justification?

And Also: Fun Gilmore Girls repeat on yesterday, with the four Thanksgivings (one serious), Cat Kirk, and Lane's first kiss (beat Rory's!).

Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog forwards us a discussion by Adam Winkler of the shareholder protection rationale for corporate speech limits. It is of mixed value. AW has something in showing us how preventing corporate executives to use "other people's money" to promote a candidate can be problematic, placing this into a historical context. And, just selling shares often is as useful as those who say you have a big "choice" in health insurance. This does not convince that a properly disclosed method in which shareholders have some veto power cannot be established.

Corporations "speak" in promotion of its interests in many ways and shareholders delegate the responsibility. Thus, though it might be reasonable to limit such speech to relevant matters (a business corporation has little reason to fund an anti-abortion group). But, if shareholders allow corporations to speak about any number of business related issues (including defending themselves from public attacks, surely at times in an ideological leaning fashion), why is support of a candidate that promotes the interests of the corporation such a problem? In particular, support of an advertisement or video of the candidate? Again, this case is not about just giving money to a candidate, but independent advocacy about a candidate or cause.
Most of the political scientific studies show that, with few exceptions, contributions don't impact legislative votes. So shareholders are not being benefited by the spending anyway. Who benefits? Mostly the executives who get to buy access—and the status that comes with attending the big fundraisers and mingling with the powerful—on other people's dime.

Uh huh. Problem is that this is a gigantic selling point of campaign finance legislation. The whole argument at times is that there is an unbalanced playing field, and certain special interests (apparently, contra to the interests of many of the shareholders who benefit too) have too much power over public policy. If the votes are not really impacted, that is just b.s.? This does not quite help the cause. The shareholder protection rationale has some bite, but there is a reason why activists do not tend to lead with it. We are left with this:
Publicly owned corporations face a whole host of restrictions on their speech in the name of shareholder protection. The securities laws are full of them. Public corporations are banned from making statements about their companies that haven’t been approved by the SEC during certain offering periods—a broad speech restriction that would never be permissible when applied to individuals. They are required to make quarterly and annual statements about their activities, which are held to a high standard of truthfulness—a type of compelled, coerced speech.

This sort of thing annoys me. This is from an expert in the field. But, it is b.s. How exactly is the requirement to make such statements -- somewhat akin I guess to the "state of the union" requirement for the POTUS -- comparable to limits on political speech? Fine, require disclosure to the shareholders and public concerning the money spent to do so and how it was relevant to the corporation's bottom line. You cannot just point to regulations to argue that some other regulation is fine -- the point is not that corporations should have no limits. And, the same applies to the offering period regulations. That's fine and all, but how is that relevant in this context? And, it is not as if the SEC approval should be allowed to be arbitrary.*

Corporate speech limits might be acceptable, even if we don't accept all the burdensome regulations for other sorts of speech related activities. But, this sort of thing convinces whom?


* The latter limitation probably is referenced since the current law also is time barred -- certain special limits are in place within a certain amount of days of the election. Various problems remain. First, the offering statement ban does not appear to be as absolute.

Second, commercial speech of this sort is not supplied the same amount of protection than the political speech -- the core of the First Amendment -- at issue here. What is the justice of limiting speech right at the time when the voter has the most interest and need to know the information? Some countries have short election campaigns; this doesn't even have that going for it -- the limits allow the speech for an extended period of time, making things expensive, but not at the most logical time. If anything, the rule is backward.

I reckon more can be said. Bottom line, apples and oranges. Putting aside that in various cases, corporate and union regulations are probably problematic anyway, there is a different standard used. We allow corporate funded PACs to promote political speech, for instance, that do not have the same standard of truthfulness as something stated in a prospectus.

Starts Off Pretty Good ...

As the NY Court of Appeals allows his replacement to appoint a lieutenant governor, Eliot Spitzer inspired The Good Wife began. Some familiar faces. A Drop Dead Diva like court win. Julianna Margulies shows promise as the wife dealing with her prosecutor hubbie in jail. Good drama and can forgive some law show cliches.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Perspective Please

And Also: Fall begins.

The NYT puts forth a reasonable approach for corporate personhood, one that rejects the simplistic stance of some that rails against the (fictional) case of corporate persons being treated the same as natural persons (you and me):
That does not mean that corporations should have no rights. It is in society’s interest that they are allowed to speak about their products and policies and that they are able to go to court when another company steals their patents. It makes sense that they can be sued, as a person would be, when they pollute or violate labor laws.

This, as it notes, does not mean corporations can be free of various regulations that provide them with only limited personhood rights. [I probably disagree with how much the editors there want to limit them in this context.] I provide more in the comments to this post, which discusses an article on something Justice Sotomayor said during oral argument with some more links provided. Again, there seems to be some confusion here and a fair middle ground.

The ACORN controversy is the subject of a radio show that can be found here. The video provided does make the two representatives look a bit stupid -- it looks like almost a parody. The half-assed way this has been reported however starts you on the road to proper perspective. For instance, as to the tax advice for prostitutes provided ... your average tax attorney can tell you stories about advice on how to get around tax laws, including as applied to illegal businesses. Any number of banks (e.g., predatory lending), contractors, police departments, etc. also have questionable practices, including advice on how to get around the law.

[Update: H/t GG, the defund ACORN bill has problems ... optimists might say it has a broad reach, but that's probably not intentional or how it will be used. Also, it might have constitutional problems. Kneejerk rush jobs tend to be trouble.]

As with concern for corporations, again, perspective is a wonderful thing.*


* The same can be said when discussing taxation on certain foods. And, here's an interesting piece on Drop Dead Diva.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

33-31, Giants (2-0)

Watched pretty good episodes of Drop Dead Diva (good guest stars) and Army Wives (1940s, characters playing other roles) so did not see much of the back/forth (typical) Giants/Eagles game with Manning calmly marching down the field at the end of the game. IOW, Manning did a Brady imitation (at least, Brady on another day).

16-9, Jets (2-0)

Their last victim beat the Titans, who come up next, but the Jets D + enough Second Half offense (missing in the First) does the trick. BB didn't look happy. Of course, the Mets decide to play a rare good game as I watched it (switched over at Halftime, and missed the sole TD of the day). Good game blogs here.

Obama Tells Paterson "Bye"

Because Rudy might in the race and excite things, Obama is sending a message for Gov. Paterson -- the accidental governor -- that he shouldn't run. As shown (as with the Dem filling her seat, not mentioned in article) by him pressuring Sen. Gillibrand's primary opposition to drop, he has some juice here. Patterson probably has to go, even if Obama's involvement is questionable.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Health Care as a Right

[Slightly edited.]

I added my .02 on the matter of health care being a human and/or constitutional right here. A basic sentiment is that the Preamble of the Constitution provides a duty, particularly "general welfare," and that Art. I provides the means.* As noted here, various state constitutions speak of a comparable obligation (e.g., to care for the mentally ill), even if on their own force they do not provide self-executing commands ala the Thirteenth Amendment. This makes it comparable to a treaty without enabling legislation: a duty is set forth but the means is left somewhat open.

Treaty obligations is a suitable reference point, since the U.S. has an obligation to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes:
Article 25.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

* (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

See also, here, with special reference to FN14. Marshall's dissent highlights the fact that responsibility to health care in a constitutional sense is not limited to those in governmental custody against their wills. If the government provides a benefit, it should do so equitably. In fact, this article suggests we have a property right to health care given the amount of public funding provided for medical training and research and its overall public nature in our society. As with treaties, this might be but a duty for the government to fill, one where the courts largely leave them to fill in details. Charles Black also accepted some basic rights would fit into this category. This in no way belittles the duty involved.

There are various constitutional hooks that can be provided here in additional to the duty to enforce treaties, which as noted above, is relevant here. For instance, a human right to health care might be a Ninth Amendment one, again providing authority for the government to pass legislation that does not necessarily mean the courts on their own have a duty to micromanage the details. Adequate health care, like education, might be necessary for equal citizenship; see also, privileges and immunities. Both state and federal governments would have the power (e.g., §5 of the 14A) and duty to so protect. The Due Process Clause also is a place to look, since deprivation of adequate health care can in fact lead to deprivation of life. On narrower grounds, procedural protections are also present here. But, once the government gets involved, once something is deemed "public" in nature, the procedural and substantive in particular are interlocked.

This discussion is separate from a negative right not to have the government interfere with health matters, as Justice Douglas noted: "the freedom to care for one's health and person, freedom from bodily restraint or compulsion, freedom to walk, stroll, or loaf." The Declaration of Independence says governments are created to help "secure" such rights, and this entry is largely about the affirmative duties in this respect. And, we often are told that the Constitution is about negative limitations. But, consider the Fourth Amendment which talks about right of the people to a certain degree of privacy. Is this negative only? Douglas suggested the interlocking nature of the Ninth Amendment here.

The Constitution provides for various rights that would be thin indeed with affirmative government support. For instance, trial rights -- both civil and criminal, the former a significant safeguard for a smoothly run economic system. Even if one or both parties in some fashion contributes to court costs, it is clear that the government both subsidizes it to some large extent, and provides the structure and personnel. Likewise, voting is a fundamental right. Its inherently public nature has led to the determination that political parties that provide candidates cannot discriminate by race and so forth. And, the government has a duty, in some fashion arising directly from constitutional demands, to provide voting machinery and so forth. Is health care so different?

Fact is, many basically think there is a fundamental obligation for the government to provide health care, even if they would be unclear about the specifics. It follows that government both has the duty and power to so provide. This was the mentality when FDR proposed a "Second Bill of Rights," one that included medical care. Ditto when Harry Truman proposed a national health care policy. And, it holds true up to the current day. Let's see if the duty is adequately carried out.


* Art. I powers might also suggest federal obligations -- they were given in the first place out of a felt need for a national body to have such powers. Congress does not carry out its powers to the breadth of their possible reach -- e.g., modern federal bankruptcy law took a long time coming. But, its power to regulate interstate commerce does suggest some duty to insure problematic aspects of it are handled. This would include regulating national health care and insurance markets.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tall Comedy Writers and Voting Law News

And Also: Crafty way to provide a narrow result or not, the Stevens written opinion upholding a voting picture id law left something to be desired. But, for the time being, the law is D.O.A., since a state appellate court held it violated the state constitution, because it did not require mail-in voters and residents of some nursing homes to produce state-approved identification.

I am lucky to have Allison Silverman at my back. For one thing, she’s 5'11''—if she were at my front, no one would see me. But more importantly because she is an amazingly gifted comedy writer and producer. The thoughts that come out of her head are, if possible, even more impressive than those biblical curls on top of it. When I found out ELLE was presenting a series of interviews with smart women, I immediately called in all my markers and pulled every string to get a sit-down with my brilliantly funny dear friend.

Stephen Colbert

As first reported before his vacation, Stephen Colbert ended his show last night saying a sweet (and tongue in cheek -- he pretended to remember bad things about her to help it go down easier) goodbye to his executive producer/head writer. We were not told what she was doing next. The earlier reports suggested she needed a break, perhaps to be spent with her new husband. Good luck & stay funny, Stephen!

Keith Olbermann had a good show last night, involving Kennedy's last book (via an interview with his son, including the moral aspects of health care reform), Howard Dean on hate talk radio (KO has highlighted President Carter's remarks on the racist aspects of opposition to Obama, and that's part of it, but the hate against Clinton also suggests race is at times also but a means here) and John Dean suggesting an answer to why the Watergate break-in happened in the first place.

As usual, good guests and writers are key to good t.v.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed ...

And Also: Watching a clip of Dirty Dancing (also on this Saturday) in honor of Patrick Swayze's death (here is something in honor of Mary Travers' death), I noticed "Baby's" mother is Kelly Bishop, the grandmother/mother on the Gilmore Girls. Small world.

[Update: Appropriately, today is Constitution Day. In honor of it, the government will uphold and violate the document in some unknown unequal measure.]

I noted recently that the problem of factually innocent people being executed is probably not on its own a compelling reason to end the practice. The death penalty is one of those "sum of its parts" matters, where the various problems interlock into an illegitimate system. It can, however, be a useful way to highlight the problems of the system, since it seems so blatant even to those who support the death penalty overall. And, yes, the net effect can be to provide a backdoor attack on the penalty itself.

One such problem, again fairly minor on its own are problems with carrying out executions. A matter addressed in various recent Supreme Court cases. Over forty years ago, the Supreme Court barely upheld the right of a state to try again when they botched the execution the first time. An extended discussion of the case can be found here. As noted by the 5-4 majority (Frankfurter begged the governor to commute the case, but signed on), "The executioner threw the switch, but, presumably because of some mechanical difficulty, death did not result." The dissent noted the "contrast is that between instantaneous death and death by installments."*

If we look at the recent Supreme Court case just cited, the sentiment that "necessary suffering involved in any method employed to extinguish life humanely" principle set forth in the majority opinion still holds. Justice Alito's separate opinion particularly rejects the idea that we can determine that the system is so inhumane that we can set up an in effect backdoor method of abolition. So, it is unclear how the recently botched Ohio execution will turn out. OTOH, since this is not the first time Ohio had problems with its injection protocol, it is likely to have problems.

Some comments cited by the linked articles suggest that the proper path is to change how lethal injections are carried forth. There clearly is room for improvement, underlining the usefulness of continual lower court review of the procedures used. Executing IV drug users in particular is problematic, particularly when medical personnel might not want to be involved because of ethical problems. If there will be botched medical procedures, there will be botched medical executions.

Penalties will always have problems. The ultimate question: are they worth it in any given case? I say "no," here, but honest sorts will admit that resting on that will only convince the already convinced. OTOH, as the dissent in that old case note, the "the unusual facts before us" provide a credible argument that something special is going on here. Luck, or not, a "do over" should not be allowed. It is particularly cruel and unusual to allow such a move. Finally, it could serve as a type of exclusionary rule to help prevent this from happening again.

But, yes, such logic is based on "death is different," and does the rest on the bare facts of a mistake or botched execution of a penalty per se.


* A full reading of the dissent suggests that ultimately it rests on narrow grounds, partially a matter of unclear facts that might be clarified on remand, but this doesn't erase some of its broader principles.


Karen Armstrong studied to become a nun, but takes a liberal view of biblical interpretation in her book In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis:
The true meaning of scripture can never be wholly comprised in a literal meaning of the text, since that text points beyond itself to a reality which cannot adequately be expressed in words and concepts.

I would add that this is a good approach, in a fashion, to the Constitution, which is sometimes considered a type of "American Scripture." Bare words without a true understanding of how to appropriately understand and apply them can lead to faulty conclusions. Just as there is a danger in being overly technical or literal in understanding the Bible (there are two different creation stories in Genesis, each not to be taken literally), there is a comparable problem in the other context. The trying to overanalyze each and every word can be of limited value.

And, given that those behind the Constitution often were strong believers in the Bible as well (ten amendments, even if twelve were proposed, seems pretty symbolic, no?), it is not too much to say they to saw a connection. Of course, some did just what I warn against here, but others in some fashion understood the moral value of the Bible often was more important than a literal reading. Karen Armstrong in her book also takes a psychological view of things, analyzing the inner selves of the Genesis characters. One f-up bunch, they. Even here, yes, looking behind the Constitution to what drives it, such as what drives the First Amendment can be helpful in understanding its application.

Karen Armstrong finds Genesis so fascinating in part because of its realistic view of human nature as well as accepting certain things are mysteries. Again, we are talking about a bunch of very flawed people, people who often are "blessed" (an important theme, in effect Karen Armstrong views in as a means of self-actualization, to find one's place in the world) quite arbitrarily. Why is Noah (who unlike Abraham does not try to save those subject to God's wrath -- yes, Abraham in effect challenges God to not destroy two towns if but 10% are innocent ... better odds than the "destroy them all" sentiments in Joshua or Judges) chosen? Last we see of him, he gets drunk and blames the son that found him there, as if it's his fault that his father was naked in a drunken stupor. There seems also to be a lot of favoring of younger sons.

But, as in Job, the mysteries ways of God are to be accepted as the way of life. This is not that acceptable on rational grounds, but it is refreshing in another sense: even if it is gauche to bluntly say it, God seems imperfect. Humans have free will and do things to bother him, make him angry, and after Noah, God basically is stuck with it. Since God created all, some know deep down that -- as with the presence (unexplained) of that tempting snake (symbolic or not) -- the way of the universe is imperfection. The first chapter of Genesis provides an ideal creation, one with a single God in control that contrasts with more messy pagan creations. But, the latter -- with their flawed deities -- come off as more realistic.

The patriarchs are imperfect sorts as well. Also, women repeatedly come off as important forces, at times in a superior position. Tamar asserts herself when her father-in-law and brother-in-laws fail their duty to bring her an heir [it is her action that leads to the birth of the ancestor of David ... and Jesus]. Action (even if the morality is mixed) and self-knowledge also are honored but faith does not result in easy success. The characters ultimately might win out, but it can take decades, and even then the results are flawed (Jacob's family is a mess; Isaac is a largely sad figure).

And, there are many little fascinating tidbits that advance the story and/or provide insight into the times (or that of those who wrote it -- the Tower of Babel is a takeoff of Babylon, where such a structure was honored; the reader should know that Babylon ultimately defeated Israel). A non-literal reading therefore results in a deeper understanding, one in fact more "accurate," and provides value up to the current day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nothing New To See Here, Move Along

And Also: Her history of God dropped off in the last third, but Karen Armstrong's small volume (a third but a reprint of the book), In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis, is a good discussion. Her humane take might not be that "new" for some scholars, but for the regular reader, it might provide some refreshing perspectives.

One consistent blog meme is that voices in the media deny or underrate a problem and then when it finally comes out long after the fact they argue that "everyone knew that."* This is comparable to us hearing from the Bush Administration that "no one could know" various things that many very well did know, at times even those in the very executive department. This came to mind when reading of all things two movie reviews for just released documentaries.
One problem the filmmakers have, in fact, is that the narrative of Mr. Ellsberg’s disillusionment and of the subsequent First Amendment battle after he leaked the papers is so familiar, and its lessons regarding government malfeasance so accepted, that it has become an official story in its own right.

First is a documentary concerning Daniel Ellsberg, one promoted today in a Democracy Now! segment. The narrative might be so familiar to some readers of the NYT, but just how much so to the general public? I doubt many my age know much about Vietnam itself, putting aside his story. If the leak to tell the truth about Vietnam is "so accepted," why did the NYT itself wait a year (past an election) to release an awarding winning story on illegal eavesdropping? Sen. Gravel put the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record. For this, in a less well known case as compared to the Pentagon Papers itself, the Supreme Court noted:
[H]is insistence is that the Speech or Debate Clause, at the very least, protects him from criminal or civil liability and from questioning elsewhere than in the Senate, with respect to the events occurring at the subcommittee hearing at which the Pentagon Papers were introduced into the public record. To us this claim is incontrovertible.

But, we repeatedly were told that members of the "Gang of 8" or whatever, could not tell other members about possible illegal treatment of detainees. I read a decent amount about the treatment of detainees, including on some blogs, but never saw any discussion why this is so. What lesson was so accepted? Yet again, criticism of the government was disfavored in time of war and strong action against the President was left to (see footnote) "left wing kooks." Until those dirty f-ing hippies, per Atrios, turned out to be right. Then it's, well yeah, we knew that.
Fatal Promises,” a documentary about human trafficking, seems to start from the premise that no one has ever heard of this vexing international problem before. So it tries to cover every base: sex slavery, forced manual labor, political foot-dragging, celebrity activism, frustration among nongovernmental agencies dealing with the issue.

As a result it lacks focus and adds little to the awareness of the subject that even a casual follower of the news has already acquired.

Again, and I say this as someone who reads the news and informs myself about policy more than some others, what? I reckon that most people probably are somewhat aware, in a vague sense, about what those two Asian reporters were investigating when North Korea arrested them. That is, illegal human trafficking. But, I doubt they know much about it, or the various basics of the issues. So, it is totally appropriate to provide a thumbnail sketch of such issues. The reviewer probably also thinks Brian Lamb is silly for not assuming people know even the more basic aspects of the materials covered by those he interviews on C-SPAN.

Current events suggests overestimating viewer intelligence is not always the best path to take. It also is not insulting to realize that many do not know what someone more focused on the topic (yes, a writer at the NYT is likely to be aware of NYT v. U.S., one of the cases involved in the documentary).


* Somewhat off topic, this sort of thing really drives us crazy too. The person, who on average is fairly sensible, brings up the usual drivel about "left-wing ideologues" with their darn "kooky" ideas. See, they don't want to "compromise," and demand the public option. As I told this uninformed promoter of right wing talking points, the public option is a compromise.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let's Take A Shot At ACORN!

And Also: Local primaries. Didn't know who to vote for controller (bunch of mostly bland competent sorts) but then found out two voted to end term limits, something I like in theory, but not when it overrides two public votes against doing so. And, partially to allow Bloomberg to run again, since he's the only real one to solve the economic situation or something. Oh, and the fourth option acted like a dweeb running, leaving one.*

[Update: Glenn Greenwald and Anonymous Liberal have covered this matter, particularly my last comment on selective prosecution, in much better detail. Why can't we just look to the future ... the organization is sorry and it's only a few bad apples? AL btw highlights all the good ACORN has done, something coverage tends to ignore. Unlike wrongdoing by say the police or Catholic Church, this is not a matter of "well, people basically know that already." BTW, as shown by a GG update, the House has joined in, if a bit less in lockstep. FWIW, my congressman did not.]

The Senate voted on Monday to forbid Acorn, the antipoverty group frequently criticized by conservatives, from receiving federal housing grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sen. Gillibrand, who certain people on my side of things crudely rejected as an appropriate pick for senator, again (she also has supported the public option and interacted with those at Daily Kos) does something else to impress. The fact that the Senate voted 83-7 for this crap is distasteful. A comment to that top blog entry sends an unintentional message:

Here are the 7 American traitors i would suggest that you not vote for them in 2010
And the looser are….NAYs —7

Burris (D-IL)
Casey (D-PA)
Durbin (D-IL)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Leahy (D-VT)
Sanders (I-VT)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

Anyone see a pattern here?

Yes, they are on the whole (putting aside Burris and perhaps Casey) consistently people you can trust to do the right and smart thing. By now, I can assume a certain commenter online will have a p.o.v. that skewers the facts enough for a clear pattern to form. Thus far, the likes of Sen. Whitehouse leads me to trust his judgment with the proviso that ultimately you need to trust but verify. Gillibrand needs more time, but this sort of thing helps:
Matt Canter, a spokesman for Ms. Gillibrand, responded in a statement of his own that “while Senator Gillibrand finds the actions of certain Acorn employees to be reprehensible and will ask Acorn leaders for a full investigation and plan to prevent any further abuse, the truth remains that thousands of New York families who are facing foreclosure depend on charitable organizations like Acorn for assistance.”

If a full investigation, not a conservative hit job, results in clear evidence that ACORN should not be trusted with the money, fine. Even then, I'd want a neutral rule that does not single out one controversial group, in the process helping conservative talking points. Instead, guilt is presumed, innocence (for them alone) must be proven. It should be noted that the House did not yet support such a move. ACORN might have invited some of this abuse, but an evenhanded approach would like find loads of problems with other groups, some that Republicans like.

This is the danger of singling out disfavored groups for such treatment.


* Oh, and the lever machine -- apparently an original from the time when the Cubs won the World Series -- stuck, so someone had to stick their arm in to fix it. Um ... secret ballot! And, a poll worker at my table was like my landlord, who wore a "Republican poll watcher" pin. Darn. I might lose my sharecropper land now!

[Update: The election was so fun that we will have another one soon, since there appears to be two runoffs for citywide positions, the multiple candidates preventing a majority. The fact I find one option a jerk, the other supported the term limit override, my choices are clear. Oh, some say the remaining two are the best candidates on substance too.]


Two mismatches ended with the favored teams winning in come from behind fashion in the final minute -- the Pats via a turnover that prevented Buffalo from trying to ice the game, the Chargers doing it the hard way via a long drive. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins had a good cast, but the mystery was a bit lame (and real monsters?! Very un-Scooby like). A good take on Serena, who then won doubles with her sister, who lost to Clijsters with less drama.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze

Now ... people from my teenage years are not supposed to be dying yet. Yeah, I know, someone just did.


And Also: Particularly annoyed with yesterday's doubleheader, Mets/Phillies, each game lost by one run. The nightcap was galling -- Pedro Martinez pitched eight innings, pitching better than the Mets saw him pitch for years. The Mets lost it 1-0, giving up less hits, walks, and pitches than the Phillies, who obviously are lots better than the Mets. Just pissed me off.

[Updated/footnote a spoiler]
Tilly made her author debut twelve years ago with Singing Songs, the story of a family destroyed by physical and sexual abuses. Though initially billed as fiction, Tilly now says the book is far more true than false. ...

[Meg Tilly:] So I wrote Porcupine. This one is about a young girl, her father goes peacekeeping in Afghanistan. She’s Canadian. He gets killed and her mother falls apart, just unravels, and it's her trying to hold the family together.

-- Interview with Author of Gemma

I read a discussion about how some states allow insurance companies to treat domestic violence as a pre-existing condition and deny coverage, something even worse not too long ago. An appropriate topic while reading Meg Tilly, two of her books in some fashion about domestic violence. Her third book, written particularly for "young adults," also involved children (each had a narrator around twelve, her first book covering things from the time she was a little girl until around twelve) with family problems. This time there was not such abuse, each of the other two in some fashion dealing with sexual and emotional abuse. She had a lot to worry about all the same.

Meg Tilly discusses Gemma, a work of fiction unlike her more only somewhat fictionalized account of her own childhood (Singing Songs) here and here. The second link talks a bit about this organization that is "a recognized leader in therapeutic child care for the youngest victims of abuse and neglect." Tilly also discusses how she was out with her children one day and saw a mother become violent with her child. Tilly told her to stop, that even if their parents did something like that, the mom should not. The mother started to cry, but she was firm.

Fans of Tilly (who does at times sound like her sister Jennifer) would be particular struck since Meg has this soft voice about her in the movies. She also did the audio book for Gemma, which must be something to listen to ... even the opening interview's description of a reading suggests that. Many will not want to read this book. The first half is about sexual abuse ... to suggest how horrible (and I don't say this lightly) it almost seems that having to deal with her drunken mother's boyfriend molesting her is easy. I'm not fan of warning labels, but the "This book is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 15." is truer than most.

The book does something that I like -- provide different points of view of the action, via parallel first person narrators (at times, they are not speaking, but we are basically in their heads). The other narrator is the guy who kidnaps her after not being satisfied with the night with her he purchased from her mother's boyfriend for $100. Now, I tend to visualize things in my head when I read, particularly when it's fiction. But, this quality is rather difficult when dealing with a kidnapped twelve year old who is repeated physically abused, sexual abuse of every disgusting nature not enough for him. I think it is essential we do this all the same, to think as they think, or we will not truly understand. Even when dealing with such people.

[The understanding through another point of view aspect, not necessarily visualizing the specific things in their head as if you were the Profiler or something.]

But, as heartbreaking is Gemma -- she too has her own view of the world, one often as skewered next to the facts as her abusers (we view the twisted views of her mother and her boyfriend secondhand), though of course in a different sense. This helps her all the same because Gemma is often (via "Gemma travel") remove herself from things, to create her own world and survive what is happening. Gemma is also rather matter a fact about things, focusing on being hungry or her turtle, pushing back all the other bad things. In a fashion, this is how many people deal with things they cannot control. Focus on the immediate, deal with what you can.

After we cannot imagine how much more we can take, particularly after a long chapter dealing with her kidnapping closes without an end coming, it is finally over. Gemma now has to deal with the aftermath, including time in a foster home, her mother more concerned with the boyfriend, and then time with her new foster parents -- a detective involved in the case (abused as a child herself) decides to take her in. She is married but we don't learn too much about him. Again, we see things only through Gemma's eyes, including the actions of others around her. She is finally safe, though still has to deal with nightmares and terrors, finally in a good environment. Some on Amazon thought this a bit too good to be true, but I was okay with it ... others found loving foster parents too.

[The foster dad, who has a certain "Josephness" (sic), sounds interesting too. As with good movies, certain small supporting characters are fleshed out -- through other eyes of course -- well. For instance, a couple children at the foster home, or a lesbian detective (tough with a heart) who takes over the case.]

We see less of her abuser after he is shot during the capture, but there remains some flashes, him in the hospital, dealing with his lawyers, in prison, and finally in court. He continues to have his own fantasy view, one that includes a Madonna/whore view of Gemma, an idolized view mixed with one that sees her as a little slut. The book ends like Singing Songs, with a moment of clarity, but an uncertain future -- it ends with Gemma testifying against him, at first scared, but then looking at her new foster mom supporting her, allowing her to be brave and say her piece. The abuser has a new very good lawyer, but the ending of the trial is not discussed. Still, one does not see how he would get off -- even the lawyer suggested she asked for it.

Gemma's new foster mom has a spiritual view of sorts on how to deal with things. She tells Gemma that hate is not the answer, that she is not filled with hate that her own abusive father died of old age without suffering for abusing her as a child. Gemma has to live her life well, be a good person, and not let the hate win out. I think this might -- even if Gemma is totally fictional (except perhaps individual moments, like her getting a turtle) -- match Meg Tilly's own philosophy. Listening to her, it seems that it might be. And, it isn't saintly or anything. It is valid: hate can poison you. Besides, realistically, you can't really just go out and kill someone, and the system can only do just so much.

The second half of the book is somewhat more like Singing Songs in that it deals with the regular happenings of of a child in the midst of great stress. An abused child does not suddenly stop being a child, with child thoughts and dreams. This is what is particularly powerful about her books -- there is a sense of both the ordinary and sublime there, almost like how To Kill A Mockingbird is as much about childhood than race and crime. Meg Tilly has a powerful voice and I hope she writes more books. In fact, a shorter version of this one is due out next year.

Meanwhile, she has children to handle and a life to lead. Like her characters, she survived, and has the promising future they dream about.*


* To add one thing along with the info in the brackets, the book also deals with Gemma getting pregnant, a pregnancy that ends with a miscarriage. Gemma is pressured to have an abortion, but notes that the President [you know who] was on t.v. saying abortion was wrong, even for rape, should be illegal, and he was elected and all. So, he must be right.

This was one of those dark humor moments akin to some of the fantasies the rapist has about Gemma. I don't know if Tilly wrote this with a wicked feeling inside or as just a reflection about what someone like Gemma would think. But, it does underline that what authority figures say and do matters. It is one reason as well why cynically pragmatic choices on who we elect cannot be the only calculus -- compromises must be made, but message counts. And, voters thinks so.

Health Care and Abortion

our precedents hold, that a State may not restrict access to abortions that are necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for preservation of the life or health of the mother.

-- Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood (unanimous/internal quotes omitted)

Reproductive rights touch upon many areas, but health is clearly an important aspect, a term once defined in this context (in a largely forgotten pre-Roe opinion) to cover "psychological as well as physical well-being." The Supreme Court has determined that, even if it is required to protect against serious health risks, the government can selectively provide health care denying coverage for abortion. The dissents, see particularly FN3 of Stevens' dissent,* challenge this policy rather well. But, it is the law as now understood though seventeen states have broader policies.

This last point is important, particularly since the states include California, New York and even West Virginia; in fact, Mississippi allows Medicaid funded abortions for fetal abnormality. Furthermore, some states allow (these all per a "state option" to take part in the program and use its own funds for such areas) abortion for threats to physical health. [Various opinions in the old "health" case cited above suggests this is both broad and the limits somewhat hazy.] In fact, here, Utah is both listed in that and the fetal abnormality category. Basically, there often is a general understanding this last category is in some fashion a "health" issue. See also, Stevens' footnote.

The bottom line is that even the more restrictive federal Hyde Amendment uses "public funds" toward abortions. It is limited to the life of the girl/woman as well as pregnancies caused by rape or incest, which is a dangerous "loophole" in the minds of some. As noted here, and whatever Obama's past statements were (a general "fact check" discussion on this issue) his actions thus far suggests he would be willing to sign on, there is an amendment on the table which would apply the Hyde Amendment to the new health plan. It might be a realistic compromise, particularly since it would still leave open the path for private plans that provide the service:
The Capps Amendment gave those opposed to abortion both the guarantee they wanted that providers would have adequate conscience protection against having to provide abortions and a prohibition on the use of federal funds to pay for abortions in accordance with Hyde and other current federal law. It made no change in the ability of private insurance plans to decide whether or not to cover abortions, but prohibited private plans from using federal subsidy dollars for abortions. It provides that every state have at least one plan that offers abortion coverage and one that does not, so that someone really opposed to abortion can buy a plan that does not cover that service.

Since a majority of people support abortion rights for some abortions not covered by the Hyde Amendment, as does their religious faiths, this is a principled path that truly respects individual values. Some, of course, would not be satisfied. On the anti side, it should be noted that Obama said it was a fallacy that "this is all going to mean government funding of abortion." Since government already funds abortion, see above (and Planned Parenthood here), it has to be read in context -- does this plan itself "mean" abortion funding will exist? Particularly at the end of the day. Or, was the funding already there, like government pay might "mean" our tax dollars will go to abortions?

You can see there is a bit of wordplay there, but since abortions are already paid by government funds, including in some rather conservative states, only up to a point. On Twitter, Glenn Greenwald noted: "Apparently, one of the most urgent national priorities is to make extra-sure that illegal immigrants and their children have no health care." The desire to deprive women of health care involving abortion as an option is yet another bugaboo in this country. We see that now:
The effect has been millions of women, including those living below the poverty line, military personnel and their dependents, women served by the Indian Health Service, Peace Corps volunteers, and federal employees and their dependents who rely solely on these programs for their medical care are deprived of their right to safe, legal abortion."

So, if some army wife of some low paid military member gets pregnant and finds out the fetus has some severe abnormality, that the fetus for instance will surely not survive birth or more than a few days, the government will not pay for the procedure. Such a procedure, since it can be later term, can cost over a $1000. Such an extreme example underlines the absurdity of the current policy. But, the pro side realize the limits of health care reform, while still understanding the injustices. Thus, something like the Capps Amendment sounds like a compromise one can live with, underlining the logic that compromising does not take things off the table beforehand or take away the reality that the result is far from ideal.

But, just as there is a "major gap in all the plans -- the exclusion of undocumented workers living in the U.S," one which "faith-inspired social justice advocates" should strongly oppose, the result will be that many girls and women will be deprived of health care that they need. Let me be clear, however, it will not mean that no government funding at all will be involved in abortion. Abortion is part of sound health care, and even our often unsound health care policy cannot totally avoid that fact.

So, that will "mean" that a policy that does not change the status quo will in some fashion cover abortion. As well it should. More than it will, most probably.


* "The Court rests heavily on the premise -- recognized in both Roe and Maher -- that the State's legitimate interest in preserving potential life provides a sufficient justification for funding medical services that are necessarily associated with normal childbirth without also funding abortions that are not medically necessary. The Maher opinion repeatedly referred to the policy of favoring 'normal childbirth.' See 432 U.S. at 477, 478, 479. But this case involves a refusal to fund abortions which are medically necessary to avoid abnormal childbirth."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Anti-Abortion Protesters Murdered

Rachel Maddow and others reported the murder of two anti-abortion protesters, apparently on some fashion (but not limited) on account of their views. As RW notes, there has been a long history of violence and murder (eight) only on the anti side ... false equivalence that will follow notwithstanding. This asshole will cause trouble.