Maybe We Can Have Prayer Treatments Instead of Reproductive Care?

There are many reasons I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the conference on health care reform.

But chief among those is to see how (whether) they’re going to justify paying for “health care” for the Christian Scientists while denying reproductive care for millions of women.

Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

Granted, both the Stupak Amendment and payment for Christian Scientist prayer may be removed in conference.

But I’d really like to see how Orrin Hatch, say, tried to explain skewing healthcare in this country only to meet the demands of religion, no matter how wacky, even while denying the care choices of millions of religious and non-religious women. And, frankly, I’d love to see what the courts think about it. Because once you’re making laws to protect the Christian Scientists all the while crafting your bill to meet the demands of the Catholic Bishops, you’ve got a very interesting Church/State separation question on hand.

Update: Church of Christ, Scientist  v. scientology correction per joejoejoe.

DC’s Newest Reality Show

Picture 138And speaking of C Street, it looks like the moralizing hypocrites at C Street are shopping for a new roomie.

Sen. John Ensign has moved out of the C Street house, the Christian home he shared with other elected officials on Capitol Hill that came under scrutiny for its residents’ beliefs and practices and their role in trying to end the Nevada Republican’s affair with a campaign staff member.The red brick town house emerged this summer as the subject of political intrigue — not only as a pivotal location in Ensign’s affair with Cynthia Hampton, but also that of South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who sought guidance there as he wrestled with his own affair.

As fallout from Ensign’s affair continues with a preliminary Senate Ethics Committee investigation and talk of a possible criminal inquiry by the Justice Department, Ensign decided to move out, not wanting to draw further attention to his longtime home.

There’s only one way to replace Ensign. To invite six avowed Christian Freshman Congressmen to participate in a reality show–a test, week by week, of who can be a bigger moral hypocrite. Each week, we’ll vote off one participant (who, thereafter, will have to pay market rates for a place in DC).

So I’m looking for two kinds of input. First, candidates to enter the reality show. You might start with this list.

And then we need a catchy name, so we can pitch the show to Bravo. My suggestion (which sucks–but then I’m busy watching football) is Praying for the Pay.

Enter your candidates–and name suggestions–in comments.

Bart Stupak’s C-Street Sepsis

Picture 138As you read Bart Stupak boasting of taking reproductive choice away from women, remember that he’s not just an otherwise good Democrat (he’s not, in fact, a Blue Dog) who consistently lets the agenda of the Catholic Church override the well-being of his constituents, he’s also one of C-Street’s top Democratic members.  This man, crowing over his legislative success is speaking as a representative of a group that preaches moral purity for others, but excuses itself from such moral guidelines with a back-slapping prayer lunch with the buddies. And then turns around and uses that moralizing to accrue political power.

HuffPost asked Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the lead Blue Dog negotiator, why he succeeded and the progressives failed.

“Because I didn’t threat[en]. These are the facts,” he said.

But you did threaten, a reporter pointed out.

No, Stupak said, it wasn’t a threat. It was a promise. “No, they know I’ll vote against the rule,” he said.

Stupak said the Blue Dogs have gradually been sending a message to leadership and that much of it goes back to a previous vote involving an appropriations bill that Blue Dogs wanted to include pro-life language.

In July, the House considered a Financial Services Appropriations bill that would allow publicly-funded abortions in the District of Columbia. Stupak and allies were not allowed an amendment, so they sought to “take down the rule” — in other words, round up enough votes to deny he bill a chance to get voted on on the floor. When time expired, the pro-lifers had prevailed. But Pelosi held the vote open for extra time and persuaded four members to switch their votes.

They didn’t win in the end, Stupak said, but they accomplished their goal.

“We wanted to send a message,” he said. “We went back and I said, ‘See, I can take down your rule.'”

He has held his fire since then, saving his strength for the health care bill.

“Now, I have not threatened that every time that we went to Rules Committee and we didn’t always get our pro-life amendments, I did not try to take down any rules. You have to pick your fights at the right time. You can’t be crying wolf all the time because you lose your wolfiness. You lose your credibility,” he said. “So I’m not going to lose my credibility. So you use it at certain times when it’s appropriate.”

Viewed through the lens of Stupak’s C Street membership, this victory lap (and all the others he has been doing) comes off as what it is: a naked grab for power through hypocritical moralizing.

Too bad that formula works so well for so many in Washington.

Trashed: Formula One No Longer Made In Japan

As you all might know, we here at Emptywheel are car people. And one annoying thread ran common as a persistent undercurrent through all of our auto and auto bailout coverage over the last year, and that was how pitiful and incompetent the American marques were, how much they deserved their fate and how awesome the Japanese brands, especially Toyota and Honda, were in comparison. This was incredibly disturbing because, as rudimentary as rolling iron seems on the surface, the automotive industry is incredibly complex and vertically integrated; it simply is not amenable to to simplisms and truisms that were bandied about in those tumultuous days.

Sadly, it is a meme that persists even today in spite of the fact that all manufacturers, very much including those in Japan, are sucking air and taking on water. And, no, their cars are not that much better either, they have quality and safety problems too.

For all of its ballyhooed efficiency, quality control and supposed relative superiority, the Japanese auto industry always was built on the shoulders and technology of the American manufacturers; they wanted the sales sector of the Americans and the aura of the Europeans. Since the Japanese marques first started their meteoric rise in prominence in the 70s, the holy grail for them was to compete and win on the highest stage in the world. Formula One. But the wake of the global financial meltdown has trashed their fortunes, and their goals, every bit as hard as it pounded the American car business. The pursuit of the holy grail is over, first for Honda last December, and now for Toyota:

Toyota announced Wednesday that it would give up its prized Formula One racing team in an effort to slash costs, refocus the company on green cars and turn a profit amid continued weakness in the auto sector.

Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, joins a growing exodus of Japanese auto companies from racing, highlighting the woes facing the country’s once cash-rich manufacturers. Honda pulled out of Formula One racing in December, while the tire-maker Bridgestone said this week that it would not renew its exclusive deal to supply tires to the series when its contract expires in 2010.

Subaru and Suzuki pulled out of the World Rally Championship before the season, citing concerns about the global crisis, while Kawasaki is quitting MotoGP, the top motorcycle competition.

“I hope you will understand that based on the current business environment we have no choice but to make this very painful decision,” Akio Toyoda, the Toyota president, said at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday. “To all fans, I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”

Akido Toyoda literally cried as he made the announcement. Make no mistake, there was cause; he, Toyota and Japan had all lost face with the withdrawal from Formula One. The Japanese do not take Read more

Mark Sanford Goes Galt

Clearly Jon Meacham and his deputy editors at Newsweek could use a refresher course in compelling journalism from their sister ship test proctors at the Stanley Kaplan Corporation. Newsweek, you see, has just seen fit to publish a lengthy interpretation of Ayn Rand by none other that Appalachian Trail aficionado Mark Sanford.

The Fountainhead is a stunning evocation of the individual and what he can achieve when unhindered by government or society. Howard Roark is an architect who cares nothing about the world’s approval; his only concerns are his integrity and the perfection of his designs. What strikes me as still relevant is its central insight—that it isn’t “collective action” that makes this nation prosperous and secure; it’s the initiative and creativity of the individual. The novel’s “second-handers,” as Rand called them—the opportunistic Peter Keating, who appropriates Roark’s architectural talent for his own purposes, and Ellsworth Toohey, the journalist who doesn’t know what to write until he knows what people want to hear—symbolize a mindset that’s sadly familiar today.

Yeah, because the guy using state money to fly himself around the globe to meet his Latin lover, while his wife and children are back in the government paid for Governor’s mansion, ought to be talking about second hand leeches.

When the economy took a nosedive a year ago—a series of events that arguably began when the government-sponsored corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went broke—many Americans, myself included, watched in disbelief as members of Congress placed blame on everyone and everything but government. This wasn’t new in 2008. It’s an act we’ve seen over and over since the beginning of the New Deal in 1933. For that reason, I think, those passages in Atlas Shrugged foreshadow what might happen to our country if there is no change in direction. As Rand shows in her book, when the government is deprived of the free market’s best minds, it staggers toward collapse.

Uh huh, how convenient. Sanford pegs Fannie and Freddie as the ultimate culprits without noting that, while government sponsored, they are privately run enterprises. Nor noting that the reason the GSEs failed is from the complete hash of the financial markets made by the anti-regulatory, free wheeling, Randian geniuses populating Wall Street and the “financial products” markets that Sanford so adores.

Then there is this: Read more

Little Legal Recourse For Artists’ Rage Against Musical Torture

One of the obvious questions from the announcement of the musicians Rage Against Musical Torture, and one that several people have been asking, is what avenues of legal recourse do the musicians have? It turns out remarkably few, if any.

A look at the recent case of Jackson Browne v. John McCain demonstrates why. Here is a link to the complaint in Browne v. McCain; as you can tell, Plaintiff Browne pled four causes of action for the wrongful use of his music. The four counts are copyright infringement, vicarious copyright infringement, violation of the Lanham Act and violation of state law (California) right to publicity. (You can see the court’s rulings upholding the viability of these counts at the links provided here).

The lead count of copyright infringement is based upon 17 USC 501 et seq. The specific triggering conduct is delineated in 17 USC 106-122. Unlike in Browne, there really is no provision of the applicable law that comes into play. In Browne, there was an appropriation for use in a campaign commercial, that was broadcast on television and the internet, and the conduct happened in the United States; none of that is the case, unfortunately, for the musicians here. There was no “commercial use”, there was no “secondary broadcast”, and the putative conduct did not occur within the United States.

The key here is the nature of the use. As horrid as the conduct of using the artists’ music for torture is, there is no evidence that the governmental actors, whether soldiers, CIA or contractors, obtained the music illegally. Furthermore, there is no evidence that they used the music for a “commercial purpose”. It was not broadcast, nor was it played in a public setting; there is legally little to nothing to distinguish what was done from a person playing his boom box or stereo too loud in his apartment building. In short, there does not seem to be a “copyright infringement”. The same rationale explains why there is no apparent RIAA violation. Also, since there was no cognizable copyright violation, there was no “vicarious copyright infringement” as was present in Browne.

The next common count to proceed in these situations is via the “Lanham Act“. Here, again, the facts simply do not truly reach the scope of the claim. There is no legal basis for asserting that the restricted use made of the artists’ music would create confusion or imply that the artists approved of the torture; and, again, the conduct was not done in a public setting or Read more

Get The Lead Out: Crime Reduction In America

I saw this via Kevin Drum about a week ago and meant to put a post up because it is both stunning and fascinating. Mark Kleiman has a book out on criminal justice and punishment by the name of When Brute Force Fails. The reviews have been fantastic, but it is the discussion of the effects of reduction in lead exposure on the crime rate that caught my eye:

Given the decrease in lead exposure among children since the 1980s and the estimated effects of lead on crime, reduced lead exposure could easily explain a very large proportion — certainly more than half — of the crime decrease of the 1994-2004 period. A careful statistical study relating local changes in lead exposure to local crime rates estimates the fraction of the crime decline due to lead reduction as greater than 90%.

Jeebus; that is pretty eye opening. Granted, there are a lot of nits that could be picked as to whether this is a direct or correlative relationship and, even if it is direct, to what extent it is so; however, it is a hell of a discussion point.

A 2007 Washington Post article described one of the studies behind Kleiman’s assertion:

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children’s exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin’s work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

“It is stunning how strong the association is,” Nevin said in an interview. “Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead.”

Through much of the 20th century, lead in U.S. paint and gasoline fumes poisoned toddlers as they put contaminated hands in their mouths. The consequences on crime, Nevin found, occurred when poisoning victims became adolescents. Nevin does not say that lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it is the biggest factor.

As an added bonus, the Post article uses Nevin’s study to mock Rudy Giuliani’s constant claim that he is Read more

Treachery At The Red Rocks Sweat Lodge

Red Rocks sunsetYou may have seen the story of the deaths at an Arizona retreat sweat lodge in the news over the last week. It is not necessarily our normal fare, but I am oddly captivated by it on several levels.

A self help, wealth and awareness “guru” by the name of James Arthur Ray, who runs an enterprise by the crafty name of James Ray International, rented out the facilities and grounds of a Sedona Arizona retreat by the name of the Angel Valley Retreat Center for the purpose of conducting a group program. Ray appears to run several different types of “programs” and this particular one he calls “Spiritual Warrior” and is a five day event that culminates in a group sweat lodge ceremony.

Ray describes his Spiritual Warrior program as follows:

In Spiritual Warrior, you’ll build upon what you started in Practical Mysticism. You’ll become privy to techniques (many kept secret for dozens of generations) that I searched out in the mountains of Peru, the jungles of the Amazon (and a few other places I don’t care to recall).

For the low, low price of $9,695.00 per person:

You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)…

You’ll carve out your own destiny and quickly develop the strength and determination to live it…

You’ll learn (and apply) the awesome power of “integrity of action”…

You will (perhaps for the first time in your life), have a gut level understanding of “The Four Enemies of Power.” You’ll learn to recognize them at a glance, and instantly defeat them when they arise…

You’ll define and enforce your own boundaries—without someone else telling you what they should be…

You’ll experience a new technologically-enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking (this one’s gonna knock your socks off)…

You’ll experience, at the spiritual level, the ancient methodologies of Samurai Warriors; and gain a true understanding of the authority and strength that come from a life of honor…

“Look, you’ve most probably spent your whole life staying within the lines to get what you’ve got (or at least a major portion of it). Join me outside the lines in this heroic quest for higher consciousness…”

And, of course, a sparkling pony. At last week’s “program”, Ray had Read more

More NDCA Goodness: Judge Walker Denies Prop 8 Proponents’ Motion

As most of you know, Proposition 8 in California is the anti gay marriage provision. Supporters of the basic right to gay marriage sued the State of California after passage of Proposition 8 as a ballot initiative in last falls elections. Today were oral arguments on a motion for summary judgment filed by a group of intervenors against gay marriage and supporting the validity of the law. The case is set in front of the one and only Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of NDCA.

Here is the report from the San Jose Mercury News:

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss a legal challenge to Proposition 8, concluding that the ongoing courtroom battle over California’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage must be resolved in a full-blown trial.

After two hours of legal sparring, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker rejected the arguments of Prop. 8 supporters, who maintained that U.S. Supreme Court precedent and a lack of proof of constitutional violations should sidetrack a lawsuit designed to overturn the ballot measure. Instead, Walker, sensing the challenge to Prop. 8 ultimately could wind up before the Supreme Court, wants a trial to develop a full factual record, including forcing Prop. 8 supporters to justify the reasons behind a state ban on allowing gay couples to wed.

One by one, the judge shot down the legal reasons Prop. 8 lawyers presented to resolve the case now and allow the same-sex marriage ban to remain in force. In particular, the judge seemed particularly unpersuaded by Prop. 8 attorney Charles Cooper’s chief argument for a state law confining marriage to heterosexual couples — that the state has an interest in protecting “traditional” marriage because of its importance to procreation in society.

“Procreation doesn’t require marriage,” Walker noted, citing statistics showing that a large percentage of children are born out of wedlock.

A representative from Law Dork was on hand and related this analysis:

Questions about whether animus animated Proposition 8 and the relevance of that claimed animus, Walker ruled, would benefit from a more complete record to be developed at trial because both issues remain in dispute.

Finally, the Proposition 8 proponents had asked the Court to rule against the Plaintiffs based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Baker v. Nelson. The Baker decision is a 1972 opinion by the Court dismissing a marriage case from Minnesota “for want of a substantial federal question.” 409 U.S. 810 (1972). The Plaintiffs were represented today in court by Ted Olson.

The proponents of Proposition 8, represented today in court by Charles Cooper, argued that the brief Supreme Court dismissal in 1972 meant that no federal judge could hear a similar case because the only the Supreme Court could reverse its Baker opinion. This was considered a very weak argument by many lawyers to consider the matter, particularly in light of Romer and Lawrence, and Judge Walker agreed.

This is an extremely notable ruling as Judge Walker appears to have made it from the bench at the conclusion of oral argument; he did not even bother to take it under advisement and save it for his written opinion. That is a judge totally convinced of the decision.

This is a very good, if not great, ruling and sets the stage for trial on the matter, which is already set for January of next year. Civil libertarians have to take their victories where they find them. This is another striking one coming out of the hallowed ground of the Northern District of California. My hat is off, there is something special going on up there.

Dog Day Afternoon: The Militarization Of American Police

I took great exception to President Obama’s conduct in the Henry Louis Gates false arrest case in Cambridge Massachusetts. See here and here. The reason I objected so strenuously is that there is a long growing problem in this country with the militarization of, and militancy by, police officers and the way Obama interjected himself into the matter prevented a valuable chance to publicly address the issue.

Courtesy of a chilling opinion piece slated for Sunday’s Washington Post authored by Cheye M. Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights Maryland, we have another poignant reminder:

I remember thinking, as I kneeled at gunpoint with my hands bound on my living room floor, that there had been a terrible, terrible mistake.

An errant Prince George’s County SWAT team had just forced its way into our home, shot dead our two black Labradors, Payton and Chase, and started ransacking our belongings as part of what would become a four-hour ordeal.

The police found nothing, of course, to connect my family and me to a box of drugs that they had been tracking and had delivered to our front door. The community — of which I am mayor — rallied to our side. A FedEx driver and accomplice were arrested in a drug trafficking scheme. Ultimately, we were cleared of any wrongdoing, but not before the incident drew international outrage.

You may remember this incident from the summer of 2008. It was, and is, a brutal reminder of the awesome power the police exercise, and the casual belligerence and impunity with which they all too often abuse it. Mayor Calvo hits the problem on the head:

Yet, I remain captured by the broader implications of the incident. Namely, that my initial take was wrong: It was no accident but rather business as usual that brought the police to — and through — our front door.

In the words of Prince George’s County Sheriff Michael Jackson, whose deputies carried out the assault, "the guys did what they were supposed to do" — acknowledging, almost as an afterthought, that terrorizing innocent citizens in Prince George’s is standard fare. The only difference this time seems to be that the victim was a clean-cut white mayor with community support, resources and a story to tell the media.

What confounds me is the unmitigated refusal of county leaders to challenge law enforcement and to demand better — as if civil rights are somehow rendered secondary by the war on drugs.

Calvo goes on to explain how not only did the police abuse Read more