Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Political Mayhem Thursday: Post-Dobbs mayhem
It's been nearly a week now since the Supreme Court announced its decision in Dobbs, which overturned the right to abortion created in Roe and Casey.
So what comes next?
Basically, a huge mess. Here are some of the issues left open:
-- States will create a patchwork of rules. Some states (as allowed by the Court's opinion explicitly) will ban abortion altogether. Others will place stricter limits. Many will keep things as they are; for example, in Minnesota the state constitution has been found by the state Supreme Court to confer an independent right to abortion in the state.
-- That means that people in states where it is banned will take actions to get an abortion via another state, either by traveling to that state or by receiving abortion drugs from another state or country.
-- People evading the abortion bans will agitate those who sought the bans, and they will try to outlaw those things that make this possible: information, travel, financial help, and drugs in the mail. Let's examine each in turn.
-- State bans on information on legal abortions in other states will be difficult to regulate, for two reasons. The first is that the First Amendment may protect that speech. The second is, well, the internet-- good luck regulating that in a way that prevents people from getting information about anything!
-- It is highly unlikely that a state will be able to criminalize travel to another state to get an abortion. In his concurrence, Justice Kavanaugh made clear that he thinks this is protected by the constitutional right to travel between the states.
-- Funding someone's travel to another state could be easier to regulate, though. It will present a closer question, and it is an important one given the number of poor people who live in our country (and especially in the states where bans are being imposed).
-- Outlawing the possession of abortion drugs will probably stand up in court. That means that there will now be a thriving black market in yet another drug. Interestingly, there is precedent for banning drugs that aren't narcotics: steroids.
It's all going to be a mess. Most of the people prosecuted will be poor or working class, and some prosecutors will be ruthless. In some states, women who get an abortion will be tried for murder, and face the stiff, often mandatory, sentences that go with that crime. Illegal abortions will be part of it-- but may not be the worst part.
One of my favorite movie stars is also one of the first: Tom Mix, a guy who played mostly cowboys in 291 films beginning in 1909. He wasn't really from cowboy country-- he grew up in north-central Pennsylvania, north of State College-- but he was a good horseman and definitely looked the part, and spent some of his young life in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The film scene had not yet migrated to California fully, and many of his early movies were filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico (yes, the other Las Vegas). He was usually featured along with "Tony the Wonder Horse," his trusty steed. He primarily made his home in Prescott Arizona, moving there just as Arizona achieved statehood. In truth, the Old West depicted in movies overlapped with those who first played Old West characters in the movies.
Among others, Mix was an influence on John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, both of whom adopted some of his on-screen characteristics.
Only about 10% of his films are available, many of them lost in a 1937 vault fire. It's shocking to realize how easily the earliest examples of this art form were destroyed in whole.
The Supreme Court continued their week of creating turmoil by deciding the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton, in which a football coach was fired for praying-- and leading prayers-- in the middle of the field after games. It's a weird case, in which the majority (exactly who you would expect: Gorsuch writing for Thomas, Barrett, and Alito, with Kavanaugh concurring) pretended that all the coach was doing was quietly praying to himself after everyone had gone home-- something anyone can do, supposedly.
In a pretty stunning development, Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissent in which she included the photo above-- of the football coach surrounded by players as he prays.
The justification, of course, was that participation was "voluntary"-- which completely ignores the power dynamic between a football coach and the players, one that often includes "voluntary" workouts.
It's a terrible precedent that will allow for all kinds of rule-bending in public schools by those who imagine that this allows for "voluntary" prayers before class, etc.
The Dobbs case, which reversed the rule under Roe and Casey this week, begins with this false trichotomy:
"Americans hold sharply conflicting views. Some believe fervently that a human person comes into being at conception and that abortion ends an innocent life. Others feel just as strongly that any regulation of abortion invades a woman’s right to control her own body and prevents women from achieving full equality. Still others in a third group think that abortion should be allowed under some but not all circumstances, and those within this group hold a variety of views about the particular restrictions that should be imposed."
It is false because it starts by defining groups according to when they think life begins, then pivots away to using other things to define the three groups, rather than using a consistent metric. The problem is that it defines different people by not only different views by views about different things. It's like saying "there are three groups of people when it comes to sports: people who like the New York Rangers, people who played hockey as a kid, and people who can only name some of the New York Rangers."
That subtle trick allows them to define the second and third group (who favor abortion at least in some circumstances) as fundamentally immoral: after all, unless we define them as NOT believing that life begins at conception, they believe in murder justified by other goals (such as full equality for women). That's pernicious.
In truth, if they are going to start by defining the first group as those who believe life begins at conception, they should have defined the three groups using the same metric, this way:
1) People who think life begins at conception
2) People who don't think life begins at conception
3) People who don't have a firm belief as to when life begins
That changes things, doesn't it? I'm in the third group. And, in my mind, when an important thesis is unknown, liberty should prevail.
By defining things the way they do, though, the Court pivots away from a central issue with abortion: that for many-- probably most-- of the people in the first group, their believe that life begins at conception is rooted in their religious beliefs, the same religious beliefs as the the six Supreme Court justices who were raised as Catholics and voted against the Mississippi clinic at the heart of the Dobbs case. (Justice Roberts voted to uphold the Mississippi law even though he did not vote to overturn Roe and Casey; it is also important to note that dissenter Sonia Sotomayor was raised as a Catholic).
Of course, the majority opinion was phrased in terms of legal theory, not religion. But faith seems to have correlated pretty consistently to the legal theories of those six jurists, doesn't it? It could just be a coincidence.
And that's the thing. If faith really is what believers like me say it is--a force that shapes one's worldview, opinions, and sense of what is important-- then of course their legal opinions follow the trajectory of their faith. Mine do; it is no secret that my belief that clemency is important and should play a greater role in criminal law is motivated by my faith.
Stare decisis? They relied on it to reject an equal protection basis for upholding Roe and Casey even as they set it aside to overturn those opinions. Nuances as to substantive due process? They don't parse that out very well-- and the Thomas and Kavanaugh concurrences seem to deny there is any such thing for rights not listed in the Constitution.
Faith is powerful. To those raised in faith, it does shape the deepest beliefs, and other things follow. If not, it's not faith.
In the end, there is a lot of "let's pretend" with all of this, with the central fiction being that any alignment between faith and legal theory is purely coincidental.
IPLawGuy recently purchased an electric car; I'm not sure whether or not he got a free gift. BUT I know he will use it for summer road trips to wherever he goes on such things (probably New Jersey, Mexico, and/or Banff). Don't worry, though-- he still has his unrestored 1970 Dodge Challenger painted in "Pornographic Green."
So, let's haiku about road trips this week! Here, I will go first:
I still use real maps
Spread out over the windshield
As I drive, happy.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Unfortunately, I think the people who least need to see it (those who are convinced that Donald Trump and his friends created the Jan. 6 insurrection and other election misdeeds) are watching the hearings and those who most need to see it (those who think Trump and his friends can do no wrong) are not watching it.
Still, there are some things to be learned:
-- The people who suffered the worst were those who either obeyed the law under pressure or did their job as poll workers and officials. Maybe the ugliest facts to come out from this aren't about Donald Trump or those close to him, but the involve the everyday people who devoted themselves to harassing those who were doing their jobs-- whether it was as a humble poll worker or as vice president.
-- Donald Trump and those around him were told several times, by Republicans, that they had legitimately lost the election, and they stuck to their lie.
-- It seems that all of this was driven by Trump's abhorrence of being a loser. But... he lost.
-- The passion of Trump supporters tells me that he is probably going to win the Republican primaries in 2024. Victory belongs to the people who show up, and they will.
First, this Smokey Bear PSA is super-creepy! The part where he actually removes his head... gross.
But Smokey was at least normative in his statements: Don't play with matches. Don't start forest fires. Good advice! Same goes for PFD Panda.
Woodsy Owl was a little more complicated. It seemed like his message ("Give a hoot! Don't Pollute!) really should have been directed at corporations. I would like to have seen a PSA where he is attending a corporate board meeting and when they vote against reducing emissions he attacks them like a real giant owl would-- blood everywhere. But no, it was mostly telling kids not to litter (which wasn't ever the real problem with pollution.
It would be fun to have a government mascot really go after the source of a problem...
I wanted to bring up to the main page a comment from my dad last week, posted in response to my opinions on inflation. His grandfather was a remarkable man in many ways:
I grew up with a grandfather who turned red when corporations reported huge profits. After surviving the depression he began writing about the cyclical economic damage this caused. He had retired from his career in engineering at the Westinghouse Corp. He became an important voice in the national conversation to contain America's huge economic swings. He was joined by corporate leaders and progressive Republicans like himself. Excess profits and the fat cats who received them were the culprits.
Mark, your great grandfather was probably right. About that time, Ike warned us not to lower taxes on corporations below 80%. The reasoning was that when profits are not so attractive, investments in workers and equipment go up and products get cheaper. Today the cost of products we buy includes the massive payments to those who do not add value. It may be time to dig up Bompa's papers.
Everyplace Jesus and his followers went, they walked (except, I guess, into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week).
That would really be different than our lives, wouldn't it? They traveled a lot, too. What would that change?
Well, for one thing, they would have been in shape. Everyone would have been, pretty much. Stopping at a truck stop in Iowa would make one realize we are long way from that now. We are a sedentary lot. But having your feet be your primary form of transport does change things.
More importantly, there was time for contemplation. Walking is like that.
And laughter. I remember once reading one of the gnostic gospels, and it talked about the Apostles laughing with Jesus, laughing as they walked.
Walking humanizes us-- and thinking about Jesus walking makes him more human to me.
Economic Mayhem Thursday: Fighting inflation with interest rates
Yesterday, the Federal Reserve Bank announced a 3/4 point increase in the interest rate. It's the biggest single hike since 1994, and is going to jolt the economy in a number of ways.
Basically, inflation is fueled by consumer (and government) spending, so they are trying to reduce spending on things people buy with credit: real estate, cars, boats, etc. Importantly, those sectors are the same ones that have played a role in driving inflation.
That's bad news if you want to buy a house or a car on credit, but not so bad if you can buy in cash. Unfortunately, most people don't have the means to do that, which means that this inflation-fighting measure disproportionately affects people of lesser means. For rich people with cash on hand, it might be a boon.
There aren't a lot of great other options, though. To fight inflation, you can try to reduce spending by:
1) Raising interest rates
2) Raising taxes
3) Reducing government spending, particularly on entitlements (social security, etc) and the military
4) Impose price controls.
The last option never ends well. There is little political will to raise taxes, and not many politicians are going to promote cutting social security benefits and defense spending (though that's a pretty good idea).
Which leaves interest rates. Of course, that decision lies in the hands of an entity outside the three branches of government (the Fed), but they know what they have to do... and they did it.
Politics seem pretty crazy right now. The January 6 insurrection, the bonkers Qanon people, an upcoming presidential election that might (unless we derail it, hopefully) feature two 80-somethings blathering at each other. But.... 50 years ago, on June 17, 1972, the most remarkable political scandal in American history was set in motion.
Let's not forget what happened: The Attorney General of the United States authorized burglars to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to photocopy documents and set up wiretaps. It was pretty ham-handed, and five of the burglars were caught. And then the cover-up began-- and the administration, and America's faith in government, began to unravel.
There were a lot of bizarre twists and turns along the way, of course. Martha Mitchell, the wife of the Attorney General, was kidnapped to keep her from talking. One of the burglars was paid with a check made out to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Nixon gave an order to fire the Special Prosecutor investigating the matter, but the Attorney General (Elliot Richardson) resigned rather than do it. Then the Deputy Attorney General (William Ruckelshaus) resigned rather than follow the order. The next in line was Solicitor General Robert Bork (yes, that Robert Bork), who fired the special prosecutor.
Things have been pretty crazy... but they have been crazy before.
There is a direct line, too, between Watergate and January 6. Watergate shook Americans' trust in our government, and it never recovered. That made us more vulnerable to the entreaties of an outsider like Donald Trump... and we know where that got us!
For someone like me who lives on the academic calendar, summer is just different. I still have a lot to do-- I spent this week writing, which is real work-- but time seems to be cut up into bigger chunks, and there is less rush. I know that time itself proceeds apace regardless of what I am up to, of course, but the perception of it is just different.
For one thing, I think more deeply in the summer. That's probably because I am writing, and that requires me to analyze and dig at what I know (and, importantly, what I do not know). But even as the temperature is different and the world outside is different, the world inside my mind is different, too.
There is this, right? Which seems to say that time should be different from time to time...
Ecclesiastes 3 (NRSV)
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; 8 a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
It's kind of funny-- when I think of summer, I think of writing. But for most people, summer is a time for reading. I love to see what people are reading on the plane or at the beach or by the pool. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:
People give me books
I save them for the summer
When my mind has time.
Now it is your turn. Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Chuck Grassley posted this tweet a few days ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I really have a lot of questions about the Sparlin Family and their trip. I realize that the 240 characters that a tweet allows doesn't allow for much explanation, but Sen. Grassley leaves a lot to the imagination. For example:
-- Did the Sparlins drive to DC to complain to their senator about gas prices? That seems... well, you know. Or did they drive to DC for a vacation from Iowa and then just decide to pop in on their Senator?
-- And what is the family relationship here? I think the Sparlin on the right is the daughter of one of the other Sparlins, but it is hard to tell.
-- I think if they knew they were meeting with their Senator, they might have gone with something other than the shorts/t-shirt/novelty sunglasses look. But if they weren't going to visit their senator, how did they end up in his office? I kind of imagine Grassley looking out the window, spotting them and yelling "Hey! It's the Sparlins! From Preston! Get your raggedy Iowa asses on up here and let's get a picture!"
-- Also, how long can you keep a conversation about high gas prices going? That seems like a one-minute subject, tops. I imagine it went something like this:
Grassley: How did you get here?
Lisa Sparlin: We drove the whole way! It cost a fortune in gas!
Jen Sparlin: It's like almost five dollars in Pennsylvania.
Grassley: Those gas prices are really high.
Shana Sparlin: Yeah.
At any rate, it's good that members of Congress meet with actual constituents, and there is certainly value in hearing what they care about. I just wish it mattered more!
Teaching is social, enmeshed with other people. For an introvert like me, it means having to get yourself psyched up before you go on stage, steeling yourself for something that feels unnatural.
But then classes end for the summer. It's suddenly quiet, and it is time to write. That is where I am right now-- deep into a new article that is due quite soon. I find myself losing track of time, pacing back and forth in my office, talking to myself-- and I love all of that. That's pretty much what I will do the rest of the summer.
And then the wheel will turn again. In September it will be time to get back on the stage, to inform and entertain (you can't be a good teacher unless you do both).
On Sunday, I went to church at First Covenant here in Minneapolis. It was a small group; this church has been through a lot. We sang hymns and we greeted one another. There was a sermon by a member's mom. And halfway through, I saw something remarkable.
Kids in a church like that have a lot of freedom; they are free-range, free will Christians. And as happens sometimes, a very small child, a little boy of 2 or 3, made a break for it. He toddled in front of the congregation then off towards a door to the right leading out of the sanctuary. He seemed determined to make his escape. I expected a mom or dad to appear, but no one did. Instead, one of our elders, Ruthie Mattox, spotted him and headed towards the door he was moving towards.
I watched closely, expecting her to either block the door or scoop him up before he could make his way out to the hallway, parking lot or beyond. But she didn't do that.
Instead, she waved at him until he looked at her. Then she went to a shelf and got some Play-doh and sat down at a little table. She calmly got the Play-doh out of the container. He was looking at her, transfixed. Then he ran over, sat down, and they played. Not just for a few minutes, but for the rest of the service.
There is a lot to ponder there. What Ruthie Mattox did was so unexpected-- she did not control the little boy, but made him want something else more, something better. And then she stayed and kept the promise she had made.
Sunday Reflection: The value of who we are right now
It's so sad to read about the victims of the mass murder in Uvalde, Texas. But one thing I have admired about some of the coverage is that it has described the children who died in the present tense-- talking about who they were, what they loved and what they added to the lives of people around them, instead of just talking about who they might have become someday.
That's a real failing in our society: too often we talk about children just in terms of their potential, and older people just in terms of who they used to be. In neither case do we honor their true human dignity; there is great value in who they are right now. Children have wisdom sometimes, and often are funny and loving. That's not potential, it's in the present. And with older people, they are more than just reminiscence machines! They exist in this moment, too, and need to be part of discussions in the present.
Intriguingly, Jesus always took people as they were. When he gathered the children, he didn't say "This is the future!" the way we too often do. Here is a passage from Mark 10:
3 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Think about that-- Jesus is valuing the children as they are.
Being 40 doesn't make you more valuable than being 8 or 89. As with so many other aspects of the lives of those around us, we are called to love people as they are.
A few days ago, I had a conversation with my parents about the raccoons living either in or around their house. It seems that the raccoons had either planted a tree on the roof of their house or removed it (either way, a remarkable feat for raccoons). Over the past several decades, their house has suffered from squirrel invasions, at least one unauthorized bird co-habitation, and other encounters with fauna who really should have been outdoors.
Let's haiku about critters this week! They enliven our lives, whether we want it or not. Here, I will go first:
Squirrels moved in
So my brother and I shooed
Them with hockey sticks.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: The end of Credit-topia
I recently found some old school newspapers from 1979. It featured the usual stuff-- basketball games, dances, the retirement of a not-quite-beloved teacher. But I found something fascinating: a bank ad. I'm not sure why a bank would advertise in a high school newspaper, but there it was, trumpeting home loans at 16% interest and savings accounts paying 11% interest. Zounds!
It probably will not come to that, but we are headed towards higher interest rates. In the end, that is the only proven tool to fight inflation (other than higher taxes), and the Fed seems likely to lead us in that direction. Gone will be the days of 3% home loans and no-interest car loans from manufacturers. Money is about to get expensive-- and fewer people will be able to live on credit.
I'm no economist, but I know what higher interest rates will mean:
-- Home loans will become much more expensive, and we will finally see the seller's market cool down. The sad part of that is that the lower prices won't help a lot of people who need a house, because of the much higher interest rates.
-- Student loans will be more expensive, too-- and this comes at a time when college enrollment is already dropping. Many were expecting a sharp drop-off in about 2025 because of demographic changes, but economic forces may push this date up.
-- Car loans will get more expensive, which should chill the red-hot market for cars. Again, that's not great news for people who have to borrow, as the higher interest rates will more than cover any drop in prices.
And here is a political truth: other than raising taxes (which reduces spending), there isn't much that the President or Congress can do about inflation. The Fed can, but they are not under political control.
That means that in the mid-term we will hear a lot of Republicans promising to fight inflation if they are elected. That could happen... if they raise taxes. Other "solutions" like pumping more oil would only have a marginal effect, and not for years. But I doubt they will tell us that!
Honest Police Motto: "Our Priority is Officer Safety"
The more we hear about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the more tragic it becomes: The tiny caskets decorated with dinosaurs and unicorns, the grieving families and their grim realities, the conflicts over what to do. And, on top of it all, frustration at the police response.
The following facts have become clear:
-- For about an hour, at least 19 armed law enforcement officers were in the school but did not engage the gunman, who continued to kill children.
-- The children in the line of fire, meanwhile, kept calling 911 and begging for help that did not come.
-- The fact of those 911 calls was conveyed to the officers who were refusing to engage and save the children.
-- And now we find out that the police assertions that a teacher propped open a back door were a flat-out lie: in fact, the teacher closed the door.
It's a deep tragedy, and it cuts against our image of the bravery of law enforcement officers. In part, it appears, the officers were scared of the gun that the shooter was using-- A gun that he was able to buy just after his 18th birthday, despite a history of threatening comments.
In short, they decided not to engage the shooter because it risked the safety of the officers.
And there-- right there-- is the link between the disaster in Uvalde and the police shootings of George Floyd and others that have so troubled the nation. Invariably, when the police shoot someone (often Black) with a gun or with a cell phone or with nothing at all, the justification is officer safety.
And there's the rub. What we are learning through these tragedies is that police have come to view officer safety as their top priority, above public safety. This is epitomized in the "warrior training" they receive, which is rooted in an us v. them mentality that opposes the police and a dangerous public.
Or, look at the recent Amir Locke case here in Minneapolis. Locke had a gun, but wasn't pointing it at the police when they stormed into an apartment where he was fast asleep on a couch. The police shot him dead, and no one was charged. The justification, as usual, was officer safety.
Maybe they should just be honest about and replace "To Protect and Serve" with "To Protect Ourselves."