Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who Has Put Pubic Hair on Our "Citizens United" Decision? Could It Be Ginni Thomas?

There was one predominant reaction to Ginni Thomas' insistence that Anita Hill needs to apologize for her sexual-harassment testimony against Clarence Thomas 19 years ago: what was Mrs. Thomas thinking? What could the Thomases possibly gain by resurrecting a controversy so old that many of Ms. Hill's law students didn't realize who she was?

On the eve of Halloween week, why treat a new generation of Americans to the macabre details of Ms. Hill's allegations against Mr. Thomas--including sharing his interest in pornography and his horniness with unwilling female co-workers and, above all, his elocution to some of them:
"Who has put public hair on my Coke?"

And did Mrs. Thomas give no thought that her new harassment of Ms. Hill might bring comment from others who had been romantically involved with Mr. Thomas in the past--like former girlfriend Lillian McEwan, previously an SEC lawyer, who last week confirmed that Mr. Thomas was really into porn and really aggressive in pushing himself sexually on female co-workers? Don't McEwan's revelations set up Mr. Thomas for impeachment by Congress, on the grounds that he lied under oath in his confirmation hearings?

Whether Mrs. Thomas' role as a prominent tea bagger and high-profile fund raiser for the movement was a motivating factor is unknown. But Providence Journal columnist Fromma Harrop finds it ironic that by putting her husband's controversy back in the news, Mrs. Thomas has helped us focus on the serious threat posed by the Supreme Court's ruling in the "Citizens United" case.

Harrop doesn't say so, but I will: the pubic hair on the Coke has become the pubic hair on Citizens United: Mrs. Thomas' gambit personifies why allowing 501(c)(4) groups with phantom donors to contribute anonymously and without limit to partisan political advertising is such a danger to American democracy.

Portions of Harrop's column follow:

Ginni Thomas has bigger fish to fry than to rehash her grievances with Anita Hill. She's raised hundreds of thousands for her lucrative political brainchild, Liberty Central. The group's mission is to co-opt tea party types and deliver them to the Republican establishment. What better way for Ginni to profit from right-wing anger than to portray herself as the victim of a left-wing smear campaign?

By all means, let's keep the spotlight on her and follow it to Liberty Central. You think that big money has already taken over Washington? You have no idea how much worse it could get. The Thomases' activities provide a number of scary potential scenarios.

Clarence Thomas' more serious brush with indecency involved his role last January in the obscene Citizens United ruling. Joining the conservative majority, he helped open the stable doors for 501(c)(4) groups, like Ginni's Liberty Central, to collect millions from unidentified donors, then use the money to run political ads.

Now, Ginni is a private citizen who has every right to be politically active. Liberals can play the same game. But here's the problem — and it goes way beyond possibly compromising the electoral process.
Clarence rules on cases that affect powerful economic interests. We have no idea whether those interests are simultaneously enriching Ginni's political group and, by extension, the Thomas household. But Ginni knows.

What's to stop her from saying over breakfast: "Honey, Megamogul Hedge Fund Partners has just given Liberty Central $500,000. They need your help at court today." Or to better protect her husband from possible conflict-of-interest charges, she could take an indirect approach: "Honey, I don't care for the plaintiff's argument in today's case," followed by a wink.

Perhaps the Thomases are sterling servants of the public good. Still, how can we assess whether a justice has a conflict of interest without knowing where the family's money comes from?

The classic conservative cure for keeping elections honest while allowing unlimited campaign spending was to disclose the names of the spenders. Now we can't even tell who may be paying people off.

Thank you, Ginni Thomas, for keeping us focused on these dangers to the democracy. You may have done our civic culture a great service even if you had no intention of doing it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Church Teaching Comes from Three Groups; Church Officials Are But One of Them

Hats off to the National Catholic Reporter today for posting two excellent commentaries reaffirming that there are multiple teaching authorities in the Catholic Church, and that church officials are only one of them. This was, of course, one of the pivotal themes of my doctoral dissertation, and a reality that Vatican conservatives have been eager to deny in the 40+ years since Vatican II.

In the wake of a September 15th broadside by the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--which charged that the 2008 book The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology by Creighton University theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler was “in serious error, and cannot be considered authentic Catholic teaching”--the commentaries remind the bishops that Catholic theologians and baptized Catholics as a whole are parallel channels of teaching authority: sources which the bishops may neither disrespect nor ignore.

One commentary by theologian Regina Schulte, is entitled On sexuality, the hierarchy has usurped the entire teaching office. She compares the bishops' reactionary stance to the one they voiced against the 1977 landmark book Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, by a committee of theologians commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America--and concludes that not much has changed. Schulte knows whereof she speaks: her late husband James Schulte was one of the study's authors. Ms. Schulte asks:

"Should final decisions regarding sexual morality for all persons be filtered only through such a single mindset and then imposed dictatorially on all members -- men and women, married and single, homosexuals at all androgynal points on the spectrum?

"It borders on the ridiculous to disallow contributions that the very people possessing the requisite wisdom born of experience can bring to the discussions.

"It is apparent that the hierarchy has usurped the entire teaching office -- the “magisterium” -- for themselves; yet they are only one of three components endowed with this charism. Theologians and the wisdom born of experience in the “sense of the faithful” comprise the other two. It would seem, then, that appropriate exercise of their distinctive roles requires that bishops collaborate rather than compete.

"Finally, theologians must constantly emphasize that their role is not catechesis. Theology’s mission is not that of mere communicator between hierarchy and laity. When denunciations such as that pronounced on this latest scholarly work by Salzman and Lawson cease to be standard operating procedure, then, and probably only then, will Catholic moral theology move forward, offering light and guidance to contemporary Catholics -- and to society at large with whom it will undoubtedly resonate."

The second commentary is an NCR editorial entitled The wisdom of the church’s three magisteria. The editorial echoes Shulte's insistence that teaching authority in the Catholic church is shared by three different bodies of believers--officials, theologians and all the baptized. But the editorial expands on the theme by tracing it back to the "newly Blessed" Cardinal John Henry Newman, and by noting that Newman valued even more channels by which the Spirit of the Risen Lord could inspire church teaching:

"It was the newly Blessed John Henry Newman himself who pointed out that there are really three magisteria in the church: the mouth of the episcopacy, the doctors (meaning the theologians) and the people in the pews. Newman valued all three equally and the wise balance and guidance they provided.

"'I think I am right in saying that the tradition of the apostles, committed to the whole church in its various constituents and functions ... manifests itself variously at various times: sometimes by the mouth of the episcopacy, sometimes by the doctors, sometimes by the people, sometimes by liturgies, rites, ceremonies, and customs, by events, disputes, movements, and all those other phenomena which are comprised under the name of history. It follows that none of those channels of tradition may be treated with disrespect.'

"Newman was fascinated with the interactions among these three magisteria in history when doctrine and theology were being formulated, notably in the early centuries when the laity saved the church from the Arian heresy and then in the 19th century when the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was forged by Pope Pius IX, who preferred expressions taken from the church’s lived experience, from the faith and worship of the Christian people, to scholastic definitions."

The editorial ends by quoting the forward to The Sexual Person written by Fr. Charles Curran, moral theologian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, whom I still cherish as one of my mentors at the Catholic University of America in the 1970s:

“Anyone familiar with the Catholic tradition and its history knows that arguments and even sharp differences between and among Catholic theologians are nothing new. In fact, in earlier times the differences were more severe than they are today. ... In that historical context, The Sexual Person makes a significant contribution. Not all theologians will agree with what Salzman and Lawler propose but all must recognize they have achieved their purpose of entering into a genuine and respectful dialogue in the search of the truth and meaning of human sexuality in the Catholic tradition today.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Supremes Should Tell Fred Phelps He Can't Impose His Religion on Other Faiths' Funerals

The gist of most of the coverage of the Supreme Court's questioning of the Fred Phelps clan October 6th was that most of the justices, conservative and liberal, seemed sympathetic to the family of the deceased soldier harassed by the anti-gay hate group at their son's funeral and wanted to find a way to rule against Phelps--but the justices seemed to be grasping for a way to do so that would not stifle legitimate free speech.

In a letter to the Houston Chronicle October 12th, a reader gave the justices an excellent rationale. Stephen W. O'Driscoll of The Woodlands, TX, said the issue should be freedom of religion, not freedom of speech: funerals, which are almost always conducted by a religious official of one kind or another, should be considered protected events under the First Amendment's freedom of religion clauses--so that no one has the right to disrupt them, and especially when they're trying to assert contrary religious claims against the mourners. The text of the letter follows:

No right to disrupt

Regarding "Justices not blind as they hear appeal," (Page A3, Thursday), the Supreme Court case involving the disruption of the burial of a fallen Marine is actually simple to decide.

Any burial can be considered a private and religious rite since a religious figure, such as a priest, rabbi, minister or other, is normally involved.

To say that anyone has the right to disrupt the service would lead to wholesale disruptions in churches, mosques, synagogues and any other places of worship.

I will leave it to the Supreme Court to decide if such disruptions should be considered as hate crimes.


The Woodlands

Thursday, October 07, 2010

States Rights? Texas Oil Majors Try to Gut California Law That Cuts Greenhouse Gases

"States rights." It's perhaps the perennial slogan of the U.S. political right. But when it suits their purposes, proponents have no compunction whatsoever about asserting, nakedly and arbitrarily, that other states have fewer rights than their own.

Take, for instance, the State of Hawaii. It has laws governing birth records--laws which mandate that original birth certificates be kept in a state filing cabinet, and nowhere else. Confronted with this mandate, those who insist on questioning the true birthplace of the President of the United States declare that Hawaii has no right to enact this legislation. How would they like it if Hawaii told them what they do not have the right to enact?

And now, thanks to a recent Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times, we get another flagrant example. We learn that two large Texas oil companies--Valero and Tesoro--are working to have California voters gut a law to rollback greenhouse gases, passed by the California Legislature with strong bipartisan support in 2006. And we also learn that California Republican Governor Arnold Schawrzenegger is mad as hell about the effort--as is Californian George Shultz, Republican secretary of state in the Reagan administration.

What we do not hear is any outcry from Texas Governor Rick Perry, long-put-upon champion of states rights for Texas. Perry, of course, has publicized his championship by dubious stances like challenging the EPA's right to enforce federal environmental laws in Texas, rejecting stimulus money publicly but taking it through the back door, squandering federal dollars intended to keep school districts from laying off teachers in a benighted attempt to plug a gigantic deficit looming in the state budget, and the like. So it would surprise no one if Perry were to claim that Texas has rights which California doesn't. Bless his heart!

As Daniel Webster asked during an historic debate in 1830, "wence is this supposed right of the states derived?" Of course Webster was debunking another presumptuous state right: the right to withdraw from the "perpetual union" into which the Constitution forged the states--another right Perry arrogates to himself. Perhaps Texas voters will be bright enough to disabuse him of that claim. Not likely, but one can hope.

Meanwhile, let's revel in most of Friedman's account of Texas' arrogance and California's rightful outrage:

The Terminator, a k a the Governator, is not happy. And you shouldn’t be either.

What has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California incensed is the fact that two Texas oil companies with two refineries each in California are financing a campaign to roll back California’s landmark laws to slow global warming and promote clean energy innovation, because it would require the refiners to install new emission-control tools. At a time when President Obama and Congress have failed to pass a clean energy bill, California’s laws are the best thing we have going to stimulate clean-tech in America. We don’t want them gutted. C’mon in. This is a fight worth having.

Here are the basics: Next month Californians will vote on “Prop 23,” a proposal to effectively kill implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, known as A.B. 32. It was supported by Republicans, Democrats, businesses and environmentalists. Prop 23 proposes to suspend implementation of A.B. 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5 percent. It is currently above 12 percent.

A.B. 32 was designed to put California on a path to reducing greenhouse gases in its air to 1990 levels by 2020. This would make the state a healthier place, and a more innovative one. Since A.B. 32 was passed, investors have poured billions of dollars into making new technologies to meet these standards.

“It is very clear that the oil companies from outside the state that are trying to take out A.B. 32, and trying to take out our environmental laws, have no interest in suspending it, but just to get rid of it,” Governor Schwarzenegger said at an energy forum we both participated in last week in Sacramento, sponsored by its energetic mayor, Kevin Johnson. “They want to kill A.B. 32. Otherwise they wouldn’t put this provision in there about the 5.5 percent unemployment rate. It’s very rare that California in the last 40 years had an unemployment rate of below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. They’re not interested in our environment; they are only interested in greed and filling their pockets with more money.

“And they are very deceptive when they say they want to go and create more jobs in California,” the governor added. “Since when has [an] oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let’s be honest. If they really are interested in jobs, they would want to protect A.B. 32, because actually it’s green technology that is creating the most jobs right now in California, 10 times more than any other sector.”

No, this is not about jobs. As, a progressive research center, reported: Two Texas oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, “have led the charge against the landmark climate law, along with Koch Industries, the giant oil conglomerate owned by right-wing megafunders Charles and David Koch. Koch recently donated $1 million to the effort and has been supporting front groups involved in the campaign.”

Fortunately, Californians from across the political spectrum are trying to raise money to defeat Prop 23, but the vote could be close. George Shultz, a former secretary of state during the Reagan administration, has taken a leading role in the campaign against Prop 23. (See:

“Prop 23 is designed to kill by indefinite postponement California’s effort to clean up the environment,” said Mr. Shultz. “This effort is financed heavily by money from out of state. You have to conclude that the financiers are less concerned about California than they are about the fact that if we get something that is working here to clean up the air and launch a clean-tech industry, it will go national and maybe international. So the stakes are high. I hope we can win here and send a message to the whole country that it’s time to put aside partisan politics and get an energy bill out of Washington.”

Dan Becker, a veteran environmental lobbyist, echoes that view: “Now that industry and their friends in Congress have blocked progress there, the hope for action moves to the states” and the Environmental Protection Agency. “Unfortunately,” he added, “polluter lobbyists are tight on our heels. They’ve offered Senate amendments to block the E.P.A. from using the Clean Air Act to cut power plant pollution. Since that failed, they are trying to block California from moving forward. ... If the people of California see through the misrepresentations of the oil industry, it throws climate denialism off the tracks and opens the door for a return to a science-based approach to the climate. It would be a triumph for the National Academy of Sciences over the National Academy of Fraud.”

The real joke is thinking that if California suspends its climate laws that Mother Nature will also take a timeout. “We can wait to solve this problem as long as we want,” says Nate Lewis, an energy chemist at the California Institute of Technology: “But Nature is balancing its books every day. It was a record 113 degrees in Los Angeles the other day. There are laws of politics and laws of physics. Only the latter can’t be repealed.”

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Interior Dept. Approves 11 Square Miles of Solar Projects on Public Lands in So-Cal

A posting from "msnbc staff and news service reports" (covered by others in the hours since) touts a significant step forward in the effort to harness solar energy to power homes. If things go well, several similar projects also plan to start up in the coming months. Excerpts follow:

After five years of negotiations and battles, some of them environmental, two large solar power projects on Tuesday got the first-ever green lights to set up shop on federal lands.

"These projects are milestones in our focused effort to rapidly and responsibly capture renewable energy resources on public lands," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement announcing the approvals in desert areas of Southern California.

One includes a square mile of solar panels near Victorville in inland Southern California, and the other covers about 10 square miles in the remote Imperial Valley, east of San Diego.

The announcement comes about five years after solar developers began asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for rights to develop hundreds of solar plants on federally owned desert land across the Southwest.

Expected to cost around $2 billion, the largest of the two projects will use 28,360 solar collectors known as SunCatchers to produce enough electricity to power more than 200,000 homes.

The approvals give the project sponsors access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years.

Construction is expected to start on both by the end of the year, and Interior said the projects should generate almost 1,000 jobs.

The two approvals are:

  • The Imperial Valley Solar Project, by Tessera Solar of Arizona and based in Imperial County, Calif., is expected to produce up to 709 megawatts from 28,360 solar dishes, enough to power at least 200,000 homes.

  • The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project will use photovoltaic solar technology in San Bernardino County, Calif., and will produce up to 45 megawatts from 40,500 solar panels, enough to power at least 13,000 homes.
Interior said both are part of a "fast track" process that provides significant funding via the federal stimulus program if construction begins by the end of 2010.

"The Recovery Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes Tessera and Chevron eligible for approximately $273 million and $31 million, respectively," Interior stated.

Tuesday's approvals came shortly after California regulators passed rules requiring utilities to derive a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the most aggressive standards in the U.S.

The newly approved permit for sites in California were the first in a series Salazar expected to issue before the end of the year. Final approval by 2011 qualifies projects for federal stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Currently, solar developers have proposed facilities that would produce more than 6,000 megawatts, enough to power 4 million homes for a day at peak usage. The projects are proposed for about 23 million acres of federally owned desert in the Southwest.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state is on track to approve nine large solar plants by year's end.

"Our great partnership is helping to improve public health, grow our green economy, promote energy independence and strengthen our national security," the governor said in a statement.