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The George Mitchell Precedent



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Jay Newton-Small writes for Time:

If Mitch McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader next year, he says his leadership style will most resemble that of George Mitchell, the Maine Democrat who held the job from 1989 to 1995. McConnell is not attracted to Mitchell’s policies, but he likes the Democrat’s style.

“He treated everyone with respect,” McConnell tells TIME in an interview. “The Senate needs to run in a more collegial and open way than [under] the current majority leader, who has prevented members from both parties from offering amendments and basically done a lot of damage to the institution, in my opinion.”

I suspect that McConnell likes something about Mitchell other than collegiality. Mitchell was a highly effective Senate leader under a president of the opposite party. He kept sending George H. W. Bush popular liberal legislation that elicited vetoes that hurt the president and his party, teed up issues for the next presidential race, and formed much of his own party’s agenda for the next time it had the presidency. Some of those fights concerned the minimum wage, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and unemployment insurance. I suspect that’s part of what McConnell would want to do with a Republican majority. If so, it’s something for Republicans to keep in mind as they figure out how to campaign this year.

Re: Abortion and the HHS Mandate



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Another email in response to this post:

You wrote something a long time ago that has stuck with me. I can’t find it but I think it was during a stem-cell debate. It was something like: If we didn’t have motives for deciding that human embryos were not human beings, if we were disinterested, it would be obvious that they are. It’s only because we have reasons for wanting to make them expendable that we pretend it’s a mystery.

Thanks! That was a good point that past-me made. (I can’t find it either, but I’m sure others have made it too.) And to restate the point, we would not have any difficulty in figuring out when the life of a human organism began.

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The Democrats’ Voter-Turnout Problem



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Beginning early this year, a pattern has been developing in which Democratic voter turnout in special elections has been below expectations. The phenomenon showed up in a Virginia state legislative seat captured by Republicans as well as the Florida U.S. House election this month, among others.

This week, Republican Mike Morrell won a special election for a state senate race near Riverside, Calif. His victory wasn’t remarkable, since the seat leans Republican. What was stunning was that he won 63 percent of the vote and another Republican took 6 percent. The left-wing website Daily Kos expressed worry:

That California result is truly abysmal. The two Republicans combined for 69 percent, the two Democrats just 25 percent. (A Libertarian took 7 percent.) In 2012, this district went for Mitt Romney by just a 52–46 margin. If you look only at the two-party share of the vote, that’s a 6-point edge for Romney but a 46-point GOP advantage on Tuesday night. That’s a 40-point dropoff for Democrats! Candidate quality has something to do with it—Morrell is an assemblyman, and the Democrats put forth Some Dudes—but still. Yeesh.

A majority of Americans (57 percent in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll) believe the country is still in recession. Obamacare continues to be plagued with problems and unpopularity. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Democrats are having trouble getting their people to the polls. It’s just more evidence that a tidal wave is indeed building for this year’s midterms and it’s Democrats who have their candidates stuck on the beach unable to avoid it.

Web Briefing: April 23, 2014

La Venta Agresiva



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For the past couple of hours, I’ve been listening (over the Internet) to the San Diego Spanish-language radio station La Nueva (106.5 FM), because I’m really into various Latino styles of music. Over that time I have heard many, many ads for “Covered California” — the state’s Obamacare exchange — trying to get people to sign up. Sometimes more than one per commercial break.

Obamacare has 99 problems, but a failure to advertise itself ain’t one.

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ABC News to Defend ‘Pink Slime’ Coverage Before South Dakota Jury



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A South Dakota judge on Thursday gave the green light to one of the most high-stakes defamation lawsuits in U.S. history. Judge Cheryle Gering denied ABC News’ motion to dismiss the $1.2 billion dollar lawsuit filed against it by Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) in the wake of a series of reports that BPI alleges led people to believe its product, known as lean finely textured beef, is unsafe, and ignited an industry backlash.

The case is now headed toward a trial where ABC personalities Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila will take the witness stand before a South Dakota jury, defending the network’s journalistic practices and its right to lead consumer-oriented crusades. 

“We are pleased with the court’s decision, which rejected nearly all of the defendants’ arguments,” BPI’s attorney Erik Connolly said in a statement. ”We look forward to starting discovery and ultimately presenting our case to a jury.” ABC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The reports that sparked the lawsuit aired in March 2012, mostly on the network’s primetime broadcast, World News. (I wrote about them last month here.) At the crux of the controversy are anchor Diane Sawyer and ABC News correspondent Jim Avila repeated references to lean finely textured beef, as “pink slime.”

In Sawyer’s first report on “pink slime,” a product intended to prevent the sort of contamination that, in the early 1990s, claimed the lives of three children who ate undercooked burgers at Jack in the Box, she warned that beef trimmings “once used only in dog food and cooking oil” might be be hiding in your dinner. The network sent Avila to grocery stores across the country to ask whether their ground beef contained “pink slime” and urged consumers to demand answers to the same question.

Many of the nation’s largest grocery chains moved quickly to remove it from their shelves; a number of fast food restaurants swore it off; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that schools would not have to serve ground beef that contained it. BPI said in legal filings that it was forced to close three of its four factories and to lay off over 650 employees as a result. 

ABC filed motions to dismiss the suit on several grounds, including that “slime” is not a derogatory term by which to refer to beef. Lean finely textured beef, “much like all ground beef, is slimy,” it argued.

If the parties do not reach a settlement, Gering’s decision will force Sawyer, Avila, and ABC News correspondent David Kerley, who is also named in the lawsuit to testify before a South Dakota jury where BPI, which is based in the state, will have a home-court advantage. ABC sought to remove the case from state court South Dakota and into federal court, but was denied.

Sawyer faced a similar situation over two decades ago, when she flew to Greensboro, North Carolina to defend the network’s coverage of the unsanitary practices taking place in back rooms of the grocery-store chain Food Lion. Two of her producers had lied on employment applications in order to obtain jobs with Food Lion and obtain access to those back rooms. A $5.5 million verdict in Food Lion’s favor was ultimately overturned, and ABC ordered to pay just $2 in damages.​

The court battle over “pink slime” is being waged by legal titans on both sides. ABC has retained Williams & Connolly, where the team of lawyers representing the network is headed by Kevin Baine. In the late 1990s, Baine successfully handled CNN’s libel lawsuits stemming from the network’s botched 1998 Operation Tailwind report alleging that the United States used nerve gas in the Vietnam War.

Dan Webb, the chairman of the Chicago-based firm Winston & Strawn, leads the team representing BPI. He is the author of the Webb report, which revealed that former chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange Richard Grasso had been overpaid $156 million in the job. It was Webb’s prosecution, too, that put former national-security adviser John Poindexter behind bars for his role in the Iran-contra affair.

The court’s decision comes just days after ABC News president Ben Sherwood, who has championed the coverage of soft news like the consumer-oriented “pink slime” features, got a big promotion: He was named co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group on Monday. 

Christie: ‘I Did Nothing To Create The Enviroment’ That Led to Bridgegate



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Governor Chris Christie gave his first interview since Bridgegate Thursday night on ABC News with Diane Sawyer

Christie insisted that he “did nothing to create the environment” that resulted in shutting down the George Washington Bridge. 

“I spent a lot of time in the last 11 weeks thinking about what did I do, if anything, to contribute to this,” Christie said.

Christie was interviewed by Sawyer at his home in Mendham, N.J. today. Earlier on Thursday, a report based on an internal probe of the scandal was released. The report cleared the governor of any wrongdoing or knowledge of the bridge’s closing.

“Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t want them to do something so inextricably stupid,” said Christie. 

Sawyer asked if the scandal “torpedoes” his potential 2016 run for president. Christie responded that he will make a decision about 2016 sometime next year, and “what’s happened in the last ten weeks will make me a better leader.”

Krauthammer’s Take: Who to Believe, the Holy See or the Man Who Told the Lie of the Year?



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After Pope Francis met with President Obama, each leader had a different take on their conversation. Where Obama said the conversation focused on income inequality and that social schisms were largely ignored, the Vatican said “religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection” were discussed.

According to Charles Krauthammer, it’s easy to choose who to believe. “On the one hand you’ve got the Bishop of Rome, the Holy See, of whom a billion co-religionists believe in his infallibility,” Krauthammer said. “On the other hand you’ve got a man who said, ‘If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.’ So who are you going to choose?”

Less cynically, Kruathammer said the discrepancy could also possibly be explained by Obama’s referencing only his conversation with the Pope, not the Secretary of State’s as well. Perhaps Obama himself did not literally talk about social issues even if another member of his administration did.

Abortion and the HHS Mandate



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During the oral argument Justice Kennedy asked whether, on the government’s theory of the case, it would be permissible to force companies to cover abortion in their insurance policies for their employees. I think the answer to that question is clearly yes. And as Matthew Franck points out, the question is not a hypothetical one: The case itself concerns a company that objects to covering drugs that may cause abortion. Three issues have been brought up on this point. 1) Some defenders of the HHS mandate dispute that preventing the implantation of a human embryo should be considered equivalent to inducing an abortion. 2) Some of them dispute that the drugs in question prevent implantation. 3) Some of them say that company owners have no complicity in what employees do with their insurance policies and thus face no burden from covering these drugs, regardless of their effects and how those effects should be characterized.

For the purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is a sufficient answer to these points that the owners sincerely believe that offering coverage for the disputed drugs would violate their consciences. They sincerely believe that stopping implantation is equivalent to abortion, that the drugs pose an unacceptable risk of stopping implantation, and that they would be unacceptably complicit in what they consider to be an evil if they offered the coverage. To judge the RFRA claim, judges must decide whether those beliefs justify an exemption from a legal requirement without evaluating the merits of those beliefs.

Here I want to make the case that these beliefs, in addition to being protected, have a stronger basis than the critics allow. Ed Whelan pointed out back in December that even some of the pro-mandate briefs acknowledge that the drugs in question may sometimes act by preventing implantation. Here’s how mandate defender Marty Lederman frames the question of whether that matters:

U.S. law has adopted the standard, consensus understanding in the scientific and medical communities that pregnancies begin—and thus that “abortions” of pregnancies can occur only after—a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine wall.

The individual plaintiffs in these cases, by contrast, believe that human life begins when an egg and sperm unite, even before the embryo is implanted in the uterine wall, and that it is therefore a termination of human life to prevent the embryo’s implantation. . . .

[A]ccording to the FDA, the four contraceptive methods named in the Hobby Lobby complaint — two IUDs, ella and Plan B – might prevent implantation of an embryo in a small number of cases.  And if and when they have such an effect, then in plaintiffs’ view—even if not in the view of the law—such cases would result in termination of a human life.

Much of this discussion (as well as Lederman’s discussion here) seems to me to confuse a semantic issue with a substantive one. Pro-lifers object to “ending a pregnancy” and “abortion” because they entail causing the death of a living human organism, which is indisputably what the human embryo is pre-implantation. The “view” that preventing implantation causes the end of a human life in that sense is simply a fact. Of course the law does not define the human embryo as “a human life” in the sense of a person with rights, but of course it does not so define unborn children long past implantation.
 
Almost nobody, that is, believes that implantation is a morally significant event. (And that’s true whatever its legal significance, which also seems to me to be slight.) Pro-choicers do not believe that killing that human organism becomes unacceptable after implantation, and pro-lifers do not believe it is acceptable before. Even if you take the view that causing the death of a human embryo by preventing it from being able to implant should not be described as an “abortion,” it does not change the fact that the principle underlying objections to abortion applies to this way of bringing about death too.
 
Update: A correspondent emails me a link to a survey that found that 57 percent of responding obstetrician-gynecologists believe pregnancy begins at conception while 28 percent believe it begins at implantation. In this survey, at least, a majority did not subscribe to the alleged “consensus understanding in the scientific and medical communities.” The correspondent adds his own terminological point: “No one you know who has ever been trying to have children has said the sentence ‘We’re trying to implant.’ People in that circumstance are trying to ‘conceive,’ because we all know that conception is when new people start.”

Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb at Hobby Lobby



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Well, no. But Michael McConnell has written a truly excellent analysis of the Hobby Lobby case, one that makes points I haven’t seen anywhere else. Thanks to Ed Whelan, who has been posting incisively on this subject at Bench Memos, for bringing it to my attention.

OFA Sends Unhinged E-mail about the Koch Brothers’ ‘Sick Crap’



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Organizing for Action’s Jim Messina, manager of President Obama’s reelection campaign, continued Democrats’ Koch-bashing on Thursday with a bizarre fundraisign e-mail to the group’s members.

In the message, subject-lined “This is some sick crap,” Messina said the Koch brothers spend ”their millions on,” you guess it, “sick crap.” A Koch-supported group opposed to Obamacare, Messina alleged, is giving away alcohol to persuade students from signing up for health insurance.

Worry not, though, despite the crap, the Kochs are “losing this debate,” the e-mail said, and OFA is winning the debate by “helping people get the facts.”

See the full e-mail after the jump.

Keep reading this post . . .

Rand Paul, Nick Gillespie, and Hope and Change



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My friend Nick Gillespie takes issue with my recent assessment of Senator Rand Paul’s political chances. Nick and I do not disagree about much beyond the question of what time of year is appropriate for consigning one’s black leather jacket to the back of the closet until autumn, but he thinks that I am too dismissive of the gentleman from Kentucky’s presidential ambitions:

You can’t expect someone who works at National Review — whose mission is, famously and more than a little sadly, to stand “athwart history, yelling Stop” — to get misty-eyed about change, but Williamson simply presumes that things will never change. . . . As it happens, change is everywhere around us. Party affiliation continues to droop for Republicans and Democrats, while the share of self-declared independents stays at or near historic highs. Millennials are “unmoored from institutions,” gasped Pew Research recently. There’s every reason to believe that large swaths of the country are ready to shake off the politics of exhaustion and move toward a future that is different from the past. Only the nosferatu pundits at The New York Times and other journalistic glory holes for the Establishment can even stomach the prospect of a Hillary Clinton-Jeb Bush showdown in 2016.

I am very fond of Nick’s phrasing in the above, and I hope that he is right and I am wrong. But I do not think that that is the case. If Americans were as libertarian as Nick wants them to be, I suspect that they would have made that fact more apparent by, e.g., voting for the sorts of candidates that Nick and I tend to favor, or by supporting positions of the sort that Nick and I would like for them to. But if Nick thinks that the sudden about-face on gay marriage is a sign of a sudden renewed dedication to individual rights, he might ask himself why it is that the people most enthusiastic about that reversal are seeking to use the federal police apparatus for the all-important national priority of locking nonconforming bakers in cages for offending their newfound moral sensibilities. Likewise, American voters like fiscal rectitude in theory — they tell the pollsters so! — but they intensely oppose the measures necessary to achieve that fiscal rectitude, such as reforming entitlements and cutting spending from popular programs. And the so-called independents who always excite libertarians such as Nick have a well-established habit of disappointing them.

I think that Nick’s enthusiasm for these unaffiliated voters shows a failure to understand the relevant political opportunities before us. Even if Rand Paul turns out to be the Howard Dean of the 2016 election, his emergence as an important figure within the Republican party, and the prominence of allies with similar views, suggests to me very strongly that those libertarians who want to advance their cause through the ballot box should join forces with the Republican party, which is their only available avenue of political progress. Nick can’t abide the Right’s alleged Bible thumpers, unless said biblioplangists bear the surname “Paul,” but they are and long have been among the best friends the cause of limited government has. Put another way: If by some miracle we could achieve all the things that Nick and I agree on and then start fighting over what’s left, the cause of liberty will have had a very good showing indeed, and Nick and I will be slugging it out over abortion until he comes around to the view that individual rights inhere in all human beings. On the other hand, if we could achieve all of the things that Nick and the typical soy-latte lefty agree on, we’ll have — what? — legal marijuana, and then a fight about federal subsidies for marijuana farmers, establishing a new federal marijuana regulatory agency, organic marijuana  labeling rules, Elizabeth Warren’s National Marijuana Fairness Directorate, a progressive marijuana tax, etc. Many libertarians cringe at the idea that their natural political home is the Republican party and the conservative movement, but it is. 

Some people have high hopes for electoral politics. My own view, set forth in the book that Nick graciously helped me to promote, is that we are much more likely to see government reform as a result of economic crisis than as a result of voters and their representatives suddenly getting religion about things like total fiscal overhang. During my more cynical moments, which tend to coincide with the times when I am not asleep, I am inclined to believe that while I would like to see more men like Rand Paul in political office, I am not entirely sure that it will make any significant difference in the long term. The unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare alone, and the economic distortions caused by Americans’ erroneous assumptions about future entitlement benefits, are going to do more than enough damage to offset by a factor of 1,000 whatever good a President Rand Paul might plausibly achieve. If the electorate  really did share Rand Paul’s views, we wouldn’t be in that particular mess in the first place.

‘The Baghdad Bob of Health Insurance’



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From my Politico column today:

A core competency of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is issuing false assurances that all is well with Obamacare. An administration about-face has left the Cabinet official looking like the Baghdad Bob of American health insurance. When Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked her at a hearing two weeks ago whether the administration would extend the Obamacare enrollment period beyond March 31, she responded with a crisp and direct: “No, sir.”

To the uninitiated, that sounded like an unmistakable denial of any intention to delay the enrollment period. The uninitiated were sadly misled.

Six Million Obamacare Enrollees (Or 5, Whatever)



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HHS gleefully announced via ThinkProgress today that 6 million people have enrolled in the Obamacare state and federal exchanges, just four days before open enrollment closes for this year. Which sounds tantalizingly close to the CBO’s projection and the White House’s one-time goal of 7 million enrollees (though the CBO number was their projection for average enrollees over the course of 2014, given that people will drop out and some people are eligible to enroll later in the year, if they lose a job, etc.)

But it’s not really as close as HHS is claiming: 6 million people haven’t enrolled in the sense of committing to buy a plan and paying for it — 6 million have selected a plan on the federal or state exchange they’re using.  

Of them, somewhere between 75 and 85 percent are probably actually paying their first month’s premium. Further, non-negligible numbers of Americans will, due to various extensions the Obama administration has codified, be able to enroll after the four days they set out as the deadline. So maybe HHS could update its slick graphic a little:

The phrasing here isn’t really accurate either: Six million people have selected plans on the exchanges, but plenty of them had health coverage last year, too, so their coverage this year isn’t really “thanks to” the ACA. Though it’s also so broadly phrased that it probably is true: While the extent of the Medicaid expansion has been way overstated, that plus the provision to keep under-26-year-olds on their parents’ plans means that easily 6 million Americans — a good number more, really — now do have health coverage because of the ACA. But that’s not what the graphic is supposed to be pointing out.

See here for some cleverer and more felicitous inversions of #GetCovered agitprop.

WH: Deadline Delay ‘Not an Extension’



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White House health-policy adviser Phil Schiliro on Thursday said that the latest Obamacare extension is not an extension at all. “I want to make clear to folks that this is not an extension, this is aimed at people who are in the system, trying to complete their process, but for whatever reason may not do it,” he said.

The administration announced on Tuesday that those in the process of completing an application but who have been unable to complete the process will have until the middle of April to enroll. 

“We are letting people complete the process,” Schiliro said. “That’s common sense.” 

One in Three Workers Are Subject to Income-Mobility-Destroying Occupational-Licensing Laws



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People have probably heard of the recent spat in New Jersey, in which auto dealers conspired with authorities to use the force of regulation to push the innovative electric-car company Tesla Motors out of the market. Finally, many Americans and even some liberal pundits have woken up to the realization that it’s not enough to merely provide a good product or a useful service at a reasonable price to make it in business these days — it takes superhuman tolerance for government regulation.

While the treatment of Tesla does nicely demonstrate naked power of special-interest politics, popular discussion of this issue overlooks how anti-competitive cronyism hurts the most vulnerable Americans each and every day. Tesla is a popular and successful company that can afford to fight cronyism – at least when it cuts into its bottom line. Many low-income Americans, on the other hand, face similar anti-competitive licensing barriers for much of their lives without the benefit of a public-relations office and deep pockets to fight for justice.

“Occupational licensing” is the practice of requiring government approval before legally allowing individuals to earn a living in a particular profession. Individuals often must pay high fees, undergo many days in training or experience, or earn arbitrary certifications before receiving the privilege from their local or state governments of being allowed to work. These schemes are pervasive and costly. Worse, they enrich entrenched interests at the expense of low- and middle-income Americans.

Occupational licensing has grown significantly since the 1950s, when roughly one out of every 20 workers were required to obtain a government license. As George Mason University’s Donald Boudreaux explained in a piece for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review a few days ago, licensing requirements were typically justified on the grounds of consumer protection and public safety – many of the first license requirements targeted high-risk, and often high-income, professions such as surgeons and doctors. Even this justification is suspect, but at least these early schemes were relatively less regressive. 

Today, the poor overwhelmingly bear the brunt of these burdens. Economists Morris Kleiner and Alan Krueger estimate that an astounding one out of every three U.S. workers are currently saddled by ridiculous occupational-licensing requirements. Many of these occupations – like working as a hairdresser, transit driver, or skilled technician – traditionally provided low-income Americans with a ladder to self-sufficiency and upward mobility. By making it more expensive for low-income Americans to reach the first rung, we make their climb out of poverty that much more difficult.

The Institute for Justice has done a wonderful study on this issue, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing,” which produced the following chart. “License to Work” is the first holistic look at the burdens and breadth of licensing laws targeting 102 low- to moderate-income occupations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As you can see, there isn’t much coherence in which occupations require a license, how long it takes to get one, and how much it costs. A year and a half of experience is necessary to shave beards?

Keep reading this post . . .

My New Polish Identity



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In 2009, my elder two daughters both had plans to move to western Europe, so they asked me to apply for Polish citizenship. This would allow them in turn to derive citizenship through me and acquire a European Union passport that allows them freely to live and work in 28 countries. Nothing loath, I began what turned into a four-year process of bureaucratic challenges to request the president of Poland to grant me citizenship.

While not easy nor routine, I had hopes for success based on the fact that both my parents, Richard and Irene, were born in Poland and lived there until their mid-teens, plus the fact that my father had had a major role while in the Reagan White House during the Polish crisis of 1981-82, my mother is the long-time president of the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies, their both receiving medals from the Polish government, my own good relations with Radek Sikorski, the country’s foreign minister, and my mother having been granted Polish citizenship.

Then, partially through the process, the terms of application changed. According to a court decision, not only I but also my daughters had been born Polish. What had once required presidential authrorizaton became a routine bureaucratic process. Things moved quickly and, capped by a visit to Consul General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka in New York City in September 2013, I received a Polish passport the next month.

At first, it was just a paper document. Then, on a recent trip to the European Union, my first with the new citizenship, I pulled out the Polish passport on arrival at customs. I also used it to register at hotels, as well as entering museums and government buildings. To my amusement, the passport prompted occasional questions whether I speak English.

More interestingly, for the first time since I left the United States at the age of three in 1953, I had full rights in another place – and not just any place but in a near-continent comprising a population of over 500 million. More profoundly, I felt a new connection to the land of my ancestors, Poland. I first visited there in 1976, have supported select non-profits there, have future plans to travel there, and even intend to study some Polish, a notoriously difficult language. The old country has become the new country.

In short, what began as convenience and formality has in a small way shifted my sense of identity. 

Tags: Poland , European Union

Ebony Editor Attacks Ben Carson, Other Black Conservatives



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Jamilah Lemieux, senior editor at Ebony, launched a Twitter tirade against black conservatives, such as Ben Carson, and attacked Republican National Committee deputy press secretary Raffi Williams after incorrectly assuming he was white.

She was set off by news that Carson and Armstrong Williams were going to start a magazine for black conservatives.

Lemieux’s reaction sparked Williams to weigh in questioning why she was seemingly opposed to intellectual diversity.

Soon after, Lemieux tried to dismiss Williams as a “white dude” telling her what to think.

After realizing her mistake, Lemieux offered an apology of sorts, but it was far from heartfelt.

After her apology, she continued to denigrate conservatives, comparing them to cockroaches and calling Carson “insane.”

Vatican Déjà Vu?



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In 2009, President Obama met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican after the G-8 Summit, which took place in Italy. The two men met, smiled for the cameras, and exchanged gifts (the pope gave the president a book) and pleasantries.

This morning, Pope Francis received Barack Obama in the Vatican after the president attended the G-7 Summit in Brussels. The two met, smiled for the cameras, and exchanged gifts (the pope gave the president a book) and pleasantries.

Below are the Vatican News Services’s press releases for those two occasions. See if you can guess which press release goes with which visit.

Vatican Press release A:

In the course of their cordial exchanges the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all and which constitute a great challenge for the future of every nation and for the true progress of peoples, such as the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one’s conscience.

Reference was also made to immigration with particular attention to the matter of reuniting families.

The meeting focused as well upon matters of international politics, especially in light of [a recent international] Summit. The conversation also dealt with the peace process in the Middle East, on which there was general agreement, and with other regional situations. Certain current issues were then considered, such as dialogue between cultures and religions, the global economic crisis and its ethical implications, food security, development aid especially for Africa and Latin America, and the problem of drug trafficking. Finally, the importance of educating young people everywhere in the value of tolerance was highlighted.

Vatican Press release B:

During the cordial meeting, views were exchanged on some current international themes and hope was expressed that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved.

In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, the Parties discussed questions of particular relevance for the Church, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform. Finally, the Parties stated their common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world.

Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, are very different in many ways. And their pontificates differ significantly in style and tone, if not in substance. But the next time someone tells you that the election of Pope Francis has brought about a “sea change” or a “reset” in emphatically cordial relations between the Vatican and the Obama administration, think again.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. Press release “A” is from July 2009; press release “B” is from this morning.

Court Rules Kansas Law Cutting Taxpayer Support to the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider Can Stand



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A federal appeals court has reinstated a Kansas law that will effectively prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X (family planning) funds administered by the state.  Taxpayer support of the nation’s largest abortion provider remains hotly debated, especially in light of the fact that the billion-dollar profits of Planned Parenthood were supplemented by $542 million in taxpayer support in 2012. However, this issue in Kansas is likely far from settled, given the narrowness of the decision reached by a divided panel.

Federal law prohibits the use of Title X funds “in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” However, abortion providers are often the recipients of Title X and other federal funds, which effectively subsidize their abortion businesses. 

The Kansas law provides that only public entities, nonpublic hospitals, and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) that provide comprehensive primary and preventive care to women may receive Title X funds administered by the state. Two Planned Parenthood clinics challenged the law because it disqualified them from competing for the funds. 

A lower court held that Planned Parenthood was likely to prevail on two grounds — the law violates Title X and is, therefore, unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and it violates Planned Parenthood’s First Amendment rights by penalizing it for associating with providers of abortion and for its advocacy of abortion.

Keep reading this post . . .

Parents: Minn. Governor Told Us to Buy Illegal Drugs



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As hopes of Minnesota becoming the next state to legalize medical marijuana dwindle, a group of parents of children with disabilities are scolding Democratic governor Mark Dayton for his recent “absurd” suggestion to buy the substance on the street in the meantime.

“This is our state’s top official looking me in the eye and telling me that I should have to break the law to buy marijuana from an illegal drug dealer instead of being able to access it safely and legally from a tightly regulated state licensed provider as outlined in the H.F. 1818 bill,” Jessica Hauser, whose son suffers from a form of epilepsy, told MinnPost. “Is that what his friends in law enforcement would prefer as well?”

Hauser said Dayton made the comments at a private meeting with her and other parents earlier this month. They shared their experience and disappointment with the governor at a recent press conference.

Dayton has been hesitant to support the measure, but has requested a $2.2 million research project to examine the effects of legalizing medical marijuana. Proponents of legalization claim the legislature could pass a bill now, and see Dayton’s request as a stall tactic that would ultimately lead to its veto.

Following the claims, Dayton released a statement in which he did not deny making his alleged recommendation to buy the drugs on the street.

“I cannot, and I do not, advocate breaking the law,” he said. “But as a father, I understand parents who would do anything possible to help their children.”

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