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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment - The New York Times - The right's strategy to limit LBGT rights.

""Only after an outcry over such secrecy — and the anti-gay rights positions of its sponsor — did a transcript of Mr. Sessions’s remarks emerge on a conservative website. “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack,” he told the gathering in Orange County, Calif. “The challenges our nation faces today concerning our historic First Amendment right to the ‘free exercise’ of our faith have become acute.”

Mr. Sessions’s focus was not an accident. The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Few groups have done more to advance this body of legal thinking than the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has more than 3,000 lawyers working on behalf of its causes around the world and brought in $51.5 million in revenue for the 2015-16 tax year, more than the American Civil Liberties Union.

Among the alliance’s successes has been bringing cases involving relatively minor disputes to the Supreme Court — a law limiting the size of church signs, a church seeking funding for a playground — and winning rulings that establish major constitutional precedents.

But it hopes to carve out an even wider sphere of protected religious expression this term when the justices are to hear two more of its cases, one a challenge to a California law that requires “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are run by abortion opponents, to provide women with information on how to obtain an abortion, and another in which it represents a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

While the abortion case is the latest legal volley in a generation-long battle by social conservatives to limit the effect of Roe v. Wade, the Colorado baker’s case, which the court will hear next month, will test whether groups like the alliance can persuade the court to similarly blunt the sweep of Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that enshrined same-sex marriage into law, as well as the anti-discrimination laws protecting gay men and lesbians.

If there is a battle somewhere to restrict protections for gay men, lesbians or transgender people, chances are the alliance is there fighting it. The alliance has defended the owners of a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who did not want to perform same-sex ceremonies. It has tried to stop a Charlotte, N.C., law that gave transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice. It backed the failed attempt by the Arizona legislature in 2014 to allow businesses to cite religious freedom in turning away same-sex couples.

But civil liberties groups and gay rights advocates say that Alliance Defending Freedom’s arguments about religious liberty and free expression mask another motivation: a deep-seated belief that gay people are immoral and that no one should be forced to recognize them as ordinary members of society.

“They are a very powerful part of this broader movement, which is trying to bring a very particular biblical worldview into dominance at all levels of government and society,” said Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group.

“They’ve got some very big, very clear goals,” said Mr. Montgomery, who has studied Alliance Defending Freedom since the group’s founding in 1994.

One of those goals was to defend laws that criminalized gay and lesbian sexual conduct.

In a brief the alliance filed urging the Supreme Court not to overturn a Texas law that made homosexual activity illegal, its lawyers described gay men as diseased and as public health risks. The court decided 6 to 3 that the law was unconstitutional.

The United States is not the only place the group has been active. Before Belize’s highest court struck down a law last year that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” the group sent activists there to work with local lawyers who were trying to keep the prohibition in place. In India, an Alliance Defending Freedom-affiliated lawyer was part of the legal team that has defended a similar law in the country’s Supreme Court. That law remains in place, though the Indian court recently signaled that it may revisit the issue.

And when Russia approved a law in 2013 that imposed a fine for what it called propagandizing “nontraditional” sexual relationships among minors — a move that led for calls to boycott the 2014 Olympics there — Alliance Defending Freedom produced a nine-page memo in support of the law, saying its aim was to safeguard “the psychological or physical well-being of minors.”

Mr. Tedesco said the group had never supported the criminalization of homosexual activity. In Belize and India, he noted, the laws the group supported applied to heterosexual sodomy as well. He described the alliance’s involvement in both countries as “a small group of attorneys” who wanted “to resist the foreign activists that were trying to challenge their public health law.”

Asked if he and other alliance lawyers believed gay men and lesbians were immoral, Mr. Tedesco said, “I’m not going to get into what the Bible says or teaches about homosexuality.”

Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment - The New York Times

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb on why we fell for Obama’s version of a united America.


"On this week’s episode of my podcast, I Have to Ask, I spoke with Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at the New Yorker. (The conversation was part of a live Slate event this month.)

Below is an edited excerpt from the show. In it, we discuss whether the media has “normalized” white nationalism, what Obama did and didn’t get right about our era, and why Trumpism is almost certain to outlast the man himself.

You can find links to every episode here; the entire audio interview is below. Please subscribe to I Have to Ask wherever you get your podcasts.

Isaac Chotiner: When you look at America racially over the 10 months of this administration, does anything surprise you?

Jelani Cobb: One thing that surprises me is the kind of never-ending reservoir of good faith that people have about Donald Trump. First, there were the “pivots”—there’s always a pivot. He’s going to pivot. NBA forwards don’t pivot that much. And then there are these kinds of things—even Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has come out and been critical of him. The route that he took to that criticism where he said, “Oh, he’s not really evolving and learning. He’s not growing into the role.” But Trump, to his credit, never gave them any reason to think that he was going to evolve. He was who he said he was. If they’ve been familiar or familiarized themselves with his track record, they would have said, “This is not a character that’s going to become something other than what he is.”

So while it’s good to see that there are people who are beginning to break from the pack and say, “We have a real problem here,” that problem was apparent from the opening, from the moment he began his campaign referring to Mexicans as rapists.

And what about where the country is after having this guy as president for 10 months in terms of racial issues and racial dynamics?

I think it’s kind of obvious. The parameters of the conversation have expanded such that white nationalism is actually part of the dialogue now. We actually have to countenance what these people who would traditionally have been thought of as friends what they think and what their beliefs are and what their political agenda is.

How do you think the press should deal with that normalization?

There’s a responsible and an irresponsible way of doing it. I think that what we’ve seen is, for a large part, the more irresponsible side of that. When Brian Stelter had Kellyanne Conway on, and he announced that she was going to be a guest, Twitter lost its mind—raising a question of: Why do you give a forum to someone who is going to give essentially disinformation to the public? I think when you look at how the media engaged with Joseph McCarthy, who I think is the closest political analogue to Donald Trump, a great deal of it early on was irresponsible. Just kind of printing what he said or realizing that even people who knew that he was a serial liar would nonetheless recognize that they were selling papers that they put him on the cover of their issues. They put a quote from him; people would come out and buy it.

You can also say that televising the Army-McCarthy hearings was part of what brought McCarthy down, that the media played a role in exposing him for exactly what he was. That kind of media coverage is crucial and important. We haven’t seen enough of it. Even the Columbia Journalism Review did an interesting piece not long ago about whether you should call Trump a liar or whether you should call him racist. Press should say that. I think that there has to be a high bar for those things.

I think there was a sense when Obama was elected that demographics were going in the Democrats’ favor, that the country was changing, that we’d sort of passed out of this time, which obviously turned out to be wrong. When you think about Obama’s election now and what it meant for the country, how do you look at it differently?

One, I think it’s a lot easier to be forgiving of Obama because you recognize what came after him. I’m not sure if it’s a greater honor to be elected president than it is a disrespect to be succeeded by the man who forced you to show your birth certificate to prove you were a citizen. Obama is somebody who’s kind of a congenital optimist about race, I think largely because he grew up in Hawaii with white grandparents. But for African Americans at large who are probably more skeptical to pessimistic about this, it really is painful to see that optimism foiled in a particular way and to say this person who actually gave us this hope and faith that things could actually radically be different.

I’m not abandoning that. I’m not saying that it was all for naught. But for us to recognize that we’re talking about net progress, not absolute progress. There’ll be hope that after whenever this debacle is over, that there will be some element of what Obama represented that still gives us a net positive.

When we hear Obama speak today, it comes packaged the way his words always come packaged: They’re optimistic; they’re classy. When I read them sometimes, it doesn’t feel quite right, and I don’t know exactly why that is. It somehow feels too optimistic to me or just not the right tone. Do you ever feel that way?

I felt that way during his presidency. Bear in mind, I would say, I’m mixed race. I was raised by an Alabama Negro and a Georgia Negro. But what they taught me about the South was the very hard-edged realism of race, the reason both of them had fled the South. They were ugly, biographical stories that connected to the ugly historical narratives that we know. That was what I grew up with. I would hear Obama and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’re entirely cognizant of what these people will do to stop you.” I felt about that because it’s kind of pessimistic or at least skeptical. But as time went on, you started saying, “These are the things that happened as a result of this.”

As a result of when black people stake a claim for equality in America, there’s always a counterclaim, always. We were maybe naïve to think that there wouldn’t be a kind of equal and opposite push.

You said that you think Obama’s thinking on this in some sense comes from his background, growing up in Hawaii, white grandparents. Do you think that the kind of take he had on these issues was determined by that, or do you think that it was also the way that he felt that what he had to say to succeed politically that he had to adopt?

It was part of it. I think he actually believed that. When you talk about his rationale for running, he said that he wanted it to be established for young people of color that they could do anything that they wanted in life. When he stood up and said in 2004, “There is not a black America and a white America … there’s the United States of America,” that was a lie. That was a damn lie. There was a black America. There was a white America. There was a Latino America. There was a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender America. There was a poor America. There was an overly incarcerated America. And then there was an America that was represented by excessive access to all resources, and those realities you can’t paper over: They’re actually part of the political terrain that we’re operating in. But people in the United States also have a kind of aspirational ideal of ourselves that we want to think of ourselves as better than our history, and he tapped into that powerfully and effectively.

At the end of the day, maybe that renegade hope that he offered us, maybe that kind of faith, impermeable faith and the possibility of a better tomorrow, maybe that’s what we fall back upon to sustain ourselves in the midst of what we’re in now."

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb on why we fell for Obama’s version of a united America.

What a difference a President makes! Obama family serves Thanksgiving dinner to homeless and vets

Ban killer robots, experts urge Australian and Canadian leaders

"Pioneers in robotics and artificial intelligence have called on the Australian and Canadian governments to ban killer robots ahead of a United Nations meeting on weapons this month.

Leading researchers from the countries urged prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Justin Trudeau respectively to take a stand against autonomous weapons, arguing that their development and use crossed a “clear moral line.”

Artificial intelligence can be used to make weapons that operate without human oversight, giving them the ability to loiter in an area and make life or death decisions without approval from a military controller.

“If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever before, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter to Turnbull states. “The deadly consequence of this is that machines, not people, will determine who lives and dies.”

The letters are signed by hundreds of specialists including Toby Walsh, an AI professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Geoffrey Hinton, an AI pioneer who runs Google’s Brain Team in Toronto, and Ian Kerr, professor of ethics, law and technology at the University of Ottawa.

In August, many of the world’s top robotics and AI scientists called on the United Nations to ban killer robots and so halt the arms race now underway to build autonomous weapons. The race threatens to usher in a “third revolution in warfare” after gunpowder and nuclear weapons, the researchers warned in an open letter.

The military is one of the largest funders of AI research, and while the technology could be used to make mine-clearing robots or unmanned vehicles that deliver supplies, fully-automated offensive weapons would effectively become weapons of mass destruction, the scientists state.

“One programmer would be able to whole control armies of weapons,” said Walsh “They are the perfect weapons to suppress a civilian population. Unlike humans who have to be persuaded to commit atrocities, these will be cold, calculating weapons that will do whatever they are programmed to do.”

Arms manufacturers have already built highly autonomous weapons for the military, from robotic sentries and autonomous tanks to flying drones that can track and strike targets. The systems are designed to operate under human supervision. Compared with nuclear weapons, AI-powered weapons are likely to be cheap and simple to make, meaning they could easily find their way onto weapons black markets.

The letters to the Australian and Canadian governments coincide with the UN’s conference this month on the convention on certain conventional weapons, which aims to restrict or prohibit weapons that are excessively injurious or indiscriminate."

Ban killer robots, experts urge Australian and Canadian leaders

A Russian Journalist Explains How the Kremlin Instructed Him to Cover the 2016 Election | The New Yorker

"On a recent Saturday in November, Dimitri Skorobutov, a former editor at Russia’s largest state media company, sat in a bar in Maastricht, a college town in the Netherlands, with journalists from around the world and discussed covering Donald Trump. Skorobutov opened a packet of documents and explained that they were planning guides from Russian state media that showed how the Kremlin wanted the 2016 U.S. Presidential election covered.

Among the journalists, Skorobutov’s perspective was unique. Aside from Fox News, no network worked as hard as Rossiya, as Russian state TV is called, to boost Donald Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton. Skorobutov, who was fired from his job after a dispute with a colleague that ended in a physical altercation, went public with his story of how Russian state media works, in June, talking to the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Radio Liberty. The organizers of the Maastricht conference learned of his story and invited him to speak. He flipped through his pages and pointed to the coverage guide for August 9, 2016, when Clinton stumbled while climbing some steps. The Kremlin wanted to play the story up big.

Skorobutov started working in Russian state media companies when he was seventeen years old, and has worked in print, radio, and TV. During the 2016 campaign, he was an editor for “Vesti,” a daily news program. Skorobutov described it as a mid-level position, with four layers of bureaucrats separating him and the Kremlin. His supervisor was a news director who, he said, got his job after making a laudatory documentary about Putin. Before joining “Vesti,” Skorobutov worked as the press secretary of the Russian Geographical Society, a pet project of Putin, which made headlines last year when Putin declared at a Society event that Russian borders “do not end anywhere.”

In his speech at the journalism conference, Skorobutov explained that as a young journalist he believed that working for the state media was not necessarily corrupting. “When I came to TV, in 2000,” he said, in his prepared remarks, “there was another Russia: with independent media, so-called freedom of speech, with a hope for a better life associated with the new President Vladimir Putin. I was convinced that everything we do on TV is for the better life to come soon. But the life was getting worse and worse.”

In his telling, it was the 2011-2012 protests in Moscow that changed everything. Those protests, which Putin blamed on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spooked the Russian President, according to Skorobutov. “People were imprisoned. Media were taken under control of the State. Censorship introduced,” he said. “It was a point of reflection for me. The state was against its people. Human freedoms, including freedom of speech, were gradually eliminated.” (Others would note that this is a self-serving chronology, as Putin’s dismantling of democracy began long before 2011, and that Skorobutov remained at state TV through the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, when Russian media propaganda was especially noxious.)

After the suppression of the 2012 protests, Skorobutov said, he became increasingly disturbed by his role in “helping the state to create this new and unpleasant reality,” resigned his job as the press secretary at the Russian Geographical Society, and began looking for a new job, but without any luck.

As is often the case with state censorship, the workings of Kremlin-controlled media, as Skorobutov described them, were far more subtle than is popularly imagined. He described a system that depended on a news staff that knew what issues to avoid and what issues to highlight rather than one that had every decision dictated to it. “We knew what is allowed or forbidden to broadcast,” he explained. Any event that included Putin or the Russian Prime Minister “must be broadcast,” while events such as “terroristic attacks, airplane crashes, arrests of politicians and officials” had to be approved by the news director or his deputy. He offered a list of embargoed subjects: “critique of the State, coming from inside or outside of Russia; all kinds of social protests, strikes, discontent of people and so on; political protests and opposition leaders, especially Alexey Navalny,” an anti-corruption figure despised by the Kremlin. Skorobutov said that he overcame censorship rules and convinced his network to cover stories only twice: for a story about a protest against the construction of a Siberian chemical plant and for one about the food poisoning of children at a kindergarten.

During the 2016 election, the directions from the Kremlin were less subtle than usual. “Me and my colleagues, we were given a clear instruction: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way,” he said in his speech. In a later interview, he explained to me how the instructions were relayed. “Sometimes it was a phone call. Sometimes it was a conversation,” he told me. “If Donald Trump has a successful press conference, we broadcast it for sure. And if something goes wrong with Clinton, we underline it.”

Skorobutov said in his speech that the pro-Trump perspective extended from Kremlin-controlled media to the Moscow élite.

“There was even a slogan among Russian political élite,” he said. “ ‘Trump is our president.’ And, when he won the elections, on 9th November, 2016, Russian Parliament or State Duma even applauded him and arranged a champagne party celebrating the victory of Donald Trump.” That night, Skorobutov and his colleagues played clips of the party on the news.

In Skorobutov’s opinion, Putin’s effort to make Trump a reliable ally ultimately failed. He said that Trump’s airstrike in Syria in April ended the romance for Russian élites. “Russian authorities failed with their hopes that financial and media support will make Trump really Russian,” he said. “They were wrong as they didn’t take into consideration the U.S. political system and mentality. Russian authorities hoped—literally—to buy Donald Trump, using bribes and tricks. But they failed.”

Skorobutov, who is back in Moscow now, told me that he left state media after a drunken colleague beat him up at work and, in his telling, the Kremlin-controlled network tried to cover up the assault. Being away from the network allowed him to think about his role as a longtime Russian-government propagandist and led him to start speaking out.

“I have to say that me and my colleagues, we didn’t think too much about censorship or propaganda,” he said in his speech. “We get used to it. As we were inside the system, inside television, inside a virtual reality. When you are inside, you can’t see outside. But I’m glad that I escaped from that wonderland, like Alice of Lewis Carroll. Better late than never.”

A Russian Journalist Explains How the Kremlin Instructed Him to Cover the 2016 Election | The New Yorker

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Former ethics director: Kellyanne Conway violated Hatch Act - CNNPolitics

Kellyanne Conway on Roy Moore: 'We want the votes' for tax bill

"Walter Shaub, who served as ethics director under the Obama administration, said Conway likely violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits White House officials from advocating for or against candidates, even in media interviews.

Speaking to Fox News Monday, Conway addressed the heated Alabama race and Moore's Democratic competitor, saying, "Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners."

Kellyanne Conway on Roy Moore: 'We want the votes' for tax bill

Conway added: "I just want everybody to know, Doug Jones, nobody ever says his name, and pretends he is some kind of conservative Democrat in Alabama. And he's not."

Shaub tweeted following news of the interview Tuesday, "I found the video. She's standing In front of the White House. It seems pretty clear she was appearing in her official capacity when she advocated against a candidate. This is at least as clear a violation of 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1) as OSC identified with regard to Castro."

Former ethics director: Kellyanne Conway violated Hatch Act - CNNPolitics

A President Accused of Sexual Misconduct by 16 Women Endorses a Senate Candidate Accused of Sexual Misconduct by 9 | The Nation


A President Accused of Sexual Misconduct by 16 Women Endorses a Senate Candidate Accused of Sexual Misconduct by 9 | The Nation

Judge Rules Trump Executive Order Cutting Funding From Sanctuary Cities Is Unconstitutional


Judge Rules Trump Executive Order Cutting Funding From Sanctuary Cities Is Unconstitutional

Trump touts busy day of meetings – then appears to play golf | US news | The Guardian

Trump on the Trump International Golf Course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is estimated the US president has chalked up 35 golf outings since taking office.

Trump touts busy day of meetings – then appears to play golf | US news | The Guardian