Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
The New York town of Greece, whose policy of allowing sectarian Christian prayers to be delivered before town meetings was the subject of a recent First Amendment challenge before the Supreme Court, has now adopted a new set of rules that appear to exclude non-believers from this practice -- discrimination that the town's defenders in right-wing media pretended didn't exist.
In May, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the prayer offered before this town's meetings was permissible under the First Amendment -- despite the fact that "the invocations given ... were predominantly sectarian in content," which "repeatedly invoked a single religion's beliefs," as Justice Elena Kagan explained in her dissent. Yet the majority found this apparent preference for Christian prayers constitutionally acceptable because the town assured the Court "that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation." It was this claim that the prayer policy was non-discriminatory and would allow non-Christians to participate that the Court, as well as right-wing media outlets, relied upon.
After the decision, Washington Post columnist George Will attacked the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs who challenged the town's prayer policy, calling them "prickly plaintiffs" and "flimsy people" who were "theatrically offended" over nothing more than "brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity." The Wall Street Journal also celebrated the conservative decision in Town of Greece, and specifically hailed the inclusivity the town of Greece had told the Court it practiced:
The town of Greece used mostly Christian prayers because its citizens are predominantly Christian. Yet when rabbis and clerics of other faiths asked to give the prayer, they were welcome. Even a Wiccan priestess was allowed to issue what we suppose was an anti-prayer. Council members and visitors were under no obligation to pray along and there was no evidence of punishment or even disapproval for anyone who didn't.
Both Will and the Journal ignored the fact that town officials extended those invitations to non-Christians only after the lawsuit was filed.
Now it appears the town of Greece has backed away from the inclusivity that right-wing media touted. As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported, last week the town adopted a new policy for its legislative prayer that is being condemned as "an enormous bait and switch" because it seems to bar the non-believers the Supreme Court claimed were allowed to participate. Designed by the religious right's Alliance Defending Freedom -- the legal organization who led the Court to believe that "a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation" -- the new guidelines require that speakers represent a local, established religious organization that "regularly meet[s] for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective."
A recent study from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) claims that smog regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will cost the economy $270 billion. But the regulations, necessary to alleviate the unsafe smog pollution currently experienced by 140 million Americans, will likely achieve net benefits by reducing costs associated with medical expenses and premature deaths, while experts have said the NAM study uses "fraudulent" claims and is "not based in economic reality."
Fox News has repeatedly dismissed the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, calling it "political optics" and an example of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder playing "the race card." In fact, under long-standing civil rights law, the federal government has parallel investigative powers alongside local authorities and frequently investigates local police departments that may have a pattern or practice of abuse.
The Wall Street Journal complained about a lawsuit filed by defeated Republican senatorial candidate Chris McDaniel, calling the suit "meritless" and an attempt to funnel money to trial lawyers -- despite the fact they have championed similarly far-fetched and expensive lawsuits that have been filed against President Barack Obama.
McDaniel, a right-wing tea party candidate, lost to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the June 24 primary. McDaniel blamed his loss on voter fraud, claiming that his campaign found irregular voting patterns. Given the Journal's past concern with voter fraud and the American right to vote, it seems like McDaniel's lawsuit is just the sort of thing they would support.
But in an August 5 "political diary" titled "If You Can't Win, Sue," Journal opinion editor Allysia Finley criticized McDaniel's decision to challenge the election results, calling his proposed lawsuit an effort to "raise money to feather the nests of election lawyers." Finley also argued that the suit was "meritless" because "overturning the election results is a long shot, but then the real motivation of this Hail Mary may be to whip up populist furies."
From the editorial:
At a press conference Monday, Mr. McDaniel lambasted the "dirty money coming in from D.C.," and his attorney suggested that Cochran supporters who perpetrated the alleged election fraud ought to go to jail. Mr. McDaniel intends to take legal action in the event that the state GOP squashes his petition. The case could then take any number of routes through the state court system, but sustaining the challenge would require lots of lawyers and money regardless of how it proceeds. This would be a bonanza for Mr. McDaniel's election attorneys who have been making nice work from filing records requests.
Last month the McDaniel campaign sued county circuit clerks for denying them access to polling records with voters' birth dates. After the state Supreme Court rejected the petition, the campaign filed a motion for a rehearing, which was also denied summarily. Keep in mind that Mr. McDaniel started out as a trial lawyer. Filing meritless claims might be par for the course.
But Finley's editorial colleagues at the Journal apparently disagree that lawsuits filed by political losers are "meritless." Earlier this year, the Journal published Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-WI) announcement of his lawsuit suing the twice-elected Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), promoting a lawsuit that was almost immediately thrown out of court. On June 27, the editorial board went further and directly praised John Boehner's questionable plan to sue President Obama over the one-year delay of the employer mandate of the ACA. Although many legal experts have largely dismissed this suit as well, the Journal argued that Boehner's lawsuit was evidence that "the Speaker is showing more care that the laws be faithfully executed than is President Obama." That editorial went on to assert that the lawsuit wasn't "frivolous" because apparently Boehner wouldn't "wager the House's reputation, and his own, on a novelty lawsuit."
In another editorial from July 31, the editorial board again encouraged Boehner's lawsuit, calling it a "shame" that the suit was being dismissed as "frivolous" because it purportedly "involves crucial questions about the architecture of American government and the separation of powers." The Journal ultimately concluded that "the courts may take such a challenge seriously." Strangely enough, none of these latter editorials seemed particularly concerned with the costs associated with Boehner or Johnson's suits, or how they might "feather the nests" of trial lawyers -- but perhaps money is no object as long as the defendant is Barack Obama.
The Wall Street Journal took a stand against fair treatment for pregnant workers, complaining that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) new guidelines designed to fight pregnancy discrimination despite conservative Supreme Court opinions holding discrimination against pregnant women is not sex discrimination was a "radical" reading of federal law.
Last week, the EEOC issued new guidelines to employers in an effort to curb increasing incidents of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace -- the first time in 30 years the agency had updated its guidelines regarding fair treatment of pregnant employees. One of these new guidelines interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include reasonable accommodations for "pregnancy-related impairments," which can include serious ailments like anemia, gestational diabetes, and abnormal heart rhythms, among others.
But in a July 27 editorial, the Journal argued that protections provided by the ADA should be reserved only for the "truly disabled," not women who are disabled due to medical conditions caused by their pregnancies. The editorial also ignored the reality of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and claimed that the EEOC's comprehensive new guidance was a "radical legal interpretation" of the ADA that served no purpose other than to provide a "launching pad for trial lawyers." It went on to argue that the guidance was unnecessary given the fact that "pregnancy is not unprotected under federal law," without mentioning that these protections were a direct response to conservative case law that refused to treat pregnancy as a sex-based classification under federal law:
Even after the 2008 amendments, the ADA at no point defines pregnancy as a "disability." To end-run this fact, the agency discovers pregnancy's "impairments." The EEOC's guidelines argue, "Although pregnancy itself is not a disability, impairments related to pregnancy can be disabilities if they substantially limit one or more major life activities." Morning sickness, for example, would become a qualifying impairment under the ADA.
Thus the EEOC is piling one radical legal interpretation (discarding the ADA's clear intent to help the truly disabled) upon another (granting protections to pregnant women, who aren't covered under the ADA).
Pregnancy is not unprotected under federal law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act protects workers from discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." And the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended that law to protect, yes, pregnant women.
Anyone who reads the text of the EEOC guidance can see the rationale behind yet another display of Obama executive-branch muscle. The rules' imprecision is a launching pad for trial lawyers, a primary source of grateful Democratic campaign money. And Valerie Jarrett's CNN piece makes clear the initiative is another politicized front in the "war on women."
Ms. Jarrett says the guidelines will help employers "understand their obligations." With the most important being to hire more lawyers and fewer employees, of any sex.
The Wall Street Journal portrayed the D.C. Circuit's radical decision nullifying tax credits for consumers on the federal exchanges of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a check on President Obama's "penchant for treating laws as unlimited grants of power," all while ignoring the fact that multiple federal courts -- including the Supreme Court itself -- have upheld or acknowledged the very same tax breaks that the Journal now condemns as "illegitimate."
On July 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its split decision in Halbig v. Burwell, one of many lawsuits applauded by conservatives that have challenged the ACA since President Obama signed it into law in 2010. Three of these lawsuits are based on the same legal arguments of Halbig, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Halbig-like challenge and upheld the validity of the tax credits on the same day Halbig was decided. The plaintiffs in these cases, relying on a legal theory that has long been a favorite of right-wing media, argued that, somehow, a law drafted to make insurance affordable for all Americans actually denies crucial tax credits for the 5 million consumers who purchased insurance through the federal exchange because their home states refused to set up their own health insurance sites.
Celebrating the majority decision in Halbig by calling the case a "remedial civics lesson" for the Obama administration, the Journal misleadingly claimed that the "plain statutory language of ObamaCare repeatedly stipulates" that the tax credits are only available for state exchanges. The July 23 editorial largely ignored the contradictory ruling from the Fourth Circuit and the vast majority of experts knowledgeable with the law and the basics of statutory construction that took no issue with the administration's commonsense execution of the ACA's tax credits:
The courts usually defer to executive interpretation when statutes are ambiguous, but Mr. Obama's lawyers argued that the law unambiguously means the opposite of the words its drafters used. Judge Thomas Griffith knocked this argument away by noting in his ruling that, "After all, the federal government is not a 'State,'" and therefore "a federal Exchange is not an 'Exchange established by the State.'"
The White House also argued that the court should ignore the law's literal words because Congress intended all along to subsidize everybody, calling the contrary conclusion an "absurd result." Yet this is merely ex post facto regret for the recklessness and improvisation of the way ObamaCare became law, when no trick was too dirty after Democrats lost their 60-vote Senate supermajority. Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the bill to find out what's in it. Now we know.
The globe recently experienced the hottest June on record, fitting in with the trend of global warming. Yet several top media outlets reported on the announcement without mentioning climate change at all.
2014 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. On July 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced that the average global temperature for the month of June was the hottest experienced for 134 years of records. This finding follows the hottest May on record, the hottest March to June period on record, and the third hottest first half of the year on record. The average ocean surface temperatures for the month of June were the warmest on record for any month of the year. NOAA's climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt explained succinctly to the Associated Press -- the only top U.S. print source* that reported on the findings in the context of global warming -- stating that the planet is in the "steroid era of the climate system." Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck added: "This is what global warming looks like."
But if you consume mainstream media, you likely missed this context. CBS, NBC, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal,** and The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang all covered the announcement without mentioning its key context: global warming, driven by human activities, is making hotter temperatures the norm.
The July 21 edition of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer was the only broadcast network program to report on the record in the context of global warming, introducing it as "a new statistic for arguments about climate change," and going on to discuss extreme weather events currently happening across the United States:
The Wall Street Journal downplayed a "rare" and "extreme" Supreme Court order that could make it even more difficult for women to obtain contraceptive coverage in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, arguing that Justice Sonia Sotomayor "may come to regret her furious dissent" from the ruling.
On June 30, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court held in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the chain craft store was exempt from a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover preventive health care services, including birth control. The majority opinion, helmed by Justice Samuel Alito, suggested that the government offer for-profit, secular corporations like Hobby Lobby the same accommodation that exempts religiously-affiliated non-profits from the birth control requirement. In order for such non-profits to take advantage of this exemption, they must sign a self-certification form that states their moral objection to birth control, which allows their insurance companies to provide the medications to employees at no additional cost.
But the Court, not to mention right-wing media outlets, ignored the flaw in this plan -- that the religious accommodation is also being challenged as an illegal burden on religious freedom. Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois, is one of the challengers arguing that signing the exemption form "makes it complicit in grave moral evil" because the college "sincerely believes" that signing will "enable the flow of abortion-inducing drugs." On July 3, the Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction in Wheaton's favor, excusing the college from signing the exemption form until after its lawsuit is heard by the lower courts. Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, dissented from the order, writing that "those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today. ... [Granting the injunction] evinces disregard for even the newest of this Court's precedents and undermines confidence in this institution."
In a July 6 editorial, the Journal dismissed the significance of the injunction, and called Sotomayor's dissent an "overreaction":
Our guess is that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor may come to regret her furious dissent last week to a simple Court order granting a temporary religious liberty reprieve to Wheaton College from having to obey ObamaCare's contraception mandate. She and the two other female Justices accused the Court's majority of all sorts of legal offenses, not least dishonesty.
Wheaton is challenging that accommodation as too restrictive, but the Court did not rule on the merits last week. All it did was grant a reprieve from having to obey the mandate while the case is being heard. This says little about how the Court might eventually rule, notwithstanding Justice Sotomayor's angry implication. The reprieve will also not deny any reproductive services to anyone.
Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority had harmed the Court's reputation, but it seems to us that her overreaction did far more to make the Justices a political target.
On June 15, the United States apprehended the individual suspected of leading the terrorist attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, transferred him to a U.S. naval ship, and ultimately arraigned him in federal court in Washington, D.C. on June 28. Since his capture, right-wing media have repeatedly complained that the suspect was not entitled to Miranda warnings or due process.
Conservative media dismissed the impact of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which granted closely-held corporations the right to deny employees contraceptive coverage through their employer's health plans if they believe the contraceptives conflict with their religious beliefs, claiming that women still have access to contraception because a generic form of birth control is available at drug stores for low cost.
Refusing to act on climate change will be bad for business, according to a major recent report assessing the alarming risks of unchecked global warming on the U.S. economy. But while some top business media outlets recognize global warming as a serious issue for their audience, others are still stuck in denial.
On June 23, the Risky Business Project released a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The study found that the current path of "business as usual" -- emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for driving catastrophic climate change without restrictions -- will reduce labor productivity of outdoor workers by up to three percent, reduce agricultural yields by up to 70 percent in some regions, and cost up to $507 billion in property damages from sea level rise by 2100. The co-chairs are calling for business to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent an economic crash on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis or worse.
However, some top U.S. business media outlets are denying that climate change is a problem worth addressing -- a disservice to their business viewers, who have a lot to lose. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly cases of business media covering Risky Business:
In covering the study's findings, Bloomberg Television, a cable and satellite business news channel, featured an interview with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the report's co-chairs and a Republican. Bloomberg's Erik Schatzer began the interview by stating that "the research [on man-made climate change] is overwhelmingly conclusive," and went on to have a rational discussion about solutions to global warming that businesses can take today. Schatzer noted that Bloomberg Television is a child company of the media organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, another co-chair of Risky Business. Paulson suggested that businesses fully disclose their climate change risks, that they invest in "resilience," and that the nation "take out a national insurance policy" to respond to the impacts of climate change, adding that businesses must advocate for government policies that would allow the nation to "avoid the most adverse outcomes."
Paulson elaborated on "the cost of inaction" alongside former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, in a well-done interview on the June 29 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
Fox Business's coverage of the Risky Business report ridiculed the impacts of climate change and brushed aside the findings as "scare tactics." On the June 24 edition of Cavuto, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti asserted that the organization is using "scare tactics," going on to entirely dismiss the idea of increasing heat-related mortality, saying "what does that mean -- mortality?"
Right-wing media have launched a campaign of mockery, victim-blaming, and denial to dismiss the sexual assault epidemic, particularly on college campuses, and the Obama administration's efforts to curtail the growing problem.
Right-wing media are celebrating now that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court have issued their unprecedented ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with the Court adopting a number of conservative myths in the decision that allows sex discrimination in the name of corporate religion.
On June 30, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court -- five men and no women -- held that "closely held" for-profit secular corporations like Hobby Lobby are exempt under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from the "contraception mandate." This so-called mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires employer-sponsored health insurance to cover comprehensive preventive health care, including birth control. In so holding, the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby gave credence to some of the worst conservative myths that have been steadily advanced by right-wing media.
The fact that Hobby Lobby likely employs workers who have no moral or religious dispute with contraception didn't seem to be of much concern to outlets like The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, or Fox News. From the start, NRO framed the case as a David and Goliath-like scenario, with the Green family owners of Hobby Lobby as victims of the federal government -- despite the fact that Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation, owned by billionaires, with hundreds of stores across the country. Fox & Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went so far as to call the contraception mandate evidence of the "moral decay" of the Obama administration's policies. For right-wing media, the religious beliefs of the owners took precedence over those of their female employees. Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed.
The Court attempted to limit its decision to "closely held" corporations like Hobby Lobby, but according to experts, more than 90 percent of corporations are considered to be "closely held." In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito downplayed the significance of the Hobby Lobby decision's expansion of the concept of corporate personhood, writing that "a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends" and claiming there was nothing radical about extending rights "whether constitutional or statutory" to for-profit secular corporations. His opinion conflated these businesses with non-profits just as right-wing media had urged.
The religious rights of the employees, now held hostage by their employers' moral objections, did not appear to make much of an impact on the Court's conservative majority.
Moreover, wrote Alito, the birth control requirement was not "the least restrictive means" of achieving the "compelling governmental interest" of ensuring no-cost comprehensive preventive health care services for everyone. Instead, said the majority, the government should "assume the cost of providing the contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers' religious objections," thus shifting the employee-earned benefit of health insurance from a billion-dollar corporation to the general public.
It was enough for Alito that the Greens "sincerely believed" that the contraceptives at issue in the case are "abortifacients" -- echoing right-wing media's constant confusion of the two -- even though they really, really aren't.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts' abortion clinic buffer zone law, the Wall Street Journal editorial board complained that the Court didn't go further to disallow "other restrictions on abortion protests," inaccurately describing the majority opinion in the process.
On June 26, the Court ruled in McCullen v. Coakley that Massachusetts' buffer zone law violated the First Amendment because it was broader than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's goal of promoting public safety outside of reproductive health clinics, while simultaneously declining to strike down the constitutionality of buffer zones in general. A version of the law was passed in 2000 in response to years of violent and deadly incidents outside of abortion clinics nationally and directed at Massachusetts clinics in particular. The legislature amended the law in 2007 to further help police officers enforce the law by implementing a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances that prohibit anyone not on clinic business -- anti-choice protestors and pro-choice supporters alike -- from entering and remaining. The Court ultimately found that, while buffer zones are not unconstitutional in and of themselves, Massachusetts' law was not narrowly-tailored enough to support the legitimate interest in promoting public safety.
Joining and writing for the four liberal justices on the Court, Roberts limited his decision to the specific facts, and the specific petitioners in McCullen, as he struck down this specific buffer zone law. For Roberts, because the named plaintiff in this case was apparently a peaceful petitioner and not the "aggressive" type of "face-to-face" protestor who created "clashes" at the entrances of the health centers, the law regulated more speech than is allowed under the public safety rationale of constitutional buffer zones. But in a June 26 editorial, the Journal completely ignored the history of violence outside of abortion clinics across the country, and argued that Roberts "missed an opportunity to clean up one of the Court's mistakes" by failing to overturn Hill v. Colorado, a 2000 case that upheld the constitutionality of a different buffer zone law. The editorial went on to argue that the decision in McCullen "leaves too much speech in future jeopardy" because state legislatures are still free to regulate speech outside of clinics within the bounds of the First Amendment. The Journal also inaccurately claimed that Roberts confirmed that the Massachusetts law was "directed at peaceful speakers":
In McCullen v. Coakley, Chief Justice John Roberts writes that the law unconstitutionally restricts access to public sidewalks around abortion clinics in the name of "public safety" without "seriously addressing the problem through alternatives." By regulating public streets, the state directly foreclosed access to places that "developed as venues for the exchange of ideas." Restrictions must be based on misconduct, not directed at peaceful speakers.
So far, so good. The problem is that the Chief's opinion goes on to engage in contortions arguing that the Massachusetts law really wasn't trying to restrict the "content" of speech. That's critical because it means the law isn't subject to strict First Amendment scrutiny. It also means that while this Massachusetts law went too far, other restrictions on abortion protests might be allowable.
The fascinating question is why the Chief Justice refused to follow the logic of his own free-speech jurisprudence and overturn Hill v. Colorado. Perhaps he figured he would lose the four liberal Justices and thus the authority of a unanimous Court. Or perhaps he has been chastened by all of the liberal media critics who say he's too eager to overturn precedents.
The reality is that he's not eager enough, and thus the Court ends up with too many of these halfway decisions that reach the right outcome for what are often the wrong reasons. The First Amendment needs a more stalwart defender in the Chief Justice's chair.