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After the Crash: Re-imagining Trauma Recovery

American Friends Service Committee - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:35pm
Friday, September 21, 2018 - 4:30pm to 8:30pm
Categories: Articles & News

Local Orgs Help Undocumented Residents Evacuate as Hurricane Florence Approaches

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 3:04pm
NC disaster relief

Siembra members do disaster response in Greensboro following a tornado in April.

Photo: AFSC/
Categories: Articles & News

Making Sense of the Starbucks Incident

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 7:28am

Here’s a piece we’ve published in the current Friends Journal, written by a seventh-grader from the Friends School in Newtown, Pa. We regularly publish middle- and high-schoolers in our annual Student Voices Project but this is a general feature we published because it’s interesting and fresh and intriguing. Here’s what I wrote about it in my opening column in the magazine:

In Making Sense of the Starbucks Incident, Newtown Friends School seventh-grader Ankita Achanta shows how the Quaker values she’s been taught in classes could have defused a nationally publicized racial incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks. It’s sometimes easy to be skeptical of the Quaker identity of Friends schools, but Achanta reflects back the powerful impact of our collective witness in these institutions.

In Ankita Achanta’s reckoning, Quaker values like integrity are basic universal values of decency. By claiming them, Friends could (and often do) easily fall into the trap of Quaker exceptionalism, but in Achanta’s piece, I see them as something we put special emphasis into. Early Friends didn’t expect to found a denomination; Fox went across the land assuming everyone could be a Friend of the Truth, of Christ, of the Light. The leading influence of the Inward Light is available to all and we can expect to see inspiring incidents of it in action everywhere—even in viral Twitter videos.

Achanta also gave a new-to-me neologism:

As a seventh-grade student attending a Friends school, I have been taught Quaker values. Although I am a Hindu and not formally a Quaker, Quaker values are well aligned with my own religious principles. I am committed to living by them and consider myself a “Quindu.”

Making Sense of the Starbucks Incident

Quaker values do not need to be mere theoretical ideas.

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

Contempt Is a Bitter-Tasting Word

Friends Journal - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 1:40am

Contempt. It is a word that tastes bitter when you say it. But it is a word that has been much on my mind lately.

Language has always mattered to me. Perhaps it is because my mother was an English teacher; perhaps because I could read long before I started school; perhaps because I was the youngest of five articulate siblings, and my father, a machinist, was as well read as all the rest of us.

But I really think words matter to me because I was bullied as a child. My schoolmates mocked me and said I had cooties. No one played with me or invited me over. My teachers made fun of my stammering when I read out loud or tried to recite the poem I was required to memorize. Thus it was clear to me at a very early age that words do hurt, and the damage can last a lifetime—or more.

This is why I was especially drawn to the Religious Society of Friends. As Quakers, we are called to find that of God in everyone—a difficult task. I spent years trying to find that of God in Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s henchman and Donald Trump’s mentor.

I also spent most of my legal career protecting First Amendment rights. I am clear that I protect the rights of people with whom I may or may not agree. My understanding of the First Amendment coincides with Justice Robert H. Jackson’s:

But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

To me, this is the essence of finding that of God in everyone.

A Friend asked me, “Are we being tested?” “Yes,” I answered.

About ten years ago, Paul Wolfowitz, a neoconservative then in the middle of his scandal-ridden tenure as the president of the World Bank, came to Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.). The World Bank and this meeting work together each year to raise funds and put together and deliver thousands of shoeboxes with gloves, ponchos, and other gifts for the homeless at Christmas. Friends whispered to each other, “How should we react to him?”

I suggested he was there for the photo opportunity and would leave. I was wrong. He pitched right in working as hard as everyone else (and he had a broken arm!) and stayed to the end.

A Friend asked me, “Are we being tested?”

“Yes,” I answered, and I was reminded: there is that of God in everyone.

Through the very deliberate actions of a few to dismantle our country’s progress toward equality and justice, and with the inadvertent help of technological people with good motives, we have undergone a careful dismantling of the connective tissue of this country. No longer do we get our news from the same sources and our education from mostly public schools. We don’t even watch the same entertainment. And it is only getting worse with the algorithms and matrices of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other technology companies. They not only help you find things you are interested in, but also screen you from information with which you disagree. We have been put into our silos by these forces, and they are making sure we do not get out.

And we Friends help them every time we write “tRump” or “the orange man with the small grabby hands.”

Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian think tank that started the careers of many climate-change deniers, recently stated that the biggest problem with American politics today is contempt. We no longer view those with whom we disagree as people having many things in common with ourselves. We hold contempt for them; we believe in the utter worthlessness of people with whom we disagree politically.

But there is that of God in everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. I get that the political system is broken. In many respects, it has been broken since the first European set foot on this continent. But while it has never been a perfect system, it was—for most—a functioning system. Increasingly, it is a system that functions well for a few, and some of those few play at being benevolent to those in need, as long as the beneficiaries don’t make waves. It is a system that functions adequately for the slightly affluent, assuring them that they can stay in relative safety and comfort provided they don’t rock the boat, although some do. But for increasing numbers, it is a completely dysfunctional system.

You cannot find that of God in everyone if you do not talk to everyone.

How do we change that? I have been working hard for the political candidates of my choice. I have gotten up early, standing in both the cold and the heat, to provide support for voters through Election Protection, a program sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. I hold monthly “Get Out the Vote” postcard writing parties and help with voter registration.

But I have increasingly been thinking again about the power of words, including the words that aren’t being said. So I have been trying to encourage conversations with “the other.” How do we break out of the silos and go back to communicating with people with whom we disagree?

Some of my Friends say, “That’s what we need. How do we reach out and persuade the others that they are wrong?” And I say, “All I am teaching is how to have a conversation. Persuasion may come, but it is not the goal. The goal is to rebuild community among people who do not agree.”

Others of my Friends say, “You can’t persuade some people with facts. You are wasting your time.” And I say, “All I am teaching is how to have a conversation. Persuasion may come, but it is not the goal. The goal is to rebuild community among people who do not agree.”

Both groups show a level of contempt. One group of Friends shows it in a patronizing manner, assuming that all Friends have to do is get the facts to those ignorant people and they would all agree with those Friends. The other shows contempt in assuming that the people with whom they disagree have no ability to learn—or to teach.

But you cannot find that of God in everyone if you do not talk to everyone. You cannot find that of God in everyone if you hold many in contempt.

It is not about agreeing: It is about setting aside our contempt and listening. It is about realizing that there are things upon which we can agree, even if they are as mundane as agreeing that we need rain, or that growing a garden takes work.

Finding this common ground that we all share is the best hope for our nation and, indeed, the world. It is a physical manifestation of our belief that we find that of God in everyone. Finding that of God in everyone should not be an abstract idea best practiced at a distance. It should be concrete actions that build the cornerstone of our beloved community.

The post Contempt Is a Bitter-Tasting Word appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Kavanaugh Wrap-Up: The Wheat from the Chaff

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 11:53pm

Too many media people around this past week’s supreme Court hearings wasted their energy doing horse race and atmosphere coverage. Political sportscasters, I call them; and pretty bush league at that.

Their frame was: the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (hereafter “K“) is a done deal, so all that matters is the hullabaloo, that and the shadow horse race preview of the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Which meant excessive attention to whether aspirants Kamala Harris or Cory Booker managed to draw some blood and get a boost from a bombshell revelation.

Senators Cory Booker,left, and Kamala Harris, right, peering over the parapet.

But the pair, it was reported, didn’t bring any real ordnance, and neither came out with a 2020 home run. That’s true enough, and for the media political sportscasters, this was all that mattered. And that’s utterly mistaken.

The New York Times’s Saturday postmortem reflected this outlook:

“Boorish. Rude. Disrespectful. Insulting. Grandstanding. Hyperventilating. Deranged. Ridiculous. Drivel.

Those were among the words angry Senate Republicans used this week to assail the conduct of Democrats at a Supreme Court hearing that was often tense and sometimes toxic. . . .

With little power to stop a nominee they saw as a conservative partisan, a Republican-imposed process they considered grossly unfair and a demanding political base spoiling for a fight, they decided it was time to sow disorder over the court.

For me such reportage was mainly stale baloney. Its superficiality is a disgrace to their profession. It only reports one superficial level of the debate that went on there.

I experienced a very different set of hearings. They began when I tuned in Tuesday morning, and heard Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse’s begin his opening statement.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, into the breach.

It was stunning: clear, specific, cogent, passionate, judiciously profane, and set out a well-researched yet concise list of propositions about the likely negative effects of K’s elevation.

The sportscasters basically ignored it, probably because Whitehouse is from a small state — and he isn’t  running for president.

Yet over the next three days I heard a lot of testimony that corroborated Whitehouse’s arguments. On one side, I listened to K set what seemed like a record in spewing non-answers, fouling off just about every concrete issue Whitehouse and then other Dems  threw at him, which they did by the bushel. No surprise there; K has coached others in this drill, and Dems have done it in their turn. Nevertheless, as the hours passed, patterns and themes emerged.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, at the hearing.

The Republicans also scripted the next part of their campaign well: filling hours with gushing testimonials that became painful earworms, declaring that K is really such a nice guy, kind to kids, coaching girls basketball teams (where;’s he called “Coach K) for the Catholic Youth Organization, yada yada, yada yada, yada yada.

Okay, already; if I was hiring a male nanny, he’d top the list.

Then there came a battalion of former students and clerks to repeat that he’s a highly-regarded law professor, and good at mentoring students and clerks. I don’t doubt it. So if I needed a tutor . . . .

It was soon clear that the GOP goal here was not simply to prove K was a swell fellow, but also to put the sportscasters into a deep sleep  by chanting the same mantra over and over; and at this it was a smashing success. After all, in this era of scandal upon scandal, what is more boring than a certified wholesome Catholic family man. (Especially one who has the votes in his pocket, right next to his visibly dogeared copy of the Constitution).

After a day of this, the sportscasters were squirmingly ready to bolt this snooze-a-thon. The New York Times‘s anonymous inside-the-white-house “resistance” OpEd piece gave them, or at least their editors, the opening:  by Thursday, even if they were still stuck in the hearing room, many were chasing the will-of-the-wisp author (still nameless as of this writing).

Cartoon by Darrin Bell.

So that left Friday, when the Dems were to have their chance with outside witnesses. By then, the sportscasters couldn’t have cared less, and many reports I’ve seen don’t mention them except in passing.

But in fact, the day was full of substance. For one thing, it became clear to me that while K is definitely a total law geek, he’s also full of law shtick.  He has pretty much mastered the legal arcana for the major issues the Democrats brought up, and can riff on them on cue, in whatever length and degree of technicality seems needful to fend off ever committing himself on what he believes or how he might rule on any of them.

While these cases are all above my pay grade, after several hours of this, even I could begin to  discern what Whitehouse had called the key patterns in K‘s thought and decisions. These became more evident when the Dems’  outside witnesses finally alined up on Friday and took their turns at the mike. They included lawyers and professors, plus Parkland survivors, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and persons with chronic diseases for whom Obamacare is a matter of life or death. About the only ones missing were detainees at Gitmo, but they had other commitments.

One after another, the Dems’ outside witnesses crisply and expertly picked K‘s arguments apart, showing how in one area of litigation after another, amid K‘s thick weeds of legalese, were decisions and dissents that have reliably favored the rich, comforted the corporate, put the knives into abortion, Obamacare, affirmative action and voting rights; and promoted an all-but unchallengeable “unitary” presidency, in peace or especially in war.

This last was particularly eye-opening. K’s president would be free, among other things, to ignore pesky laws (such as the one John McCain authored against torture) with imperial “signing statements”; to squash upstart federal environmental and consumer advocates like so many bugs ; to mock international law, spy on citizens, and torture or imprison suspects (including U. S. citizens) without charge or trial, for life, under the all-purpose rubrics of “national security” and “originalism.”

John Dean, at the hearing.

The Friday session even featured a living ghost and a ghoul. The ghost was John Dean, onetime lawyer to Richard Nixon, whose surprise 1973 testimony against his former boss started the avalanche that swept Nixon out of the White House.

Dean’s message was stark. “If Judge Kavanaugh joins that court, it will be the most pro-presidential powers-friendly Court in the modern era,” he said.

“Under Judge Kavanaugh’s recommendation, if a President shot somebody in cold blood on 5th Avenue, that President could not be prosecuted while in office.”

Senator John Kennedy, R-LA. A Bayou good ole boy, by way of Oxford & Vanderbilt.

The ghoul came in the person of Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, off the JV bench, subbing for Committee chair Charles Grassley. Despite his first class law degree from Oxford, Kennedy has cultivated in the senate a deep-in-the-bayou persona and accent, and he picked up the gavel at the session with an old score to  settle: he called Dean a “rat” for testifying against Nixon, and accused him of harming the country thereby.

Dean has heard worse, and was ready. He parried smoothly, replying that he had published a book on Watergate (actually he’s written several such), explaining why he had turned against Nixon, and would send Kennedy a copy to assist his understanding.

Kennedy, who had likely been waiting forty-five years to launch this public sneer at Dean, only managed to show that an Oxford degree is no bar to its holder making a ghoulish fool of himself.

The upshot of these last hours was a cascade of confirmations of the many-counts of Sheldon Whitehouse’s neglected opening indictment. This bookend, as far as I can see, was ignored by the sportscasters, who had to catch up with the latest tweets, or push off for a weekend at the beach.

But at least one non-sportscaster observer did keep up. Adam Serwer of the Atlantic had just posted thus:

“The Roberts Court is poised to shape American society in Trump’s image for decades to come. All three branches of the federal government are now committed to the Trump agenda: the restoration of America’s traditional racial, religious, and gender hierarchies; the enrichment of party patrons; the unencumbered pursuit of corporate profit; the impoverishment and disenfranchisement of the rival party’s constituencies; and the protection of the president and his allies from prosecution by any means available. Not since the end of Reconstruction has the U.S. government been so firmly committed to a single, coherent program uniting a politics of ethnonationalism with unfettered corporate power. As with Redemption, as the end of Reconstruction is known, the consequences could last for generations.”

I believe Serwer is quite right that we subjects of this impending legal rollback face a multi-generational agenda of resistance and recovery. And for me, listening with one ear through these grueling days, his and Sheldon Whitehouse’s frame for the week was much more useful than the sophomoric sportscasters’ blather about jockeying by Booker vs Harris. Instead, Whitehouse, Serwer  and the public witness pierced K’s smokescreen. They may not have changed the vote count, but they have laid out the signs of the time.

And for those with eyes to see, and hands willing for the plough, these signs could be invaluable in finding our way into the long journey and multiple struggles ahead.

The post Kavanaugh Wrap-Up: The Wheat from the Chaff appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Friend Jocelyn Bell Burnell gets Breakthrough Prize

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 9:49am

Famously overlooked for a Nobel, the Quaker scientist has won an award that she will put toward diversifying future researchers:

She’s being given the award for her “fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community,” according to a statement from the prize board. Bell Burnell told the BBC she plans to give all of her prize money to women, ethnic minorities and refugee students aiming to become physics researchers. 

You can read more about Bell Burnell on her Quakers in the World page.

Woman behind 1967 Nobel work finally recognized as top scientist with Breakthrough Prize, awarded $3 million

Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s male colleagues were given a Nobel in 1974 for her discovery of radio pulsars. Now,…


Tip of the hat to Doug Bennett for the suggestion and links.

Categories: Blogs

Doug Gwyn on QuakerSpeak: What Does Quakerism Teach About Connecting to Nature?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 8:29pm

A new video from Quaker historian Gwyn:

Connecting with nature is about more than just exercise or tranquility. As Quaker author Doug Gwyn shares, even in the 17th century, Quakers were concerned about our disconnection with the natural world and what it would mean for the future.

What Does Quakerism Teach About Connecting to Nature?

Connecting with nature is about more than just exercise or tranquility. As Quaker author Doug Gwyn shares, even…

Categories: Blogs

NYC Friends school back in the spotlight in the NYTimes Magazine

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 6:58pm

A deep dive into a controversy more complicated than it first appears, “A Teacher Made a Hitler Joke in the Classroom. It Tore the School Apart”:

At a meeting with administrators about the incident in late February, members of the high school’s Parents Association said that keeping Frisch would send the message that the school didn’t take anti-Semitism seriously. Another parent told Lauder that this was not the first time Frisch had said or done something inappropriate.

A Teacher Made a Hitler Joke in the Classroom. It Tore the School Apart.

At Friends Seminary, an elite private school in Manhattan, an awkward parody of a Nazi salute opened a…

Categories: Blogs

Quaker cultures and young Friends

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 6:57pm

Emily Provance is back talking about the disconnect between different Quaker subcultures:

In other words, as far as your personal experience tells you, Quaker meeting is supposed to be about fun and excitement—but suddenly, you’re seeing planning and structure instead. Quaker meeting is supposed to be about light-heartedness—but suddenly, you’re seeing methodical rule-following. Quaker meeting is supposed to be about playfulness—but suddenly, you’re seeing cautious cooperation.

Last month I talked a little bit about the problem when Quaker youth culture and meeting culture don’t quite line up.

Transitions: An Application of Cultural Theory

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this article based on some research I came across in the…

Turning, Turning
Categories: Blogs

Illustrated Thursday Thoughts on Kavanaugh

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 11:48am

If one picture is worth a thousand words,  then this ought to be a long read. But it really isn’t.

Kavanaugh is expected to finish his testimony on Thursday. But it won’t be over.

Torture connections? Senators Leahy & Durbin confronted him about hard evidence contradicting earlier denials:

I learned a new phrase on Tuesday: “The Roberts Five,” which I won’t forget.  I also learned more about how “The Roberts Five” overwhelmingly favors the Rich, the Right, and the Aggressively “Christian” (Male) White. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, we’ll probably ALL know this phrase, too well.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the hero of the opening round, blowing the cover off “The Roberts Five.” He’s since been joined by others: Cory Booker,  Amy Klobuchar, Pat Leahy & more.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, showing data that the public is wise to “The Roberts Five’s” blatant bias toward the super-wealthy and religious right. Has anyone grilled Kavanaugh on the same sex marriage decision? (If so, I haven’t heard it.) Am I right that LGBT issues are being neglected so far?) Kavanaugh’s responses about Roe v Wade sounded like pure smokescreen gobbledygook. I also haven’t heard much talk about unions; but there seems no question, Kavanaugh would weaken them further, probably drastically.

Here are a few more images, reflecting my strong concern about torture, indefinite detention and untrammeled executive power under cover of war or “national security.” Kavanaugh sounds like he’s on the side of power in all this areas:


In sum:

Please pass this on. There could be more to come . . .

The post Illustrated Thursday Thoughts on Kavanaugh appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Another “Quaker” School Makes Waves

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 09/05/2018 - 8:04am

As a journalist, I mostly have the “Quaker beat” to myself: Friends are a tiny sect, known mostly for being “quaint,” the inventors of oatmeal, riders in buggies, and extinct. (Never mind that the last three are not true; they’re still what we’re “known” for, by many in what the elders used to call “the world,” when such folk bother to think about us at all.) So when I report on Quaker stuff, it’s rare that I have to compete with “normal” reporters.

But sometimes I get scooped; and that happened again today, and in no less an outlet than the New York Times. (But hey, if you’re gonna get scooped, it might as well be by the best.)

And why would the Times bother with us? If you don’t already know, think for a minute: The Times’ base constituency is the affluent (and up) of the nation’s largest city. And what artifact of Quakerism are such moneyed folk most likely to bump into? (Hint: nothing to do with oatmeal.)

Right: “Quaker” schools. Several such are at or near the top of the social/prestigious/rich private school hierarchies of their respective hometowns, places that charge as much as $50,000 for a year of high school.  You’ve likely already heard of the Sidwell School in Washington DC, where the Obama girls went, the latest in a long line of presidential progeny who enrolled there.

It seems that Manhattan has one such school, called Friends Seminary, down toward the southern end of the island, not far from Wall Street, Greenwich Village, and some of the most expensive gentrification on the continent.

But “Friends,” as it’s called for short, was there first, going back to 1786, and was started to provide the culturally separatist Quakers of the day a “guarded education,” long on basics and the Bible, short on contact with the “world” outside, and “peculiar” then because Quaker education included young women Friends.

However, merely being 240-plus years old and pricey does not open the way to the top of the private school heap in Gotham. According to the Times,  the city’s truly elite educational cognoscenti sniff at it as being “second tier” in its league.

But “Friends” is peculiar no more. Its headmaster (who came there, not coincidentally, from a stint  at Sidwell), has been determined to vault it into the first tier, and is doing so via a path that’s all too familiar to those who follow such things (which includes me at a distance): raising millions for the endowment, buying up adjacent buildings for more and cooler educational stuff, and slimming down the Quaker heritage so it fits seamlessly into the marketing plan (which means quietly dumping the religion part, and turning it into a “SPICE-y” mix of something called “Quaker values”; but don’t let me get started on that hot mess.  A related rant is here.)

Such trading up and slimming down, as you might expect, raised all sorts of hackles about money, class, and Quakerism. Some of these  have been momentarily sticky with many New York  City Friends, but have been largely smoothed over (some with a bulldozer). Yet it has also meant cutting back on actual, you know, Quakers in roles like, the faculty. Indeed, a year ago “Friends” was down to  single Quaker teacher, named Ben Frisch. Who also happened to be its longest-serving teacher.

But last March, the headmaster fired Frisch.

Not “released”; not retired; not quietly eased-out-with-a-severance-package-&-a-non-disclosure agreement (tho they tried). Fired.

The result has been chaos, continuing protests, Trump-style publicity, and most recently, a union arbitration hearing. (Wait — a teachers UNION at a Quaker school?)  Yes. For the moment.

In fact, the current article is the Times‘s second: they broke the story on March 23, under the excellent headline, “Someone went too  far at Friends Seminary, but Who?” 

WTF?! (What’s This, Friends??) 

Well, I won’t say much more here, because really, all I’d be doing is cribbing from the Times‘s new report, which describes the whole ungodly mess in intriguing detail. So take a break from the agonies of the news day and check it out.

Though alas, it won’t really be a break from the agonizing issues of the day, especially for Quakers. And it’s not over yet.

The post Another “Quaker” School Makes Waves appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five”

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 09/04/2018 - 8:29pm

Unless you’re a bear for punishment, you could have skipped most of the first day of hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, settling for the highlights on TV or in text. But then you would have missed the high point, a stunning tour de force of truth-telling from an overlooked member.

For opening entertainment, there were shouting protesters, soon removed, with reportedly 70  arrests. Other protesters paced somberly outside in costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale.

The specter of Gilead at the hearing.

Democratic Senators on the Judiciary committee loudly (but futilely) protested the orchestrated coverup of the vast majority of documents from his time working for George W. Bush, from which (I strongly suspect), Kavanaugh is still trying to wash the blood of the tortured innocent from his hands.

I don’t know why Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island isn’t   better known.  Maybe it’s Rhode island’s mini-size (at barely 1200  square miles, it makes Vermont — 8 times as large– look huge; or maybe its due to the state’s mostly Democratic voting record.) Perhaps it’s because he is not running for president.

Whatever; Whitehouse was a prosecutor and state attorney general before he came to Washington. He knows how to make a case succinctly and trenchantly. Further, this time he did a bunch of relevant homework.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

After him, the supposed ace debater Ted Cruz sounded shrill, small and tinny. Cruz only underlined the power of Whitehouse’s statement,  a masterwork of plain, well-informed, vivid, carefully angry and occasionally profane argument.

Most of the rest of this post will be quotes from Whitehouse’s  statement. The text, along with links to the documentation for his charges, are all on his website, in full.

Kavanaugh listens on Tuesday.

Whitehouse did not focus solely on Kavanaugh; rather he spotlighted the bloc that the newcomer will solidify, what Whitehouse rightly called “The Roberts Five.” We’ll let him pick it up here (I have added the emphasis, having heard the talk first, which delivered with much passion.

Whitehouse: When is a pattern evidence of bias?

In court, pattern is evidence of bias all the time; evidence on which juries and trial judges rely, to show discriminatory intent, to show a common scheme, to show bias.

When does a pattern prove bias?

That’s no idle question. It’s relevant to the pattern of the Roberts Court when its Republican majority goes off on its partisan excursions through the civil law; when all five Republican appointees — the Roberts Five, I’ll call them — go raiding off together, and no Democratic appointee joins them.

Does this happen often? Yes, indeed.

The Roberts Five has gone on 80 of these partisan excursions since Roberts became chief.

There is a feature to these eighty cases. They almost all implicate interests important to the big funders and influencers of the Republican Party. When the Republican Justices go off on these partisan excursions, there’s a big Republican corporate or partisan interest involved 92 percent of the time.

A tiny handful of these cases don’t implicate an interest of the big Republican influencers — so flukishly few we can set them aside. That leaves 73 cases that all implicate a major Republican Party interest. Seventy-three is a lot of cases at the Supreme Court.

Is there a pattern to those 73 cases? Oh, yes there is.

Every time a big Republican corporate or partisan interest is involved, the big Republican interest wins. Every. Time.

Let me repeat: In seventy-three partisan decisions where there’s a big Republican interest at stake, the big Republican interest wins. Every. Damned. Time.

Hence the mad scramble of big Republican interest groups to protect a “Roberts Five” that will reliably give them wins — really big wins, sometimes.

When the Roberts Five saddles up, these so-called conservatives are anything but judicially conservative.

They readily overturn precedent, toss out statutes passed by wide bipartisan margins, and decide on broad constitutional issues they need not reach. Modesty, originalism, stare decisis, all these supposedly conservative judicial principles, all have the hoof prints of the Roberts Five all across their backs, wherever those principles got in the way of wins for the Big Republican interests.

The litany of Roberts Five decisions explains why big Republican interests want Kavanaugh on the Court so badly that Republicans trampled so much Senate precedent to shove him through; so let’s review the litany.

What do big Republican interests want? Well, first, they want to win elections.

What has the Roberts Five delivered?

Help Republicans gerrymander elections: Vieth v. Jubelirer, 5-4, license to gerrymander.

Help Republicans keep minority voters away from the polls: Shelby County, 5-4 and Bartlett v. Strickland, 5-4. And Abbott v. Perez, 5-4, despite the trial judge finding the Texas legislature actually intended to suppress minority voters.

And the big one: help corporate front-group money flood elections — if you’re a big special interest you love unlimited power to buy elections and threaten and bully Congress. McCutcheon, 5-4 counting the concurrence; Bullock, 5-4; and the infamous, grotesque 5-4 Citizens United decision (which belongs . . . on the Court’s roll of shame).

What else do the big influencers want?

To get out of courtrooms. Big influencers hate courtrooms, because their lobbying and electioneering and threatening doesn’t work. In a courtroom, big influencers used to getting their way have to suffer the indignity of equal treatment.

So the Roberts Five protects corporations from group “class action” lawsuits: Walmart v. Dukes, 5-4; Comcast, 5-4; and this past term, Epic Systems, 5-4.

The Roberts Five helps corporations steer customers and workers away from courtrooms and into mandatory arbitration: Concepcion, Italian Colors, and Rent-a-Center, all Roberts Five. Epic Systems does double duty here: now workers can’t even arbitrate their claims as a group.

Hindering access to the courthouse for plaintiffs generally: Iqbal, 5-4.

Protecting corporations from being taken to court by employees harmed through pay discrimination, Ledbetter, 5-4; age discrimination, Gross, 5-4; harassment, Vance 5-4; and retaliation, Nassar, 5-4. Even insulating corporations from liability for international human rights violations: Jesner, 5-4.

Corporations aren’t in the Constitution; juries are. Indeed, courtroom juries are the one element of American government designed to protect people against encroachments by private wealth and power. So of course the Roberts Five rule for wealthy, powerful corporations over jury rights every time — with nary a mention of the Seventh Amendment.

What’s another one? Oh, yes.  A classic: helping big business bust unions. Harris v. Quinn, 5-4; and Janus v. AFSCME this year, 5-4, overturning a 40-year precedent.

Lots of big Republican influencers are polluters. They like to pollute for free.

So of course the Roberts Five delivers decisions that let corporate polluters pollute. To pick a few: Rapanos, weakening wetland protections, 5-4; National Association of Home Builders, weakening protections for endangered species, 5-4; Michigan v. EPA, helping air polluters, 5-4; and, in the face of emerging climate havoc, there’s the procedurally aberrant 5-4 partisan decision to stop the EPA Clean Power Plan.

Then come Roberts Five bonus decisions advancing a far-right social agenda: Gonzalez v. Carhart, upholding restrictive abortion laws; Hobby Lobby, granting corporations religious rights over the health care rights of employees; NIFLA, letting states deny women truthful information about their reproductive choices—all 5-4, all the Republicans.

Add Heller and McDonald, which reanimated for the gun industry a theory a former Chief Justice once called a “fraud”; both decisions 5-4.

This year, Trump v. Hawaii, 5-4, rubber stamping President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim travel ban.

And in case Wall Street was feeling left out, helping insulate investment bankers from fraud claims: Janus Capital Group, Inc., 5-4.

No wonder the American people feel the game is rigged.

Here’s how the rigged game works: big business and partisan groups fund the Federalist Society, which picked Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh. As White House Counsel admitted, they “insourced” the Federalist Society for this selection. Exactly how the nominees were picked, and who was in the room where it happened, and who had a vote or a veto, and what was said or promised, is all a deep dark secret.

Then big business and partisan groups fund the Judicial Crisis Network, which runs dark-money political campaigns to influence Senators in confirmation votes, as they’ve done for Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh. Who pays millions of dollars for that, and what their expectations are, is a deep dark secret.

These groups also fund Republican election campaigns with dark money. The identity of the big donors? A deep dark secret.

Once the nominee is on, the same business front groups, with ties to the Koch Brothers and other funders of the Republican political machine, file “friend of the court,” or amicus briefs, to signal their wishes to the Roberts Five. Who is really behind those “friends” is another deep dark secret.

It has gotten so weird that Republican justices now even send hints back to big business interests about how they’d like to help them next, and then big business lawyers rush out to lose cases, just to get them up before the friendly [Supreme] Court, pronto. That’s what happened in Friedrichs and Janus.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest corporate lobby of them all. It’s the mouthpiece for Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Guns, you name it—and this year, with Justice Gorsuch riding with the Roberts Five, the Chamber won nine of the 10 cases it weighed in on.

The Roberts Five since 2006 has given the Chamber more than three-quarters of their total votes. This year in civil cases they voted for the Chamber’s position nearly 90 percent of the time.

People are noticing. Veteran court-watchers like Jeffrey Toobin, Linda Greenhouse and Norm Ornstein describe the court as a delivery service for Republican interests:

Toobin has written that on the Supreme Court, “Roberts has served the interests . . . of the contemporary Republican Party.”

Greenhouse has said, “the Republican-appointed majority is committed to harnessing the Supreme Court to an ideological agenda.”

Ornstein described, “the new reality of today’s Supreme Court: It is polarized along partisan lines in a way that parallels other political institutions and the rest of society, in a fashion we have never seen.”

And the American public knows it, too. The American public thinks the Supreme Court treats corporations more favorably than individuals, compared to vice versa, by a 7-to-1 margin.

Whitehouse shows that the public is catching on to the “corporate capture” of the Supreme Court.

Now, let’s look at where Judge Kavanaugh fits in. A Republican political operative his whole career, who’s never tried a case. He made his political bones helping the salacious prosecution of President Clinton, and leaking prosecution information to the press.

As an operative in the second Bush White House, he cultivated relationships with political insiders like nomination guru Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society architect of Kavanaugh’s court nominations. On the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh gave more than 50 speeches to the Federalist Society. That’s some auditioning.

On the DC Circuit, Kavanaugh showed his readiness to join the Roberts Five with big political wins for Republican and corporate interests: unleashing special interest money into elections; protecting corporations from liability; helping polluters pollute; striking down commonsense gun regulations; keeping injured plaintiffs out of court; and perhaps most important for the current occupant of the Oval Office, expounding a nearly limitless vision of presidential immunity from the law.

[Kavanaugh’s] alignment with right-wing groups who came before him as “friends of the court”? 91 percent.

When big business trade associations weighed in? 76 percent. This is what corporate capture of the courts looks like.

There are big expectations for [Kavanaugh]. The shadowy dark-money front group, the Judicial Crisis Network, is spending tens of millions in dark money to push for [his] confirmation. They clearly have big expectations about how [he]’ll rule on dark money.

The NRA has poured millions into [his] confirmation, promising their members that [he]’ll “break the tie.” They clearly have big expectations on how you’ll vote on guns.

White House Counsel Don McGahn said, “There is a coherent plan here where actually the judicial selection and the deregulatory effort are really the flip side of the same coin.” Big polluters clearly have big expectations for [him] on their deregulatory effort.

Finally, [he] come[s] before us nominated by a President named in open court as directing criminal activity, and a subject of ongoing criminal investigation. [Kavanaugh] displayed expansive views on executive immunity from the law. If [he is] in that seat because the White House has big expectations that [he] will protect the President from the due process of law, that should give every Senator pause.

Tomorrow, we will hear a lot of “confirmation etiquette.” It’s a sham.

Kavanaugh knows the game. In the Bush White House, he coached judicial nominees to just tell Senators that they will adhere to statutory text, that they have no ideological agenda. Fairy tales.

At his hearing, Justice Roberts infamously said he’d just call “balls and strikes,” but the pattern – the 73-case pattern – of the Roberts Five qualifies him to have NASCAR-style corporate badges on his robes.

Alito said in his hearing what a “strong principle” stare decisis was, an important limitation on the Court. Then he told the Federalist Society stare decisis “means to leave things decided when it suits our purposes.”

Gorsuch delivered the key fifth vote in the precedent-busting, but also union-busting, Janus decision. He too had pledged in his hearing to “follow the law of judicial precedent,” assured us he was not a “philosopher king,” and promised to give equal concern to “every person, poor or rich, mighty or meek.”

How did that turn out? Great for the rich and mighty: Gorsuch is the single most corporate-friendly justice on a Court already full of them, ruling for big business interests in over 70 percent of cases, and in every single case where his vote was determinative.

The president early on assured evangelicals his Supreme Court picks would attack Roe v. Wade. Despite “confirmation etiquette” assurances about precedent, [Kavanaugh’s] own words make clear [he doesn’t] really believe Roe v. Wade is settled law.

We have seen this movie before. We know how it ends.

The sad fact is that there is no consequence for telling the Committee fairy tales about stare decisis, and then riding off with the Roberts Five, trampling across whatever precedent gets in the way of letting those Big Republican interests keep winning 5-4 partisan decisions.

Every. Damned. Time.

This is a lengthy quote. But I believe it is the most concise and clear exposition of the Supreme Court future that we are facing if Kavanaugh joins and solidifies “The Roberts Five.” Again, the full text, with the background analysis, is worth reading, for those who want to see the likely future without sentimentality or illusion.

The post Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

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