Sunday, July 9, 2023

Last Call For Ridin' With Biden, Eurotrip Edition

President Biden will be in Europe this week, visiting King Charles III of Britain on the way to a NATO summit in Lithuania where Ukraine and Sweden's entry into the group is the top billing.

President Joe Biden begins a five-day swing through Europe on Sunday with a focus on NATO gathering later this week in Lithuania, as allied countries look to boost support for Ukraine and the possibility of Sweden's approval to join the military alliance.

"We're looking forward to a busy week in Europe. And we're looking forward to the president being able to further solidify, strengthen and give momentum to the strong united alliance that has been standing up so effectively against Russian aggression," White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday afternoon.

The president begins his trip in London, where he will meet King Charles III at Windsor Castle on July 10, the first time Biden will meet with the king since his coronation. First Lady Jill Biden represented the United States at the coronation with their granddaughter Finnegan in May.

"While in London, he will meet with King Charles at Windsor Castle and engage with a forum that will focus on mobilizing climate finance especially bringing private finance off the sidelines for clean energy deployment and adaptation in developing countries," Sullivan said Friday.

Biden is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak -- the sixth time the leaders will meet in the past six months. They last met at the White House in June.

From London, Biden heads to Vilnius, Lithuania, to attend the 74th NATO summit -- which is expected to center around the alliance's support for Ukraine amid Russia's ongoing invasion.

"Ukraine will not be joining NATO coming out of this summit," Sullivan stressed, but he added there will be discussion of "what steps are necessary as it continues along its path."

"Vilnius will be an important moment on that pathway towards membership because the United States, our NATO allies and Ukraine will have the opportunity discuss the reforms that are still necessary for Ukraine to come up to NATO standards. So, this will, in fact, be a milestone. But Ukraine still has further steps it needs to take before membership in NATO," Sullivan added.

Ukraine's counteroffensive is underway and has allowed their forces to regain territory in the southeast, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he'd like it to be accomplished sooner. He's repeatedly asked the U.S. for F-16 fighter aircraft, which he says would give them an "opportunity to move faster."

The Biden administration had resisted that request but is now working with allies to train Ukrainians on F-16s and eventually help get them jets for the war.

The NATO summit also takes place with an additional member, Finland, after being approved in April, and a lingering question of whether Turkey and Hungary will drop objections to Sweden joining the alliance.

The real draw here is what Ankara wants from NATO to allow Sweden to join, because as Vox's Jen Kirby explains, it's complicated, man.

All NATO members must approve new ones, so Erdoğan’s opposition is effectively a veto. The Turkish president is not alone; Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is also holding out, but Hungary has signaled it won’t be the final roadblock. Erdoğan has continued to insist that Sweden has not done enough to crack down on people in Sweden with ties to Kurdish militants and other groups that Turkey has deemed terrorists.

Sweden has tried to appease Turkey, including passing a new anti-terrorism law that went into effect June 1. But Erdoğan’s definition of terrorists is pretty expansive, and often includes dissidents and others critical of his regime. And even if Turkey has a case, Sweden has to follow due process and rule of law and can’t just, say, extradite a bunch of people on a whim. A recent Quran-burning outside a Stockholm mosque has added to tensions, as Turkey interprets these as Sweden’s permissive attitude toward anti-Islamic protests rather than freedom of speech.

Sweden, alongside NATO allies, has been doing some furious diplomacy to try to persuade Turkey to approve Sweden’s bid. Swedish and Turkish officials talked Thursday, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying they made “good progress” but issues remained unresolved. Stoltenberg will meet Monday with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Erdoğan, a day before the Vilnius summit kicks off.

Until then, the impasse prevails. Which means the thing everyone really wanted to happen — that Sweden would join NATO, becoming its 32nd member — might not happen this week in Lithuania. This will deny NATO its unity narrative in Vilnius, something the alliance very much wants to project.

But it is more than just the storyline: Sweden is cooperating and planning closely with NATO, but it remains outside the alliance, and its mutual defense protections. If Erdoğan won’t budge here, after everyone shuttling to meet with Turkish officials, after Swedish concessions, and during the military alliance equivalent of the Super Bowl, it’s not clear when he would — which could leave Sweden stuck outside the alliance at time when NATO is trying to redefine and reinvigorate itself amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The proverbial Siberian Kodiak in the room is of course Putin, whom Erdogan wants to keep on his good side as much as he wants to be buddies with Biden.  We'll see if diplomacy can get things moving this week in Vilnius.

P.S. Can you imagine the disaster that would be Trump in the White House right now at this juncture?

Tales Of The Shattered Rainbow, Con't

We're back on a regular schedule today, and I wish I had better news to do that with. But late last night the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati issued a 2-1 ruling overturning the injunction against Tennessee's anti-trans law taking effect, and as Law Dork's Chris Geidner looks at this garbage fire of a ruling, the ban on Kentucky's anti-trans law will be overturned in short order.
The Saturday ruling itself alters the legal landscape for these bans, at least temporarily.

First, and most immediately, Tennessee is free to enforce its ban, pending any further court orders.

While calling the ruling “wrong on the facts and on the law,” Chase Strangio, who is one of the key ACLU lawyers on this and several other challenges to anti-transgender laws, added, “We also know that things are moving quickly and for many families, waiting for legal relief is not an option. The untenable position that adolescents, their caregivers and their doctors have been put in is not only illegal, but also deeply unethical and dangerous.”

One of the most prominent trans legal advocates in the country over recent years, Strangio added a personal note to those affected by Sutton’s ruling, telling Law Dork: “From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry. I know it feels bleak now and I am also confident that in time, working together, we will prevail.”

Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice within the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, added that the ACLU “will continue to aggressively litigate these cases in Tennessee and across the country.”

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the challengers would seek to get the stay lifted, either by the full Sixth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. “We are still evaluating all our options with our primary concern of course being how can we help ensure that people in Tennessee are not cut off from the care they need,” Strangio stated.

Second, the Sixth Circuit set a very quick schedule for the merits appeal of the preliminary injunction — with the “goal” of reaching a resolution by Sept. 30.

Third, Kentucky is within the Sixth Circuit and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has already cited the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in a filing at the district court in the case challenging Kentucky’s ban as a reason why the court should “immediately” issue a stay of its June 28 ruling granting a preliminary injunction.

Fourth, the Sixth Circuit also consolidated Cameron’s appeal of the Kentucky injunction in a separate order Saturday, which not only brings that case on the same schedule as the Tennessee appeal but also essentially confirms that Sixth Circuit would almost certainly issue a stay of the Kentucky injunction if the district court does not do so.

Finally, the new, if tentative, lack of unanimity itself matters for two reasons — one rhetorical and one practical. Obviously, having unanimity is its own argument against the constitutionality of these bans. Additionally, although only at the stay request posture, the ruling increases the likelihood that a “circuit split” on these bans will develop — a factor that greatly increases the chances of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up one of these cases.

Few people know that better than Sutton.

It was, after all, Sutton’s 2014 decision in the marriage cases out of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue of same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marriage equality. Less than two months before Sutton’s decision in those cases, the Supreme Court denied other states’ requests to hear similar appeals when the federal appeals courts were in unanimity on the issue. After Sutton’s decision created a circuit split, however, the Supreme Court took up the issue.
The most ominous part of the decision is that two Republican judges decided that the Dobbs ruling can be applied to other medical care issues.  Even if a doctor agrees that gender-affirming care is the correct issue, the state can still ban it.

Republican attorneys general from seven states signed a letter Wednesday to Target (TGT), warning clothes and merchandise sold as part of the retail giant’s Pride month campaigns could violate their state’s child protection laws.

GOP attorneys general from Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina signed the letter, writing they were “concerned by recent events involving the company’s ‘Pride’ campaign.” The letter asserts the states are obliged to “enforce state laws protecting children” from “content that sexualizes them,” including obscenity laws. The letter also suggests Target may be breaching the law by making decisions that are allegedly “unprofitable” and not in the best interests of its shareholders, citing it as a violation of the company’s fiduciary duty.

The AGs said they believed the campaign was a “comprehensive effort to promote gender and sexual identity among children,” criticizing items such as “LGBT-themed onesies, bibs, and overalls, T-shirts labeled ‘Girls Gays Theys’; ‘Pride Adult Drag Queen Katya’ (which depicts a male dressed in female drag’); and girls’ swimsuits with ‘tuck-friendly construction.’”

The letter does not provide specific details regarding potential legal consequences if Target continues to sell the merchandise in question. It follows a wave of bills introduced in various states aiming to ban LGBTQ+ content under obscenity laws, as well as a record-shattering year for anti-LGBTQ legislation, with particular scrutiny on gender-affirming health care access for transgender children and teenagers. Nineteen states have passed laws restricting it.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group in the US, slammed the letter as “another attempt from the extreme right to bully anyone who stands by values of inclusion and diversity.”

“These attorneys general are trying to rile up their far-right base and force us back into the closet. It’s not going to work,” Jay Brown, HRC’s Sr Vice President of Programs, Training and Research said in a statement provided to CNN.

If you're saying that it's a potential violation of the law to sell children's products proclaiming that LGBTQ people exist, are equal citizens, and should be celebrated, you're a very short step from declaring that it's illegal to be a gay parent. If the presence of pro-LGBTQ clothing results in unlawful sexualization of children, so does the ongoing presence of an LGBTQ parent -- right?

"Because we have to do whatever is necessary to protect the children" mean Republicans can criminalize, harass, and imprison whomever they deem to be "bad." Steve continues:

These AGs are implying that legal action might be appropriate because Target made a business decision they don't like. That's a heavy-handed use of the power of government to try to enforce ideological conformity. And, of course, this was a questionable business decision only because the AGs' ideological allies in the right-wing rage community were encouraged to vent their wrath at Target. So first these folks boycott your company, then they threaten legal action because you as a corporation should have known they were going to do that.
And then these Republicans will pass laws giving legal power of the state behind these threats, because they are "necessary to save kids". It's bullshit, of course. But that's where we're headed, a toxic, corrosive mix of Hobby Lobby and Dobbs where the existence of trans folks, and eventually all LGBTQ+ folks, will be banned because people existing violates the "closely held religious beliefs" of asshole bigots and "we have to protect the children from teh gayz".
By the way, I expect that the next step in this battle will be contraception, eventually SCOTUS will decide that Griswold v Connecticut is void too and that women will soon have to get permission from their husbands to use birth control in a state like Missouri or Texas, and that the state has a "vested interest" in banning birth control altogether. We've been through this fight before, decades before I was even born. We're going to have it again.

The path of the falling dominoes is easy to predict, and it leads to a significant percentage of women of child-bearing age in prison for failing to give birth. And this too will be done to "protect the children".
When you remember the goal is to overturn the entire civil rights era and put us back into Jim Crow, where everyone who isn't a married, straight white male has second-class citizenship and fungible rights, all of this makes sense.

Sunday Long Read: Red Meat For Red States

This week's Sunday Long Read explores the questions involving where the hatred on the MAGA side keeps coming from, in states like Missouri where Republicans are banning everything from abortion to gender-affirming care with seemingly no care about the people being destroyed by these laws. Rene Pfister from Der Spiegel meets one such family under siege.

"That was her in tears," says Daniel Bogard as he sets down his mobile phone, after receiving a call from her. He, too, needs a brief moment to collect himself. "We'll figure it out," he had just told his wife. But the truth is that he has no idea what to do either.

Bogard had long been hoping that things wouldn’t ultimately get this bad. That the Republicans only wrote the law to produce a few eye-catching headlines. That they spewed all the invective ("pedophile," "child abuser," "groomer") just to shore up their support from conservative voters.

But now, on this sunny Wednesday morning in May, they’ve really gone through with it. They actually passed the Missouri Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act, a law that doesn’t just ban all medical care for those under the age of 18 who do not identify with their biological gender. It also threatens doctors with the withdrawal of their licenses should they defy the ban. The law, signed by Missouri Governor Mike Parson, goes by the acronym SAFE – a cruel joke to Bogard’s ears.

For the first time, he says, he can understand how Jews in Germany must have felt in the 1930s. He says he sometimes finds himself thinking about where he could escape to with his family. Perhaps Illinois, where a Democratic governor is in power? Or to Canada? A few months ago, that may have sounded a bit overwrought. But now? In the current situation? "The political power of that hate is so enormous," says Bogard.

He is sitting barefoot, kippa on his head, on the veranda of his home in Creve Coeur, an idyllic suburb of St. Louis with verdant green grass, gently rolling hills and old trees with squirrels scampering among the branches. A guitar is leaning against the wall of the house.

Bogard is the rabbi of a liberal Jewish synagogue in St. Louis, a city that has always been a left-leaning enclave in an extremely conservative state. Around 70 percent of Missouri residents are deeply devout Christians, and many of them voted for Donald Trump. In the 2020 presidential election, he received 56.8 percent of the vote in Missouri.

Highway 70 leading west from St. Louis toward the state capital of Jefferson City is lined by a seemingly endless string of churches: Faith Christian Family Church, New Life Church, Independence Baptist Church.

Faith in the Almighty in Missouri is only exceeded by faith in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms. The state capitol, an attractive neo-classical structure on a bluff over the Missouri River, is open to any citizen who would like to enter, including those who are carrying a firearm with a permit.

Bogard is heavily involved in politics, and isn’t particularly thin-skinned, a necessary quality for someone who leans to the left in a state like Missouri. There have always been stories from the capitol that conservative lawmakers drink their coffee from cups reading "Liberal Tears." But something has changed in recent years – something that Bogard can’t really explain.

Was it Trump? Twitter? The pandemic? Or a mixture of all three?

There have always been freaks in Missouri politics, Bogard says. Men like Mike Moon, for example, a Senator from the rural, south-western part of the state, who made headlines for saying during a floor debate that he knows of girls who got married at the age of 12, and that they are still married. It sounded a lot like Moon thought it was perfectly sound policy to allow underage marriage – which he would later deny.

Among Republicans in Missouri, says Bogard, there have always been people like Moon. Now, though, he says, extremists have taken over – and they need a constant stream of new issues to keep the base happy. Bogard refers to it as "red meat."

The right to abortion long served as the largest slice of "red meat" in Missouri, a perfect windmill for Republicans to tilt at, particularly because there were no consequences for doing so. The right to abortion, after all, was protected by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, which was applicable to the entire country. That changed in June 2022, when the court’s new, conservative majority overthrew the ruling almost 50 years after it was originally passed. Today, Missouri has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the entire country, not even allowing for exceptions in cases of rape or incest. Republicans celebrated passage of the law like it was an epochal victory, but it proved to be a double-edged sword: Where was the red meat to come from now?

Their gaze fell on families like Daniel Bogard’s. He and his wife have twins, and Bogard realized early on that one of them wasn’t entirely comfortable with their biological gender. Ever since his child was able to choose what clothing to wear, they would always go into their older brother's room to borrow his clothes, Bogard says. When he was taking his child to bed one evening, they asked: "Can God make me over again as a boy?" – at age four, maybe five Bogard recalls.

Bogard is rather progressive, but it took quite some time before he could accept his child’s new identity. He loved the long hair, but his child kept asking to have it cut shorter and shorter, first to the shoulders, then to the chin and then over the ears. At some point came the request for a new name, a boy’s name. It was a huge step, but Bogard was relieved. "It shook me when he said it because it was so much better."

Bogard’s son is receiving medical care from doctors in Missouri, but the father says he doesn’t know what will happen now. The next step would likely be the prescription of puberty blockers to prevent female gender attributes from developing. But the therapy will be banned once the new law goes into effect in late August.

An intense debate is raging in the U.S. over whether and how early trans children may be prescribed puberty blockers and hormone therapy. There is even debate among experts, in part because of the relative paucity of studies. Studies, though, are of no interest to the Republicans. Nor are they particularly committed to a sensible solution. The fight against "trans ideology" is the newest front in the culture war, and it can only be effectively fought if there is a clear right and a clear wrong. Worried parents and "child abusers" in lab coats.

In a video released in late January, Donald Trump pledged that he would stop the "chemical, physical and emotional mutilation of our youth." Should he be re-elected, he would pass a law that would ban teachers from even talking with children about the possibility that they may have been born in the wrong body.

According to a survey performed by the New York Times, 13 Republican-led states have passed laws completely proscribing gender-affirming medical care, including Missouri, Texas, Florida and Idaho.

"Republicans have declared war on democracy and have chosen trans kids as cannon fodder in this war," Bogard says on his veranda. He says that two families from his circle of friends have already left Missouri. But Bogard doesn’t want to be driven out so easily. Missouri is his home, and the house where he lives was designed and built by his father. Plus, he says, he doesn’t want to give up his work as a rabbi. It means a huge amount to him, Bogard says. "All we're asking is that the government leave us alone."
But MAGA state governments will not do that. The entire point is to drive a wedge between Bogard and his neighbors Majorities of Americans want to see gender-affirming care denied to kids, poll after poll shows that even Democrats want laws like this on the books.
And then Republican lawmakers will come for the next group. And the next. And the next...
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