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WATCH: Now That Corporations Have Freedom of Religion, It's Time to Lay Out the Corporate Commandments [Fiore Cartoon]

| Fri Jul. 4, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

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British Brewer Still Bitter Over American Revolution

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 7:40 PM EDT

British actor and writer Stephen Merchant, who you can thank in-part for creating the original version of The Office, has a challenge for you this 4th of July: imagine if his people had won the war for independence. He's tired of acting like he's not bloody pissed that each year we celebrate beating his little country. He's so pissed in fact that he's made the following ad for Newcastle Brown Ale. Watch his plea, as he begs of you to image how "great" Great Brtiain 2 would be. And then, enjoy a hoedown, just to spite him:

"Jaws" Is Ridiculous, Say Kids Who Owe Everything to "Jaws"

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 7:29 PM EDT

Happy Fourth of July! Thirty-nine years ago, Jaws became the first summer blockbuster. In it the town of Amity Island is terrorized by a killer great white shark around July Fourth weekend. In honor of that, we decided to publish a chat we just had about it. This chat has been edited for clarity.

Emily Dreyfuss: I saw Jaws last night in a movie theater.

Ben Dreyfuss: Why?

ED: Because it was playing right by our house and we needed to be somewhere air conditioned.

BD: Okay.

ED:  Two things: 1) You and dad are exactly alike and 2) I forgot that "we're going to need a bigger boat" wasn't his line, which makes me even angrier when people quote that in regard to him.

BD:  LOL, everyone thinks dad said that. He and I have this joke about Roy Scheider being pissed off about it for 25 years.

ED: I would be too! I hadn't seen Jaws since we saw it as a family 20 years ago.

BD: I watched it with mom last year. She was like, "I love Jaws. My favorite part is when dad kills the shark," and I was like, "Uh, he doesn't," and she was all, "Shut up, Ben. I was married to him for 10 years. He killed Jaws." So we watched it and then she was like, "Huh, I could have sworn he killed Jaws. I've been telling people that my ex-husband killed Jaws." "Well, I guess people think you were married to Roy Scheider." "I guess so."

ED: I mean, the way I read it last night, dad kind of fucked up and was semi-responsible for Quint's death. He dropped the dagger, then swam away and hid, and then the shark ate the captain and Roy Scheider was a hero.

BD: Yeah, I mean, he had the pole knocked out of his hand. Then he swims away and hides. He had just gone down in the cage which was a pretty brave thing to do. By the time he hides he had no chance of killing Jaws. Like, either let yourself be eaten or swim and hide. Scheider was objectively the hero though.

ED: Yeah, I mean, dad had no other options, but I just forgot that he wasn't the hero.

BD: Look, look, we love dad.

ED: Yes, to be clear, dad is the best.

BD: No one here is saying otherwise.

ED: I also forgot that his character was the rich kid! I guess I basically forgot everything.

BD: Oh yeah, with his tony, rich boat that they should have taken to avoid the whole death/sinking thing?

ED: I mean, they don't even address that, which is ridiculous. Like, his boat had all the things they needed! Like sonar.

BD: Right? And Quint demands that they take his rickety piece of shit which is just an insane thing to do. The only reasonable thing to say to Quint when he makes that demand is, "Sir, you are insane. We are not putting our lives in the hands of an insane person. You're fired. Good day."

ED: "Also, we should add, you can't catch a shark this big with a fishing pole. It had to be said."

BD: HAHAHAHAHA.

ED: Like, his big plan is that he is going to REEL it in with his human man arms.

BD: I was under the impression that he was using some sort of contraption to leverage the weight of the boat or something? But that might not be how science works.

ED: I don't think so. I think he was using the power of a metal cup to help hold the fishing rod and that is that and then it shows him reeling in and letting out and then being like, "This shark is so smart! I can't pull him in!"

BD: "He's either very very smart or very very dumb."

ED: LOL, yes. That's the line. Then he hands the rod—with the shark on the line!—to Scheider who knows nothing about fishing and isn't even strapped in!

BD: Then at the end he tries to tow him back to shore.

ED: Yeah and that works out well.

BD: Also, the entire notion of the shark following them out to sea seems suspect. Why would Jaws follow their dumb boat? It's just one boat.

ED:  Because of the dead fish and blood trail.

BD: That little bit of dead fish that Scheider throws in there though, it's not much! Like it's just a bit of blood. Jaws can eat that much fish whenever he wants.

ED: Oh oh oh, another thing that makes no sense is when dad and Roy find the boat with the dead fisherman at night and in the scariest moment of the film the dead body pops out and freaks dad out? WHY WOULD THE SHARK KILL THE FISHERMAN AND NOT EAT HIM? He is not a murderer. He's a "maneater!" He would have eaten that body!

BD: Jaws: Actually a story of a shark out for revenge against Ben Gardner. All the other attacks are just to cover up his crime.

ED: HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA.

BD: I mean, maybe Jaws didn't kill Ben Gardner. Maybe someone else did. Maybe they got away with it.

ED: Wow, you remembered that character's name. I am kind of blown away.

BD: "That's Ben Gardner's boat."

ED: Yeah, that is the line but like, what are you? A savant? I barely remember dad's character's name. I'm confused if it's hooper or hopper.

BD: Emily, I know all the lines to almost all of dad's movies. I watched them all dozens of times when I was young…It's Hooper.

ED: Where was I? I watched Always a lot…and cried.

BD: Yeah, Always is sad. I love the bit of that movie when Holly Hunter comes down in the dress dad bought her and that song "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" plays. That song makes me cry.

ED: That is a very good moment. Ok, but so, we can agree, Jaws makes no sense.

BD: Yeah. Great film.

ED: Wonderful film.

BD: Makes no sense.

ED: Makes little sense.

BD: It could make more sense.

ED: It could make more sense!

The end.

Supreme Court Now Playing Cute PR Games With Hobby Lobby Decision

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 7:23 PM EDT

In Monday's Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Samuel Alito struck down a government requirement that employer-provided health insurance cover access to contraceptives. Among other things, Alito wrote that any requirement must be the "least restrictive" means for the government to achieve its goals, and the health insurance mandate clearly wasn't:

HHS itself has demonstrated that it has at its disposal an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs. As we explained above, HHS has already established an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections. Under that accommodation, the organization can self-certify that it opposes providing coverage for particular contraceptive services. If the organization makes such a certification, the organization’s insurance issuer or third-party administrator must “[e]xpressly exclude contraceptive coverage from the group health insurance coverage provided in connection with the group health plan” and “[p]rovide separate payments for any contraceptive services required to be covered” without imposing “any cost-sharing requirements . . . on the eligible organization, the group health plan, or plan participants or beneficiaries.”

The obvious implication here is that the court approves of this compromise rule. That is, requiring self-certification is a reasonable means of accomplishing the government's goal without requiring organizations to directly fund access to contraceptives. Today, however, the court pulled the rug out from under anyone who actually took them at their word:

In Thursday’s order, the court granted Wheaton College, an evangelical Protestant liberal arts school west of Chicago, a temporary injunction allowing it to continue to not comply with the compromise rule....College officials refused even to sign a government form noting their religious objection, saying that to do so would allow the school’s insurance carrier to provide the coverage on its own.

....The unsigned order prompted a sharply worded dissent from the court’s three female members, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

“I disagree strongly with what the court has done,” Sotomayor wrote in a 16-page dissent. Noting that the court had praised the administration’s position on Monday but was allowing Wheaton to flout it on Thursday, she wrote, “those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

For the last few days, there's been a broad argument about whether the Hobby Lobby ruling was a narrow one—as Alito himself insisted it was—or was merely an opening volley that opened the door to much broader rulings in the future. After Tuesday's follow-up order—which expanded the original ruling to cover all contraceptives, not just those the plaintiffs considered abortifacients—and today's order—which rejected a compromise that the original ruling praised—it sure seems like this argument has been settled. This is just the opening volley. We can expect much more aggressive follow-ups from this court in the future.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth noting that quite aside from whether you agree with the Hobby Lobby decision, this is shameful behavior from the conservatives on the court. As near as I can tell, they're now playing PR games worthy of a seasoned politico, deliberately releasing a seemingly narrow opinion in order to generate a certain kind of coverage, and then following it up later in the sure knowledge that its "revisions" won't get nearly as much attention.

There's a Satirical, Naughty Musical About the Clinton White House Opening in New York. Listen to One of the Songs.

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 3:37 PM EDT

If the musical-theater community could find it in itself to create a cantata telling the story of a Twitter war between Paul Krugman and the president of Estonia, then surely a musical about the Clinton administration couldn't have been that far behind.

On July 18, Clinton: The Musical will premiere at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. (The festival has previously hosted such successful productions as Next to Normal and Altar Boyz, prior to their respective Broadway runs.) The book for Clinton was written by Australian writing duo and brothers Paul and Michael Hodge, and music and lyrics were penned by Paul Hodge. An earlier, shorter version was nominated for best new musical at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and a subsequent incarnation was mounted at London's King's Head Theatre the following year.

The idea for the musical emerged out of a Hodge family outing. "My family and I went to go and see a musical in Australia about an Australian politician, back in 2006 or 2007," Paul Hodge tells Mother Jones. "And after the show, my dad said, 'Oh, it was good, but politicians don't make good subjects for musicals. The only politician who would make a good subject for that would be Bill Clinton.' And I said, 'Of course!'"

Clinton, a two-act musical satire, covers the eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency. According to Paul, the music ranges from more traditional American musical styles to burlesque to 1990s pop. As for comedic influences, Paul cites Arrested Development, The Simpsons, and 30 Rock.

How Hobby Lobby Undermined The Very Idea of a Corporation

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 2:50 PM EDT
Justice Alito signs his oath card in the Justices Conference Room

Here's one more reason to worry about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed the arts and crafts chain to block insurance coverage of contraception for female employees because of the owners' religious objections: It could screw up corporate law.

This gets complicated, but bear with us. Basically, what you need to know is that if you and some friends start a company that makes a lot of money, you'll be rich, but if it incurs a lot of debt and fails, you won't be left to pay its bills. The Supreme Court affirmed this arrangement in a 2001 case, Cedric Kushner Promotions vs. Don King:

linguistically speaking, the employee and the corporation are different “persons,” even where the employee is the corporation’s sole owner. After all, incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the "corporate veil," and it's fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it's in question. By letting Hobby Lobby's owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.

"If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?" Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email.

That's a question raised by 44 other law professors, who filed a friends-of-the-court brief that implored the Court to reject Hobby Lobby's argument and hold the veil in place. Here's what they argued:

Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation. Creating such an unprecedented and idiosyncratic tear in the corporate veil would also carry with it unintended consequences, many of which are not easily foreseen.

In his opinion for Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito's insisted the decision should be narrowly applied to the peculiarities of the case. But as my colleague Pat Caldwell writes, the logic of the argument is likely to invite a tide of new lawsuits, all with their own unintended consequences.

Small wonder, then, that despite congressional Republicans defending the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for American business against the nanny state, the US Chamber of Commerce—the country's main big business lobby—was quiet on the issue. Even more telling: Despite a record tide of friends-of-the-court briefs, not one Fortune 500 weighed in on the case. In fact, as David H. Gans at Slate pointed out in March, about the only sizeable business-friendly groups that did file briefs with the court were the US Women's Chamber of Commerce and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Both sided against Hobby Lobby.

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Europe's Memory Hole Gets Ever Wider and Deeper

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 2:06 PM EDT

Yesterday I passed along the news that a BBC article about Stan O'Neal, the former head of Merrill Lynch, had been removed from Google searches in Europe. Today the Guardian reports on several of its recent pieces that have been scrubbed from Google searches:

Three of the articles, dating from 2010, relate to a now-retired Scottish Premier League referee, Dougie McDonald, who was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty in a Celtic v Dundee United match, the backlash to which prompted his resignation.

....The other disappeared articles — the Guardian isn't given any reason for the deletions — are a 2011 piece on French office workers making post-it art, a 2002 piece about a solicitor facing a fraud trial standing for a seat on the Law Society's ruling body and an index of an entire week of pieces by Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade.

The Guardian has no form of appeal against parts of its journalism being made all but impossible for most of Europe's 368 million to find.

It's a little hard to see how articles that are a mere three or four years old can be deemed "irrelevant," but in Europe, I guess that if you declare something about yourself to be irrelevant, then it is. Congratulations, EU Court of Justice!

UPDATE 1: Interestingly, it turns out that yesterday's removal of the BBC story wasn't initiated by Stan O'Neal. Apparently it was initiated by someone who left a comment on the original story. I'm actually not sure if this is better or worse.

UPDATE 2: Over at the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell argues that it's not really the ECJ that's censoring content, it's Google. But even with the caveats he includes, I think Farrell is being far too kind to the ECJ, which issued an unforgivably fuzzy decision that basically puts Google in the impossible position of being forced to act as a privacy regulator with neither the tools nor the guidance it needs to do the job properly. However, he agrees with a suggestion I made yesterday that Google might be reading the ECJ's directive over-broadly in a deliberate attempt to get everyone in a tizzy over it:

Google may have incentives to accede to [the takedown] request without complaint — and to publicize that it is so doing — because it knows that this is likely to send journalists into a frenzy. Even if the ECJ can press Google into service as an unpaid regulator, it can’t force Google to regulate in the exact ways that it would like Google to. And Google, like the Good Soldier Svejk in Jan Hasek’s novel, can perhaps interpret the court’s mandate in ways that formally stick to the rules, but in practice actually undermine it. There are, of course, other possible explanations for Google’s actions — it may be that there are excellent private reasons why Google is acceding to this request. But for sure, the controversy surrounding the request helps Google to push back (as it wants to push back) against strong interpretations of European privacy standards.

Maybe so.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidate: 47 Percent of Americans Are "Dependent on the Largesse of Government"

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:48 AM EDT

Colorado Republicans thought they'd dodged a bullet last month when primary voters chose former GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez as their gubernatorial nominee over Tom Tancredo, a former congressman and notorious anti-immigration activist. Not so much. On Wednesday, Democrats circulated a little-noticed 2010 video in which Beauprez rails against the 47 percent of the American population who he claims are dependent on government. Sound familiar?

From the Denver Post:

"I see something that frankly doesn't surprise me, having been on Ways and Means Committee: 47 percent of all Americans pay no federal income tax," Beauprez said in the video. "I'm guessing that most of you in this room are not in that 47 percent—God bless you—but what that tells me is that we've got almost half the population perfectly happy that somebody else is paying the bill, and most of that half is you all."

"I submit to you that there is a political strategy to get slightly over half and have a permanent ruling majority by keeping over half of the population dependent on the largesse of government that somebody else is paying for," Beauprez said.

Beauprez's comments, which came in an address to a local rotary club, bear an uncanny resemblance to the infamous remarks, first reported by Mother Jones, that Mitt Romney made to donors during his presidential campaign. (Romney's final tally: 47 percent of the vote.) A survey released by Rasmussen on Wednesday showed Beauprez running even with incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Obama Calls for a New Crackdown on Wall Street

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:18 AM EDT

On Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama called for a new Wall Street crackdown, noting that more than five years after the financial crisis, banks still focus too much on gaining profits through often risky trading, instead of investing in Main Street America.

"More and more of the revenue generated on Wall Street is based on…trading bets, as opposed to investing in companies that actually make something and hire people," the president said in an interview with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal. He called for "additional steps" to rein in the industry.

Obama's comments Wednesday represent one of the most pointed critiques he has made of the banking industry since he took office at the height of the financial crisis, and suggest that he may use his final two years in office to pursue further Wall Street reforms.

The president singled out big bonuses as a central problem plaguing the financial system. Banks can still "generate a huge amount of bonuses by making some big [trading] bets," he said. "If you make a really bad bet, a lot of times you've already banked all your bonuses. You might end up leaving the shop, but in the meantime everybody else is left holding the bag."

He did not offer specific policy cures, instead alluding to the need to "restructure" how banks work "internally."

The massive Dodd-Frank financial reform law that Congress passed in 2010 was supposed to keep banks from taking excess risks and prevent another economic collapse. Obama pointed out that much of that law has already gone into effect. Banks now have to keep more funds on hand to guard against an economic downturn or a bad trading bet, he said. The law created a new agency designed to prevent consumers from being duped by mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and student lenders. Last year, Wall Street regulators implemented a much-touted Dodd-Frank measure aimed at limiting the high-risk trading by commercial banks that helped lead to the 2008 economic crash.

But much is left to be done. Wall Street regulators have completed only about half of the banking rules mandated by Dodd-Frank. Scores of these regulations have been watered down by financial industry lobbyists. Congress has made many legislative attempts to weaken Dodd-Frank. Despite efforts to ensure that banks are no longer too-big-to-fail—or so large that their collapse would endanger the entire economic system—the largest banks are bigger than they were during the financial crisis.

Progressives fault the president for part of the lax response to the financial crisis. Under Obama's Justice Department, for example, no high-level bankers went to jail or faced criminal charges for actions that led to the financial crisis. And liberal critics slam Obama's economic team for focusing too heavily on bailing out banks after the crisis, and allowing the foreclosure crisis to fester.

It is unclear how Obama will push through additional Wall Street reforms. He has limited oversight of rule-making, and banking legislation is not likely to get through the current sharply divided Congress.

Liberal Comedy, Conservative Outrage. But Why?

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Conservative publisher Adam Bellow thinks conservatives need to produce more popular art: beach fiction, TV shows, comedy routines, etc. Paul Waldman thinks he's got an uphill battle:

As I've noted before, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report work as well as they do because they're not shows written and performed by professional liberals who happen to be comedians, attempting to use humor to score political points; rather, they're shows written and performed by professional comedians who happen to be liberals, using politics to produce comedy. It's a really important distinction.

The same distinction applies to other mediums. If you set out to write an explicitly conservative novel, it's likely to suck. If you set out to write a novel, and it has a conservative worldview because you happen to be a conservative, it will probably do a lot better. Unfortunately for conservatives, if you take this approach you're likely to end up writing little more than an establishment-friendly novel, not an overtly pointed takedown of liberalism.

That said, conservatives could produce perfectly good books and TV shows if they took Waldman's advice. But comedy is a special problem. Conservative comedy just doesn't seem to work very well, and I'd guess there are two big reasons why:

The material: Liberals are, generally speaking, opposed to the establishment. Poking fun at the establishment is easy to do, so liberals have lots of ready-made material. Conversely, poking fun at the little guys just seems mean. It's not impossible to get good comedy out of, say, the more ridiculous aspects of the Occupy Wall Street folks at Zuccotti Park, but it's a lot harder and the material is a lot thinner.

The audience: I've never quite understood this, but liberals just seem to like political comedy more than conservatives. Conservatives simply don't consider this stuff a laughing matter. Especially recently, they're convinced, deep in their marrow, that liberals are literally out to destroy America, and how do you find the yuks in that? By contrast, mocking conservatives is a popular liberal pastime. Is this because liberals accept conservatives as an inevitable part of the scenery, to be fought but not really hated? That doesn't seem quite right. Still, it's true that the establishment, by definition, is always with us, and always working in its usual way to preserve itself. You might think it's a malign force, but you don't think of it as something new that's suddenly emerged to wreck the country.

I dunno. I'm just guessing here. Age probably has something to do with this too. In any case, conservatives are great at outrage, while liberals who try to emulate them almost always fail. Liberals are great at comedy, and conservatives who try to emulate that fail as well. In the middle ground of books and movies, I imagine both sides could do well, but since most artists are liberals, there's just more to choose from along the liberal spectrum.