Pluralistic: 07 Aug 2020

Today's links

Satanic Abortions cut through unconstitutional abortion laws (permalink)

States across the US have enacted cruel, unconstitutional abortion laws that require doctors to sexually assault women seeking abortions and lie to them about the health impacts of abortion. Some laws require funerals for foetal remains.

These laws were pushed by ALEC, the corporate-backed "legislative exchange" that pushes "model legislation" through a network of slick lobbyists in state-houses across the country. ALEC purports to be in favor of "liberty" and "small government."

Enter the Satanic Temple, a federally recognized religion whose members do not believe in Satan or supernatural phenomena. They believe "that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition."

The Temple has a fantastic schtick. They go to places where christofascists have gotten laws passed that shove their weird, apostate version of "Christianity" down everyone else's throats and point out that the First Amendment requires nondiscrimination among faiths.

Wanna put a giant stone Ten Commandments in front of your courthouse? Sure. But they're gonna put a giant statue of Baphomet right next to it. The court challenges they mount aren't cheap, but they're slam dunks. The US Constitution is pretty clear on this.

Now, in 1993, Chuck Schumer sponsored the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" which lets Americans sue governments over laws that "substantially burdens a person's exercise of religion."

Religious maniacs love the RFRA and its progeny, like SCOTUS's Hobby Lobby decision, which broadened the RFRA's provisions and allowed corporations to claim exemptions from Rendering Unto Caesar where that interfered with the owners' faith.,_Inc.

Guess what you get when you combine the RFRA, ALEC's restrictive abortion laws, and the Satanic Temple?

That's right…Satanic Abortions.

A Satanic Abortion is a religious ritual that is totally indistinguishable from a normal, medical abortion, except that the participant says a few self-affirming words about her bodily autonomy.

Oh, also: the ritual absolutely forbids, as a bedrock matter of religous conviction, any waiting periods, the withholding of medically necessary advice, mandatory counseling, required readings, and unnecessary sonograms.

Also forbidden: mandatory fetal heartbeat listening sessions and compulsory fetal burials.

If you want an abortion and the doctor tries this bullshit, hand them one of these exemption letters explaining how the law doesn't apply thanks to the RFRA.

Now, the religious right could fight this. But if they win…they overturn the RFRA, and Hobby Lobby has to provide its employees with contraception and all the other theocratic exemptions go poof, too.

The Temple is pretty amazing. Here's some highlights of their previous campaigns:

"Publicly confronted hate groups, fought for the abolition of corporal punishment in public schools, applied for equal representation when religious installations are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women's reproductive autonomy, exposed harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners in mental health care, organized clubs alongside other religious after-school clubs in schools besieged by proselytizing organizations, and engaged in other advocacy in accordance with our tenets."

Restore the Office of Technology Assessment (permalink)

Remember back in 2018 when Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the Senate and was asked the dumbest-ass questions you've ever heard? You know, the "We sell ads, Senator" hearings?

Congress aren't fucking idiots on tech by accident – they were lobotomized by Newt Gingrinch in 1995, when the "Contract With America" killed the nonpartisan Office of Technology Assessment, which spent peanuts producing cogent, neutral reports explaining tech to lawmakers.

But hey, no biggie. It's not like Congress needs to be well-briefed on tech in the Twenty-First Century, right?


Well, it's OK. Congress can just get briefed by lobbyists. That'll work, right?


There have been years worth of bipartisan efforts to restore the OTA, prising lose (checks notes) $6m.

Now Ralph Nader and colleagues have petitioned Nancy Pelosi to just DO IT, unilaterally, with a "unicameral fund" (that is, with Congress's own budget, not even bothering to ask the Senate). OTA's getting $21m now. They need lots more. It's a bargain.

As Nader & co explain, killing OTA was "an open sesame for unscrupulous corporations that arrested prudent ways to avert trillions in waste, perils to Americans and other peoples abroad, and resulted in bad, dangerous decisions that have ramifications to this day."

As Aaron Swartz said: "In the 21st Century, it's no longer OK to not understand technology."

(Image:, CC BY-SA, modified)

US plummets below Russia and Mexico in global misery index (permalink)

Bloomberg's Misery Index tracks unemployment and inflation and ranks 60 countries year on year. America just tumbled 25 spots, from the 50th least-miserable nation to the 25th, slipping below Mexico and Russia.

Writing in the New Yorker, Masha Gessen describes what happens when a "great power" collapses: "Why America Feels Like a Post-Soviet State."

It's the nagging sense that any statistics are distorted to make the people at the top feel good about their performance, and to give their quackspeaking useful idiots something to shout when anyone criticizes the system.

(think of Trump's covid "statistics")

It's the sense that, without data, and under pressure to hit meaningless targets, our institutions CAN'T perform: think of schools reopening, Deborah Birx toeing the party line.

It's the sense that you're being led by a Mafia boss without a Mafia and the sense that the rich live in a completely separate system from the rest of us, insulated from the depredations and fears that keep the rest of us up at night.

America wasn't the only country that slipped in the misery rankings, but its fall was much harder than other backsliders, like Iceland, Israel and Panama.

Tired of winning yet?

Novartis's $678m bribery scandal (permalink)

For years, the pharma giant Novartis ran a "speaker program" that laundered vast payments to doctors – speaking fees, trips, top-shelf booze, strip club nights and fancy meals – in exchange for overprescription of its products.

This was common knowledge, but it wasn't until the Novartis sales rep Oswald Bilotta blew the whistle in 2009 that the company faced legal jeopardy. Now the company has settled with the SDNY for $678m (Bilotta could get as much as $75m of that).

Novartis's bribery was unbelievably blatant and tawdry: picking up the catering bill for a doc's son's Bar Mitzvah? Really? You're not even pretending it's anything but a bribe at that point.

The fine is satisfying, but honestly, the company should be shut down and its operations nationalized, and the doctors involved should be – at the minimum – barred from prescribing without oversight from another doc (most of them should be struck off altogether).

This kind of corruption is why we have anti-vax, mask denial, and other forms of epistemological crisis. Very few of us are qualified to review the evidence in pharma research, so when our doc prescribes to us, we are trusting the process as much as the doc.

Anti-vaxers and mask-deniers' claim goes like this: pharma, big health, and docs only care about money. The regulators are either wilfully ignorant or actively complicit. They would all conspire to get you to take unnecessary or even dangerous steps if it enriched them.

Therefore, you should not vaccinate your kid, disbelieve the science on covid, etc etc.

The first part isn't wrong. From the Sacklers' corruption and profiteering on opioids to Novartis's decades of bribery, the evidence is undeniable.

Which leaves us in an epistemological void. Either you go and master cell biology, epidemiology, and statistics, or you just have to make up your own mind about which parts of the medical consensus are genuine and which parts are corrupt.

You're just throwing darts at that point. The fact that Novartis is still in business, that its execs are not facing criminal sanctions, that the docs it bribed are still writing scrips – all of that tells you that the system is not reliable.

In the face of an unreliable system, all you've got is your gut. That is unsustainable. At best, it kicks off measles epidemics in Southern California. At worst, it makes it impossible to address the covid pandemic.

The people involved in this scandal committed literal crimes against humanity. They should not be allowed to keep a single penny of their wealth, and should not be allowed to make a single decision that affects the public, ever again.

California DMV's $50m/year data selloff (permalink)

California's DMV makes $50m/year selling drivers' license data, but will not say who's buying it. California Members of Congress and state legislators have written to the agency demanding answers.

California's DMV is hardly alone in selling the data we are compelled to provide to it. Florida will sell your data to brokers for $0.01 – these brokers, in turn, sell it on to just about anyone.

The letter to the California DMV asks for an accounting of the past three years' worth of data sales, but such an accounting won't tell us who those customers sold the data onto.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago The Last Musketeer: whimsical, dreamlike, delightful comic

#1yrago Monsanto ran a psy-ops war-room to discredit journalists and spy on Neil Young

#1yrago Wisconsin commissioned an independent report on how to fix the Foxconn deal. Result: it can't be done.

#1yrago As New York State's shareholder suit against Big Oil for climate denial proceeds, Exxonmobil caught intimidating witnesses

#1yrago After student arrested for carrying laser-pointers, Hong Kong protesters stage "stargazing" laser-protest

#1yrago Billions on the line as Facebook loses appeal over violating Illinois facial recognition law

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: JWZ (, Naked Capitalism (, Slashdot (

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