Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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Some migrant family separations are permanent

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A group of more than 600 United Methodist clergy and members are bringing church law charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration crackdown — chiefly the policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group accuses Sessions, a fellow United Methodist, of violating Paragraph 270.3 of the denomination's Book of Discipline. He is charged under church law with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and "dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church."

In a letter addressed to Session's pastors, 640 clergy and laity urge "some degree of accountability" for the top law enforcement official in the country, who they say is affiliated with United Methodist churches in Alabama and the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

"We write to you ... in the hopes that you will, as members of our connectional system, dig deeply into Mr. Sessions' advocacy and actions that have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans," the signees wrote in the letter.

"As members of the United Methodist Church, we deeply hope for a reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families."

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the complaint.

The two churches to which Sessions purportedly belongs — Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia — did not immediately respond to phone calls from NBC News.

The signees of the letter also criticized Sessions for invoking Romans 13, a Bible verse, to justify the Trump administration policy of breaking up children and parents at the border. They said the "misuse" of that line from Scripture was in "stark contrast to Disciplinary commitments to supporting freedom of conscience and resistance to unjust laws."

The contents of the letter were first reported by the United Methodist News Service.

The Rev. William Lawrence, an authority on Methodist history and practices, said that anyone in the church can bring a charge against anyone else, whether clergy or lay person — but a formal complaint outlining specific charges is rare.

Lawrence said the church's Book of Discipline allows, "in the most extreme circumstances," for a church-led trial and even the expulsion of a lay member. But the first step, he said, would be for the respondent to resolve the issue through "pastoral conversations" with their pastor and district superintendent.

"In the 50 years of the United Methodist Church as a denomination, I am not aware of any case that moved beyond those initial stages," Lawrence said.

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chrisamico
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We'll pay you $1.47 to post on social media about our products, $2.05 to mention it in any group chats you're in, and 11 cents per passenger each time you drive your office carpool past one of our billboards.
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chrisamico
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chrisrosa
8 days ago
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ouch...too real.
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sdevore
8 days ago
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oh this is the way my brain sees all these cards
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We'll pay you $1.47 to post on social media about our products, $2.05 to mention it in any group chats you're in, and 11 cents per passenger each time you drive your office carpool past one of our billboards.
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We'll pay you $1.47 to post on social media about our products, $2.05 to mention it in any group chats you're in, and 11 cents per passenger each time you drive your office carpool past one of our billboards.

The fight over preexisting conditions is back. Here’s why the Obamacare battle won’t end.

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There is a persistent divide in the US: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

President Trump and Republicans are so committed to killing Obamacare they’ve decided, just months before the midterm elections, to take aim at the most popular part of the law: coverage for preexisting conditions.

The Trump administration signed on to a long-shot lawsuit this week that would overturn the parts of the law that require insurers to cover preexisting conditions and not charge more for them.

The lawsuit, which you can read more about from Vox’s Dylan Scott, is, in some ways, a perplexing move mere months before midterm elections. Polling finds that both Democrats and Republicans think it’s a good idea to ensure that sick people have access to health insurance.

Politically, though, Republicans spent eight years campaigning on a promise to repeal Obamacare. They believe they have a responsibility to do something, even if the something doesn’t poll well.

But after eight years of covering the Affordable Care Act, I think there is a much deeper tension that keeps the fight over Obamacare alive. It is a persistent, unresolved split in how we think about who deserves health insurance in the United States: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

The United States hasn’t decided who deserves health insurance

Since World War II, the United States has had a unique health insurance system that tethers access to medical care to employment. Changes to the tax code created strong incentives for companies to provide health coverage as a benefit to workers. Now most Americans get their insurance through their employer, and, culturally, health insurance is thought of as a benefit that comes with a job.

Over time, the government did carve out exceptions for certain categories of people. Older Americans, after all, wouldn’t be expected to work forever, so they got Medicare coverage in 1965. Medicaid launched the same year, extending benefits to those who were low-income and had some other condition that might make it difficult to work, such as blindness, a disability, or parenting responsibilities.

Then the Affordable Care Act came along with a new approach. The law aimed to open up the insurance market to anybody who wanted coverage, regardless of whether he or she had a job.

It created a marketplace where middle-income individuals could shop on their own for private health coverage without the help of a large company. It expanded Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. Suddenly, a job became a lot less necessary as a prerequisite for gaining health insurance.

This, I think, is the divide over health insurance in America. It’s about whether we see coverage as part of work. In my reporting and others’, I’ve seen significant swaths of the country where people push back against this. They see health as something you ought to work for, a benefit you get because of the contribution you make by getting up and going to a job each day.

This came out pretty clearly in an interview I did in late 2016 with a woman I met on a reporting trip to Kentucky whom I’ll call Susan Allen. (She asked me not to use her real name because she didn’t want people to know that she uses the Affordable Care Act for coverage.)

Allen used to do administrative work in an elementary school but now is a caregiver to her elderly mother. Her husband has mostly worked in manual labor jobs, including the coal industry.

Allen told me a story about when she worked in the school. At Christmas, there would be a drive to collect present for the poorest families, presents she sometimes couldn’t afford for her own kids. It made her upset.

”These kids that get on the list every year, I’d hear them saying, ‘My mom is going to buy me a TV for Christmas,’” Allen says. “And I can’t afford to buy my kid a TV, and he’s in the exact same grade with her.”

Allen saw her health insurance as the same story: She works really hard and ends up with a health insurance plan that has a $6,000 deductible. Then there are people on Medicaid who don’t work and seem to have easier access to the health care system than she does.

”The ones that have full Medicaid, they can go to the emergency room for a headache,” she says. “They’re going to the doctor for pills, and that’s what they’re on.”

Is health insurance a right or a privilege?

More recently, Atul Gawande wrote a piece for the New Yorker exploring whether Americans view health care as a right or a privilege.

He reported the story in his hometown in Appalachian Ohio, where he kept running into this same idea: that health insurance is something that belongs to those who work for it.

One woman he interviewed, a librarian named Monna, told him, “If you’re disabled, if you’re mentally ill, fine, I get it. But I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.”

Another man, Joe, put it this way: “I see people on the same road I live on who have never worked a lick in their life. They’re living on disability incomes, and they’re healthier than I am.”

As Gawande noted in his piece, “A right makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.” But he often found this to be the key dividing line when he asked people whether everyone should have health coverage. Often, it came down to whether that person was the type who merited such help.

This isn’t a debate that happens in most other industrialized countries. If you asked a Canadian who deserves health care, you’d probably get a baffled look in return. Our northern neighbors decided decades ago that health insurance is something you get just by the merit of living in Canada. It’s not something you earn; it’s something you’re entitled to.

But in the United States, we’ve never resolved this debate. Our employer-sponsored health care system seems to have left us with some really deep divides over the fundamental questions that define any health care systems.

Those are the questions we’ll need to resolve before the debate over Obamacare ever ends.


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chrisamico
8 days ago
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A Photo for the Ages of Our Unfolding Disaster

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In the aftermath of what can only be called the debacle of the G-7 Summit this photograph is rapidly taking on an iconic significance.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018. Bundesregierung/Jesco Denzel/Handout

(Click through to the full post to see a larger version of the photo or click the photo itself for a full screen version.)

I want to share my thoughts about the visual impact and significance of this photo. But before I do that let me note another fact. There appear to have been no press photographers to capture this moment. I looked around for a while to see where this photo was from. I didn’t see it in our Getty Images wire feed. It turns out it’s by a German government photographer from the Chancellor’s office, Jesco Denzel. As I noted, there were no press photographers. But the different leaders had their own photographers there. Or aides took pictures. So far I’ve found versions of this moment from the delegations of Germany, Italy, France, Canada and the United States, which I share below.

About the Jesco Denzel photo, there is a certain Last Supper quality to it. Each face seems to capture an entire story, a different version of just what is happening. What is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the center thinking? What about what appears to be one of his aides between Abe and Merkel? Prime Minister Theresa May is, somehow appropriately, blocked out of the picture by Larry Kudlow and President Macron. When I first saw this photo I said that it captured the essence of the Trump presidency. Trump’s small and clearly overawed. Yet he has hands clasped over his chest like a stubborn child. Arms clasped over the chest is classic resistant body language. Trump particularly uses it when he feels threatened or challenged.

But when I saw a larger version of the picture I saw something different. At least in this moment, Trump’s face doesn’t show anger or defiance. It’s more like calmly standing his ground. He looks like a Trump supporter might like him to look. They’re exasperated. He’s standing his ground, imperturbable. I still see it basically as I first described it. But his expression in this photo at least partly challenges that interpretation. As you can see, the photo has an iconic quality in part because it can tell very different stories. Are Merkel et al. overawing a petulant child? Or are they haggling, paying court to the king?

Let me show you the other photographs.

These two are by Adam Scotti, official photographer for Prime Minister Trudeau.

President Trump, Prime Minister Trudeau Meet with Leaders at G-7 Summit. Credit: Adam Scotti/Canadian Prime Minister’s Office
President Trump, Prime Minister Trudeau Meet with Leaders at G-7 Summit. Credit: Adam Scotti/Canadian Prime Minister’s Office

This is from the Italian delegation.

G-7 Leaders Meet in Canada / Credit: Italian Government Photographer

Presidential aide Stephen Miller shows up there in the upper left as the sort of gargoyle type figure that once illuminated the out of the way spaces in a medieval manuscript.

This is from the French delegation.

President Trump with Macron, Merkel, May, et al at G-7 meeting. French Government Photographer.

Finally, this photo is from White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino.

Leaders Meet at G-7 Summit / Credit: Dan Scavino

For me the whole thing is a commentary on the power and what we might call the falsity of photography. Unsurprisingly, most photographs put the given country’s leader in a central position. But more than this the photographs seem to capture very different things. The German photo has an almost neo-Gothic portentous quality to it. Scavino’s picture has Trump holding court in what seems like a light-hearted moment. In Scavino’s version everyone seems to like Trump. Meanwhile, the French and Italian photographs capture an all business moment in which Trump is literally barely visible. We know he is the center of attention only because we’ve seen the other photos.

Tell me what you see in these pictures.

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chrisamico
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Florida Had No Gun Background Checks for a Year

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“For more than a year, the state of Florida failed to conduct national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits, potentially allowing drug addicts or people with a mental illness to carry firearms in public,” the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“The employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system… The problem went unresolved until discovered by another worker in March 2017 — meaning that for more than a year applications got approved without the required background check.”

“Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R) has made it a priority to speed up the issuing of concealed weapons permits since he was elected in 2010… Now running for Florida governor as a Republican, Putnam’s campaign touts his expansion of concealed carry permits as one of his top accomplishments.”

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chrisamico
12 days ago
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This is the dumbest timeline.
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acdha
12 days ago
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JimB
11 days ago
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What's next? Self authorisation?

How The Supreme Court Could End Extreme Partisan Gerrymandering This Month

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In the next few weeks — or even days! — extreme partisan gerrymandering may be rescued from legal purgatory. Is it constitutional or not? For years, we haven’t known. But by the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on two partisan gerrymandering cases — Gill v. Whitford, a case from Wisconsin, and Benisek v. Lamone, a case from Maryland. The decisions could alter a fundamental part of how we structure our democracy.

But what will those decisions be? FiveThirtyEight has spent months thinking about gerrymandering, and we don’t have a clue. Predicting the high court’s decisions is a fool’s errand, in part because there are many paths the justices can take.

So, rather than guess what will happen, we’ve occupied ourselves by reporting out what could happen. I spoke to five constitutional scholars about the court’s much-anticipated rulings, and based on those conversations, I outlined seven potential paths the court could take. The possibilities range from overhauling the way we divide ourselves into districts to clearing a legal path for extreme partisan gerrymandering to continue.

This rundown starts with the most optimistic paths for those who want an end to partisan gerrymandering. Take a breath, picture the shape of your favorite district, and step with me into the multiverse.

1. The court rules that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, and one of these cases has found the standard that proves it.

Under this scenario, the court would endorse a standard for measuring gerrymandering presented in one of the two cases. In the past, the court has declined to rule that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional because lawyers didn’t present a sufficient way to measure just how gerrymandered a district or state is. In 2004’s Vieth v. Jubelirer, the case that furthered the legal purgatory we are in today, Justice Anthony Kennedy wanted a clear standard for when the normal process of redistricting becomes illegal gerrymandering. Such a standard would let state legislatures and district courts know what is and isn’t allowed.

There are key differences between the two cases, so it matters which standard the court chooses. The Wisconsin case disputes a Republican gerrymander of a statewide map and proposes a three-part test, including mathematical equations, to demonstrate that Democrats across the state were historically disadvantaged. The Maryland case litigates a Democratic gerrymander of a single district and argues that the power of Republican voters in that one district was diluted as retaliation for their past votes. The Maryland standard is largely math-free.

Gerrymandering opponents are generally more eager to see the court endorse the Wisconsin standard, which would create a path to challenge statewide maps. If the court accepts the Wisconsin standard in some form, it is very unlikely to embrace the specific mathematical equations used in the case or endorse a numerical cutoff for what constitutes an illegal gerrymander. It could embrace the overall concept of the three-part test and say that whatever the numerical cutoff may be, this specific map is extreme enough to be unconstitutional.

This would set off a wave of challenges to statewide maps, and perhaps eventually the court would get more specific about where the cutoff between legal and illegal is. But there is no guarantee that it would ever land on a clear answer.

If the court endorses the Maryland standard, things could also be messy, as maps would have to be litigated district by district. There would also be questions about whether there are ever legal reasons for redistricting people based on their partisanship — for example, to create a competitive district or protect an incumbent.



2. The court rules that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. It says that while this term’s cases haven’t found the standard, the court has an idea of what one should be.

The court could decline to endorse either standard presented in the two cases but still express an opinion about what makes an unconstitutional gerrymander.

In general, this scenario would be a win for gerrymandering opponents because it would proclaim that partisan gerrymandering can be unconstitutional. But there’s also the possibility that the standard the court offers is so strict that few cases will ever meet it — including the Wisconsin and Maryland cases the court is considering right now. Again, the details will matter.

3. The court rejects the cases for procedural reasons, and the status quo is kept intact.

The court could reject the two gerrymandering cases without ever assessing their merits for various procedural reasons. In the Wisconsin case, the court may say that individuals do not have standing to sue to invalidate statewide maps and that such a lawsuit could only be brought by an organization, such as a political party. In Maryland, the court could say that new maps could not be drawn in time for 2018, so the case should return to lower courts.

In this scenario, the court would not say anything about the actual standards in the cases and would preserve the status quo.

4. The court says that extreme partisan gerrymandering might be unconstitutional but that the standards in these cases won’t suffice.

Under this scenario, the court would assess the standards on their merits and reject them without saying what the right standard is, similar to what it did in Vieth. While this decision would again leave the door open for a standard to one day come along, it would be a blow to those trying to do away with gerrymandering now. In recent years, they have focused their efforts on establishing the standards presented in these cases, particularly the Wisconsin case. The Supreme Court taking that off the table for future cases would send them back to the drawing board.

Under both the third and fourth scenarios, all eyes would turn to a North Carolina gerrymandering case that could be argued at the Supreme Court this fall. That case is unlikely to run into the potential procedural issues of the Wisconsin and Maryland cases, and it could propose yet a different standard for illegal partisan gerrymandering.

5. The court rules that partisan gerrymandering is “nonjusticiable.”

The court could decide that claims of partisan gerrymandering are not justiciable because it is a political issue and therefore not within the purview of the courts to decide. This would be a big blow to those seeking to change the redistricting system and would prevent partisan gerrymandering from being litigated in federal court.

This scenario would happen if Justice Kennedy, who previously sided with the four liberals on the court to say that partisan gerrymandering is in the court’s purview, changed his mind. While it seems unlikely, Kennedy could become convinced that a manageable standard for measuring a gerrymander will never come along. In that instance, a majority of the court could still say that partisan gerrymandering is undemocratic and encourage legislatures to do something about it, but it would acknowledge that it’s not ultimately up to the justices.

If this were the result, the fight over partisan gerrymandering would leave the federal courts but likely continue to rage in state legislatures, on ballot measures and in state courts.

6. The court says it hasn’t made up its mind.

This is not a joke. The Supreme Court may not actually decide these cases for an entire additional year. During the oral arguments in the Maryland case, Justice Stephen Breyer floated the idea of having both of the cases reargued alongside the upcoming North Carolina gerrymandering case this fall. This is not common but also not unheard of when the court is considering similar cases. A delay would give the justices more time and another example of partisan gerrymandering to consider, but it would also suggest that the court is having trouble coming to an agreement. If they take this path, we won’t know the outcome until sometime during the first half of 2019. [facepalm]

7. A splintered decision.

This is not exactly a distinct scenario but more a combination of the possibilities laid out above. The justices could be so splintered in their opinions that there is significant disagreement about what the court is actually saying. For example, in the Vieth case, the court issued five different opinions, leading judicial conservatives and liberals to continue to debate how the court views partisan gerrymandering. In practice, when this happens, the applicable opinion is supposed to be the one ruled on the narrowest grounds. Of course, there can also be debate over which opinion is judged on the narrowest grounds. Welcome to the world of constitutional law.


Phew, we made it. Some of these paths are more likely than others, but it’s tough to handicap each, and we will know the answer to these questions very soon.

No matter how the court rules, here’s what we know already: People are increasingly paying attention to how districts are drawn, and they aren’t happy about it. If the court does strike down extreme partisan gerrymandering, the legal battles could continue for years. If the court sides with the gerrymandering states, opponents will try to change things outside the Supreme Court.

For better or worse, even once we have the decisions in hand, the issue of partisan gerrymandering will be a long way from settled.

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chrisamico
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