Head of congressional ethics office sued for abusing position, accused of assaulting women

Foreign Policy reports: A top congressional ethics official who oversees investigations into misconduct by lawmakers is accused in a federal lawsuit of verbally abusing and physically assaulting women and using his federal position to influence local law enforcement, according to a complaint filed in a federal court in Pennsylvania last month.

The ongoing lawsuit against Omar Ashmawy, staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics, stems from his involvement in a late-night brawl in 2015 in Milford, Pennsylvania, and includes a range of allegations relating to his behavior that evening and in the following two-and-half years.

Ashmawy’s office conducts the preliminary investigations into allegations of misconduct in the House of Representatives, deciding which cases to pursue or refer to the Committee on Ethics. He is named in congressional documents as the official who presented one of the investigations into John Conyers, the Democratic lawmaker from Michigan accused of sexual harassment, to the ethics committee for further action.

Among other allegations, Ashmawy is accused in the lawsuit of “threatening to use his position as staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics to induce a criminal proceeding to be brought against Plaintiff and/or others,” according to the federal lawsuit filed against him.

In court filings and in statements to Foreign Policy, Ashmawy denied the allegations laid out in the lawsuit. [Continue reading…]

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Al Franken’s resignation and the selective force of #MeToo

Masha Gessen writes: On what he called the worst day of his political life, Senator Al Franken articulated two points that are central to understanding what has become known as the #MeToo moment. In an eleven-minute speech, in which Franken announced his intention to resign from the Senate, he made this much clear: the force that is ending his political career is greater than the truth, and this force operates on only roughly half of this country’s population—those who voted for Hillary Clinton and who consume what we still refer to as mainstream media.

There was one notable absence in his speech: Franken did not apologize. In fact, he made it clear that he disagreed with his accusers. “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” he said. “Others I remember very differently.” Earlier, Franken had in fact apologized to his accusers, and he didn’t take his apologies back now, but he made it plain that they had been issued in the hopes of facilitating a conversation and an investigation that would clear him. He had, it seems, been attempting to buy calm time to work while a Senate ethics committee looked into the accusations. But, by Thursday morning, thirty-two Democratic senators had called on Franken to resign. The force of the #MeToo moment leaves no room for due process, or, indeed, for Franken’s own constituents to consider their choice.

Still, the force works selectively. “I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” said Franken, referring to Donald Trump and the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Trump and Moore are immune because the blunt irresistible force works only on the other half of the country.

That half is cleaning its ranks in the face of—and in clear reaction to—genuine moral depravity on the other side. The Trump era is one of deep and open immorality in politics. Moore is merely one example. Consider Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who won his congressional race earlier this year after not only being captured on tape shoving a newspaper reporter but then also lying to police about it. Consider the tax bill, which is stitched together from shameless greed and boldface lies. Consider the series of racist travel bans. Consider the withdrawal from a series of international agreements aimed at bettering the future of humanity, from migration to climate change to cultural preservation. These are men who proclaim their allegiance to the Christian faith while acting in openly hateful, duplicitous, and plainly murderous ways. In response to this unbearable spectacle, the roughly half of Americans who are actually deeply invested in thinking of themselves as good people are trying to claim a moral high ground. [Continue reading…]

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‘So much about working in Washington is about loyalty’

The Washington Post reports: A high-profile Washington lawyer specializing in congressional ethics said Wednesday that Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) harassed and verbally abused her when she worked for him on Capitol Hill in the 1990s and that her repeated appeals for help to congressional leadership were ignored.

“There was nothing I could do to stop it,” Melanie Sloan said in an interview. “Not going to leadership, not going to my boss, not going to a women’s group, not going to a reporter. I was dismissed and told I must be mentally unstable.”

Sloan, the former executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was hired by Conyers in 1995 as minority counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, where he served as the ranking Democrat. She held the job until 1998.

During that time, Sloan said, she witnessed and experienced behavior by Conyers similar to episodes described in claims against him that on Tuesday prompted the House Ethics Committee to open an investigation.

In addition to accusations of sexual misconduct, the claims against Conyers included “mistreatment of staff.” Sloan said she did not believe she was sexually harassed by the congressman, but she said his behavior toward her was inappropriate and abusive. She said she was speaking publicly after seeing Conyers dismiss former staff members’ accounts of misconduct.

Sloan said that Conyers routinely yelled at and berated her, often criticizing her appearance. On one occasion, she said, he summoned her to his Rayburn Building office, where she found him in his underwear.

“I was pretty taken aback to see my boss half-dressed,” she said. “I turned on my heel and I left.”

Arnold Reed, Conyers’s legal counsel, denied Sloan’s allegations and said Conyers will address complaints about his conduct after Thanksgiving. “Representative Conyers has never done anything inappropriate to Melanie Sloan,” he said.

Sloan is the first former Conyers staff member to speak on the record about the 88-year-old congressman, the longest-serving member of the House and the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. She said she kept quiet about the incidents for 20 years because her earlier complaints were not taken seriously. She agreed to speak about her experience with Conyers after a Washington Post reporter contacted her.

“The reason I decided to go on the record is to make it easier for other people,” she said. “People are afraid to come forward. So much about working in Washington is about loyalty, and you are supposed to shut up about these things.” [Continue reading…]

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Gandhi the pragmatic philosopher

Richard Sorabji writes: Was Mahatma Gandhi a philosopher? He would not have thought so himself. But I want to show that he was a model for philosophy in the philosophical subtlety of his accounts of non-violence and in his thinking on a vital kind of freedom. Gandhi was full of surprises: in his defence of concrete particularity in ethics when exceptionless rules cannot guide conduct; in his openness to views from other cultures; and in his exemplary response to criticism, which was welcomed, promulgated without being distorted, treated with disconcerting wit, and used to lead to a radical re-thinking of his own views.

Of course, Gandhi (1869-1948) is known for his belief in non-violence, which included, but was by no means confined to, non-violent resistance to the British rulers of India. But it is less well-known that he rejected the non-violence he had heard of in India. Although the most important influence in his life was the Jain faith, on non-violence, he preferred the second most important influence – Leo Tolstoy. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that the Indian view he knew did not sufficiently mind someone else treading on a beetle, so long as one kept oneself pure by not treading on it oneself. Gandhi saw his early self as a votary of violence. It was the Russian Christian writer, Tolstoy, who converted Gandhi to non-violence, a fact that shows his openness to views from other cultures.

For this openness to views from elsewhere, Gandhi acknowledged the value of another Jain view – that ordinary humans have only partial knowledge, from which he concluded that truth must be sought in diverse quarters. He described non-violence as being, on Tolstoy’s view, an ocean of compassion – one would not want anyone to tread on a beetle. But more than that, you should never hate your opponent. With his permission, Gandhi published Tolstoy’s A Letter to a Hindoo (1909), which argued that millions of Indians were enslaved to a few thousand British only because, instead of internalising the law of love, they cooperated with the British in carrying out the violence on which their enslavement depended.

Gandhi combined the attitude of compassion to all, opponents included, with a readiness for self-sacrifice so that, in resisting the British, he was ready to suffer a violent response without ever hating. But he did not think that all should join his non-violent confrontations, because everyone has a different character and hence a different duty (svadharma), since only some can retain the non-violent attitude in the face of violence. For those who could not, he set up a ‘constructive programme’, to carry out a different type of work. [Continue reading…]

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America, I apologize for the South’s hypocrisy

Issac Bailey writes: As a native Southerner, I’d like to apologize to the rest of the country. My region repeatedly claims that we place God above all else, but our actions tell a different story, especially when we mix religion, politics and the mistreatment of women and girls. We have politicians who feel no compunction, even, misusing the story of a sacred virgin birth to ignore child molestation.

“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner Thursday, in an attempt to defend Roy Moore, a candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, after a damning story about Moore’s alleged past was published by the Washington Post. “They became parents of Jesus,” Zeigler added.

Such assertions of support are likely why a man like Moore felt comfortable enough to fund-raise just hours later — while boldly proclaiming the name of God.

That’s right. A man in a high-profile political race representing the supposed “family values” party, after being named in an eye-popping report alleging that when he was a 32-year-old man he tried to have a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl, not only did not drop out of the race or hide in shame, he doubled down. Moore denied the allegations and evoked the term “spiritual warfare,” which is well known in Southern Christian churches, black and white, to elicit as much sympathy from the faithful as possible.

“The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal — even inflict physical harm — if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me,” Moore pronounced in an email to supporters asking for emergency donations. “Their goal is to frustrate and slow down our campaign’s progress to help the Obama-Clinton Machine silence our conservative message. That’s why I must be able to count on the help of God-fearing conservatives like you to stand with me at this critical moment.”

Moore plans to weather this political storm with help from the same God-fearing conservatives who made sure Donald Trump remained on a path to the presidency after being caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women. And there’s no reason Moore won’t survive it, for in our region, in the eyes of many conservative Christians, the only evil greater than Satan himself is a Democrat with political power. Increasingly, little else seems to matter. [Continue reading…]

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The evil of sexual predators is that they attack the weak, make them weaker, then discredit them because of their weakness

Nancy French writes: I used to admire men like Roy Moore, because I loved everything about church — the off-key a cappella rendition of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” the typos in the bulletin, the ladies who smelled like Aquanet with little round rouge circles on their cheeks, and — yes — men like Moore who said long prayers and ran the show.

This changed one hot summer day when I needed a ride home from Vacation Bible School. I was delighted when the preacher volunteered to drop me off. As we drove, I chatted incessantly, happy to have him all to myself without people trying to get his attention in the church parking lot. When we got to my house, I was shocked that he walked me inside my dark house, even more surprised when he lingered in conversation, and thunderstruck when he kissed me right on the lips.

At 12 years old, I swooned over my good luck. He picked me out of all the girls at church. But the relationship, especially after he moved on, reset my moral compass. If all the church conversation about morality and sexual purity was a lie, what else was fake? Now that the “family of God” felt incestuous, I rejected the church and myself. Didn’t I want the preacher’s attention? Didn’t I cause this? When I careened from faith, I made a series of poor romantic decisions that later almost cost me my life. Still, I couldn’t very well criticize the church because I was an utter emotional mess.

On Thursday, all this came back to me after I read one sentence in The Washington Post. The article was about allegations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually touched a teenager when he was in his 30s. A sentence from Leigh Corfman, who was 14 at the time, jumped out at me.

“I felt responsible,” she said. I swallowed back tears as I read the rest. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.” After her life spiraled “with drinking, drugs, boyfriends,” she attempted suicide two years later. In fact, she didn’t come forward earlier because she worried that her three divorces and poor financial history would make people doubt her story. [Continue reading…]

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Outgoing ethics chief: U.S. is ‘close to a laughingstock’

The New York Times reports: Actions by President Trump and his administration have created a historic ethics crisis, the departing head of the Office of Government Ethics said. He called for major changes in federal law to expand the power and reach of the oversight office and combat the threat.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who is resigning as the federal government’s top ethics watchdog on Tuesday, said the Trump administration had flouted or directly challenged long-accepted norms in a way that threatened to undermine the United States’ ethical standards, which have been admired around the world.

“It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility,” Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women’s Open tournament. “I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. government ethics chief resigns, with parting shot at Trump

The Guardian reports: The top ethics watchdog in the federal government announced his resignation on Thursday, taking a parting shot at Donald Trump as he did so.

Walter Shaub, head of the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE), said in his resignation letter to Trump that he would step down in mid-July, six months before the end of his term, in order to take a job at the Campaign Legal Center, a not-for-profit good-government group.

Leading the OGE had been “the great privilege and honor of my career”, he wrote.

In a separate statement from the center, Shaub said: “In working with the current administration, it has become clear to me that we need improvements to the existing ethics program. I look forward to working toward that aim at Campaign Legal Center, as well as working on ethics reforms at all levels of government.”

Shaub is a longtime federal bureaucrat who was appointed to the OGE by Barack Obama in 2013 and confirmed by a voice vote in the US Senate.

Since Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, Shaub has strongly criticized the president over his failure to divest from his business holdings, saying he was “extremely troubled” that Trump simply turned over his investments to his two oldest sons.

Shaub also clashed with the White House over whether lobbyists working in the Trump administration should have to disclose ethics waivers, and over aide Kellyanne Conway’s controversial suggestion that Americans should buy products sold by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.

In his resignation letter, he also took one more opportunity to goad Trump on his approach to government ethics policies, putting in italics “public service is a public trust” – the first of 14 principles of public service promulgated by George HW Bush in a 1989 executive order.

OGE staff, he wrote, were “committed to protecting the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gains”. [Continue reading…]

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Justice Department’s corporate crime watchdog resigns, saying Trump makes it impossible to do job

International Business Times reports: One of the Justice Department’s top corporate crime watchdogs has resigned, declaring that she cannot enforce ethics laws against companies while, she asserts, her own bosses in the Trump administration have been engaging in conduct that she said she would never tolerate in corporations.

Hui Chen — a former Pfizer and Microsoft lawyer who also was a federal prosecutor — had been the department’s compliance counsel. She left the department in June and broke her silence about her move in a recent LinkedIn post that sounded an alarm about the Trump administration’s behavior.

“Trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome,” Chen wrote. “To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts. Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it.” [Continue reading…]

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The conservative mind has become diseased

Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W Bush, writes: To many observers on the left, the initial embrace of Seth Rich conspiracy theories by conservative media figures was merely a confirmation of the right’s deformed soul. But for those of us who remember that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were once relatively mainstream Reaganites, their extended vacation in the fever swamps is even more disturbing. If once you knew better, the indictment is deeper.

The cruel exploitation of the memory of Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot dead last summer, was horrifying and clarifying. The Hannity right, without evidence, accused Rich rather than the Russians of leaking damaging DNC emails. In doing so, it has proved its willingness to credit anything — no matter how obviously deceptive or toxic — to defend President Trump and harm his opponents. Even if it means becoming a megaphone for Russian influence. [Continue reading…]

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Top ethics officer challenges Trump over secret waivers for ex-lobbyists

The New York Times reports: The federal government’s top ethics officer is challenging the Trump administration’s issuance of secret waivers that allow former lobbyists to handle matters they recently worked on, setting up a confrontation between the ethics office and President Trump.

The move by Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, is the latest sign of rising tension between Mr. Shaub and the Trump White House. Mr. Shaub has tried several times to use his limited powers to force Mr. Trump to broadly honor federal ethics rules as well as the ethics order that Mr. Trump himself signed in late January.

Historically, the Office of Government Ethics — a tiny operation that has just 71 employees but that supervises an ethics program covering 2.7 million civilian executive branch workers — has maintained a low profile. Created in 1978 after the Watergate scandal, it does not have subpoena power or its own investigators. [Continue reading…]

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On the happy life

Massimo Pigliucci writes: Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a towering and controversial figure of antiquity. He lived from 4 BCE to 65 CE, was a Roman senator and political adviser to the emperor Nero, and experienced exile but came back to Rome to become one of the wealthiest citizens of the Empire. He tried to steer Nero toward good governance, but in the process became his indirect accomplice in murderous deeds. In the end, he was ‘invited’ to commit suicide by the emperor, and did so with dignity, in the presence of his friends.

Seneca wrote a number of tragedies that directly inspired William Shakespeare, but was also one of the main exponents of the Stoic school of philosophy, which has made a surprising comeback in recent years. Stoicism teaches us that the highest good in life is the pursuit of the four cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, temperance, justice and courage – because they are the only things that always do us good and can never be used for ill. It also tells us that the key to a serene life is the realisation that some things are under our control and others are not: under our control are our values, our judgments, and the actions we choose to perform. Everything else lies outside of our control, and we should focus our attention and efforts only on the first category.

Seneca wrote a series of philosophical letters to his friend Lucilius when he was nearing the end of his life. The letters were clearly meant for publication, and represent a sort of philosophical testament for posterity. I chose letter 92, ‘On the Happy Life’, because it encapsulates both the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy and some really good advice that is still valid today.

The first thing to understand about this letter is the title itself: ‘happy’ here does not have the vague modern connotation of feeling good, but is the equivalent of the Greek word eudaimonia, recently adopted also by positive psychologists, and which is best understood as a life worth living. [Continue reading…]

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Churches are readying homes and underground railroads to hide immigrants from deportation under Trump

BuzzFeed reports: Churches across the US are fighting back against the Trump administration’s mandate to ramp up deportations with new sanctuary practices of their own, using private homes in their congregations as shelter and potentially creating a modern-day underground railroad to ferry undocumented immigrants from house to house or into Canada.

Church leaders from California to Illinois and New York told BuzzFeed News they’re willing to take their sanctuary operations for undocumented immigrants underground should federal immigration authorities, emboldened by Trump’s recent directives to take a harder line on deportations, ignore precedent and raid their campuses.

“We’re willing to take that risk because it is our call to justice, and this is how we live our faith,” Rev. Justo Gonzalez II, pastor of Pilgrim St. Luke’s in Buffalo, told BuzzFeed News. He leads one of the churches that has reached out to an organization in Canada to possibly take in undocumented families.

Gonzalez knows they are stepping into legally murky territory, especially when it comes to possibly smuggling immigrants into Canada, but he said attorneys in his congregation have agreed to help them pro bono if they find themselves in hot water.

“I’m thrilled that we’re establishing a cross-border [link] into another country, so we could support people finding places they are welcome in because, frankly, this administration is not the place,” Gonzalez said. [Continue reading…]

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Authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty

Chris Edelson writes: A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.

At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.

At Kennedy Airport, still other federal employees detained and handcuffed a 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The woman was held for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.

The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.[Continue reading…]

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The Republican in charge of government oversight wants to prohibit criticism of Trump’s ethical violations

Dahlia Lithwick writes: It is going to be practically impossible for Donald Trump to take office next Friday and stay on the right side of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause without divesting and placing his businesses in a blind trust. This fact is — with a clutch of dissenters — not in dispute. Ethics experts across the political spectrum have explained carefully what needed to be done to avoid the appearance that the president was benefiting financially from foreign gifts, payments, or favors. But Trump announced this week that he has no intention of creating a blind trust, arguing that voters don’t care about the issue and declaring that he would donate any hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury and let his sons manage his business for the duration of his presidency.

At his Wednesday announcement, Trump’s lawyer, Sheri Dillon, disputed claims that he even has any such constitutional obligations: “These people are wrong. This is not what the Constitution says, paying for a hotel is not a gift or present and has nothing to do with an office. It is not an emolument,” she said. She added that “President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” meaning, I suppose, that the normal rules don’t apply to rich presidents. (Mitt Romney was willing to divest in 2012, so maybe it’s just that the normal rules don’t apply to Trump).

The director of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, immediately dismissed the president-elect’s dramatic nonplan as “meaningless.” He was quoted this week as saying at an unprecedented press conference at the Brookings Institution, “It’s important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president.”

Most ethics experts have agreed with Shaub that the arrangement announced Wednesday is inadequate to address the conflict rules. Trump’s expectation and hope seems to be that — since the only fix for an Emoluments Clause violation is impeachment — Republicans will do as Trump has instructed and stop caring and that Democrats won’t have the nerve to raise the point that the president will — every day after next Friday — be violating the Constitution in a way that risks putting him in thrall to foreign powers. Republicans seem happy to oblige. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Donald Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff warned the director of the Office of Government Ethics on Sunday to “be careful” about criticizing Trump’s handling of his business conflicts.

“The head of the government ethics ought to be careful because that person is becoming extremely political,” Priebus said on ABC News’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Priebus suggested that Shaub, who was appointed by President Obama, was supportive of Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
[Continue reading…]

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How Harvey Cox reminds us of the radical possibilities and egalitarian hopes of a Christian left

Elizabeth Bruenig writes:  In a recent Harper’s Magazine article, Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs caused something of a stir: What had become, he asked, of America’s Christian public intellectuals? Once a prominent feature of public life, the Christian social critic seems to have faded from view. “Half a century ago,” Jacobs noted, “such figures existed in America: serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now.”

It’s impossible to dispute Jacobs’s central point: In the United States, we no longer have a Walter Rauschenbusch or a Reinhold Niebuhr, thinkers who critiqued American society from a Christian perspective. True, there are Christians who are also intellectuals — figures like Cornel West and Robert P. George — but their cultural cachet is hardly comparable to that of their 20th-century predecessors.

In part, this is the result of shifting currents in the American disposition. As a public, we don’t have the same taste for sermonic advice we once did, intellectual or otherwise. But, as Jacobs argues, the decline of Christian public voices is also a function of something internal to Christian thought: Over the past half-century, many strains of Christianity have seen a “privatization of religious experience and discourse.”

Ever since, Christians on the right have been attempting to reverse this process, whether by invoking a past in which some aspects of traditional Christian thought defined social norms, or by using many of the rights created by liberalism in order to protect the public expression of Christian values — for example, conservative Christians have claimed legal protection for abstaining from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and for refusing to offer insurance coverage for medical practices they believe run counter to their faith.

Indeed, the right’s dominance over public expressions of Christianity has been so pronounced that it has created something of a crisis for liberal and left-wing Christians: How can one launch a Christian critique of poverty, inequality, racism, or the United States’ seemingly endless appetite for war when Christianity, at least as it has largely been understood by one’s comrades, is often associated with the fundamentalist right? How can one invoke the egalitarian and communitarian ideals of the faith when the right has so dominated the public landscape that the very notion of “left Christianity” is often now a puzzling idea?

Without a unified Christian left to contrast against a powerful and already unified Christian right, there is no obvious political program or donor base for an incipient generation of left-Christian activists and intellectuals. Young Christians committed to social and economic justice have to carve out their own lineage and propose their own goals and priorities; on the right, that work has already been done for them.

It’s in the face of these challenges for an emerging new generation of Christian liberals and leftists that Harvey Cox— a Baptist minister, Harvard divinity professor for more than 40 years, and Christian left-wing intellectual to the core—offers a beacon of light. [Continue reading…]

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White House ethics experts argue Trump’s business conflicts are so big it should affect how the Electoral College votes

 

Politico reports: Norm Eisen has become an unlikely media darling. Since Donald Trump’s victory on Nov. 8 opened a debate about how the president-elect would keep his vast business interests separate from his new public obligations, Eisen has emerged as one of the two most prominent government ethicists calling for Trump to take drastic action to avoid scandal or worse. Eisen, the former top Obama White House ethics lawyer, has been cited more than 1,000 times in news stories, explaining the intricacies of the “emoluments clause” to journalists many of whom hadn’t heard the words a month ago. With Richard Painter, who held the same job under President George W. Bush, Eisen has taken control of a leading government watchdog group that’s staffing up to hound Trump’s administration for conflicts of interest they say are unprecedented for the occupant of the Oval Office. A video produced by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org of Eisen and Painter talking about a potentially obscure constitutional violation notched more than 2.5 million views in its first week.

“It’s unreal. It’s like a full-employment plan for government ethicists, for White House ethicists,” Eisen told me Monday as he dashed between interviews with U.S. and international journalists lining up to ask him about Trump’s complicated financial arrangements. “Fortunately, there’s basically only a handful of us. There’s really only two.”

That might be an exaggeration, but Eisen and Painter happen to be the two ethicists who are actively working to shape the outcome of an election that most voters think has already been decided. For the #stillnevertrump faction, Eisen and Painter represent the last hope of persuading wobbly members of the Electoral College to vote against the president-elect when they convene on Dec. 19. Failing that, the two men are laying the groundwork for a case that Trump’s sprawling financial arrangements—real estate investments, hotels, golf courses and product licenses spread across the U.S. and at least 20 other countries—will inevitably lead him into scandal or worse once he takes office. Trump is set to hold a news conference Dec. 15 in New York to provide more detail on his future financial plans, but the two men have no expectation that Trump will take their advice and sell off his entire business enterprise and put the proceeds into a “blind trust” with no control or knowledge over where the money goes. [Continue reading…]

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China is at the forefront of manipulating DNA to create a new class of superhumans

G. Owen Schaefer writes: Would you want to alter your future children’s genes to make them smarter, stronger, or better looking? As the state of science brings prospects like these closer to reality, an international debate has been raging over the ethics of enhancing human capacities with biotechnologies such as so-called smart pills, brain implants, and gene editing. This discussion has only intensified in the past year with the advent of the CRISPR-cas9 gene editing tool, which raises the specter of tinkering with our DNA to improve traits like intelligence, athleticism, and even moral reasoning.

So are we on the brink of a brave new world of genetically enhanced humanity? Perhaps. And there’s an interesting wrinkle: It’s reasonable to believe that any seismic shift toward genetic enhancement will not be centered in Western countries like the US or the UK, where many modern technologies are pioneered. Instead, genetic enhancement is more likely to emerge out of China.

Numerous surveys among Western populations have found significant opposition to many forms of human enhancement. For example, a recent Pew study of 4,726 Americans found that most would not want to use a brain chip to improve their memory, and a plurality view such interventions as morally unacceptable. [Continue reading…]

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