Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
A scathing review from Roger Ebert could persuade millions of Americans not to buy tickets to a new film. This man has done him one better: a film that he doesn't like won't even make it to the big screen.
A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court held, in a case called Hobby Lobby after one of the parties, that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, pronouced "Riff-ra") prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from requiring three closely-held corporations to purchase health insurance for their employees that covered methods of contraception that violated the sincerely-held religious beliefs of their owners. HHS already allowed religious corporations to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage against the principles of the relevant religion, and the court found that HHS could easily allow for-profit businesses owned by religions persons to similarly opt out. Corporations, the court said, are "persons" protected by RFRA. Here is the first money quote from the opinion:
As we will show, Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA's definition of "persons." But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations' financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.
In holding that Conestoga, as a "secular, for-profit corporation," lacks RFRA protection, the Third Circuit wrote as follows:
"General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors." 724 F. 3d, at 385 (emphasis added).
All of this is true - but quite beside the point. Corporations, "separate and apart from" the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.
The court is saying that Hobby Lobby and the other two businesses do not have religious freedom rights of their own; their right to religious freedom is merely derivative of the rights of their shareholders, officers, and employees.
Now for the second money quote from the court's opinion:
Finally, HHS contends that Congress could not have wanted RFRA to apply to for-profit corporations because it is difficult as a practical matter to ascertain the sincere "beliefs" of a corporation. HHS goes so far as to raise the specter of "divisive, polarizing proxy battles over the religious identity of large, publicly traded corporations such as IBM or General Electric."
These cases, however, do not involve publicly traded corporations, and it seems unlikely that the sort of corporate giants to which HHS refers will often assert RFRA claims. HHS has not pointed to any example of a publicly traded corporation asserting RFRA rights, and numerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring. For example, the idea that unrelated shareholders - including institutional investors with their own set of stakeholders - would agree to run a corporation under the same religious beliefs seems improbable.
Now recall to mind the Citizens United case from 2010. In that case the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment, and specifically the provision that protects the right to speak freely, prohibits the government from limiting the amount of money that corporations and labor unions can spend on independent political advertising. (The ruling did not strike down limits on corporate and union contributions to campaigns and candidates.) Put another way, in 2010 the Supreme Court held that corporations and unions, both large and small, could form and express opinions about political candidates that the First Amendment's free speech provision would protect. Now, in 2014, the Supreme Court has held that only closely-held corporations with a handful of shareholders can form opinions about religion. That is, according to the Supreme Court any corporation can form an opinion about Jeff Merkley or Monica Wehby that the First Amendment protects, but only a closely-held corporation can form a protected opinion about the strictures of Leviticus. The court's retreated, in a small way, from its statement in Citizens United that the First Amendment grants the right to corporations and unions to spend what they like to support or oppose candidates independently of the views of their shareholders and members. I don't think the majority meant to say that, but say it they did.
Metro has long advocated development to take a "compact urban form." It's rather unsettling to see the Oregonian adopt that principle by moving to a tabloid form. I've had trouble reading it for the last week, perhaps because I'm old-fashioned (my friends would say "stodgy") enough to expect publications to follow the basic principle that page A7 should always be one page after page A6.
While at the Baldock rest area (the one on Interstate 5 a few miles south of Wilsonville) recently I saw, propped against a wall, a cardboard sign that read, "Pregnant, hungry, out of gas," next to a folded towel, a bowl, a small pack, and a few personal items, but no person. Curious, I looked around, and saw a group of four people a hundred feet off, one of whom appeared to be pregnant. A few minutes later, I noticed that one of the four, a well-nourished male, was now sitting on the towel next to the pack, but with a different sign that read only "Out of gas."
This piqued my curiosity. Perhaps the four are students of marketing, engaging in some research by testing different approaches and signs to see what provokes the greatest generosity from passing travelers. Or maybe they independently descended on the rest area and worked out a timeshare. The most likely explanation, I decided, is that they arranged a carpool, heeding Metro's precepts by reducing their vehicle-miles-traveled and panhandling sustainably.
I can't be the only one who's mentally tagging the newborn son of Prince William of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge (known only as Kate Middleton on this side of the pond) not with his official, sonorous name of "George Alexander Louis," but simply as "Boy George." The world of entertainment stole a royal nickname when a singer named Stacy Ann Ferguson appropriated "Fergie" from Sarah, Duchess of York (the former Sarah Ferguson), so it's only fitting for the House of Windsor to grab a name from show business.
Having the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960 in mind, where radio listeners thought that Mr. Nixon had won, and television viewers thought that Mr. Kennedy had won, I listened to the first half of the debate on radio, and watched the second half on television. I had the sense that President Obama was the better debater when I was listening, and that Governor Romney was better when I was also watching. Herewith some impressions:
First, Governor Romney made a solid move toward the center, as he must do if he is to have a reasonable chance of winning the election. He laid little stress on the more extreme positions of his party, backed off from his tax cut proposals, and identified two (admittedly small) programs that he would cut. I also got the sense that he was trying to look and sound a little like Ronald Reagan, in hair, cadence, and style.
By contrast, President Obama was off of the form that he displayed in the 2008 debates. Several of his long answers wandered far from the topic without making a definite point. He told the story of his grandmother well, and he claimed the word "Obamacare." However, he missed an opening when Mr. Romney joked that "Maybe I should change accountants" to give a clear comparison of the Romney and Obama tax plans. Mr. Obama's biggest loss, and Mr. Romney's biggest gain, was that the challenger came across as careful, prudent, and informed, far from the extremist corner into which the Obama campaign has tried to paint him.
OregonLive reports that the protesters who are camped out in front of Portland City Hall have been told to move. I chuckled over the headline, which reads: "Portland City Hall protesters reminded to comply with code, will be moved Monday for power-wash." Ah, the nanny state. They looked fairly clean to me.
Today's Oregonian brought a front-page story on how Suzanne Bonamici is settling in as the First District's representative following her election in January to fill out the unexpired term of David Wu. It's a very favorable story for Rep. Bonamici -- almost a puff piece -- especially the day before ballots are due back.
Eight paragraphs in, the story, by reporter Charles Pope, features this gem:
Tuesday, Bonamici faces her third election since November. This one is largely a technicality; she faces no primary opposition and Republicans haven't fielded candidates for a primary. The campaign free ride allows her to concentrate on her new job in Congress.
Mr. Pope doesn't read his own newspaper. As Jeff Mapes reported on February 29, conservative activist Lisa Michaels filed for the Republican nomination, and a day or two later, D.R. Delinda Morgan also filed for the Republican nomination. The editorial staff can count; it endorsed Ms. Michaels for the Republican nomination on April 17.
This isn't the first time that the Whimperer lost track of the First District race; back in October its reporter Harry Esteve disposed of five of the eight Democratic candidates for the January special election. This is, however, the first time I can recall the newspaper blithely omitting an entire party.
Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times on Sunday, credited the blogosphere with the idea of requiring our elected representatives to wear the names and logos of their largest corporate contributors, rather like the logos on the suits and cars of NASCAR drivers.
I can't imagine that I was the first to think of that particular campaign reform, but it did occur to me back in 2005, and I wrote about it here on February 9 of that long-past year. So I'm delighted to see the idea appear in the Times six-and-a-half years later. That's faster than it usually takes ideas to get from Portland to New York, but slower than it takes news to make the return trip.