Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Most of the commentators seem to think it doesn’t look good for the health care bill. At SCOTUS Blog, there’s an index of yesterday’s coverage.

The New York Times editorial addresses the “test” the Supreme Court faces in their decision on this case.

In ruling on the constitutionality of requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.

The skepticism in the questions from the conservative justices suggests that they have adopted the language and approach of the insurance mandate’s challengers. But the arguments against the mandate, the core of the health care reform law, willfully reject both the reality of the national health care market and established constitutional principles that have been upheld for generations.

The Obama administration persuasively argues that the mandate is central to solving the crisis in America’s health care system, which leaves 50 million people uninsured and accounts for 17.6 percent of the national economy. The challengers contend that the law is an unlimited — and, therefore, unconstitutional — use of federal authority to force individuals to buy insurance, or pay a penalty.

That view wrongly frames the mechanism created by this law. The insurance mandate is nothing like requiring people to buy broccoli — a comparison Justice Antonin Scalia suggested in his exasperated questioning of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. Congress has no interest in requiring broccoli purchases because the failure to buy broccoli does not push that cost onto others in the system.

It’s really frightening to think of the possible implications of the justices overturning this law. Will the right wingers challenge Medicare and Social Security next? Dahlia Lithwick says the right wingers on the Court seem to want to return the country to “freedom” circa 1804.

The fight over Obamacare is about freedom. That’s what we’ve been told since these lawsuits were filed two years ago and that’s what we heard both inside and outside the Supreme Court this morning. That’s what Michele Bachmann* and Rick Santorum have been saying for months. Even people who support President Obama’s signature legislative achievement would agree that this debate is all about freedom—the freedom to never be one medical emergency away from economic ruin. What we have been waiting to hear is how members of the Supreme Court—especially the conservative majority—define that freedom. This morning as the justices pondered whether the individual mandate—that part of the Affordable Care Act that requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty—is constitutional, we got a window into the freedom some of the justices long for. And it is a dark, dark place.

But the “conservative” justices, who are covered by government subsidized health insurance appear to think freedom means the right to let people die if they can’t pay for health care.

[Sonia] Sotomayor…pondering whether hospitals could simply turn away the uninsured, finally asks: “What percentage of the American people who took their son or daughter to an emergency room and that child was turned away because the parent didn’t have insurance—do you think there’s a large percentage of the American population who would stand for the death of that child if they had an allergic reaction and a simple shot would have saved the child?”

But we seem to want to be free from that obligation as well. This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of “liberty.” This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804.

The quotes from Scalia and Kennedy in Lithwick’s piece are unbelievable. Please go read the rest at the link.

There were some bombshells in the Trayvon Martin case last night. ABC news obtained video of George Zimmerman arriving at the police station after he shot Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had no visual signs of injury, no bandages, no sign of grass stains on the back of his jacket, no sign of a broken nose, no blood on his nose or the back of his head.

Last night on MSNBC’s The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell spoke to the funeral director who prepared Martin’s body for burial. The funeral director saw no sign of damage to Martin’s knuckles or any other part of his body that would indicate he had been in a fight. The only damage this man observed was a gunshot wound to Martin’s chest.

O’Donnell also had as a guest Cheryl Brown, the mother of a 13-year-old boy who witnessed the shooting. He couldn’t see much, because it was getting dark, but the boy told the 911 dispatcher that he saw a man lying on the ground and another man standing over him. One of the men was crying out for help, and then there was a gunshot and the crying stopped.

Another issue that arose last night on both MSNBC’s The Ed Show was that the police report on the incident listed Trayvon Martin’s full name and address; yet police listed him as a John Doe for three days. When Sanford police finally informed Trayvon’s father that his son was dead, the man who came to the house was Chris Serino, the investigator whom we recently learned wanted to charge George Zimmerman with manslaughter on February 26, the night of the shooting. Serino told Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, that he (Serino) didn’t believe Zimmerman’s story.

I don’t have any links, as I write this late on Wednesday night. I will try to add them in the morning when news articles become available.

The autopsy on Trayvon Martin’s body will obviously be key in determining what happened that night, but the autopsy is currently under seal.

The autopsy on Trayvon Martin was performed by a medical examiner who works for the Volusia County government, and therefore Byron has been in the loop regarding the autopsy, which has not yet been released as the investigation into the killing is ongoing.

“In Florida when a death is being actively investigated by any agency … the autopsy information is shielded under the Florida public records law until the investigation becomes un-active, or inactive,” Byron told the IBTimes via phone Wednesday morning. “So in this case I think we can all agree this is an active death investigation, so what I need to do is refer all calls to the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville.”

The LA Times reported yesterday that: Black residents in Sanford, FL say they’re often harassed by police. Here’s one example from the article:

To many black residents of Sanford, the escalating national anger over how local police have handled the [Trayvon Martin] case reflects years of tension and frustration over their treatment by authorities.

Murray Jess, for one, can’t shake the memory of an evening two years ago, as he drove through Sanford at dusk, heading home after attending an art show with his fiance and his 14-year-old nephew.

A police cruiser began following Jess’ silver-gray 1996 Mercedes. Two unmarked police cars blocked the road in front of him, forcing Jess into a Pizza Hut parking lot. An officer got out of a van and pointed a video camera at the bewildered Jess as another officer, his hand on his gun, approached the car.

Jess asked the officer why he had been stopped. “He said, ‘We’ve had a lot of reports of these kinds of cars being stolen lately,’ ” said Jess, a black Sanford resident and business owner whose voice still shakes with rage.

I have several other news links for you on a variety of subjects that I’ll give you in what Minkoff Minx and Wonk the Vote call a “link dump.”

On Tuesday, Minx reported that a group led by Magic Johnson has purchased the LA Dodgers. The team has been in limbo for the past couple of years after the former owner, Frank McCourt went through an expensive divorce that drained his funds. Actually, McCourt really never had enough money to be the owner of an MLB team. The LA Times reports on Dodger fans’ reactions.

The Pope visited Cuba and met with Fidel Castro.

Pope Benedict called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and met with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro on Wednesday as he ended a trip in which he urged the communist island to change.

He also spoke at a public Mass in Havana’s sprawling Revolution Square where the Vatican said 300,000 people gathered to hear the 84-year-old pontiff.

In a trip laced with calls for change in Cuba, his last message was aimed at the United States, its longtime ideological foe, which for 50 years has imposed a trade embargo trying to topple the Caribbean island’s communist government.

Speaking in a departure ceremony at a rainy Havana airport, Benedict said Cuba could build “a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled,” but it was more difficult “when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people.”

A terrible wildfire has been burning in Colorado. Authorities believe the fire was started by a “controlled burn.”

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper suspended prescribed burns used to mitigate fire danger on Wednesday after a controlled blaze apparently ignited a wildfire west of Denver that killed an elderly couple and destroyed some two dozen homes.

“Through this suspension, we intend to make sure that we have the procedures and protocols in place so that prescribed fire conditions and management requirements are understood and strictly followed,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.

Although the origins of the so-called Lower North Fork Fire are officially under investigation, the Colorado State Forest Service has said that a controlled burn it conducted was the likely source of the fire.

A Jet Blue pilot who apparently had a psychotic break during a flight has been charged with a crime.

U.S. authorities filed criminal charges on Wednesday against a JetBlue Airways pilot who yelled incoherently about religion and the 2001 hijack attacks and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him in a midair uproar.

Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what authorities described as erratic behavior by Capt. Clayton Frederick Osbon, who allegedly ran through the cabin before passengers tackled him in the galley….

The Justice Department filed a complaint charging Osbon with interfering with the crew. It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a U.S. official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.

Osbon, 49, remains in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo, and U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana said he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The man sounds mentally ill to me. I’ll be interested to learn more about what happened.

If you’re interested in some juicy gossip from Arlen Specter’s new book, you can find it at The Washington Post and Huffpo. There appears to be quite a bit in the book about naked Senators–including Ted Kennedy. I think I’m going to pass on reading this book.

Sooooo… what are you reading and blogging about today?

Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Let’s get right to the news. I’m going to start with a couple of items that should particularly interest Dakinikat. First, Charlie Pierce wrote a post yesterday about Bobby Jindal’s campaign for VP.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants to be your vice-president. (He may also want to be your president, too, but being your vice-president first is an easy way to do that.) His first audition for the second slot was to become the prime surrogate for the relentless juggernaut that was the Rick Perry campaign.

(This was a juggernaut only in the sense that people watched Perry speak in the debates and asked each other, “Is he hitting the jug or not?” Thank you. I’ll be back for the late show.)

Once he rode that baby straight into the ground, Jindal decided to campaign for the job on his own, all the while hoping that nobody in the country remembers his memorable “reply” to the president’s State of the Union address back in 2009, during which Jindal looked like a 12-year old wearing his grandfather’s suit, the one in which Jindal scoffed at federal spending on “volcano monitoring” a little more than a year before a big hunk of Iceland blew up and nearly destroyed the airline industry in Europe.

Pierce is reacting to Jindal’s op-ed at the WSJ: Obama’s Politicized Energy Policy

With rising energy costs making it more expensive to drive our cars, heat our homes, and fuel our sputtering economy, many Republicans are criticizing the Obama administration for a failure to adopt a comprehensive energy policy. I believe that critique lets the president off too easily. His administration does have a national energy policy—it’s just a subservient by-product of his radical environmental policy.

This administration willfully ignores rational choices that would lower energy prices and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign energy sources.

Bla, bla, bla…”rational” advice from a guy who believes in exorcism.

We all lost an hour of our lives a couple of days ago when the government made us “spring forward” into daylight savings time (DST). I love it, because it means it stays light a little longer at the end of the day here in New England, but Dak hates what it does to her down in New Orleans. Of course up here in the north, I don’t have the problem of darkness in the early morning.

The Christian Science Monitor had an interesting article on DST yesterday. CSM reports on a psychological study that found that workers are sleepy the next day after the time change (duh!) and are more likely to waste time on the internet at work. “Global productivity losses from a spike in employee cyberloafing are potentially staggering,” the researchers conclude.

CSM says that the origins of DST go way back. It was “originally proposed by a 19th century butterfly collector who wanted more time at the end of the workday to scour fields for insects,” and was first implemented “during World War I (peacetime standardization came in 1966).”

The most recent real adjustment in the US came in 2007, when the change was moved up to the second Sunday in March from the first Sunday in April to lengthen “summertime” and gauge potential energy savings. Polls showed farmers, perennial DST opponents, grumbled, and sports retailers (who benefit from the extra hour of daylight for play time after work) rejoiced.

If you’re worried about lost sleep, you might want to read this article at Alternet: The 8-Hour Sleep Myth: How I Learned That Everything I Knew About Sleep Was Wrong. Apparently it’s not really natural for humans to sleep through the night. The author read about this in a BBC article. Here’s the gist from the Alternet piece:

Turns out that psychiatrist Thomas Wehr ran an experiment back in the ‘90s in which people were thrust into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. When their sleep regulated, a strange pattern emerged. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before drifting off again into a second four-hour sleep.

Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech would not have been surprised by this pattern. In 2001, he published a groundbreaking paper based on 16 years of research, which revealed something quite amazing: humans did not evolve to sleep through the night in one solid chunk. Until very recently, they slept in two stages. Shazam.

In his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, Ekrich presents over 500 references to these two distinct sleep periods, known as the “first sleep” and the “second sleep,” culled from diaries, court records, medical manuals, anthropological studies, and literature, including The Odyssey. Like an astrolabe pointing to some forgotten star, these accounts referenced a first sleep that began two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

This waking period, known in some cultures as the “watch,” was filled with everything from bringing in the animals to prayer. Some folks visited neighbors. Others smoked a pipe or analyzed their dreams. Often they lounged in bed to read, chat with bedfellows, or have much more refreshing sex than we modern humans have at bedtime. A 16th-century doctor’s manual prescribed sex after the first sleep as the most enjoyable variety.

That makes me feel a lot better, since I’ve rarely ever been able to sleep through the night, and in my later years, I have a terrible time falling asleep in the first place.

In political news, President Obama’s approval rating has suddenly tanked, supposedly because of gas prices.

Despite improving job growth and an extended Republican primary fight dividing his would-be opponents, President Obama is heading into the general election season on treacherous political ground, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

At a time of rising gas prices, heightened talk of war with Iran and setbacks in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama’s approval rating dropped substantially in recent weeks, the poll found, with 41 percent of respondents expressing approval of the job he is doing and 47 percent saying they disapprove — a dangerous position for any incumbent seeking re-election.

Which is kind of scary because of the horrifying Republican presidential candidates. It’s still early, so I’m not panicking just yet. Speaking of the clown car crew, there are four primaries today–in Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii, and American Samoa. I’m not sure if we’ll have a live blog, because the last one was a bit of dud. If you’d like to have one, please say so in the comments to this post. We’ll definitely post the results tonight though.

As of last night, Romney was in the running in both Alabama and Mississippi, where the polls show Romney Gingrich, and Santorum all running neck and neck. The worst news is that Romney is now leading Obama by 5 points nationally.

The next item drew a {heavy sigh} from me. A new PPP poll found that a whole lot of voters in Alabama and Mississippi think President Obama is a Muslim. {{Heavy sigh….}}

The poll of Mississippi Republicans found that 52% said they believed Obama is a Muslim, 36% weren’t sure and only 12% said they believed he is a Christian. He fared slightly better in Alabama, where 45% said he is a Muslim, 41% weren’t sure, and 14% said he is a Christian.

Some folks in these two deep South state don’t care for interracial marriages like the one that produced Barack Obama.

67% of Alabama Republicans saying they believe interracial marriage should be legal, though 21% said it still should be against the law. In Mississippi, 54% said it should be allowed, while 29% said it should remain illegal.

The preferred Republican candidate of those opposed to interracial marriage? Newt Gingrich. In Mississippi, Gingrich led Romney among that group 40% to 27%, and held a 38%-27% advantage in Alabama.

I am soooooo glad I don’t live in Alabama or Mississippi! Alexandra Petri of the WaPo calls it “the time traveler vote.” She says that voters must have just arrived from the 1920s.

I don’t know why it didn’t strike me sooner. So many of the issues at stake this year are Issues I Thought We Resolved Several Decades Ago. This is 2012, with lots of economic distress and voter unrest to go around. Why are we suddenly prioritizing Taking Back Control Of Women’s Bodies For The State?

But if you consider the Time Traveling Vote, it all makes sense.

I am not sure how big the vote is. But if the recent actions of many state legislatures are to be taken into account, it is surely substantial.

To visitors from the past, these issues are still pressing and vital. They don’t care about jobs! Once the election’s over, they’re headed back to 1926, where the economy is still roaring and everyone is flapping and doing the Charleston.

It certainly makes more sense than the assumption that they’ve simply been ignoring all the headlines, most of the textbooks, the entire women’s rights movement and the scientific consensus for decades.

Some love letters between the young Richard Nixon and his future wife Pat will be displayed at the Nixon Library. They are said to show Nixon’s “sensitive side.” A sample:

“Every day and every night I want to see you and be with you. Yet I have no feeling of selfish ownership or jealousy. In fact I should always want you to live just as you wanted – because if you didn’t then you would change and wouldn’t be you,” Nixon wrote in one of the letters, part of a rotating display at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

“Let’s go for a long ride Sundays; let’s go to the mountains weekends; let’s read books in front of fires; most of all let’s really grow together and find the happiness we know is ours,” he continued.

Whatever happened to that guy?

Finally, have you heard that Arlen Specter has a memoir coming out? Naturally, it’s full of complaints. Harry Reid stabbed him in the back after promising to give Specter seniority as a Democrat if he switched parties. Obama and Biden didn’t help him in his primary campaign against Joe Sestak. The most interesting revelation in the article in The Hill is that Bob Dole told Specter he (Dole) would have switched parties too.

“Dole told me I had done the right thing, that I had done a terrific job as a senator, been involved in a lot of projects, been very active, and hadn’t gotten credit for a lot of the stuff I had done,” he wrote.

“I said, ‘Bob, I think that it’s very meaningful when you say that I did the right thing, in the party change.’

“He said, ‘Well,’ and then paused and thought for a few seconds. Then he said, ‘I probably would have done the same thing.’ ”

Never mind all that. I want to read about Specter’s role in the Warren Commission and how he dreamed up the “single bullet theory.”

That’s all I’ve got for now. What are you reading and blogging about today?