Tuesday Reads

L'Estaque, by Andre Derain

L’Estaque, by Andre Derain

Good Morning!!

I think my poison oak outbreak is improving a bit. The rash is still spreading and it’s still very itchy, but it’s a little better than it was. At least it doesn’t feel like my skin is on fire. I stopped taking the powerful antihistamine/anesthetic the doctor gave me and went back to Benedryl. I’m still very groggy this morning, but I think if I can put up with the itching and avoid taking more Benedryl, my brain fog should clear up by this afternoon.

I can’t really focus enough to do any serious reading, so this will just be a link dump of recent news stories.

I wish Donald Trump would just go away, but he’s determined to completely embarrass himself first.

TPM reports: Trump Lashes Out At Critics, Makes Incendiary New Claims About Mexico.

In the three-page-long statement posted online, the billionaire reality TV star reprinted the text in question from his now-infamous presidential announcement speech, which he says “is deliberately distorted by the media.”

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.,” he said in the statement.

Trump went on to say “many fabulous people come in from Mexico,” and also broadened his call for immediately securing the border by saying Mexican leaders are much more “cunning” when it comes to trade deals with the U.S. and that infectious disease is “pouring across the border.”

A Cup of Tea, Andre Derain

A Cup of Tea, Andre Derain

Read the entire creepy statement at the link. A little more from Business Insider: Donald Trump just released an epic statement raging against Mexican immigrants and ‘disease.’

“The largest suppliers of heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs are Mexican cartels that arrange to have Mexican immigrants trying to cross the borders and smuggle in the drugs. The Border Patrol knows this,” Trump wrote. “Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world.”

Shortly before releasing his statement, Trump gave an interview to Business Insider where he described the idea that the Mexican government is deliberately “pushing the bad ones” to the US as the one element of his position on immigration that hasn’t gotten enough attention….

Trump also argued the Mexican government “not our friend” and is taking advantage of the US on “bad trade deals.”

“The Mexican Government wants an open border as long as it’s a ONE WAY open border into the United States. Not only are they killing us at the border, but they are killing us on trade … and the country of Mexico is making billions of dollars in doing so,” he wrote. “I have great respect for Mexico and love their people and their peoples’ great spirit. The problem is, however, that their leaders are far smarter, more cunning, and better negotiators than ours. To the citizens of the United States, who I will represent far better than anyone else as President, the Mexican government is not our friend…and why should they be when the relationship is totally one sided in their favor on both illegal immigration and trade.”

Trump concluded by taking shots at some of the businesses who have severed ties with him.

“I have lost a lot during this Presidential run defending the people of the United States. I have always heard that it is very hard for a successful person to run for President. Macy’s, NBC, Serta and NASCAR have all taken the weak and very sad position of being politically correct even though they are wrong in terms of what is good for our country,” Trump wrote.

A man reading a newspaper, Andre Derain

A man reading a newspaper, Andre Derain

According to Business Insider, Republican donors are getting increasingly nervous about Trump: One GOP donor wants to block Donald Trump from the debate stage.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Worried about “Republican-on-Republican violence,” top party donors are taking action, with one firing off a letter calling for more civility and another seeking to block businessman Donald Trump from the debate stage altogether.

Foster Friess, a Wyoming-based investor and one of the party’s top 20 donors in the last presidential contest, issued a letter to 16 White House prospects and the Republican National Committee late last week calling for candidates to stay on the “civility reservation.”

“Our candidates will benefit if they all submit to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, ‘Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican,'” Friess wrote in a letter sent to Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. A copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

In the dispatch, Friess cites the backing of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts. “Would you join the effort to inspire a more civil way of making their points?” Friess wrote. “If they drift off the ‘civility reservation,’ let’s all immediately communicate that to them.”

Good luck with that.

Speaking of creepy people, Bill Cosby is back in the news.

The AP reports: Cosby said he got drugs to give women for sex.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bill Cosby testified in 2005 that he got Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with, and he admitted giving the sedative to at least one woman and “other people,” according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The AP had gone to court to compel the release of the documents; Cosby’s lawyers had objected on the grounds that it would embarrass their client.

The 77-year-old comedian was testifying under oath in a lawsuit filed by a former Temple University employee. He testified he gave her three half-pills of Benadryl.

Cosby settled that sexual-abuse lawsuit for undisclosed terms in 2006. His lawyers in the Philadelphia case did not immediately return phone calls Monday.

Cosby has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, including allegations by many that he drugged and raped them in incidents dating back more than four decades. Cosby, 77, has never been criminally charged, and most of the accusations are barred by statutes of limitations.

Portrait of a woman, Andre Derain

Portrait of a woman, Andre Derain

From NBC News: Judge Explains Why He Unsealed Bill Cosby Court Documents.

A federal judge said one of the reasons he unsealed court documents in which Bill Cosby admits he gave a woman drugs before sex is because of the disconnect between the comedian’s upright public persona and the serious allegations against him.

“The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct is a matter as to which the AP — and by extension the public — has a significant interest,” Judge Eduardo Robreno wrote in a memorandum Monday. The documents were released after a request from The Associated Press.

Cosby said in a 2005 legal deposition that he had obtained prescriptions of a powerful sedative to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex, according to the documents. His testimony was part of a civil suit involving a woman who accused him of drugging her and sexually assaulting her.

The actor was not charged in connection with these claims and the case was dismissed in 2006.

His lawyers had fought the documents’ release, saying it would be “terribly embarrassing.” Last month, Cosby’s lawyers and lawyers for the AP argued over whether Cosby was a public figure entitled to a lesser degree of privacy.

Robreno wrote Monday that the case “is not about the Defendant’s status as a public person by virtue of the exercise of his trade as a televised or comedic personality. Rather, Defendant has donned the mantle of public moralist and mounted the proverbial electronic or print soap box to volunteer his views on, among other things, childrearing, family life, education, and crime.”

Crazy GOPers

Yesterday, a GOP state senator in South Carolina flipped out during the debate over removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds, according to Raw Story.

The Dance, Andre Derain

The Dance, Andre Derain

‘The devil is taking control': Watch SC senator derail Confederate flag debate with insane gay marriage rant.

South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright (R) began debate about removing the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds on Monday with a passionate plea for lawmakers to focus on same-sex marriage instead.

As the senators prepared to debate a measure that would remove the flag, Bright took to the floor to point out that President Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for nine black church members in Charleston and then later that night the White House was illuminated in rainbow colors to celebrate a Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

“I watch the White House be lit up in the abomination colors!” Bright said. “It is time for the church to rise up…. Romans chapter 1 is clear, the Bible is clear. This nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and they are under assault by men in black robes who were not elected by you.”

Bright argued that lawmakers should be protecting county clerks from the “tyranny” of having to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples instead of debating the Confederate flag.

“Our governor called us in to deal with the flag that sits out front, let’s deal with the national sin that we face today!” he exclaimed. “We talk about abortion but this gay marriage thing, I believe will be one nation gone under like President Reagan said. If we’re not one nation under God, we’ll be one nation gone under.

Read the rest of Bright’s rant at Raw Story.

A couple of stories on the Democratic nomination race…

National Journal: Here’s the Real Reason Hillary Clinton Has a Lock on the Democratic Nomination.

Hillary Clinton is a near-lock for the Democratic nomination for many reasons, but among the most significant is that her challengers have minimal appeal to the party’s base of African-American voters….

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the challenger with the most momentum, represents a state that’s 95 percent white, where Asian-Americans and multi-racial voters outnumber blacks. He’s focused most of his campaign message on income inequality, constraining Wall Street excess, and campaign finance reform, while avoiding discussions on race relations, urban policing, or gun control. Only 25 percent of non-white Democratic voters said they’d even consider backing the senator’s presidential bid, according to last month’s NBC/Wall Street Journal survey.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, despite representing a state where nearly half of Democratic voters are black, has been unable to make inroads with his onetime political base. In fact, he drew some jeers when he returned to Baltimore in the wake of violent rioting that tore apart the city. As mayor, his tough-on-crime measures were popular with Maryland voters, but the no-tolerance approach alienated many African-American voters in the state’s largest city. Even some of his base-pleasing accomplishments as governor—such as his early support for gay marriage—hold limited appeal with black voters. In a recent speech, he awkwardly compared his experience as a “minority white candidate” for mayor to the broader African-American experience.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s other rival is more conservative than the entire Republican presidential field when it comes to the Confederate flag. Former Sen. Jim Webb, who was the Democrats’ Senate majority-maker less than a decade ago, now finds himself badly out of step with his party on civil rights issues. On Facebook, he called for “mutual respect” when considering the Confederate flag in a way that “respects the complicated history of the Civil War.” He will struggle to make inroads with minorities, given how out of step he is with an increasingly progressive Democratic base.

Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire may show Clinton with less-than-commanding leads over Sanders and everyone else, but take those results with a grain of salt; they don’t mean much going forward. Iowa and New Hampshire have among the most homogeneous Democratic electorates in the country, demographically disconnected from the party’s base in most other states.

The Trees, Andre Derain

The Trees, Andre Derain

At Vox, Jonathan Allen admits that reporters still follow the Clinton Rules: Confessions of a Clinton reporter: The media’s 5 unspoken rules for covering Hillary.

The Clinton rules are driven by reporters’ and editors’ desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire. At least in that way, Republicans and the media have a common interest.

I understand these dynamics well, having co-written a book that demonstrated how Bill and Hillary Clinton used Hillary’s time at State to build the family political operation and set up for their fourth presidential campaign. That is to say, I’ve done a lot of research about the Clintons’ relationship with the media, and experienced it firsthand. As an author, I felt that I owed it to myself and the reader to report, investigate, and write with the same mix of curiosity, skepticism, rigor, and compassion that I would use with any other subject. I wanted to sell books, of course. But the easier way to do that — proven over time — is to write as though the Clintons are the purest form of evil. The same holds for daily reporting. Want to drive traffic to a website? Write something nasty about a Clinton, particularly Hillary.

Read Allen’s take on the Clinton Rules at the link.

Finally, from Slate’s Jamelle Bouie: Why Bernie Sanders Is the Left’s Ron Paul.

In just a few months, Sanders has moved from the periphery of American politics to the mainstream, as the most visible and popular alternative to Clinton, vastly outpacing former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who recently announced his candidacy. But visibility isn’t viability, and there’s almost no chance Sanders will become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, even ifhe sustains his momentum into next year.

Despite the polls and the voting, presidential primaries aren’t popularity contests. Instead, they’re closer to negotiations, where interests and individuals work to choose a leader and representative for the entire group. That person has to appeal to everyone, from ideological factions and political power centers to wealthy donors and ordinary voters and activists. The candidate also has to show that he or she can do the work of a national campaign, from winning debates to raising money.

Clinton has done this. She came close to winning the 2008 nomination and spent the next seven years—right up to the present—building her stature in Democratic politics. A moderate liberal committed to most of Barack Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda, she’s acceptable to almost everyone in the party—in a national poll of the Democratic field from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, she has a whopping 75 percent of the vote.

Which brings us back to Bernie. Sanders is a fascinating candidate with a vital, underrepresented message in American politics. But the same qualities that make him unique—relative independence from the Democratic Party, a foundational critique of American politics—make him unsuited for a major party nomination, much less the Democratic one. The more moderate and conservative parts of the Democratic coalition won’t support a left-wing candidate like Sanders, and the more strategic voters—party stalwarts like black Americans—will be skeptical that Sanders could win the White House, even if they agree with his ideas and policies.

Read the whole thing at the link.

So . . . . what else is happening? Please let us know in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday.


Thursday Reads: Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions and Other News

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

Good Morning!!

The Supreme Court justices will convene this morning at 10AM. No one knows which rulings they plan to release. Will we learn their decision on same sex marriage? I hope so. I’m guessing they will leave the announcement of their decision on the Affordable Care Act for last. But who knows?

ABC News reports: Supreme Court Has Seven Final Cases to Decide, Including Gay Marriage and Obamacare.

The high court is saving the high drama for the end of its term.

As June dwindles, seven cases are left for the Supreme Court to decide — including one that could legalize same-sex marriage across the country and one that will significantly affect the future of Obamacare.

The court is scheduled to announce decisions Thursday, Friday and Monday, and it could add days beyond that. There’s no indication which decisions will be released on which days.

Mad Hatter tea party

The seven cases are summarized at the link. On the two most prominent cases:

Same Sex Marriage

In a landmark decision, the court will confront two questions. The first is whether states can ban same-sex marriage. The second is whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.

All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote three of the court’s most important opinions on gay rights. At an oral argument in April, Kennedy asked tough questions of both sides, and at one point he said “it’s very difficult for the court to say, oh, well, we know better” what defines marriage than centuries of tradition limiting it to the union of a man and a woman.

Affordable Care Act

The justices could deal a potentially crippling, if not fatal, blow to President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

The challenge centers on whether the federal government is violating the act by offering subsidies to lower- and middle-income people who live in states that haven’t set up their own health care insurance “exchanges.”

Sixteen states have exchanges up and running. The remaining 34 rely on the federal exchange. The law says the subsidies can be made available only to people living where exchanges have been “established by the state.”

The plaintiffs argue that the subsidies are illegal because the federal government isn’t a state. The federal government argues that it was always clear that the subsidies would be available to anyone who bought insurance on an exchange. The insurance industry argues that if the federal subsidies are struck down, Obamacare itself would enter a “death spiral,” with costs rising for a shrinking number of participants, eventually causing the system to collapse.

Read about the other cases at the link.

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

Possible Outcomes on Same Sex Marriage

Although no one can really know what’s going on in Anthony Kennedy’s confused mind, most pundits expect the Supremes to decide that states cannot ban same sex marriage. I hope they’re right.

Richard Wolf at USA Today: Anticipating high court’s blessing, same-sex couples plan weddings.

Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes have sent out “Save the Date” cards and plunked down thousands of dollars for their November wedding, which promises to be Texas-style big.

Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck are busy laying plans for a January wedding in Mississippi, with traditional white dresses and all the trimmings.

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza have reserved their church for an October wedding in Kentucky, about the time of their 35th anniversary together.

Liz Neidlinger and Erika Doty have their sights set on an outdoor sculpture garden in Michigan next May.

Jon Coffee and Keith Swafford were engaged last October in Tennessee and decided to marry in a year, regardless of court action. If it had to be merely symbolic, that would be sufficient.

What sets the five couples apart from your average wedding planners is a small impediment: They can’t get married in their home states — not yet, anyway. But they’re so confident the Supreme Court will change that in the coming days that they already are making plans for the big day.

Tea, Henri Matisse

Tea, Henri Matisse

Chicago Tribune: Coming gay marriage ruling triggers anticipation, anxiety in gay couples.

Chantel and Marcela Gatica-Haynes, who live in Arizona, were married in a garden ceremony at an Ojai, Calif. bed-and-breakfast on Sept. 7, 2013. The wedding came less than three months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ended Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. They returned home to Flagstaff and were married again last October after a federal judge ruled Arizona’s ban on the marriages was unconstitutional.

Though many observers predict the coming ruling will open the door wider to same-sex marriage, Chantel Gatica-Haynes worries her marriage could be impacted by a ruling against the unions. She worries more that a ruling upholding state bans could affect Marcela’s attempt to adopt Chantel’s 1-year-old daughter, Aspen.

“We’re just in this holding pattern,” she said. “The things that are hanging out there will affect our daughter’s future even when we’re gone.”

More at the link.

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

The Boston Globe: Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision still in question.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, the justices have considered two principal questions:

1) Does the Constitution require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2) If same-sex couples marry in one state, where it’s legal, must other states recognize their marriages?

If the justices say yes on the first question, then same-sex couples in all states will be able to marry. If the justices say no to the first question, but yes to the second, then same-sex marriages will be recognized in every state, but states will not have the duty to marry same-sex couples.

If the justices say no to both questions, then states without same-sex marriage will be neither required to perform same-sex unions, nor to recognize unions performed out of state.

At oral arguments earlier this year, Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely viewed as the swing vote on the case, asked the petitioners early on about the role of the court in changing a definition of marriage that has been used for “millennia,” instead of allowing citizens to engage with the issue through the states.

But Kennedy, who spoke only 17 times during the hearing — the least of any justice barring famously silent Clarence Thomas — also spoke of the ability of same-sex couples to recognize the “nobility and sacredness” of marriage.

Read the rest at the Globe.

TEA PARTY painting

NPR: Maps: What The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage Could Mean.

It’s always tough to predict how the court will rule but, broadly speaking, there are three main possibilities: the simplest is that the court declares state marriage bans unconstitutional, meaning states will all perform and recognize same-sex marriage. That’s a pretty simple outcome, but things get much trickier in the other two cases.

One other possibility is that the court decides to uphold bans. That means states that currently have bans could continue having theirs. But it also leaves 20 states up in the air legally. That group includes states where federal action struck down state bans. If the Supreme Court says bans are constitutional, those states could go back to having bans in place.

And there’s also the possibility of the court saying bans are constitutional, but that all states must all recognize marriages performed in other states. This option retains the messiness of the above possibility, but it does mean that couples would be recognized equally nationwide.

While you can break the decisions down into three neatly color-coded maps, there is a complicated web of state laws at work, and it means outcomes could vary widely by state if the court decides bansare constitutional. Adam Romero, senior counsel at UCLA’s Williams Institute, says the states where federal action struck down state bans are where things could get really complicated.

Read more and check out the maps at the NPR link.

The Affordable Care Act Ruling

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

From New York Magazine: Chief Justice Roberts’s Big Health-Care Moment, by Cristian Farias.

Chief Justice John Roberts has big plans after the end of the current Supreme Court term. He will be hopping on a plane to Japan, half a world away from any fallout that may result in the aftermath of King v. Burwell, the closely watched challenge to the Affordable Care Act. According to SCOTUSblog, that decision could come as early as this Friday.

Three years ago, when Roberts first saved President Obama’s signature law, he headed for the other side of the globe, to Malta — a CBS Newsscoop about a vote switch and internal “arm-twisting” by Roberts aroused such conservative wrath, the Mediterranean island seemed like a good place for him to teach some law and weather the controversy. “After ruling, Roberts makes a getaway from the scorn,” said the Times.

No one knows where the chief justice stands in King, but there are real-world, pragmatic reasons for him to side with the government again — even more so than with NFIB v. Sebelius, which threatened a law still in its infancy and not yet fully implemented. Now the prospects of unraveling insurance markets and millions losing health-care subsidies with an adverse ruling are real, and Roberts more than any of the justices cares about these things because the court bears his name and anything the court does, whether he had something to do with it or not, falls under his legacy. He’s the most accountable member of the least accountable branch.

But consider also that by the time a decision is announced, Roberts will have finished his tenth year on the Supreme Court — a milestone legal scholars and commentators will seize on to discuss that legacy, his jurisprudence, and whether he has delivered on his promise to be the kind of chief justice who merely “calls balls and strikes,” as he famously said during his confirmation hearings. Just yesterday, the Upshot suggested the court is leaning leftward more than any other time in recent history. And other retrospectives have begun to roll out: the Constitutional Accountability Center, a legal advocacy group, has published a series of reports on Roberts’s first decade and his record — on civil rights, campaign finance, access to justice, the environment, equality. The kinds of cases the public cares about. And yes, that includes health care.

Much more interesting analysis at the link.

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Washington Post: Supreme Court ruling could push health industry agenda to back burner — again, by Catherine Ho.

The health care industry was hoping this would be the year it could move beyond the Obamacare fight in Washington and on to new priorities, such as improving drug development and patient care.

But the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in King v. Burwell threatens to derail those ambitions.

Industry advocates are concerned that no matter how the court rules on the legality of certain insurance subsidies provided under the law, the health care debate in Congress will once again become dominated by the political divisions over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“It has the potential for serious chaos and disruption,” said health care lobbyist Ilisa Halpern Paul, who represents hospital systems and health advocacy groups.

The court is expected to rule as early as Thursday on whether to strike down a critical part of the law by invalidating subsidies to 6.4 million Americans in the 34 states that have federally run health insurance exchanges.

If the court rules against the subsidies, Republicans will be scrambling to figure out whether they should find a way to keep them in place until after the 2016 election when they hope a Republican president and GOP-controlled Congress can repeal the law in its entirety. The concern for Republicans is that if they don’t find a way to keep the subsidies in place until a new plan is ready, they will face backlash from constituents who currently use them to offset the cost of their health insurance. The legislative focus on the subsidies would mean all other health-related legislative initiatives that have gained traction recently are likely to come to a halt, at least temporarily.

More at the WaPo.

And some maps of the possible results of the decision at Slate: These Maps Show How Radically the Supreme Court Could Upend the Health Care System.

Once again the fate of the Affordable Care Act rests in the hands of the Supreme Court. In King v. Burwell, the court is weighing whether the federal government can legally provide insurance subsidies to people who have purchased their health care through one of the federally run exchanges in 34 states. Whatever the court decides could also theoretically extend to three other exchanges—in Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon—that are state-based but federally supported. Altogether, roughly $1.7 billion in tax credits and the health insurance of more than six million people is at stake. It’s arguably the biggest existential challenge to Obama’s signature health care reform since the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in 2012.

The crux of the case is a perilous clause buried in the ACA’s hundreds of pages. According to the law’s exact wording, people become eligible for federal insurance subsidies if they’ve purchased care through “an Exchange established by the State.” Because of those last four words, the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argue that federal subsidies can only be available on state-based exchanges, and not on the federally facilitated ones in most of the country. The Obama administration has countered that the purpose of the law is to make health care accessible, and that “established by the State” should be read with that in mind. Several of the people who helped pen the legislation have dismissed the clause as a drafting error.

 Check out the maps at Slate.
The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

Other News, Links Only

#NotOneMore: Undocumented Transgender Woman Who Interrupted President At White House Pride Event Calls to End Deportation.

CNN: Obama shuts down White House heckler: ‘You’re in my house!’

Buzzfeed News: Bobby Jindal’s Plan To Stop Being A Punchline And Actually Win. [Good luck with that.]

Christian Science Monitor: Bobby Jindal was supposed to be the ‘next Reagan.’ What happened? (+video).

Slate: Bernie Sanders, Gun Nut. He supported the most reprehensible pro-gun legislation in recent memory.

NYT: Ex-Advisers Warn Obama that Iran Nuclear Deal “May Fall Short of Standards.”

AP via ABC News: Funeral Plans for South Carolina Church Shooting Victims.

Daily Mail: Harvard professor who covered up Ben Affleck’s slave roots could be dropped from PBS after he is slammed by broadcaster for ‘breaching standards.’

CNN: 2nd prison worker charged in connection with inmates’ escape.

TPM: Lindsey Graham: Charleston Shooter Showed ‘Mideast Hate’ (VIDEO). [WTF?!!]

PIX11.com: Chilling letters from ‘The Watcher’ force NJ family to flee $1.3M dream home.

ABC News: Small Ohio Town Is Focus of FBI Probe After Strange Deaths and Disappearances.

10WAVY.com: NYC: Whole Foods mislabels prepackaged items, overcharges.

WaPo: Whole Foods under investigation for overcharging in NYC.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday.


Tuesday Reads: GOP Anxious About Upcoming SCOTUS Decisions

Oblique_facade_3,_US_Supreme_Court

Good Morning!!

The Supreme Court is in the news today, as its current session approaches its end.

The two most consequential decisions to be announced will have serious implications for the health care system and settle the question of same sex couples should have equal rights to marry and have the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples. Some other important decisions have already been announced.

The Obamacare case is the one making news today, after President Obama spoke publicly about the upcoming decision on the Affordable Care Act yesterday at the G7 Conference in Germany.

Politico reports, Obama: Supreme Court shouldn’t have heard Obamacare challenge.

President Barack Obama expressed deep frustration with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, questioning why justices even took up a case that imperils his signature health insurance reform plan.

The high court is set to issue a decision on the case, known as King v. Burwell, by the end of the month. A ruling against the government would mean that 6.4 million people in the 34 states relying on the federal Healthcare.gov website would be at risk of losing subsidies that make their insurance affordable.

“This should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up,” Obama said at a news conference after the G-7 summit in Krun, Germany. “Since we’re going to get a ruling pretty quick, I think it’s important to assume that the Supreme Court’s going to do what legal scholars would expect them to do.”

Obama repeated the administration’s contention that there’s no contingency plan or fix to keep insurance markets from going into a tailspin, predicting that the justices would decide in his favor. And in any case, he added, Congress could fix the ambiguous phrasing of the health law “with a one-sentence provision.”

Don't take my care

But Republicans made it clear that they aren’t going to allow an easy fix. From Bloomberg, GOP Swiftly Rejects Obama’s ‘One-Sentence Fix’ to Obamacare If Supreme Court Voids Subsidies.

“Let’s be clear: if the Supreme Court rules against the Administration, Congress will not pass a so called ‘one-sentence’ fake fix,” Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, who is leading Republican efforts to craft a contingency plan, said in a statement.

At issue is whether a handful of words in the Affordable Care Act mean the government cannot provide insurance tax credits for millions of Americans in 34 states enrolled through HealthCare.gov, rather than a state exchange. Without the subsidies, insurance will become unaffordable to many and premiums are almost certain to skyrocket across the board. Even so, Barrasso and his fellow Republicans say Obama acted illegally by doling out the subsidies. A victory in the case King v. Burwell would probably create chaos, and ironically put Republicans on the hook for resolving it.

In his statement, Barrasso accused Obama of “bullying the Supreme Court” and said the Republican-led Congress is “prepared to help” Americans who may be harmed.

But is it? Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a contingency plan if the ruling goes their way. A victory could backfire on the GOP without a viable response, as Democrats would be armed with attack ads accusing them of pushing for a ruling that threw millions of Americans off their health care plans without a plan to help them.

Even a simple fix is dangerous for Republicans. Conservative lawmakers in the House worry that a such a move to clarify that the subsidies are available in all 50 states would be attacked by their base as a vote for Obamacare.

Obama care scotus

According to The Hill, Republicans fear they will win ObamaCare court battle.

Republicans in Congress are worried the Supreme Court will hand them a major headache this month if it rules against the federal health insurance exchanges in more than 30 states, ending subsidies for millions of people.

While the Affordable Care Act remains broadly unpopular, two new polls show a majority of Americans don’t want to do away with its subsidies, a core component of the law.

This poses a conundrum for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). They are under pressure from colleagues up for reelection in swing states and districts to extend the subsidies, at least temporarily, if the court strikes them down. But doing so would risk a backlash from the conservative base.

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in King v. Burwell, which could strip 6.4 million people of health insurance subsidies, in late June.

States that would be hardest hit by a ruling against the law include the Senate battlegrounds of Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Greg Sargent at Morning Plum: In battleground states, voters don’t want Supreme Court to gut subsidies.

As your humble blogger has tirelessly reiterated, the states with the highest numbers of people who stand to lose subsidies if the Supreme Court guts them also happen to be the main presidential and Senate battleground states. That overlap could increase the political stakes in the battle that will follow any Court ruling against the ACA.

Now a new Washington Post poll confirms the stakes here. It finds that in many key battleground states, a majority says the Court should not end subsidies for those on the federal exchange.

The Post poll finds that among Americans overall, 55 percent oppose a Court decision killing the subsidies, while only 38 percent support it. Independents oppose such a decision by 57-36, while Republicans are alone in supporting a decision against the ACA by 55-34.

Among the states in which the largest numbers of people may lose subsidiesare Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio. Those are key presidential battlegrounds, and Republicans are defending Senate seats in five of them.

The upcoming marriage equality decision could also backfire on Republicans:

SCOTUS rainbow flag

The LA Times: GOP’s same-sex marriage trap: Conservatives oppose it intensely.

The Supreme Court may be just weeks away from declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage with a ruling likely to trigger public opposition — and private sighs of relief — from most Republican presidential hopefuls.

Why relief? The marriage issue increasingly has become a trap for Republicans, and a Supreme Court decision that takes the matter out of the political process would provide the easiest exit. The court is expected to rule this month on whether the Constitution protects marriage rights for gay couples.

new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center highlights Republicans’ predicament. By 57% to 39%, Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. But among Republicans, only about one-third agree.

Moreover, among those who describe themselves as conservative Republicans, 40% say the issue is “very important” to them, and they overwhelmingly oppose marriage rights for gay couples.

Overall, the poll found, opponents of same-sex marriage are more likely than supporters to describe the issue as “very important.” In part, that may be because about two-thirds of white, evangelical Protestants, who make up a large share of the opposition, say there is “a lot” of conflict between homosexuality and their religious beliefs.

For would-be Republican presidential nominees, that sets up a difficult problem. Support for same-sex marriage rights would put a candidate at odds with a huge bloc of voters in GOP primaries on an issue they deem “very important.” But vocal opposition to those rights would put a candidate out of step with a large and growing majority of the public.

Love is love

Recently announced SCOTUS decisions:

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided that U.S. citizens who were born in Jerusalem cannot list their birthplace as Israel on their U.S. Passports. Richard Wolfe at USA Today:

The Supreme Court declined Monday to insert itself into the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by second-guessing U.S. policy on Jerusalem.

Ruling just a few months after a feud between President Obama and Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu, the justices refused to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to have their passports changed to reflect Israel as their birthplace, as Congress demanded more than a decade ago.

In denying the challenge waged by the Jewish parents of a 12-year-old almost since his birth in 2002, a majority of justices heeded the State Department’s warning that a simple passport alteration could “provoke uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim world.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 6-3 decision for the court, which needed more than seven months following oral arguments in early November to decide the congressional law was unconstitutional. It was the longest-pending high court decision.

“The power to recognize or decline to recognize a foreign state and its territorial bounds resides in the president alone,” Kennedy said, citing examples from the French Revolution in 1793 to President Jimmy Carter’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1979.

Lyle Denniston has a detailed analysis of this decision at SCOTUSblog.

SCOTUS justices

In another interesting decision, the Court let stand a San Francisco gun control law. NPR reports, Supreme Court Rejects NRA Challenge To San Francisco Gun Rules.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to block two San Francisco gun control measures that were fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association. At least one veteran court observer says the high court’s decision raises questions about how the justices interpret the Second Amendment.

First, the basics: A 2007 San Francisco ordinance requires residents to keep handguns under lock and key or to use trigger locks when they are not carrying their weapons. Another law, dating to 1994, bans the sale of ammunition that expands on impact, or hollow-point bullets.

Plaintiff Espanola Jackson and seven other petitioners, including the NRA, filed suit in 2012. They sought an injunction to keep the lockbox law from being enforced. But in March 2014, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the City and County of San Francisco and left both measures intact.

Read more at the link.

Finally a new CNN poll shows that Americans don’t trust the current Supreme Court on “key issues.

With major Supreme Court decisions on health care and same-sex marriage expected this month, many lack trust in the Supreme Court’s handling of those two issues, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

Yet most approve of the way the court is handling its job generally.

A majority, 52%, say they approve of the way the court is handling its job, while 41% disapprove. That’s an improvement from an even 48% to 48% split two years ago. Still, when Americans are asked how much they trust the court on a range of issues it will be considering this term or the next, the worst ratings come on health care and same-sex marriage. Only about half say they have at least a moderate amount of trust in the court on health care (50%) or same-sex marriage (49%). There is more faith in the Supreme Court on other key issues on the docket, with most saying they trust the court at least a moderate amount on freedom of speech (69%), voting rights (65%) and the death penalty (60%).

Read the rest at CNN.

What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread, so please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comments.

 

 


Tuesday Reads: The GOP Clown Car

clown car via crooks and liars

Good Morning!!

In this today’s Washington Post, Dana Millbank belatedly latches onto a very old meme–The Republican field is a clown car–in order to promote one of the clowns.

“If you can’t take a joke,” Lindsey Graham has said , “don’t run for president.”

Graham, a senator from South Carolina and one of umpteen Republicans running for president, can take a joke — which is why he appreciates the absurdity that is the GOP field. There are far too many candidates (so many that there are concerns they won’t all fit on a debate stage), and to gain attention they are juggling, tooting horns and blowing slide whistles like so many painted performers emerging from a clown car.

“I do bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, weddings, funerals — call me, I’ll come,” Graham told a crowd in New Hampshire last month. He said voters should ignore Hillary Clinton and “look to the 35 people running for president on the Republican side. And just shoot up among us until you get one of us out of the tree.”

But what if you are the joke? Just think, Graham could be the first obviously closeted gay man to win the nomination of the party that hates gays and wants them to be second class citizens.

Ted Cruz tried for his 15 minutes of fame by holding the first announcement. Marco Rubio drew thousands to Miami’s Freedom Tower. Mike Huckabee brought in aging crooner Tony Orlando but was easily eclipsed by Ben Carson, who had a musical extravaganza and a video putting the candidate in the company of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

Former New York governor George Pataki, perhaps the smallest of the GOP Lilliputians, announced on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week that . . . he will make his announcement on May 28. Donald Trump announced over the weekend that he would make an announcement in June and that “the announcement is going to surprise a lot of people.”

It would probably surprise a lot of people if Trump said something that made sense.

clown-car

Sigh . . . .

Also in this morning’s WaPo, Bobby Jindal hints that he too will have an important announcement soon: Bobby Jindal launches presidential exploratory committee.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) on Monday formally launched a presidential exploratory committee, the clearest indication yet that he is gearing up for a White House run.

“For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency of our great nation,” Jindal said in a statement. “If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path.”

The Louisiana Republican has made frequent visits to key early voting states in recent months, testing a message centered on the need to “restore the American Dream,” which he says President Obama’s “weak leadership” has diminished. But despite his experience as governor and a compelling personal background as the American-born son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has struggled to make an impact in national polls of potential Republican candidates.

If Jindal does anything “dramatically different,” I’d be stunned. But he’ll just be peddling the usual Koch brothers gibberish to very small audiences.

cpac-clowns

What are the other clown car occupants up to?

Rick Sanatorum has been busy either grossly misinterpreting or blatantly lying about a book he supposedly read.

Buzzfeed: Harvard Professor: Rick Santorum Is Misusing My Book To Say “All Black Men Are Sexual Predators.”

Last week, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum called men who father children with multiple women “sexual predators.”

When making his argument to the socially-conservative Cornerstone organization in New Hampshire, Santorum cited statistics on marriage from Harvard professor Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids.

“Another new statistic just came out in his book. A majority of children being born out of wedlock today in America are born in families where the father is in the home. But they’re not married,” said Santorum. “So they are born to cohabiting couples. So the majority of children born out of wedlock are born to cohabiting couples. And what does Putnam say about these? They stuck to them longitudinally, they never get married. Let me use that term, never, like one or two percent ever get married.

“And he compared it when he was growing up in the 1950s and when children were conceived out of wedlock, what happened in the 1950s,” added Santorum. “We all know what happened in the 1950s and here is the amazing thing, this is Putnam saying this, 80 plus percent of these marriages succeeded.

“And children were raised in stable homes. Now these fathers leave the home and not just father children with that particular women, they father a child with another women, and another and another. We have created predators, sexual predators particularly where, again, Putnam—low income America.”

Voters will spend the next year trying to figure out the different shades of the GOP presidential candidates.

Voters will spend the next year trying to figure out the different shades of the GOP presidential candidates.

Here’s what Putnam had to say about Santorum’s comments.

“I’m a progressive and I think the evidence is that first of all, there has been a collapse in the working family class family, black and white, and that’s bad for kids,” Putnam said responding to Santorum in a speech to promote his book last week.

Putnam said Santorum misinterpreted what he was saying and took advantage of “the fact I was trying to be open.”

“But there is a presidential candidate, who yesterday quoted me as saying therefore—he’s quoted me as saying all black men are sexual predators. I’m not going to say who it is but what I’m trying to say is, he’s a conservative and he took what I was saying and sort of so misinterpreted it that it’s nothing like—it’s just isn’t even in the universe of what I said. But that’s an example of how at least this one guy was in effect taking advantage of the fact that I was trying to be open. He says ‘isn’t it amazing that this liberal’, actually he said ‘this extreme leftist at Harvard acknowledges that blah, blah, blah.’”

Another clown car occupant, Rand Paul wants to eliminate the Department of Education (Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee do too). Think Progress explains: What Would Actually Happen If Rand Paul Eliminated The Department Of Education. According to TP,

We wouldn’t have a federal department to administer Pell Grants to students….

There wouldn’t be any oversight over states when they break civil rights laws….

There wouldn’t be a department to check on rampant inequality between low-income school districts and wealthy districts.

We would have inconsistent education data, as the quality of data would vary among the states….

There would be more gender discrimination within schools….

There would be no way to hold schools accountable for the funds they receive.

Of course for the GOP clowns, those are goals that should be wholeheartedly supported.

gop-clown-car-by-hip-is-everything1

Jeb Bush stumbled out the block and has continued to stumble and stagger on his path to an as-yet unannounced presidential candidacy. Here’s the latest from Reuters, via Yahoo News: Jeb Bush sees no constitutional right to gay marriage.

(Reuters) – Republican Jeb Bush said in a weekend radio interview that he does not believe the Constitution grants a right to gay marriage, emphasizing his support for “traditional marriage.”

The Supreme Court is expected by the end of June to make a landmark ruling that could make gay marriage the law of the land or return the decision to individual states.

“It’s at the core of the Catholic faith and to imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, (a) committed child-centered family system, is hard to imagine,” Bush told the Christian Broadcasting Network show, “The Brody File, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

“So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling because they are going to decide whatever they decide – I don’t know what they are going to do – we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage,” said Bush, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago….

Bush also said in the radio interview that Christian business owners should be able to refuse, “if it’s based on a religious belief,” to provide services to same-sex couples.

MAY15-2016-Republican-ClownCar-500x281

But at Slate, Mark Joseph Stern notes that: Jeb Bush Accidentally Made a Brilliant Argument Against Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty” Laws.

Jeb Bush has an odd conception of liberty. As governor of Florida, Bush strongly opposed same-sex marriage, preferring to force committed gay couples to live as legal strangers with no ability to formally adopt their own children. As his presidential campaign warms up, though, Bush has taken a selectively expansive view of liberty.According to Bush, anti-gay business owners should have a legal right to refuse service to same-sex couples seeking to celebrate their relationship.

Bush’s support for anti-gay “religious liberty” laws are no surprise—unless you happen to have believed that silly BuzzFeed report that he would be “2016’s gay-friendly Republican.” What is surprising is that Bush framed his endorsement of such laws in a way that beautifully illustrates exactly why the usual argument for such laws is so fatuous. Take a look at his comment:

A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs. This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.

At bottom, Bush is arguing that the law should differentiate between identity and conduct. He believes the state may protect gays from discrimination because they’re gay (identity), but not because they’re celebrating a gay relationship (conduct). Unfortunately for Bush, this argument fails quite spectacularly in the wedding context, because homosexuality is an identity defined by its conduct. To be gay is to be attracted to, and maybe marry, someone of the same sex. There is no more fundamental way to discriminate against a gay person than to refuse to serve them based on the fact that they are marrying someone of the same sex.

cartoon-citizens-united-pledge

Koch brothers favorite Scott Walker is having some not-so-funny (from his point of view) problems. He has been a target of corruption investigations for the past couple of years. Now this from The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Records indicate Scott Walker was copied on letter promising loan to donor.

Madison — State records say that Gov. Scott Walker received a copy of a 2011 letter pledging a $500,000 taxpayer loan to a now-defunct Milwaukee construction company headed by a Walker donor, seemingly contradicting statements by the governor and his aides that he was not aware of the award.

A spokeswoman for Walker said that, in spite of the records, a copy of the letter from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was never delivered to the governor’s office.

The Sept. 9, 2011, letter from Paul Jadin, WEDC’s chief executive officer at the time, was sent to William Minahan, owner of Building Committee Inc., a company that is now being sued by WEDC for defaulting on the unsecured loan without delivering the promised project and the jobs it was supposed to create.

Jadin said in his letter of intent that he was writing “on behalf of Governor Scott Walker” and noted “cc: Scott Walker, Governor” at the bottom.

Walker’s top cabinet appointee, then Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, urged WEDC officials to provide the loan, and Walker’s then-chief of staff Keith Gilkes attended an initial meeting on it, according to records provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by the Walker administration.

“In closing Governor Walker and I are firmly committed to doing everything possible to expedite the processing and awarding of this incentive award,” Jadin wrote in the letter.

Read the details at the link.

first-word11

And from the La Crosse Tribune: Hours after damning audit, Scott Walker calls off WEDC-WHEDA merger.

Gov. Scott Walker has cancelled a planned merger of two economic development agencies after a new audit said Walker’s job-creating entity failed to follow statutes or its own policies when making financial awards.

The audit released Friday also says the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. failed to meet all statutory requirements related to program oversight and that staff “did not consistently comply with policies established by WEDC’s own governing board” which is chaired by Walker.

The audit comes as Walker had been calling for a merger of WEDC and WHEDA, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

Within hours of the audit release, Walker issued a statement calling for that merger to be removed from the state budget along with a merger of two other state agencies.

“After hearing concerns from legislators, stakeholders, and the WHEDA and WEDC boards, we asked legislators to remove the proposed agency mergers from the state budget and we asked the bill authors to not move forward with the proposed separate legislation,” Walker said.

Walker also had proposed a merger of the Department of Financial Institutions and the Department of Safety and Professional Services into one regulatory agency. That merger is also cancelled, he said.

Wisconsin Democrats are gloating . . .

“While Scott Walker has completely abandoned Wisconsin to advance his presidential ambitions the continued incompetence and ineptitude at his Economic Disaster Corporation is bordering on criminal negligence at this point,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said in a statement.

Meanwhile, wicked witch Hillary Clinton and her husband (who is a different person) got paid a lot of money for making speeches. Horrors!

 That’s all the clown car news I have room for today. What else is happening?


Friday Reads: A Sign of the Overlord Apocalypse

Good Morning!old store

It’s been since at least November since I’ve had some time to myself when I wasn’t completely in need of tons of sleep so I’m enjoying spending some time in bed with my feet up getting my reads on.  There’s not been a lot that’s intrigued me but it beats designing and updating an on line International Finance Class, believe me.  So, imagine my sheer joy when I found out that Walmart broke down and upped its wages.

There are several reasons the America’s #1 corporation and chain store made the leap.  It was probably a combination of fear of unionization and the incredible employee turnover rate.  It really costs to hire and train new workers so upping the salary is really the required move for that one.  There’s a lot of analysis on the deed so I’d thought I’d take a look at it.  First up, Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic discusses the move.

The CEO of Walmart announced earlier today that all of the company’s employees will, starting in April, be paid at least $9 an hour, nearly $2 more than the federal minimum wage. That’s still far short of the $15 per hour pushed for by OUR Walmart, a union-like group of Walmart workers. Still, it’s a change for a company that has stubbornly opposed such a raise for years.

Walmart’s CEO framed the raise as an act of corporate benevolence, but the reason his company will inch closer to paying all its employees fair wages has little to do with goodwill (few business decisions do). If Walmart has determined that it’ll need to start paying higher wages to stay competitive, then other retailers might arrive at the same conclusion. This isn’t an isolated act of corporate social responsibility—it’s a response to the current realities of labor economics that will likely inform the behavior of other American employers.

1922_Detroit_storeThis is a pretty good sign that the economy is doing well enough that workers are beginning to be able to trade up to better jobs.  It’s the best sign that I’ve seen yet that the economy has really started to recover from the financial crisis. 

Some companies have set even higher wage floors more in line with living wage expectations. Most recently, for example, Aetna set its floor for US workers at $16 an hour, twice the current federal minimum wage.

Higher wages are exactly what the financial doctors have ordered to cure America’s ailing economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, it would take a wage growth of at least 3.5% to 4% for workers to feel the impact of the recovery. In 2014, the average hourly pay went up by just 1.7%.

“Raising wages among low-wage workers shifts income into the pockets of workers and families that are highly likely to quickly spend every additional dollar they earn,” says David Cooper, economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute.

“So even though some businesses have to pay their workers more, they see more customers coming through the door because now there’s additional dollars rippling out through local economies in a way that doesn’t really happen if those dollars just go back into the bank accounts of corporate shareholders.”

It’s taken awhile for the plight of low income workers to attract any kind of attention from decision makers despite the huge amount of media attention focused on income inequality and the general lack of demand at stores that cater to the majority of Americans.  Sooner or later, something had to give.  It certainly wasn’t going to be any Republican-led legislature.

So what has changed? The simple answer is that the world for employers is very different with a 5.7 percent unemployment rate (the January level) than it was five years ago, at 9.8 percent. Finding qualified workers is harder for employers now than it was then, and their workers are at risk of jumping ship if they don’t receive pay increases or other improvements. Apart from pay, Walmart executives said in their conference call with reporters that they were revising their employee scheduling policies so that workers could have more predictability in their work schedules and more easily get time off when they needed it, such as for a doctor’s appointment.

The giant question now is not whether there will be some meaningful wage gains in 2015; beyond the anecdotal evidence from Walmart and Aetna, the collapse in oil prices means even modest pay increases will translate into quite large inflation-adjusted raises. The question is whether wage gains will be strong enough to create a virtuous cycle in which rising pay for the workers at the bottom three-quarters of the income scale, who are most likely to spend the money and get it circulating through the economy, will spur more investment and hiring.

To the degree their logic was, “We think we’re going to need to raise wages this much in the next couple of years anyway to retain good workers and maximize profitability, so we may as well get ahead of the curve and get a public relations bump out of it and announce the plans in a big splashy way,” that would be the best news for American workers. Because that would imply that it won’t just be Walmart workers getting a raise in 2015.

Other news this week is not as good.  We continue to see people justify their bigotry through religious beliefs. Judges around the country aren’t buying it but the justification is popping up in some really odd places including a pediatrician who wouldn’t accept a 6 day old as a patient because her parents are lesbians. 160376_large

Sitting in the pediatrician’s office with their 6-day-old daughter, the two moms couldn’t wait to meet the doctor they had picked out months before.

The Roseville pediatrician — one of many they had interviewed — seemed the perfect fit: She took a holistic approach to treating children. She used natural oils and probiotics. And she knew they were lesbians.

But as Jami and Krista Contreras sat in the exam room, waiting to be seen for their newborn’s first checkup, another pediatrician entered the room and delivered a major blow: The doctor they were hoping for had a change of heart. After “much prayer,” she decided that she couldn’t treat their baby because they are lesbians.

Doctor’s letter: Why she wouldn’t care for baby with 2 moms

“I was completely dumbfounded,” recalled Krista Contreras, the baby’s biological mother. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Did we hear that correctly?’ …. When we tell people about it, they don’t believe us. They say, ‘(Doctors) can’t do that. That’s not legal.’ And we say, ‘Yes it is.'”

The Contrerases of Oak Park are going public with their story to raise awareness about the discrimination that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community continues to face. There is no federal or Michigan law that explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals.

For months, the couple kept quiet about what happened to them and their baby — Bay Windsor Contreras — at Eastlake Pediatrics last October.

But the pain and frustration wouldn’t go away. So they broke their silence.

“We want people to know that this is happening to families. This is really happening,” said Jami Contreras, 30, who was blindsided that fall day in the doctor’s office. “It was embarrassing. It was humiliating … It’s just wrong.”

Old shops and stores in N.J (10)A judge in Washington state has made a meaningful decision on a Florist that refused service to a gay couple seeking flowers for their wedding.  The bottom line is that religion is not an excuse to refuse public accommodation under the law.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom rejected arguments from the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland that her actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion. While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren’t necessarily protected, he said.

“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Ekstrom wrote. “The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”

Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, sold flowers for years to customer Robert Ingersoll. She knew he was gay and that the flowers were for his partner, Curt Freed.

After Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, Ingersoll went to the shop the following spring to ask Stutzman to do the flowers for his wedding. At the time, floral arrangements for weddings made up about 3 percent of her business.

She placed her hands on his and told him she couldn’t, “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said in a deposition. As a Southern Baptist, she believed only in opposite-sex marriages.

046618-unley-supermarket-grocery-storePeople use just about anything to justify bigotry but religion seems to be a source of refuge for a huge part of the hate-based discrimination.  You may want to take a look at a new documentary called “Hate in America” if you’d like to hear more about all the issues every one has with bigots.

For more than 30 years, Emmy-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and Al Jazeera America anchor Tony Harris has reported on senseless and vicious acts of violence, many fueled by intolerance, fear and hate. In the new Investigation Discovery one-hour special HATE IN AMERICA, Harris partners with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit that has been tracking hate groups across the country since 1971, and NBC News’ award-winning production arm Peacock Productions, to examine the current realities of intolerance in America.

According to the SPLC, more than 900 active hate groups currently exist across the United States, from neo-Nazis to anti-government militias, targeting entire classes of people for their race, religion, and sexuality, among other immutable characteristics. Largely propagated by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy and the diminishing white majority, that number has been on the rise for over a decade.

Traveling to communities torn apart by violence, Harris pulls back the curtain on what drives modern-day hate, and comes face to face with its victims to examine HATE IN AMERICA.

HATE IN AMERICA premieres on Investigation Discovery on Monday, February 23, at 8/7c.

I’ve often wondered why my attitude towards shopping has changed over time.  I used to love going to the big stores downtown and the clerks all seemed so cheery and glamorous.  The buildings were vast and had huge tall ceilings supported by ornate columns.  The window decorations were incredible during the holidays and they were up such a short period that you had to rush down there just to catch them. It was fun to walk from store to store and each store had its on personality and personalities.  This is so different from today’s megastore where every one is rude and seems to only care about low priced junk. The aisles are tight and packed with crap and the crap is hard to find.  There is very little help and only cashiers in far off places.

I used to think I started disliking stores and shopping just because I’d worked so much retail in high school and college. But, I still love to hit little antique stores in quaint places and will take hours staring down some bargain. I figured I’d just burned out on the entire store experience from those years. But, I still love hopping around the big stores in NYC and I used to love hitting the Maison Blanche in downtown New Orleans when I first moved here.  So much of the things I enjoyed about shopping as a customer are gone.  Also, when I was small, even retail store owners and employees had civilized work hours.  Now, all I can think about it how grumpy every one looks and how junky the merchandise has become since they work night and day on every day imaginable. I’ve taken to ordering a lot of stuff on line just to avoid the overall experience of the ugly buildings, merchandise and people.  The thought of going to a Walmart stresses me out. It’s something I avoid if I can.  So, I don’t know.  What happened?

Whatever happened to a fun day at a store?  Oh, well.  Everything changes and now it’s just all about returning profits to a few at the inconvenience and dismay of the many.

So, those are the two interrelated topics that I’ve been investigating this week.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: Valentine’s Day Blizzard Edition

Computer simulation of the wind field associated with the New England storm on Feb. 15, 2015.

Computer simulation of the wind field associated with the New England storm on Feb. 15, 2015 (image from Earth Simulator at earth.nullschool.net.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

To anyone who aren’t jaded by past relationship experiences, I wish you a wonderful, romantic day. For the rest of us, it’s Saturday, and that’s nice too. For millions of people in the upper Midwest and New England, it’s just one more blizzard. Ho-Hum {yawn}.

Michigan was in the eye of the storm last night, and later today it will hit the Boston area. Once again, the storm is going to be at its worst along the coast, including in the Greater Boston area. From NBC News: Northeast Braced for Blizzard as Another Winter Storm Looms.

Fifty million Americans were braced for another punishing winter blast Saturday – even as the Northeast was digging out from three major storms in as many weeks.

Twenty-six states were under weekend winter weather warnings, with no sign of an end in sight to the freezing conditions.

Some of the coldest air in the past 20 years will be accompanied by winds approaching hurricane force — and, for the snow-battered coast of New England, what could be a paralyzing blizzard.

A blizzard watch was in effect from the Maine-Canada border south to Long Island and a winter storm watch was in place for New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

We’ve been under a blizzard warning her since yesterday afternoon, but we’re not supposed to get the really high winds until tomorrow. From Mashable: The upcoming Boston blizzard may be equivalent to Category 2 hurricane.

UPDATED 4 p.m. ET: The National Weather Service upgraded the blizzard watch to a blizzard warning for Boston, which is in effect from Saturday at 7 p.m. ET to Sunday at 11 a.m. ET. The blizzard warnings and watches stretch from Cape Cod all the way to the border between Maine and Canada. The NWS is forecasting between 10 to 14 inches of snow in Boston on top of the three to four feet already on the ground, and is also warning of a life-threatening combination of powerful winds and cold temperatures during and in the wake of the storm through Sunday.

The powerful Valentine’s Day storm set to blast eastern New England this weekend with roaring, frigid winds, heavy snow and pounding surf will be so strong that it can be compared in some ways to a Category 2 hurricane.

Fortunately, though, it will not bring the same impacts as a hurricane of that intensity, but its effects on multiple locations — from Providence and Boston to Portland and Bangor, Maine — will be similar to a winter hurricane, with power outages, tree and structural damage, and coastal flooding. Depending on the storm’s exact track, it could dump a foot or more of additional snow in the Boston area, with even more snow in coastal New Hampshire and Maine.

Yup. The good news is that we’re only expecting about a foot of snow this time. After I managed to dig myself out of the last storm all by myself (a little bit at a time), I’m feeling pretty confident I can handle one more foot of snow. Of course there are predictions of more snow for Tuesday and next weekend, but those are puny little 3-5 inch storms. I went to the grocery store yesterday, and I’m all stocked up. I know I won’t get out again for several days, but I’ll deal with it.

Meanwhile how much snow will the Boston area have gotten if the predictions for this storm hold true? Check out this image from the National Weather Service, via Mashable:

Snowfall-projected

So what should I do while I’m trapped in the house today, tomorrow, and who knows how many days after that? I could watch some of these “kickass sci-fi/fantasy” movies at The Mary Sue blog (I found it by following one of JJ’s links from last night’s post).

10 Kick-Ass Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movies on Netflix to Celebrate Valentine’s Day With

For some, Valentine’s Day is a day for love, sex, ’n’ romance. For others, it’s… not. Options include: Be Bitter About Your Love Life Day! Be Defensive About Your Lack of Love Life Day! Day Before Discount Candy Day! Or… drumroll…SATURDAY! Regardless of how you choose to live your life, not all of us will be sopping up the rom-com vibes come the fourteenth. For you lovely bastards, I present this list of ten kick-ass action movies to stream on Netflix while all your be-coupled friends are off being all lovey-dovey.

Or, hey, how about some of you watch one of these with your equally-badass significant others? Screw The Notebook. Definitely screw 50 Shades of Grey. (Or don’t screw 50 Shades of Grey. That shit’s gross.) BE BOLD!

Check out the list at the link and see what you think.

valentine-roses

Or I could catch up on the latest political and foreign affairs news. Here are just a few of today’s top stories.

BBC News, Ukraine crisis: Poroshenko says peace deal in danger.

The Ukrainian president has warned a deal to end the war in the east is in “great danger” after heavy fighting ahead of Saturday night’s ceasefire.

Petro Poroshenko also accused Russia of “significantly increasing” its offensive in spite of the peace agreement reached in Minsk on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the US said it was very concerned by reports of heavy weapons coming across the border from Russia.

Big surprise, right? CNN has more details, Shelling in Ukraine cities ahead of midnight ceasefire.

Mariupol, Ukraine (CNN)Shelling could be heard in two eastern Ukrainian cities Saturday morning ahead of a midnight ceasefire deadline, raising fears that the deal to end a bitter 10-month-long conflict may be in jeopardy.

Both incoming and outgoing artillery could be seen in the vicinity of the coastal city of Mariupol, and there was significant shelling in rebel-held Donetsk through the morning, CNN teams reported….

Poroshenko said that after the agreement reached Thursday by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, the offensive against Ukrainian troops by the separatists had intensified.

The separatists may be trying to take control of strategic locations, such as the railroad hub of Debaltseve to the north, before the ceasefire lines are drawn. Pro-Kiev militia have also been pushing forward around government-controlled Mariupol.

Much more at the link.

add9a273

Canada says they have prevented a serious attack that didn’t involve Islamic terrorists. CBS News reports:

TORONTO — Canadian authorities said Saturday that a foiled Valentine’s Day mass murder plot in Halifax was not related to Islamic terrorism.

“This appeared to be a group of murderous misfits that were coming here, or were living here, and prepared to wreak havoc and mayhem on our community,” Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay said. “It would have been devastating. Mass casualties were a real possibility.”

MacKay said all the suspects have been arrested or are dead. He said police would release more information publicly later Saturday. He credited police for their quick action.

A senior police official told The Associated Press that the two suspects were planning to go to a mall and kill as many people as they could before committing suicide.

According to the Globe and Mail,

Mr. MacKay [said that the] group’s motivation…seemed to be “quite random”. “It didn’t appear to be any specific philosophy that motivated this,” he said. “So there is no clear line … there is a very grey area in terms of anyone who would do this for any reason,” he said.

Police have yet to say what was motivating the four young people – three men from Nova Scotia and a woman from Illinois.

Referring to today being Valentine’s Day, Mr. MacKay said: “A day known to represent love and affection would have taken on a much different meaning today.”

“Based on what we know so far it would have been devastating,” he said. “Mass casualties were a real possibility.”

valentines-day-comment-050

Just a short time ago today, there was an attack on a “free speech event” in Copenhagen. NBC News reports:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish media say several shots have been fired at a cafe in Copenhagen where a meeting about freedom of speech was being held, organized by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous threats for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad in 2007. The TV2 channel said Saturday there were some 30 bullet holes in the window of the Krudttoenden cafe and said at least two people were taken away on stretchers, including a uniformed police officer. NBC News has not immediately confirmed the details.

Helle Merete Brix, one of the organizers of the event, told The Associated Press that Vilks was present at the event but not injured. When the artist is in Denmark, he receives police protection. The cafe in northern Copenhagen, known for its jazz concerts, was hosting an event titled “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression” when the shots were fired. Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, told the TV2 channel that he saw two wounded people.

I guess we’ll be hearing more about that later today.

Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon resigned yesterday in the wake of a scandal involving his fiancee, who has been acting as the state’s first lady.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned effective Wednesday, Feb. 18, in a letter submitted to Secretary of State Kate Brown.

“I am announcing today that I will resign as Governor of the State of Oregon,” he wrote in a statement released just after noon Friday.

Brown, also a Democrat, will be sworn in as Oregon’s 37th governor, but the timing of that ceremony is uncertain.

In just four months, a public corruption scandal involving Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, has hobbled one of Oregon’s most durable politicians. Kitzhaber, a public official for 37 years, was sworn in for a historic fourth term as governor just a month ago. Facing not only a state criminal investigation and an ethics review, Kitzhaber watched his support from fellow veteran lawmakers crumble this week.

The governor’s resignation does not end either the criminal investigation or ethics review.

images

The Oregonian has more details on the scandal, Massive FBI investigation targets Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Cylvia Hayes, and the Washington Post has a profile of Kitzhaber’s successor, This woman will soon become the first openly bisexual governor in American history.

In Alabama, the fight against allowing same sex couples to marry appears to be failing, according to The Washington Post, A majority of Alabama counties are now issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Two-thirds of Alabama counties have agreed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to gay rights groups, a dramatic turnaround from earlier this week when all but a handful were holding the licenses back.

The change in policy came after a federal judge on Thursday ordered officials in Mobile County to comply with her ruling striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The decision led a number of probate judges to conclude that the ruling also applies to them, even though they got conflicting orders from the state’s chief justice, Roy Moore.

“Once that was done yesterday, [the probate judge] was satisfied we wouldn’t end up in a lawsuit or in trouble, so we’re doing it,” said a woman who identified herself as a manager in the Cherokee County probate office, one of at least 42 counties where same-sex marriage licenses are now available in Alabama, according to Equality Alabama, a local gay rights group. The manager declined to give her name because she wasn’t authorized to speak for the office.

“It wasn’t ever a thing of us not wanting to, morally or religiously, we were just kind of waiting for clarification,” she said.

Several counties indicated they would begin issuing the licenses next week. Still, that left about 20 of the state’s 67 counties as apparent holdouts.

And The New York times has a nice profile of an Alabama gay couple who have “tr[ied] to wed, early and often.”

flowers

Finally, an Appeal for Help from Sky Dancers

Before I sign off, I need to ask our readers for some help for my dear friend Dakinikat. Although she rarely complains, Kat has struggled for the past 4-5 years with chronic pain and an inability to walk or stand for any length of time because of untreatable dermatitis on her feet. At times her feet bleed and she has to go through multiple changes of socks in the course of a day. She has tried every possible treatment for the condition, but nothing seems to work for any length of time.

For the past 3 years Kat has essentially been disabled. Frankly,  just getting out of the house to buy groceries is a painful process for her. It is even difficult for her to do daily tasks around the house like laundry and loading the dishwasher.

Kat has been doing her best to support herself with an on-line teaching job that she can do at home, but the work pays so poorly that IMHO, it amounts to slave labor. It hasn’t been enough to cover her mortgage and other basic expenses. As a result, Kat was forced to dip into her savings and at this point the money she had saved for retirement is nearly gone.

The three of us writers work very hard to produce interesting posts 7 days a week. All three of us are struggling financially and in other ways, but we take pride in this blog and the work we have done to sustain it for quite a few years now. But this blog would be nothing without Dakinikat. I well remember what a relief it was to come here after the difficulties many of us experienced at another place. I’m sure a number of you also recall those days. Kat is the one who opened her personal blog to us and who has taken responsibility for maintaining and improving the blog design over the years.

Right now, Kat is truly in desperate straits. I suggested that we should ask for contributions to help tide her over until she can either find more work or figure out what else she can do to make ends meet–perhaps by moving to a state that isn’t being bankrupted by its own governor.

If you have appreciated this blog over the years and you can afford to give something, I would be eternally grateful. We seldom ask for donations at Sky Dancing; we do this because we love to write and we’re fascinated by politics and current events. But this is a special case. Kat has been a wonderful friend to me–and to others here as well–and I hate to see her struggling like this. Please help if you can afford it–if you can’t, I totally understand. But I had to ask. Thanks so much for reading this and for whatever you can do to help.

What stories are you following today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great weekend!


Lazy Saturday Reads

NYC Newsstand on a rainy day

NYC Newsstand on a rainy day.

 

Good Afternoon!!

First, I want to thank everyone who responded to our request for help with blog expenses. We are so fortunate to have such kind and loyal readers. You guys are the greatest!

The biggest story on my mind today is the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on the same-sex marriage issue. I have to admit, I’m very nervous about it. What if the Court rules that states can ban same-sex marriages and refuse to recognize such marriages from other states? Some background from SCOTUS blog:

Taking on a historic constitutional challenge with wide cultural impact, the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon agreed to hear four new cases on same-sex marriage.   The Court said it would rule on the power of the states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in another state.  A total of two-and-a-half hours was allocated for the hearings, likely in the April sitting.  A final ruling is expected by early next summer, probably in late June.

The Court fashioned the specific questions it is prepared to answer, but they closely tracked the two core constitutional issues that have led to a lengthy string of lower-court rulings striking down state bans.  As of now, same-sex marriages are allowed in thirty-six states, with bans remaining in the other fourteen but all are under court challenge.

Although the Court said explicitly that it was limiting review to the two basic issues, along the way the Justices may have to consider what constitutional tests they are going to apply to state bans, and what weight to give to policies that states will claim to justify one or the other of the bans….

The focus of the Court’s review will be a decision issued in early November by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  That decision, breaking ranks with most other courts, upheld bans on marriage or marriage-recognition in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Friday’s order granted review of one petition from each of those states; the petitions phrase the two basic issues in somewhat different ways, which is why the Court rewrote them to make specifically clear what it intended to review.

The Kentucky case (Bourke v. Beshear) raises both of the issues that the Court will be deciding, the Michigan case (DeBoer v. Snyder) deals only with marriage, and the Ohio (Obergefell v. Hodges) and Tennessee cases (Tanco v. Haslam) deal only with the recognition question. If customary practice is followed, the first case listed in the order — the Ohio case Obergefell v. Hodges — will become the historic title for the final ruling.

kkk-supreme-court

The problem for the conservative justices will be that public opinion has shifted so rapidly on this issue–if they decide to limit the civil rights of LGBT Americans, there would probably be a serious backlash. From The Washington Post:

The country’s first same-sex marriage, the result of a Massachusetts court decision, took place less than 11 years ago. Now, more than 70 percent of Americans live in states where same-sex couples are allowed to marry, according to estimates.

The questions raised in the cases that the court will consider this spring were left open in 2013 when the justices last confronted the issue of same-sex marriage. A slim majority said at the time that a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — withholding recognition of same-sex marriages — was unconstitutional and in a separate case allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Since then, courts across the nation — with the notable exception of the Cincinnati appeals court — have struck down a string of state prohibitions on same-sex marriage, many of them passed by voters in referendums. Many of those court decisions compared the prohibitions to the ones on interracial marriage that the Supreme Court struck down in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.

When the Supreme Court declined to review a clutch of those decisions in October, same-sex marriage proliferated across the country.

Couples may now marry in 36 states and the District. Three in four same-sex couples live in a state where they are allowed to wed, according to estimates by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Chief Justice John Roberts will have to keep all that in mind if he cares about his place in history.

Rand Paul

While we’re talking about the conservative trend on the Supreme Court, take a look at this sobering article at Think Progress: If You Want To Understand What’s Happened To The Supreme Court, You Need To Listen To Rand Paul.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is an odd place to seek counsel on the Constitution. As a Senate candidate in 2010, Paul told a Louisville editorial board that he opposed the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters, claiming that the right of “private ownership” should trump the right to be free from racist discrimination. Opposing a core protection for racial minorities, according to Paul, is “the hard part about believing in freedom.” He later suggested that civil rights laws targeting private businesses may exceed Congress’s power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause — a view the Supreme Court unanimously rejected in 1964.

Yet the Heritage Foundation, one of the backbones of the conservative movement in Washington, DC, invited Paul to speak at length on the Constitution and the role of the judiciary earlier this week. If the audience was upset that voters sometimes elect leaders who disagree with the Heritage Foundation, they were no doubt enraptured by Paul’s vision for the courts. Senator Paul’s speech was a repudiation of democracy, and he called for the Supreme Court to assume a dominant role in setting American policy that it abandoned three generations ago. Under Paul’s vision, the minimum wage is forbidden and union busting is constitutionally protected. The New Deal is an illegitimate expansion of federal power, and more recent efforts to ensure that no one dies because they cannot afford health care are an abomination.

“I’m a judicial activist,” Paul proudly proclaimed.

Nevertheless, Paul’s speech to the Heritage Foundation is worth watching in its entirety. It lays out a vision that is closer than the Court’s current precedents suggest, and that could easily become a reality if the Court’s older members are replaced by younger conservatives. Moreover, as I explain in my book, Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, a Supreme Court committed to Paul’s economic agenda would hardly be unprecedented in American history. If anything, Paul is asking the Court to return to its self-appointed role as the vanguard against democracy.

It’s a fairly long piece, but please go read the rest if you can.
ron paul disability
Rand Paul is running for president, and he was up in New Hampshire this week, and he took the opportunity to attack the Social Security disability program. Remember the Republicans have already undercut this program with a rules change.
From The Boston Globe, Rand Paul tests, and roils, the political waters in N.H.
While state legislators ate eggs and drank coffee in a Manchester diner, Paul suggested that half of the recipients of federal disability relief are “gaming the system” because they are able to work. He also told them the arguments against building the Keystone XL pipeline are “this sort of Luddite, flat-earth, that my goodness we shouldn’t have cars” mentality.
Paul shared his reactionary ideas about some other topics like his goal of abolishing the Department of Education, but
It was Paul’s comments about disability benefits that drew the most attention, largely because Democrats quickly pounced.

During a question-and-answer period, Paul was asked about government programs and welfare.

“You know, the thing is that all of these programs — there’s always somebody who is deserving. Everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system,” said Paul.

“What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check,” Paul said. “You know, over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a back pain.”

Really? I’m over 60, and I might get a little bit stiff sometimes, but I certainly don’t have chronic back pain. Let’s see what the fact checkers have to say about Paul’s claim.

Politifact

Politifact: Rand Paul says most people receive disability for back pain, anxiety.

You can read the whole article for the details and some caveats, but here’s the bottom line:

Paul said, “Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.”

The numbers don’t add up. The two broader disability categories that include back pain (“diseases of the musculoskeletal system”) and anxiety disorders (“mental disorders – other”) don’t even equal close to 50 percent, let alone those two ailments by themselves.

Paul’s quip might make for a good soundbite, but it’s not rooted in reality. We rate the statement False.

As for people “gaming the system,” Politifact notes a report from the Government Accountability Office that estimated that

…in fiscal year 2011, the Social Security Administration made $1.29 billion in potential cash benefit overpayments to about 36,000 individuals who were working and making more than $1,100 a month (the limit to receive disability benefits).

The 36,000 people receiving improper payments, while a lot on paper, represent about 0.4 percent of all beneficiaries, the report said.

Talking Points Memo posted a video of three “christian” men “apologizing” to women for allowing them to have abortions. It’s the most patronizing bit of mansplaining I’ve seen I’ve seen in a very long time. From TPM:

“I conceded to an abortion,” Pastor Shane Idleman says. “That decision still haunts me today.”

Against a montage of giggling, joyful children and babies, the men discuss how much they regret the decision and take responsibility for letting down God, women and their unborn children.

“I should’ve manned up and I should’ve fought for you and — I didn’t,” John Blandford says. “I didn’t.”

Then come the apologies to all women who have had an abortion, women who have been “subjected to such a terrible thing,” women who “no one tried to rescue,” and women who have “tried to hide this from everyone.”

“I’m sorry for men not taking a greater stand in this area,” Idleman says.

“I’m sorry that, I’m sorry that this is available,” Daniel Phillips says.

But don’t worry all you sinful women “hid[ing] in shame and darkness,” you can always repent and ask god to forgive you. Watch the video yourself if you can stomach it.

Here’s an interesting story from Slate’s Hanna Rosin about the “free range parenting movement.”

Police Investigate Family for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone. Parents, We All Need to Fight Back.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a 10-year old Maryland boy named Rafi and his 6-year old sister, Dvora, walked home by themselves from a playground about a mile away from their suburban house. They made it about halfway home when the police picked them up. You’ve heard these stories before, about what happens when kids in paranoid, hyperprotective America go to and from playgrounds alone. I bet you can guess the sequence of events preceding and after: Someone saw the kids walking without an adult and called the police. The police tracked down the kids and drove them home. The hitch this time is, when the police got there, they discovered that they were meddling with the wrong family.

chidlren

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv explicitly ally themselves with the “free range” parenting movement, which believes that children have to take calculated risks in order to learn to be self-reliant. Their kids usually even carry a card that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid,” although they didn’t happen to have it that day. They had carefully prepared their kids for that walk, letting them go first just around the block, then to a library a little farther away, and then the full mile. When the police came to the door, they did not present as hassled overworked parents who leave their children alone at a playground by necessity, or laissez-faire parents who let their children roam wherever, but as an ideological counterpoint to all that’s wrong with child-rearing in America today. If we are lucky, the Meitivs will end up on every morning talk show and help convince American parents that it’s perfectly OK to let children walk without an adult to the neighborhood playground.

Perhaps if they had been black and lived in South Carolina, they would have been arrested like Debra Harrell, the single mother who let her daughter go to the playground while she was working at McDonald’s. As white suburban professionals, the Meitivs experienced a lower level of intrusion, but still one that would make any parent bristle. The police asked for the father’s ID, and when he refused, called six patrol cars as backup. Alexander went upstairs, and the police called out that if he came down with anything else in his hand “shots would be fired,” according to Alexander. (They said this in front of the children, Alexander says.) Soon after, a representative from Montgomery County Child Welfare Services came by and required that the couple sign a “safety plan” promising not to let the children go unsupervised until the following week, when another CPS worker would talk to them. At first, the dad refused, but then the workers told him they would take the kids away if he did not sign.

It’s a thought-provoking piece. Read more at the link.

Masha

Finally, a feel-good story, thanks to Ralph B., who posted it on Facebook.

From The Washington Post: Russia’s heroic cat Masha: She’s credited with saving an abandoned infant from winter’s deep freeze.

Masha the cat – as the stray is called by the residents of the building she calls home in Obninsk – found the infant in an entryway Saturday night and climbed into the box in which the baby had been left.

One of the building’s residents heard the cat and the baby’s cries. At first, Nadezhda Makhovikova just thought she was hearing Masha in some sort of distress. “When I went down, I saw it was a baby crying,” Makhovikova told REN TV earlier this week.

Reports said the baby had been left with a pacifier, bottle and diapers, and was dressed warmly, wearing a little hat, as residents described him – though he likely would have had difficulty staying warm enough to survive a whole night in the sub-freezing temperatures in the area.

Residents called an ambulance, which whisked the baby away to a local hospital – but not before Masha would try to accompany the baby on the way.

Here’s a video about Masha. It’s in Russian, but you can get the gist.

 

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the long weekend!