RTT News: Dark Chocolate May Improve Walking Ability.
I’ve got all kinds of personal reasons to hope that when the Supreme Court decides King v. Burwell next month that one just one Republican-appointed justice will consider the complaint trivial and it will be dismissed. That’s because I will be among the millions of people that will lose their health care. Jonathan Chait-writing for New York Magazine--wonders if that’s really what Republicans want in the year running up to a Presidential election.
Next month, the Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell. If all five Republican appointees support the plaintiffs (there’s no chance any of the Democrat-appointed justices will take the lawsuit seriously), some 7 million Americans will quickly lose their insurance. The prospect that this will occur has induced a wave of panic — not among the customers at risk of losing their insurance, who seem largely unaware, nor even among Obamacare’s Democratic supporters, but among Republicans. The chaos their lawsuit would unleash might blow back in a way few Republicans had considered until recently, and now, on the eve of a possible triumph, they find themselves scrambling to contain the damage. It is dawning on the Grand Old Party that snatching health insurance away from millions of helpless victims is not quite as rewarding as expected.
Unlike the Obamacare lawsuit that failed three years ago, the latest case is not based on a radical legal theory. Instead it is based on a novel reading of legislative history. The law allows states to set up their own exchanges to sell insurance to those who don’t have it through employer coverage, Medicare, or Medicaid. If states don’t establish an exchange, the federal government sets one up for them and, as it does with the state exchanges, offers customers tax credits. The trouble is that the law authorizing tax credits defines the exchange as “established by the state.” This ambiguity — does “by the state” not also mean the federal government? — was a technical omission. Many other parts of the law indicate its intent to make tax credits available to customers on the federal and the state exchanges alike.
The plaintiffs are led by a Vietnam veteran in Virginia named David King who makes $39,000 a year and objects to having to purchase insurance on a federal exchange. He would be exempt from this requirement were he not eligible for the tax credit — his $275 monthly payment would rise to a disqualifyingly unaffordable $648 — and this exemption, his lawyers argue, was exactly Congress’s intent. Without tax credits, the insurance would be unaffordable to most customers, triggering an actuarial death spiral that would destroy the individual insurance market in any state that attempted it. The plaintiffs insist Congress created the threat of self-destructing federal exchanges to coerce states into creating their own. (Disregard the copious evidence that the law’s drafters, and officials at the state level in both parties, believed federal exchanges would include tax credits.)
The lawsuit works more on the level of an elaborate prank than as a serious reading of the law. And yet it stands at least some chance of success — it only needs to persuade Republican-appointed judges. That prospect has grown suddenly unnerving because, unlike previous Republican efforts to strangle the law, the current one comes as Obamacare is functioning extremely well. Premiums on the exchanges have come in well under projected costs, customers report higher satisfaction with their coverage than those who have employer-sponsored insurance, and overall medical costs have grown far below the projected rate. It is one thing to take away a scheduled future subsidy, of which most intended beneficiaries are unaware. It is quite another to take away a benefit they’re already using.
Can you imagine the optics of people being taken off chemotherapy, dialysis, or insulin shots? So, Republicans are gearing up a way to blame it on Obama or trying to find a way to get the extreme right to compromise and provide a short term extensions of the credits should SCOTUS agree with the plaintiffs.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has likewise warned that a successful lawsuit would create problems. “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. For decades, medical deprivation of this sort used to be a uniquely American fact of life, at least among industrialized countries. Obamacare has turned it into something different: an actual political problem for opponents of universal health insurance.
Neither Johnson nor Sasse has a real plan designed to stop those horrors from taking place. Instead, their aim is to give Republicans a way to divert the blame onto Obama. The party is circulating contingency plans to temporarily restore the tax credits in exchange for crippling the law in other ways. Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator turned conservative-think-tank “visiting scholar” and financial-industry lobbyist, has proposed that Republicans pass a bill to temporarily extend the credits in return for eliminating the law’s regulations prohibiting insurance companies from rejecting old or sick customers. Competing proposals by Johnson and Sasse would likewise weaken Obamacare’s insurance regulations, ultimately destroying the law’s functionality. Gramm evenacknowledges that his plan “would put Obamacare on the path to extinction.” Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.
At that point, it will fall to the states to either establish their own exchanges or watch their individual-insurance markets collapse. Neither option is terribly attractive for Republicans. The former means surrender. Doing nothing means sowing chaos, deprivation, and death. Will Republicans let this happen?
Legal Analyst and Lawyer Jeffrey Toobin has a lengthy article in The New Yorker examining the issues.
So that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans. As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”
No, it’s not. If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party. To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.
Republicans, of course, will encourage this sentiment. The precise legal claim in King v. Burwell is an esoteric one. It is not based on a claim that Obamacare is unconstitutional. (The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law three years ago.) Rather, the central assertion by the plaintiffs is that the Obama Administration violated the law itself. In any event, the subtlety of the issue at the heart of the case will surely be lost in its aftermath. The headlines will read, correctly, “Court rules against Obamacare,” and this will be all that matters. The Republicans will argue that the Supreme Court showed that the law was flawed from the start, that the Obama Administration is lawless, that a full repeal of the law is the only appropriate response to the Court’s decision—and that the millions who lose their subsides should blame the sponsor of the law. Watch for references to a “failed Presidency.” There’ll be plenty of them.
Understandably, perhaps, the Administration has courted this kind of reaction. Better than anyone, Administration officials know the scale of the problems that would be created by a loss in the Supreme Court. Advertising this possibility makes sense as a litigation strategy; Obama officials don’t want to make it easy for the Supreme Court to rule against them. In testimony before Congress and elsewhere, Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (and the defendant in the case), said that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court. But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.
A few weeks ago, the Heritage Foundation’s Edmund Haislmaier published an “Issue Brief” entitled “King v. Burwell: A Loss of Subsidy Does Not Mean a Loss of Coverage.” That’s a provocative title, considering 87 percent of the 8.8 million enrollees from federal exchanges receive those tax credit subsidies, meaning they have low or moderate incomes.
Haislmaier recently was seen saying it’s “premature” to conclude the huge drop in the uninsured rate since Obamacare passed is the result of Obamacare passing. In this brief, he correctly points out the Affordable Care Act and previous federal and state laws would enable current Obamacare enrollees to switch to some other form of health insurance if the lawsuit he supports succeeds in making their current plans unaffordable. (The brief also chides low-income people for using their subsidies to buy “king-crab-legs-and-steak” insurance rather than take the cheapest possible “powdered-milk-and-frozen-peas” plans.)
“In sum, should the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling in King v. Burwell result in people losing insurance subsidies, the affected individuals will have options for maintaining their coverage or choosing replacement coverage,” Haislmaier wrote. There’s even a chart.
Is that good news for people at risk of losing their health insurance subsidies? Maybe not. “Of course, some might still not be able to afford the unsubsidized premium even if they switched to a less expensive plan,” Haislmaier adds as a disclaimer. Of course.
That seems like it could be a problem, since 83 percent of Obamacare enrollees on the federal exchanges have annual incomes of 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which works out to no more than $23,450 for a single person, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm. In other words, these aren’t Americans with a lot of extra money. And the average value of the tax credits they stand to lose is $263 a month, a substantial amount for people at this income level.
There’s a lot of variation in the price of health insurance, but a look at national average premiums and cost-sharing requirements illustrates what the “Let them eat Bronze plans” line of thinking ignores.
A 40-year-old at the poverty line, which is $11,770 for a single person, would pay $20 a month for a mid-tier Silver plan with tax credits. That amounts to about 2 percent of her annual income. Take away the subsidies, and her premiums jump almost 14-fold to $276 — or about 28 percent of her income.
What about dropping down to a lesser Bronze policy with higher out-of-pocket costs like deductibles?
That would cost almost 11 times as much as the subsidized Silver plan, at $213 a month, or about 22 percent of her income. Another person making twice as much money as her would see his premiums for the same Silver policy rise by 80 percent, which would eat up 14 percent of his income. His premiums would rise by 39 percent if he switched to a Bronze plan, which would cost him 11 percent of his yearly earnings.
Even opting for a slimmer policy might not make sense for lower-income people, considering how much more Bronze policyholders have to spend before their coverage kicks in. For example, the average deductible for an individual Bronze plan is $5,181, compared to $2,927 for a Silver plan, according to Health Pocket.
And this doesn’t even factor in the effects of a second type of subsidy only available to people earning up to 250 percent of poverty, which reduces their out-of-pocket health care expenses, and which also would go away in the high court rules for the plaintiffs.
But what may eventually prove to be the key line of questioning may have been kicked off by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who expressed concern about the consequences of a ruling for the challengers. If a state’s residents don’t receive subsidies, she told Carvin, it will lead to a “death spiral”: because a large group of people in those states will no longer be required to buy health insurance, but insurers will still be required to offer insurance to everyone, only sick people will buy health insurance. And that will cause everyone’s insurance costs to rise, leading more people to drop out of the insurance market. States will then feel like they have no choice other than to establish their own exchanges to ward off the “death spiral” – a scenario that is so coercive that it violates the Constitution.
Perhaps critically for the government, Justice Anthony Kennedy – who is often regarded as a strong supporter of states’ rights – also expressed concern about the possibly coercive effect of a ruling for Carvin’s clients. There is, he told Carvin, “something very powerful to the point” that if the challengers prevail, the states have to choose between the death spiral and creating an exchange. “There’s a serious constitutional problem,” he concluded. (Carvin tried to downplay this concern by telling Kennedy that the government had not raised this issue, but Kennedy quickly retorted that “we sometimes think of things the government doesn’t argue.”)
Like Carvin, Solicitor General Don Verrilli – the government’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court – also faced questions about the challengers’ right to sue. But between his acknowledgement that, as Carvin had asserted, a veteran who had only served a short time would not be eligible for free health care and the lack of certainty about the plaintiffs’ 2014 annual incomes (which would determine whether they would be required to buy health insurance at all), the issue didn’t seem to have much traction with the Justices.
On the merits of the challenge to the subsidies, Verrilli faced repeated questions from Justices Scalia and Alito, who were both obviously skeptical of the government’s arguments. Scalia pushed back against Verrilli’s argument that the challengers’ reading simply doesn’t work, while – by contrast – the government’s interpretation accounts for the ACA’s structure and design. The question, Scalia admonished Verrilli, is not what Congress intended; the question is what it actually wrote in the statute. But in any event, Scalia queried a few minutes later, if the Court were to rule for the challengers, did Verrilli and the government actually expect Congress to “really just sit there while disaster ensues?” (Based on Verrilli’s response – a dubious “This Congress?” – the answer appeared to be yes.)
Justices Alito and Scalia also contested Verrilli’s assertion that, had Congress actually intended to force states to choose between setting up their own exchanges and depriving their residents of subsidies, it would have done so more clearly. Scalia asked rhetorically why, because the ACA is “not the most elegantly drafted statute,” would it “be so surprising” if Congress didn’t make the states’ obligations obvious? Alito added that, if Congress didn’t want to limit the subsidies to the residents of states that had set up their own exchanges, it could have used more precise language to do so – as it did, for example, in making clear that the District of Columbia (which is not a state) nonetheless qualifies as a “state” for purposes of the ACA.
So, we’re down to brass tacks again. Will the ACA go down on a technicality which, essentially, is what the law is all about?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Tuesday Reads: Netanyahu Speech, Hillary-Hate, and Nonsensical SCOTUS Case that could Hurt 8 Million AmericansPosted: March 3, 2015
I wanted to touch on a couple of issues this afternoon: the latest Hillary Clinton “scandal,” and the upcoming Supreme Court case that could doom Obamacare once and for all.
But before I get to those stories, I want to share this good article by James Fallows on the possible motivations behind Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning.
Fallows enumerates the possible motivations for the Netanyahu slap in the face to President Obama:
“Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s?” Fallows asks? That’s not likely according to Fallows, because Netanyahu is far too sophisticated and knowledgeable about U.S. politics. Fallows also discounts the theory that it was only about “election-year politicking” in Israel. Perhaps that’s part of it. Is it because Netanyahu has so often been right in his previous predictions?
Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decades Netanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.
Was it because Netanyahu “has a better plan?”
No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration policies. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S.
Fallows also doesn’t buy the argument that Netanyahu actually believes that Iran “faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon?
Let me explain. No person, nation, or community can define what some other person (etc) “should” consider threatening….But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths.
What then? Fallows refers to an article at The National Interest by Paul Pillar.
Pillar’s assessment is that the ramped-up “existential” rhetoric is a screen for the real issue, which is a flat contradiction between long-term U.S. and Israeli national interests as regards Iran. It is in American interests (as I have argued) to find some way to end Iran’s excluded status and re-integrate it with the world, as happened with China in the 1970s. And it is in Israel’s interests, at least as defined by Netanyahu for regional-power reasons, that this not occur. As Pillar writes:
The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.
That is, as long as Netanyahu keeps the attention on nukes and “existential” threats, he’s talking about an area where the U.S. and Israel might differ on tactics but agree on ultimate goals. Inflammatory as that topic is, it’s safer than talking about re-integrating Iran as a legitimate power, where U.S. and Israeli interests may ultimately differ.
I thought that was pretty good food for thought.
Before I get to the Clinton e-mails issue, here’s an interesting piece at the Washington Post on Hillary’s relationship with Netanyahu.
The phone call between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lasted 45 minutes. For 43 of them, she talked and he listened.
The U.S. secretary of state lectured the Israeli leader, accusing him of trying to do an end run around American opposition to settlement-building and embarrassing Vice President Biden during a visit to Israel, according to interviews with people present during the 2010 call or who were briefed on it afterward. She read from a script for part of the lecture, so as not to miss any key points.
“The word ‘humiliation’ appeared very prominently,” recalled Michael Oren, then the Israeli ambassador in Washington. “As in ‘You have humiliated the United States of America.’ ”
There probably aren’t many times in Netanyahu’s professional life when he has listened to anyone for 43 minutes. Netanyahu prefers to do the lecturing….And there aren’t many people who could make Netanyahu sit still for a tongue-lashing. Clinton is one of them.
The story of the phone call comes from Clinton’s book on her time as Secretary of State, Hard Choices. Read more about it at the link. It would seem that experiences like this would stand Clinton and the U.S. in good stead if she ends up in the White House.
On the latest “scandal” about Hillary using a private e-mail as Secretary of State, I’m not sure what to think. It certainly does give ammunition to Republicans and to potential Democratic opponents like Martin O’Malley.
Here’s the NYT Story that started the fuss: Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules. You’ll need to read it at the link, because the Times has fixed their website so that I, at least, can’t copy and paste any excerpts. Here are some reactions to the story. First, the debunkers:
From USA Today, Clinton aide: State Department e-mails preserved.
A spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that while she used a personal e-mail account during her years as secretary of State, those records have been maintained pursuant to federal rules.
“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. “As a result of State’s request for our help to make sure they in fact were, that is what happened here.”
Merrill responded to a New York Times story saying that Clinton, a prospective presidential candidate in 2016, used a personal e-mail account during her four years at the State Department and “may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”
The Times reported that Clinton’s “expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.”
From Media Matters, The New York Times‘ Deceptive Suggestion That Hillary Clinton May Have Violated Federal Records Law: It Was Only After Clinton Left The State Department That The Law Concerning Private Emails Was Changed.
Yes, the president signed the new law two years after Clinton left the State Department. The NYT wants to punish her retroactively. Not surprising, considering the Times’ longstanding hatred for and sliming of the the Clintons. Please go read the whole Media Matters post. It won’t stop the Clinton haters from using this, but it’s the truth. Arm yourself.
Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter: That Story About Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Account Isn’t as Awful as It Seems.
Again, please go read the whole thing, and prepare yourself for the coming onslaught. This is only the beginning.
A few more links to folks who either don’t know or don’t care about the time of the law and the fact that Clinton preseved all her emails.
A fairly Hillary-friendly post from Charles Pierce, Hillary Finds A Rake To Step On: The First Clinton Bombshell.
Incidentally, I was shocked to see this from Joseph Cannon:
The most important point here is sub-textual: If the NYT has turned against Hillary Clinton, then we should suspect that she has privately revealed to her closest aides that, if elected, she will do things that she cannot now state out loud. Of course, nothing is truly private these days.
“If the times as turned against Hillary Clinton”??!!! Joseph, why aren’t you aware that the NYT –brave champion of Dubya’s Iraq war–has always loathed the Clintons and has published innumerable attacks on them?
Finally a few links to prepare you for tomorrow’s SCOTUS hearing on King v. Burwell, during which the justices will consider whether to throw about 8 million Americans off their health care plans.
Charles Pierce, The Tell: What This Week’s Attack On Obamacare Is Really About.
…the Nine Wise Souls on Tuesday will hear King v. Burwell, the highly imaginative, if constitutionally laughable, attack on the grammar and punctuation in the Affordable Care Act, which the NWS should have laughed off months ago….
It is the Universal String Theory Of Wingnut Conjuring Words in full view, the complete text of one of the spells. A fake scandal being used to excuse the shabby underpinning of a fake lawsuit that will have real and devastating consequences to thousands of people.
That’s it in a nutshell. But here are more links to check out for more details.
Politico: No easy fix if Supreme Court halts Obamacare cash. (No sh$t Sherlock.)
Republicans are getting nervous about what will happen if they get their wish. From The Hill: GOP fears grow over ObamaCare challenge.
Stephen Brill at Reuters: The Supreme Court hears an Obamacare fairytale.
US News (not known for liberal views): The Silliest Obamacare Challenge Yet. The King v. Burwell case could cause 8 million to lose health insurance.
SCOTUS should never have agreed to hear this case, but they did. Is John Roberts okay with going down in history as a buffoon? We’ll find out in June.
Please share your views along with the stories you’re following today in the comment thread.
The latest unbelievable tripe coming from the nuts on both the far right and far left have got me saying only one thing…Why?
That is just a few choice bits.
Is this a joke? Or is this just a way for the gods to torture some of us…who don’t feel obliged to follow “partisan allegiance.” Whatever the fuck that is…seriously this is a term used on a Hot Air site which I cannot link to, you know, for the sake of trolls and suck. (Oops, I mean such.)
What’s even more dangerous is politicizing the debate over vaccines. Comments by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey calling for “balance” in the vaccine debate after President Obama said Americans should “get your kids vaccinated” could have a similarly perverse effect, turning a public health issue into a matter of partisan allegiance…
WTF is that? Since when does ones party allegiance take precedent over the lives of those kids who are unable to get vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons, i.e. they have other illnesses like say…leukemia. This is what I do not understand, and where the question…Why?
Jessica Valenti talks about her daughter in her article, Your feelings about vaccines don’t trump another child’s medical reality | Jessica Valenti | Comment is free | The Guardian
Risking other children’s lives, and other parents’ pain, is exactly what you’re doing when you don’t vaccinate your child: you’re not just making decisions about your children’s health, but the health and safety of the children around them. Children like mine.
Layla was born extremely premature, and because of her low birth weight and underdeveloped lungs, her immune system was not up to par for years. She got sick more easily and more drastically than other children. The first two years of her life were filled with too many emergency room visits, doctors, shots, antibiotics and other medical interventions.
She was at such risk, in fact, that our pediatrician recommend that we keep her out of daycare and away from groups of children for as long as possible, so we cared for her at home for two years – a luxury we could afford but many other families cannot. But every time she played with a child at the park or a doctor’s waiting room, I was terrified.
So when I read quotes from parents denying any social responsibility to vaccinatesaying things like, “My child is pure … It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child,” it makes me livid. Where once we said “it takes a village”, these days some people don’t care if the village burns to the ground so long as their precious snowflake is left standing.
What kind of mentality must you have to think like this?
It is the same kind of mindset that brings on these gems of wisdom and knowledge from the mouths of idiots:
he said the state doesn’t own the children, the parents own the children. Just in case you were wondering, this wasn’t some out-of-the-blue thing. The idea behind Paul’s utterance goes all the way back to the King of Asshole Libertarians himself, Murray Rothbard.
Please go and read LGF for the money quote.
North Carolina’s newbie Sen. Thom Tillis is a damned fine Republican. You can tell because of how much he hates government regulation of any kind, because that is just the government murdering freedom.
Forcing companies to follow Basic Rules of Hygiene, for example, like making employees wash their hands before serving food? He told a delightful story about explaining to some poor constituent who no doubt took a bleach bath after their encounter about how that’s one of those unnecessary regulations that really should be left up to the Great And All-Knowing Free Market:
I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer are currently embroiled in a controversy that has them under such intense fire in both countries that even Fox News is siding with Obama against them.
Dermer had arranged, with House Speaker John Boehner, for Netanyahu to visit the US in March, without the knowledge or approval of the White House, and give a speech to Congress that is widely expected to bash President Obama’s Iran talks and to endorse negotiations-killing sanctions. It is a major break with diplomatic protocol, and gives the strong impression that Netanyahu is picking sides in domestic American politics — against Obama.
So Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, having damaged the US-Israel alliance that is his job to safeguard and that is crucial to his nation’s security, and drawn heavy criticism in both the US and Israel, decided that Super Bowl Sunday would be a great opportunity to make a joke about it:
Just to be clear about this, Dermer is jokingly calling attention to the fact that he appears to be working to undermine the sitting president of Israel’s most important ally. He’s making a funny about how his plot to gin up a little short-term political support for Netanyahu has blown up in his face, harming not just his boss’s political chances but the very alliance that is his primary responsibility. It’s funny stuff.
Hey, it is about to get better…
Students better think twice before drawing mustaches in history books.
The Supreme Court has declined to overturn a lower court’s ruling that an insurance company was within bounds when it fired a breastfeeding mother. The woman’s suit was dismissed by the Eighth Circuit Court on the grounds that firing a woman for breastfeeding isn’t sexist because men can lactate, too.
The ACLU’s Galen Sherwin wrote Monday that former Nationwide Insurance Company employee Angela Ames sued her employer when she returned from maternity leave to find that no allowances had been made to enable her to pump breast milk for her baby during the day.
When Ames asked her supervisor for accommodations that would enable her to express milk and store it for her child, the supervisor reportedly responded that Ames should “go home and be with your babies” instead. That supervisor went on to dictate a letter of resignation to Ames that day, effectively forcing her to resign.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Nationwide and the Eighth Circuit Court, denying Ames’ petition for a review of her case’s dismissal. The trial court’s decision — which the Circuit Court upheld — said that for Nationwide’s firing of Ames for taking time to express milk at work could not have been sexist because under certain circumstances, some men can lactate, too.
“The court’s reasoning in this case echoes old Supreme Court pronouncements that discriminating against pregnant women at work isn’t sex discrimination because both men and women can be non-pregnant,” Sherwin wrote. “Congress long ago rejected this ridiculous reasoning when it passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It’s disheartening to see it resurface again.”
Now, as I write this post, my brother is being taken away in an ambulance to the Emergency Room. Damn. I feel like we need to set up camp in the ER lately. The rest of the post will be in dump format. (Key word being dump…ha.) (Sorry, I can’t help it…)
January 31st marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.
To commemorate the occasion, new photos have been released showing some of the men and women who lived through that era — and were finally granted their freedom.
The portraits focused on a group of 500 people and were taken in the late 1930s, as part of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), 70 years after abolition.
While its author, Harper Lee, is notoriously reclusive, the 88-year-old waged a public court battle in recent years claiming her agent essentially stole the copyright for her Pulitzer Prize-winning book about racial injustice in the South.
Her 2013 lawsuit against her former agent, Samuel Pinkus, has since been settled, but the complaint seems relevant today. If the allegations are true, it’s a cautionary tale for aging artists whose agents might take advantage of them even though they’re supposed to be acting on their behalf.
The pictures are from the photographer: John Hopkins: Charismatic photographer, activist and leading figure in London’s counterculture of the Sixties – News – People – The Independent
It’s looking like Massachusetts may be on the verge of electing another Republican governor, and suddenly I’m feeling even sicker than I have been with this cold I can’t get rid of.
Breaking news this morning from The Boston Globe, Charlie Baker jumps 9 points in new Globe poll.
Republican Charlie Baker has opened up a 9-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley, 45 percent to 36 percent, according to a new Globe poll that depicts a far more comfortable advantage than either candidate for governor has enjoyed in months.
The poll reflects an October surge in independent voters toward Baker’s column. It was independents who provided Governor Deval Patrick with his margins of victory in 2006 and 2010.
Baker’s standing has improved from last week’s poll, which showed the two candidates dead even. It can be attributed largely to the gains he has made in voters’ perceptions of who would improve the economy and manage state government, areas that already were tilting his way. At the same time, Baker has offset the deficits he faced on issues such as education and health care, where Coakley still holds an edge, but a diminished one.
“There is just positive movement in every single metric we can ask around Baker,” said pollster John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., which conducts the weekly poll for the Globe. “The more voters have gotten to know him, the stronger he performs.”
What is it with this supposedly liberal state? Since I moved here more than 40 years ago, we have had mostly Republican governors. I can’t understand why Massachusetts would elect another one, especially after our experience with Mitt Romney. We’ve also never had a woman elected governor. Republican Jane Swift was governor for two years, but that was because, as lieutenant governor, she took over for Paul Celluci, who resigned to become ambassador to Canada under George W. Bush.
As for getting to know Baker, what does that mean? Do voters really know his history? Or are they responding to political advertising?
Overall, Baker has moved from 38 percent support to 45 percent since late August. Coakley dropped 5 points this week, the poll found, after having held steady throughout much of the fall. Baker’s growth, said Della Volpe, has come almost entirely from voters who have made up their minds since the beginning of September. Eleven percent of voters remain undecided….
The poll depicts an electorate highly susceptible to the recent barrage of political advertising on television. Two weeks ago, Coakley, the state’s attorney general, led Baker by 5 points in the same poll. According to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG, a firm that tracks political television commercials, $2.2 million in ads paid for by gubernatorial candidates and allied groups — more than 1,700 individual spots — aired on broadcast television from Oct. 12 through Oct. 19.
I didn’t know much about Baker until I read a very disturbing story in the Globe this week, Mental health record may be predictor for Charlie Baker. It turns out Baker was the architect of a damaging mental health privatization policy in Massachusetts that is still reverberates across the state today. (I’ve emphasized some points in the article with bold type.)
It was early 1991, Baker was Massachusetts’ new undersecretary for health, and the 34-year-old Harvard grad was having his first look at the state’s decrepit mental hospitals.
Soon after, a special state commission recommended closing nine of the state’s most antiquated institutions, including Danvers and two other hospitals for mentally ill patients, and moving much of that care to the community. It was Baker’s job to get it done. His strategy involved a first-in-the-nation use of a for-profit company with power to approve or deny treatments for low-income mental health patients.
Baker’s blueprint saved Massachusetts millions of dollars at a time when the state was staring at a nearly $2 billion deficit, but it left thousands of mental health patients often waiting weeks for treatments. The controversial approach became his template for rescuing financially ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care a decade later.
The aftershocks of both initiatives are still being felt as the now 57-year-old Republican runs for governor, and those experiences, say Baker supporters and critics, provide a window into how he might handle similarly fraught and costly issues if elected.
Baker’s claim to fame is that as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he kept the company from going bankrupt. Democratic ads have publicized the fact that he “raised premiums 150 percent and tripled his own salary to $1.7 million during his decade at Harvard Pilgrim.” One of the ways he saved money for Harvard Pilgrim was by laying of lots of workers and outsourcing their jobs to India. He even won an “Outsourcing Excellence Award” in 2008.
Back to the Globe article on Baker’s mental health record. There were vast financial profits for the state, and some low income mental health patients did benefit short-term. But overall,
…the separate move to privatize mental health care, with a for-profit company controlling treatment and costs, meant 800 state mental health workers were laid off and their work farmed out to private clinics that received less state money. Long waiting lists ensued for community services.
“It was a disaster,” said Dr. Matthew Dumont, former director of the Chelsea Community Counseling Center, where the number of psychiatrists and other caregivers, including Dumont, was cut from 23 to six. Dumont said the clinic was no longer able to provide a critical service he believes was a lifeline for mental health patients — home visits.
Over the next several years, suicide rates among mental health patients who had received state services soared. That prompted a blistering 1997 report from a legislative panel that criticized the Weld administration for lax monitoring of patients and failing to investigate their deaths in a timely way.
Two years later, a Brandeis University study gave the state high marks for innovative community-based mental health programs launched during the 1990s, but found too many patients waiting for services….
“It’s still a revolving door,” said Dumont, the former director of the Chelsea counseling center who lives with the legacy of privatizing mental health services when he evaluates patients for the state’s public defender agency. He said he has to scrounge to find places that will take indigent defendants who have been in and out of mental health facilities.
Read about Baker’s future plans for mental health care in Massachusetts at the link.
What’s happening in Kentucky?
Is Mitch McConnell getting nervous about holding onto his Senate seat? The Hill reports today that McConnell has just written a personal check to his campaign for $1.8 million dollars to counter the recent DSCC purchase of TV ads in support of challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. From The Hill:
A week ago it appeared the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was giving up on the race when it pulled the plug on television advertising after a $1.4 million buy.
But the Democratic Party committee plunged back into this fight this week by announcing it would spend another $650,000 on television ads to help Alison Lundergan Grimes against McConnell. The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC, followed up with a pledge to spend $850,000 in the state.
McConnell has a stable lead in polls, but doesn’t want to let the new Democratic ads go unmatched. He has long pledged to his Republican colleagues that he would not take any party funds to help win reelection.
Maybe it doesn’t mean anything; we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile a couple more articles on the Kentucky Senate race.
The Courier-Journal, Grimes pledges to fight for Kentuckians’ rights.
On the stump, she’s a Clinton Democrat. In GOP attacks, she’s a cheerleader for Barack Obama. Political allies — and opponents — know her as the daughter of Jerry Lundergan, former head of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
For her part, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes calls herself a “Kentucky filly,” charging toward victory in her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and become the state’s first female U.S. senator.
“This is a strong … independent Kentucky woman,” Grimes tells crowds on the campaign trail, while pledging to defend Medicare and Social Security benefits, fight for a higher minimum wage and support pay equality for women.
“She will fight for the people of Kentucky like we have never been fought for before,” she promises, speaking in the third person.
But 16 months after announcing her candidacy, political observers say Grimes still faces challenges in defining herself to Kentucky voters who overwhelmingly dislike Obama and have largely turned away from Democrats in most federal elections.
Apparently, it’s all about how much Kentuckians feel about Clinton and Obama. I hope Bill has plans to stump for Grimes again close to election day.
Brian Beutler at The New Republic reports on McConnell’s refusal to respond to questions about privatizing Social Security.
The reporters appear to be referencing this encounter McConnell had at the Louisville Rotary Club with reporter Joe Sonka. At the event, McConnell had expressed remorse that he couldn’t wrangle any Democrats into supporting George W. Bush’s 2005 effort to, as McConnell put it, “fix Social Security.”
Sonka asked him if he’d revisit that effort in 2015, and McConnell said, “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance. We’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later.”
So McConnell dodged a pretty straightforward question about the Republican policy agenda, and, should he become majority leader, his own substantive goals.
A central theme of McConnell’s campaign is that Kentuckians shouldn’t replace a guy who stands to become an agenda setter in Washington with Grimes, who would be a freshman with comparably little power. Vis a vis less politically contentious issues, he’s more than happy to explain how he’d use that power.
One of the goals McConnell has been open about is “going after the EPA,” which he claims is hurting Kentucky’s economy.
So it’s inconsistent of him to hold his cards close to the vest when the issue is privatizing Social Security rather than gunning for the EPA. It would’ve been easy enough for him to say that private accounts are going to stay on the shelf, where they’ve been, for all intents and purposes, since 2005. Or that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle, since President Obama would surely veto such a bill. Instead he said the agenda isn’t up for public discussion until he’s granted the agenda-setting power.
I’m sure McConnell realizes that his constituents wouldn’t be too happy about attacks on Social Security . . .
The Texas Voter ID Law
From MSNBC, a depressing story about the Texas voter ID law, Texas woman threatened with jail after applying for voter ID.
An Austin, Texas woman told msnbc she was threatened with jail time for having an out-of-state driver’s license when she went to apply for a voter identification card so she could vote under the state’s controversial ID law. She said she was so intimidated she left without getting the ID she needed — and which she’d been trying to get for a year.
Lynne Messinger’s account highlights the obstacles that some Texans face as they try to obtain a voter ID — despite the state’s assurances that getting one doesn’t pose a burden.
Messinger, 62 and a musician, said she brought her birth certificate to aTexas’ Department of Public Safety (DPS) office in south Austin Thursday in an effort to get a voter ID. She needs one because Texas’s strict ID law doesn’t accept out-of-state driver’s licenses.
Messinger said she spoke to a clerk at the desk, and explained that she had a California driver’s license. She has houses in both California and Texas and goes back and forth between the two, but decided several years ago to switch her voting residency to Texas.
The clerk left for a few minutes, then told her to take a seat. At that point, Messinger said, a state trooper summoned her into his back office, saying he needed to speak to her. Once inside his office, Messinger said the trooper insisted on seeing all the documentation she had brought, and demanded to know where she lives and pays taxes. He even told her she could be jailed for driving with a California license.* It is illegal to drive in Texas on another state’s driver’s license 90 days after moving into the state.
“It was like a Nazi interrogation about how I cant be driving with a California ID,” Messinger said. “I was completely intimidated and freaked out.”
Here’s a very interesting read on Chief Justice Roberts and Voter ID laws from The Atlantic, On Race and Voter ID, John Roberts Wants It Both Ways. The author, Garrett Epps discusses Roberts’ views on race, and concludes that “[t]he idea that government must not discriminate by race seems to be important to the chief.” But . . .
Which brings us to Veasey v. Perry, the voting-rights case in which the Court issued its 5 a.m. order on Saturday. That order allowed Texas’ draconian voter-ID law, known as SB 14, to take effect for the midterm elections next month—the first general election to which it will be applied. It is customary to speak of SB 14 as a “tough” voter-ID law, but it might be better to speak of it as a discriminatory voter-ID law, inspired by the intent to disfranchise black and Latino voters.
That’s not my inference; it was the considered factual finding of federal district Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. (Ramos is an Obama appointee, but one endorsed for the bench by Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn.) Ramos based her conclusion on a nine-day trial in which both the state and the plaintiffs presented evidence about SB 14’s history and effect. That effect is startling—Ramos found that the law might disfranchise as much as 4.5 percent of the state’s eligible voters. But more important is her conclusion about the law’s intent (emphasis added):
The record as a whole (including the relative scarcity of incidences of in-person voter impersonation fraud, the fact that SB 14 addresses no other type of voter fraud, the anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic sentiment permeating the 2011 legislative session, and the legislators’ knowledge that SB 14 would clearly impact minorities disproportionately and likely disenfranchise them) shows that SB 14 was racially motivated.
This is a devastating finding. The judge is not saying that the law has a disproportionate effect on minorities; she is saying that it was specifically written to prevent them from voting. Because it was intentional race discrimination, she found, it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the prohibition of racial restrictions on the vote in the 15th Amendment—and also the prohibition of poll taxes in the 24th Amendment.
Read much more at the link. It’s an important article.
Washington School Shooting
More details are coming out about the school shooting in Washington state. From The Seattle Times, Teen shooter targets 3 girls, 2 male cousins.
A freshman homecoming prince, reportedly angry about a girl, pulled out a gun and opened fire in a crowded cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School Friday morning, killing one classmate and wounding four others before fatally shooting himself.
At 10:39 a.m., as hundreds of students gathered for lunch on the sprawling campus, Jaylen Fryberg walked up to a cafeteria table, pulled out a gun and shot three teen girls and two teenage male cousins, witnesses and authorities said….
Fryberg and a girl were confirmed dead. The girl’s name was not released.
Two boys and two girls were taken by ambulance to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. As of Friday night, the two girls were alive and in intensive care with gunshot wounds to the head, said Dr. Joanne Roberts, chief medical officer for Providence. It will be several days before a prognosis could be made, she said.
The wounded boys were identified by family members as Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Nate Hatch, 14 — both cousins to Jaylen Fryberg. Both also were shot in the head. They were initially taken to Providence and later transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Andrew was in serious condition and Nate was in critical condition.
“He shot people he cared about,” said friend and football teammate Dylen Boomer.
I guess we’ll learn more as time goes on. These school shootings make no sense to me.
So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread and enjoy your weekend!
The Ebola Virus and the epidemic in Africa is real. The right wing hysteria about the virus is rivaling the bad plots of the Zombie movies I’m watching during SyFy’s Countdown to Halloween. I thought I’d spend some time separating the facts from the conspiracy theories today. So let me start with one of the most outrageous Zombie Memes from one of the most vile women on the planet. Dementia or further evidence of the advanced stages of evil? It’s your choice.
In an interview with WorldNetDaily published today, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly weighed in on the unfounded theory gaining traction in the right-wing media that Central American young people are to blame for an outbreak of a childhood respiratory illness in the U.S.
“There are all kinds of diseases in the rest of the world, and we don’t want them in this country,” Schlafly told WND, adding that “of all the things [Obama has] done, I think this thing of letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people is just the most outrageous of all.”
She went on to imply that President Obama is intentionally allowing people infected with Ebola into the United States because he wants America to be “just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude.”
Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly – author of “Who Killed the American Family?” – said she agrees Obama is responsible for allowing diseases to enter the country.
“There are all kinds of diseases in the rest of the world, and we don’t want them in this country,” Schlafly said. “And it’s Obama’s job to keep them out.
“Out of all the things he’s done, I think this thing of letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people is just the most outrageous of all.”
Schlafly said the government should screen immigrants for disease before they enter the country, as was done at Ellis Island a hundred years ago.
“That was the purpose of Ellis Island – to have a waiting place where it was decided whether people were healthy enough or responsible enough to come into our country,” she said. “The idea that anybody can just walk in and carry this disease with them is just an outrage, and it is Obama’s fault because he’s responsible for doing it.”
When asked why the current administration hasn’t done more to prevent diseased illegal aliens or Ebola carriers from Africa from entering the country, Schlafly said Obama wants to make the U.S. more like the rest of the world.
“Obama doesn’t want America to believe that we’re exceptional,” Schlafly said. “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude.”
Yup, it’s despicable She. Still foaming at the mouth after all these years too.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a top-level forum in Washington, D.C., that the Ebola outbreak is unlike anything he’s seen since the AIDS epidemic.
“I would say that in the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS,” Frieden said before the heads of the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, according to AFP.
Frieden added: “We have to work now so that it is not the world’s next AIDS.”
Frieden’s comments come as the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. died Wednesday despite intense but delayed treatment. The U.S. government also announced it was expanding airport examinations to guard against the spread of the deadly disease.
The checks will include taking the temperatures of hundreds of travelers arriving from West Africa at five major American airports.
The new screenings will begin Saturday at New York’s JFK International Airport and then expand to Washington Dulles and the international airports in Atlanta, Chicago and Newark. An estimated 150 people per day will be checked, using high-tech thermometers that don’t touch the skin.
The White House said the fever checks would reach more than 9 of 10 travelers to the U.S. from the three heaviest-hit countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
President Barack Obama called the measures “really just belt and suspenders” to support protections already in place. Border Patrol agents now look for people who are obviously ill, as do flight crews, and in those cases the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is notified.
It’s unlikely a fever check would have spotted Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola in a Dallas hospital Wednesday morning. Duncan wasn’t yet showing symptoms when he arrived in the U.S.
There are the facts about the state of the Ebola crisis. In West Africa, more than 8,000 people have contracted the disease and nearly half have died. In the U.S., there’s just one confirmed case—that of Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who passed away in Dallas on Wednesday. Experts say that the caseload in West Africa is likely to get much, much bigger. As many as 1.4 million people could get the disease, with a large fraction of them dying from it. The same experts expect no similar outbreak here, even if a few more cases appear, because we have the personnel and the resources to limit exposure.
But all of the news on Wednesday was about developments here in the U.S.—in particular, new screening efforts at five major U.S. airports, Duncan’s death, and reports of possible new cases in the U.S., including one in Dallas. You could tell by the questions that Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, fielded during a late afternoon press conference. He got more than a dozen of them. Only two were about the situation abroad. (And one of them, it so happens, came from me.)
The preoccupation with what’s happening here, as opposed to what’s happening over there, is perfectly understandable. On Tuesday, a Gallup poll revealed that Americans today are as worried about contracting Ebola as they were about contracting H1N1, the swine flu, during that outbreak two years ago. By that time, millions of people had gotten H1N1 and thousands had already died. But people die from flu all the time, usually because they are very young or very old or already otherwise infirmed. It’s a threat that people have factored into their daily lives, if at all. Ebola is quite literally a foreign menace, one to which almost nobody gave much thought until a few weeks ago. The virus kills about half the people who get it, with little regard for age or health status of the person infected.
That fear goes a long way to explaining why the U.S. is implementing the new screening process at the airports. Customs and Border Patrol agents were already on the lookout for people with visible signs of the disease. Now they will add another layer of scrutiny. They will use questionnaires to screen for people who have been in affected countries—and, then, subject these people to temperature tests and more questioning. People who have fever or show other Ebola symptoms will be evaluated by quarantine officers from the CDC, then referred to local health authorities who will decide how to handle the cases. The primary goal is to identify any passengers infected with Ebola before they leave the airport.
Of all the issues that you would think would be non-partisan, Ebola should be at the top of the list. The disease is just a mindless germ that doesn’t check your race, gender, social class, sexual orientation or party identification before it strikes, suggesting both liberals and conservatives have a stake in treating people exposed to the disease with compassion and care. And yet, to flip on Fox News or turn on any conservative media at all, you’d think that ebola was some kind of plague designed by the Democratic party in order to wipe out Republicans.
Blowing the threat of ebola out of proportion and trying to link it to Obama has been a constant theme on the right in recent days. Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox News literally demanded that we put the country on lockdown, banning all travel in and out. In a bit of race-baiting, Andrea Tantaros of Fox suggested that people who travel to the country and show symptoms of ebola will “seek treatment from a witch doctor” instead of go to the hospital. Fox host Steve Doocy suggested the CDC is lying about ebola because they’re “part of the administration”. Fox also promoted a conspiracy theorist who is trying to claim the CDC is lying when they caution people not to panic.
Other right wing media joined in. Tammy Bruce blamed ebola on the “Obama legacy”. Laura Ingraham said Obama was prevented from doing more to stop the disease because of his “core ties to the African continent”. Rush Limbaugh even went as far as to accuse Obama of letting the disease spread because he supposes liberals believe “we kind of deserve a little bit of this”.
Okay, so here’s a zombie mistake and a big one. Justice Kennedy’s Typo Accidentally Stops Same-Sex Marriage in Nevada.
Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stunned America when he ordered a halt on Nevada’s same-sex marriages, less than a day after the Court voted to overturn a ban on gay marriages in that state. Turns out that it was a total accident. Yes, a big ol’ “oops, my bad” incident.
According to SCOTUSBlog, what happened was the following: The Ninth Circuit recently heard challenges to same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada, who, for the purposes of convenience, had combined both of their challenges into a single case. In two different rulings, the federal appellate court struck down both of these states’ bans, allowing same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada, and issued a mandate on the ruling to immediately enforce the new law. In other words, the moment that the Ninth Circuit struck down the ban, gay and lesbian couples could get married immediately.
This did not make Idaho happy, so they filed a request to Justice Kennedy asking him to put a stop on same-sex marriage in Idaho, so that state officials could review their case before the Ninth Circuit. Kennedy allowed it, but in a total brain fart moment, issued an order that put a stop on weddings in both Idaho and Nevada, even though nobody in Nevada had asked for a review, either.
Thankfully, same-sex marriages can still occur in Las Vegas for the time being, but unfortunately, nobody knows what the eff is happening anymore. As a result, the Ninth Circuit has recalled its order implementing same-sex marriage in Idaho and are asking for briefs as to whether they need to do the same in Nevada.
Good job, Kennedy. Look how much confusion your typo has caused.
Oh, another Zombie Meme replacing Benghazi these days. It’s not only Ebola that’s Obama’s fault but also ISIL. It’s all about killing white people!!! Here’s some great links and proof from Politicus.
We have shown that for the GOP, the threat of Ebola exists only as an excuse to attack President Obama, that it’s all Obama’s fault (of course) and that, Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s going to kill us all! Cue to Rand Paul diving under his bed.
We have also been closely following the rise of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and have tried to show you the contrast between the Republican and the Democratic reactions.
We have shown that for the GOP, the threat of ISIL exists only as an excuse to attack President Obama, that it’s all Obama’s fault (of course) and that Oh my God! Oh my God! They’re going to kill us all! Cue to Lindsey Graham diving under his bed.
It is surely significant that yesterday Time Magazine should profile the Republican response to the ISIL “scandal”: GOP Ad Claims ISIS Plot to Attack U.S. Via ‘Arizona’s Backyard.’
As Time’s Zeke Miller and Alex Rogers describe the ad, which was posted to YouTube yesterday,
The National Republican Congressional Committee ad opens with grainy footage of black flags and fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) holding rifles on military vehicles. “Evil forces around the world want to harm Americans every day,” an ominous voiceover states. “Their entry into our country? Through Arizona’s backyard.” The spot goes on to recount how Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), locked in a close re-election fight with Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, has voted against border security legislation, suggesting that she “leaves Arizona vulnerable.”
Chris Wallace of Fox News has already planted the suggestion in viewers’ facile minds that Ebola could come across our Southern Border and that it could be used as a weapon. It doesn’t matter after those words are spoken than an expert debunks them. The damage has been done.
The brain damage was done to any one that actually believes these things years ago.
So what’s on your reading and blogging list today?
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that today is a very slow news day. Nevertheless, I’ve still managed to dig up a few interesting reads.
Long-time Clinton hater Richard Mellon Scaife has died at 82. The Associated Press reports via Politico:
Scaife died early Friday at his home, his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, reported. Scaife’s death comes less than two months after he announced in a first-person, front-page story in his Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he had an untreatable form of cancer.
“Some who dislike me may rejoice at the news,” wrote Scaife, who acknowledged making political and other enemies. “Naturally, I can’t share their enthusiasm.”
He was the grand-nephew of Andrew Mellon, a banker and secretary of the Treasury who was involved with some of the biggest industrial companies of the early 20th century. Forbes magazine estimated Scaife’s net worth in 2013 at $1.4 billion.
The intensely private Scaife became widely known in the 1990s when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said her husband was being attacked by a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” White House staffers and other supporters suggested Scaife was playing a central role in the attack.
Hillary was mocked for those remarks; but today, in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, it should be obvious to all but the most oblivious and ignorant among us that the vast right wing conspiracy exists and its tentacles have reached even the U.S. Supreme Court.
From Forbes, Clare O’Connor reports more Hobby Lobby Fallout: Catholic Soy Milk Mogul Won’t Cover Drugs That ‘Prevent Procreation’. Eden Foods founder Michael Potter has stated his determination to prevent his female employees from getting access to birth control, and the Supreme Court is helping him.
In April 2013, devout Catholic (and sole Eden Foods shareholder) Potter sued the Department of Health and Human Services, calling the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate “unconstitutional government overreach.”
In a letter he wrote in response to a shopper complaint that month, Potter described contraceptives as “lifestyle drugs” akin to “Viagra, smoking cessation, weight-loss” tools and other medications. (He also compared birth control to “Jack Daniels” in a contemporaneous interview with Salon.)
In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals decided against Potter, ruling that Eden Foods, as a for-profit corporation, couldn’t exercise religion.Now, in the wake of this week’s controversial Supreme Court ruling recognizing craft chain Hobby Lobby’s religious rights, the court has changed its tune.
The day after the Justices decided evangelical Hobby Lobby billionaire David Green doesn’t have to cover certain contraceptives for his employees, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment against Eden Foods and sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for further consideration.
“The court of appeals is ordered by the Supreme Court to follow its decision in Hobby Lobby,” said Erin Mersino, the attorney handling Potter’s case at the Christian, conservative Thomas More Law Center.
And the beat goes on . . .
At The Nation, Katha Pollit asks: Where Will the Slippery Slope of ‘Hobby Lobby’ End?
Facts are stubborn things, as John Adams famously said. Unless, that is, you’re talking about religion. Then facts don’t seem to matter at all: right you are if you think you are. The Hobby Lobby case was billed as a test of religious freedom versus the power of the state: Did the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) mean that David Green, the evangelical Christian CEO of a chain of crafts stores, could be exempt from providing coverage for the full range of contraceptives for his employees under the Affordable Care Act? Green balked at including Plan B, Ella (another form of emergency contraception) and two kinds of IUD, because, he claimed, they caused “abortion” by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.
The Court’s 5-to-4 decision—which featured all three women justices ruling for the workers, and all five Catholic men ruling for the corporation—was wrong in many ways. But the thing I really don’t understand is why it didn’t matter that preventing implantation is not “abortion,” according to the accepted medical definition of the term. And even if it was, Plan B, Ella and the IUDs don’t work that way, with the possible exception of one form of IUD when inserted as emergency contraception. As an amicus brief from a long list of prestigious medical organizations and researchers laid out at length, studies show that emergency contraception and the IUD preventfertilization, not implantation. They are not “abortifacients,” even under the anti-choicers’ peculiar definition of abortion. (Green is actually more moderate than some anti-choicers, who include hormonal contraception, aka “baby pesticide,” as abortion.) Why doesn’t it matter that there is no scientific evidence for Green’s position? When did Jesus become an Ob/Gyn?
Good question. Today even facts are irrelevant to Supreme Court decisions. The fact is that Democrats helped Thomas, Roberts, and Alito make it onto the Court, and now we’re stuck with these religious and ideological fanatics.
At Salon, Digby writes that Alito could have been stopped: Why Dems should have filibustered the radical. And from Peter Montgomery at HuffPo, Samuel Alito: A Movement Man Makes Good on Right-Wing Investments. Read them and weep.
Dakinikat posted this Guardian piece in the comments last night; I thought it should be included in this morning’s links: Black people were denied vanilla ice cream in the Jim Crow south – except on Independence Day.
By custom rather than by law, black folks were best off if they weren’t caught eating vanilla ice cream in public in the Jim Crow South, except – the narrative always stipulates – on the Fourth of July. I heard it from my father growing up myself, and the memory of that all-but-unspoken rule seems to be unique to the generation born between World War I and World War II.
But if Maya Angelou hadn’t said it in her classic autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I doubt anybody would believe it today.
People in Stamps used to say that the whites in our town were so prejudiced that a Negro couldn’t buy vanilla ice cream. Except on July Fourth. Other days he had to be satisfied with chocolate.
Vanilla ice cream – flavored with a Nahuatl spice indigenous to Mexico, the cultivation of which was improved by an enslaved black man named Edmund Albius on the colonized Réunion island in the Indian Ocean, now predominately grown on the largest island of the African continent, Madagascar, and served wrapped in the conical invention of a Middle Eastern immigrant – was the symbol of the American dream. That its pure, white sweetness was then routinely denied to the grandchildren of the enslaved was a dream deferred indeed.
What makes the vanilla ice cream story less folk memory and more truth is that the terror and shame of living in the purgatory between the Civil War and civil rights movement was often communicated in ways that reinforced to children what the rules of that life were, and what was in store for them if they broke them.
Please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.
From Politico: Why the Civil Rights Act couldn’t pass today.
It was a painful tableau: The bipartisan leaders of Congress linking hands in the Capitol Rotunda and swaying to the strains of “We Shall Overcome” as they commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi sang along with the crowd, but Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s lips were frozen in silent, self-conscious smiles.
The climate in today’s Washington is so different from the one that produced what many scholars view as the most important law of the 20th century that celebrating the law’s legacy is awkward for Republicans and Democrats alike. Neither party bears much resemblance to its past counterpart, and the bipartisanship that carried the day then is now all but dead….
The current congressional leaders gathered last week not to honor Johnson — or any of the legislative leaders who actually passed the landmark law — but to award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, whose crusade helped create the climate that made the bill possible. In his life, racial tensions helped make King such a polarizing figure that both Johnson and John F. Kennedy worried about seeming too close to him, but in martyrdom and myth, he is the only politically safe ground on which present day leaders could unite.
They are all so pathetic. And this is beyond pathetic: Callers Use C-SPAN Civil Rights Discussion To Complain About White Oppression (VIDEO).
“Washington Journal” host Steve Scully listened as an “independent” caller named Thomas from Maryland told him that he is “much less liberal today” than he was in 1964 when the landmark law was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson.
“And I think the blacks have brought on most of their present-day problems themselves. They insult white people,” he told Scully. “I heard it right on your own show, I heard some black call Karl Rove a ‘white boy.’ And I don’t think that’s right. They’re attacking white people in the big cities and we’re supposed to put up with that kind of stuff and like them and say, ‘Well, come into our neighborhood.’ And how about the discussion of the black crime that goes on in this country?”
The caller went on to complain that the discrimination endured by Irish, Mormons and Italians is widely ignored.
“You people will never, never discuss that. You only discuss the discrimination against the black people,” he said.
Is that sick or what?
A few more news links:
Information Week on private tech companies treatment of their customers, Facebook Mood Manipulation: 10 Bigger Problems.
Fox News: Suspect arrested in Bourbon St. shootings.
USA Today: Seven hurt in Indianapolis shootings.
So . . . what stories are you reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread, and enjoy the rest of the long weekend!
Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence. I’ve assembled a few informational readings about this day in history.
From The Cagle Post: Fourth of July Fast Facts.
“I’m confused. I thought July 4 was the day our country declared independence from King George III of Great Britain.”
“Actually, according to ConstitutionFacts.com, that’s not so. The Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776.”
“Then why do we celebrate our independence on the Fourth every year? Is that when we started the American Revolution?”
“That is a common misunderstanding, as well. The American Revolution began in April 1775, more than a year earlier.”
“I’m stumped. Was the Fourth the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence?”
“Nope. Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft in June 1776. Also, Jefferson didn’t write the Declaration alone.”
“He didn’t? I always thought he was the sole author.”
“A common misconception. In fact, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person to write the Declaration. It included Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.” ….
“Though Jefferson wrote the first draft, it was changed 86 times by other members of the committee and other members of the Continental Congress.”
I did not know that.
David Armitage at The Wall Street Journal: The Declaration of Independence: The Words Heard Around the World.
The Declaration of Independence is the birth certificate of the American nation—the first public document ever to use the name “the United States of America”—and has been fundamental to American history longer than any other text. It enshrined what came to be seen as the most succinct and memorable statement of the ideals on which the U.S. was founded: the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the consent of the governed; and resistance to tyranny.
But the Declaration’s influence wasn’t limited to the American colonies of the late 18th century. No American document has had a greater impact on the wider world. As the first successful declaration of independence in history, it helped to inspire countless movements for independence, self-determination and revolution after 1776 and to this very day. As the 19th-century Hungarian nationalist, Lajos Kossuth, put it, the U.S. Declaration of Independence was nothing less than “the noblest, happiest page in mankind’s history.”
In telling this story of global influence, however, it is important to separate two distinct elements of the Declaration—elements that sometimes get conflated. The first of these is the assertion of popular sovereignty to create a new state: in the Declaration’s words, the right of “one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” The second and more famous element of the Declaration is its ringing endorsement of the sanctity of the individual: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
Read much more at the link.
From the LA Times: The slow-spreading news of American independence.
In this era of instant communication, it’s interesting to note the slow distribution of the Declaration, and the spreading of the word to those on whose behalf independence had been declared. (Imagine the Twitter version: Dudes, we’re on our own. #independence #totallyrad #stickitkinggeorge).
The text was set in type by Philadelphia printer John Dunlap just hours after the Continental Congress approved the manifesto on July 4. He ran off about 200 copies, most of which were then distributed via horse and boat around the Colonies. He reprinted it in his own newspaper, Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet, or The General Advertiser (great newspaper names back then). Over the next few weeks, Jefferson’s stirring words were reprinted inlocal newspapers and pamphlets around the Colonies.
And, naturally, in Britain. It took more than a month for the first reports of the Declaration to reach Britain in letters ferried by the Mercury packet ship. Gen. William Howe, who was leading the crown’s forces in the Colonies, included a brief mention in his report to his overseers. So the first public airing of the news came in the London Gazette, the crown’s official paper. If you weren’t a close reader, you could have easily missed it.
In the four-page issue dated Aug. 6-Aug. 10, 1776, the Gazette’s lead story was Howe’s update of the war, reporting that “the Rebels, who are numerous, and are very advantageously posted with strong Entrenchments both upon Long Island and that of New York, with more than One Hundred pieces of Cannon for the Defence of the Town towards the Sea, and to obstruct the passage of the [British] Fleet up the North [Hudson] River, besides a considerable Field Train of artillery.”
Finally, Carina Kolodny at Huffington Post: This Is Not Your Independence Day.
The 4th of July might commemorate the independence of our country — but it also serves as a bitter reminder that in 1776, the country that I love had no place for me in it.
When our founding fathers penned, “All men are created equal,” they meant it. Not all people. Not all humans. Just all men — the only reason they didn’t feel obliged to specify “white” men is because, at the time, men of color were considered less than men, less than human.
The 4th is not my Independence Day — and if you’re a Caucasian woman, it isn’t yours either. Our “independence” didn’t come for another 143 years, with the passage of The Woman’s Suffrage Amendment in 1919. The 4th of July is also not Independence Day for people of color. It wasn’t until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 that all men had the right to vote regardless of race — on paper, that is, not in practice. People of color were systematically, and all too successfully, disenfranchised for another century. July 4th of 1776 was certainly not a day of Independence or reverence for Native Americans. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans could unilaterally become citizens of the United States and have the voting rights to go with it.
Now, before anyone argues that Independence is about more than voting rights, I’d like to point out that our Founding Fathers would fundamentally disagree with you. The Revolutionary War was fought, in large part, because of “taxation without representation” — the then English colonists believed they were not free because their voices were not represented. The right to vote, the right to have your say is the delineating characteristic of a democracy.
The Aftermath of the Hobby Lobby Decision
On that note, today many concerned citizens are looking back at the latest Supreme Court decisions that take women backwards in their pursuit of freedom and autonomy. The court-approved limits on access to birth control go beyond the Hobby Lobby decision. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog: Broader right to object to birth control.
Expanding the rights of religious opponents of birth control, a divided Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon spared an Illinois college — and maybe hundreds of other non-profit institutions — from obeying government regulations that seek to assure access to pregnancy prevention services for female workers and students. In the same order, the majority essentially told the government to modify its own rules if it wants to keep those services available.
Three Justices wrote a sharply worded dissent, accusing the majority of creating on its own a “new administrative regime” that will seriously complicate the operation of the birth control mandate under the new federal health care law. The majority, the dissenters said, “has no reason to think that the administrative scheme it foists on the government today is workable or effective on a national scale.”
The ruling, which the majority insisted was temporary and had settled nothing finally about the legal issues at stake, came three days after the Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby had given for-profit businesses whose owners have religious objections to birth control a right to refuse to provide those services in their employee health plans.
The plea by Wheaton College, a religious institution in Illinois with about 3,000 students, moved the Court beyond for-profit firms to the world of non-profit religious colleges, hospitals, and other charities. The government had already moved to accommodate their beliefs, but that had not gone far enough for the college and for scores of other non-profits. With the Court’s new order, they gained additional separation from the birth-control mandate.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum writes: Supreme Court Now Playing Cute PR Games With Hobby Lobby Decision.
For the last few days, there’s been a broad argument about whether the Hobby Lobby ruling was a narrow one—as Alito himself insisted it was—or was merely an opening volley that opened the door to much broader rulings in the future. After Tuesday’s follow-up order—which expanded the original ruling to cover all contraceptives, not just those that the plaintiffs considered abortifacients—and today’s order—which rejected a compromise that the original ruling praised—it sure seems like this argument has been settled. This is just the opening volley. We can expect much more aggressive follow-ups from this court in the future.
POSTSCRIPT: It’s worth noting that quite aside from whether you agree with the Hobby Lobby decision, this is shameful behavior from the conservatives on the court. As near as I can tell, they’re now playing PR games worthy of a seasoned politico, deliberately releasing a seemingly narrow opinion in order to generate a certain kind of coverage, and then following it up later in the sure knowledge that its “revisions” won’t get nearly as much attention.
Monday’s decision in Hobby Lobby was unprecedented. Much of the commentary has focused on the Supreme Court’s decision to extend rights of religious free exercise to for-profit corporations. Hobby Lobby is for religion what Citizens United was for free speech—the corporatization of our basic liberties. But Hobby Lobby is also unprecedented in another, equally important way. For the first time, the court has interpreted a federal statute, theReligious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA), as affording more protection for religion than has ever been provided under the First Amendment. While some have read Hobby Lobby as a narrow statutory ruling, it is much more than that. The court has eviscerated decades of case law and, having done that, invites a new generation of challenges to federal laws, including those designed to protect civil rights.
The authors explain how the right wing Roberts Court has moved beyond any concern for legal precedent in making its decisions.
Hobby Lobby is unprecedented because it corporatizes religious liberty. It extends to for-profit businesses the rights and privileges that have long been associated only with churches and religious nonprofits. But that change is the result of a more pervasive and deeper upending of the law of religious liberty in America. Ignoring congressional intent, the court reads RFRA as having shed its First Amendment skin. It is not entirely clear what American law will look like after that change. But if anything is clear, it is that the Roberts Court is now unconstrained by precedent. It has loosened itself from decades of First Amendment doctrine and has begun remaking the law of free exercise.
Please read the whole thing.
Ironically, the Hobby Lobby decision may have also created some serious problems for the human beings who own corporations (h/t Dakinikat). From Mother Jones: How Hobby Lobby Undermined The Very Idea of a Corporation. Basically, now that SCOTUS has said that some corporations are inseparable from the people who own them, those owners could lose their legal protection from debts and lawsuits that result from corporate actions. There’s some instant Karma for you!
A few more links for your holiday reading pleasure:
Miami Herald: FBI records: Chilling find in Bradenton dumpster (new clues to Saudi involvement in the 9/11 and the cover-up of that involvement by the Bush/Cheney administration).
Boston Globe: People prefer electric shocks to time alone with thoughts.
What stories are you following on this Independence Day?