Tuesday Evening News and Live Blog/Open Thread

A woman hugs her children in Mexico City after 7.4 earthquake

Good Evening Sky Dancers! I’m filling in for Minkoff Minx, who is having internet connectivity problems. This is an open thread to discuss the results of the Illinois primary, the latest news, and anything else on your mind.

There was a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Mexico</ this afternoon. CNN:

Hundreds of houses collapsed after a strong earthquake that rattled residents in southern Mexican resort towns and the nation’s capital Tuesday, officials said.

The quake had a magnitude of 7.4, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Its epicenter was about 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of Ometepec, Guerrero, the USGS said, and its depth was about 12.4 miles (20 km).

In the nearby town of Igualapa, officials reported that at least 800 houses had collapsed, the Guerrero state government said in a statement. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths.

More than an hour after the quake, residents in Ometepec were feeling aftershocks, said Francisca Villalva Davila, the city’s comptroller.

A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor who was on the scene Mexico wrote about his personal reactions.

I have lived in Mexico City for six years and never worried much about earthquakes. But now I have a baby. And as all parents will understand, earthquakes have now joined the list of things like airplane turbulence and speeding taxis, to name but a few, that I now care desperately about.

So when the unusually long and strong earthquake shook this city right after noon local time, as I was typing away at a local Starbucks where I often work, I slammed shut my laptop and ran as fast as I could home (losing a powercord and mouse along the way).

The streets were packed with people who had evacuated, looking up at the highrises around us, wondering if there was damage and if buildings would hold. As I looked up and ran, I kept thinking not about what lay in my own path, but that the buildings standing firm must mean that mine probably did too.

Everyone was fine at home, my sweet baby outside with her caretaker and the rest of our neighbors. But the earthquake was the biggest that I felt since living here.

The polls close in Illinois at 8PM Eastern, so results will be coming in soon. It appears that Romney is way ahead, so unless Santorum gets his god to pull off a miracle for him, there won’t be much excitement. I’ll post any updates I hear, and I invite everyone else to do the same. CNN’s Political Ticker has a piece on the “nuts and bolts” of today’s primary.

With 54 delegates at stake, the state has already proved a prime battleground for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum whose campaigns and supporting super PACs have spent millions of dollars in television ads attacking each other.

As with most other states, Illinois allocates its delegates proportionally. Voters directly elect the 54 delegates in the state’s 18 Congressional Districts.

Additionally, there are 12 statewide delegates reserved for a non-binding “beauty contest,” which has no impact on delegate selection Tuesday and will later be selected at the state convention in June.

The total delegate count also includes three delegates for Republican National Committee members, which are not tied to Tuesday’s primary results.

As happened in Ohio, Rick Santorum didn’t field enough delegates in every district, so he can at most win only 44. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich each filed a full slate of delegates.

The early exit polls suggest that Mitt Romney did better with Illinois voters than in other states in terms of “relatability.”

An improved sense that he understands voters’ problems gave Mitt Romney hope in today’s Illinois Republican primary, as did a less religiously focused, less strongly conservative electorate than he’s faced in some other contests, especially to the south.

Preliminary exit poll results find that six in 10 Illinois voters see Romney as the candidate with the best chance of beating Barack Obama, a bit better than his average across exit polls this year. More strikingly, Romney also leads Rick Santorum, albeit narrowly, as the candidate who “best understands the problems of average Americans.”

It’s only the second state, of six where the question’s been asked, in which Romney’s been poised to beat his rivals on empathy. The other was Florida.

Among other advantages for Romney, the Illinois primary is characterized by vastly fewer evangelicals than the Southern contests, and fewer voters expressing a desire for a candidate who shares their religious beliefs, two groups in which he’s generally struggled. About four in 10 are evangelicals, near the average in primaries this year and far below their 80-percent share in Alabama and Mississippi last week. Similarly, nearly half the voters in those states were highly focused on shared religious beliefs; it’s half that in Illinois today, fewer even than in Ohio early this month.

Read more at the link. I can’t imagine what kind of voter would rate Romney high on empathy! A low information voter, I guess.

In case you haven’t heard yet, President Obama is “fast-trackng the Southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

President Obama plans to announce in Cushing, Oklahoma Thursday that his administration will expedite the permit process for the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, a source familiar with the president’s announcement tells CNN.

In January, the Obama administration denied a permit for the 1,700 mile long Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would stretch from Canada’s tar sands development to the U.S. Gulf Coast. That decision was met by persistent Republican criticism that the president has not been doing everything possible to create jobs and combat high gas prices.

Late last month, TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline, announced it would move forward with the process to build the southern portion of the pipeline, which would begin in Cushing, the president’s third stop on his two-day energy tour. The White House praised the move.

Still, the permit process for a project like this can typically take a year or more. The source familiar with the president’s announcement says the administration could shave several months off that timeline.

You know, I had pretty much resigned myself to voting for Obama if necessary, but he seems to be working overtime to lose my vote again.

You can add another front to the war on women. According to an article by Robert Pear in the NYT today,

Women still pay more than men for the same health insurance coverage, according to new research and data from online brokers.

The new health care law will prohibit such “gender rating,” starting in 2014. But gaps persist in most states, with no evidence that insurers have taken steps to reduce them.

For a popular Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Chicago, a 30-year-old woman pays $375 a month, which is 31 percent more than what a man of the same age pays for the same coverage, according to eHealthInsurance.com, a leading online source of health insurance.

In a report to be issued this week, the National Women’s Law Center, a research and advocacy group, says that in states that have not banned gender rating, more than 90 percent of the best-selling health plans charge women more than men.

Isn’t that just peachy keen? What stories have caught your eye this afternoon? Please share!

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Tuesday Reads: Romney Gets Women’s Health Questions in IL, Santorum Talks Brokered Convention, Manning and Tebow, and the Trayvon Martin Murder

Good Morning!!

Today is the Illinois primary, so I have a few links for you about that–even though I’m sure you’re as sick of reading about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as I am.

According to CNN, Romney leads Santorum by double digits as of last night.

The Caucus Blog (NYT): Before Illinois Primary, Santorum Talks of Brokered Convention

Mr. Santorum remains insistent that he and the other Republican challengers are in a position to deny Mr. Romney the 1,144 delegates he needs to claim the party’s nomination. In an appearance on CBS’s “Early Show,” Mr. Santorum said Mr. Romney could not win.

“The convention will nominate a conservative,” Mr. Santorum said. “They will not nominate the establishment moderate candidate from Massachusetts. When we nominate moderates, when we nominate a Tweedledum versus Tweedledee, we don’t win elections.”

Asked about the odds of a brokered convention, Mr. Santorum said, “Obviously, they are increasing.”

Washington Post: On eve of Illinois primary, Mitt Romney faces tough questions about women’s issues

PEORIA, Ill. — Mitt Romney wanted to talk about the economy, but Bradley University had other ideas.

The Republican presidential front-runner faced tough questions about his opposition to Planned Parenthood and mandatory birth control coverage as he met with students Monday night.

CNN (with video): Romney can’t escape birth control questions in Illinois

After Romney riffed for about 20 minutes on President Barack Obama’s management of the economy, he solicited questions from the large student-heavy audience.

As the first questioner made apparent, these voters were not pre-screened.

“So you’re all for like, yay, freedom, and all this stuff,” said the first woman to approach a microphone. “And yay, like pursuit of happiness. You know what would make me happy? Free birth control.”

….

“You know, let me tell you, no no, look, look let me tell you something,” he said, waiting for the crowd noise died down. “If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for? Vote for the other guy, that’s what he’s all about, okay? That’s not, that’s not what I’m about.”

Romney also told the students that he would end government funding for Planned Parenthood and he didn’t know or care where women could go for health care after he ends the funding. What a guy.

Washington Post Politics: Romney, Santorum each claim conservative mantle before Illinois primary

On the eve of the hotly contested Illinois primary, each of the leading Republican presidential candidates drew inspiration from touchstones of conservatism on Monday and offered himself as the standard-bearer for the right’s fight against President Obama.

Mitt Romney traveled to the urban campus where Obama once taught constitutional law to lecture the president on the principle of economic freedom, paying homage to the University of Chicago’s legacy as the intellectual center of free-market economics.

A hundred miles west in Dixon, Rick Santorum tried to channel the spirit and vision of Ronald Reagan during a stop in the former president’s boyhood hometown, hoping to give his insurgent campaign a last-minute infusion of energy.

As they journeyed across Illinois, Romney and Santorum each cast himself as the rightful heir to Reagan’s conservative mantle…

As we’ve all noted previously, if Ronald Reagan ran today, he wouldn’t be nominated. He wasn’t anywhere near as far right as today’s Republicans.

In sports news, the Peyton Manning sweepstakes is over. Manning is going to the Denver Broncos, and Xtian fundamentalist weirdo Tim Tebow may be traded.

Unfortunately, Jim Clayton of ESPN started a rumor that the New England Patriots might want Tebow. I don’t know if I could take that. I don’t really think Tebow’s super-pious act would go over that well in Foxborough. I haven’t seen any of the Patriots players kneeling down and praising Jesus before games and after scoring. Ugh!

Dakinikat and I both wrote about the Trayvon Martin case yesterday, and I have a few more links on that.

First, Connie posted a link to this very informative Mother Jones article yesterday: The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained. If you haven’t heard the 911 calls, the audio from all of them is posted in the piece. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” which gives very broad interpretations to “self-defense” is explained in the MJ article. Here’s a bit of it:

In 1987, then-Gov. Bob Martinez (R) signed Florida’s concealed-carry provision into law, which “liberalized the restrictions that previously hindered the citizens of Florida from obtaining concealed weapons permits,” according to one legal analyst. This trendsetting “shall-issue” statute triggered a wave of gun-carry laws in other states. (Critics said at the time that Florida would become “Dodge City.”) Permit holders are also exempted from the mandatory state waiting period on handgun purchases.

Even though felons and other violent offenders are barred from getting a weapons permit, a 2007 investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that licenses had been mistakenly issued to 1,400 felons and hundreds more applicants with warrants, domestic abuse injunctions, or gun violations. (More than 410,000 Floridians have been issued concealed weapons permits.) Since then, Florida also passed a law permitting residents to keep guns in their cars at work, against employers’ wishes. The state also nearly allowed guns on college campuses last year, until an influential Republican lawmaker fought the bill after his close friend’s daughter was killed by an AK-47 brandished at a Florida State University fraternity party.

Florida also makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the state in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.)

The Florida courts have upheld the law and issued some truly shocking findings.

This has led to some stunning verdicts in the state. In Tallahassee in 2008, two rival gangs engaged in a neighborhood shootout, and a 15-year-old African American male was killed in the crossfire. The three defendants all either were acquitted or had their cases dismissed, because the defense successfully argued they were defending themselves under the “stand your ground” law. The state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, was beside himself. “Basically this law has put us in the posture that our citizens can go out into the streets and have a gun fight and the dead person is buried and the survivor of the gun fight is immune from prosecution,” he said at the time.

One of those defendants ended up receiving a conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter for an unrelated case, in which he shot indiscriminately at two people in a car.

The only hope Trayvon Martin’s family may have is for the U.S. Justice Department to step in and investigate the shooting as a hate crime. And I just saw the news breaking on Twitter that the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI have opened an investigation into the Trayvon Martin case.

Here are a couple of articles about the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law and its impact on the courts.

Miami Herald: Florida’s self-defense law could hamper efforts to prosecute Trayvon Martin shooter

Slate: Why Trayvon Martin’s Killer Remains Free: “Florida’s self-defense laws have left Florida safe for no one—except those who shoot first.”

Boy am I glad Massachusetts has tough gun laws! Florida college students held a rally yesterday in Sanford, FL, the Orlando suburb where the shooting took place.

College students around Florida are rallying Monday to demand the arrest of a neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Students rallied in front of the Seminole County criminal courts building in Sanford – the central Florida city where the shooting occurred – and on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

In the courts building is the State Attorney’s Office, where prosecutors will review the case and decide whether to file criminal charges against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed Martin on Feb. 26.

Demonstrators are demanding the arrest of the 28-year-old Zimmerman, who authorities say shot the teenager during a confrontation in a gated community. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense; Florida law allows a person to use deadly force if the person believes he or she is facing a deadly threat.

The problem is that Zimmerman actually pursued Martin and had the boy pinned face down on the ground when he pulled the trigger. He wasn’t “standing his ground.” He initiated a confrontation with a boy who weighed 140 pounds, nearly 100 pounds less than Zimmerman.

Just a couple more links.

Al Sharpton at HuffPo announcing his rally in Sanford on Thursday.

On Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m., National Action Network (NAN) and I will convene an urgent rally at the First Shiloh Baptist Church in Sanford, FL. to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. We will be joined by community leaders and concerned citizens from all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life that cannot even begin to comprehend this nightmarish situation. A young teenager walking home, armed only with candy and a drink, should never lose his/her life because someone in a gated community feels ‘threatened.’ George Zimmerman, the accused adult shooter, is roaming the earth freely while Trayvon’s mother, father and family members must bury their precious child. It is an atrocious miscarriage of justice, and we demand that authorities in Florida arrest Zimmerman immediately and charge him for the crime of murder. Anyone with sound reasoning cannot disagree.

Sharpton goes on to discuss the “Stand Your Ground Laws” and why they shouldn’t apply to what Zimmerman did. To me, the 911 calls are evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor. At least five individuals saw the altercation and heard Trayvon’s screams for help while George Zimmerman lay on top of him.

At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates pulls a quote from the Miami Herald story I linked earlier:

“We are taking a beating over this,” said [Bill] Lee, who defends the investigation. “This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”

Bill Lee is the Sanford police chief who let George Zimmerman go free without even taking a drug and alcohol text. He thinks Trayvon should have done things differently. What does that mean? That it was wrong for this boy to go to the corner store for some candy and a bottle of iced tea? There’s more about Zimmerman’s attitudes at the link.

I’ll end with this: What bothers me most is that Trayvon’s body was taken to the morgue as an unidentified person. The body was held there for three days, supposedly because the boy had no ID. But I learned last night that Trayvon had his cell phone with him. The boy’s father was calling the cell phone, and there certainly should have been a way to identify the boy from that phone. Why couldn’t they call the last number called? Why didn’t the police go door to door in the neighborhood and try to find out who the boy was? Surely that alone is evidence of profiling. The assumption was that the boy didn’t come from that neighborhood.

That’s it for me for today. What are you reading and blogging about?