Thursday Reads: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Lives

Peonies, by Claude Monet

Good Morning!!

Even as we worry about Trump and Bolton starting a war with Iran and about the Democrats refusing to follow the Impeachment road map provided by Robert Mueller, American women must face the fact that our very personhood is being attacked.

Personally, I have decided that I will not vote for any man for president. The right of women to make decisions about our own bodies is too important.

Here’s the latest on the War on Women:

NBC News: Missouri Senate passes bill to outlaw abortion at 8 weeks.

Missouri’s Senate has passed what its authors call one of the nation’s most stringent anti-abortion bills, which would outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

The Republican-led Senate passed the bill, dubbed Missouri Stands With The Unborn, by a margin of 24 to 10 early Thursday morning….

Missouri’s move comes hours after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that would introduce a near-total abortion ban in that state. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

Louisiana is following suit with its own “heartbeat” abortion ban, which was approved unopposed by the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

Abortion right activists are mobilizing in Alabama. The Washington Post: Governor signs Alabama abortion ban, which has galvanized support on both sides, setting up a lengthy fight.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As a crop duster with a banner saying “Abortion is okay” hummed above the capitol, circling back and forth around the governor’s mansion, a group of women below let out a cheer.

Amaryllis by Piet Mondrian (1910)

“Just another day in Alabama,” said Mia Raven, director of People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER) House. “We knew this would pass and we got ready.”

Amanda Reyes, who works with an abortion fund, was wearing an “I’m on the pill” T-shirt, complete with instructions printed on the back detailing how to get a medical abortion. She also looked skyward: “Here it comes again! That’s just the coolest thing.”

Hours after the Alabama Senate voted late Tuesday to ban abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest — women’s rights activists and abortion rights advocates said the decision to approve the nation’s strictest abortion measure has energized them. Knowing that the bill was designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, they are gearing up for the fight.

The Washington Post: Louisiana ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban nearing final passage.

BATON ROUGE, La. — A proposal to ban abortions in Louisiana as early as the sixth week of pregnancy continued to speed through the state legislature Wednesday, the same day Alabama’s governor signed the nation’s most restrictive law against the procedure.

Without objection, the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee backed legislation to prohibit abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, similar to laws passed in several conservative states that are aimed at challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Louisiana’s ban, however, only would take effect if a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi.

Louisiana’s so-called fetal “heartbeat bill” is sponsored by state Sen. John Milkovich, one of several measures that lawmakers are advancing to add new restrictions on abortion. Senators already have supported the bill, which will next receive full House consideration, one step from final passage. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has indicated he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

The New York Times sums up the current abortion landscape: ‘The Time Is Now’: States Are Rushing to Restrict Abortion, or to Protect It.

Alex Katz, Tulips 4, 2013

States across the country are passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in decades, deepening the growing divide between liberal and conservative states and setting up momentous court battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America….

The national race to pass new legislation began last fall, after President Trump chose Brett M. Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, adding what some predicted would be a fifth vote to uphold new limits on abortion. Red states rushed to pass more restrictions and blue states to pass protections.

Now, as state legislative sessions draw to a close in many places, experts count about 30 abortion laws that have passed so far.

That is not necessarily more than in past years, said Elizabeth Nash, a legal expert at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

What’s different is the laws themselves, which have gone further than ever to frontally challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established federal protections for abortion.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Interestingly, these extreme laws could be interfering with right wing plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Flowers in a Glass Vase by John Constable (c. 1814)

Even Pat Robertson thinks the Alabama law is too “extreme.” The Washington Post: Televangelist Pat Robertson: Alabama’s abortion ban is ‘extreme’ and has ‘gone too far.’

Longtime televangelist Pat Robertson decried Alabama’s new abortion ban as “extreme,” saying on his show on Wednesday that the state legislature has “gone too far.”

Alabama’s law, which has been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, includes a penalty of up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions and has no exceptions for rape or incest, Robertson noted on his show.

“They want to challenge Roe vs. Wade, but my humble view is I don’t think that’s the case I’d want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose,” Robertson told viewers of CBN’s “The 700 Club” on Wednesday.

David G. Savage at The Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe vs. Wade — at least not soon.

The Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Thursday morning and are expected to debate and discuss — for the 14th time — Indiana’s appeal of court rulings that have blocked a law to prohibit certain abortions.

The high court’s action — or so far, nonaction — in Indiana’s case gives one clue as to how the court’s conservative majority will decide the fate of abortion bans recently passed by lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed her state’s ban into law on Wednesday.

Pot of Geraniums, Henri Matisse

Lawmakers in those states have said they approved the bans in an effort to force the high court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The justices have many ways to avoid such a sweeping ruling, however. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in his 14 years on the high court, has typically resisted moving quickly to decide major controversies or to announce abrupt, far-reaching changes in the law.

Roberts’ history, along with the court’s handling of abortion cases in recent years, suggests he will not move to overturn the right to abortion soon, or all at once, and is particularly unlikely to do so in the next year or two with a presidential election pending.

At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick makes a similar argument: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan.

One could feel sorry for Chief Justice John Roberts. He is, after all, caught in an unsightly squeeze play between anti-abortion zealots in Alabama, and slightly less wild-eyed anti-abortion zealots in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana (the court seems unable to make a decision on whether to grant the Indiana petition it has been sitting on for months now). There’s finally a five-justice majority within striking distance of a decades-long dream to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the anti-choice activists are getting ahead of themselves like slurring drunks at a frat party and making everything more transparently nasty than it need be.

Hibiscus by Hiroshige (c. 1845)

There are easy and near invisible ways for the high court to end Roe. That has always been, and remains, the logical trajectory. As Mark Joseph Stern has shown, when Brett Kavanaugh came onto the court, with his dog whistles and signaling around reproductive rights, it became clear that he would guide the court to simply allow states to erect more and more barriers to abortion access (dolphin-skin window coverings on every clinic!). The five justices in the majority would do it all while finding ways to say that such regulations were not an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. The courts and state legislatures could continue their lilting love songs to the need for the states to protect maternal health and to help confused mommies make good choices, and nobody need dirty their hands by acknowledging that the real goal of three decades’ worth of cumbersome clinic regulations and admitting privileges laws were just pretexts for closing clinics and ending abortion altogether.

Read the rest at Slate.

(Mostly) male legislators are ignoring the realities of actual women’s lives.

When Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, for example, was asked if the law would allow for incest victims to obtain abortions, he responded: “Yes, until she knows she’s pregnant.”

He did not elaborate on how someone would have an abortion before she knows she’s pregnant, outside of claiming, “It takes time for all the chromosomes to come together.”

Flower Garden by Gustav Klimt, 1905

Women’s bodies, lives, and futures are quite literally in the hands of men who seemingly couldn’t pass a high school health class. That’s part of what’s so hard about watching these debates: It’s not just that women’s rights and autonomy are being legislated away, but that it’s being done by complete morons.

This lack of remedial understanding of women’s bodies is not limited to Alabama. Representative John Becker of Ohio, a Republican, for example, sponsored a bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions, but claimed that it would have an exception for ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. “That treatment would be removing the embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus,” he said, explaining a procedure that doesn’t exist and isn’t medically possible.

There is also Texas state Representative Dan Flynn, a Republican, who believes abortion requires cutting into a woman’s uterus, or Vito Barbieri, the Idaho state Representative, a Republican, who thought you could give a woman a remote gynecological exam by having her swallow a tiny camera.

Shannon Dingle at USA Today: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama’s abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.

Roses and Lillies by Henri Fantin-Latour (1888)

I was that 11-year-old pregnant by rape in Ohio, except I had just turned 12 and lived in Florida….She is 11. She has experienced and is experiencing violating trauma. Maybe someday she will tell her story, but today is not that day.

I can tell my story, though. I was newly 12. I lived in a suburb of Tampa. I had gotten my period a couple years before, and it came regularly once it started. I knew to expect it every 32 days.

It was July, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, when days 33, 34, 35 and more passed with no period. I had read in one of my sister’s Seventeen magazines that periods aren’t always regular, so I figured this was my first one of those.

It wasn’t….I never chose to have sex at such a young age, but abusers in my family chose to rape me. I had lost count of the number of times by then. With a dad high ranking in the county sheriff’s office, I didn’t trust going to the police. I had tried to tell teachers and church volunteers, but that never went anywhere, either.

Please go read the rest if you haven’t already.

Women and girls in the U.S. are in real danger. For me this is the number one issue for women in the upcoming presidential election.

As always, this is an open thread.


Thursday Reads: Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions and Other News

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Hatter tea party

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

Same Sex Marriage

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

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

Affordable Care Act

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

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

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

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

Read about the other cases at the link.

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

Possible Outcomes on Same Sex Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea, Henri Matisse

Tea, Henri Matisse

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

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

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

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

More at the link.

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the Globe.

TEA PARTY painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Affordable Care Act Ruling

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

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

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

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

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

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

Much more interesting analysis at the link.

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Tea Party, Martha Walter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at the WaPo.

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

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

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

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

The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

Other News, Links Only

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WaPo: Whole Foods under investigation for overcharging in NYC.

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


Extra Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

 bouquet-of-dahlias-and-white-book-1923

Good Afternoon!!

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.

harmony-in-red

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.

matisse.lecon-musique

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.

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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!


Fourth of July Reads

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Good Morning!!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

At Slate, , and  explain that Hobby Lobby rewrites religious-freedom law in ways that ignore everything that came before.

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!

In Other News

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).

Study links Oklahoma earthquake swarm with fracking operations 

Boston Globe: People prefer electric shocks to time alone with thoughts.

LA Times: Tibetans get high-altitude edge from extinct Denisovans’ genes.

What stories are you following on this Independence Day?

 


Breaking News: SCOTUS Upholds Affordable Care Act…Details Coming

My intuition was correct.   I think Judge Roberts made his choice.   His own reputation and that of the Supreme Court was more important to him than his conservative ideology.

The bottom line is that the majority has voted to uphold the ACA.  The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the more liberal justices.   I will add details and links as I get them.  Please post anything you hear in comments.

The New York Times says the law has has been basically upheld.  Their live updates are here.

But I’m hearing on MSNBC that the Court said the states can opt out of the program. That could be a serious problem for the law if it affects the size of the population pool. The mandate is “technically unconstitutional,” but the government can penalize people who don’t buy insurance–through the government’s power to tax. However the law doesn’t actually include a penalty.

It sounds like the issue the states can opt out on is the Medicaid expansion. That could be a big problem.

News Links

ABC News: The Mandate Can Stay, Supreme Court Says in Health Care Ruling

Washington Post: Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Law, Mandate

LA Times: Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Law as Tax Measure

CNN International: Where in the world can you get universal health care?

CNN: Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare 5-4

I’ll continue to update in the comments.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This week’s New Yorker has a fascinating article by Jill Lepore about guns in America that I think everyone should read: Battleground America: One nation, under the gun. It’s long, but well worth reading. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

Men are far more likely to own guns than women are, but the rate of gun ownership among men fell from one in two in 1980 to one in three in 2010, while, in that same stretch of time, the rate among women remained one in ten. What may have held that rate steady in an age of decline was the aggressive marketing of handguns to women for self-defense, which is how a great many guns are marketed. Gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, higher in the country than in the city, and higher among older people than among younger people. One reason that gun ownership is declining, nationwide, might be that high-school shooting clubs and rifle ranges at summer camps are no longer common.

Although rates of gun ownership, like rates of violent crime, are falling, the power of the gun lobby is not. Since 1980, forty-four states have passed some form of law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes for personal protection. (Five additional states had these laws before 1980. Illinois is the sole holdout.) A federal ban on the possession, transfer, or manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. In 2005, Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the so-called castle doctrine, exonerating from prosecution citizens who use deadly force when confronted by an assailant, even if they could have retreated safely; Stand Your Ground laws expand that protection outside the home to any place that an individual “has a right to be.” Twenty-four states have passed similar laws.

I hadn’t realized that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin just one day before the school shootings at Chardon High School near Cleveland, Ohio. Isn’t it amazing that we heard all about that shooting right away and it was old news by the time the corporate media began reporting on Trayvon’s death?

Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, and it seems America has changed very little, probably largely because of NRA lobbying as well as ALEC’s “model legislation” writing services.

Of course no one could help hearing about the crude and tasteless behavior on display at the NRA convention last weekend. Executive VP Wayne LaPierre even had the gall to complain about media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. At HuffPo, Dean Obeidallah asks why.

Did Mr. LaPierre offer any sympathy to Trayvon Martin’s family? No.

Instead, he chose to denounce the media for their coverage of the case, alleging that the media’s: “… dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.”

What makes Mr. La Pierre’s comments especially callous is that they were made at the annual NRA convention which was being held this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis has the unenviable distinction of being the city with the second highest rate in the country for youth being killed by guns. Indeed, the gunshot murder rate for 10 to 19 years old in St. Louis is more than three times the average for larger cities according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yesterday the LA Times published photos of American troops in Afghanistan posing with body parts of dead suicide bombers.

Two photos of incidents from a 2010 deployment were published Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times. In one, the hand of a corpse is propped on the shoulder of a paratrooper. In another, the disembodied legs of a suicide bomber are displayed by grinning soldiers and Afghan police.

These are the “hero” troops that we are constantly told we have to support and be grateful to. Have these young people been warped by America’s immoral wars? Or are they products of America’s vicious gun culture? I don’t know the answer, just asking.

American officials weren’t happy with the LA Times for publishing the photos and tried to stop them from doing it. Although the Obama administration and military leaders fell over themselves condemning the actions of these troops,

At the same time, Pentagon and White House officials expressed disappointment that the photos had been made public. The Pentagon had asked The Times not to publish the photos, citing fears that they would trigger a backlash against U.S. forces.

Speaking to reporters during a meeting of NATO allies in Brussels, Panetta said:

“This is war. And I know that war is ugly and violent. And I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions. I am not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people.”

Tough shit. Haven’t we seen enough war crimes by now? This war and the war in Iraq are just plain evil. Get these kids out of Afghanistan, and let’s hope we can prevent a majority of them from acting out violently or joining the growing number of military suicides when they get back home.

Mother Jones reports that ALEC is begging right wing bloggers to rescue them from mean old Common Cause, Color of Change, and other liberal groups who have been convincing ALEC’s donors to withdraw their support.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the once-obscure organization that pairs corporations with state lawmakers to draft pro-business and often anti-union legislation for the state level, is in damage control mode. Corporate members such as McDonald’s, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mars, Inc. have cut ties with ALEC after taking heat from a coalition of progressive groups angry over ALEC’s “discriminatory” voter ID bills and controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense legislation that figures into the Trayvon Martin shooting in central Florida.

To push back, ALEC has turned to the conservative blogosphere for help. As PR Watch reported, Caitlyn Korb, ALEC’s director of external relations, told attendees at a Heritage Foundation “Bloggers Briefing” on Tuesday that the campaign against ALEC was “part of a wider effort to shut all of us down.” She asked the bloggers for “any and all institutional support” in ALEC’s fight against progressive groups, especially when it came to social media. “We’re getting absolutely killed in social media venues—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest,” she said. “Any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don’t know much about this fight but are seeing us really get heavily attacked with very little opposition.”

Korb educated the bloggers with a handout listing ALEC’s positions on a range of issues. PR Watch, one of ALEC’s loudest critics, described the handout as “riddled with errors.”

Check out the list at the above link.

Joshua Holland has an excellent piece at Alternet: Freedom from a Dead-End Life: True Liberty Means Defeating the Right-Wing’s Nightmare Vision for America.

Last week, Mitt Romney summed up the Right’s rhetorical fluff as well as anyone when he told the National Rifle Association that “freedom is the victim of unbounded government appetite.” It was an unremarkable comment, so accustomed are we to hearing the Right – a movement that historically opposed women’s sufferage and black civil rights and still seeks to quash workers’ right to organize and gay and lesbian Americans’ right to marry– claim to be defenders of our liberties….

Dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that “freedom” for the Right offers most of us anything but. It’s the freedom for companies to screw their workers, pollute, and otherwise operate free of any meaningful regulations to protect the public interest. It’s about the wealthiest among us being free from the burden of paying a fair share of the taxes that help finance a smoothly functioning society.

The flip side is that programs that assure working Americans a decent existence are painted as a form of tyranny approaching fascism. The reality is that they impinge only on our God-given right to live without a secure social safety net. It’s the freedom to go bankrupt if you can’t afford to treat an illness; the liberty to spend your golden years eating cat food if you couldn’t sock away enough for a decent retirement.

It’s another long read, but well worth the time.

At FDL, Kevin Gosztola writes about yesterday’s unanimous SCOTUS that multinational corporations can’t be sued for torturing and/or killing people.

The US Supreme Court unanimously decided that foreign political organizations and multinational corporations cannot be sued for the torture or extrajudicial killing of persons abroad under an anti-torture law passed in 1992. The law only gives people the right to sue “an individual,” “who acted under the authority of a foreign nation,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the family of a US citizen, Azzam Rahim, who was tortured and killed in the Palestinian Territory by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) intelligence officers. It was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who President Barack Obama appointed to the Supreme Court, that spoke for the decision. She explained the text of the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 “convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this branch to do otherwise.”

Apparently, corporations are only “people” for purposes of corrupting electoral politics, but when they commit crimes they are no longer considered “individuals.” Gosztola also calls attention to the fact that Chief Justice Roberts actually laughed at the arguments of the Rahim family’s attorney Jeffrey Fisher.

Mr. Fisher did what he could with what the justices seemed to think was an exceptionally weak hand.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. summarized Mr. Fisher’s position: “You are saying, ‘Well, we want a term that is going to include individual persons and organizations but not state organizations.’ And the only term that fits perfectly is ‘individual.’ ”

“Exactly,” Mr. Fisher said. “That’s our argument.”

Chief Justice Roberts was incredulous. “Really?” he asked, to laughter in the courtroom, which the chief justice joined.

Finally, Dakinikat sent me this from The New York Times: Vatican orders crackdown on American nuns

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

Rome also chided the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about?