Archive | Politics

McCain’s Politics at their Most Hypocritical

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran into a little trouble last week. The Republican senator, a little too eager to condemn the Obama White House, complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan a few months prior. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.”

Making matters slightly worse, the Arizona lawmaker, himself a former POW, complained to the media that he hadn’t learned anything from a classified briefing on Bowe Bergdahl’s release, neglecting to mention that he’d left in the middle of it.

Despite – or perhaps, because of – these embarrassments, McCain scored another Sunday-show invitation, where he somehow managed to add insult to injury.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday called the five Guantanamo detainees released in a prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11” and said he expects them to return to fighting against the U.S.
In context, looking at the full transcript, it’s hard to say whether McCain believes these five detainees were “responsible for 9/11” or whether he believes all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were “responsible for 9/11,” but either way, the senator is plainly wrong.

McCain added, in reference to the Bergdahl prisoner-swap, “I wouldn’t release these men, not these men. They were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release.”

That’s wrong, too. In fact, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay told msnbc’s Alex Witt over the weekend that at first he didn’t even recognize these detainees’ names. “To trade five of them for a U.S. service member, in my estimation, and I’m often critical of President [Barack] Obama, I think they struck a pretty good deal,” retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis said.

What’s more, just a few months ago, McCain personally endorsed the plan to transfer these exact same Taliban prisoners. When he says he wouldn’t have completed the swap for “these men,” he’s neglecting to mention that he’d already expressed public support for swapping “these men.”

And all of this led to the creme de la crème:

“I believe that there are other prisoners, some of whom we have already released, that we could have released that – in exchange,” McCain argued.

If someone could explain what this means, I’d appreciate it. Putting aside the fact that McCain already endorsed the plan to swap these exact same prisoners before he changed his mind and denied changing his mind, it’s not at all clear how U.S. officials could have swapped prisoners “whom we have already released.”

It’s tempting to think that, one of these days, the Beltway will stop looking to McCain as an expert on matters related to national security and the military, but I’ve been waiting for that day for quite a while. It never seems to arrive.

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A Lawmaker May Have Just Accepted An Illegal Bribe In Order To Flip The Virginia Senate To The GOP

The Washington Post reports that Virginia state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat, “will announce his resignation Monday, effective immediately, paving the way to appoint his daughter to a judgeship and Puckett to the job of deputy director of the state tobacco commission.” Currently, the Virginia senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam holding the balance of power. If Puckett resigns, Republicans will gain control of the body for at least as long as it takes to elect a replacement.

The full details of this arrangement, including whether or not Puckett was explicitly offered the position as deputy director of the tobacco commission in return for his agreement to resign his senate seat, are not yet known. Although the executive director of the commission is appointed by the governor — who is currently Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe — the deputy director is appointed by the commission itself. Both the chair and the vice chair of the commission are Republicans.

If Puckett was offered the seat on this commission in exchange for his decision to resign from the state legislature, however, he may have committed a very serious crime. Under Virginia’s bribery law, it is a felony for a state lawmaker to “accept[] or agree[] to accept from another … any pecuniary benefit offered, conferred or agreed to be conferred as consideration for or to obtain or influence the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or other exercise of discretion as a public servant or party official.”

Given this statutory language, two questions need to be answered before Puckett could be prosecuted. The first is whether Puckett agreed to accept the tobacco commission job “as consideration for” his resignation from the state senate — that is, whether there was a quid pro quo deal where the job was offered up as the prize Puckett received if he agreed to resign. The second is whether Puckett’s resignation counts as an “exercise of discretion as a public servant.” Based on a search of Virginia court cases using the legal search engine Lexis, there does not appear to be a court decision answering this question.

In any event, the circumstances of this anticipated resignation — in which a Democratic senator throws control of the state legislature to the GOP, and then immediately receives a job from a commission controlled by a Republican chair and vice-chair — is suspicious. It also could have very serious consequences for Virginia’s least fortunate residents.

Gov. McAuliffe is currently embroiled in a fight with Republicans, who control the state house, over whether Virginia should accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans take the state senate, even briefly, they can use their control over the entire legislature to pass a budget that does not include the Medicaid expansion. Though McAuliffe could veto the budget, Republicans could use that veto to try to blame him for an ensuing government shutdown.

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CPUC PG&E Chicanery? California Commission Sudden Halt into PG&E Gas Pipeline Safety Raises Serious Questions, San Bruno Says

San Francisco, Calif. – The City of San Bruno today criticized a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to halt its investigation into thousands of missing Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pipeline strength test records – a sudden and shocking reversal that’s prompted concerns of a possible backroom deal brokered between PG&E and the state agency tasked with regulating it.

 

The CPUC’s Safety Enforcement Division this week quietly halted its inquiry into the safety of 435 miles of gas pipelines across California after PG&E refused to turn the information over to regulators— causing speculation that PG&E may have applied outside pressure to compel the regulatory agency to end its investigation.

 

San Bruno officials are now calling upon the CPUC to immediately re-open the investigation to force PG&E to produce accurate strength test records for 23,761 segments of pipe covering more than 435 miles – records that PG&E explicitly told the CPUC it would produce by 2013.

 

State and federal investigators identified PG&E’s faulty recordkeeping as a leading cause of the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes.

 

“PG&E continues to play a lethal game with the lives of the public. We are deeply concerned by their persistent failure and unwillingness to produce accurate pipeline records, without which we cannot know whether our communities remain at risk for the same devastating and fatal explosion that we experienced in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “Yet even more troubling is the CPUC’s decision to not pursue an investigation of these missing records even after preparing a motion to do so.”

 

“We question the CPUC’s sudden decision this week and are concerned it may be the result of inappropriate pressure applied by PG&E at the expense, once again, of public safety,” Ruane said.

 

The CPUC’s latest inquiry came about as part of the ongoing penalty proceeding to determine how much PG&E will be forced to pay for its gross negligence that caused the fatal explosion and fire in San Bruno. The CPUC’s administrative law judges are now considering penalties and fines against PG&E of up to $2.45 billion.

 

Yet, following unsuccessful attempts to obtain missing strength test records for more than 435 miles of pipeline directly from PG&E, the CPUC’s safety and enforcement division submitted a motion on May 30 to re-open the penalty proceeding’s record for the sole purpose of forcing PG&E to produce the documents.

 

San Bruno strongly supported the CPUC’s motion and its inquiry of the missing records, which city officials say are critical to instilling the public’s confidence in the safety of PG&E’s embattled pipeline system. San Bruno filed its own motion officially supporting the safety enforcement division’s request to obtain the missing records.

 

City officials are now questioning the division’s sudden decision to withdraw the motion and suspend the inquiry – a decision the city can only speculate as resulting from outside attempts by PG&E and its proxies to influence the CPUC’s actions.

 

“We are concerned that this decision is just further evidence of the cozy relationships that continue to jeopardize the CPUC’s ability to objectively regulate PG&E,” Ruane said.

 

San Bruno officials say this latest incident further underscores the need for an Independent Monitor, who would serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and the CPUC.

 

“Only an independent monitor – free of the CPUC’s conflicts of interest and cozy relationships with PG&E that have jeopardized pipeline safety – can help guarantee that PG&E maintains good records and ensure that the CPUC provides the adequate and consistent oversight needed to keep our communities safe so that what happened in San Bruno never happens again,” Ruane said.

 

Ironically, PG&E has been spending millions of dollars on advertising its new “culture of safety,” with advertisements that stress the utility’s gas pipeline safety improvements since the San Bruno explosion and fire.  Yet, Ruane said, the utility can’t back up their advertising with proof that what they are telling the public is true.

 

Also this week, PG&E revealed that the U.S. Federal Prosecutor’s office expects to file additional legal actions against the utility for its gross negligence in the San Bruno case.  In April, the federal government charged PG&E with 12 felony violations of federal safety laws.

 

Is there a dirty deal between CPUC Michael Peevey and PG&E Executives?

Is there a dirty deal between CPUC Michael Peevey and PG&E Executives?

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Standing in the way of the GOP’s minority outreach

The Republican Leadership Conference wrapped up its three-day gathering over the weekend, offering attendees all kinds of speeches and presentations from notable party leaders and personalities.
But as Benjy Sarlin noted, the head of the Republican National Committee seems to have approached the event with some questions on his mind.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus, invoking the legacy of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, asked a question at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans that many prominent Republicans have asked in recent years: Why does the party of Abraham Lincoln not get more credit as the party of tolerance?
“We’re the party of freedom and we’re the party of opportunity and we’re the party of equality, we’re the ones with that history,” Priebus said in his speech Thursday. “It’s the other side that has a shameful history, but you wouldn’t know it because we don’t talk about it.”
Let’s go ahead and skip the history lesson in which we remind the right that white segregationists transitioned from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in the middle of the 20th century.
Instead, let’s consider the speakers who followed Priebus at this year’s Republican Leadership Conference:
* Reality-television personality Phil Robertson spoke at the event, despite his recent defense of life for African Americans in the South during segregation. “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person,” Robertson said in an article published earlier this year. “Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ – not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
* Reality-television personality Donald Trump also spoke at the event, defending his birther crusade. “I think a lot of people love me for it,” he told the Republican Leadership Conference over the weekend. “I got [President Obama] to produce his so-called birth certificate, or whatever it is.”
* Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was a featured guest, despite his history of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
* Dinesh D’Souza was there, despite his racially charged “anti-colonialist” thesis involving the president.
* Sarah Palin was also there, despite her “shuck and jive” condemnations of the president.
Priebus wants his party to get more credit as the party of tolerance? Even if he didn’t stick around for the whole Republican Leadership Conference, couldn’t he at least look at the guest list?
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Marriage equality hits a milestone

Last week, marriage equality hit a milestone.

When judges in Oregon and Pennsylvania declared those state’s marriage bans unconstitutional and state officials decided not to challenge the decisions, we had marriage-equality states Nos. 18 and 19. Less than a week earlier, Arkansas and Idaho had their marriage bans declared unconstitutional. More than 300 couples in Arkansas married before the state got an injunction.

In addition, judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Virginia declared those state’s marriage bans unconstitutional and judges in

Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio ruled those states must recognize out-of-state marriages, at least in certain cases.

That makes 29 states — more than half — with marriage equality or marriage equality rulings.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cautioned the court not to legalize same-sex marriage before states were ready. She used the example of Roe v. Wade, the Dallas case that legalized abortion nationwide.

In 1973, when the ruling was issued, only four states — New York, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska — had abortion on demand. In 16 states, abortion was legal under certain circumstances but illegal in 30 states under all circumstances, including threat to the woman’s health.

Ginsburg believes had the court ruled incrementally, opposition to legalized abortion wouldn’t have been as strident as it’s been.

Ruling too soon backfired in the case of sodomy.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Georgia’s sodomy law in Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986. Just 17 years later, the court decision was overturned in Lawrence v. Texas.

States were moving in the direction of loosening restrictions on sodomy, but the court wasn’t ready to side with the LGBT community in Bowers. In 1960, every state had sodomy laws on the books. Five years later, the U.S. Supreme Court took a contraception case that recognized a married couple’s right to privacy. By 1986, fewer than half the states had repealed their sodomy laws, but by 2003, only 10 states still had sodomy laws on the books. Of those, four applied only to gay men.

Everyone in the LGBT community is anxious for the Supreme Court to give the Defense of Marriage Act and marriage discrimination a final blow. Appeals court rulings are expected soon in the Utah and Oklahoma cases, so the court could decide to take one or both of those cases.

Since the Windsor decision that invalidated parts of DOMA last June, marriage equality has won in every court where it’s been heard. A number of additional cases have upcoming dates. In June, Colorado and Louisiana cases will be in court. In July, a Florida hearing begins.

Wisconsin’s trial begins in August and, in September, Idaho and Alabama are set for hearings.

Rulings are expected at any time in a number of cases including the Texas divorce case pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

Several cases may be ready for the U.S. Supreme Court by next session. The Utah and Oklahoma decisions are expected from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals any time, and Virginia is expected as early as this summer.

During the 2014-15 session, the Supreme Court could decide to hear any one of the cases decided by an appeals court, or it may choose to sit it out another term to see how all of the cases play out in lower courts.

As of this week, every state except North Dakota has at least one case filed. The cases are diverse, covering more than just the right to marry. In some states, the cases involve the right to stay married. If a couple is married in one state and then travels to another, do they have the right to expect their marriage to continue to be considered valid?

Several cases involve divorce, including a Texas case. While a couple may marry anywhere, residency is required to file divorce. If a couple is married in one state, but lives in another, must the state recognize the marriage for the purposes of divorce?

And in another Texas case, two straight men filed for the right to marry. They’re claiming simple sex discrimination is keeping them from tying the knot. Should marriage be about more than sexual attraction and allow two people who simply want to take care of each other to marry?

The Supreme Court may just let the lower courts sift through all of these questions for another year before tackling the issue again.

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Measure AA “Yes for Open Space” Campaign a Winning Proposition for Silicon Valley Economy

Business organizations, Facebook execs come out in support of measure to preserve and enhance access to the region’s natural areas

A bond measure to preserve open land and increase public access to thousands of acres of nature preserves in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties is being touted by local businesses as an inexpensive way to insure their professional and personal investments while maintaining a high quality of life on the Peninsula.

“The Peninsula is not only a center of innovation, it is also an incredibly beautiful place to live and work. Measure AA will help keep it that way,” said Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Vice President of Advertising and Pages at Facebook and the grandson of Vince Garrod, a well-known advocate of open space protection in the South Bay.

The $300 million bond championed by the “Yes for Open Space” campaign would improve and enhance 25 open space areas throughout the Midpen district, which covers 550 square miles stretching from Los Gatos and Redwood City to north of Half Moon Bay.  If voters approve the measure on June 3, it would result in the restoration of thousands of acres of regional open spaces, forests, watersheds and farmland. Bond money would also be used to add 200 miles of public trails, increasing recreational opportunities for families and residents of all ages. In fact, all funds would be reserved for capital expenses and would not fund administrative overhead or compensation.

“This is a one-of-a-kind place, people want to live here because of the natural setting that surrounds us,” said Bosworth. “The fact that people from around the world want to live here is why businesses love to invest here, and it also explains why the Peninsula was able to fend off the impacts of the Great Recession better than almost anywhere else in the country.”

The quality-of-life benefit of Measure AA is one of the primary reasons it has received overwhelming support from the Peninsula business community, including such organizations as the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, and Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.

The natural beauty of the region has helped lead to an influx of new workers, many of whom already take advantage of Midpen’s conservation efforts. Midpen now sees more than 1.5 million visitors per year and parking lots overflow at recreation staging areas on the weekends.  Measure AA would work to change that, improving infrastructure and opening access to thousands of acres of preserved land.

Measure AA would also support and enhance San Francisco Bay wetlands restoration with local, state and federal partners. Projects in the baylands would help ensure the slow release of storm water into local creeks, and reduce the risks from bay rise and potential flooding.   The measure would also protect regional wildlife and ecosystems threatened by sea-level rise and other global environmental concerns.

And the bond carries a modest cost – from $1 to a maximum of $3.18 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value, or a maximum of $21 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $700,000 home.

“Measure AA is a common-sense commitment to the environment and will help the region attract and maintain a high-quality workforce,” Bosworth said. “That kind of foresight and commitment is one of the reasons businesses invest here and are proud to call the Peninsula home.”

For a complete list of campaign endorsements, click here. For a complete list of the 25 top open space projects that will benefit from this measure, click here.

For questions or to sign up for a tour, please contact Alex Doniach at (415) 806-8566 or alex@singersf.com. For more information visit yesforopenspace.org.

 

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Senate press conferences shouldn’t be for ‘mature audiences’ only

In recent years, plenty of Senate candidates have held plenty of press conferences, but yesterday in South Dakota, one candidate seemed to break new ground: an R-rated press conference that was vulgar by design.
U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Annette Bosworth warned that nobody less than 18-years-old would be admitted to her latest press conference.
The Republican candidate has held numerous press conferences throughout the month leading up to the South Dakota Primary Election. Now, she’s using a tactic that proves to be for mature audiences only.
Those who attended the press conference expressed shock upon walking into the venue, as they saw the graphic words used as a backdrop for the event.
The Argus Leader posted the full, half-hour event, though I should note its published warning: “Because of the language contained on some of the signs, viewer discretion is advised.”
Again, that’s not the phrase one usually associates with Senate campaign press conferences.
Apparently, Bosworth and her supporters found obnoxious comments about her “on blogs, on the Internet.” In order to denounce the vulgar criticisms, Bosworth’s team painted the obnoxious words on a wall and then had the candidate hold a press conference in front of the disgusting comments.
The Republican candidate insisted that the vulgarities are proof of progressive misogyny: “The Democrats talk about a war on women, but much of what you see is written by the supposedly tolerant liberals. Their message is clear: conservative women are fair game. If you are a female and a Republican, anything goes.”
There’s reason for some skepticism here.
The Senate race in South Dakota, where voters will choose a successor for retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D), has a relatively crowded Republican primary, though former Gov. Mike Rounds appears to be the overwhelming favorite. Bosworth generally polls in the mid-single digits.
I don’t doubt that Bosworth, like many women seeking elected office, has found rude people saying offensive things online, but in general, liberals in South Dakota worried about this Senate race have focused the bulk of their attention on the competitive candidates.
For that matter, it’s an odd campaign pitch when a Senate candidate, the week before the primary, uses painted vulgarities as a closing pitch to voters.
Tom Kludt added that Bosworth’s campaign has been plagued by problems that are unrelated to hateful messages on blogs.
Bosworth’s campaign has been mired in turmoil. A medical doctor, Bosworth has been accused of underpaying a former nurse. She’s also been accused by the state attorney general of being out of the country on a missionary trip at a time when her nominating petitions indicate that she was gathering signatures.
After she was asked about the “so-called scandals,” Bosworth brought the discussion to the “surrounding of this room” and urged reporters to accept “the pretense that I’m not evil.”
At one point during the press conference, Bosworth asked to go off the record with reporters.
The press conference was being filmed and streamed online at the time.
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Jurors Beg Judge Not To Send Occupy Wall Street Protester To Prison

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Nine members of the jury that convicted an Occupy Wall Street protester of felony assault of an officer have signed a letter asking that the judge not sentence her to any prison time. “We the jury petition the court for leniency in the sentencing of Cecily McMillan,” the letter reads. “We feel that the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.”

One member of the jury told the Guardian a day after the verdict that they weren’t aware that McMillan was facing up to seven years in prison for their verdict: “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.”

In the trial that lasted nearly four weeks, McMillan claimed that her arresting officer, Grantley Bovell, violently grabbed her breast, which caused her to rear back and strike him with her elbow. Officer Bovell testified that it was intentional. Photographs show a deep bruise on McMillan’s right breast, but the jury told the Guardian they were swayed by a grainy video.

Judge Ronald Zweibel has not shown sympathy for McMillan; he sent her to Rikers without bail after the verdict (and denied her appeal), denied a request to unseal evidence that may have cast more doubts on Officer Bovell’s credibility, imposed a gag order on McMillan’s attorneys, and on more than one occasion acted angrily towards her supporters in the courtroom.

McMillan’s sentencing is on May 19th

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DIvided Court Backs Prayer at Town Meetings

The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t come as too big a surprise, but for proponents of church-state separation, this morning’s decision is nevertheless disappointing.
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York may begin its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said “ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”
In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”
Let’s back up and revisit what this case was all about. At issue are town board meetings in Greece, N.Y., a Rochester suburb, which hosts a “chaplain of the month” before board members begin their official business. Nearly all of the invited chaplains are Christian, and “more often than not,” the Christian clergy “called on Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit to guide the council’s deliberations.”
This would appear to be out of step with the First Amendment. Americans are, of course, welcome to pray or not as they wish, but for the local government to incorporate Christian prayers as part of the official community meeting was problematic.
Some local taxpayers, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, reached out to my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed suit to keep board meetings secular. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in their favor.
The usual suspects on the high court – Republican appointees Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas – disagreed.
The underlying legal dispute has been litigated before, though the cases weren’t identical. Thirty years ago, in a case called Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court cleared the way for legislative prayers, which remain quite common nationwide. But in legislative prayers, members of the public are simply spectators, whereas the public actually participates in town board meetings.
In other words, in Greece, N.Y., government-sponsored Christian prayers are more likely to make Americans feel like second-class citizens in their own community. Under the guise of “ceremonial” religious endorsements, the court majority was unmoved.
The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). A statement from the group that filed the case is online here.
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White House Ducks Questions On Biden’s Openness To Executive Action On LGBT Discrimination

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday dodged questions about Vice President Joe Biden’s apparent support for an executive order banning job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors.

The White House has long avoided explaining why President Barack Obama won’t take executive action on the matter, even though he made a 2008 campaign promise to do so. But on Tuesday, Biden seemed to offer an opening, telling The Huffington Post in an interview, “I don’t see any downside” to doing it — a small win for LGBT rights groups perplexed by the president’s reluctance to act.

Carney demurred when asked if the president agrees with Biden. Instead, he shifted the focus back to Congress and said the most effective way to stem LGBT job discrimination is to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — something Biden also emphasized in his remarks. That bill is stalled in the House.

“I just don’t engage in discussion about speculative executive orders,” Carney said. “There is legislation on Capitol Hill that we strongly support and we’d like to see passed by the House.”

When it was noted that Biden was willing to weigh in on a speculative executive order, Carney said, “No, I think he answered a question about it, as I have repeatedly. And I’m happy to … I try not to engage in speculation about any executive action the president may or may not take.”

To be sure, ENDA would go much further than an executive order. If passed by Congress, the bill would make it illegal nationwide to fire or harass someone at work for being LGBT. In contrast, an executive order would only apply to employees of federal contractors. But such an order would still protect as many as 16 millionworkers, and LGBT rights groups say both executive action and legislation are needed, given their different penalties and remedies.

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This Week in God, 4.19.14

First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting faith-based dispute involving Hobby Lobby’s corporate owner – but it’s probably not the dispute you’ve already heard about.
 
Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by Christian conservative Steve Green, is perhaps best known in political and legal circles for its pending Supreme Court case in which Green’s attorneys believecorporations are people with their own religious beliefs. It’s this corporate spirituality, the argument goes, that entitles Hobby Lobby to deny contraception coverage to its employees.
 
But as Sarah Jones reported this week, this isn’t Green’s only interest in church-state policy.
An Oklahoma school district has approved the use of a Bible curriculum designed by Steve Green, the controversial owner of Hobby Lobby. The Mustang public schools will begin offering the curriculum next academic year.
 
As reported by Religion News Service, Green’s curriculum is designed to correspond with his planned Museum of the Bible, which is currently under construction in Washington, D.C. Jerry Pattengale, who heads the Green Scholars Initiative and is overseeing the curriculum’s development, said the ultimate goal is put the curriculum in “thousands” of schools.
 
Little is known publicly about the details of the curriculum. However, in a 2013 speech he delivered to the National Bible Association, Green explained that it’s divided into three sections: the history of the Bible, the story of the Bible, and the impact of the Bible.
It’s worth emphasizing that public schools are legally permitted to offer classes related to religious history and religious texts, so long as the curricula is secular and objective. A scholarly, historical analysis of scripture is consistent with the First Amendment’s separation of church and state; public-school evangelism is not.
 
What does Hobby Lobby’s Green have in mind for public high-school students? The Green Scholars Initiative insists lesson plans will honor the law and remain religiously neutral, but in Green’s 2013 speech, he specifically told his audience, “The history is to show the reliability of this book…. When you present the evidence, the evidence is overwhelming.”
 
Now that Green’s Bible curriculum has been embraced by an Oklahoma school district, don’t be too surprised if Hobby Lobby’s owner ends up in another major church-state court fight.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
 
* State lawmakers in Louisiana are moving forward with their plans to make the Christian Bible the official book of the state. Litigation appears likely.
 
* A New Jersey woman tried to get a personalized license plate that reads “8THEIST,” but the state DMV apparently rejected it. She’s taking the matter to federal court.
 
* As if the “war on Christmas” didn’t seem quite foolish enough, Fox News has also been talking up an alleged “war on Easter.”
 
* A fascinating story out of North Carolina: “A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church. The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes. Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away. The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t.”
 
* And at the close of the White House’s Easter Prayer Breakfast this week, President Barack Obama “unexpectedly turned the floor over to Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop…. Robinson retired as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in early 2013. He is now a senior fellow at the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress.”
 
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC
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Judge: Ohio must recognize out-of-state gay marriages

Proponents of marriage equality have been on quite a winning streak in the courts, targeting anti-gay laws in states across the country. That streak continued this morning in Ohio.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black has formally ruled that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states, but he put a hold on his order for the time being.
“Ohio’s marriage recognition is facially unconstitutional and unenforceable under any circumstances,” Black said in an order he announced verbally 10 days ago.
“It is this court’s responsibility to give meaning and effect to the guarantees and of the U.S. Constitution and all American citizens and that responsibility is never more pressing than when the fundamental rights of some minority citizens are impacted by the legislative power of the majority.”
To be sure, the judge in this case had already made clear that this ruling was coming, but for civil-rights advocates, that doesn’t detract from the satisfaction that comes with another victory.
Indeed, note that Black was fairly aggressive in smacking down Ohio’s argument, concluding that the record “is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the State’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The case did not address whether or not same-sex couples can be married in Ohio, only whether same-sex marriages performed in other states should be legally recognized in the Buckeye State.
As for the current state of the law in Ohio, in light of the ruling, Chris Geidner reported, “The ruling is stayed, or put on hold, with Black inclined to issue a stay pending appeal as to the full recognition ruling. Black wrote, though, that he is inclined not to issue a stay ‘as to the as-applied claims of the four couples who are Plaintiffs because they have demonstrated that a stay will harm them individually due to the imminent births of their children and other time-sensitive concerns,’ but he announced in his ruling that he will be taking views from both the couples and the state on the question over the next day before deciding whether to issue a stay as to the four couples.”
For those keeping score, the Ohio ruling this morning comes on the heels of related victories in Michigan,VirginiaKentuckyOklahomaUtah and Texas, just from the last few months.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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Debunking Abortions Myths

Close your eyes and think about the word abortion.

What are some of the first things that come to mind?

Pregnancy? Unborn fetuses? Policy makers? Crying? Grief?

I’m guessing at least one of these probably popped into your head.

Our society is filled with all kinds of mixed messages and myths about abortion. We often frame the conversations around abortion as being defined by grief and pain, instead of a personal decision that is filled with a plethora of emotions and experiences.

Although abortion can involve grief and sorrow, not all people who get abortions do experience these emotions, and that’s perfectly okay.

There is no right or wrong way to navigate having an abortion.

Because of the amount of emphasis the larger cultural conversations have in these myths, it’s important that we talk about them. These myths have real consequences and real effects on policy, which limits people’s right to choose.

Let’s bust some of these myths.

Myth #1: Abortion is baby-killing.

This is something you’ve probably heard a lot.

The fact is that a fetus is not a baby. A fetus is a developing mammal; in humans, a fetusdevelops at the end of the second month of gestation.

baby, on the other hand, is a human offspring who has already been born.

It’s important to understand that there is a difference: development.

A zygote (a fertilized egg) that has implanted in the uterus just two days ago is not the same thing as a human life that has already come into being.

In terms of the person housing the pregnancy, this difference is important: a fetus cannot survive without its mother during gestation—there is no separation. A baby, on the other hand, is an autonomous being.

Therefore, a fetus is a part of its mother. That makes its existence a part of her, making it her choice to terminate; hers, and hers only.

And the talk about fetal pain? That’s just phony science.

This logically leads to the conclusion that a baby and a fetus are not the same things. A baby can survive without using its mother as a life-source; a fetus cannot.

When you have an abortion, you aren’t taking the life of an autonomous being, like in cases of infanticide. Rather, you are removing a part of your own body.

Myth #2: Abortion is used as a form of birth control.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say something to the effect of “I believe in choice, but I also don’t think it’s okay to use abortion as birth control.”

Using abortion in place of contraception is not something people (okay, most people) do!

From a logical standpoint, this idea doesn’t even make sense, as it assumes abortion is easier to access than contraception.

Abortion is becomingly increasingly hard to access and requires a lot of money and time to get. The average cost of abortion is $451 in the first trimester, but can cost upwards of $3,500.

And this doesn’t even include transportation costs, co-pays and premiums, a possible hotel-stay (as many states have mandatory waiting periods), nor the cost of possibly needing to take time off of work to fulfill the waiting period requirements.

study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute found that 31% of women who live in rural areas traveled more than 100 miles to receive abortion services, and 74% traveled more than 50 miles to access services.

This data, the most recent on record, is from 2008 (let’s not even talk about how depressing that is), before many of the most harsh restrictions on abortion services were put into place.

Also, only 66% of health insurance providers cover abortion services to some degree, whichmakes paying for an abortion very difficult. Michigan just passed a law banning the use of private health insurance for abortion services, joining eight other states with laws like this already on the books.

Additionally, the Hyde Amendment restricts federal dollars from going to fund abortion services, meaning that the poorest Americans often cannot get funding for abortions.

The average person using abortion as contraception would become pregnant two to three times per year, and would therefore be getting two to three abortions per year. This would extremelydifficult to manage and doesn’t align with statistics detailing who gets abortions.

58% are in their twenties, 69% are economically disadvantaged, and 61% have children. Not exactly ideal candidates to shell out thousands of dollars a couple of times each year.

Typically, obtaining contraception is going to be a lot easier than this.

Not to mention the fact that half of the people who get abortions reported using contraception during the month they became pregnant.

Myth #3: People who have abortions regret it or experience intense grief.

There’s no shortage of propaganda out there that shows people grieving after terminating their pregnancy. There’s a lot of hype around “post-abortion syndrome” and its negative effects – which have been proven to not exist.

This myth dominates a lot of ideas about abortion: that it’s emotionally turbulent, is chosen by emotionally unstable people, and usually results in regret.

The truth is that most people do not regret their abortions. In fact, almost 75% indicated that the benefits of getting an abortion outweighed the harm.

Another study found that 95% of abortion patients felt that they’d made the right choice.

The rates of reported depression are equal to those of the general population, not indicating anything disproportionate.

Grief and sadness are not bad emotions to feel after getting an abortion.

But neither are they the only, or even the most common experiences people have after having them.

Myth #4: Only selfish women have abortions.

This myth is built in sexism. Women who in some way choose to remain childless are constantly portrayed as being self-centered and uncaring.

A good example of this from the media would be Samantha from Sex and the City. She’s very open about the fact that she doesn’t want children, but is also portrayed as being very reckless and stoic.

Getting an abortion is not a selfish decision.

People attribute abortion to selfishness, because women are expected to put themselves last (in relation to other people) and to always take on the role of nurturer and caregiver.

This myth exists because of the ways that society has constructed womanhood: women are valued primarily for their beauty and for their roles as mothers.

Those who choose to remain childless are choosing themselves; this is in direct conflict with a culture where women are supposed to always be selfless.

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding to terminate a pregnancy; it’s not an easy decision.

Most people who get abortions are young and/or low-income, meaning that they probably aren’t ready or in the best position to take on parenthood. Often, abortion patients cite age and income as among the reasons they chose abortion:

“I had an abortion when I had just turned 16. I came from a poverty-stricken, dysfunctional family and honestly didn’t know how easily one could become pregnant. I knew bringing a baby into the world I was living in would not be fair. The child would have grown up as poor as I was, would live in a dysfunctional family just as I was, and would have little hope for a future. I feel that I made the best decision a mother could for a baby,” Lori writes.

The decision of if, when, and how to have children is completely yours to make.

Myth #5: If abortion becomes illegal, abortion will end.

The foundation of anti-choice activism and legislation assumes that, if abortion is criminalized, abortions will no longer be performed.

This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

Global research has shown that making abortion illegal doesn’t decrease the rate of abortions.The only thing it changes is the safety of the procedure.

When abortion is illegal, it is unsafe.

13% of maternal deaths worldwide are abortion-related (that’s 47,000 women) and almost all of them happen in places where abortion is illegal.

When abortion is criminalized it only creates unsafe conditions and results in more deaths. It does not prevent abortion from taking place.

It serves no one.

The key to ending abortion is to create more access to contraceptives and sex education. 

Myth #6: Only women get abortions.

Abortion rhetoric is highly gendered. Rarely is it even acknowledged that abortion patients are not exclusively cis women.

The dialogue around abortion is so gendered in fact, that it completely erases trans* people.

There are plenty of trans* men who need access to abortion and who receive them. There are also plenty of other trans* folk who don’t fall into the gender binary who also get abortions.

The fact that abortion is so often framed from a privileged perspective means that those who are marginalized in other ways are not being heard and their stories aren’t seen as important.

We must recognize the cissexism within reproductive rights activism and stand with trans* people.

***

These myths don’t even scratch the surface of all of the problematic framing of the abortion conversation in our culture.

There is a lot of work to be done in advancing this conversation. It seems the battle for reproductive rights will never be fully won.

But the more we steer the conversation toward human rights, feminism, and body politics, the more clearly this issue is shown, rather than being bombarded with propaganda and a fear-based mentality.

Here’s to protecting our right to choose, one myth-busting at a time.

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Senate Republicans Block Bill on Equal Pay

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation meant to close the pay gap between men and women, framing an election-year fight between the parties over whose policies are friendlier to women.

The bill was an attempt by Democrats to press what they see as their electoral advantage among women in the coming midterm elections, but they fell short of the 60 votes they needed to prevent a filibuster and advance the legislation.

“For reasons known only to them, Senate Republicans don’t seem to be interested in closing wage gaps for working women,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said in a floor speech.

Republican lawmakers have said that given existed anti-discrimination laws, the legislation is redundant and is a transparent attempt by Democrats to distract from President Obama’s much-criticized health care law.

Supporters of the bill, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, say it would bring transparency to worker pay by making it illegal for employers to penalize employees who discuss their salaries and by requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay information from employers.

Mr. Obama signed executive measures on Tuesday that imposed similar requirements on government contractors.

Republican leaders assailed Democrats’ attempt to paint them as unsympathetic to women in the work force. The Senate Republican Conference on Wednesday called the pay equity legislation “the latest ploy in the Democrats’ election-year playbook.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader who is fighting for re-election against a female candidate in Kentucky, said in a floor speech on Wednesday that women had lost ground on Mr. Obama’s watch, with declining wages and growing numbers in poverty.

“In other words,” he said, “when it comes to American women over all, what we’ve seen over the past five and a half years is less income and more poverty. That’s the story Senate Democrats don’t want to talk about.”

The pay equity bill is part of a broader Democratic strategy to appeal to low- and middle-income voters with pocketbook legislation like an increase in the federal minimum wage and an extension of long-term unemployment benefits. Neither of those measures is expected to pass a divided House.

The vote to proceed on the pay equity bill was 53 to 44, six votes short of a filibuster-proof majority after accounting for a no vote by Mr. Reid, a procedural move allowing him bring the bill to the floor again.

From the NY Times

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Court sides with MoveOn over Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) administration in Louisiana picked an unusual fight recently, taking MoveOn.org to federal court, accusing the progressive activist group of violating trademark rules when it put up billboards criticizing Jindal’s opposition to Medicaid expansion.
So far, that hasn’t turned out well for the Republican governor: a federal judge ruled yesterday afternoon that the Baton Rouge-area billboard is legally permissible.  In his original court filings, [Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne] said the national liberal organization improperly mimicked his office’s trade and tourism branding in its satirical billboard posted just outside of the state capital. But U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick disagreed Monday, siding with MoveOn.org in stating the group’s free speech rights trumped the state’s case.
“The State has failed to demonstrate a compelling reason to curtail MoveOn.org’s political speech in favor of protecting of the State’s service mark,” Dick said in her ruling. She added “irreparable injury” would not be caused to Louisiana’s tourism campaign if the ad remained in place.
For those who haven’t been following this dispute, Louisiana is one of several red states that refuse to adopt Medicaid expansion, despite the fact that he policy would bring coverage to nearly a quarter of a million low-income residents. It led MoveOn.org to put up a billboard that reads, “LOU!SIANA Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”
The Jindal administration wasn’t pleased – “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion” is the slogan tied to the state’s tourism campaign, and it doesn’t want the phrasing appropriated by a progressive group targeting the governor. MoveOn.org responded that its political speech is intended as satire and is therefore covered by the First Amendment.
Yesterday, a federal court agreed, offering the governor a reminder about what free speech is.
And by all appearances, he needed the refresher.
For me, the thing about this controversy that’s always seemed interesting isn’t trademark law, about which I know very little, but Jindal’s reversal about the importance of championing free speech.
As we’ve discussed before, it was just December when Phil Robertson, one of the stars of a reality-television show called “Duck Dynasty,” made a series of offensive comments during an interview. A&E, the network that airs the reality show, decided to suspend him over his bigoted remarks.
Jindal immediately leapt to Robertson’s defense. For a private business to suspend an employee, the governor said, was an affront to the “First Amendment.” As a constitutional matter, this was gibberish, but the far-right governor dug in anyway, positioning himself as a free-speech absolutist – Americans must be able to communicate whatever message they please, without exception or consequence.
“The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” Jindal said. “This is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.”
Except it’s MoveOn.org mocking Jindal’s position on Medicaid, at which point it’s a less-free country and there are limits on those expressing their views? When a television network suspends an employee, it’s an outrageous First Amendment violation, but when a state government tries to restrict political speech on a billboard, that’s fine?
The irony, of course, is that the Jindal administration’s lawsuit brought vastly more attention to the billboard than it ever would have received if the governor and his team had ignored it. Jindal’s goal was to have fewer people see MoveOn.org’s message, but he achieved the opposite.
The administration has not yet decided whether to appeal yesterday’s ruling.
By Steve Benen, MSNBC
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7 Reason’s Biden Thinks You Should SIgn up for the Affordable Care Act

Folks, the deadline to sign up for health insurance is March 31. If you’re not covered by then, you won’t be able to enroll again until next year. So this is serious. Need some extra inspiration? Here are seven reasons why Vice President Biden thinks you should get covered right now.

1. It won’t break the bank.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

Everyone loves a good deal. About 6 in 10 uninsured individuals could pay $100 or less per month for coverage, thanks to tax credits to help them buy a private health plan through the Marketplace or because they are now eligible for Medicaid. And nearly half of single young adults who are uninsured can get coverage for $50 or less in 2014. That could be less than your cell phone bill.

2. Minor injuries can become a real headache.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

Get covered and take care of yourself so today’s injury — a bum ankle, a bad back, or a spider bite — doesn’t become a chronic condition that dogs you for the rest of your life. Signing up for health insurance today could save you from a lifetime of medical debt.

3. It’s good to have choices.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

Your folks probably told you that “you can be anything you want to be.” Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you’re one step closer. You no longer have to hold back from pursuing a new or different job for fear of losing your health insurance plan. If you don’t get coverage through work, you can now sign up for quality, affordable coverage at HealthCare.gov that gives you the freedom to follow your dreams regardless of the work you do.

4. You never know.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

Maybe you’re at the gym, working out every day. Maybe you run half-marathons for fun. But no matter how healthy and active you are, things can change in a heartbeat. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

5. You (and your mom and dad) need peace of mind.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

You’re young. You feel invincible. We don’t blame you. But even if you don’t think you need the peace of mind and security of health insurance, guess what? Your mom and dad need it. They deserve to know that you can get coverage and treatment when you need it the most. You have a responsibility to yourself and those who love you.

6. It’s a BFD.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

Vice President Biden’s got a reputation for always meaning what he says — especially about health care. But as the Vice President likes to point out, for 100 years — since Teddy Roosevelt was President — we’ve been trying to make health care more accessible and affordable in America. Well, we’re getting it done right now, and that’s a big deal. Now we’ve got to finish what we started.

7. There are folks standing by to answer your questions and walk you through the process.

7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31

There are three main ways you can sign up by March 31: 1) online at HealthCare.govor Cuidadodesalud.gov; 2) on the phone at 1-800-318-2596, available 24/7 in 150 different languages; or 3) in person at locations like libraries and community health centers — visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov to find places near you.

After you enroll, spread the word to your friends. Walk them through how you enrolled yourself. Tell them how you helped enroll someone else who didn’t have insurance before, didn’t think he or she could afford it, but signed up and got a good deal. They’ll thank you later.

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Is Rick Scott Guilty of Murder?

Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims. Charlene Dill was a hardworking Florida woman, who moved down to Florida when she was just 18 years old. To help make ends meet, Charlene worked at various fast food restaurants, at Disney World, and even cleaned houses and babysat. As the years went by, Charlene found herself, as a single mother, struggling to raise 3 children.  Last year, Charlene made just $11,000 cleaning houses and babysitting. She used that money to help put food on the table for her children, and to put a roof over their heads.

Then Charlene discovered she had a severe heart problems that needed to be managed.  And she couldn’t afford to get it treated right, because Charlene didn’t have health insurance. Charlene fell into what’s called the “Red State Donut Hole,” created by Republican lawmakers like Rick Scott. It says that if you make over $5,400 and less than $11,400, you get no health insurance.

Below the $5,400, Charlene would have qualified for Florida’s pretty pathetic Medicaid program. Over $11,400, she would have qualified for free health insurance under Obamacare because of the subsidies for low-income people. But because she only earned $11,000, she made too little to qualify for Obamacare, but too much to qualify for Florida Medicaid.

This isn’t, of course, how the Obamacare law was written. But this giant Swiss Cheese hole was drilled into Obamacare by John Roberts, when the Supreme Court said that states could refuse to take federal money to pay to cover people who don’t earn enough to qualify for insurance subsidies but make more than state Medicaid programs will cover.  It was into that hole that Charlene fell.

Twenty-three states which are either controlled by a Republican governor or a Republican legislature have refused to expand Medicaid coverage to their citizens under Obamacare.  This is pure politics, an effort to sabotage Obamacare by cutting the working poor out of the program. Republicans are hoping that working poor people like Charlene will be so upset that they can’t get Obamacare, and won’t realize that it was the Republican governors who refused their eligibility, that they’ll be angry with Obama and the Democrats and vote Republican in 2014 and 2016.

It’s all about politics. These states are literally playing politics with people’s lives, and Charlene is one of the people they’ve now killed.  Around 5 million Americans won’t have access to healthcare in 2014, because they fall into the “Red State Donut Hole,” just like Charlene.

Since she didn’t have insurance, Charlene couldn’t afford a regular doctor or regular treatment. In 2012, Charlene went to the emergency room because of a flare-up with her heart. Doctors there told her to start taking medicine, and to be routinely monitored. But she couldn’t afford it, because she only made $11,000 a year and had to feed three kids, and Rick Scott wouldn’t let her have the free health insurance that working poor people in every Democratically-controlled state in America have.

Rick Scott was willing to let her to die so he could score political points against President Obama. Back in December, Charlene again went to the emergency room, this time because of abscesses in her legs. Shortly after that trip to the ER, Charlene picked up another job as a vacuum cleaner saleswoman, on top of babysitting and house cleaning, to help provide for her family and to pay for her ER bills, which weren’t covered because Rick Scott and the Florida Republicans refused to let the federal government pay for her Medicaid.

This past Friday, Charlene was supposed to go see one of her close friends, so their children could play together. Charlene never made it to her friend’s house. Charlene died during one of her vacuum cleaner sales appointments that day. The hardworking and loving single mother of three young children was just 32-years-young.

Charlene died because multimillionaire Republican and Florida Governor Rick Scott chose to play politics, rather than protect the lives of the Florida citizens he is supposed to be serving. And unfortunately, if Republicans across the country continue playing politics with peoples’ lives, Charlene won’t be the only one to die.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and the City University of New York found that as many as 17,000 Americans will die directly as a result of Republican states refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.  Samuel Dickman, one of the authors of the study, told Morning Call that, “The results were sobering. Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal.”

Unfortunately, Republicans like Rick Scott don’t give a rat’s ass that their political decisions have life-and-death consequences.  Consequences like three young children losing their mother. They just want to smear Obama, and don’t care who dies, just so long as it’s just working poor people.

But enough is enough. Some things are more important than politics, and life is certainly one of them. Republicans say that they’re pro-life, but that’s a bald-faced lie, because they refuse to let low-wage working Americans have access to life-saving Medicaid. If Rick Scott and his Republican buddies in the Florida legislature are really the Christians they claim they are, then they’re going to burn in hell. Deservedly.

From Thom Hartmann

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Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control

When the Supreme Court hears two landmark cases about birth control on Tuesday, few observers doubt that Justice Antonin Scalia’s sympathies will be the Christian business owners who charge that the mandate violates their religious liberties.

The Reagan-appointed jurist is a devout Catholic who has extolled “traditional Christian virtues” and insists the devil is “a real person.” He even has a son who’s a Catholic priest. He voted in 2012 to wipe out Obamacare in its entirety and has been President Barack Obama’s most outspoken foe on the Supreme Court.

And yet, Scalia’s past jurisprudence stands contradictory to the argument for striking down the Obamacare rule in question, which requires for-profit employers’ insurance plans to cover contraceptives (like Plan B, Ella and intrauterine devices) for female employees without co-pays.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness.

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

Michael C. Dorf, a law professor at Cornell, also addressed the tension.

“Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Smith case offered a number of grounds for the conclusion that the Free Exercise Clause does not entitle religious objectors to exceptions from neutral laws of general application,” Dorf wrote in SCOTUSblog, observing that Scalia also posited that judges weren’t “competent” to decide which religions were deserving of exemptions.

In response to Scalia’s decision, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, which says any law that “substantially burden[s]” a person’s exercise of religion must demonstrate a “compelling governmental interest” and employ the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. That’s the basis under which Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, two businesses with religious owners, are suing for relief from the birth control rule.

And that might offer Scalia an escape hatch. Experts say he could conceivably decide that the First Amendment doesn’t protect a religious person’s entity’s to an exemption from the law but that RFRA suffices to let Hobby Lobby and certain others off the hook from the birth control rule. But even then, the RFRA argument isn’t clear-cut. Nineteen Democratic senators who voted for the law in 1993 have filed an amicus brief insisting that it doesn’t — and was never intended to — give for-profit companies a pass on the law.

It’s up to Scalia and the other justices to parse that question. If he axes the mandate on the basis of RFRA, he still has to contend with his earlier argument that such an outcome carries grave dangers for the rule of law.

“To permit this,” he wrote in Smith, quoting from an old court decision, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

SAHIL KAPUR, TPM

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RNC Rolls Out Its Millennial Pitch

As Republican Party officials know very well, they’re facing a series of demographic challenges, including a generational problem:Americans under 30 are the only generation that self-identifies as more liberal than conservative. On top of the party’s gender gap and difficulties connecting with minority groups, the GOP is also finding that younger voters reject the Republicans’ far-right message.
But the party is making an outreach effort in the hopes of turning things around. In fact, this week – exactly one year after the “autopsy” report said Republicans have to start doing better with younger voters – the RNC rolled our two new ads intended to appeal to millennials, which will air in 14 states this election year.
I’m neither a millennial nor a messaging guru, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the flaws in the ads.
The first shows a young man named Scott Greenberg in his car, apparently reading cue cards, talking about energy policy.
“I shouldn’t have to check my bank account before I fill up my car, but so much of my paycheck ends up going to gas. We haven’t even talked about my heating bill at home. So when it comes to energy policy for this country, I’m for everything – solar, wind, shale gas, oil, whatever. I’m a Republican because we should have an all-of-the-above energy policy.”
Putting aside questions about whether this is really what millennials care about – don’t young adults drive less than any generation, and less than previous generations of young adults? – it’s also worth noting that President Obama is pushing for an all-of-the-above energy policy, and he’s a Democrat. The White House repeats the phrase all the time.
Scott Greenberg is a Republican because he agrees with Obama on energy policy? For that matter, since when do Republicans support solar and wind? Just two years ago, the party’s presidential candidate said the opposite.
The second RNC ad features Greenberg, still awkwardly reading cue cards, this time at a gas station.
“I feel pretty lucky to have a job. So many people I know are unemployed. It’s like their lives are stuck in neutral. So I get ticked off at politicians who say they want to help the unemployed and then vote for regulations that make it impossible to hire anyone.
“Listen, you can’t help the unemployed by hurting the people who could employ them. I’m a Republican because my friends need a paycheck, not an empty promise.”
First, blaming unemployment on “regulations” is pretty silly. Second, asking a little more from the wealthy in order to invest in job creation is more than an “empty promise”; it’s a sound economic policy.
Alex Pareene wrote a compelling message to Scott Greenberg.
[Y[ou know, it’s sort of weird that your sympathies lie with the people who could employ your friends but don’t, because they are mad at the government. I am just saying. Millennial to millennial.
In fact, millennial to millennial, one thing that connects both of your little messages here is that you seem to be saying you are a Republican because you support policies that will increase the profitability of certain Republican-allied industry interests, like business owners and energy companies, instead of just supporting direct action to help your fellow millennials deal with the real problems of high transportation costs and unemployment. Maybe instead of increased energy production and “not hurting job creators” we could try increased access to (and more reliable) public transit and, I dunno, having the government subsidize the hiring of (or directly hire) people who want to work? Just spitballing.
The RNC’s focus groups must have liked the ads or the party wouldn’t be airing them in states with competitive Senate races. For that matter, there’s nothing wrong with Republicans launching an outreach effort to a constituency that’s quickly moving away from them.
But I have a hard time imagining Democrats watching the RNC’s ads and feeling nervous.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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McConnell fundraiser: Wives owe their husbands sex even if they’re not in the mood

Quite the charmer Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hosting fundraisers for him. Dennis Prager is a talk radio host who thinks that one of the “mutual obligations” of marriage is for women to have sex with their husbands based on the husband’s wishes and not the wife’s “mood.”

Writing on TownHall.com in December of 2008, Prager compares a man’s obligation to go to work, regardless of his “mood,” to a woman’s obligation to have sex with her husband.“Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?” he writes.

“What if your husband woke up one day and announced that he was not in the mood to go to work?”

He goes on to compare a wife’s commitment to meeting the needs of their children or parents or friends even when not in the mood to having sex with her husband, asking that, because the woman is doing what’s “right in those cases, rather than what their mood dictates,” “Why not apply this attitude to sex with one’s husband?”

Why not? Um, because sex is a more intimate act than remembering to buy milk at the store? Because while people (husbands, wives, whoever) are paid to go to work and be professional about it, sex is supposed to be a mutual thing? Do men not benefit if their wives actually wantto have sex rather than doing it out of a sense of obligation?

I don’t know, just spitballing here. Maybe I’m crazy and sex really is the wife’s version of having a job. Except … no, that doesn’t make sense if you consider it in the context of how Republicans generally view sex workers; if you view the wife as a form of property it makes a little more sense, though. And what if the wife also has a job? Then does she get to say “hey, I go to work regardless of my mood, just like you, so that means I get to say I’m not in the mood to have sex right now”?

It would probably take 3,000 words to unpack all the noxious assumptions about gender roles, sex, and marriage in those few short paragraphs, so let’s leave it at this: Mitch McConnell is happy to have Dennis Prager’s name attached to a Mitch McConnell fundraiser.

 

From Dailykos.com

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Alabama Republican: McCarthy ‘turned out to be right’

In Alabama, state Sen. Scott Beason (R), who’s also currently running for Congress, told his local newspaper over the weekend that he has some concerns about a commonly used high school literature textbook (thanks to reader A.M. for the tip).
Beason put his own flag on “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials. The senator thinks it’s unfair that the textbook attached a sidebar asking students about parallels between the witch trials and Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s, in which numerous writers and others – including Arthur Miller – were accused of having communist sympathies.
McCarthy was right about most of the people he accused, Beason claims.
“So we’re comparing the McCarthy investigations of the 1950s, in which he turned out to be right, with the Salem witch hunts,” Beason said.
No, Joe McCarthy did not turn out to be right, though it’s alarming how many have come to the same conclusion as Beason.
For quite a while, the American mainstream recognized the fact that McCarthyism was a dangerous mistake – and the Senate was right to censure McCarthy in 1954 – but as Republican politics moved sharply to the right, the former senator’s witch hunt got a second look by much of the conservative movement.
And they decided they liked what they saw.
To be sure, for most of the political world, including many Republicans, McCarthyism is still seen as something of a tragedy. When the word is used, it’s not intended to be complimentary.
But there are exceptions. In Congress, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told msnbc in 2008 that she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America.”
A few years ago in Texas, conservative activists rewriting the state’s curriculum recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.
And one year ago next week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was asked whether McCarthy is someone he personally admired. The senator refused to answer.
When thinking about the differences between the contemporary Republican Party and how much it’s changed over the last generation, look no further than those who’ve decided McCarthyism wasn’t so bad after all.
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House GOP Fights for Food-Stamp Cuts

Ordinarily, when conservative policymakers complain about “fraud” and “cheating” in federal programs intended to help poor people eat food, they’re referring to individuals accused of abusing the system unfairly. But over the last few days, congressional Republicans are using familiar rhetoric in an unfamiliar way.
Republican leaders are threatening to take congressional action to stop state governors from flouting the food stamp cuts contained in the 2014 farm bill.
The governors of at least six states – New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana and Oregon – have now taken measures to protect more than a combined $800 million in annual Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and more states are expected to follow suit. Their actions threaten – over time – to wipe out the more than $8 billion in cuts over 10 years to the food stamp program that were just passed by Congress as part of the 2014 farm bill.
But those who initially supported the food stamp cuts are warning that retaliatory actions may be coming.
As a policy matter, the underlying change is a little tricky. Republicans successfully cut food aid to the poor – though not nearly as much as they’d hoped – which mostly affected 17 states that participate in the “Heat and Eat” program, which connects federal LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) assistance with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
At last count, six of the affected governors – five Democrats and one Republican – have decided to start fiddling with the books, moving money around so low-income constituents won’t lose their food benefits. Other governors appear eager to do the same.
And this has apparently outraged Republicans on Capitol Hill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters late last week that he wants Congress to “try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who helped write the relevant legislation, wants a full congressional investigation and new measures intended to guarantee food-stamp cuts.
Remember, the “cheating” and “fraud” is in reference to state officials trying to help low-income residents access food.
For its part, the Obama administration seems a lot less concerned than Congress.
Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) expressed anger Friday over the possibility that none of the cuts to the SNAP program would be realized and asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during an appropriations hearing whether he had any inside knowledge that states would nullify the benefit reductions.
Vilsack said he didn’t know or suspect what the states would do, but defended their right to take action.
“Frankly, as a former governor and former state senator, I respect the role of governors and legislatures to make decisions that they think are in their state’s best interests,” Vilsack said.
GOP lawmakers found this unsatisfying. Expect to hear quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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Politician accused of buying sex toys with taxpayers’ money as expenses scandal hits Italy’s South Tyrol

An expenses scandal has broken out in the normally staid region of South Tyrol in northern Italy – after a female politician was accused of using taxpayers’ money to pay for a vibrator and other sex toys.

Ulli Mair, 39, a member of the centre-Right Freiheitlichen party in the German-speaking, autonomous region on the border with Austria, is suspected of buying the €65 items and then trying to claim them back as legitimate expenses.

She said the items were bought as a joke birthday present for a friend and denied that she had tried to claim back the cost of them from public funds.

They were purchased in May 2012 from a sex shop in Bolzano, the capital of the South Tyrol region, which retains a strong Germanic identity. The region, annexed to Italy after the First World War from Austria, has traditionally looked down its nose at the rest of Italy – particularly the south, which it regards as a hotbed of corruption.

Politicians across the country have been caught out claiming for items for their personal use, stoking anger among ordinary Italians.

One of the most ludicrous claims was for a pair of green underpants, bought on a visit to the United States by Roberto Cota, a senior politician from the Right-wing, secessionist Northern League.

The claim caused amusement in Italy because green is the official colour of the League, which has in the past campaigned for northern Italy to secede from the rest of the country.

In Rome, a politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s party was castigated for buying a brand new four-wheel-drive vehicle after the capital was hit by a highly unusual snowstorm. He claimed he needed the vehicle to get around the city, even though the snow lasted less than 48 hours.

According to a report released in December, corrupt officials cost Italian taxpayers €2 billion in 2013.

Politicians at national, regional and provincial level were accused of claiming state money for a range of fripperies such as truffle tastings, Tiffany jewellery and even lap dances.

In Calabria, politicians claimed for lottery scratch cards while in Campania a male politician put in for hair dye – despite the fact that he was nearly bald.

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Arkansas Judge Mike Maggio Outed for Racist, Sexist, Homophobic Posts

An Arkansas judge, Mike Maggio, was outed for making racist, sexist, and homophobic comments online. Here are some of the posts that he made thinking that nobody would figure out who he was:

The most controversial comments appeared on a Louisiana State University message board called Tiger Droppings. In one comment, Geauxjudge made fun of the name of a University of Alabama football player who is black, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix. He questioned the wisdom of parents giving such irregular names to their children: “I do agree about names may not be predictors of future success but in reality: How many doctors do you hear named Dr. Taneesha or Ha-Ha? How many bankers do [you] hear named Brylee? So stick with something close to normal. Or come sit in criminal court any day and see the ‘common names.’”

Maggio’s candid views on marriage and divorce:

“I see it every day. A woman makes [an] emotional decision to divorce because the husband stepped out. When otherwise he was a good provider, father and husband . . . then a year or two later realizes uh oh I am worse off financially, emotionally and relationship wise but hey they showed that SOB. Too many times the women get their advice from other divorced women.”

“Men have two needs. Feed me and f— me. Take care of both we will be good. Whichever one you don’t then the man will find. Women have need for security. So man take care of that and will be OK.”

He also compared women having sex with dogs as just a small step from “TGGLBS” sex and disclosed certain proceedings of the adoption by Actress Charlize Theron of a Black kid. Maggio withdrew from an appellate race after being outed.The New York Daily News notes that he posted these confidential proceedings related to Theron’s adoption two months before they became public knowledge.

Starcasm put up another post where Maggio said Khloe Kardashian was “black by injection.”

The site Blue Hog Report was the site which originally outed Maggio and has even more nuggets, including these:

He also opines on relations post-marriage,  makes that same “joke” about bulges many times, why a man should sell Mary Kay,   repeats the wisdom about “golden vaginas”, explains why women generally shouldn’t get alimony, thinks that you should “raise your own kids” instead of paying for childcare, refers to “Vitamin P”, implies that American education is failing because all the easy girls major in education, laughing about “riding” bi-polar women, talks about gynecology, says women are ridiculous because they want husbands who don’t work all the time, refers to wives as “chattel”,  references his own sexual shortcomings, and . . . whatever the hell this is.

There are many more such posts at this link. Blue Hog also cites these set of ethical rules for judges:

   Rule 1.2. A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.    Official Comment [2]: A judge should expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be viewed as burdensome if applied to other citizens, and must accept the restrictions imposed by the Code.

Official Comment [6]: Actual improprieties include violations of law, court rules or provisions of this Code. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.

Rule 3.1. A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law or this Code. However, when engaging in extrajudicial activities, a judge shall not: [*]
(C) participate in activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.

Official Comment [3]: Discriminatory actions and expressions of bias or prejudice by a judge, even outside the judge’s official or judicial actions, are likely to appear to a reasonable person to call into question the judge’s integrity and impartiality. Examples include jokes or other remarks that demean individuals based upon their personal characteristics.

The Associated Press reports that he is under investigation by that state’s judicial commission.

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Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls For Six New Constitutional Amendment

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has a new book out,  Six Amendments: How And Why We Should Change The Constitution, with some really outstanding ideas.

The publisher says of the book:

For the first time ever, a retired Supreme Court Justice offers a manifesto on how the Constitution needs to change.

SIX AMENDMENTS is an absolutely unprecedented call to arms, detailing six specific ways in which the Constitution should be amended in order to protect our democracy and the safety and wellbeing of American citizens.”

Any constitutional amendment is an impossible dream, of course. It requires two-thirds of the members of both houses of congress and then has to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The country couldn’t even pass an amendment saying women have the same rights as men, hard to see red states and blue states agreeing on any significant change.

But it is still a tantalizing possibility.

Here are Justice Stevens six great ideas by Josh Blackman, a critic of Justice Stevens who reviewed the book. When you read #1 think Rick Perry refusing to allow same-sex military spouses to apply for benefits or the Missouri legislature considering a law allowing the arrest of any law enforcement agent attempting to enforce federal gun laws. The rest are fairly straight forward.

    • The “Anti-Commandeering Rule” (Amend the Supremacy Clause of Article VI) This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges and other public officials. in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
    • Political Gerrymandering – Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.
    • Campaign Finance – Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.
    • Sovereign Immunity – Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution
    • Death Penalty- (Amend the 8th Amendment) Excessive Bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.
    • The Second Amendment – (Amend the 2nd Amendment) A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

book

You can see by his amendment wish list that there’s a reason Justice Stevens was known as the “Liberal Lion” of the Court.

I would gladly embrace any one of Justice Stevens suggestions. But it struck me that the one change we need to make before we could possibly address the other five is and end to gerrymandering.

The reality is, we will never end the practice of carving up states into safe red or blue districts on a national level. The men and women who benefit from it will never let that happen. But we might be able to do it state by state. Once that was done, the rest might be possible.

We complain about it enough. But I have never heard of a grass roots campaign to change the way even a single district has been drawn.

Why haven’t we tried?

 

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