In the USA...
June 22, 2013
Supreme Court Weighs Cases Redefining Legal Equality
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — Within days, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a series of decisions that could transform three fundamental social institutions: marriage, education and voting.
The extraordinary run of blockbuster rulings due in the space of a single week will also reshape the meaning of legal equality and help define for decades to come one of the Constitution’s grandest commands: “the equal protection of the laws.”
If those words require only equal treatment from the government, the rulings are likely to be a mixed bag that will delight and disappoint liberals and conservatives in equal measure. Under that approach, same-sex couples who want to marry would be better off at the end of the term, while blacks and Hispanics could find it harder to get into college and to vote.
But a tension runs through the cases, one based on different conceptions of equality. Some justices are committed to formal equality. Others say the Constitution requires a more dynamic kind of equality, one that takes account of the weight of history and of modern disparities.
The four major cases yet to be decided concern same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher education and the fate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which places special burdens on states with a history of racial discrimination.
Formal equality would require that gay couples be treated just like straight couples when it comes to marriage, white students just like black students when it comes to admissions decisions and Southern states just like Northern ones when it comes to federal oversight of voting. The effect would be to help gay couples, and hurt blacks and Latinos.
But such rulings — “liberal” when it comes to gay rights, “conservative” when it comes to race — are hard to reconcile with the historical meaning of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, adopted in the wake of the Civil War and meant to protect the newly freed black slaves. It would be odd, said David A. Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago, for that amendment to help gays but not blacks.
“What’s weird about it would be the retreat on race, which is the paradigm example of what the 14th Amendment is meant to deal with,” he said, “coupled with fairly aggressive action on sexual orientation.”
But actual as opposed to formal racial equality has fallen out of favor in some circles, Professor Strauss said. “One thing that seems to be going on with these historically excluded groups,” he said, “is that they come to be thought of as just another interest group. Blacks seem to have crossed that line.”
Justice Antonin Scalia appeared to express that view during the argument in February in the voting rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96. “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements,” he said, “it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”
Gay men and lesbians have yet to achieve formal legal equality. They are not protected against job discrimination in much of the nation, may not marry their same-sex partners in most of it and do not have their marriages recognized by the federal government in any of it. The fact that they are asking for equal treatment may help their cause in the cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which for purposes of federal benefits defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and Proposition 8, the California voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage there.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested in March that ordinary politics would sort things out. “As far as I can tell,” he told a lawyer challenging the federal marriage law in United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, “political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.”
In the three months since that argument, three more states have adopted same-sex marriage, raising the total to 12, along with the District of Columbia.
Kenji Yoshino, a law professor at New York University, said the two different conceptions of equal protection are animated by different concerns. One is skeptical of government classifications based on race and similar characteristics, whatever their goals. The other tries to make sure that historically disfavored groups are not subordinated.
“Under Jim Crow,” Professor Yoshino said, “both horses ran in the same direction.” Southern states enacted laws that drew formal distinctions, and those distinctions oppressed blacks.
“These days,” Professor Yoshino said, “the two horses are running in opposite directions.”
Consider the case of Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas. She says the university, an arm of the state government, should not classify people on the basis of race because that violates a colorblind conception of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Defenders of the university’s affirmative action program say the purpose of the classification must figure in the equal protection analysis. “What we’re really trying to do is try to make sure there aren’t castes in our society, and we will try to lift up castes,” Professor Yoshino said.
A formal conception of equality helps Ms. Fisher in her case, Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345. A dynamic one helps the university.
Whichever side loses a major Supreme Court case is likely to say the decision was an example of judicial activism. That term can be an empty insult, but political scientists try to give it meaning. They say a court is activist when it strikes down a law as unconstitutional. There is a chance the court will be activist in that sense twice this week.
It may strike down central provisions of the federal marriage law and of the Voting Rights Act. Should that happen, said Pamela Harris, an adviser to the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown’s law school, “the left will be saying out of one side of its mouth, ‘How dare you strike down the considered judgment of Congress in the Voting Rights Act?’ ” In the same breath, she said, liberals will add, “But great job on DOMA.”
There is another possibility: one or more of the cases could fizzle, said Walter E. Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration and filed an influential brief in the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144. It argued that the failure of officials in California to appeal the judgment against them deprived the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to decide the case, and it was discussed at the argument in March.
Mr. Dellinger said all four remaining blockbuster cases suffer from plausible procedural flaws that could lead to their dismissal. “I’ve never heard of this before,” he said of such an end-of-term possibility.
An effort to harmonize all of the court’s big decisions may in the end prove impossible. “It’s hard to imagine somebody happy with everything they do, except Justice Kennedy,” Professor Strauss said, referring to the member of the court at its ideological center, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
That may be just as well for the court’s reputation. In giving something to liberals and something to conservatives, as it often does, Professor Strauss said, “the court has avoided putting itself in a position where either side wants to declare war on them.”
June 22, 2013
A Louisville Clinic Races to Adapt to the Health Care Overhaul
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One morning last month, a health clinic next to a scruffy strip mall here had an unlikely visitor: a man in a suit and tie, seeking to bring a dose of M.B.A. order to the operation.
A dozen clinic employees, who spend intense, chaotic days treating an unending stream of Louisville’s poor and uninsured, stared stonily at handouts he had brought as he made his pitch.
The visitor was Danny DuBosque, a “coach” hired to help the nonprofit clinic adapt to the demands of the federal health care overhaul. He had come to discuss a new appointment system, one that will let patients see a doctor or nurse within a few days of calling, instead of weeks or months.
“It’s a huge satisfier,” he declared — management-speak that fell flat with Dr. Michelle Elisburg, a pediatrician who was scheduled to see 26 patients that day.
“It puts me on edge,” said Dr. Elisburg, who has spent her career treating the poor. “Under this model, it’s first come first served, whoever calls fastest. But that’s not necessarily the patient who really needs to be seen.”
Mr. DuBosque, 35, raised his arms, a plea for patience. “We’re going to take the next few years going through and untangling all these issues,” he said before hurrying to another meeting.
“It’s frightening,” Dr. Elisburg, 42, murmured as Mr. DuBosque left.
The debate that morning was just one expression of the tensions rippling through medical offices around the country in the countdown to January, when the Affordable Care Act will require most Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. For doctors and their staffs, this is a period of fevered preparation for the far-reaching changes that are soon to come as the law moves out of the realm of political jousting and into the real world.
To follow how the historic law is playing out, The New York Times will look periodically at its impact in Louisville, a city of 600,000 that embodies both the triumphs and the shortcomings of the medical system in the United States.
The nation’s first hand transplant was performed here, as was the world’s first implant of a self-contained artificial heart. One of the nation’s largest insurers, Humana, is based here, and the city’s downtown area alone has four hospitals and a medical school. Health care increasingly fuels the local economy, accounting for many of the largest employers and a growing number of start-ups.
Yet for all the resources and expertise, the health outcomes in Kentucky remain “horrendous,” as Gov. Steven L. Beshear, a Democrat, put it recently. The state has some of the nation’s highest rates of smoking, obesity and deaths due to cancer and diabetes. At this point, the only sure thing about putting the law’s many pieces in place here is that it will not be easy.
The potential benefits are huge. Some 90,000 people could get medical coverage in this city alone. It could create thousands of jobs in Kentucky and, if its aspirations are realized, provide better care at lower cost. Yet the law still provokes suspicion and confusion, among both health care providers and the uninsured population it is meant to help.
Community clinics like the one Mr. DuBosque was visiting, one of seven in a network here called Family Health Centers, are at the front lines of the change. They expect that their patient load could double, even as they struggle to recruit doctors and other staff members. They serve people who, because of poverty or entrenched habits, often have a hard time staying healthy and tend to put off preventive care. Now these clinics are anticipating competition from private providers who may see newly insured patients — no matter how poor — as opportunities for profit. So they are working on improving the patient experience and their own efficiency.
The legislation allots $11 billion over five years to improve and expand community clinics across the nation. Family Health Centers is getting $5.4 million to renovate a clinic for the homeless and move a downtown clinic to a much bigger building, adding dental and X-ray departments and a pharmacy. The organization hopes to eventually serve 10,000 additional patients at that site alone, if it can hire enough doctors and nurses to treat them. Meanwhile, it is using federal stimulus money to convert 60,000 paper charts to electronic medical records, and trying to improve patient access with the new scheduling system and other changes.
“We have to change from being the provider of last resort to the first choice for the community we serve,” said Bill Wagner, the longtime executive director of Family Health Centers. “Everything we do needs to say, ‘You’re valuable to us.’ ”
Soft of voice and low-key, Mr. Wagner, 60, nonetheless acknowledges that the stakes for Family Health Centers are unnervingly high. He gets to work at 6:30 a.m. these days, relies on a steady stream of caffeine and clears his head with weekend motorcycle rides.
“We couldn’t have more balls in the air right now,” he said.
Patients and Problems
The West End of Louisville is a patchwork of poor neighborhoods, where asthma, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions are stubbornly common. In Portland, a neighborhood of one-way streets and faded shotgun homes, the biggest Family Health Centers clinic provides basic care to some 16,000 patients per year, regardless of ability to pay.
Here, Alaina Brohm, a brisk nurse practitioner, treats a diverse and challenging population: the unemployed, the chronically depressed, the obese, patients with advanced diabetes and feeble hearts. Ms. Brohm, 30, could be making more money at the retail clinics popping up in drugstores and supermarkets, diagnosing strep throats and bladder infections. Maybe someday she will. But for now, she wants a bigger challenge.
“I knew I would see it all here — a lot of chronic conditions, the worst of the worst,” she said. “I know a little bit about everything.”
Few in Louisville may feel the effects of the new health care law as tangibly as the uninsured patients who churn through Ms. Brohm’s cramped exam rooms — and how they will respond to the law is one of the crucial questions that will determine whether it succeeds. For now, many seem either wary of it or uninformed.
Marchelle Edwards, 55, had been absent from the clinic for more than a year when she arrived there one Monday in May. She had a painful infection in her foot, linked to uncontrolled diabetes. She had stopped taking medicine to control her blood sugar after her prescription ran out months earlier. She also had a bladder infection and a thyroid condition that was making her hoarse. Her daughter Tammy, who had driven her to the clinic, reported that she was subsisting on Pepsi and junk food and feeling tired all the time.
Ms. Edwards seemed to be a walking example of the potential benefits of the same-day appointment system that Mr. DuBosque had been pitching. “I just couldn’t get an appointment in here,” she said, alluding to the long wait time and why she had not bothered trying.
“Even if you made an appointment and it was two months out,” Ms. Brohm softly chided, “it would be a lot sooner than waiting a year.”
The last time Ms. Brohm had seen Ms. Edwards, in April 2012, she had referred her to a podiatrist affiliated with University Hospital, which provides most of the city’s specialized indigent care. But Ms. Edwards, a former food service worker, said she had stopped seeing the podiatrist because he charged $35 per visit.
“I stay at home and I hurt,” she said.
Ms. Brohm started her back on two medicines: one to regulate her blood sugar, and another to help with pain in her feet, a result of nerve damage from the diabetes. One would be free through a pharmacy discount program for the poor; the other would be $6 a month, an expense Ms. Edwards said was prohibitive.
“There’s only so much I can do with your toes, O.K., without surgery,” Ms. Brohm told her. “You’re going to need another referral to a podiatrist, another appointment with a financial counselor. Let me grab you a list.”
She left the room to get one, but Ms. Edwards stalked out, scowling, before she could return. Her daughter shook her head.
“Not having insurance,” Tammy Edwards said, “not being able to get the treatments and stuff that she really needs, it’s depressing for her.”
Ms. Edwards will almost certainly qualify for Medicaid under an expansion next year, which means she would pay nothing or a few dollars for most drugs and medical care, with a maximum of $450 a year.
Yet Ms. Brohm wonders whether Ms. Edwards will pursue the care she needs even if she gets Medicaid. “She’s scared of health care,” Ms. Brohm said after the appointment. “She’s one of the ones that’s more in denial. I guess it’s her defense mechanism: ‘If I don’t find out, then I won’t know.’ ”
Ms. Edwards’s case raises a crucial question about the health care law: Will insurance necessarily make unhealthy people healthier?
David Elson, 59, who has congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease, skipped an appointment at the clinic in April because he could not afford the fee. He earns enough to pay the highest fee on the clinic’s sliding scale: $65 per visit, he said, and more if he needs blood work. He came one recent evening for an urgent visit, laboring to breathe.
Mr. Elson, who has his own business installing alarm systems, used to pay $125 a month for health insurance, he said. But then he developed diabetes, and his premium soared to more than $500 a month. He dropped the policy years ago.
His nurse practitioner, Susan Elrod, quickly determined that he had fluid in his lungs. Ashen and slumped, he had gained 50 pounds in two months — all water weight, she said — because his weakened heart had not been pumping efficiently enough. He now weighed 309 pounds, and his legs had swelled so much that large lesions had opened on them, fluid seeping out.
“We’re going to have to send you to the emergency room,” Ms. Elrod told him. “Do you feel strong enough to drive, or would you like me to call an ambulance?”
Mr. Elson grimaced, realizing he now faced a far greater expense than what he had saved by skipping his last appointment. He was already struggling to pay for his insulin — $240 a month, he said — and other drugs, which filled a plastic bag he had brought with him.
“I can’t afford to go,” he said, looking blank, after Ms. Elrod had left the room.
He went nonetheless, but not until the next morning, when a neighbor could drive him.
Mr. Elson said he earned about $24,000 a year, too much to qualify for Medicaid even under the expansion. It will cover people with incomes up to $15,856 for a household of one.
But Mr. Elson could still get federal subsidies starting next year to help him buy private coverage through the insurance marketplace, or exchange, that Kentucky is creating under the law. People with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level — about $46,000 for an individual — will be eligible for such subsidies if they buy coverage through an exchange. But Mr. Elson said he was certain the cost would still be too high.
“I don’t see it helping anybody,” he said, “just making everybody get insurance.”
In fact, Mr. Elson might pay about $130 a month for coverage if he signed up for a medium-cost plan, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. He would qualify for a subsidy that would cover 80 percent of his premium costs. The law will also prohibit insurance companies from turning him away or charging him more because he is sick.
Even Ms. Brohm, the nurse practitioner, is suspicious of the law and confused about the changes it will bring. For one thing, she worries that poor people who become eligible for Medicaid under the expansion will be required to pay a part of their medical costs.
“If it does help out with the expensive stuff, that will be very exciting,” she said. “But my concern is if they have to pay anything, will things still be done? Sometimes even a small percentage is too much for people.”
The law’s divisiveness, meanwhile, makes her uncomfortable. She knows of a restaurant chain that may be sold, she said, because the owner cannot afford to provide insurance for his employees, as the law will soon require.
“If it becomes something a lot of people argue about,” she said, “that frightens me.”
Changes on the Way
At a meeting of the Family Health Centers medical staff in May, Ms. Brohm and her colleagues listened as Dr. Peter Thurman, the medical director, delivered a pep talk of sorts. He was pressing them to complete a day’s worth of online courses about the electronic records system that the clinics were poised to adopt. More training would come later in the year.
“It’s self-preservation, in my opinion,” Dr. Thurman said.
The topic shifted to the new appointment system, which only one of the clinics, known as Fairdale, had adopted so far. The early news was good: the average no-show rate had dropped from 21 percent in March to 10.5 percent in May.
“This thing is working,” Dr. Thurman proclaimed, and went on to credit Mr. DuBosque. “Danny’s been a godsend for us, I’ll just be honest with you.”
Later that day, Mr. DuBosque drove to the Fairdale clinic on the south side of Louisville, to get some firsthand feedback. The staff had more good news: fewer patients were turning to private urgent-care centers, a growing source of competition for Family Health Centers.
“They’re acting shocked: ‘What, we can get in today?’ ” said Saundra Kay Webb, a receptionist.
Technically, Mr. DuBosque’s job is to help Family Health Centers get certified as a “patient-centered medical home.” Under that model, teams of providers take a highly organized approach to patient care, with a focus on customer service. Better access is a central goal, which is why Family Health Centers is cutting its wait time for appointments.
Electronic medical records are also essential to the medical home model, partly to reduce what Mr. DuBosque called “the sheer work of keeping tabs on things with paper charts.”
Among other things, he is learning that change sometimes comes more slowly in community clinics than in the fiercely competitive hospital sector, where he used to work. For example, Mr. DuBosque thinks it would be smart to start and end the workday later at Family Health Centers, because patients are reluctant to show up for early-morning appointments. But the idea is not catching fire.
“There’s a whole host of things we’re going to have to fight through with that,” he said. “We have a lot of staff with some established routines and schedules. But I think it’s a no-brainer.”
Doctors working full time at Family Health Centers earn about $127,000 a year, far less than many of their counterparts in private practice. In the last year alone, the clinics lost five doctors, including one who moved, one who retired and one who took a higher-paying job at a hospital. Nurse practitioners are filling the void. They now make up 60 percent of the medical staff at the seven clinics, and their role will continue to grow.
But they, too, are in high demand, and their salary at Family Health Centers, about $67,000 a year for a full-time position, comes up short compared with the private sector.
If Family Health Centers sees enough new revenue, raising salaries will be a top priority. But as with so much of the Affordable Care Act, there are still far more questions than answers.
“Will it allow a community health center to be competitive on M.D.’s against the hospitals?” Dr. Thurman asked. “I just don’t know.”
One afternoon last month, Mr. Wagner, the director of Family Health Centers, canceled his appointments and hurried to the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, about an hour away. Governor Beshear was announcing that he would expand Medicaid in the state, a measure called for under the health care law but one that many states are opting out of. By the governor’s estimate, it would allow up to 308,000 additional Kentuckians into the program, almost half of the state’s uninsured population.
Mr. Wagner was eager to bear witness to an announcement that he deemed historic, the culmination of a goal he has spent his career trying to achieve. The Medicaid expansion could also solve Mr. Wagner’s budget problem. Family Health Centers is facing a deficit of about $3 million in its overall annual budget of $30 million, largely because so many of its 42,000 patients, 54 percent, are uninsured.
“Right now we’re living off our reserve fund, and that can only last so long,” Mr. Wagner said.
Then it was back to his office in Louisville to keep planning. That day he learned that community clinics around the country would receive $150 million to help sign up people for insurance. Family Health Centers anticipates getting about $300,000, which it will use to get the word out starting this summer. Under the law, people can start signing up in October for coverage that starts in January.
“We will undoubtedly be hiring staff who will sit in the lobbies with patients — with laptops, with tablets — to provide assistance in enrolling online,” Mr. Wagner said.
October will be a critical month at Family Health Centers. The insurance sign-up period will begin just as construction on the new downtown clinic gets under way. At the same time, the huge Portland clinic will go live with the electronic medical records, and it will have just adopted the new appointment system.
Ms. Brohm, the nurse practitioner, will be married by then, returning from her honeymoon to what may feel like a strange new world. Ms. Elrod, her colleague, will have cut her hours at Family Health Centers and started working in the relative calm of a private doctor’s office. Short of a miracle, neither Ms. Edwards nor Mr. Elson, their chronically ill patients, will have health insurance yet. But if the outreach campaign succeeds, they will have learned of their options and may be poised to sign up.
The day after Mr. Elson was admitted to the hospital, Ms. Elrod called to check on him. His breathing had improved, and the hospital had prescribed a different diuretic to help him excrete water. He had lost 10 pounds so far and would lose 20 more by the end of his five-day stay. She told him to follow up at the clinic after his release.
“Get on my schedule for Tuesday night, O.K.?” she said, then paused for his response. “O.K., if you have the money. I understand, Mr. Elson. O.K. Bye.”
Art Pope’s North Carolina Digital Gestapo
By: Adalia Woodbury
Jun. 21st, 2013
While Republicans in DC are busy passing important laws that no one cares about and don’t address any of our problems, the Koch Republic of Pope (formerly known as North Carolina) is busily establishing libertea lovers laws like making corporations tax free, or repealing the Racial Justice Act which in essence provides people on death row with a basis to appeal if racial bias played a role in their convictions, and basically anything else that amounts to a political orgasm for the Tea Party.
According to the State’s governor Pat McCrory (aka Art Pope’s puppet)
Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act,” McCrory said in a statement Wednesday. “The state’s district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice.
Right, there was never no racial bias in any case at all. That’s why the previous governor, Democrat Bev Perdue, who also supports the death penalty, vetoed previous attempts to repeal this law.
At the time, Perdue said it’s important the death penalty be given “fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race.”
Needless to say, the voter suppression laws endorsed by freedumb loving Art Pope got the NAACP’s attention, not to mention civil libertarians and others who have the radical idea that all American citizens should have a right to vote. Their weekly protests, dubbed “Moral Mondays” are peaceful (sans shotguns or signs saying “We didn’t come armed this time” and have resulted in arrests. This is because in the Koch Republic of Pope freedom means understanding that attacks on the basic principles of a free society are good for the corporation. If it’s good for the corporation, it’s good for everyone.
Sounds creepy enough right? It gets creepier of the Civitas Institute collecting pictures and data of Moral Monday protestors and posting them on their website variety. Even creepier, The Civitas Institute is part of the Art Pope political machine via the foundation named for Pope’s late father.
The Civitas Institute decided it’s going to dedicate its investigative prowess to the Moral Monday protestors who constitute a much bigger threat to freedumb in the Koch Republic of Pope than say Art Pope, who bought the government, is part of the government and is now using his extensive propaganda machine to intimidate anyone who challenges his government’s policies. Of course, since Pope owns The Civitas Institute, the odds that he’ll be investigated are non-existent.
In the name of investigating just who these protestors are and holding the short attention span of Fox fans, the website contains the following sections dedicated to their investigation: Introduction Pick the protestor game (perhaps designed for the literacy challenged website visitor) the all-important protestor database with more info available on the average protestor than on the average KRP lawmaker, Protestor facts and figures (comes with neat graphs too) and the endlessly useful Anatomy of a Protestor section designed to identify the traits associated with people who are defending the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race, political orientation or financial status.
Oh, you’ll just love their mission statement:
The vision of the Civitas Institute is of a North Carolina whose citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement. (by which they mean only people who agree with them can enjoy freedom and are encourage to civilly engage.)
Of course, the Civitas Institute will claim it’s their right to post this information. Freedom of speech you know. (wink wink)
This is one of those 501 3 c groups dedicated to social welfare and have absolutely nothing to do with politics. According to Open Secrets, Civitas’ human handler, Clark Reimer, gave money to North Carolina’s Republican Executive Committee. Right, so this organization really is about social welfare and doesn’t have nuttin to do with politics or political parties or party politics.
Besides, transparency means knowing anything real or imagined about protestors, while shadowy politicians financed by dark money continue the important work of making their Empire more business friendly.
Of course, we also know this tactic. Extremists in the pro birth movement who advocate using violence to further their cause on their websites use it. Names, pictures of abortion providers, abortion clinics etc. are provided for any wacko to do their bit for “the cause”.
Granted, part of Civitas’ agenda may be simply to mock the protestors, as “hippies” or “takers” in the current Tea Party nomenclature. Equally as certain is the likelihood that publishing identifiable information about protestors is a less than subtle means to intimidate them and possibly motivate the Bubbas with shotguns to help the protestors see the error of their ways and just stop with this nonsense.
When exploring their investigation of Moral Monday protestors, the first words that came to mind were “digital gestapo”. There’s just something fascistic about a group of 1, owned by a powerful member of the government, professing to believe in freedom, posting pictures and other information about protestors (which even if true) is irrelevant – at least in the United States of America. Your age, your occupation (or lack thereof) your race and whether you have a criminal record or not is irrelevant to whether or not you get to have an opinion about government policies.
By “sharing” this information with the probable visitors to the website, this organization is in reality, attempting to discredit both the protestors and the reasons they are protesting. They are using that same us/them propaganda tactic that the right wing used in an effort to discredit Occupy Wall Street. It’s the sort of tactic that was used in another time and in another country, in the name of branding their followers as the proverbial good people and opponents of their agenda as the proverbial bad people.
This is what North Carolina has turned into. This is what happens when “conservatives” get control over all branches of government and also use their “freedom’ to intimidate opponents of the corporate owned government’s policies.
At Their Core Flag Waving Republicans Oppose Democracy and a Free Society
Jun. 22nd, 2013
The danger inherent in fundamentalism is it demands an absolutist and strict obedience to a concrete standard, or set of standards, that its ideologue devotees cannot waiver from or comprehend non-compliance from non-adherents. Religion, in its purest form, is steeped in fundamentalism primarily because strict obedience to its particular tenets is required by its adherents who tend toward imposing their beliefs on the rest of society. America’s version of conservatism is a fixed belief system not unlike fundamentalist religion, and regardless the U.S. Constitution, or will of the people, conservatives are ill-inclined to waiver from imposing their ideology on the people. Like religion, conservatives demand strict obedience from all members of society making it incompatible with democracy or a free society. For the past four-and-a-half years, Americans have been besieged by an axis of fundamentalist groups who exemplify anti-democratic ideology and between corporatists, evangelical fundamentalists, and conservatives, the nation risks drifting toward fascism and if not thwarted spells the end of American democracy.
Although corporatists pose a clear and present danger to America’s representative democracy, it is religious and conservative fundamentalists who openly oppose the idea of a free society, and in their rush to impose their ideology on the entire nation belie their contention they love America or its founding document. Republicans in Congress have all but brought governance to a halt with their obstructionism and demand that the nation adheres to their fundamentalist agenda or they prevent government from operating, and in conjunction with forcing bible-based laws on the people demonstrate their hatred for democracy. As Americans await a pair of Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage, religious fundamentalists preemptively warned that a decision contrary to their religion will leave them no choice but to defy the Court they claim is “acting beyond its constitutional role and contrary to the Natural Moral Law which transcends religions, culture, and time.” The evangelicals released a letter stating their intent to defy the High Court and ended with a threat; “Make no mistake about our resolve, this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross,” and it exemplifies the Christian-conservative mindset Republicans are pushing on the people at all levels of government.
At the beginning of the 113th Congress, Speaker of the House John Boehner promised evangelical fundamentalists that “making abortion a relic of the past” was Republican’s primary goal for 2013, and following through on his word House Republicans passed an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks in clear violation of the High Court’s ruling that abortion is a woman’s choice, and legal, until the fetus is viable outside the womb. Fundamentalists could not care less what the Supreme Court ruled and Republicans demonstrated their allegiance is not to the Constitutional authority of the High Court, but to the absolutist standards of fundamentalist Christians. In Virginia, the state’s attorney general and candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, is defending an unconstitutional law, “Crimes Against Nature,” because he feels it is his religious right to prohibit oral and anal sex between consenting adults because like opponents of same-sex marriage, he claims it is “contrary to natural moral law” spelled out in the Christian bible.
Cuccinelli has a history of demanding Virginia residents adhere to his religious fundamentalist agenda and is the poster-boy for the Christian right’s attempt to rule by biblical edict. In 2007, Cuccinelli cosponsored personhood legislation that defined a zygote is a human being and would abolish and criminalize all forms of birth control as tantamount to murder for preventing a zygote from implanting in the womb. In 1982 the Senate rejected legislation defining human life at fertilization because it automatically defined contraception as an “abortifacient” which is a nice word for zygote killer. In 2010, Cuccinelli sent a memo to the state’s universities informing them they did not need to protect gays from discrimination, and that it would be illegal if they did. He said, “It is my advice that the law prohibits a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy,” and it is based on his “view that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong. I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. They don’t comport with natural law. I happen to think that it represents behavior that is not healthy to society.”
Cuccinelli, like same-sex marriage opponents and conservatives opposed to social programs, safety nets, taxes on the wealthy and corporations, represents the fundamentalist threat to democracy because they will go to any length to impose their ideology on the people regardless the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court rulings, or the will of the people. For example, Republicans blocked expanded background checks for gun purchases despite 90% of America, including Republicans and NRA members, supported a sensible means of keeping guns out of criminal’s hands. In a January 2013 poll, 70% of Americans supported abortion rights and yet Republicans, at the behest of evangelicals, passed an unconstitutional ban after 20 weeks despite the risk of losing more women voters in the next election.
Democracy is the antithesis of, and protection from, fundamentalism because the idea of one man, one religion, one political ideology, or one religious book being set up as the absolute standard to which all people of a nation are bound will always subject the majority to tyranny. It is true that is the end goal of Christian fundamentalists in America the same as it is the goal of conservatives in the tea party and Republicans pushing libertarianism on America, but it is not democracy and certainly not the Founding Fathers intent. Admittedly not all Christians seek to impose their will on all the people, but inherent in all religions is the belief that there is only one way, one law, and one absolute that rejects all others and it is why men like Cuccinelli, conservative Christians in Congress, and same-sex marriage opponents openly threaten to defy the Highest Court in the land because a ruling may be contrary to their “natural moral law” and state categorically that the Supreme Court has no “moral authority” to rule that all Americans are protected under the 14th Amendment.
Perhaps the religious leaders who threatened there is a “line we cannot and will not cross” are ignorant of the High Court’s duty to the Constitution and the nation because it is not a moral authority; it is a legal and Constitutional authority over the entire nation. Whether the religious fundamentalists like it or not, the Constitution, and not any religious book, is the legal authority in America and that is a line that the great majority of Americans will not tolerate any group crossing regardless of what kind of fundamentalist ideologue they are.
It’s High Time That the GOP Faces Its Real Enemy: House Republicans
By: Becky Sarwate
Jun. 22nd, 2013
As should be apparent to anyone who paid attention to the November 2012 election cycle, the Republican party is in electoral disarray. To call their messaging strategy tone deaf is an insult to the musically-impaired, who typically find other ways to communicate successfully. In print, web and television outreach, the GOP managed to estrange women, the scientific community and minorities with all-out assaults on female reproductive rights and workplace equality, sneers at empirical evidence of climate change and of course, a view of our nation’s immigrants as persona non grata. The really neat trick about the last bungle is the speed with which the Republican party managed to destroy the 59 percent approval rating once enjoyed by former President George W. Bush amongst Latin Americans during the majority of his term.
After an embarrassing Election Day drubbing which featured President Obama trouncing Mitt Romney with regard to women voters, African-Americans and (this statistic still stuns me) enjoying a 44-point advantage amongst Hispanics, GOP loyalists (masochists?) hoped ballot box tallies would deliver the necessary wakeup call. Republican Governors and Senators, all coincidentally I’m sure, considering a 2016 run for the White House, fell all over themselves to get to the nearest microphone. The plea, in not so many words, was clear: please stop engendering long-term revulsion for our party with backward, racist rhetoric that ignores the country’s rapidly evolving demographics. In January, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal cautioned the Republican National Committee to “Stop being the stupid party,” while 2013 It Boy, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, begged his caucus to cease using “harsh, intolerable and inexcusable” rhetoric directed at illegal immigrants, or risk losing the Latino vote in perpetuity.
And for a moment, considering the speed with which the Senate managed to come together in consideration of long-overdue, comprehensive immigration reform, it appeared that GOP party members received the message. In short order, Republicans returned to their number one priority: stonewalling the President at every turn with regard to Cabinet and judicial appointments, squashing common-sense gun reforms and scandal baiting that led former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (Newt Gingrich, people!) to caution his party against “overreach.” These are, clearly, crazy times in which we live.
But while the Republican Party goes about its daily business of painting the President as the enemy of freedom, privacy and job creation, leaders in the Senate have tried to ignore the very real fact that, when it comes to creating resurgent conservative momentum, the enemy lies within. The threatening calls, quite literally, are coming from inside the House.
Consider this week’s headline courtesy of ABC News: House Committee Would Criminalize Being Undocumented. Writers Jim Avila and Serena Marshall open the piece with the rhetorical question, “One small step for immigration in the Senate, one giant leap backward in the House?” Describing the recent work of the House Judiciary Committee on immigration reform, the article notes a “First step, making it a federal crime (misdemeanor) to be in the United States with undocumented status and repealing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), better known as the DREAM Act, that provides temporary status to people brought to the United States as children and were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012.”
Though this proposed legislation has zero chance of passage in the Senate, or of being signed into law by President Obama, Republicans in the House have no qualms about continued waste of taxpayer time and money that results in legislation opposing the will of the American people. Depending on the poll, it is estimated that between 61 and 78 percent of voting citizens support immigration overhaul.
The response to the House’s latest shot at immigrants was immediate and profound. Avila and Marshall report that “Protestors chanting ‘shame, shame, shame, stop the pain’ and ‘Si, se puede’ (‘Yes, We Can’) caused a momentary pause in the committee at the beginning of the proceedings.” And, “The hashtag #HATEact was being used by opponents of the legislation on social media.”
Well done GOP. Nothing like welcoming Latino voters back into the fold.
However my question for today is directed at those would-be populist Republican Senators and Governors. When exactly will you stop directing your petulant, partisan griping at Obama and start taking on your real opponents, the members of your own party who will have you languishing as a fringe minority (pun most certainly intended) for all eternity?
Mitch McConnell Admits That Obama Wasn’t Involved In the IRS Scandal
By: Jason Easley
Jun. 21st, 2013
During a paranoid speech at American Enterprise Institute, Sen. Mitch McConnell burst the right’s bubble by admitting that President Obama wasn’t involved in the IRS scandal.
Video of full McConnell speech at AEI:
This speech was loaded with right wing red meat paranoia, but see if you can notice how McConnell is trying to change his story on the IRS scandal. Keep in mind that Republicans have been trying to claim that President Obama was involved, “Then, of course, there’s the widespread effort to stifle speech from within the government itself, something the Obama Administration has been engaged in from its earliest days. Some have traced this back even further, to the 2008 campaign. But my central point last June, and my central point today, is this: the attacks on speech that we’ve seen over the past several years were never limited to a few Left-wing pressure groups or the DISCLOSE Act, which I’ll turn to in a minute. They extend throughout the federal government, to places like the FEC, the FCC, HHS, the SEC, and as all Americans now know — even to the IRS. These assaults have often been aided and abetted by the administration’s allies in Congress. And they’re as virulent as ever.
Later McConnell blamed unions for the IRS scandal, “The federal bureaucracy, and in particular the growth of public sector unions, has created an inherent and undeniable tension between those who believe in limited self-government and those who stand to benefit from its growth. Let’s face it, when elected leaders and union bosses tell the folks who work at these agencies that they should view half the people they’re supposed to be serving as a threat to democracy, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that they would. Why would we even expect a public employee — whose union more or less exists to grow the government — to treat someone who opposes that goal to a fair hearing? When the head of the union that represents unionized IRS workers publicly vilifies the Tea Party, is it any wonder that members of her union would get caught targeting them?”
Towards the end of his speech, McConnell ruled out Obama involvement, “There might be some folks out there waiting for a hand-signed memo from President Obama to Lois Lerner to turn up. What I’m saying is that a coordinated campaign to use the levers of government to target conservatives and stifle speech has been in full swing and open view for years. It’s been carried out by the same people who say there’s nothing more to the DISCLOSE Act than transparency, and no more to other disclosure regulations than good government.”
And just like the that, the Republican leader in the Senate killed the IRS scandal. The whole allure for Republicans has always been that the IRS scandal would prove that Obama is just like Nixon. Now that the full transcripts have been released, and the evidence has been revealed for the world to see, Republicans need a new story. This is why McConnell returned to that tried in true villain of conservative mythology, the unions.
Sen. McConnell was trying to salvage something from the wreckage of the IRS scandal, that’s why he claimed that the unions are responsible for everything. Sen. McConnell is the most unpopular senator in the country. He is currently tied with his Democratic challenger to his reelection campaign. This is why McConnell’s speech was loaded with right wing buzzwords and union attacks.
While trying to fire up the right and save his job, McConnell did something that he wasn’t intending to do. He virtually killed the IRS scandal.
Criminalizing Students Cripples Their Future and Lines the Pockets of the Corrections Industry
By: Deborah Foster
Jun. 23rd, 2013
As someone who has worked with youth who have disabilities as part of my career, I was particularly disturbed when I recently came upon the story of a young high school student with Asperger’s syndrome who had been hounded and manipulated by someone he thought was his friend into buying this “friend” marijuana. Youth with disabilities often struggle to make friends. They’re subjected to the taunts of bullies much more often than they are extended the invitation of cliques to join them in the high stakes social gauntlet that is high school. What this article described were the machinations of an undercover cop who basically practiced the timeless art of bullying as he clearly went about his entrapment of his “friend.” Having myself been extended a false invitation to hang out with the “cool crowd” during my awkward youth, only to find it was a trick, I know the sting of being duped by someone who pretends to be your friend. This police officer did the same. At least when I woke up the next day, all I had were bad memories. This child with an autism spectrum disorder had a criminal charge to face. Righteously, his parents are filing suit against the school district for allowing their son to be targeted in his vulnerable position, for attempting to punish him even after a judge more or less let him off, and for the subsequent bullying the boy received from classmates as a result of the whole incident.
The story illustrates two major issues facing our leaders and policy-makers. First, the failed and out-of-control War on Drugs has become so pernicious, its warriors feel the need to ensnare disabled high school kids. There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits, but we’re spending our criminal justice dollars on undercover cops ferreting out and entrapping teens? When will our country finally say enough is enough, and end this costly and futile War?
Then, another equally disturbing issue is raised. Why are we criminalizing our youth? The now ubiquitous phrase, “school-to-prison pipeline,” has become part of our lexicon for a reason. Texas is assuring that transition for youth by electronically linking their school records to the criminal courts, so youth who miss school can be immediately prosecuted. Across the country, in story after story, we hear about children, some as young as five, being taken to jail or juvenile detention for misbehavior; misbehavior that in previous decades would have warranted the traditional detention. Previous victims of the criminalization of students tell stories of being interrogated mercilessly, never being given access to their parents, an attorney, or even being read their rights. There is evidence that schools have very little concern for students’ rights.
Students are punished or even arrested for having too many absences, putting perfume on in class, not following the dress code, not carrying their ID, doodling on their desk, texting on school grounds, etc., with suspensions up to two weeks or even misdemeanor charges sending them to court. Alarmingly, being suspended just once in ninth grade doubles your chances of dropping out of high school (.pdf). Two suspensions and you have a 42% chance of dropping out. With three, there’s about a 50/50 chance, you’ll finish high school. And what of students who are sent to juvenile detention? New research has demonstrated that such facilities themselves are the cause of additional criminal behavior in youth. Economists Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. compared Chicago youth who went before judges who opted for juvenile detention more frequently versus those who received more lenient punishments (e.g. home monitoring or community service). Despite having similar profiles in terms of background and offenses, the youth sentenced to detention were 13% less likely to graduate high school and 22% more likely to end up in prison as adults.
Concerned teachers and administrators trace this trend back to the advent of “zero tolerance” policies, originally intended to apply to bringing guns and weapons to school, and now applied to every imaginable offense, including the most petty (.pdf). By no means is the impact racially neutral either. In the 2009-2010 school year, you had a one in fourteen chance of being suspended if you were a white child. If you were a black child, those odds go up to one in four. If you were a disabled child, your odds of suspension were one in five. You can just imagine how likely you would be to end up suspended if you were a black, disabled child. Though he wasn’t in school at the time, the case of Tremaine McMillian, the 14-year old boy, who allegedly gave police officers a “dehumanizing stare,” and thus apparently deserved to be put in a chokehold, demonstrates that African American children in particular are viewed as threatening and criminal.
All of this criminalization of children and youth has led some enlightened teachers/administrators, parents, and now young people, to protest. Members of Detroit Youth Voice, an activist group for the young, protested the school-to-prison pipeline a few months ago by taking their message to the streets and asking the Detroit Public School system to revisit their zero tolerance policies. And they have the backing of the State Board of Education which issued a memorandum stating,
“Researchers have found no evidence that zero tolerance policies make schools safer or improve student behavior. In fact, studies suggest that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct…Many students who have been suspended or expelled have no alternative opportunities for learning or other productive activities. When students are repeatedly suspended, they are at substantially greater risk of leaving school altogether, and current rates of expulsion and suspension in Michigan public schools are unacceptably high…The Board strongly urges Michigan school districts to take the following action: Review existing zero tolerance policies that are above and beyond those required in law, and limit the number of offenses mandating suspension and referral to law enforcement to those directly related to the safety of students and school personnel. Removing a child from an educational opportunity should be reserved for the most serious infractions, and not used as a means of discipline for minor occurrences…”
It remains to be seen how school districts respond to the Board of Education’s recommendations. Of course, this is evidence of progress in one state. There are still many, many more in drastic need of reform. There is also plenty of room for concern about the trend across the country to close schools in low-income, predominantly minority communities where educational resources are most needed. For example, Philadelphia has just decided to close 23 of its public schools to save money due to budget shortfalls. The irony: they are spending $400 million to build a “state of the art” prison.
Last year, I wrote about the rise of the private prison industry and the dangers of providing perverse incentives to lock people up. One would hope that private companies are not already behind the scenes lobbying for zero tolerance policies or other sorts of school policy that facilitate a school-to-prison pipeline, but it wouldn’t be too cynical to ponder the possibility. These companies not only house a high percentage of federal/state prisoners and INS-detained undocumented immigrants, they also operate many juvenile detention centers (e.g. all of Florida’s). They are likely eager to see 5 yr. old girls get 10-day suspensions from school for “making terrorist threats” with their Hello Kitty bubble-making “gun” or 6 yr. olds get arrested for having a temper tantrum. After all, the evidence suggests these kids stand a higher chance of being future inmates once they become criminalized, they prematurely leave school, and their life options are circumscribed. If we don’t want to just fill their cells and their coffers, it is past time to end the criminalization of children.