Despite the fact that Roe v. Wade first legalized abortion four decades ago, anti-choice lawmakers have successfully chipped away at abortion rights on a state level. Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff flagged a helpful visual, compiled by Remapping the Debate, to illustrate the recent flood of anti-abortion laws across the country (click to enlarge, or click here to see the interactive version). Five states have at least 20 different restrictions that obstruct women’s access to reproductive services, and Oregon is the sole state that doesn’t have a single piece of anti-choice legislation on the books:
Justice Antonin Scalia is easily the Supreme Court’s most strident conservative. He defends torture and finds little wrong with executing the innocent. He once argued that the Constitution does not protect women from gender discrimination (although he’s since backed off this statement somewhat). Scalia compared same-sex attraction to murder. He believes our immigration law should look to antebellum laws excluding “freed blacks” from southern states for guidance. And he spent the much of the Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act parroting conservative talking points against health reform.
Yet, according to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), Scalia’s really just a squishy liberal:
At the annual gathering of the conservative National Review Institute, held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, Cuccinelli appeared on a panel discussing the topic, “Does the Constitution Have a Future?” During the session, he criticized President Obama, suggesting the president had a malleable vision of the meaning of sin and of the Constitution.
“And really the way to fight back, given the governmental structure we have, the primary way is to get good judges who don’t accept what is wrong as right after a while,” Cuccinelli said, according to a video clip of the discussion. “Justice Scalia is in this category: ‘Well, we’ve been doing it wrong for a while, so now it’s part of the Constitution.’ I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that. And that needs to be reflected in the judges selected by the president, not this president, but the president generally, and approved by the Senate. They need to take that a lot more seriously than they do.”
To explain this a bit, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, conservative justices created new, artificial limits on the federal government’s power — such as saying that the Constitution did not permit Congress to regulate manufacturing, mining or agriculture. They then wielded these extra-constitutional limits to strike down basic workplace protections such as child labor laws or laws protecting the right to organize. The Supreme Court abandoned this misreading of the Constitution in the 1930s, and Justice Clarence Thomas is the only member of the current Court who embraces this misreading. Justice Scalia repeatedly refused to join opinions by Thomas pining for the days when manufacturing was considered immune to federal regulation and national child labor laws were considered unconstitutional.
Cuccinelli disagrees with Scalia on this point. He’s claimed that “[w]e want judges who will do nothing but apply the law as it was written and originally understood.” And, in one of his briefs challenging the Affordable Care Act, he tipped his hand to indicate a broader agenda to return to the days when child labor laws were tossed out because they exceeded Congress’ constitutional authority to “regulate commerce.” Cuccinelli’s brief embraces Thomas’ view that “the founding generation distinguished between commerce on the one hand, and manufacturing or agriculture on the other, as distinct things.”
Of course, Cuccinelli’s understanding of the Constitution’s history is dubious at best, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Cuccinelli thinks judges are bound by the founders’ understanding of the Constitution, and he also agrees with Justice Thomas that the founders would not have approved of child labor laws.
And so Justice Scalia is a villain, because he won’t join Thomas’ noble crusade against the most basic labor protections.
So it turns out that burning nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined is not good for public health.
“Beijing’s daily peak and average concentrations of PM2.5, the airborne particulate matter that raises risks for lung and heart diseases, as measured by the U.S. Embassy. The 2013 daily average was 194 micrograms per cubic meter, with an intraday peak of 886 on Jan. 12, the data show. By contrast, PM2.5 levels averaged 166.6 in 16 airport smoking lounges in the U.S.” (Via Bloomberg)
Significantly, though, as one Brigham Young University professor points out, “Unlike cigarette smoking, exposure to ambient air pollution is involuntary and ubiquitously effects entire populations.”
And that reminds me of the line from the Hitchock-esque movie, Diabolique, where a man says to the femme fatale as she lights up a cigarette, “Second-hand smoke kills, you know.” Blowing smoke in his face, she (Sharon Stone, of course) replies, “Not reliably.”
Living in Beijing kills far more reliably. Indeed, during the peak pollution weekend, “the number of emergency room patients with heart attacks roughly doubled” at one hospital.
A World Bank study performed with China’s national environmental agency, concluded “outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.”
And that was in 2007! One can only imagine what the deaths from pollution in China are now that it burns 40% more coal than it did 6 years ago
A new Quinnipiac poll has found that a plurality of Pennsylvania voters support marriage equality, with 47 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. As has been the case in other states, support is stronger among women (50-40), Democrats (65-27), and independent voters (51-38). Currently, Pennsylvania does not offer any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
But in some instances, federal tax breaks for corporations undermine state budgets. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities detailed today, one particular tax break will cost states $600 million next year:
The federal government created this tax break, known as the “domestic production deduction,” in 2004. Since most states base their own tax codes on the federal tax code, the tax break was carried over into many states without specific legislative scrutiny or a vote. Now it is costing not only the federal government but also 25 states a large amount of money. By 2014, it will cost these states over $600 million per year.
The deduction — enacted as Section 199 of the federal Internal Revenue Code — allows companies to claim a tax deduction based on profits from “qualified production activities,” a sweeping category that goes well beyond manufacturing to include such diverse activities as food production, filmmaking, and utilities — a substantial share of states’ corporate income tax base.
These deductions are largely worthless, and many states have tossed them overboard. But 25 states still leave it intact:
As CBPP noted, “Firms can claim the domestic production deduction for profits from all qualifying domestic activities — meaning activities that occur anywhere within the United States. As a result, a multi-state firm can claim the deduction in a conforming state for production activities in any state, not just the state where the firm is filing.” They also benefit large firms at the expense of small.
State efforts to encourage corporate growth and job creation through the tax code usually encourage a race to the bottom, as corporations play states off each other in order to secure the most preferential treatment, and then feel no hesitation about up and leaving later. Of course, paying corporations to create jobs is only one of the bone-headed ways states try to generate economic activity.
Police are reporting that a 14-year-old student was shot in the back of the neck at Price Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday afternoon and is awake and breathing. One teacher was also injured from being trampled after the shot was fired. At least one suspect is in police custody.
Parents are not being allowed to come to the school at this time and the kids are not able to leave. Early reports suggest that the shooting was a result of an altercation between students from another school.
The New York Police Department last month arrested and detained in handcuffs a seven-year-old boy over accusations that he stole $5 from a fellow elementary school student four days earlier. The December 4 incident came to light after Wilson Reyes’ parents filed a $250 million lawsuit against the NYPD, alleging the boy was verbally, physically and emotionally abused, intimidated, humiliated, embarrassed and defamed.
His parents snapped a photo of the boy handcuffed to a wall at the police precinct, which was published on the front page of the New York Post. The details of the incident are in dispute, including how long Reyes was detained, whether he actually stole the $5 and whether he physically assaulted the other boy in the incident. But reports confirm that charges were filed against the boy for robbery and weren’t dropped until December 26. Unnamed law enforcement sources said they treated the incident like any involving a juvenile:
We responded to a 911 call of a robbery and assault . . . Eventually, [Wilson] was taken back to the precinct and placed in the juvenile room.
He was charged with robbery. The allegation was that he punched the kid and took his money. He took the money forcibly.
The kid came into the precinct a little bit after 3 p.m., and he was out by 7:45 p.m. . . . That’s standard for a juvenile arrest.
The alleged victim, a classmate who says he is frequently bullied by Reyes, told the New York Daily News that Reyes punched the boy and stole $5 as he was walking home from school on November 30, four days before police arrested him in a classroom in the Bronx. School officials told the Post the incident occurred off grounds and it is unclear whether the school solicited police intervention.
But whether or not Reyes was a “bully” does not explain why police allegedly pulled a seven-year-old boy out of class, let alone handcuffed him to a wall, days after the altercation was over and done with. The criminalization of young children, particularly as an alternative means of school discipline, is an alarming trend that disproportionately funnels minority students into the criminal justice system.
The NYPD has been under fire for harsh policing tactics, particularly regarding stop-and-frisks in the Bronx. These police stops were applied so aggressively and disproportionately in 2011 that there were more stops of young black men than the total number of young black men in the city.
Recognizing these trends, the city’s Public Advocate condemned the incident, saying:
Seven-year-olds don’t belong in handcuffs. As a parent, I wouldn’t stand for this in one of my kids’ schools. Our school system’s overreliance on the NYPD as a disciplinary tool traumatizes our young people, sows distrust in our communities and drains vital City resources away from responding to genuine crimes. This has to stop.
Over at NPR, Linda Holmes has a lovely post about the fallacies of pretending that “the masses” or “Middle America” are some sort of homogenous block of cultural consumers, or that “the lowest common denominator” is something we should have contempt for, rather than embrace:
I’ve always found the lowest common denominator kind of a cozy concept, particularly because you kind of do it by feel — it’s a translator that lets you take two things that seem to be vibrating on different frequencies and unlock them so they can fit together instead of bumping into each other.
But somehow in culture, “lowest common denominator” has become a way to describe not what’s unifying but what’s worst, as if we all come together where we are awful and stupid. In fact, when we do all come together in large numbers, it’s usually not where we are awful and stupid, particularly not because we are awful and stupid. We come together where there’s enough commonality to let people talk to each other about the same thing. How did that become a slam, unless we assume that the purpose of culture, and of our own tastes, is to efficiently separate those who favor wheat from those who are more into chaff?
The lowest common denominator on a huge scale, in fact, is probably something like The Avengers or the Oscars or the Super Bowl, none of which is embraced for its scandalous or scatological qualities, but all of which are popular simply because lots of people think it’s fun to watch them. And as silly as those things are, their commonality is actually their most redeeming quality — that it’s the lowest common denominator across surprisingly diverse populations is the best thing about the Super Bowl, not the worst. It’s certainly the best thing about the Oscars.
To paraphrase some of the rest of the piece, we watch Community in red states and worship at the altar of Mark Harmon in NCIS in blue states.
I have to say, I wonder if some of this divide comes from shifts in business models that have divided both television and movies into things with massive audiences and tiny audiences, without much space in between. In movies, we’ve increasingly got tentpoles, many of which are genre movies—which face an inherent critical bias and are siloed into “low” culture no matter how self-serious they get—and smaller independent or foreign films, with smart, adult, not very expensive movies vanishing from the scene. 2012 felt like a rare movie-going year in part because there were a number of mass hits, like Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained that have both done good or pretty good box office and have received good reviews and been the subject of spirited intellectual debates. The things among our common denominators weren’t inherently the lowest. But I do understand how, if you’re a devotee of those $30 million movies that are vanishing, or if it’s becoming harder for you to find independent and foreign films in theaters and they’re slow to make it to video on demand or to streaming, you might feel a certain amount of resentment. It’s not just that other people want and support other things—it’s that it feels harder to get what you want.
The same is true in television, where there remain some massive hits like Dancing With The Stars, NCIS or The Big Bang Theory, but where the ratings for new comedies in particular have quickly shrunk to the point of invisibility. Watching the struggle of something like Community to stay alive, I don’t blame people for being frustrated that more people aren’t tuning in. But the truth is that something like Community, or Happy Endings, or even 30 Rock, all the self-aware, self-referential, pop-culture examining comedies out there—they have an inherent audience ceiling. And that’s totally okay! One of the blessings of a diversified media environment is that networks will create and keep running weird shows with wacky premises and strange-but-endearing characters long after they would have been nuked in a previous era of television. What fans of those shows want is less for everyone to suddenly ditch Leroy Jethro Gibbs and discover the joys of Dean Pelton, and more for NBC to find a way to make money on its wonderful little curiosities, whether it’s an adjustment to the Nielsen ratings that gets advertisers excited about more delayed watching, or richer syndication deals with Hulu and Netflix.
In other words, if folks are still turning up their noses at what “Middle America” watches when Dan Harmon gets his eleventy-billion new shows on the air in coming seasons, the heck with ‘em. But if folks are upset about what’s getting mass audiences because they’re afraid it threatens what they like, I have more sympathy for people’s desire to get their hands on and provide support to content than they love.
A number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers have embraced a Senate framework with a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Parts of the Senate proposal appeal to conservative calls for increased border security, employment enforcement, and visa tracking (enough to even temporarily convince Rush Limbaugh). However, a string of groups that helped defeat immigration reform in 2007 are already ready and eager to derail any bipartisan talks.
Echoing the 47 percent rhetoric that plagued Mitt Romney during the election, immigration opponents have panned the Senate framework for a tough road to legalization as “amnesty” or a “pointless” attempt to attract Latinos to the Republican party.
Many of these groups played a role in defeating the last attempt at immigration reform in 2007. Numbers USA, a group founded by anti-immigration activist John Tanton, slammed the Senate discussions as “amnesty 2.0″ and pledged to defeat it, while another of Tanton’s groups, FAIR, directed membership to tell Congress “how ridiculous it is.”
The National Review rejected immigration reform as “pointless” in a staff editorial, where they claimed Hispanics would never be welcomed in the Republican party:
While many are in business for themselves, they express hostile attitudes toward free enterprise in polls. They are disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support. More than half of Hispanic births are out of wedlock. Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies. Low-income households headed by single mothers and dependent upon some form of welfare are not looking for an excuse to join forces with Paul Ryan and Pat Toomey. Given the growing size of the Hispanic vote, it would help Republicans significantly to lose it by smaller margins than they have recently. But the idea that an amnesty is going to put Latinos squarely in the GOP tent is a fantasy.
Erick Erickson opposes it for somewhat different reasons, calling it a plan “based on faith in government, not free enterprise or the American people.” According to Erickson, this is a debate “Democrats can use to get the GOP to fight itself,” ignoring that even a majority of Republicans embrace a pathway to citizenship.
Some Republican lawmakers have rejected reform, as well. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) called Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) “naive” and “nuts” to allow a path for legalization, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took a predictably similar hard line. As the House begins to craft its own plan, longtime reform opponents Lamar Smith (R-TX), the former House Judiciary Chair and Lou Barletta (R-PA) claimed it amounted to “amnesty.”
While parts of the Republican party remain unchanged on the issue, the national and political momentum clearly backs a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
By January of next year, Obamacare will require Americans to have insurance coverage, either through their employer or through one of the health law’s statewide insurance marketplaces. In order to make that coverage affordable, the law provides progressive insurance subsidies in the form of tax credits for Americans buying coverage on the marketplaces and fines companies that don’t cover their workers. But an existing loophole in the law may leave some American families in a coverage gap — and Congress may not be able to agree on a solution to fix the glitch.
The families in question would be unable to afford family health plan premiums through their employer, while also ineligible to qualify for the subsidies to help them buy an alternative plan on an Obamacare exchange. As Modern Healthcare explains, the loophole has to do with the definition of what is considered “affordable” coverage under the law, which is directly related to the federal subsidies that a family is eligible to receive:
Congress said affordable coverage can’t cost more than 9.5 percent of family income. People with coverage the law considers affordable cannot get subsidies to go into the new insurance markets. The purpose of that restriction was to prevent a stampede away from employer coverage.
Congress went on to say that what counts as affordable is keyed to the cost of self-only coverage offered to an individual worker, not his or her family. A typical workplace plan costs about $5,600 for an individual worker. But the cost of family coverage is nearly three times higher, about $15,700, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
So if the employer isn’t willing to chip in for family premiums — as most big companies already do — some families will be out of luck. They may not be able to afford the full premium on their own, and they’d be locked out of the subsidies in the health care overhaul law.
Ron Pollack, the executive director of the health care advocacy group Families USA, told Modern Healthcare, “This is a very significant problem, and we have urged that it be fixed. It is clear that the only way this can be fixed is through legislation and not the regulatory process.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t bode well for the American families who fall inside of this coverage gap. While Obama Administration officials have called for a fix, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has been staunch in its refusal to do anything with Obamacare other than obstruct its funding sources. Some Republicans have gone even further than that, attempting to strip away the law’s federal insurance subsidies to Americans in states that choose not to implement their own exchanges, claiming that a semantic technicality in Obamacare forbids assisting Americans in such states from buying coverage — a move that the Administration has vehemently rejected, since it would financially devastate Americans in half of the country.
The IRS has instituted certain regulations in an attempt to mollify the impact of the loophole on American families, ruling that families that fall into that coverage hole will not be subject to the law’s penalty for not purchasing insurance. All in all, very few Americans will actually be subject to the individual insurance mandate penalty, and 80 percent of those who will have incomes higher than the federal poverty level. Still, that may end up being small comfort for the Americans whose employers choose not to pitch in for family health plans.