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newsmongering 02/13

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> I had a fairly relaxed morning today. I wandered upstairs, made breakfast, and sipped my coffee while looking out at the snow. I may have even painted my nails while browsing Facebook. And then I opened The Economist and discovered that birtherism is apparently still a thing.

Last Friday, Michael Malihi, an administrative court judge in Atlanta, became the latest to rule against this piffle. Eight citizens challenged Mr Obama’s eligibility; they were represented by, among others, the indefatigable Orly Taitz, and also by Mark Hatfield, who happens to be a Georgia state representative.

Mr Malihi’s ruling weighs in at a compact but decisive ten pages. The plaintiffs charged that Mr Obama carries a fraudulent social-security number, a forged birth certificate and Indonesian citizenship, and that his real name is either Barry Soetoro or Barack Obama Soebarkah. In support of these claims, Mr Malihi found “the testimony of the witnesses, as well as the exhibits tendered, to be of little, if any, probative value, and thus wholly insufficient to support Plaintiffs’ allegations.” The witnesses whom Ms Taitz called to testify (you can read them here, in the transcript) were never tendered as experts; they simply asserted claims about Mr Obama without providing the court (or anyone else) with any convincing reason to believe those claims.

And I was having such a nice day. The Economist seems to feel my pain:

Hard-core birthers ye will always have with you; they rely upon a hardy zombie of an argument and a resolute imperviousness to facts. But for four years Republicans have been dipping their toes in the fetid swamp that is birtherism, too scared to call a lie a lie. Besides, it proved useful in whipping up suspicion and hostility against Mr Obama. The interesting question now is what happens if Mitt Romney selects Marco Rubio, born in Miami to two Cuban parents, as his running mate? What happens if Nikki Haley or Bobby Jindal, born in America to Punjabi parents, seeks the presidency in 2016? If Mr Obama is ineligible then they are too. My guess is you will see the swamp left to the swamp creatures.

> Speaking of swamp creatures, the latest GOP move in the contraception coverage kefluffe is to suggest that employers should be empowered to deny employees access to birth control, as well as – I am not making this up – any other preventative health service, according to the “moral conviction” of the employer. The amendment is titled “RESPECTING RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE WITH REGARD TO SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES,” but then fails to be at all specific about items or services, and also, I kind of take issue with the idea that my employer’s “rights of conscience” trumps my right to, you know, mammograms, let alone to decide whether I get access to birth control or not.

“(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS. — A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because —

“(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or

“(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.

As ThinkProgress’s Igor Volsky notes (linked above),

Under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.

But seriously, let’s think this through. (Yeah, I don’t want to, either, but bear with me here.) I appreciate that this might just be sloppy language within the amendment, but the implication here is that any condition that requires preventative care can be deemed deserved and therefore not worthy of treatment. This isn’t precisely a new concept – the idea that AIDS is divine retribution for loving the wrong people has been around a while, and there’s some rather nasty language that occasionally floats around suggesting that people who smoke are so stupid they deserve lung cancer and other related conditions (I’m guessing most people who say that have never tried to quit smoking). But this time, it’s not just religious leaders or blowhard politicians on late-night radio making those assertions; it’s people who, were this amendment to pass (which is probably won’t, but this could set a precedent I’m really uncomfortable with, and you should be, too), could actually be in a position of deciding whether people deserve preventative care for highly treatable conditions.

I’m just saying, I like my boss, but I’m pretty sure whether I get an IUD or an HIV screening is not actually his business, let alone his decision.

> As long as I’m righteously irritated about someone messing with my healthcare, a poll of 1000 adults by Daily Kos indicates that 51% of respondents self-identifying as “conservative” (so about 168 out of 330) have an “unfavorable opinion” of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings.

Um.

Not sure what to do with that.

I understand not having a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood (I disagree, but I get where it comes from). But…breast cancer. Come on, people.

> The Greek parliament voted into effect early this morning harsh austerity measures in an effort to prevent default and to secure a second loan from the IMF.

The new austerity measures include, among others, a 22 percent cut in the benchmark minimum wage and 150,000 government layoffs by 2015 — a bitter prospect in a country ravaged by five years of recession and with unemployment at 21 percent and rising.

But the chaos on the streets of Athens, where more than 80,000 people turned out to protest on Sunday, and in other cities across Greece reflected a growing dread — certainly among Greeks, but also among economists and perhaps even European officials — that the sharp belt-tightening and the bailout money it brings will still not be enough to keep the country from going over a precipice.

The European Commission has welcomed the move, and now urges Greece to continue forward on the two other preconditions required to be eligible for the loan: “setting out exactly how it will make 325m euros of the promised savings, and giving written confirmation that the measures will be implemented regardless of the outcome of April’s election.”

The EU has been the target of much anger among Greeks, who see the reforms as piling unnecessary hardship on ordinary people.

The measures include slashing 15,000 public-sector jobs as part of a longer-term strategy to get rid of 150,000 civil servants.

The minimum wage is also to be cut by 20% to about 600 euros a month, and labour laws are to be liberalised to allow easier hiring and firing of staff.

> Hey, so remember how someone (*cough*Israel*cough*) is picking off Iran’s nuclear scientists? In mid-January,the BBC printed:

Sir Richard Dalton, Britain’s Ambassador to Iran from 2002 to 2006 and now an associate fellow at the UK think tank, Chatham House, believes the undeclared campaign against Iran’s nuclear scientists is entering a dangerous phase.

“The next step is for Iran to answer like for like” says Dalton.

“If a state is behind this then this is international state terrorism and it’s inviting a response. It looks like a further twist that will lead to a tit-for-tat.”

So earlier today, car bombs in Tbilisi and Delhi targeted Israeli diplomats, and Israel is blaming Iran.

Mr Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party MPs that there had been “two attempts of terrorism against innocent civilians”.

Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” he said.

…Israel’s foreign ministry said the country had the ability to track down those who carried out the attacks.

But Iran’s state news agency Irna quoted the country’s ambassador in India as denying involvement.

“Any terrorist attack is condemned and we strongly reject the untrue comments by an Israeli official,” said Mehdi Nabizadeh in comments translated by Reuters news agency.

Similarly,

Thailand said last month it had arrested a Lebanese man who had links with Hezbollah and a confiscated cache of explosives. Israel responded by urging its citizens to exercise caution while visiting Thailand.

Separately last month, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two people suspected of plotting to attack Israel’s ambassador and a local rabbi.

So there’s no way this could possibly end badly.

> At The Atlantic, Steve Clemons thinks an American-led war with Iran (any war with Iran, actually) would be a really bad move. For one thing, it would be really, really ridiculously expensive; for another, as Clemons says:

…at the highest levels of the national-security decisionmaking tree there is palpable doubt that bombing Iran achieves any fundamental strategic objectives while at the same time ultimately undermining U.S., Israel, and regional security, undermining the global economy. One senior official I heard when asked about bombing Iran then said, “OK, and then what? Then what?! Seriously, then what???”

He also notes, snarkily:

Wars cost lots and lots of money — and if a substantial chunk of the GOP crowd wants these wars and feels that it is in our national interest to have them, then by all means they should start lining up some of the wealthiest in the country who are helping to agitate for these conflicts to pay more in taxes for them.

> Speaking of which, how’s Israel handling the “the yearlong racket on their border“? They seem pretty sanguine about it, actually:

Aviv Kochavi, the director of Israeli military intelligence, predicts that internal instability will enfeeble neighbouring Arab states for several years to come. As for Iran, aside from its nuclear potential, it presents little challenge. The ruling elite is ideologically isolated and relies for strategic clout on an axis with Syria’s floundering regime. Many Sunni Arab countries are in fact more worried by the threat coming from the Persian Shias of Iran than by Israel…

> The White House has released the 2013 budget proposal. Most notably, it puts $500 billion in to public transportation projects over the next ten years. Also:

The president’s blueprint calls for reductions in spending on federal health programs and the military, a small raise for federal workers and more than $1.5 trillion in new taxes on corporations, hedge-fund managers and the wealthy, in part through the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts on annual incomes of more than $250,000.

Obama also has called for changes to the tax code that would require households earning more than $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes, but senior administration officials said Friday that the blueprint will provide no additional details on how such a levy would be structured.

The GOP is, quelle surprise, not terribly happy about it:

“This unserious budget is a recipe for debt, doubt, and decline,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an e-mail. “It would make our economy worse by imposing massive tax increases on small business and still pile up enormous debt that stirs greater economic uncertainty.”

Next month, House Republicans plan to offer a more austere fiscal blueprint that rejects tax increases, preferring to stabilize borrowing by making deep cuts to government services, including Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. Like last year’s GOP budget, it will call for repealing Obama’s initiative to expand health coverage for the uninsured while ignoring calls for short-term economic stimulus.

> The Obama campaign is launching an initiative aimed at fighting what they see as misinformation during the election season:

“If the other guys are going to run a campaign based on misrepresenting the president’s record – and their own – we have two options: sit back and let these lies go unchallenged, or fight back with the truth,” deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in an email. ”We’re fighting back.”

> US biotech giant Monsanto has been found guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer.

> American university students are fighting against bottled water! Yay. Somewhat hilariously, the International Bottled Water Association (no, really, it’s a thing) is a bit unnerved by that, and has resorted to the age-old tactic of “so why don’t you focus on real problems?”

But the IBWA video suggests the cause is unworthy of students’ energy – instead, perhaps they could focus on genocide in Darfur. It claims bottled water is a good alternative to sugary beverages and easier to recycle than other packaged drinks. The IBWA also argues bottled water is safer than tap water.

The students – and a lot of water experts and authors – disagree with most of these points. They say the bottles add up to a lot of waste, and that the companies have privatized something that should essentially be free.

> Indian welder A. Muruganantham has developed an inexpensive machine that allows collectives of women in predominantly rural areas to produce and sell sanitary pads.

> The New Jersey Senate has voted 24-16 to legalize gay marriage in the state. Republican governor and vice presidential candidate hopeful Chris Christie has promised a veto. An override appears unlikely.

> Washington governor Chris Gregoire will sign a marriage equality bill into law today at 11:30 Pacific time (actually, it’ll probably have been signed by the time I post this).

“I knew now was the time to face it,” Gov. Gregoire said in an interview with The Advocate last month after throwing her political weight behind the bill. “And as I faced it, both as a mom and as a wife, and as a Catholic, as a governor, and wrote it down on a piece of paper, the logic of it all fell into the words that I put down there.”

The law, which would make Washington the seventh state plus the District of Columbia where marriage rights for same-sex couples are legal, will go into effect on June 7, the AP reports. Social conservative groups have vowed to collect the requisite signatures needed to put a referendum or an initiative on the November ballot.

Such a move would almost certainly be challenged in court if antigay advocates were successful, given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling last week that California’s Proposition 8 violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when it took away the right to marry for same-sex couples.

> Adele won a pile of hardware last night.

> I’m just going to…leave this here.

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Written by whackanarwhal

February 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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