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Gotta love Notorious RBG

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350z33 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0
or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The women on the U.S. Supreme Court had a bit of a field day when the Texas abortion case of Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt came before the court yesterday. The 2013 Texas law at issue requires clinics offering abortion services to meet standards set for ambulatory surgical centers. In addition, it requires doctors performing those abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Hannah Levintova at Mother Jones sets the stage:

The Texas health department argues that these provisions are necessary to protect women’s health—a standard that was established in 1992 in Casey as a legitimate reason for states to pass abortion restrictions. Casey also established, however, that the state’s interest in women’s health has to be weighed against whether an abortion law would place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion care. This is where the plaintiff’s argument lies. Whole Woman’s Health, which runs three abortion clinics in Texas, argues that the burdens on women created by HB 2—clinic closures across the state that have forced thousands of women to travel hundreds of miles for abortion care—far outweigh any interest in protection of women’s health that Texas has. They point to many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, that have said ambulatory surgical facilities and admitting-privileges requirements are not necessary to provide safe abortion care.

Dahliah Lithwick takes up the narrative as Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor question Stephanie Toti who argued on behalf of the Texas clinics:

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Primarily Al Jazeera

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Al Jazeera America Digital takes a bow

Al Jazeera America Digital takes a bow

South Carolina Democrats hold their primary today. There were neither Bernie nor Hillary campaigners hanging around my Greenville, SC hotel like Ted Cruz supporters last week. It seems Clinton spent more of her time doing small-town, retail politics in downstate, rural areas where she has connections going back years. Sanders campaigned more via arena and college events and phone banks. There will be more to say after the hand-clapping and the shouting are over.

Al Jazeera America is going away soon and will be missed. Tony Karon posted a “valedictory note” about the service yesterday. A sample:

The core principle driving the journalism that distinguished Al Jazeera America online as a unique voice in a cluttered news landscape was the simple — yet radical — proposition that no single human life is worth less than any other.

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Lunatics running the asylum

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CaptureThe sooner America legalizes marijuana and collectively lights one up, the better. At the risk of sounding as if I did at this early hour, let’s look at the some of the lunatics running the asylum.

It is an article of the one, true, conservative faith that government must be run “like a business.” NC Gov. Pat McCrory and the state of North Carolina have a state Supreme Court date in May to settle whether an ALEC-inspired legislature can abscond with a city’s water system and turn it over to a regional authority — the first step, some believe, on the road to privatizing the public water supply’s operation and/or ownership. The experience of Flint, Michigan is sure to come up. So how’d that work out for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder? A former adviser explains (emphasis mine):

Dennis Schornack, who retired after serving more than three years as a senior adviser on transportation issues to Snyder during his first term, is the first current or former Snyder official to directly criticize the governor and his management style for contributing to the public health crisis.

Schornack said he still believes Snyder is an intelligent leader and “basically a good guy.” But, he said, decisions about Flint’s drinking water should have been dictated by science instead of finances and the bottom line.

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NC GOP: The weird turn pro

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This is your state on power-drunk Republicans.

What a cluster (of districts) North Carolina GOP has already made of the 2016 elections. Under a federal court order that ruled two existing congressional districts unconstitutional, state Senate Republicans yesterday approved new, more compact congressional districts (above; the old map is here). The NC House proposed moving the congressional primary from March 15 to June 7. And reports indicate a state Court of Appeals panel is poised to strike down as unconstitutional a law passed by Republicans to change the way the state elects supreme court justices. Not exactly a gold-star week for Republican governance in the Tar Heel State.

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Cliven Bundy arrested

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The Oregonian reports that Cliven Bundy, 74, was arrested when he arrived last night at Portland International Airport. Bundy faces charges related to the 2014 standoff at his ranch:

He faces a conspiracy charge to interfere with a federal officer — the same charge lodged against two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan, for their role in the Jan. 2 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns. He also faces weapons charges.


Bundy has been under federal scrutiny since his ranch standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. He has not paid grazing fees on federal land and he owes the agency $1 million in unpaid fees and penalties. He and militia supporters confronted federal agents who had impounded Bundy’s cattle that were found on federal property.


Another key participant in the Nevada showdown was Ryan Payne, a Montana militiaman who helped organize militia snipers to take aim at federal agents in Nevada. Payne is considered the tactician behind the Oregon takeover and also has been arrested and faces a federal conspiracy charge.

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Flint goes to Washington

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Photo ACLU Michigan

Photo ACLU Michigan

As some day it may happen that a scapegoat must be found, they’ve got a little list. The investigations into the poisoning of Flint, Michigan are only just beginning. The FBI is now involved:

WASHINGTON — Government officials tangled on Wednesday over who was to blame for the crisis in Flint, Michigan, that allowed lead-contaminated water to flow to thousands of residents at a combative congressional hearing that devolved into a partisan fight over witnesses and no-shows.

“A failure of epic proportions,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at the first Capitol Hill hearing since the crisis in Flint emerged last year.

Flint’s former state-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, was a no show. He refused a federal subpoena claiming there was too short a notice for him to appear in Washington. The Detroit Free Press reports:

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Ben, I just want to say one word to you. Water.

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Detroit Water & Sewerage Water Treatment Plant

The United States used to be the subject of Michael Moore documentaries. Now we are living in one. Moore was in his home town of Flint, Michigan yesterday to protest the contamination of the city’s water with lead:

FLINT, MI — Filmmaker Michael Moore accused Gov. Rick Snyder of poisoning Flint water in a rally here today, Jan. 16, and called again for the U.S. attorney general to investigate the governor for what he called crimes against the city.

“I am standing in the middle of a crime scene …,” Moore said. “Ten people have been killed … because of a decision to save money.”

Yesterday, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing federal dollars to help “save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Genesee County.”

There is a long backstory to this situation. Wouldn’t you know, as Moore said, it involves the Midas Cult and money.

“A manmade catastrophe”

Before the credits roll for The Big Short, the screen goes black and a series of “where are they now” statements about the protagonists appears as an epilogue, including this one:

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Temporarily Harney County

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“The Oklahoma Land Rush, April 22, 1889”, by John Steuart Curry (National Archives)

If there is an American myth more toxic than the the prosperity gospel, that bizarre amalgam of Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand, and Jesus Christ that in some quarters passes for Christianity, it is the myth of the American frontier. Ammon Bundy and militia-occupiers and some “sovereign citizens” are playing out their version of that myth in Harney County, Oregon.

Bill McKibben wrote a decade ago about the depth and breadth of America’s self-reverential myths (pun intended):

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Oh, but poor people…

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Greedy Humpty Dumpty (Fleischer, 1936).

Greedy Humpty Dumpty (Fleischer, 1936).

So now TransCanada is suing the United States under NAFTA for $15 billion over President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline deal:

In filing the NAFTA claim, TransCanada said it “had every reason to expect its application would be granted” as it had met the same criteria the U.S. State Department used when approving other similar cross-border pipelines.

It’s like suing for breach of promise. Except America never promised. Think Progress has this:

In the notice to submit a claim for arbitration, TransCanada notes that two previous pipelines, carrying oil from the same tar sands region across the U.S. border, were both approved. This, TransCanada claims, suggests that the denial was political in nature, which is prohibited under NAFTA.

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Give me that old-time constitution

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Ammon Bundy

Say what you will about the excesses of Rome and the papacy (and not to ignore Constantinople), prior to the Reformation there was some central authority to define Christianity for much of the West, to set standards and protocols, if you will. The Reformation may have decentralized the faith and brought it closer to the people, but it also meant by the late 20th century that any American huckster with a flashy suit, an expensive coif, a sonorous voice, and a black, Morocco-bound, gilt-edged, King James red-letter edition could define Christianity pretty much any damned way he pleased. And did. Who was to say he was wrong?

That do-it-yourself spirit extends as well to Americans’ understanding of their founding documents. Every born-again, T-party convert carries a pocket Constitution and becomes an instant expert and his own defining authority on what is and isn’t the true American faith. It’s the American Dream: every man his own Supreme Court; no priestly judicial caste interposed between a man and his God.

Dana Milbank looks at how, like the stand-oafish Bundy militia in Oregon, they love them some law of the land until they have to live under it. Then it’s “unconstitutional.” Conservative thought leaders (oxymoron?) regularly wink at lawbreaking when it furthers their purposes. Because their leaders condone it, the Bundy bunch believes the atmosphere is right for challenging “unconstitutional land transactions” 108 years after a Republican president set aside public lands for conservation:

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