July 15, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 134

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and Obamacare, order on Texas abortion clinics law; Puerto Rico and Greece debt crises. People: Bill, Kelley, and Nate. Produced: July 13th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– U.S. Supreme Court: What are the implications of major rulings and orders on marriage equality, Obamacare, and reproductive freedom?
– Debt Crises: What’s next for Puerto Rico and Greece?

Episode 134 (47 min):
AFD 134

Related Links

AFD by Kelley: “The Supreme Court Order You May Have Missed”
AFD by Bill: “Marriage Equality Day”
AFD by Bill: “A Sinking Feeling in Puerto Rico”
AFD Posts about Greece

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

The Supreme Court order you may have missed

The Supreme Court’s rulings two weeks ago on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality have had a profound and immediate effect on Americans. But so has the Court’s less-discussed order to delay the implementation of a Texas law that would have effectively shut down all but ten Texas abortion clinics, leaving nearly one million women at least 150 miles away from their closest abortion clinic.

Map of 60-mile radius access limits around Texas abortion clinics, under the suspended law. (Credit: @MetricMaps / Wikimedia)

Map of 60-mile radius access limits around remaining Texas abortion clinics, under the suspended law, versus female population density. (Credit: @MetricMaps / Wikimedia)

The Texas law in question initially grabbed the nation’s attention thanks to a pair of pink sneakers and State Senator Wendy Davis, whose passionate filibuster lasted long enough to avoid the passage of the bill…for the day. Despite Senator Davis’s efforts, the bill passed in July 2013, as part of a second special session, by a margin of 19-11.

The first part of the bill took effect 90 days after it’s passage; it prohibited abortions after 20 weeks and required all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  The Supreme Court’s order delays implementation of the second part of the bill, which requires all abortion clinics to meet the standards of an “ambulatory surgical center” – a set of stringent regulations on staffing, equipment, and the building itself.

Fund Texas Choice notes that 14 of Texas 36 abortion clinics closed due to the provision requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and only 10 clinics currently meet the standard of an ambulatory surgical center.

Some Texas lawmakers insist that these changes are designed to protect women’s health, while opponents have deemed it a thinly veiled effort to restrict a woman’s right to choose in the Lone Star State.

Abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure.  A recent study in Obstetrics and Gynecology notes that women are 14 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than from abortion.  In fact, in 2010, only 1 in 625 women who received in abortion at Planned Parenthood required an emergency room visit or blood transfusion.  Still, Texas is one of 24 states that the Guttmacher Institute reports has regulations that go beyond what is medically necessary for patient safety.

The Supreme Court order is only temporary, however, and will expire if the Court decides not to hear the case during their 2015 season.

It is still unclear if the Court will hear this case, but if they do, a woman’s right to choose is sure to be in the crosshairs of the 2016 presidential election, and rightfully so: the problem is a lot bigger than Texas, as the other 23 states with similarly restrictive laws proves.

Despite the fact that half of Americans identified as pro-choice in a May 2015 Gallup Poll, states across the country continue to enact abortion restrictions in record numbers.  During the years of 2011-2014, states passed 231 restrictions on abortions, limiting access to safe abortions from sea to shining sea.  To put that in perspective, 189 restrictions had been passed in the ten years previous.

The increasingly stringent regulations on abortion access make it clear that women need a champion to protect the rights afforded to them by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.  That champion may come from the Supreme Court, or we may need to change the tide of state politicians.

This Texas law and the drastic effect it has on the number of abortion clinics in the state calls into focus the severity of medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion and the reality that they effectively limit access to safe abortions for many American women.

Texas bill would nullify Federal court orders on marriage

I’m not sure why anyone would think this could work after the U.S. proved state employees could not unilaterally refuse to implement Federal court orders by deploying the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division paratroopers to Arkansas to enforce school desegregation, but one very petulant Texas legislator aims to block state implementation of same-sex marriage if the Federal courts (including the Supreme Court) order licenses to be issued and/or recognized from other states. KVUE Austin:

Dubbed the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act,” House Bill 623 says state and local government employees “may not recognize, grant, or enforce a same-sex marriage license.” If they do, “the employee may not continue to receive a salary, pension, or other employee benefit at the expense of the taxpayers of this State.”

The bill’s author, State Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), says the Texas Legislature doesn’t work for the federal courts — which have no business striking down laws passed by Texas voters.

“Because we’ve seen activist federal courts, it’s important that we as Texans take steps to make certain that we’re able to protect traditional marriage and traditional values,” Bell told KVUE Friday. “One of the ways that we can do that is through the power of the purse.”

The result could be a potential quandary for government workers: Follow a court order or keep earning salary. Asked whether the bill would put government employees in a position of having to choose between being subjected to a federal lawsuit or losing their pension, Bell suggested employees would continue earning as long as they’re following state laws.

“I don’t see it as losing their pension except during the period of time which they are outside the [state] laws,” said Bell.

 
The full text of the bill also threatens the same consequences to any state employee or official who tries to violate or interfere with this new provision, meaning that all state officials — including the governor and attorney general — might face consequences (from whom is less clear) for giving an order allowing clerks to ignore this section as de facto unconstitutional and proceed with following Federal court orders to issue or recognize same-sex marriages.

I hope this bill doesn’t have a chance of passing, but if it does, it will put a lot of people in a very precarious position, financially or legally. It is also blatantly unconstitutional.

“I don’t see it as a threat at all,” countered Bell, who maintains his target is activist courts — and he has his colleagues’ support. “I think it is the ability of the state legislature to try to make certain that we affirm the sovereign right and sovereign nature of the state.”

 
It’s just another attempt to institute backdoor secession from Federal authority.

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Texas to Syria: The Jihadist Journey of a Used Pickup Truck

Woops:

Texas plumber says he has no idea how his old company truck ended up in a jihadi photo from the front lines of the war in Syria produced by the militant group ISIS.

The New York Daily News reported that Mark Oberholtzer of Texas City traded the company car in at a dealership in 2013 and hadn’t thought of it since.

On Monday, however, the Ansar al-Deen Front, a Syrian militant group, posted a photo featuring the black Ford F-250 pickup with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the truck bed and the logo of Oberholtzer’s Mark-1 Plumbing Company and contact information emblazoned on the doors.

 
Ansar al-Deen Front (aka “Supporters of the Religion” Front) is one of the newer Syrian militant coalitions, operating as an alliance of three “neutral” rebel fighters (mostly foreigners) only since July 2014. They are based in western Syria and claim not to be aligned with either ISIS or the various FSA and Nusra Front groups opposing ISIS. This isn’t terribly surprising since they are apparently mostly not Syrians — hailing from farther flung places such as Morocco and Chechnya — which probably reduces their stake in the internal divisions of the anti-Assad groups.

But back to the poor plumber in Texas. Apart from the death threats from stupid people who can’t figure out this was obviously unintended, I love this story for its globalized absurdity. It is the perfect distillation of all the dedicated but under-appreciated reporting for about 10 years by all the Iraq correspondents noticing pre-owned/stolen North American vehicles repeatedly showing up in bombing attacks and trying to figure out how they got there but not being able to trace them very far. Even FBI investigations didn’t make definitive progress. See this 2005 account:

The inquiry began after coalition troops raided a bomb-making factory in Fallujah last November and found a sport utility vehicle registered in Texas that was being prepared for a bombing mission.

Investigators said they are comparing several other cases where vehicles evidently stolen in the United States wound up in Syria or other Middle East countries and ultimately into the hands of Iraqi insurgent groups — including Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi.

 
Of course, Al Qaeda in Iraq was subsequently renamed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), bringing the whole thing full circle to today’s conflict.

And this new story also involves another of my favorite topics (dating to the Libyan Revolution in 2011): Militants Driving Fast With Stolen Anti-Aircraft Guns on Pickup Truck Beds That Should Not Be Used That Way.

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Wendy Davis team attacks opponent’s wheelchair

There have been a lot of things to criticize the campaign team of Texas Democratic governor nominee Wendy Davis for. It hasn’t been well run. But perhaps the most egregious so far was the recent decision to run an attack ad against her Republican opponent that focuses on his disability (wheelchair-bound partial paralysis from an accident).

Don’t get me wrong: Attorney General Greg Abbott is awful. And he is indeed probably justifiably labeled a hypocrite (see below). But calling politicians hypocrites isn’t that effective in general, because most people kind of assume it anyway, and this is bound to make her look far worse than it does him.

The ad argues that Abbott successfully sued for his 1984 injury, but later as a Texas Supreme Court justice and state attorney general opposed similar efforts from other people suing hospitals and corporations.

“Abbott argued a woman whose leg was amputated was not disabled because she had an artificial limb,” the narrator says. “He ruled against a rape victim who sued a corporation for failing to do a background check on a sexual predator. He sided with a hospital that failed to stop a dangerous surgeon who paralyzed patients.”

 
Here’s the the thing: Those actions are terrible, but emphasizing his own disability and criticizing him explicitly for being a heartless hypocrite wasn’t necessary to make that point. He’s been campaigning all year with ads talking about and featuring his disability. Given that many of Abbott’s own ads mentioned or showed his wheelchair, she could just have pointed out his shameful positions without also explicitly bringing up the wheelchair and suggesting he’s a hypocrite. People could figure that out on their own because they already know the other half, without it being brought up explicitly, and without empty wheelchair images.

Therefore, this seems like a really bad move, even if the criticisms raised are warranted. Instead of the focus being on how horrible his record is, the focus is on how nasty the Davis campaign’s TV ads are. Already, most of the past long weekend was taken up debating whether or not it was out of bounds, and she keeps defending it. I don’t really see the point.

May 27, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 85

Topics are net neutrality, Idaho, US political reform, Afghanistan withdrawal. People: Bill and Sarah.
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Discussion Points:

– Why does net neutrality matter?
– Should the Democratic Party in states like Idaho and Texas focus on candidate recruitment or party building? Should Congress have smaller House districts?
– What will happen to Afghanistan after the U.S. pulls troops out by 2016?

Part 1 – Net Neutrality:
Part 1 – Net Neutrality – AFD 85
Part 2 – US Political Reform:
Part 2 – US Political Reform – AFD 85
Part 3 – Afghanistan:
Part 2 – Afghanistan – AFD 85

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links

– AFD: The loss of net neutrality will change everything (here’s why)
– NYT: FCC: New Net Neutrality Rules
– NYT Editorial: Creating a Two-Speed Internet
– Mother Jones: The Idaho GOP Gubernatorial Debate Was Total Chaos
– Reuters: Obama plans to end U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by 2016
– AFD: France announces indefinite Sahel deployment

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

The Americanos’ Day (Or: In Defense of ‘Cinco De Mayo’)

Battle-of-Puebla-1862Ah, Cinco de Mayo. The annual day where snooty Americans get to tell other Americans (who are really just trying to drink in peace while wearing face paint in the Mexican national colors) that “actually” Cinco de Mayo “isn’t a real Mexican holiday” and “has no importance or significance” — and then even snootier Americans (like me!) get to tell the first group that the Second French Empire’s defeat in the Battle of Puebla was strategically important to the preservation of the Union during the U.S. Civil War, by preventing Napoleon III from invading to help the Confederacy.

To this day, even though the holiday is not widely celebrated in Mexico (because it was not very important within Mexico as a whole in the long run, since the French won the war anyway at least briefly), it’s important to acknowledge what makes it so unusual in the United States:

1) It’s a rare day where Mexican culture and heritage is openly celebrated in a country that includes the territory that used to be of about half of Mexico. These areas make up parts or all of ten U.S. states now. And the country at large is home to millions of people of Mexican descent. They deserve more than a day. Don’t take this one away!

2) The holiday’s U.S. roots began in the State of California when news of the 1862 victory in Puebla, Mexico reached the Mexican miners in California. Both the United States and Mexico were being torn apart by war at the time. The anniversary of the battle has been celebrated every year since 1863 in California. (1863!) When people say “it’s not a real Mexican holiday,” that minimizes the fact that it’s essentially always been a celebration of Californian Mexican-Americans.

Thus, it’s a great way to celebrate Mexico’s culture and close historical ties to the United States — something that has tragically been forgotten amid the push for bigger border fences and a rising tide of anti-Mexican xenophobia.

And even though Puebla is a southern Mexican state, it is a convenient reason to celebrate the cross-border regional culture of northern Mexico and Alta California/Nuevo Mexico, or the U.S. Southwest.

Mexico has long had many of the same sectional differences that plague(d) the United States. The gross Anglo-American Slaveholders Revolt in Tejas that led to the creation of an independent Texas is a dark mark. But beyond them, a lot of actual (non-U.S.) northern Mexicans wanted out from the rest of the country. Most got it, via the Mexican Cession (though that probably wasn’t what most residents had in mind), but a few states were left behind. They remained close with the United States — often more so than with central Mexico. Until big migration restrictions were put into place, there was a lot of economic activity back and forth in both directions between the American Southwest and northern Mexico, even well into the twentieth century.

U.S. history has long been closely intertwined with Mexican history, both for good and ill. It’s pretty great that a century and a half later, a lot of Americans (including non-Mexicans) take at least one day to acknowledge (however casually, in some cases) that almost a third of the U.S. mainland by area used to be half of another country and that Mexican-Americans still part of both our history and present.

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And if nothing else, I just want to reiterate that the “insignificant” battle kept the French intervention force distracted in Mexico long enough for the U.S. Army to regain the momentum and win the Civil War before the Confederates could persuade any European governments to help them.