Jerome John “Jerry” Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995)

Gore Vidal, 1925-2012 Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Writer

I personally never forgave him for writing Myra Breckenridge, even though I have enjoyed many of his other writings.

From The New York Times:

Published: August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. He was 86.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers said by telephone.

Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy.

Perhaps more than any other American writer except Norman Mailer or Truman Capote, Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure. He twice ran for office — in 1960, when he was the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th District in upstate New York, and in 1982, when he campaigned in California for a seat in the Senate — and though he lost both times, he often conducted himself as a sort of unelected shadow president. He once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

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President Obama on Mitt Romney’s Tax Plan

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Evicting the Homeless

From In These Times:

Civil rights for homeless communities wane across the country.

BY Hank Kalet
July 31, 2012

On back-to-back days in June, the Rev. Steve Brigham was arrested at the tent city he runs in Lakewood, N.J. Charged with criminal mischief and witness tampering by Lakewood Township police, Brigham says the arrests are the latest incident in a “pattern of harassment” aimed at evicting the homeless encampment. As an estimated 640,000 Americans go without shelter each night, many cities are pursuing policies to push them further into the margins. But Brigham and other residents are fighting to stay where they are.

Last year the township sued in state court to close down the camp, but a judge ruled in February that, because its residents had no other options for housing (the closest shelter is more than an hour away), the tent city had to remain open. Brigham and several camp residents then filed a class action suit against Lakewood Township and Ocean County, accusing them of violating the state constitution’s guarantee of a “right to safety and to life.” Both suits remain active, and an effort to reach a negotiated solution is underway.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the township and the homeless camp has deteriorated. Brigham claims township officials have towed residents’ cars and dumped wood chips at the end of an emergency exit path. Township officials dispute this, saying they are only responding to problems at the camp.

The tent city, established by Brigham six years ago, is currently home to nearly 100 people, most of whom have already tried shelters, living with relatives and friends, or sleeping in cars. The camp is located a mile from the city’s small downtown.

The harassment facing the camp is consistent with a spate of municipal laws passed in recent years that criminalize what homeless advocates call “acts of living”—sleeping, eating or even sitting in public places. In May, Denver banned camping on public property. Philadelphia banned the feeding of the homeless in June. In San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Public Press, the city issued nearly 40,000 tickets to homeless individuals between 2007 and 2011, for offenses including sleeping in parks, trespassing and obstruction of sidewalks.

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Reporters Know What the ‘Voter ID’ Push Is Really About. Why Don’t They Just Say So?

From Huffington Post:


Does any journalist who is not an overt shill for the right actually believe that Republicans are pushing voter ID laws because they’re concerned about voter fraud?

No, of course not.

And for good reason. Voter fraud simply isn’t a problem in this country. Studies have definitively debunked the voter fraud myth time and again.

In Pennsyvlania, which just adopted a tremendously restrictive photo-ID law that could disenfranchise 1 in 10 voters, state officials conceded they have no evidence of voter fraud, nor any reason to believe it could become a problem.

By contrast, there is ample evidence that voter ID laws inhibit voting, particularly among minorities and the poor — two major demographic segments that tend to vote Democratic.

And that’s hardly a coincidence. Consider the recent bragging by the Pennsylvania House Republican leader that his state’s voter ID bill “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

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Ivy League Exorcist: The Bobby Jindal Story

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Contraception Without Co-Pays: Good for Women and the Planet

From RH Reality Check:

by Amy Phillips Bursch, Population Connection
August 1, 2012

Happy Contraception Day! Today’s the day that most insurance plans in the United States have to start covering birth control with no co-pays under the Affordable Care Act. As a woman who’s spent a fair amount of effort and money avoiding motherhood, I couldn’t be more pleased.  Birth control can be very expensive, and laws that help increase access are a great thing in my book.

But you don’t have to be a woman of a certain (reproductive) age to benefit from expanded access to contraception. Contraception is good for the women you care about, their families, their communities and the planet. And who could possibly be against that? (Well, plenty of people, but I’ll touch on that later.)

First up: Women. It’s not just the childless by choice who benefit from contraception. Birth control allows women to wait to have babies until they’re ready. When women can plan and appropriately space their pregnancies, they and their babies are healthier. According to the reproductive health gurus at the Guttmacher Institute, “Women whose pregnancies are planned are more likely to receive timely prenatal care. They are less likely to smoke or drink during pregnancy, and more likely to breast-feed once their baby is born.” That’s good stuff.

The typical American woman only wants two children. Contraception allows families to have the number of children they’re comfortable raising–and give those children the best possible shot at success. A child who’s received good health care and a great education is more likely to grow up to be a productive member of society. That helps entire nations succeed–and in our complex, interconnected global economy, we need as much success as we can get.

So how does contraception help the planet? In a number: 26.8 billion. That’s how many people the United Nations projects will be sharing Earth in 2100 if we don’t slow population growth rates. Keep in mind that we have about 7.1 billion people on the planet right now. Picture nearly four times as many people struggling to find (and afford) water, food, and energy on a planet where water, food and energy are already scarce in many areas. It’s a recipe for disaster, but it’s an entirely preventable disaster if we take action.

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No Meatless Mondays at the U.S.D.A.

From The New York Times:

July 31, 2012

A trade organization exists to promote the interest of its members; at least some of its work involves lobbying the government for preferential treatment, though most trade organizations would label this “fair.” It’s a clear mission and an unconflicted one; whether the interests of the trade organization coincide with those of the public at large is a matter of chance and not a governing concern. Thus in the course of the events of last week — events that will go down as an amusing footnote in the annals of food progress, and further evidence of government cowardice — the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association acted appropriately: it defended the interests of its members without worrying about the interests of the rest of us.

The Department of Agriculture, however, has multiple missions. One is “to keep America’s farmers and ranchers in business.” Sadly, although the statement doesn’t say which farmers and ranchers, in practice this has meant those who produce commodity crops: wheat, rice, cotton, corn and soybeans, and the animals and junk food whose production relies on the last two. The second is “to end hunger and improve health in the United States.” Last week, the U.S.D.A. betrayed its mission to improve health, acting in a cowardly fashion. For that it should be taken to task.

The events, which unfolded last Wednesday afternoon, could be seen as funny.

First I was forwarded a news release from the beef association; the organization was fuming, because a couple of days earlier the U.S.D.A. had published an interoffice newsletter [PDF] on its Web site about green (as in environmental) initiatives at the department’s Washington headquarters. Among the suggestions for reducing environmental impact was a call to participate in “Meatless Mondays” by choosing among the many meat-free dishes available in the department’s  cafeteria. The newsletter noted that the production of meat (especially beef) plays a role in climate change, wastes water, and requires disproportionate amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels. And by the way, the article continued, eating too much of it might make you sick.

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US Health Care Debate: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

From Common Dreams:

The American debate sounds absurd (and heartless) to the rest of the industrialized world

by David Morris
Published on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 by On the Commons

Nowhere is the phrase American Exceptionalism more appropriately used than when describing our debate over health care. Outside the bubble that is the United States health care is viewed as a right, recognition that sickness and injury can strike anyone and an acknowledgement of a basic obligation civilized societies have to its members.

If members of those societies were to tune in to the American debate I suspect they’d be baffled to watch grown men and women come up with ingenious ways to complicate a very simple moral issue.

The Sublime

Consider Richard Epstein’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of the health reform law. Epstein, an influential law professor at the University of Chicago chided Chief Justice Roberts in the New York Times for relying on Congress’ Constitutional power to “lay and collect Taxes.” He reminds us that the Constitution restricts the use of that power solely “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States.” And he insists that extending health care to 30 million Americans does not meet this standard because “general welfare” means “benefits that must be given to all citizens, if given to any.” That is, he explains, “matters that advance the welfare of the United States as a whole.”(Italics in the original)

Extending health care to 30 million does not enhance the general welfare, argues Epstein, because it does not extend health care to all 330 million Americans.

Now consider the argument by the Chief Justice Roberts and a majority of the Supreme Court who voted to strike down the law’s provisions regarding states’ expanding Medicaid. Under existing law the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the right to withdraw Medicaid funding from any state that does not meet minimum standards of access and coverage. The new law gave the Secretary the authority to strip states of their existing Medicaid funding if they do not expand Medicaid. The Court struck down this provision, arguing, “the expansion accomplishes a shift in kind, not merely degree. The original program was designed to cover medical services for particular categories of vulnerable individuals. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is transformed into a program to meet the health care needs of the entire non-elderly population with income below 133 percent of the poverty level.”

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American Women Most Likely To Skip Out On Health Care Because Of Costs: Study

From Huffington Post:

Posted: 07/19/2012

Among advanced countries, the United States may be one of the worst places to live when it comes to health care, especially if you’re a woman.

Of American women ages 19 to 64, 43 percent skipped seeing a doctor or didn’t take medicine due to costs, according to a 2010 survey by the Commonwealth Fund highlighted in a study released last week. This was the highest percentage of all 11 countries studied.

Just 7 percent of British women and 17 percent of Canadian and French women skipped out on health care that year because of costs. In all 11 industrialized countries studied, the median percentage of women skipping care due to costs was 17 percent, and the average percentage was 19 percent. The 11 countries studied, with the exception of the U.S., have universal health care coverage.

Is health insurance the fix-all? Not quite. Even among the insured, the U.S. still led the pack when it came to the percentage of women who avoided doctor visits and care because of costs between 2009 and 2010. According to the study, 32 percent of insured women went without care between 2009 and 2010, in contrast to 77 percent of uninsured American women who did the same.

The complete study released last week is centered on two scientific telephone surveys conducted in 2010 and also includes data from other surveys between 2001 and 2011.

American women have to pay $1 billion more than men every year on health insurance premiums because they go to the doctor more often, according to Kaiser Health News. The Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2010, will ban the practice of charging women higher premiums starting in 2014.

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Nazi Bryan Fischer: African Americans Need Welfare like ‘Drug-Addled Addicts,’ Practicing ‘Idolatry’

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Michelle Alexander on the Irrational Race Bias of the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems

From Truth Out:\

By Mark Karlin
Wednesday, 01 August 2012

Michelle Alexander wrote a paradigm-shifting exploration of modern racism, the so-called war on drugs and the prison-industrial complex. You can obtain a copy of this eye-opening paperback, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” directly from Truthout right now by clicking here

Mark Karlin: Before we get into the details, is it accurate to characterize your thesis, in a colloquial way, by saying that institutionalized racial casting is alive and even ratcheting up in the United States in 2012?

Michelle Alexander: Yes, I do believe that something akin to a racial caste system is alive and well in America. For reasons that have stunningly little to do with crime or crime rates, we, as a nation, have chosen to lock up more than two million people behind bars. Millions more are on probation or parole, or branded felons for life and thus locked into a permanent second-class status. The mass incarceration of poor people of color, particularly black men, has emerged as a new caste system, one specifically designed to address the social, economic, and political challenges of our time. It is, in my view, the moral equivalent of Jim Crow.

MK: You identify the key societal perpetuation of the stigmatization of the black male as the so-called “criminal justice system.” It appears to have become an accepted bureaucratic injustice.

MA: Mass incarceration has become normalized in the United States. Poor folks of color are shuttled from decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high tech prisons and then relegated to a permanent undercaste – stigmatized as undeserving of any moral care or concern. Black men in ghetto communities (and many who live in middle class communities) are targeted by the police at early ages, often before they’re old enough to vote. They’re routinely stopped, frisked, and searched without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Eventually they’re arrested, whether they’ve committed any serious crime or not, and branded criminals or felons for life. Upon release, they’re ushered into a parallel social universe in which the civil and human rights supposedly won during the Civil Rights Movement no longer apply to them. For the rest of their lives, they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. So many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon. That’s why I say we haven’t ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. In many large urban areas, the majority of working age African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. It is viewed as “normal” in ghetto communities to go to prison or jail. One study conducted in Washington, D.C. indicated that 3 out of 4 black men, and nearly all those living in the poorest neighborhoods could expect to find themselves behind bars at some point in their life. Nationwide, 1 in 3 black men can expect to serve time behind bars, but the rates are far higher in segregated and impoverished black communities. A massive new penal system has emerged in the past few decades – a penal system unprecedented in world history. It is a system driven almost entirely by race and class.

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