10 things you need to know today: July 23, 2014

Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv. 

Kerry arrives in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Pool)

The Week

Kerry arrives in Israel for ceasefire talks, appeals courts clash on ObamaCare, and more

1. Kerry arrives in Israel to push peace
Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Israel on Wednesday to push for a ceasefire in Gaza. He flew into the country’s main airport in Tel Aviv a day after the FAA suspended U.S. flights to Israel due to the threat of rocket fire from Gaza.The fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian faction that runs Gaza, has killed at least 31 Israelis and 650 Palestinians. [The New York Times, CBS News]

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2. Court confusion threatens a key part of ObamaCare
Two federal appeals courts handed down conflicting rulings Tuesday on a central component of ObamaCare — subsidies toward insurance premiums. The D.C. Circuit appeals court said only state-run exchanges, not the 36 federal-run ones, could award subsidies under the law — potentially eliminating assistance for 4.5 million people. The Fourth Circuit court then ruled all exchanges could distribute the subsidies. [Politico]

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3. U.S. concludes Ukrainian rebels — not Russia — shot down Malaysia Airlines plane
Evidence indicates that Ukrainian separatists allied with Russia — not Russia itself — fired the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board, U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday. Moscow, however, set up the tragedy by arming and training the rebels, the officials said. The European Union expanded sanctions against Russia for failing to rein in the rebels. [Fox News, The Washington Post]

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4. Border authorities arrest 200 in crackdown
U.S. authorities have arrested 200 people and confiscated $625,000 in a crackdown on human smuggling since a surge in illegal immigration over the U.S.-Mexico border, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday. The campaign, he said, shows that those entering the country illegally will be sent back, and “those who prey upon migrants for financial gain will be targeted, arrested, and prosecuted.” [Reuters]

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5. Justices rule Arizona execution can proceed
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared Arizona to carry out the execution of a murderer, Joseph Wood, who had demanded to know the maker of the two drugs the state plans to use to put him to death. Wood was convicted in 1989 of killing his estranged girlfriend and her father. He argued that the state’s refusal to provide information on where it got the drugs violated his rights. The drugs are in short supply due to a European export ban. [BBC News]

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6. Ex-CEO David Perdue wins Georgia GOP Senate primary runoff
Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue upset 11-term Rep. Jack Kingston in Tuesday’sRepublican Senate primary runoff in Georgia. That set up a general election duel for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat between Perdue and Michelle Nunn — daughter of former senator Sam Nunn and former head of George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light volunteer group. Nunn is considered one of the few Democrats with a shot at snatching a GOP seat. [The New York Times]

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7. Apple profits rise
Apple reported earnings of $1.28 a share on Tuesday, beating analysts’ expectations of $1.23 a share thanks to strong iPhone sales. Its $7.7 billion net profit was a record for a June quarter. Revenue came in at $37.4 billion, slightly lower than the $37.98 billion forecast. The iPhone and iPad maker’s stock inched down on the news, but CEO Tim Cook said he “couldn’t be happier” about the company’s performance. [CNBC]

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8. Largest wildfire in Washington history forces evacuations
Firefighters in Washington made limited progress Tuesday against the biggest wildfire in the state’s history. The massive Carlton Complex fire 120 miles northeast of Seattle has already destroyed 200 homes, and continues to force new evacuations. The fire was started last week by a lightning strike, and has burned 380 square miles. [Reuters]

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9. Packer recalls fruit sold at Trader Joe’s, Costco, and other stores
California’s Wawona Packing Co. is voluntarily recalling peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots that were packaged between June 1 and July 12 due to possible contamination of Listeria monocytogenes. Wawona detected the problem through internal testing. The fruit was sold at Trader Joe’s, Costco, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., and Ralphs stores. [Los Angeles Times]

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10. Chinese city quarantined over bubonic plague cases
Major swaths of China’s northwestern city of Yumen have been sealed off after a resident died of the bubonic plague last week. Over 150 who came into direct contact with the victim were place under quarantine, although none has shown sign of infection. [The New York Times]

Remember When Vladimir Putin Was The Right-Wing’s Favorite World Leader?

Liberaland

Steve Marmel

 

Now read this:

Grandpa Surprises Everyone With Age-Defying Dance Moves, Proves You’re Only As Old As You Feel

This is a feel good moment…enjoy!

The Huffington Post

When this elderly man’s song comes on, nothing can hold him back.

Not only does he cut a rug so fiercely that he has to throw off his canes, but see around the 1:50 mark how this stud muffin dances with not one, but two ladies. It just goes to show that age is a state of mind, and you’re never too old to bust some serious moves.

Get it, grandpa!

BREAKING: Two Republican Judges Order Obamacare Defunded

Ted Cruz |CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

Did the Tea Party finally find two lower court judges to sign these orders?  Do they know that millions of people could lose Obamacare.  Do they even care?  The good news about this is that the appeals court is unlikely to uphold their decision…

Think Progress

Near the end of 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) led a final crusade to defund the Affordable Care Act, eventually announcing on the Senate floor that “I intend to speak in opposition to Obamacare, I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare, until I am no longer able to stand.” Cruz did succeed in goading his fellow Republicans into shutting down the federal government, but his effort was ultimately doomed. The American people’s elected representatives voted not to defund Obamacare, and the shutdown ended.

On Tuesday, two Republican judges voted to rewrite this history. Under Halbig v. Burwell, a decision handed down by Judge Raymond Randolph, a Bush I appointee, and Judge Thomas Griffith, a Bush II appointee, millions of Americans will lose the federal health insurance subsidies provided to them under the Affordable Care Act — or, at least, they will lose these subsidies if Randolph and Griffith’s decision is ultimately upheld on appeal.

Ted Cruz is undoubtedly smiling today. Two unelected Republicans just voted to erase his most embarrassing and most public defeat, and they voted to take away millions of Americans health care in the process.

Meet The Republicans

It’s important to understand just who these two Republicans are. Judge Randolph is a staunchly conservative judge who spent much of the oral argument in this case acting as an advocate for the anti-Obamacare side. Randolph complained, just a few weeks before President Obama would announce that the Affordable Care Act had overshot its enrollment goal, that the launch of the Affordable Care Act was “an unmitigated disaster” and that its costs “have gone sky-high.” At one point, Randolph also cut off Judge Harry Edwards, the sole Democratic appointee on the panel, to cite an editorial published by the conservativeInvestor’s Business Daily to prove the argument that Obamacare should be defunded.

The Investor’s Business Daily is not known as a particularly reliable source on health policy. In 2009, for example, it published an editorial arguing that Stephen Hawking, the British physicist who is an Englishman from the United Kingdom, “wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

Judge Griffith has a reputation as a more moderate judge, but it is not clear that this reputation is deserved. In 2012, Griffith’s colleague, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, published a concurring opinion suggesting that all labor, business or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect. “America’s cowboy capitalism,” Brown claimed, “was long ago disarmed by a democratic process increasingly dominated by powerful groups with economic interests antithetical to competitors and consumers. And the courts, from which the victims of burdensome regulation sought protection, have been negotiating the terms of surrender since the 1930s.” Later in her opinion, Brown suggested that the Court went off the rails when it “decided economic liberty was not a fundamental constitutional right.” In the early Twentieth Century, conservative justices relied on ideas of “economic liberty” that were discarded in the 1930s in order to strike down laws protecting workers’ right to organize, laws ensuring a minimum wage and laws prohibiting employers from overworking their employees.

Griffith did not join Brown’s opinion, but his explanation for why he did not do so is instructive — “[a]lthough by no means unsympathetic to [Brown's] criticism nor critical of [her] choice to express [her] perspective, I am reluctant to set forth my own views on the wisdom of such a broad area of the Supreme Court’s settled jurisprudence that was not challenged by the petitioner.” So Griffith is “sympathetic” to Brown’s argument that much of the Twentieth Century is unconstitutional, but he did not want to join her opinion because the arguments she made were not raised by the parties in that case. Halbig, by contrast, presented Griffith with a much more direct attack on supposedly “burdensome regulation” brought by the forces of “cowboy capitalism.”

Punishing Millions For A Proofreading Error

The two Republicans’ decision rests on a glorified typo in the Affordable Care Act itself. Obamacare gives states a choice. They can either run their own health insurance exchange where their residents may buy health insurance, and receive subsidies to help them pay for that insurance if they qualify, or they can allow the federal government to run that exchange for them. Yet the plaintiffs’ in this case uncovered a drafting error in the statute where it appears to limit the subsidies to individuals who obtain insurance through “an Exchange established by the State.” Randolph and Griffith’s opinion concludes that this drafting error is the only thing that matters. In their words, “a federal Exchange is not an ‘Exchange established by the State,’” and that’s it. The upshot of this opinion is that 6.5 million Americans will lose their ability to afford health insurance, according to one estimate.

The Supreme Court of the United States, however, has long recognized that a law’s clear purpose should not be defeated due to an error in proofreading. As the Court explained in 2007, “a reviewing court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation” as the “meaning—or ambiguity—of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.” It is indeed true that a single phrase of the Affordable Care Act, if read in isolation, suggests that Congress intended only state-run exchanges — as opposed to federal exchanges — to offer subsidies, but this provision is contradicted by numerous other provisions of the law.

One provision of the Affordable Care Act, for example, indicates that any “exchange” shall be an “entity that is established by a State” — language which indicates that federally run exchanges will be deemed to be “established by a state.” This may seem counter-intuitive, but Congress has the power to define the words that it uses in any way that it wants, even if those words are defined in ways that are unusual. Another provision of the law provides that, when a state elects not to run an exchange, the Secretary of Health and Human Services “shall . . . establish and operate such Exchange within the State and the Secretary shall take such actions as are necessary to implement such other requirements.” Thus, the law not only authorizes the Secretary to stand in the state’s shoes when it runs an exchange, it also empowers her to implement the law’s “other requirements.”

Nor is this is the full extent of the problems with Randolph and Griffith’s conclusion. Indeed, in order to accept their decision, a person reading the Affordable Care Act must ignore the following facts:

  • The subtitle of the Affordable Care Act which contains the provisions at issue in this case is titled “Affordable Coverage Choices for All Americans.” If Randolph and Griffith are correct, Congress would have named that subtitle “Affordable Coverage Choices for All Americans Except For Those Americans Who Live In States With Federally-Run Exchanges.”
  • The Affordable Care Act says that it will “achieve[] near-universal coverage.” If Randolph and Griffith are correct, Congress would have said that Obamacare “achieves near-universal coverage except in states with federally-run exchanges.”
  • An amendment to the Affordable Care Act requires the federally-run exchanges to report various information that they would only be able to report if they were providing subsidies, such as whether taxpayers received an “advance payment of such credit”; information needed to determine individuals’ “eligibility for, and the amount of, such credit”; and “[i]nformation necessary to determine whether a taxpayer has received excess advance payments.” Congress would not have imposed this reporting requirements if they thought that the federal exchanges would not offer subsidies.
  • The Affordable Care Act also provides that the only people who are qualified to purchase insurance at all on a federally-run exchange are people who “reside[] in the State that established the Exchange.” Thus, if federally-run exchanges are not deemed to be “established by the State,” that means that no one at all is allowed to purchase health insurance on the federally-run exchanges, and there would be no purpose whatsoever to their existence. As the trial court explained in this very case, this interpretation makes no sense, because “courts presume that Congress has used its scarce legislative time to enact statutes that have some legal consequence.”

Shifting Positions

Virtually no one, apparently including at least one of the plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit, actually believes that these propositions are true. Indeed, as the government points out in its brief, one of the plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit also was a plaintiff in the last lawsuit seeking to gut Obamacare, the challenge to the individual mandate that was rejected by the Supreme Court. In that lawsuit, this plaintiff argued that the subsidies were an integral part of every exchange’s’ very design — “[w]ithout the subsidies driving demand within the exchanges, insurance companies would have absolutely no reason to offer their products through exchanges, where they are subject to far greater restrictions.” Now, however, he expects the courts to believe that these subsidies were entirely optional, and that Congress intended federally-run exchanges to get along without them. Notably, the exact same lawyer represented this plaintiff when he made both of these mutually exclusive claims.

The unsuccessful legal argument claiming that the individual mandate was unconstitutional was a major prong of the Republican attack on the law as early as 2009. Yet, even after the GOP decided that defeating Obamacare in court was their number one policy priority, afterRepublican officials in numerous states brought a high-profile lawsuit seeking to kill this law, and after they hired one of the best lawyers in the country to drive this litigation, no one noticed the alleged flaw in the statute that Randolph and Griffith rely upon today. The reason why is obvious. Not even the many Republican officials who filed briefs seeking to kill this law the first time around actually believed that the law was intended to deny subsidies to people who buy insurance in federal exchanges.

To get around this fact, Randolph and Griffith spin an alternative history of the Affordable Care Act’s passage. A major prong of this alternative history claims that Congress wanted to deny subsidies to people in states with federally-run exchanges because that that would provide states with an incentive to start their own exchange — in Randolph and Griffith’s words, Congress “us[ed] subsidies as an incentive to gain states’ cooperation.” Thus, in this narrative, Congress viewed getting states to run exchanges as an all-encompassing goal, trumping even the law’s stated goals of providing “Affordable Coverage Choices for AllAmericans” and achieving “near-universal coverage.” Needless to say, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Congress actually viewed the administrative question of which set of government bureaucrats would run a particular state’s exchange as a question of such superseding importance that they were willing to deny health coverage to millions of people in order to ensure that the right set of bureaucrats run the exchanges in each state.

An Opinion That Kills

Should Randolph and Griffith’s decision be upheld on appeal, which, for reasons explained below, is unlikely, it would send destructive shockwaves through much of the American health care system. As ThinkProgress previously explained, suddenly removing federal subsidies from insurance markets that expect them to continue being paid would force health insurers to jack up their premiums in order to cover their costs. Higher premiums, however, would cause many healthy individuals to drop their coverage. Which will force insurers to raise their premiums even more, which will cause even more individuals to lose their coverage. Indeed, according to a brief filed by several economists, the resulting death spiral would render insurance “unaffordable for more than 99 percent of the families and individuals eligible for subsidies” within the federal exchanges.

This economic problem exposes yet another flaw in Randolph and Griffith’s opinion. In order to accept their reasoning, one has to believe that Congress buried a hidden time bomb within the arcane provisions of the Affordable Care Act that, when it detonated, would render much of the act a nullity. As the economists explain in their brief, Randolph and Griffith’s decision presumes that “Congress sought to legislate into existence a massive new social program that it understood would immediately fail.”

So Randolph and Griffith’s opinion would be comic if its result were not so tragic. And make no mistake, if this opinion is upheld on appeal, it will be a tragedy. According to one Harvard study, nearly 45,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 died in a single year because they lacked health insurance. Randolph and Griffith’s decision would ensure that many of these deaths resume. That’s tens of thousands of wives who will never hold their husbands again, and tens of thousands of fathers who will never kiss their daughters again, all because two unelected Republicans hunted through an ocean of language indicating that Congress intended to end these needless deaths in order to find a single piece of flotsam suggesting that the law should be defunded.

This is not how judges typically behave in a democracy. And it is not a decision that is rooted either in Congress’ intentions or in Supreme Court precedent.

An Opinion That Is Unlikely To Survive

We live in interesting times. And we live in times where judges and justices can not longer be expected to rely on established law, especially when they are presented to an opportunity toundermine Obamacare. Nevertheless, there are several reasons to be optimistic that Randolph and Griffith attempt to defund Obamacare will not survive contact with a higher authority.

For starters, under the Supreme Court’s Chevron Doctrine, courts typically defer to a federal agency’s reading of a law so long as “the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.” Randolph and Griffith get around this doctrine by claiming that the law “the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance” purchased on state-run exchanges.

If you truly believe that the only possible interpretation of the Affordable Care Act’s language is the one adopted by Randolph and Griffith on Tuesday, then you may want to go back to the top of this article and start reading it all over again. In any event, two federal judges previously concluded that Obamacare is unambiguous in the other direction — that is, it unambiguously offers subsidies to people who purchase insurance through federal exchanges. That alone demonstrates that, even if the law isn’t completely clear, its meaning is at least uncertain enough that the courts should defer to the agency’s reading underChevron.

More importantly, Randolph and Griffith’s own colleagues are unlikely to allow this opinion to stand for long. The federal government may now appeal this decision to the full United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Democrats enjoy a 7-4 majority among the court’s active judges. It is unlikely, to say the least, that a Democratic bench will strike down President Obama’s primary legislative accomplishment based on the highly doubtful reasoning contained in Randolph and Griffith’s opinion.

Should the full DC Circuit intervene, of course, their decision can ultimately be appealed to the GOP-controlled Supreme Court. But we’ve already seen this story play out once before. The last time conservative lawyers brought a case to the Supreme Court seeking to gut Obamacare, Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold the bulk of the law.

Roberts cast this vote a year-and-a-half before much of the law would actually be implemented, meaning that, if he had chosen to struck down the law then, he would have been able to do so at a time when the constituency for upholding the law was relatively small. Now, however, millions of Americans stand to lose their health insurance if Roberts signs on to Randolph and Griffith’s reasoning — and Roberts would be personally responsible for the subsequent loss of health coverage and needless deaths that would result. If Roberts was unwilling to trash the law at a time when the impact would have been relatively small, it is unlikely that he will do so under circumstances that are likely to inspire the masses to storm his castle while wielding pitchforks.

 

10 things you need to know today: July 22, 2014

A man covers his face as a Dutch forensic team examines bodies in a refrigerated train.

A man covers his face as a Dutch forensic team examines bodies in a refrigerated train. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The Week

Ukrainian separatists hand over downed jetliner’s black boxes, Obama urges Congress to protect gay workers, and more

1. Ukraine rebels hand over evidence from downed jetliner
Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine on Monday gave investigators passengers’ bodies and the black boxes of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over separatist-held territory last week. Rebel leaders delayed releasing the evidence for days despite intense international pressure. Ukraine says separatists shot down the plane, with 298 people on board, using a missile supplied by Russia. Moscow denies responsibility. [BBC NewsThe Australian]

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2. Obama bans discrimination against gays by federal contractors
President Obama on Monday called on Congress to ban all job discrimination against gays, as hesigned an executive order barring unfair treatment of workers for federal contractors over their sexual orientation. Obama said it was wrong to let companies fire people because they are gay, and declared that he was on “the right side of history.” Conservative critics said the move could lead to discrimination against opponents of same-sex marriage. [The New York Times]

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3. Perry sends National Guard to police the border
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced Monday that he was sending up to 1,000 National Guardtroops to help handle a wave of children and other refugees from Central America illegally crossing into the U.S. over the Mexico border. Perry, who is considering a second run for the presidency, has repeatedly urged President Obama to dispatch the National Guard to the border, where Border Patrol agents have been overwhelmed by tens of thousands of child immigrants. [Fox News]

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4. Tsarnaev friend convicted for trying to get rid of evidence
Azamat Tazhayakov, a 21-year-old friend of surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found guilty Monday of obstructing justice by taking a backpack with fireworks in it, a jar of Vaseline, and a thumb drive out of Tsarnaev’s dorm room in the days immediately after the deadly April 15, 2013, bombing. The case was the first related to the alleged terrorist act to go to trial. Sentencing is in October; Tazhayakov could get up to 25 years in prison. [The Boston Globe]

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5. Johns Hopkins reaches $190-million settlement over spy-cam gynecologist
Lawyers for Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore announced Monday that they had reached a $190-million settlement with more than 9,000 former patients of a gynecologist, Dr. Nikita Levy, who secretly photographed and videotaped women during pelvic exams. Levy was escorted out of the hospital after security officials, alerted by a colleague, caught him carrying a spy pen in February 2013. He killed himself two weeks later. [Los Angeles Times]

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6. Former soldier receives Medal of Honor
President Obama on Monday awarded former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest award for valor in combat, for fighting fiercely to defend his post in Afghanistan despite being severely wounded and outnumbered by Taliban forces. Nine of Pitts’ comrades were killed in the 2008 battle. Pitts said they were “the real heroes.” He was the ninth living American to receive the award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. [CNN]

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7. Body found in South Korea identified as head of ferry company
South Korean police said Tuesday that a badly decomposed body found last month had been identified as Yoo Byung Eun, the mysterious fugitive head of the company that operated the ferrySewol, which capsized in April. More than 300 people were killed in the accident. Yoo was wanted on embezzlement, negligence, and other charges. The body was found in a plum field near a retreat where investigators suspected Yoo was hiding. [NBC News]

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8. Apple prepares for biggest-ever initial run for a new iPhone model
Apple has reportedly ordered 70 million to 80 million of its larger-screen iPhones by the end of 2014. If the numbers are correct, the launch of the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 will be the biggest ever for a new version of Apple’s popular smartphone. The initial order for the 4-inch iPhone 5S and 5C models last year was between 50 million and 60 million, according to people familiar with Apple’s plans. [MarketWatch]

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9. Starbucks and Burger King get dragged into China’s food scandal
China’s fast-food scandal spread on Tuesday, as Starbucks, Burger King, and other companies said they had purchased chicken from Shanghai Husi Food Co Ltd., which has been shut down by Chinese regulators for using expired meat. McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns KFC, revealed Monday that they had purchased meat from Shanghai Husi, a unit of U.S.-based OSI Group LLC. [Reuters]

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10. World endures hottest June on record
Last month was the hottest June worldwide since the first records were kept in 1880, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday. The combined average land and sea temperature was 0.72 degrees centigrade higher than the average over the 20th century, and land surface temperatures were 0.95 degrees centigrade over the average. [Science Recorder]

How Jon Stewart Made It Okay to Care About Palestinian Suffering

thedailyshow.cc.com

The Daily Beast - Dean Obeidallah

This Gaza war has brought a new level of American awareness of the pain of Palestinian civilians. And we have Jon Stewart to thank.

When I interviewed The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart two years ago for a documentary I co-directed, The Muslims Are Coming!, one of the questions I posed to the talk show host was: Do you think your show has had an impact on issues?

Surprisingly, Stewart responded “no.”  At first, my co-director, Negin Farsad, and I thought Stewart was being unduly modest. But he was actually being sincere. Stewart went on to list issues he had railed against for years—such as media sensationalism—and noted that nothing tangible had changed despite his best efforts.

But if that question were put to Stewart today, honesty would compel him to answer that his efforts have changed the way many who follow him now view one issue: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Specifically, Stewart has raised awareness about the human toll that this conflict has inflicted upon Palestinian civilians.

I first noticed Stewart’s efforts in January 2009 during the 22-day battle between Hamas and the Israeli military. That episode resulted in approximately 1,400 Palestinians being killed, of which human rights groups say 700 were civilians.

Stewart’s coverage included the segment “Gaza Strip Maul.” (The title summed up his POV.) In it, Stewart comically noted that the only thing Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is supporting Israeli’s bombing of Gaza, likening it to a Mobius Strip, which is an object with only one side to it.

Stewart, of course, did express sympathy for the people of Israel suffering from Hamas missiles. But clearly he was moved by the massive Palestinian civilian casualties, calling it a “civilian carnage Toyotathon.”

During the 2012 battle between Hamas and Israel, Stewart lambasted the media for its obsession with declaring a “winner.” His point was simple: In a battle where more than 150 people were killed, mostly Palestinian civilians, there was no real “winner.”

Stewart’s impact has not gone unnoticed by the right. Several conservative media outlets attacked Stewart over his recent expressions of concern for Palestinian civilians.

And just last week, Stewart addressed the current fighting in Gaza in two remarkable moments. First, he responded to the conservative argument that the people of Gaza, who are crammed into a densely populated area, can simply leave to avoid the IDF’s bombing campaign.  “Evacuate to where?” Stewart asked incredulously. “Have you fucking seen Gaza? Israel blocked this border, Egypt blocked this border. What, are you supposed to swim for it?

Later in that same show, guest Hillary Clinton hawked her new book together with her hawkish views on the Middle East. But Stewart challenged the former Secretary of State: “Can we at least agree the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is overwhelming and that the world must do more for that people who are trapped by this conflict?”

So where we have seen Stewart’s impact? I would argue we’ve seen it in the reactions of certain celebrities and in an increasing number of college students. Typically, celebrities have stayed out of the Middle East conflict, knowing full well the tsunami of emotions it carries. But in the last week, some entered the fray, and I believe we have Stewart to thank for it.

We saw actor John Cusack tweet in response to a conservative, self-proclaimed Israeli supporter who was defending the IDF’s bombings in Gaza: “I have been to Israel and Palestine & Bombing civilians is not self defense.”

While Cusack is known for being a progressive activist, the other celebs that spoke out are not. Singing superstar Rihanna and the NBA’s Dwight Howard both tweeted “Free Palestine.” The New York Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire, who has Jewish heritage, tweeted a photo that read: “Pray for Palestine.” True, these three ultimately deleted their respective posts after they caused a stir, but it was still momentous to see these developments.

And then there was the 21-year-old singing sensation, Selena Gomez, who posted an image on Instagram that read: ““It’s about humanity—Pray for Gaza.” This post received more than 605,000 likes.

Unfortunately, her post did elicit some vicious, misogynistic comments from some right-wing supporters of Israel. And worse, TMZ even inferred Gomez was supporting terrorism with its article: “Selena Gomez: Pro-Humanity or Pro-Hamas”? TMZ attempted to bully the young star to agree with its own politicswith the line: “Maybe she doesn’t realize Hamas has launched an untold number of missiles in an effort to destroy Israel, or maybe she supports it.”

Despite these attacks, Gomez did not back down. Her post still stands.

And I’ve personally seen Stewart’s impact on the young people I meet at colleges when performing the comedy show “Stand up for Peace” with my friend Scott Blakeman, who is Jewish. Time and time again I hear from students that The Daily Show has informed them about political issues, including the Middle East.

Indeed, a poll released last week bears this out. While overall Americans “sympathize” with Israel 51 percent to only 14 percent for Palestinians, the gapcloses dramatically among younger people, Stewart’s very demographic. In that age group, Palestinians find their greatest support, at 22 percent—dramatically higher than the only 9 percent of people who are 50 and older.

Part of Stewart’s appeal with students is that he’s very proudly Jewish and a supporter of Israel. Consequently, he has inspired others who support the Jewish state to criticize it when its government’s policies are not in keeping with their own sense of right and wrong. You know, like the way we, in the United States, criticize certain policies of our government despite our deep support for our nation.

Stewart’s impact has not gone unnoticed by the right. Several conservative media outlets attacked Stewart over his recent expressions of concern for Palestinian civilians.

But it’s too late. The seeds Stewart has planted over the years have taken root and are starting to blossom. And here’s why that’s a good thing for all. Stewart’s message is truly one of empathy—something often missing in discussions of this conflict. Too often, people view this contest as a zero sum game where even the slightest acknowledgment that the other side is suffering is an attack upon their own side.

Why not give Stewart’s approach a chance? Stop with the knee jerk, blind defense of your own side—regardless of which that may be. Instead, if the people you support are committing acts inconsistent with your own sense of morality, then you should speak out.

Maybe, just maybe, this approach will yield common ground that can be the foundation to build a bridge to peace.  It’s certainly worth a shot because the current path is an abject failure for all involved.

Immigration, charity, and conservatives’ unholy assault on Glenn Beck

His supporters are pushing back.

His supporters are pushing back. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Week

When Glenn Beck announced he would deliver food and toys to immigrant children, the attacks were blistering — and profoundly unchristian

For a movement that wants to eliminate welfare on the grounds it crowds out charity, the rightmost edge of conservatism has been remarkably uncharitable throughout the current immigration crisis. It is almost like they detest charity itself.

Earlier this month, Glenn Beck announced his intention to deliver food, toys, and other supplies to the undocumented immigrants detained in McAllen, Texas. His reasoning was fairly straightforward: Since the immigrants, who are generally children, currently awaiting processing have escaped corruption and violence and political unrest, there is a moral imperative to extend to them welcome and aid. Beck never advocated any form of amnesty, nor did he propose any particular policy (aside from registering his anger with the Obama administration’s response). He felt morally obligated to intervene on humanitarian grounds, and asked his audience’s help in raising funds to do so.

Beck’s impulse was a good one, and his reasoning was equally sound from an ethical standpoint. There are always moral hazards in our interactions with others, including in charitable acts. But that doesn’t mean a turn-the-other-cheek mentality isn’t warranted.

Yet Beck’s audience did the opposite. In response to his charitable campaign, Beck’s listenersevidently flooded him with threats made against his life and work. Other conservative pundits made hay of the backlash against Beck, including Bill O’Reilly, who aired a complaint from one of his viewers excoriating Beck on The O’Reilly Factor. “I am appalled by Glenn Beck’s visit to the border,” the viewer complained. “Wait until poor people in Central America hear that he is giving them millions of dollars. They’ll flow in here like water.”

So much for the Christian mission of mercy and tenderness. For Beck’s enraged audience, any act of kindness, no matter how small — the immigrants would have eaten whether or not Beck served the food, and ‘millions of dollars’ were never on offer — was too great a risk.

In fact, it appears the far right opinion generators currently trying to manipulate the outcome of the crisis cannot even muster a charitable way of thinking about the children currently sleeping under Red Cross blankets in crowded rooms near the Texan border. As Fare Forward‘s Laura Marshall points out, there’s a powerful Christian significance to offering others charity, a willingness to understand them and their life circumstances in the least cynical, least hateful terms possible. The opposite of this approach involves the decision to imagine others in the worst terms, to construe all of their characteristics and behavior in the most negative, obscene ways one can muster.

It’s this latter abuse that far right media jockeys have mounted in full against the child refugees gathering at the border. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) has made preposterous claims about the ebola virus being endemic among the refugee population; there is no evidence to support this, though history illustrates that claims of poor hygiene and filthiness are typical of one group’s demonization of another. With the terms of moral hygiene established, it’s easy to imagine refugees and other vulnerable populations as contagion. A less callous approach would display genuine concern for the health of the immigrants themselves.

Lastly, consider the EPIC (El Paso Intelligence Center) report peddled by Breitbart. While the conservative site leapt at the chance to use the 10-page document as definitive proof that the kids at the border are nothing but opportunists looking to leech off of the American way of life, they ignored the facts within. Even EPIC admits that 65 percent of the immigrants have identified some form of violence as significant in their decision to leave their home nations. That basically makes them refugees.

Nonetheless, the report has been twisted by places like Breitbart to show that the kids are here because they think they can stay and freeload. The fact that push factors and pull factors figure into the complex and difficult decision to leave home has been uncharitably shucked aside for a simple narrative: don’t listen to the media, these kids aren’t afraid of violence at all; they just came here because they think we’ll let them stay!

In other words, no matter the evidence presented or the strength of moral reasoning, charity itself — even private, voluntary charity — has been routinely dismissed, derided, and mocked by powerful voices on the far right. When the next opportunity for a genuine outpouring of charity arises, what should we expect? If a crisis involving unaccompanied children isn’t enough to elicit a charitable impulse, nothing will ever be.

Republican civil war in Mississippi goes national

Virginia Republican Ken Cuccinelli | Did someone call for more wingnut?

Daily Kos

Mississippi Republicans continue to be the gift that keeps on giving. Virginia ex-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has entered the fray (any similarity here to a Republican Super Smash Brothers is, I assure you, intentional), targeting Senate Republicans who backed fellow senator Thad Cochran over preferred insane person Chris McDaniel. Specifically, he says:

These senators fully funded ads that urged Democrats to “cross over and vote in the republican primary” and claimed that a McDaniel win would be a loss “for race relationships between blacks and whites.”They also helped pay for fliers that said, “The Tea Party Intends to Prevent You From Voting” and suggested McDaniel would roll back civil rights.

In response, he’s demanding no less than a defunding of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRCC), which I think we can all get behind merely for the humor factor.

On the other side of the fence you’ve got Mississippi’s Republican political machine. They’re not backing down from pointing out that McDaniel is pretty much a horrible human being even for a Republican.

“That conduct was reprehensible and was not good for Mississippi or the Republican party,” [Henry] Barbour says. “Many Mississippians, who were already disgusted by McDaniel’s race-baiting talk-radio-show comments, heard the code words that insinuated that African Americans were not welcome in the Republican primary.”

That defense was offered after it turned out that one of the outside PACs running incendiary ads against McDaniel was funded in entirety or near-entirety by Henry Barbour’s group. Yes, it is possible to be too racist for the Mississippi political machine to stomach—or at least, too vocal in your racism. So that’s something.

As for the head pouter himself, he’s in full spite mode.

Missisippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) said the Republican Party should be “purged” of people who paint their fellow members as racists. [...]“It goes to show that there are elements within our own party that have to be purged … There are elements within our own party that have no business being Republicans. Republicans should not behave in that fashion.”

So it’s open war between the half of the party that want to purge radio loudmouths with a history of racist-tending comments and the half of the party that want to purge or defund anyone that points out their racism exists. There isn’t enough popcorn in the world for watching that fight.

GOP’s ’16 consolation vanishes: Suddenly, Democrats have the deep bench!

GOP's '16 consolation vanishes: Suddenly, Democrats have the deep bench!

Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz (Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts/AP)

Salon

After Romney’s 2012 loss, pundits raved about the GOP’s new leaders. But two years later, Democrats have the edge

In the wake of President Obama’s re-election in 2012, reporters found one soothing source of solace for the GOP. “One race the Republicans appear to be winning is the one for the deepest bench of rising stars,” wrote the Washington Post, and plenty of folks followed up. Democrats, meanwhile, had nobody on the bench but Hillary Clinton – a formidable candidate if she were to run, but that wasn’t even certain.

Beyond Clinton, there seemed to be a wasteland populated by ambitious governors no one had ever heard of (Martin O’Malley), some who were well known but not widely liked (Andrew Cuomo). Oh, and Brian Schweitzer.

The Republican list, meanwhile, seemed almost infinite: blue and purple state governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Virginia’s Bob McConnell, and Tea Party senators like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Romney’s ambitious, “wonky” running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, had his fans, as did former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, recovered from back surgery and sporting hot new glasses, could have another life in 2016.

But in two years, the situation has almost reversed itself. Promising GOP governors – McDonnell, Christie, Walker – find themselves dogged by scandal. The Tea Party trio of Paul, Cruz and Rubio still vies for media attention and right wing adoration, but Rubio’s immigration reform work doomed him on the right. Unbelievably, Paul is widely labeled the frontrunner (but don’t tell that to Cruz), while the party establishment and neocon hawks search for an alternative. Despite all that impressive talent, Mitt Romney leads the pack in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, in what’s widely being reported as trouble for Hillary Clinton, because that’s the narrative the media know best, it turns out there are a bunch of popular and maybe even formidable Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren wowed the crowd at Netroots Nation. (Check out this great New Yorker Biden profile if you want to know how the VP is keeping his options open). The Netroots buzz inspired the Washington Post’s Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa to survey the landscape of Democrats who’ve put a toe or more in the water for 2016.

We learned that Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is visiting Iowa (it is only one state away), while New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has a book coming out. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is said to be huddling with donors, believing the party could use a dose of red state common sense.

This is all framed as mildly ominous news for Hillary Clinton – the headline is “With liberals pining for a Clinton challenger, ambitious Democrats get in position” — but Klobuchar, Gillibrand and Nixon have all endorsed Clinton, and Warren has encouraged Clinton to run while insisting she won’t do so herself. The only Democrats listed who may still run even if Clinton does too are O’Malley and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.

Regardless of the intent of the framing, the Rucker-Costa story actually pointed up the vitality in the Democratic Party, where lively debates over income inequality and foreign policy have so far fallen short of creating bitter divisions and factions, at least so far. Again, contrast that with the GOP, where Ted Cruz seems to be staking his 2016 hopes on his ability to humiliate every party leader and make sure Republicans will never make inroads with the Latino population. He’s blocking bipartisan emergency legislation to deal with the border crisis, and pushing to reverse President Obama’s deferred action on deportation for young people brought here by their parents.

Meanwhile Warren, the progressive elected the same time as Cruz, is touring the country campaigning for Democratic Senate candidates, even some who are more centrist than she is, like Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and West Virginia’s Natalie Tennant.  She’s focused on growing the Democratic Party, not cutting down colleagues who are less progressive.

So: the GOP’s right wing firebrand is a loose cannon who is completely out for himself, while the Democrats’ left wing firebrand is working amiably with party leaders and deflecting talk of a primary challenge to Clinton. In the end, the rising number of possible alternatives to Hillary Clinton is a sign of Democratic strength, even if the media tends to bill it as weakness.

CNN Host Disses Joan Rivers For Walking Out Of Her Interview

At this rate, it looks like Joan Rivers’ time in the spotlight might soon be over…

The Huffington Post

CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield reflected on Sunday about her now-famous interview with Joan Rivers.

Whitfield was interviewing Rivers last weekend, and Rivers got so angry at what she called Whitfield’s “negative” questions that she stormed off the set. The moment went viral.

Whitfield — who appeared shocked when Rivers cut the interview short — said Sunday that she did not expect the walk-off to get as much “mileage” as it did.

It was a classic case of the “hypocrisy of a comedian who dishes it but didn’t take it” and “the news reporter who pushed buttons,” the CNN host said.

She replayed clips of other shows joking about the interview, including Rivers’ own comments about it to David Letterman and “Access Hollywood.” “[Rivers] wouldn’t talk any further with me, but had lots of fun welcoming if not inviting this fresh material at every chance,” Whitfield added.

Watch the rest of her comments in the clip above.

(h/t Mediaite)

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