Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hillary Clinton at the 2015 U.S. Conference of Mayors

Hillary Clinton spoke at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors on the need to address systemic racism in the wake of the shooting in Charleston.

Why It's Okay for County Clerks to Quit Over Gay Marriage

When I hear about county clerks who have decided to quit over their bigoted objection to gay marriage, I don't find myself getting upset.

In Texas, County Clerks are elected and serve 4-year terms. They must be at least 18 years of age and they don't need a college degree. In cities with a population of 100,000 or more, their salaries range from $55,826 per year (Kaufman County) to $143,634 per year (Tarrant County).

Teachers in Kaufman County make $38,248 per year as a starting salary, and $44,361 per year after 10 years of experience. Teachers in Tarrant County make $41,083 per year starting out, and $50,272 after a decade of work.

Teachers can be, and often are, fired for publicly stating their positions on political and social matters. They can be fired for being seen by parents while having drinks after work. They can be fired for their students not performing well on the STAAR tests. For the most part, Texas teachers do not have contracts extending more than 1 year, which in reality is a contract binding them to the district rather than preventing the district from firing them.

Oh, and public school teachers typically have to have a college degree, and all the student loan debt that comes with it.

So when I hear about county clerks who have decided to quit over their bigoted objection to gay marriage, I don't find myself getting upset. I find myself smiling. Someone will be willing to step up and do the job. Heck, any 18-year-old is qualified.


Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Click to read more about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Marriage Equality.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fires At 6 Black Churches In 5 Southern States

Since nine people were killed in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, allegedly by a 21-year-old white man tied to white supremacist groups, there have been a string of arson attacks on other black churches in the South.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least six predominantly black churches in four Southern states have been damaged or destroyed by fire in the past week. While some may have been accidental, at least three have been determined to be the result of arson.

Black churches have frequently been targets of violence. Since 1956, there have been by most counts about 100 incidents of shootings, bombings, arson, or vandalism against black churches. One particular incident stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, when four young girls were killed and 22 were injured at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. That, however, is likely a significant  under count.

Spikes in violence rise and fall with white supremacist rhetoric, with more than 30 black churches burned within 18 months in 1995 and 1996. That led to the passage of the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996, which gave federal authorities more oversight of such crimes, increased sentencing, and reauthorized the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.

The Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston has its own long history of violence. It’s the oldest A.M.E. church in the South, dating back to 1791 when it was formed by free blacks and slaves. But in 1822, it was burned to the ground after one of its founders attempted to plan a slave revolt.

Listen to a NPR report: Investigators Probe Fires At 6 Black Churches In 5 Southern States

Friday, June 26, 2015

SCOTUS Strikes At Prison Industrial Complex Profits

The other SCOTUS decision handed down on Friday, June 26th, is on “three strikes incarceration sentencing minimums” for felons on their third conviction.

The Johnson v. United States case challenged the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which mandates a 15-year sentence for any federal firearms offender with three prior (residual) convictions for a felony. This was the fifth time since 2007 that the Supreme Court had to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of the residual clause.

This case arises out of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years on a federal firearms offender who has three convictions for a felony. In the Johnson case, the government used the “residual clause' to enhance Samuel Johnson’s prison sentence because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun.

The question before the Court was whether possession of a sawed-off shotgun constitutes a felony. Johnson argued that he shouldn’t be subjected to a harsher sentence, because the definition of what was considered “violent” was unconstitutionally vague. SCOTUS agreed with Johnson and issued a 7-1 ruling in his favor.

President Obama Gives Eulogy at Clementa Pinckney Funeral Service

President Obama delivers a eulogy for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was one of nine victims in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


C-SPAN

Marriage Equality

UPDATE 11:00 PM July 1, 2015

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday finding that the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges overrides state laws and constitutional amendments limiting marriage to couples of one man and one woman.

The federal appeals court directed the district courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to issue final orders ending enforcement of the states’ respective bans on same-sex couples’ marriages. Part of the 5th Circuit's order for Texas in the case reads:
While this appeal was under submission, the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556, 2015 U.S. LEXIS 4250 (U.S. June 26, 2015). In summary, the Court declared that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this lib- erty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson [, 409 U.S. 810 (1972),] must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.
UPDATED 4:20 PM Wednesday, July 1, 2015: The Texas Attorney General's office has conceded a separate legal challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage brought by two same-sex couples last year.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the case in January, almost a year after U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia of San Antonio ruled the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.” The state's appeal to the 5th Circuit had been left pending.

Scott Keller, Texas' solicitor general, wrote in a letter to 5th Circuit Justices the appellate court should affirm Judge Garcia's ruling against Texas' ban on same-sex marriage. The letter responds to the appellate court's request that the state and plaintiffs advise the court on their planned next steps in the Texas case, after the higher's ruling.

More than 100 of Texas' 254 counties are now confirmed to be issuing or prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The DMN has an interactive map of counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Glen Maxey, Texas Democratic Party Legislative Affairs Director, has been listing counties issuing licenses on his personal Facebook timeline – here.

UPDATED 3:30 PM Sunday, June 28, 2015

State Attorney General Ken Paxton tells County Clerks they may refuse — on religious grounds — to issue same-sex marriage licenses. As reported by the Dallas Morning News.

UPDATED 1:30 PM Friday,  June 26, 2015

As of 1:30 PM Friday, June 26, 2015 - The Office of Collin County Clerk says the County Clerk is currently seeking legal council on the question of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. They have no estimate on when they might reach a decision on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The official statement from the Collin County Clerk further states that if the decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses is reached, it may take some time to implement changes to computer data bases and systems and office procedures to be able to actually issue those licenses.

County Clerks across most Texas counties, today, offer a similar statement on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


10:45 AM Friday, June 26, 2015

The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of marriage equality when Justice Kennedy handed down the 5-4 majority opinion in the in the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage case. The ruling makes same-sex marriage immediately possible in all 50 states, even states like Texas that outlaw same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

When oral arguments were made before the Supreme Court Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed surprised to find out religion and the First Amendment religious establishments clause in the U.S. Constitution have nothing to do with the legality of marriage.

Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Who are the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats?

This is the most common question I have been asked since the Facebook page was created. The answer is simply, "Anyone who wants to help redefine the Democratic Party through direct advocacy." We are a loose-knit group of liberal and progressive activists who believe that action speaks louder than words.

What do the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats do?

We engage in local community service to actively demonstrate our values in a tangible way. We publicly brand these actions by wearing one of our inexpensive "Friendly Neighborhood Democrats" t-shirts.

When do the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats work?

We encourage you to find charities that are local to where you live and to offer assistance whenever possible. While we will have a monthly event posted on our Facebook page, we hope that you will take it upon yourself to find ways to be involved in your community.

Where do the proceeds from the t-shirts go (and where can I buy one)?

The money raised from the t-shirts goes to local charities, not the Democratic Party or any of its affiliates. You can purchase one by going to the link pinned to the top of the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats Facebook page.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Texas Young Democrats 2015 Convention - June 26-28

Join the Millennial Texas Young Democrats Convention in Austin this weekend - June 26-28 - for their 2015 Biennial Convention.

The America of the near future will look nothing like the America of the recent past. We see a generational transformations of our political and social values, our economic well-being, our family structure, our racial and ethnic identity, our gender norms, our religious affiliation, and our technology use.

Today’s Millennial Young Democrats are well-educated, tech savvy, underemployed twenty and thirty somethings at risk of becoming the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than their parents thanks to the conservative political agenda of the Republican Party over the last 35 years.

Millennials are the largest voting generation in American history. Born between 1979 and 1998, they are 95 million strong, compared to 78 million Baby Boomers. They are independent—politically, socially, and philosophically—and they are spearheading a period of sweeping change in America.

Click Here for more information on the Texas Young Democrats Convention in Austin this weekend - June 26-28 - for their 2015 Biennial Convention.

So You're a Texan for Hillary...

First and foremost, I want to thank you for your interest in politics. Believe it or not, it's a rare thing right now in our nation for people not only to care enough to vote, but to also research candidates and make an informed decision. With your help and a decent strategy, I believe we can turn the political tides in favor of a strong middle-class.

For those of you who have yet to determine which presidential candidate would best represent you, here is a link to a detailed questionnaire on ISideWith.com. Many of the questions have links for further information.

If after you take the quiz you find that Bernie Sanders is your best option, click here.

Alright. Now that you've decided on Hillary, let's go over five things you can do to help her win.

So You're a Texan for Bernie...

First and foremost, I want to thank you for your interest in politics. Believe it or not, it's a rare thing right now in our nation for people not only to care enough to vote, but to also research candidates and make an informed decision. With your help and a decent strategy, I believe we can turn the political tides in favor of a strong middle-class.

For those of you who have yet to determine which presidential candidate would best represent you, here is a link to a detailed questionnaire on ISideWith.com. Many of the questions have links for further information.

If after you take the quiz you find that Hillary Clinton is your best option, click here.

Alright. Now that you've decided on Bernie, let's go over five things you can do to help him win.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

School Privatization Primer

Originally Published at Curmudgucation Blog by Peter Greene:

Every once in a while I try to take the many complicated and twisty threads, back up, and tie them into a bigger picture. Think of this as the kind of post you can share with people who don't read blogs about education every single day (no kidding-- there are such people, and they're too busy doing the work to spend time reading about doing the work).

There are many threads to the reformy movement in education, but perhaps the most predominant one is the push for privatization. Many folks look at education and they just see a gigantic pile of money that has previously gone untouched. To them, education is a multi-billion dollar industry that nobody is making real profit from.

Many of the aspects and features of what I'm about to lay out appeal to other sorts of folks for other sorts of reasons, but here is how they fit into the agenda of privatizers.

Step One: Create Failure

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

POTUS Does Podcast

President Obama talked for an hour on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast program, episode 613, recorded live last Friday. President Barack Obama used the n-word during during the podcast discussion to make a point America continues to struggle with racism.

President Obama used the podcast format to have frank discussion of the issues as the nation examines the role racism played in a white supremacist killing nine African-Americans last week in a historically black church in Charleston.
"Racism, we are not cured of it. And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public," Obama said.

"That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."

Marc Maron’s WTF podcast program, episode 613 - MP3

"I always tell young people, in particular, do not say that nothing has changed when it comes to race in America, unless you've lived through being a black man in the 1950s or '60s or '70s. It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours," Obama said. But he added that "the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination" exists in institutions and casts "a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on."
Pres. Obama’s statement, that there is less American racism in 2015 than there was in 1965, is undoubtedly correct. Yet, last week, a white man walked into an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He sat inside the congregation for an hour, as churchgoers engaged in Bible study. Then he announced to the African American congregants that they are “taking over our country,” and he opened fire, killing nine men and women. That young white man was moved to violence by reading racist writings on the Council of Conservative Citizens website and other racist organization websites that promote white primacy. While Jim Crow segregation can not today be openly practiced, the racist beliefs behind those once prevalent Jim Crow laws remains alive and common across the states of the old confederate south.

Monday, June 22, 2015

84th Texas Legislature Wrap Up

Update Monday, June 22, 2015 at 11:00 PM - Any bills that passed the Texas House and Senate this year and escaped Gov. Greg Abbott's veto pen are now law. (Bills vetoed by Gov. Abbott)

Lawmakers this year filed 11,332 bills and resolutions and managed to pass 5,535 of those submissions. Many of those 11,332 filings were duplicate bills and language of some of the filed bills that did not advance was added into related bills as amendments.

Under Texas law, the governor can sign or veto bills passed by the legislature, or let them become law after 20 days without his signature. The governor has until June 21st to act to veto bills passed in the last 10 days of the session. After that date bills automatically become law.

Election Law Bills Passed By The 2015 Texas Legislature

Updated Monday 06/22/15 at 10:00 p.m. The 2015 84th Texas Legislature regular session ended on Monday, June 1, 2015, the 140th day of the session. The following election related bills were passed and sent to Gov. Abbott to sign into law or veto. The governor had 20 days from June 1 to sign or veto bills passed by the legislature during the last 10 days of the session. Bills not already signed or vetoed by June 21, 2015 have become law with an effected date as noted by Last Action note.  Click the more jump.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pope Francis Issues Encyclical On Climate Change

Pope Francis today issued his anticipated 'Laudato Si' Encyclical (authoritative teaching document) on the environment and climate change, calling on Catholics worldwide to make safeguarding the environment and battling climate change an urgent and top priority of the 21st century.

Pope Francis says most climate change is caused by human activity and calls it one of the most important moral issues facing society. The Pope has repeated over recent months, "Creation is a gift from God, and we have a moral responsibility to be responsible stewards of that gift for all of humanity and all life our planet."

In his encyclical message to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis makes clear, unlike previous encyclicals, his message is directed to everyone, regardless of religion.
"Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet," the pontif writes. "In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home."
The pontiff calls for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality. The pontiff lays out his case that humanity’s exploitation of the planet’s resources has crossed the Earth’s natural carrying boundaries, and the world faces ruin without a revolution in hearts and minds of humanity:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The National Gold Depository of Texas

In a move that harkens back to the Civil War Era "Confederate Dollar" monetary system created by rebellious confederate southern states, just before the shooting started, Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week signed House Bill 483 to establish a state gold bullion depository.  The gold depository will be administered by the Office of the Comptroller.

The gold bullion depository created by HB483 will serve as the custodian, guardian and administrator of bullion that may be transferred to or otherwise acquired by the State of Texas.

Governor Abbott issued the following statement about the bill he signed:
“Today I signed HB 483 to provide a secure facility for the State of Texas, state agencies and Texas citizens to store gold bullion and other precious metals. With the passage of this bill, the Texas Bullion Depository will become the first state-level facility of its kind in the nation, increasing the security and stability of our gold reserves and keeping taxpayer funds from leaving Texas to pay for fees to store gold in facilities outside our state."
Sponsors intend for Texas to repatriate $1 billion of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s vault in lower Manhattan to Texas, preparing for the U.S. currency collapse and financial Armageddon (or secessionist revolution) conservatives are convinced is just around the corner. (One of the problems with this, of course, is that Texas has no gold on deposit in any federal reserve, nor in Fort Knox. There is also the inconvient fact that Texas falls under the Federal Reserve of Dallas, not New York, so any such request would be filed with their local Reserve branch.)

The Secret

Political awareness
Will at times to you bestow
A sense of purpose, bold and bright
And with it you must show
That working with each other
We can watch our nation grow
That all our lives are sacred
And as such it's apropos
To organize and make allies
So we can overthrow
Those small of heart who make an art
Of selling status quo
When we stand up all together
We will end their puppet show

Friday, June 12, 2015

Behind the Mask: North Texans for Natural Gas

It's another beautiful day here in North Texas. The skies are a soft baby blue. Tufts of puffy, white clouds hang innocent against the haze of the Dallas skyline. Moments like this, a man might forget the recent and malicious deluge and the upcoming week of predicted thunderstorms. The lakes are full and glistening, and an abundance of storks search for fish in newly formed ponds. Joggers and their dogs move slow and sure through nearby trails, taking in the verdant foliage. The air is...

(cough... hack... wheeze...)

Delightful.

You see, here in North Texas we live on what is known as the Barnett Shale. Underneath us is an incredibly large amount of fossil fuels in the form of oil and gas. Corporations have been drilling here as far back as 1981, and they aren't too keen on stopping anytime soon.

The recent decision by Denton's voters to restrict the possibility of future leases caught the industry off guard, mostly because it had spent a great deal of money bribing, fooling, and outright threatening the city. After the fracking ban was passed, Big O&G didn't waste more than a day before suing the city and lining the pockets of our state legislators to pass HB 40, which "gave exclusive jurisdiction over the oil and gas industry to the state government, prohibiting local oil and gas-related ordinances, initiatives and regulations."

So the story pretty much goes like this: Big O&G discovers a wealth of oil and gas under North Texans' feet and start drilling. After decades, scientists discover that the drilling is bad for the environment. The people decide they value breathing more than the pittance Big O&G gives them in royalties. Big O&G buys the legislature and the people are silenced.

But wait. There's more.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Koch Bros and GOP At War Over Voter Data

The Republican National Committee’s data arm last year called it a “historic” occasion when it struck a deal to share voter information with the Koch brothers’ rapidly expanding political empire. Oops... Read the story at Yahoo

Salon.com:

What was once a staid, mainstream political party full of Rotary Club businessmen, hard-scrabble farmers and pillars of America’s communities has become a boisterous bunch of rebellious revolutionaries. The origin story of how this came to pass is well documented in histories like Rick Perlstein’s “Before the Storm” “Nixonland” and “The Invisible Bridge,” which (among other things) trace the spirit that rose out of the rubble of the 1964 debacle of the Goldwater campaign and grew into the movement that has dominated American politics for over 30 years.

Its ideology became a matter of faith-based adherence to abstract principles about “freedom” and “small government” even as the Republican Party made a devil’s bargain with both the religious right, which sought to enforce “family values,” and the military industrial complex, which grew to gargantuan proportions under both parties. These alliances were strategic moves by the Party elders seeking a winning governing coalition and it worked beautifully for decades. They formed a strong “conservative” identity out of this coalition, while demonizing the identity of liberalism to such an extent that liberals were forced to abandon it altogether and adopt another name to describe themselves.

Meanwhile, the party banked on overweening victimization among its mainly white, resentful voters in the wake of the revolution in law and culture that began in the 1960s with civil rights for minorities and the economic and social changes that sent women pouring into the workplace and changing the traditional organization of family and home. This too worked very well for quite some time. Fear, anger and resentment of everything from racial integration to middle class stagnation to imaginary foreign threats became intrinsic to the Republican identity.

All of this was of great benefit to the Republican party’s electoral success and the message discipline within the echo chamber of their partisan media ensured that the ideology among the various strands of the Republican coalition held together in what sounded like a coherent program. But it never really was coherent.

Freedom and small government are often in conflict with social conservatism which seeks to enshrine its religious values into law. Small government and low taxes are in conflict with an imperial foreign policy and national security establishment that demands vast sums of money and requires that much of it be spent in secret. Essentially the three legs of the GOP bar stool have always been in tension.

The party started to lose its bearings as long ago, as in the ’90s when it took on the self-righteousness of a religious crusade with its unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Democratic president.

Read the rest of the story at Salon.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Decline of US House Elections Incumbency Advantage

Republicans enjoy a long-standing structural advantage in the distribution of partisans across districts, so this trend has strengthened their grip on the House even as they have become less competitive in contests for the presidency.

With little fanfare, the electoral advantage enjoyed by US representatives has fallen over the past several elections to levels not seen since the 1950s. The incumbency advantage has diminished in conjunction with an increase in party loyalty, straight-ticket voting, and president-centered electoral nationalization, products of the widening and increasingly coherent partisan divisions in the American electorate.

Consequently, House incumbents now have a much harder time retaining districts that lean toward the rival party. Democrats had been the main beneficiaries of the denationalization of electoral politics that had enabled the incumbency advantage to grow, and they have thus been the main victims of the reemergence of a more party-centered electoral process.

Gary Jacobson in the Journal of Politics: Here is the abstract:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Right To Use Birth Control Turns 50


Today, June 7th, is the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Supreme Court decision in the Griswold .v Connecticut case that made obtaining birth control no longer a crime for married couples. Single women still had to wait another seven years for their Supreme Court decision on contraceptive access for the right to buy contraceptives. Ninety-eight percent of all American women report using birth control during their lifetime.

Many people do not remember the purchase and use of birth control products, and even literature about birth control options, even by married couples, was against the law in many states until 1965. There are those who have worked for the last 50 years to reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that American women have a fundamental right of privacy in their reproductive decisions. That right includes making family planning decisions and the right to learn about and use birth control contraceptives.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says that the pivotal decision which reversed a law that prohibited women from using contraception is not supported under his interpretation of the Constitution. During a July 2012 interview on Fox News, host Chris Wallace asked Scalia why he believed that women have no a Constitutional right of privacy to choose to use contraception. “There’s no right to privacy in the Constitution — no generalized right to privacy,” Scalia insisted. “Well, in the Griswold case, the court said there was,” Wallace pointed out. “Yeah, it did,” Scalia agreed. “And that was wrong.”

Republicans in the U.S. Congress and Senate want to amend to the U.S. Constitution to criminalize common birth control methods, including birth control pills and IUD's.

Sixty-three U.S. House Republicans, or over a quarter of the GOP conference in 2012, cosponsor a so called Personhood bill titled the "Sanctity of Human Life," bill to amend the U.S. constitution to outlaw birth control pills and IUD's. In the U.S. Senate, a companion Sanctity of Human Life bill was supported by more than a quarter of the Republicans in the Senate.

Personhood legislation has been regularly introduced in state legislatures around the U.S. over the past few years. The intent of the legislation is to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as people in order to grant them full legal protection, including the right to life from the moment of conception. The law would criminalize abortion with no exceptions, and effectively ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive health-care measures.

Personhood legislation and ballot initiatives to amend state constitutions have failed to pass in states around the country. Ballot measures to amend the state constitutions to include personhood language in both Colorado and North Dakota failed to pass by wide margins during the November 2014 elections. Personhood ballot measures and legislation have also failed to pass multiple times in Mississippi.

Most of the Republican field of 2016 presidential candidates are already on record supporting Personhood legislation and amendments to both the U.S. Constitutional and state constitutions around the nation to outlaw birth control. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is also on record saying women have no constitutionally protected right to use their choice of birth control.

While efforts to ban birth control use have failed, conservative Republicans who want to outlaw birth control use keep trying.  Should they gain enough legislative control in the U.S. Congress or individual states, they would outlaw birth control use. 

Read more:


PBS.org

In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that a state's ban on the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy. The case concerned a Connecticut law that criminalized the encouragement or use of birth control. The 1879 law provided that "any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception shall be fined not less than forty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days." The law further provided that "any person who assists, abets, counsels, causes, hires or commands another to commit any offense may be prosecuted and punished as if he were the principle offender."

Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, doctor and professor at Yale Medical School, were arrested and found guilty as accessories to providing illegal contraception. They were fined $100 each. Griswold and Buxton appealed to the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut, claiming that the law violated the U.S. Constitution. The Connecticut court upheld the conviction, and Griswold and Buxton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case in 1965.

The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision written by Justice William O. Douglas, ruled that the law violated the "right to marital privacy" and could not be enforced against married people. Justice Douglas contended that the Bill of Right's specific guarantees have "penumbras," created by "emanations from these guarantees that help give them life and opinion." In other words, the "spirit" of the First Amendment (free speech), Third Amendment(prohibition on the forced quartering of troops), Fourth Amendment (freedom from searches and seizures), Fifth Amendment (freedom from self-incrimination), and Ninth Amendment (other rights), as applied against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, creates a general "right to privacy" that cannot be unduly infringed.

Further, this right to privacy is "fundamental" when it concerns the actions of married couples, because it "is of such a character that it cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of our civil and political institutions." Because a married couple's use of contraception constitutes a "fundamental" right, Connecticut must prove to the Court that its law is "compelling" and "absolutely necessary" to overcome that right (i.e., the "strict scrutiny test"). Because Connecticut failed to prove this, the law was struck down as applied.

Other justices, while agreeing that marital privacy is a "fundamental right" and that the Connecticut law should be struck down, disagreed with Justice Douglas as to where in the Constitution such a "fundamental right" exists. In his concurrence, Justice Arthur Goldberg argued that the Ninth Amendment, which states that the Bill of Rights does not exhaust all the rights contained by the people, allows the Court to find the "fundamental right to marital privacy" without having to ground it in a specific constitutional amendment. In another concurrence, Justice John Marshall Harlan IImaintained that a "fundamental right to marital privacy" exists only because marital privacy has traditionally been protected by American society. Finally, in yet another concurrence, Justice Byron White argued that a fundamental right to marital privacy constitutes a liberty under the Due Process Clause, and is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against the states.

Yet, for all their differences, the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut agreed that the "right to privacy," in addition to being "fundamental," was "substantive." In West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937), the Court had rejected the idea that the Constitution protects "substantive rights," i.e., protects certain activities from government interference that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bill of Rights. In Griswold, however, it ruled that "substantive rights" do exist in non-economic areas like "the right to privacy," even if they do not in economic activities like the right to contract. Over the next 10 years, the Court expanded this fundamental, substantive "right to privacy" beyond the marital bedroom, ruling that the state could not ban the use of contraceptives by anyone (Eisenstadt v. Baird [1972]), and that the state could not ban most abortions (Roe v. Wade [1973]).

More:

How Contraception Transformed the American Family

The Unfinished Fight Over Contraception

Saturday, June 6, 2015

84th Texas Ledgislature 2016-17 Biennium Budget


The Texas House and Senate approved a $209.4 billion compromise 2016-17 biennium state budget on the last Friday of the 84th Texas Legislature, before adjourning on Monday, June 1, 2015, the 140th day of the session.

The House approved the House Bill 1 joint conference committee compromise budget on a 115-33 vote, after the Senate earlier on Friday had approved HB1 on a 30-1 vote. The budget doubles spending to $800 million for border security and gives businesses and homeowners a $3.8 billion in tax cut.

HB1 is currently on Gov. Greg Abbott's desk awaiting his action. Under Texas law, the governor can sign HB1 as is, veto it entirely, single out any line-item expenditures he doesn't like and veto them, or let it become law after 20 days without his signature. The governor has 20 days from June 1 to act on any bills that pass in the last 10 days of the session.

Most Republican lawmakers are congratulating themselves for passing a "conservative 2016-17 budget" that leaves billions of dollars on the table, spending only $106.6 billion of $113 billion in available state revenue and leaves untouched about $11.1 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.

Racial Tension At McKinney Community Pool Party

Updated Thursday, June 11, 2015

A McKinney Texas police officer resigned three days after a mobile phone video was posted on YouTube showing him cursing, assaulting and threatening to shoot a group of black teenagers, who live in the predominately white northern section of the massive Craig Ranch subdivision of McKinney. The teens were attending an end of school year pool party at the Craig Ranch community pool.

The Craig Ranch subdivision in the City of McKinney has a neighborhood park, and a gated pool and clubhouse for residents. The pool and clubhouse area is gated and a scan card is needed to gain access. Scan cards are issued to all Craig Ranch residents.

The subdivision has a Homeowners Association (HOA) which regulates and controls the activities in/around the HOA swimming pool and clubhouse, and has rules for use thereof.

Residents of Craig Ranch are permitted to host parties with a maximum of 20 invited guests in the pool and clubhouse areas. Recreation areas remain open to all residents, so it may be difficult to distinguish party groups from other residents using those facilities.

The day of the incident was the last day of school. Reports indicate a number of young teen residents of Craig Ranch knew about the pool party by reading their friend's tweets and went to pool, even though they were not specifically invited guests of the pool party host.

Some residents complain, the teens who congregated at the community pool didn't belong there, suggesting they were not residents. But those making that complaint can not factually substantiate their allegation. No one asked the teens their address to know whether their parents are or are not Craig Ranch residents. Most of the teens in the pool area entered with either a resident access scan card or a guest invitation. Without question they belonged there. There are reports a few teens jumped over the pool area fence. Those teens broke a HOA rule by jumping the fence - imagine, a teenager broke a rule. Even so, that is not proof they weren't community residents who just didn't take time to go home for their scan card.

The only evidence anyone has offered to date that non-residents - who didn't belong - crashed the pool area is that a noticeable percentage of teens did not have white skin. The only significant disturbance anyone can specifically reference was allegedly instigated by white adult residents who verbally and physically assaulted a very young black teen resident and her white friend, Grace Stone, who came to her defense. (picture right)

Some who saw that disturbance blame the teens - because what two responsible adults would attack two teenage girls. And if two teenagers, one African-American, are seen assaulting white adults, and a few other teens are seen jumping the fence into the pool area, and there are a noticeable number of black teens around, who obviously don't belong because black people don't (or shouldn't be allowed to) live here, then the teen crowd is out of control rowdy - CALL 911!

911 calls to police reported "a disturbance involving multiple juveniles at the location, who do not live in the area or have permission to be there, refusing to leave." Who made at least some of those 911 calls?

Legislature Restricts Judicial Bypass For Minors Seeking Abortions

Republican lawmakers limit a legal process that allowed some minors to obtain abortions without their parents’ permission. In Texas, a person under the age of 18 cannot access a legal abortion without the consent of a parent or legal guardian.

The vast majority of teens who seek abortion care in Texas do so with the knowledge and consent of their parents. A small number — between 200 and 300 per year — that parental permission is not available. Under Texas current law, when an orphaned, abused, abandoned, or neglected teen doesn't have a parent they could turn to for consent, they can go to court to get judicial bypass authorization for an abortion from a judge. The process allowed a minor to obtain legal abortion care if a judge failed to rule on their bypass application, and allowed minors who live in small or rural counties to maintain some confidentiality by avoiding filing petitions in their home counties, where they might be recognized at the courthouse.

House Bill 3994, passed by Republican party line votes in both legislative chambers, drastically restricts this rarely used, judicial bypass process. Judicial bypass a crucial safety net that has worked well to protect the interests of Texas’ most vulnerable teens for the last 15 years.   Described by legal experts as “rife with constitutional problems,” HB3994 is designed to put this process out of reach of teens in need and further endanger the lives of teens living in desperate circumstances.

Texas House Republicans passed HB3994 on a 102-43 party line vote, on the last Friday of the session passed, after  Senate Republicans had passed the bill on a 21-10 party line vote. 

The bill restricts the judicial bypass process by requiring more proof that a minor is at risk for abuse by their parents, limiting the venues where a minor can seek judicial bypass and extending the time period judges have to rule on a judicial bypass request. As passed, HB 3994:
  • limits the location and type of court in which a minor can seek an abortion
  • forces the minor to reveal her home address and telephone number to a judge
  • prevents the minor from removing her application for a judicial bypass after she has filed it with the court
  • mandates that a physician who provides abortion care to a minor who says they have been sexually assaulted or abused report that sexual assault, and the identity of the suspected abuser, to law enforcement regardless of whether the minor wants to report their assault or feels it is safe to do so
  • mandates that a judge who hears a judicial bypass case in which a minor says they are being abused must report that abuse to law enforcement, along with the identity of the suspected abuser, regardless of whether the minor wants to report their abuse or feels it is safe to do so
  • gives a judge five business days, rather than two days, before they must rule on the judicial bypass application
  • presumes that if a judge does not rule on the judicial bypass, that permission for the minor’s abortion is denied
Identification Documents Required

A broad provision of HB 3994 requires doctors to ask every woman who enters an abortion clinic for an ID to verify that she is not under 18. The list of approved documents includes driver’s licenses issued by Texas or another state and passports, among others. If a patient doesn’t have an approved ID, her doctor must give her instructions on where to get one. If she can’t obtain ID, for financial reasons or because she does not have her official state stamped birth certificate, for example, the doctor can still perform the abortion, but must report to the state that the procedure was performed without age verification.

Originally, HB3994 would have required all doctors to require pregnant woman seeking an abortion present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older before scheduling the procedure. The bill was amended to require physicians to use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, before scheduling the procedure.

That additional reporting requirement could expose providers to additional liability, abortion rights leaders argue, and deter doctors from performing the procedure at all. Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, said Oklahoma is the only other state with an age verification requirement for abortion. Advocates warn that the bill’s ID provision will most likely hurt poor women and immigrants.

Republican Lawmakers Continue Efforts To Kill Planned Parenthood

Four years after making deep budget cuts specifically targeted to kill Planned Parenthood, and two years after imposing stringent abortion restrictions, also targeted to kill Planned Parenthood, Republicans continued efforts of past legislative sessions to cut Planned Parenthood out of receiving state health care dollars for breast and cervical cancer screenings.

Four years ago, Republicans who controlled the 2011 82nd Legislature made deep cuts to women’s health funding in that year's budget bill. Those cuts resulted in thousands of women losing preventative and contraceptive services and the closure of dozens of clinics.  In the 2011 Texas legislative session, Republican lawmakers blocked funding for the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, mandating that the organizations in the Texas’ Women’s Health Program shouldn’t receive federal funds because they are “affiliated” with an abortion provider.  Despite the fact that abortion services contribute to just 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s nationwide health services, and federal funding isn’t used to finance that small percentage, Texas slashed the Women’s Health Program’s funds by 90 percent.

In March 2012, the federal government cut off funds to Texas’ Women’s Health Program because the state chose to exclude abortion providers from the program in violation of federal law. Ousting Planned Parenthood from the joint state-federal Medicaid Women’s Health Program cost the state a 9 to 1 dollar match from the federal government. But even without federal funds, which made up 90 percent of the funding, then Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) issued directives for the state to fund the Women’s Health Program on its own.

Lacking federal funding, Perry directed the executive commissioner of the state’s Health and Human Services department to cut another $40.1 million in department services. The $40.1 million spending reduction piled on top of the $73 million 2011 82nd Legislature lawmakers had already stripped from the state’s family planning services budget. Even before Texas decided to ban Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, women’s clinics around the state were already being forced to greatly reduce services or shut their doors entirely.

The consequences of those deep cuts extended far beyond Republican budget cutting efforts directed toward killing Planned Parenthood itself.  In the fall of 2012, the Texas Observer noted the consequences of those deep cuts included clinics in rural areas being forced to suspend health care services they had provided for low-income women, many of whom can’t otherwise afford contraceptives, pregnancy tests, pap smears, or screening for sexually transmitted diseases:
In time since deep cuts to family planning funding took effect, the impact has become apparent. An Observer review of state records has found that 146 clinics have lost state funds, clumped mainly in the Panhandle, Central Texas and on the border with Mexico. More than 60 of those clinics have closed their doors forever. The number of organizations that help poor women plan pregnancy has shrunk by almost half. As in San Saba, low-income women in many areas of Texas now face a long drive, or worse, lack of access to birth control and health screenings.

In fact, of the more than 60 clinics that have closed across Texas, only 12 were run by Planned Parenthood. Dozens of other clinics unconnected to Planned Parenthood nonetheless lost state funds and have closed, leaving low-income women in wide swaths of the state without access to contraception. […]

Indeed, the bipartisan Legislative Budget Board estimated that last year’s cuts would lead to more than 250,000 women losing services and 20,000 additional births covered by Medicaid. When The Texas Observer asked providers what they thought about the cuts, several mentioned the same phrase. They said in hoping to punish Planned Parenthood, politicians had gone too far, with devastating consequences for women’s health. Lawmakers, they said, had thrown the “baby out with the bath water.”
Among the health clinics that managed to remain open, many have been forced to contract their geographic range, limiting services to a smaller population of Texas women. Regardless of affiliation to Planned Parenthood, limiting health clinics’ ability to provide critical health services to low-income women does not have the intended consequence of targeting just Planned Parenthood. Rather, drastic cuts to the Women’s Health Program are preventing struggling women from getting access to the care they need.

Republicans who controlled the 2013 83rd Legislature passed the most restrictive abortion law in recent history, which forced half the state’s abortion clinics to close. The measure, passed in a special summer legislative session, bans abortions past 20 weeks of gestation, mandates abortion clinics become ambulatory surgical centers, tightens usage guidelines for the drug RU486 and requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic at which they're providing such services. (See Texas Tribune June 9, 2015 stories: 5th Circuit Appeals Court Upholds Texas' Abortion Restrictions, Remaining Abortion Clinic Locations, Texas Abortion Law Up For Supreme Court Review, and UPDATED June 29, 2015 - Supreme Court Stays Texas Abortion Clinic Law Ruling From 5th Circuit.)

Even after the four year long effort to kill Planned Parenthood, some Planned Parenthood affiliates continued to receive funding from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which is primarily funded by federal money. In fiscal year 2014, funding for the program included $7.8 million in federal funds and $2.4 million in state funds. The legislative agenda for the 2015 84th Legislature was to effectively block Planned Parenthood from receiving those program dollars.

Republicans were successful in edging Planned Parenthood out of receiving Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program funds, which provides cancer screenings for uninsured women. That was the last stream of federal/state funding any Planned Parenthood clinics received, even though the majority of program funding was from federal dollars. House and Senate SB1 budget writers approved a provision in joint committee action to make it more difficult for Planned Parenthood to qualify to share Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program funding.

More background: Women in Texas Losing Options for Health Care

Republicans Double State Funding For Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Republicans who controlled the 2015 84th Texas Legislature doubled state funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program, which primarily funds Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Many charge the unregulated and unlicensed Crisis Pregnancy Centers are dangerously manipulative and disseminate bad information to women at an emotionally vulnerable time. To offset Alternatives to Abortion program increased funding, Republicans cut funding to other health care programs, leaving Texas women without access to cancer screenings, birth control, HIV tests, and other preventive care.

The House base budget, originally introduced in mid-January, includes about $5.1 million per year, a $1 million increase from the previous budget cycle, to the program. The House Appropriations Committee in March approved a budget rider to add an additional $4 million per year to the Alternatives to Abortion program. The “increasing funds to pregnancy centers and early childhood care” rider, proposed by state Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), increases state Alternatives to Abortion program funding to more than $9 million per year.

The nonprofit Texas Pregnancy Care Network contracts with the state to distribute funding through the Alternatives to Abortion program to 61 subcontractors, including crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies. The network claims to “help women in crisis pregnancies via free and compassionate, practical and life-affirming services,” but many facilities do not provide medical care, are virtually unregulated by the state and have been found by various investigations to offer inaccurate information designed to dissuade women from having an abortion.

Many charge unregulated and unlicensed Alternatives to Abortion facilities are dangerously manipulative. According to a 2012 Texas Observer investigation, Crisis Pregnancy Centers deliver few, if any, real health services to women, while spending more per client than family planning providers. An investigation into Crisis Pregnancy Centers by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas found these faux medical clinics use deceptive tactics, medical misinformation, and flat out lies to dissuade people with unintended pregnancies from accessing abortion services.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hillary Clinton Speaks About Voting Rights

2016 Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about voting rights in a speech delivered at Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston, Texas on Thursday.

Clinton proposed Americans be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, unless they opt out, one of a series of voting-law changes she said would expand access to the ballot box. In her remarks to the audience she accused Republicans of making voting harder, particularly for minorities and young people.

Clinton called out Republicans who control the Texas Legislature for enacting a restrictive election law requiring voters to show one of a very limited selection of government photo I.D. cards with the intention of denying ballot access to certain minority voters who do not hold any of those identification cards.

Clinton also called on Congress to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.


Hillary Clinton at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas Thursday
c-span video

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Texas' Wind Energy Industry Survives 84th Legislature



During the 84th Texas Legislature, Senate Republicans passed a bill that would effectively eliminate Texas’ wind power industry.

With a party line 21-10 vote in April, the Senate sent Senator Troy Fraser's Senate Bill 931, killing Texas' renewable energy incentives, to House lawmakers for consideration. SB931 did not advance on the House calendar and died when the 84th Legislature adjourned on Monday.

Election 2016: Facebook More Important Than TV Ads

The odds are good that you are reading this article because you clicked through a link on Facebook. On Sunday, for example, a day you should be spending time with family/reading Post articles, a third of all traffic to The Fix’s top five posts came through the social networking site. The odds of your having gotten to this article from Facebook are much better the younger you are, given that this article deals with politics.

“Among Millennials,” a new report from Pew Research reads, referring to people born between 1981 and 1996, “Facebook is far and away the most common source for news about government and politics.” Far and away meaning that 61 percent of that group got news about politics or government from the site — about the same percentage as that of baby boomers (1946-1964) got from their local news. And vice-versa: Only 37 percent of millennials got political information from local news, compared to 60 percent of boomers.

There are a few things at play here. The first is that more young people use Facebook. In 2014, Pew found, 87 percent of those ages 18 to 29 used the site, compared with 56 percent of those over 65 — though that was up 11 percent from the previous year.

The second is that younger people are more likely to consume news from online sources in general. We took Pew’s graph of the most common sources for news for each age group and highlighted the online-centric ones in yellow. Three of the top 10 for millennials are online, two for Gen X, and one — Facebook — for boomers.

Full Article For millennials, Facebook is poised to dominate politics (also everything else) – The Washington Post.

Private School Vouchers Rob Public Schools


UPDATED June 2, 2015

As the 2015 84th Texas Legislature began, several conservative Tea Party Senators aligned with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick filed bills taking varying approaches to funnel public school tax dollars to private schools.
All the bills  failed, including Senate Bill 4, a priority measure for Patrick that passed out of the Senate.

Original Article April 25, 2015

After school voucher defeats over several legislative sessions, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s public school privatization crusade passed the Senate hurtle this week. Senate Bill 4, passed out of the senate on a 18-12 vote along partisan lines after the third reading of the bill. The bill now goes to the Texas House for consideration,

Patrick has championed school voucher legislation since 2007, his first term in the Texas Senate.

Only one Democrat voted for SB4, Sen. Eddie Lucio (R-Brownsville), while two Republicans voted against it, Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville).

Monday, June 1, 2015

New Judicial Courts For Collin County

The backlog of cases at the Collin County Courthouse may begin to ease with a bill creating three new courts for the county sent to Gov. Abbotts's desk for his signature, today, the last day of the 84th Texas Legislature.

After months of discussion, Collin County commissioners voted last February to ask that the state Legislature add two new Family District Courts and one new County Court at Law. The last time Collin County added a district judge was in 2009.

SB 1139, passed in the closing days of the 2015 legislative session, newly creates the 469th and 470th Judicial District Courts to hear family law matters for Collin County. SB 1139 also adds County Court at Law No. 7. to the current list of County Court numbers 1-6.  The 469th and 470th District Courts are added to the current list District courts in Collin County:
  • 199th District Court, Judge Angela Tucker
  • 219th District Court, Judge Scott J. Becker
  • 296th District Court, Judge John Roach, Jr.
  • 366th District Court, Judge Ray Wheless
  • 380th District Court, Judge Benjamin N. Smith
  • 401st District Court, Judge Mark Rusch
  • 416th District Court, Judge Chris Oldner
  • 417th District Court, Judge Cynthia Wheless
  • 429th District Court, Judge Jill Willis
The three new courts will be created on September 1, 2015, the start of Texas' fiscal year. Temporary Judges will initially be appointed to the new courts, with judges elected to a full of office during the 2016 election cycles. These ballot positions will be added to the other elected offices that will appear on 2016 Collin County Primary and General Election ballots.

Bills Denying LGBT Rights Fail In Tx 84th Legislature

The Republican dominated Texas 84th Legislature adjourns today without passing any anti-LGBT laws. During the 2015 legislative session, Republican lawmakers introduced over 20 anti-LGBT bills. The proposed legislation followed four recurring legislative themes common to Republican dominated legislatures in other states:
  1. “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs), or “Turn the Gays Away” bills - like the bill passed in Indiana earlier this year. Many Texas business groups opposed these bills, pointing to the backlash over similar bills in Indiana and Arkansas that opponents consider discriminatory;
  2. Bills to opt out of recognizing legal same-sex marriages, intended to defy the U.S. Supreme Court, if it rules in favor of same-sex marriage, as expected, sometime this month. Nearly every House Republican sponsored a House bill that would have prohibited government employees from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The bill never reached a vote due to parlimentary procedure employed by House Democrats.
    • House Bill 1745, prohibiting license issuance by government employees, was filed by state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, after a lesbian couple from Austin obtained a marriage license in February. Under a U.S. District Court Judge's emergency order, the Travis County clerk issued a license to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who have been together for 30 years. The Judge allowed the union because of Goodfriend’s ovarian cancer diagnosis and prognosis;
  3. “Bathroom Bills” that prevent transgender people from using the appropriately-gendered bathroom; and
  4. Bills prohibiting cities from passing local ordinances protecting LGBT rights.
Only one piece of legislation, allowing pastors to refuse to conduct gay marriages, passed during the 84th legislature.

In a symbolic gesture to their religious conservative political base, Senate Republicans did pass a nonbinding resolution affirming the Senate’s view of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.