Today was another day for bad news out of Washington. I knew there was trouble brewing when the announcement was made this morning that Supreme Court Justice Justice Samuel Alito would be reading the majority opinions for the high courts final decisions of this session.
First came the ruling (Harris v. Quinn) that home health care workers constituted a new class of “partial public employees” who cannot be required to contribute union bargaining fees. The ruling was narrower in scope than many unions feared a negative opinion might be, but significantly impacts one of fastest growing areas of labor organizing.
Then, in keeping with the current flair for the dramatic by Chief Justice Roberts (who decides when rulings will be announced), the Supreme Court (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) held that closely held corporations (90% of all companies) are “persons” as defined by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and can hold religious beliefs exempting them from the ObamaCare mandate on contraceptive coverage.
Again, the scope of this final ruling was not as broad as some analysts had feared. But if you happen to be a woman, its implications are huge.
The Ideology Behind These Cases
The issue of organizing home health care workers was brought before the court by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an extreme anti-worker group backed by billionaires including Charles Koch and the Walton family.
It was just the latest in a series of decades-long attacks on the rights of working people to join together to improve their jobs and the quality of services they provide. Cut through all the legalistic crap and what this case boils down to is union-busting, plain and simple.
The Hobby Lobby company and others who brought this case to the court were seeking legal support for the religious belief holding that contraceptives are wrong, based on the premise that women were created to make babies and therefore are to be subservient to men.
Because the decisions were narrow in scope, there exist workarounds. Unions will continue to organize home health care workers. The Obama administration may have to find a way to to furnish women with contraceptive care. I would love it if such a measure could be made to come to vote in Congress prior to the mid-term elections.
While I’m cognizant of the many details not covered in this analysis, one thing is certain: the well-financed attempts to create a corporate/theocracy in this country are continuing. Today’s decisions handed victories to both the extreme wings of the modern day right.
I can’t help but thinking back to how different things might be if a certain third party candidate hadn’t handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush, and how the Supreme Court wouldn’t be such a convenient tool for the right.
Other Supreme Court Cases
Of some interest are the cases the court decided not to consider today.
Hopes riding on an expedited decision regarding the cross atop Mt. Soledad were dashed as the justices opted to let the case make it way through lower courts.
The court let stand a decision upholding the constitutionality of legislation banning “ex-gay therapy.”
Perhaps biggest news for California was the court’s refusal to hear the challenge to state’s low carbon fuels standard.
Private Colleges Suck Up Public Money
The Center for Investigative Reporting released the results of an inquiry this weekend into the GI Bill dollars flowing into the for-profit college business.
It ain’t pretty. Here’s the lede:
Over the last five years, more than $600 million in college assistance for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has been spent on California schools so substandard that they have failed to qualify for state financial aid.
As a result, the GI Bill – designed to help veterans live the American dream – is supporting for-profit companies that spend lavishly on marketing but can leave veterans with worthless degrees and few job prospects, The Center for Investigative Reporting found.
They found California to be the epicenter for this problem and the University of Phoenix in San Diego to be the biggest offender, taking in more GI Bill funding than all UC campuses combined. While these veterans have a roughly one in six chance at actually graduating from the private universities, they default on student loans at a minimum of three times the rate of UC graduates. Some graduates find their “degrees” to be worthless.
CIR highlighted one instance where Ashford University (aka Bridgepoint Education) responded to a Navy vet who’d paid for a teaching program only to discover educational employers would not recognize the degree.
Representatives of Bridgepoint Education declined to be interviewed, but in a statement, the company said it never promised Keane that he would be able to teach with a degree from Ashford.
The story goes on to point out that attempts to regulate or rein in these companies by legislative bodies run into a wall of corporate lobbying cash and elected representatives all-to-eager to accept political contributions. And there’s much, much more in this report that I found disturbing.
UT-San Diego was quick to post an account of CIR’s investigation, one chock full of quotes from reps of the prime offenders at private colleges defending their honor. Of course private, for-profit educational institutions are part of the libertarian wet dreams of their publisher, so I wasn’t too surprised.
When in Doubt, Issue a Death Threat
The New York Times’ James Risen, who is currently facing jail time for refusing to name a source, has a stunner of a story up today about bad behavior by everybody’s least favorite government contractor. The first three paragraphs tell it all:
Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”
On This Day: 1962 – Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax pitched his first no-hitter in a game with the New York Mets. 1971 – The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified when Ohio became the 38th state to approve it. The amendment lowered the minimum voting age to 18. 2013 – Nineteen firefighters died overtaken by a wildfire they are battling in a forest northwest of Phoenix, Ariz. It was the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. in at least 30 years.
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