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This Judge Just Destroyed the Stupidest Argument Against Gay Marriage Ever

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 1:54 PM EDT

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and issued a withering take-down of marriage equality opponents.

Kentucky had argued that legalizing gay marriage would harm the state's birth rate. "These arguments are not those of serious people," wrote US district judge John Heyburn. "Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why.

"Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.

"The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and in 'ensuring humanity’s continued existence' are at best illogical and even bewildering…The Court can think of no other conceivable legitimate reason for Kentucky’s laws excluding same-sex couples from marriage."

Heyburn stayed his ruling while Kentucky appeals, meaning no same-sex marriages are taking place just yet.

Read the full ruling:

 

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Here Are 4 Lawsuits That Could Inflict More Damage on Unions After Harris v. Quinn

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 12:05 PM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court's conservative justices on Monday defied some expectations by not decimating public-employee labor unions via their ruling in Harris v. Quinn. Given the opportunity to issue a sprawling decision that would overturn decades of precedent, and in the process kneecap the basic model of public-employee unionism, the five justices, led by Samuel Alito, instead issued a narrower decision. They ruled that home health care workers in Illinois are not full-fledged public workers and thus cannot be required to pay so-called fair-share fees to unions—money that goes toward the cost of union representation for all workers in a particular workplace.

But we may be back in this same situation a year from now, with the Supreme Court holding the fate of public-employee unions in its hands. That's because there are a handful of ongoing lawsuits in courts around the country that pose similar challenges to unions as Harris did and that could end up before the Supreme Court. It's possible that one of these cases could do further damage to the labor movement—with the potential to wipe out the precedent set in 1977's Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. (In Abood, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of public-employee unions collecting fair-share fees from nonmembers to pay the costs of collective bargaining.)

If you're looking for a common thread between these challenges, it's the National Right-to-Work Legal Foundation, the driving force behind many anti-union suits around the country. The foundation represented the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn, and it has provided legal help in two of the following cases. 

Here's a snapshot of four cases that could be the next Harris:

  • D'Agostino v. Patrick: A group of home child care workers in Massachusetts filed suit after the state passed a law designating the SEIU as the exclusive union for those workers. Similar to the Illinois home care workers who brought the Harris suit, the Massachusetts workers claim their rights are being infringed on by being represented by SEIU, meaning union members and nonmembers pay dues in exchange for the benefits that come with union representation. This case is in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts.
  • Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: A group of public school teachers in California claim that the requirement that they pay fair-share dues to the California Teachers Association infringes on their First Amendment rights. Their suit also seeks to ban the "opt-out" model of automatic dues deductions, in which teachers who pay dues must opt out to keep their money from funding union political activity. Instead, the plaintiffs want teachers to opt in to fund that political work. This case is with the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Parrish v. Dayton: After Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill in May 2013 allowing the state's child care providers to vote to unionize, opponents filed a suit similar to Harris to halt the new law. The suit was on hold pending the outcome of the Harris case. The plaintiffs hailed the Supreme Court's decision in Harris, and their lawyers now expect movement in Parrish.
  • Hamidi v. SEIU Local 1000: This suit targets the part of California law that allows public-employee unions to use the opt-out model for dues paying, as described above. If Hamidi, who works for the state's Franchise Tax Board, succeeds, his suit could take a bite out of Abood, which in part upheld the practice of opt-out clauses. Hamidi's case is currently in California district court.

China Study Another Link in the Lead-Crime Hypothesis

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 11:48 AM EDT

Chad Orzel thinks I need a new motto: "I'm not saying it was childhood lead exposure, but it was childhood lead exposure." Guilty as charged! And in today's installment of lead-related news, we have a new study from China—a bad region for being a child because they still have a lot of lead around, but a useful region for lead research for the exact same reason.

Thanks to this unfortunate circumstance, a team led by Jianghong Liu was able to set up a prospective study of more than a thousand preschool-age children in the Jiangsu province. "Prospective" means that they chose the children first, measured their blood lead levels, and then began charting their progress. This is generally considered a more reliable methodology than retrospective studies (which look at adults but try to figure out their childhood exposure via, say, tooth analysis) or ecological studies (which look for past correlations between lead and crime in an entire population). Here are the results of the first round of testing, done at age six (error ranges omitted for ease of reading):

General linear modeling showed significant associations between blood lead concentrations and increased scores for teacher-reported behavioral problems. A 1-µg/dL increase in the blood lead concentration resulted in a 0.322, 0.253, and 0.303 increase of teacher-reported behavior scores on emotional reactivity, anxiety problems, and pervasive developmental problems, respectively.

....Blood lead concentrations, even at a mean concentration of 6.4 µg/dL, were associated with increased risk of behavioral problems in Chinese preschool children, including internalizing and pervasive developmental problems. This association showed different patterns depending on age and sex.

It's worth noting that a blood lead level of 6.4 is considered fairly moderate. If childhood lead exposure at this level causes noticeable behavioral problems, it's a sign that even low levels of lead exposure can be quite dangerous. (Behavioral problems were assessed using questionnaires filled out by teachers and parents. That's not an ideal way of doing this, but presumably follow-up studies will include a wider range of techniques for assessing behavior.)

In any case, this single study doesn't prove anything on its own, and obviously six-year-olds are too young to be committing crimes anyway. But it's another data point, and one that will probably produce better evidence either for or against the lead-crime hypothesis over the next decade or so. It's worth keeping an eye on.

Justice Ginsburg's Epic Hobby Lobby Dissent Was Just Turned Into the Best Song You'll Hear All Day

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 11:19 AM EDT

Jonathan Mann writes a song every day. Yesterday, he turned Justice Ginsburg's epic, blistering Hobby Lobby dissent into a pretty good one!

Why can't he be on the Supreme Court?

Are You a Good Liberal or an Evil Progressive?

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

Charles Murray has decided that the real problem with the American left isn't with liberals, it's with progressives:

As a libertarian, I am reluctant to give up the word "liberal." It used to refer to laissez-faire economics and limited government. But since libertarians aren't ever going to be able to retrieve its original meaning, we should start using "liberal" to designate the good guys on the left, reserving "progressive" for those who are enthusiastic about an unrestrained regulatory state, who think it's just fine to subordinate the interests of individuals to large social projects, who cheer the president's abuse of executive power and who have no problem rationalizing the stifling of dissent.

Huh. I wonder what he thinks about those of us who believe that powerful actors in a modern world need to follow clear rules, but don't believe in "unrestrained" regulation; who believe in some large social projects like universal health care but not others; who think the president has probably overstepped his bounds a few times but that the "abuse" epithet is mostly just partisan nonsense; and who don't believe in stifling dissent?

Somehow I suspect that unless I took a just barely left of center approach to these things, Murray would conclude that I'm an evil progressive, not a good liberal. But maybe I'm wrong. I think Murray should create one of his fun little quizzes to determine which of us are liberals and which are progressives. Then we'd know for sure.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 1, 2014

Tue Jul. 1, 2014 9:49 AM EDT

The USS Rushmore delivers equipment to a base in Hawaii to support Rim of the Pacific, the world's largest maritime exercise. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight.)

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"Make It a Quickie," "Get Paid for Doing It," and Other Advice From San Francisco's Water Agency

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

In response to California's ongoing drought, San Francisco's water agency has come out with a hilariously creepy ad campaign to make saving water sexy. In addition to the commercial above, featuring a water-efficient showerhead being stroked and a seductive male voice telling you to "screw them on," ads encourage water users to "Make it a quickie" and "Get paid for doing it" ("it" referring to your shower and the replacement of your old toilet, respectively).

Unfortunately, new data from the state's Water Resources Control Board shows that Californians need to be "doing it" a lot more. Gov. Jerry Brown requested that Californians voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent in January, when he declared the drought to have reached a state of emergency. But the Control Board found that, as of April, Californians had reduced their water usage by only 5 percent, and Bay Area residents had reduced by only 2 percent. The state has yet to enforce mandatory water restrictions, though a handful of cities have. Listen to KQED's deep dive on water reduction here.

And, in the name of water reduction, here are a few more ads:

The IRS Is Coming For Your Offshore Bank Account

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Where corporate America's money went

It's always been a pretty simple arrangement for America's superrich: Park your money in a country whose banks know how to keep a secret and then underreport your assets to the IRS. Without a way to independently verify how much money you have abroad, the taxman had to take your word for how much money you had stashed in a Swiss vault or in a sunny haven like the Cayman Islands. But as of yesterday, the US government will require foreign banks to report their American clients' assets, or face 30 percent tax penalties on some offshore deposits.

The move is part of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which was introduced in 2010. Since then, more than 80 countries have agreed to open their ledger books to the feds. After some complicated last-minute negotiations, even Russia and China have started to cooperate.

Companies and individuals have long used offshore banking to keep their taxes low: Last year, American multinationals kept an estimated $2 trillion (yes, with a "t") abroad, according to a Bloomberg analysis. In recent years, tech companies have become some of the most enthusiastic offshore depositors. Between 2010 and 2013, Microsoft more than doubled its foreign stockpile to $76.4 billion, while Apple increased its pot abroad more than fourfold to $54.4 billion.

But while big US companies have stowed a massive pile of cash abroad, US banks hold even more money for foreign clients. According to Tax Justice Network, a British-based advocacy and research group, out of the $21 to $32 trillion kept offshore globally, about 22 percent is kept in the United States—a fact that's not lost on countries complying with FATCA, some of whom are embracing the law because it means they'll get to learn a few things about their own citizens' holdings in the US.

Number of Backdoor Searches of NSA Data Too High to Keep Track Of

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 9:15 PM EDT

A few days ago I mentioned that the House had voted to end "backdoor" searches. These are queries of the NSA's surveillance database that are targeted at American citizens who were "inadvertently" spied on during surveillance of foreigners, and the NSA would like you to know that these queries are totally legal; not based on any loopholes; and very definitely not "backdoor."

Be that as it may, Sen. Ron Wyden still wanted to know just how many of these queries take place. In the case of the NSA and the CIA, backdoor queries are allowed only if the goal is related to foreign intelligence gathering. The FBI, however, has no such restriction. They can query all those inadvertent US persons for pretty much any reason at all related to a suspected crime. So how many queries of the NSA database have they made?

There you have it. The FBI has no idea how many time it's queried the NSA database, though it's "substantial." In fact, those records are automatically included every single time the FBI's database is queried. Nonetheless, nobody should be alarmed because the FBI receives only a "small percentage" of the NSA's trillions of records, which means they've probably received no more than a few billion records.

Nothing to see here, folks. You may go about your business.

Hobby Lobby Wasn't About Religious Freedom. It Was About Abortion.

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 3:00 PM EDT

Elsewhere at Mother Jones, Dana Liebelson collects the eight best lines from Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent in the Hobby Lobby case. Here's what I consider the most telling passage from Samuel Alito's majority opinion:

Kinda reminds you of Bush v. Gore, doesn't it? Alito takes pains to make it clear that his opinion shouldn't be considered precedent for anything except the narrowly specific issue at hand: whether contraceptives that some people consider abortifacients can be excluded from health plans.

I think it's important to recognize what Alito is saying here. Basically, he's making the case that abortion is unique as a religious issue. If you object to anything else on a religious basis, you're probably out of luck. But if you object to abortion on religious grounds, you will be given every possible consideration. Even if your objection is only related to abortion in the most tenuous imaginable way—as it is here, where IUDs are considered to be abortifacients for highly idiosyncratic doctrinal reasons—it will be treated with the utmost deference.

This is not a ruling that upholds religious liberty. It is a ruling that specifically enshrines opposition to abortion as the most important religious liberty in America.