Yesterday's story about the Louisiana judge denying a marriage license to an interracial couple prompted me to look into the state's actual marriage laws.

Apparently, in Louisiana you can:

  • Marry at age 16, with a parent's consent.
  • Obtain a marriage license by proxy, as long as one of the parties is present and has the certified birth certificate of the absent party.
  • Marry your first-cousin once-removed, or your adopted first-cousin.

But it seems as though it would be frowned upon to marry your absent 16-year-old cousin-once-removed if he/she is of a different race.

The US Chamber of Commerce has had a very rough week. Mother Jones exposed their inflated membership numbers, forcing the Chamber to shrink its tally by 90 percent. Following a series of high-profile departures by members who opposed the leadership's position on climate change, a group of liberal NGOs has organized a "Stop the Chamber" campaign, and the San Francisco Chamber is publicly divorcing them. The Chamber is so beleagured that it is now painting itself as the victim of—wait for it—a "corporate campaign."

In a memo to members obtained by Mother Jones, Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer David Chavern urges members to ignore the national campaign against them, describing it simply as proof of the Chamber's awesomeness:

"Please note that these calls against the Chamber are part of a broad-based, multi-source campaign against us being carried out by our normal adversaries—trial lawyers, activist unions, environmental extremists, etc.," wrote Chavern. "It is a 'corporate campaign' in the classic sense, where interest groups are looking for public leverage to force us to do things against our members' interests."

"Frankly, these efforts are simply the result of how effective we have been in opposing Card Check, as well as certain aspects of proposed healthcare, capital market and climate change legislation," he continued.

The Chamber did not respond to requests to confirm or deny the authenticity of the memo. We've reprinted the full dispatch below the fold:

The health insurance industry’s double cross of Obama has created a storm of controversy. But it probably won’t amount to much. There's been a lot of talk about punishing the industry for its actions: through a barely conceivable threat to remove the industry’s antitrust exemption or by resurrecting the public option. Neither seems very likely.

Historically, with solid support in Congress—especially from the Dodd family (father Thomas and son Christopher) the insurance industry has evaded federal regulation. Instead, it's regulated by the states, which—lacking sufficient money and political nerve—have been a pushover. Under Obama, there's little likelihood of this changing.

The public option itself is fraught with weak points that ought to reassure the industry.  Even if it passes, they may make more money, not less. That's because a public option won’t create a new federal insurance program but rather a contract apparatus whereby the government would in effect buy policies from private companies and let existing insurance entities—Blue Cross-Blue Shield, for example—run the public option system. In fact, the entire concept would resemble an outsourcing scheme more than anything truly "public." Similarly, the newly fashionable co-op proposal would most likely involve a local health insurance co-op contracting out the insurance function to private companies or systems like Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

A new focus group study from the Democratic-friendly polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research shows that right-wing Republicans have jumped the political rails to inhabit a world of their own. The dominant "fact" for this band of conservatives is that President Barack Obama has a secret plan to impose socialism on the United States and repress the citizenry. Consequently, they believe that Obama's success is tantamount to the destruction of the country.

From the study:

The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by DemocracyCorps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a 'mocked' minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.

In a conference call, pollster Stan Greenberg and consultant/celebrity James Carville pointed out that this study—which was based on interviews with conservative Republicans in suburban Atlanta—did not identify race as a factor in shaping the attitudes of these right wingers. But the focus group participants believe that Obama is representing dark and unseen forces.

Karl Agne, a consultant who worked on the study, noted during the call that the participants became rather conspiratorial when discussing the president. Asked where Obama was born, these folks, according to Agne, took a deeply skeptical position: "You'll never know." They insisted that Obama's true past has been hidden and that the sort of information provided by previous presidents about their backgrounds has in the case of Obama been denied to the American public. They also believe that Obama is a front-man. As Agne describes it, they've concluded that "there is no way a community organizer could have risen to this point without powerful interests driving this....He couldn't have possibly done this on his own."

These conservatives repeatedly asserted that Obama has a grand plan to wreck the United States by both ruining the economy and destroying civil liberties. The report notes:

Conservative Republicans do not oppose Obama’s policies simply because they think they are misguided or out of partisan fervor. Rather, they believe his policies are purposely designed to fail. When they look at the totality of his agenda, they see a deliberate effort to drive our country so deep into debt, to make the majority of Americans so dependent on the government, and to strip away so many basic constitutional rights that we are too weak to fight back and have to accept whatever solution he proposes.

But the focus group participants, who expressed angry disappointment with the Republican Party and its leaders for not mounting a more fierce opposition, did note that something of an "underground movement" is building to resist Obama's plot. And they identified Fox News, Glenn Beck, and the so-called Tea Parties as manifestations of this nascent uprising.

So is this a problem for Obama? Probably not. The White House can dismiss this group as a right-wing fringe. The real dilemma is for the Republican Party. How can it speak to (or appease) these voters without appearing extreme and without alienating reasonable Republicans and independents? After all, GOP chairman Michael Steele, Republican congressional leaders, and the party's 2012 presidential contenders will have a tough time remaining in the real world while courting conservatives who reside somewhere else. But if GOP leaders don't join the underground movement hailed by these conservatives, won't that indicate that they, too, are part of the Obama conspiracy?

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President Obama has won his fight to ensure that the Defense Department can conceal evidence of its employees' wrongdoing. On Thursday, the House passed a measure allowing the DoD to withhold essentially any photos of detainee abuse that it doesn't want the public to see. The move is a huge defeat for the ACLU, which has been fighting a years-long legal battle to obtain such photos under the Freedom of Information Act. But now an amendment  sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), makes all that moot and slashes a huge hole in FOIA. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) was a key figure in stopping Lieberman's photo suppression bill the first time around. In a floor speech Thursday, she explained that this time, the provision was slipped into the Homeland Security spending bill during the conference between House and Senate negotiators—"apparently under direct orders from the Administration."

I've written before about how poorly President Obama's support for this photo suppression measure reflects on his promise of transparency. It would actually be a mistake to blame the sponsor, Joe Lieberman, for its passage. This would never have happened without the administration's support. And this latest move does not bode well for the prospects of achieving accountability for torture. If this administration can't even bring itself to release years-old photos of detainee abuse, how will it ever bring those responsible for torture to justice?

The Chamber's Tough Week

The US Chamber of Commerce can't seem to catch a break. This was supposed to be the week that its new Campaign for Free Enterprise would lead Corporate America in an assault on Washington. Instead, the campaign's message was drowned out by a barrage of revelations and new questions about who the nation's largest business lobby really represents and how it adopted its right-wing agenda.

Yesterday alone, the Chamber came under withering fire. Writing in Slate, Eliot Spitzer urged institutional investors to pressure companies to quit the group, calling the Chamber "wrong on virtually every major public policy issue of the past decade." A coalition of liberal NGOs launched, a website that asks the Department of Justice to investigate the Chamber and demands that its president, Tom Donahue, be fired. And Change to Win, a large union-backed advocacy group, released a 55-page report on how Donohue "has compromised the credibility of the US Chamber of Commerce." 

Writing in the Washington Post this morning, Steven Pearlstein dismissed the Campaign for Free Enterprise as "nothing more than a desperate attempt to repackage the same old anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government rhetoric in hopes of derailing the major initiatives of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress."

All of this tops off a week in which Donohue was dogged in the press over the Chamber's recent corporate defections and questionable internal governance. On Wednesday, when he appeared on MSNBC's Morning Meeting to hype the Free Enterprise campaign, host Dylan Ratigan told him, "You talk nonsense." The same day, the Chamber was forced to admit that its membership was 90 percent smaller than it had claimed after Mother Jones exposed the gimmick. We also reported that the Greater New York and San Francisco chambers are distancing themselves from the national group. (Also check out today's post: The San Francisco Chamber is withdrawing from a US Chamber program that automatically enrolls some of its local members in national group, citing differences over climate policy).

Some respected corporate watchdogs long-ago gave up on the US Chamber. "[Tom Donohue] is a thug," Nell Minow, head of the Corporate Library, told CFO Magazine in 2006. "He is big and loud and wrong. I am horrified at the way he has politicized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, diminishing its credibility. . .He is not pro-business. He is pro-executive." 

Exploring exacly how pro-executive Donohue has been is the focus of the new Change to Win report, "Preaching Principle, Enabling Excess." It argues that Donohue's actions as a member of four scandal-ridden corporate boards show the need for the very financial and corporate governance regulations that the Chamber opposes. Since 1995, Donohue has earned millions as a board member of Qwest, Sunrise Senior Living, Union Pacific, and XM Satellite Radio. Among the report's findings:

San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Ends Partnership With US Chamber

Political disagreements with the US Chamber of Commerce have prompted the San Francisco Chamber to drop out of a program that automatically enrolled many of its members in the national group. "Given the controversy over the US Chamber's position on climate change," said San Francisco Chamber president Steve Falk, "I've decided to sever our participation in the partnership program."

The US Chamber's Federation Partnership program grants complimentary memberships to small businesses in 354 participating local chambers, often without their knowlege. It allows the US Chamber to claim a much larger number of members than it would have otherwise, but has become a potential liability for local chambers in cities where businesses may disagree with the national group's right-wing political agenda.

"I do think some of our small companies might not like the fact that they're automatically members or may not know that," Falk said in announcing the decision to Mother Jones. He disclosed the move after a reporter called San Francisco Chamber members on Tuesday to ask if they were aware of the program and comfortable with their US Chamber memberships.

Until this week, the US Chamber of Commerce often claimed the members of local chambers as its own, regardless of their participation in the partnership program. It appeared to end that practice after it was exposed by Mother Jones this week; during a Wednesday press conference, the Chamber quietly revised its claimed membership from 3 million to 300,000 (though the larger number still appears on its website).  The new membership figure is certain to grow even smaller if other local chambers follow San Francisco's lead.

It was not immediately clear how many members the US Chamber will lose due to San Francisco's withdrawl from the partnership, though the number could easily be more than 1,000. One of the ten largest chambers of commerce in the country, the San Francisco Chamber counts 2,000 members, 85 percent of whom it classifies as "small businesses." Companies with annual revenues of less than $10 million were automatically enrolled in the US Chamber through the partnership, Falk said, but will now see their national memberships lapse if they do not choose to renew them.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II deploys flairs over Afghanistan Nov. 12, 2008. A-10s provide close-air support to ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The A-10's excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude and its highly accurate weapons delivery make it an ideal aircraft for supporting coalition operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

Need To Read: October 16, 2009

Today's must-reads:

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A justice of the peace in Louisiana has refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple.

Seriously. Wow.

This rivals the recent story about black kids kicked out of a swim club. What year are we living in again?

But the craziest part is the justice's astoundingly self-deluded defense, that he just wants to prevent them from having kids:

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way."

Someone needs to tell this guy what "racist" means.