On Sunday, as news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death a day earlier sparked questions about the protocol for filling his seat, radio host Alex Jones was tackling a more serious dilemma: What if Scalia was murdered?

Breaking: Justice Scalia Murdered?

Posted by Alex Jones on Saturday, February 13, 2016

"You just get used to this: 'Scalia found, it's natural, nothing going on here, he just died naturally,'" Jones said on his show. "Then you realize, Obama is just one vote away from being able to ban guns, open the borders, and actually have the court engage in its agenda and now Scalia dies. My gut tells me they killed him, and all the intellectual evidence lays it out."

Conspiracy theories are Jones' calling card, and they often bounce around right-wing radio without entering the political mainstream. But the day after Jones presented his theory, a much more powerful voice joined the conversation about a possible Scalia murder: Donald Trump.

On Monday, the Republican presidential front-runner fanned the flames of the Scalia assassination theory. Trump, who heads into the upcoming South Carolina primary and Nevada caucus with leads of 18.5 and 13 points, respectively, called Scalia's death "pretty unusual" during a broadcast of The Savage Nation with host and conservative commentator Michael Savage. Savage raised the possibility that Scalia had been murdered, and asked Trump whether an immediate autopsy was necessary.

"Well, I just heard today and that was just a little while ago actually—you know I just landed and I'm hearing it's a big topic—that's the question," Trump said. "And it's a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow."

Twelve percent of men between the ages of 75 and 84 are diagnosed with coronary heart disease or experience a heart attack every year. But now that Trump has weighed in, it's clear that an alternate explanation for Scalia's death—one in which the US government assassinated a Supreme Court justice and left the murder weapon on his face—will be playing a role in the political conversation in the days and weeks to come.

Hoping to flip the script on a series of anti-abortion laws in her home state, a Kentucky lawmaker is proposing a bill that would mandate that men who were seeking Viagra must receive their spouses' permission before getting the drug.

"I thought if we're going to insert ourselves into women’s most private health care decisions, then we should insert ourselves into men’s most private health care decisions, as well," Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D) told the Times.

The proposal would require men to have two doctors visits and a signed note from their spouse before they can score a prescription of the blue pill.

Marzian's bill is in response to several anti-abortion laws recently enacted in Kentucky, including a measure that requires women to have a medical consultation 24 hours before getting an abortion. It was the very first piece of legislation Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law in February as a newly elected governor. Another measure, which is likely to pass soon, will force women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a doctor's description of the image. According to the Courier-Journal, the bill would not make women look at the image.

Marzian's bill hopes to highlight the intrusiveness of such laws. It also comes in the tradition of similarly tongue-and-cheek proposals that were inspired by Republican laws that intended to curtail reproductive rights. In 2012, one Illinois lawmaker introduced a bill to mandate that men seeking Viagra watch a video detailing some of the possible side effects of the drug, like priapism, the prolonged erection of a penis.

"As a woman and a pro-choice woman and as an elected official, I am sick and tired of men—mostly white men—legislating personal, private medical decision," Marzian told CNN. "It's none of their business."

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who served as the United Nations secretary-general in the 1990s, has died at 93. The UN Security Council confirmed the news of his death.

During his tenure, the Egyptian diplomat was widely criticized for his handling of the conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia. After years of tension with the United States, the Clinton administration ultimately blocked him from a second term. Boutros-Ghali was the first secretary-general from Africa.

The American State of Teenage Sex in 3 Charts

Back in 2002, the government funded a study that showed there was no evidence that abstinence programs increased a kid's likelihood of abstaining from sex. In fact, no studies have found evidence that teaching abstinence works to prevent teenage pregnancies. And yet this year, the federal government will fund abstinence-only education to the tune of $85 million.

Last week, for the third year in a row, President Barack Obama's budget proposal included cuts to some $10 million of that abstinence-only education funding. Obama has consistently taken an anti-abstinence-education stance over the course of his political career. Back on the campaign trail in 2008, he said he believes contraception should be part of sex education curricula. He wasn't alone: In 2010, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) took a poll and found that 88 percent of parents of junior high school students and 85 percent of parents of high school students believe information about how to use and where to get contraceptives is an appropriate topic for sexuality education. Even Obama's first budget as president aimed to make similar cuts to abstinence education funding. GOP members of Congress fought it, and the attempt ultimately failed. The same happened in 2010 and is pretty likely to happen this time, too.

All this means that over the past two decades, more than $1.8 billion in federal dollars have been funneled into abstinence-only education.

The Obama administration has had some victories. In 2010 and 2011, Obama and Congress agreed to eliminate two-thirds of funding for previously existing abstinence programs, and then allocated almost $190 million in new funding to initiatives aimed at preventing unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Meanwhile, as the various wings of the government have been fighting over what dollars go where, teen pregnancy rates have plummeted to record lows over the past three years. What's more, rates fell 51 percent between 1990 and 2010. The reasons for the decline are complicated and hard to pinpoint; some studies give credit to better contraception and more precise use of it.

But when it comes to American teens and sex, we still have a lot of problems to fix: According to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 41 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds admit to knowing little or nothing about condoms. And more young people than ever—aged 15 to 24—are getting sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of chlamydia cases in 2014 were in 15- to 24-years-olds, as were 53 percent of gonorrhea cases. We don't know which kids sat through abstinence classes, but this is the age group that received the most federal funding for abstinence education. (Although perhaps it's fair to note that abstinence groups would attribute the increase in STDs to the rise of hookup culture and media representations of sex.)

From 2000 to 2014, the number of schools that required kids to learn about STD prevention dropped by 10 percent. To combat the rising rates of STDs and the lack of education, different states are taking different approaches. A Utah lawmaker is trying to persuade his colleagues to pass a law that allows kids to learn comprehensive sex education in schools—a tall order, considering the moral code of the state. To the west, California passed a law last year that requires comprehensive sex education in schools for 2016. San Francisco schools are considering making condoms available to students as early as sixth grade. They would not be the first California schools to do so; Oakland Unified schools implemented a similar policy in 2014. On the opposite end of the spectrum, last year Texas took $3 million from its state budget for HIV and STD prevention and reallocated it to abstinence education.

For a quick look at where the United States stands on abstinence education and teen sex, here are three charts from an upcoming Mother Jones feature story on abstinence education:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead on Saturday, leaving a vacancy on the highest court nine months before Election Day. That should leave President Barack Obama plenty of time to find a qualified replacement to succeed Scalia. But within minutes of the announcement that Scalia had died, prominent conservatives began demanding that no new justice be confirmed until after Obama's presidency ends next year. In essence, they want the Republican-controlled Senate to block any nomination that Obama might send it. And leading this charge was Sen. Ted Cruz, a GOP presidential candidate. In a tweet, Cruz declared, "Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement." Soon after that, Sen. Marco Rubio, another presidential wannabe, said the same.

This is a quickly spreading right-wing meme. Here are other conservatives demanding government obstruction to deny Obama the chance to fulfill his constitutional duty:

Look forward to this issue—when to fill Scalia's slot and who should appoint his successor—becoming a major fight in the presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the judiciary committee, issued this statement: "I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest POTUS should not perform its [sic] constitutional duty." He was a little late with that.

Update: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has weighed in too:

Civil rights icon John Lewis told reporters that he never encountered Bernie Sanders when the Vermont senator was working with Lewis' Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. Because he made his remarks at a press conference announcing the Congressional Black Caucus PAC's endorsement of Sanders' opponent, Hillary Clinton, Lewis' comments can be seen as a mild dig at Sanders. (In the same breath he said he had met Bill and Hillary Clinton.)

But it's also undoubtedly true.

The Georgia congressman was a titan of the civil rights movement. A participant in the Freedom Rides organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he went on to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and still bears the scars he received at Selma. Sanders' involvement was, by comparison, brief and localized, his sacrifices limited to one arrest for protesting and a bad GPA from neglecting his studies. But Sanders was, in his own right, an active participant in the movement during his three years at the University of Chicago.

Although Sanders did attend the 1963 March on Washington, at which Lewis spoke, most of his work was in and around Hyde Park, where he became involved with the campus chapter of CORE shortly after transferring from Brooklyn College in 1961. During Sanders' first year in Chicago, a group of apartment-hunting white and black students had discovered that off-campus buildings owned by the university were refusing to rent to black students, in violation of the school's policies. CORE organized a 15-day sit-in at the administration building, which Sanders helped lead. (James Farmer, who co-founded CORE and had been a Freedom Rider with Lewis, came to the University of Chicago that winter to praise the activists' work.) The protest ended when George Beadle, the university's president, agreed to form a commission to study the school's housing policies.

Sanders was one of two students from CORE appointed to the commission, which included the neighborhood's alderman and state representative, in addition to members of the administration. But not long afterward, Sanders blew up at the administration, accusing Beadle of reneging on his promise and refusing to answer questions from students on its integration plan. In an open letter in the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, Sanders vented about the double-cross:

Chicago Maroon

That spring, with Sanders as its chairman, the university chapter of CORE merged with the university chapter of SNCC. Sanders announced plans to take the fight to the city of Chicago, and in the fall of 1962 he followed through, organizing picketers at a Howard Johnson in Cicero. Sanders told the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, that he wanted to keep the pressure on the restaurant chain after the arrest of 12 CORE demonstrators in North Carolina for trying to eat at a Howard Johnson there:

Chicago Maroon

Sanders left his leadership role at the organization not long afterward; his grades suffered so much from his activism that a dean asked him to take some time off from school. (He didn't take much interest in his studies, anyway.) But he continued his activism with CORE and SNCC. In August of 1963, not long after returning to Chicago from the March on Washington, Sanders was charged with resisting arrest after protesting segregation at a school on the city's South Side. He was later fined $25, according to the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Tribune

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting women's reproductive rights, but mostly they've focused on domestic policy. Now, looking overseas, they say the United States should change the regulation of foreign aid for abortions.

The 1973 Helms amendment blocks the use of foreign aid for women who were raped in conflict zones or developing countries and seeking an abortion. The amendment states, "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions." The Hyde amendment, which was passed three years after the Helms amendment, prohibits federal funding from being used for elective abortions—abortions that are not because of incest, rape, or life endangerment.

According to the Huffington Post, Clinton promised to change the Helms amendment and create an exception for rape, incest, and protecting the life of the mother. Sanders said he would use executive action to repeal the Helms amendment altogether.

"Sen. Sanders is opposed to the Helms amendment," Arianna Jones, his deputy communications director, told the Huffington Post. "As president, he will sign an executive order to allow for U.S. foreign aid to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is at risk. He will also work with Congress to permanently repeal both the Hyde and Helms amendments."

Clinton was asked about the Helms amendment during her Iowa campaign, where she said she thinks rape is being used increasingly as a war weapon.

"I do think we have to take a look at this for conflict zones," Clinton said at the town hall, responding to a question from an audience member. "And if the United States government, because of very strong feelings against it, maintains our prohibition, then we are going to have to work through nonprofit groups and work with other countries to...provide the support and medical care that a lot of these women need."

A Clinton campaign spokeswoman wrote in an email to the Huffington Post that Clinton would "fix" the Helms amendment: "The systematic use of rape as a tool of war is a tactic of vicious militias and insurgent and terrorist groups around the world. She saw first-hand as Secretary of State the suffering of survivors of sexual violence in armed conflict during her visit to Goma in 2009. She believes we should help women who have been raped in conflict get the care that they need."

 

 

 

 

Civil Rights Hero John Lewis Slams Bernie Sanders

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the progressive icon who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the civil rights movement, on Thursday dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders' participation in that movement.

When a reporter asked Lewis to comment on Sanders' involvement in the movement—Sanders as a college student at the University of Chicago was active in civil rights work—the congressman brusquely interrupted him. "Well, to be very frank, I'm going to cut you off, but I never saw him, I never met him," Lewis said. "I'm a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."

The preeminent civil rights hero's pooh-poohing of Sanders came at a press conference where the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. The PAC is somewhat separate from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which is a group of 46 African American members of the House. (All its members are Democratic but one.) But the PAC is chaired by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a CBC member, and its 20-person board is made up of seven CBC members and several lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants. Some media accounts are depicting this endorsement as the action of the CBC. But Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and a CBC member, sent out an accusatory tweet shortly before the endorsement, complaining, "Cong'l Black Caucus (CBC) has NOT endorsed in presidential. Separate CBCPAC endorsed withOUT input from CBC membership, including me." Ellison is one of two House members who have officially backed Sanders.

The CBC PAC endorsement of Clinton was hosted at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, which raises questions about the DNC's supposed impartiality in the Clinton-Sanders race. An official at the Democratic National Committee says that the party had nothing to do with the CBC PAC's event, which was held at DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. "Members of Congress who are dues paying members of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] can reserve the space," he told Mother Jones in an email.

As Mother Jones reported previously, Sanders was involved in the campus chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), another civil rights group:

During his junior year, Sanders, by then president of the university's CORE chapter, led a picket of a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Chicago, part of a coordinated nationwide protest against the motel and restaurant chain's racially discriminatory policies. Sanders eventually resigned his post at CORE, citing a heavy workload, and took some time off from school.

Under Sanders' leadership, the CORE group at University of Chicago joined forces with SNCC's campus chapter, held sit-ins to protest segregation in university-owned apartment buildings, and raised money for voter registration efforts focused on African Americans.

The CBC PAC endorsement comes at a key time in the Democratic primary contest, as Clinton and Sanders head toward the next primary in South Carolina on February 27. The Democratic electorate in that state has a high percentage of African Americans, and a crucial question for both campaigns is whether Sanders can find support with black voters or whether Clinton will maintain her commanding lead in the polls among this group. Political observers have pointed to South Carolina as the state where Clinton has a shot at arresting Sanders' post-New Hampshire momentum due to her standing with black voters. With the fight on for black voters, endorsements from the African American community are important for each campaign—and Lewis' comments won't help Sanders.

Watch Lewis' remarks:

This post has been updated to include comment from the DNC.

Update (2/22/2016): Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the bill that effectively defunds Planned Parenthood in Ohio the day after placing fifth in the South Carolina primary.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, called the law "devastating" and compared the changing reproductive rights landscape in Ohio to the current situation in Texas, where more than half the state's abortion clinics have shut down due to restrictive legislation. Over the course of Kasich's tenure, half the abortion clinics in Ohio have been shut down.

"It's clear Kasich has no regard for women's health or lives, and will stop at nothing to block health care for the tens of thousands of Ohioans who rely on Planned Parenthood," Richards said in a statement issued by Planned Parenthood.

Gov. John Kasich, fresh from his strong showing in New Hampshire last night, is likely to sign an Ohio bill into law that prohibits some state and federal funding from being distributed to facilities that perform and promote what are known as "nontherapuetic abortions"—abortions performed in cases that are not related to rape, incest, or life endangerment of the mother—even though the funds are not used to pay for any abortion services. The measure effectively strips Ohio's Planned Parenthood affiliates of $1.3 million in funding.

The new law targets specific Planned Parenthood programs for services such as HIV and STI testing, as well as cancer screenings, rape prevention programs, and sex education for youth in foster care and the juvenile detention system.

The cuts will also affect the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program, a neighborhood outreach effort by Ohio's Planned Parenthood that offers support and education to high-risk African American women in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. These women receive in-home visits throughout their pregnancies and for the first two years after giving birth. In these impoverished areas, African American women are twice as likely to give birth to a baby with a low birth weight than the population at large. Ohio ranks 45th nationally for its infant mortality rate, and has one of the highest rates of infant death for African American mothers in the country.

While the law eliminates state funding for Planned Parenthood, it affects less than 7 percent of Planned Parenthood's annual budget for its Ohio affiliate. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio will still receive about $2.4 million from Medicaid reimbursements, which are protected by federal law.

In her testimony opposing the measure, Kelli Arthur Hykes, director of public health policy at Columbus Public Health, pointed to the lack of capacity in local health departments to make up for the shortfall: "For example, in Columbus, we estimate that with additional funding, we would be able to grow our sexual health and women's health services by about 10 percent over the next few years. This would barely put a dent in the anticipated need, especially if there is an immediate loss of funding for Planned Parenthood before a local health department could ramp up services."

Wednesday morning, in a failed effort to halt passage of the legislation, Planned Parenthood supporters delivered valentines to lawmakers, expressing their love for women's health care and asking the lawmakers to vote against the measure. The bill passed the House in a 62-32 vote.

It is possible this measure might lead to a replication of what happened in Texas after Planned Parenthood was defunded there in 2012. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an increase in birth rates among low-income Texas women and a decrease in contraception insurance claims.

Kasich, who gained new prominence in the GOP presidential race after unexpectedly placing second in the New Hampshire primary, has a long, consistent history of fighting reproductive rights in Ohio. In his five years in office, Kasich has signed every anti-abortion bill to cross his desk as governor. When a female voter in New Hampshire asked him about Planned Parenthood, he was clear about his stance: "We're not gonna fund it." His rise in the Republican field prompted an immediate response from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, which circulated what was described as a "five-figure ad buy" showcasing his record on reproductive rights.

"John Kasich has systematically enacted measure after measure to make it more difficult for women to access reproductive care and safe and legal abortion," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "And now, under his leadership, it could get even worse."

After a crushing loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton may be having an even worse morning. As her campaign turns to South Carolina, where she hopes to win the primary with the support of African American voters on February 27, two prominent black intellectuals issued forceful statements Wednesday morning that could boost her rival, Bernie Sanders.

"I will be voting for Sen. Sanders," Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of the 2015 National Book Award winner Between the World and Me, said Wednesday in an interview on Democracy Now! Coates has written critically of Sanders recently for not embracing reparations for African Americans as part of his economic and social justice platform.

A much stronger rebuke of Clinton came from Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, who blasted the former secretary of state in an essay published Wednesday on the website of The Nation titled "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote." In it, Alexander argued that the economic and criminal justice policies of the Bill Clinton administration, from the 1994 crime bill to welfare reform in 1996, were devastating to African Americans—and that Hillary Clinton was a force in that administration whose role should be scrutinized and whose current positions on criminal justice and racial equality are not strong enough.

Ironically, perhaps, Alexander cites Coates at the end of the essay in also critiquing Sanders.

This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn't quite get what's at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as "divisive," as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren't worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.

But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

Coates and Alexander are by no means the first black intellectuals to express skepticism of Clinton and endorse Sanders. Princeton University professor Cornel West, for example, has campaigned with Sanders. On Wednesday morning, Sanders traveled to Harlem to have breakfast with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the most prominent black politician in South Carolina, is considering endorsing Clinton. She still has plenty of backing in the black political establishment. But the comments from Coates and Alexander Wednesday are a sign that the degree of support Clinton is counting on from the black community might be slipping away, and that she may not be able to sew up the black vote in South Carolina, as her supporters have long predicted.