by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is asking the USDA to approve a pilot program that would prevent his city's residents from buying sugar-sweetened soda with food stamps. Some have called the proposal paternalistic. However, at In These Times, Terry J. Allen argues that Bloomberg's proposal makes sense.
Allen notes that New Yorkers may spend up to $135 million in food stamp benefits on sodas. Nationwide, the food stamp program funnels about $4 billion into the pockets of soda manufacturers. Sugary carbonated drinks are artificially profitable for Big Pop because they are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, a heavily subsidized by-product of our broken agricultural system.
There are already restrictions on what you can buy with food stamps. Nobody thinks it's patronizing that alcohol is off-limits, even though alcoholic beverage are a potential source of calories. A little discussed benefit of ending the soda subsidy within the food stamp program would be the incentive it gives to small storekeepers in poor neighborhoods to devote less floor and refrigerator space to carbonated drinks and more room to real food. Many low income New Yorkers struggle to buy healthy food in their neighborhoods. Soda subsidies only make the "food desert" problem worse.
Impatient to die
Prisoners on Death Row in Texas spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The death house in Texas is one of the most restrictive in the nation. Conditions are so bad that many inmates are actively looking forward to their execution day to put an end to the crushing isolation, Dave Mann reports in the Texas Observer. There is a growing consensus among psychiatrists that solitary confinement is a form of torture. Some experts, and many inmates, believe that solitary confinement is literally driving Texas death row inmates insane.
Daniel Lopez is in a hurry to die: "I don't see no point in waiting 20 years for them to finally decide to execute me." That's the first thing he tells me when I sit down to interview him. We are seated in the Polunsky Unit's visiting room. Lopez is encased in a small booth. We are separated by thick, soundproof glass and talk through phones. [...] [Lopez] says he has no desire to remain on death row. He says he's looking forward to execution day. He doesn't want to live much longer in his small cell. "I don't think that's a life for somebody," he says.
Health reform and the courts
Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones takes a closer look a the legal challenges to health care reform. Republicans in Virginia have been given the green light to challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate in court. In October, a U.S. District judge in Detroit refused to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the implementation of health care reform in Michigan. On Monday, a U.S. District judge in Lynchburg, VA, dismissed Liberty University's anti-health reform lawsuit. Another Virginia judge says he will rule on a similar suit by the State Attorney General by the end of the year.
The current crop of politically motivated lawsuits challenging the individual mandate are legally tenuous at best. Aziz Huq wrote in The Nation: "Among constitutional scholars, the puzzle is not how the federal government can defend the new law, but why anyone thinks a constitutional challenge is even worth making."
As Columbia law professor Gillian Metzger explained to Chris Hayes of The Nation earlier this year, the constitutionality of the individual mandate is basically a "no-brainer." The way the Affordable Care Act is written, everyone who doesn't have health insurance from some provider has two options: Buy subsidized health insurance or pay a tax. The federal government obviously has the right to collect taxes. The case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court, but it seems unlikely to prevail. The real fear is that a lower court will paralyze the implementation of health care reform while the decision is pending.
Crisis pregnancy center bill
Shakthi Jothianandan of Ms. Magazine has the latest on proposed legislation that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in New York City to disclose that they are not real reproductive health clinics. The New York City Council held a hearing on the proposed legislation in mid-November, which brought together officials from the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Planned Parenthood, Concerned Clergy for Choice and staff from CPCs around the city. The representatives for the CPCs claimed that the bill violates their free speech rights, but the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union testified that requiring organizations to disclose that they are not real health care facilities and don't provide a full range of services does not infringe on any First Amendment right.
CeCe Heil, senior counsel with the Christian anti-abortion group American Center for Law and Justice, claimed the legislation was unnecessary because women are already smart enough to know that "abortion alternatives" means "alternatives to abortion." Many of the CPCs have "life" in their name, which should signal to potential clients that they do not provide abortion or abortion referrals. But if it's really so obvious that CPCs are just anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics, why oppose a law that simply requires all facilities to disclose the obvious?
Boehner meets with anti-choice extremist
Future Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) met with anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry, as Miriam Perez of Feministing reports. Terry is the founder of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which has a long record of advocating violence against abortion providers. After Dr. George Tiller, one of the country's last high-profile late-term abortion providers, was assassinated, Terry called Tiller a "mass murderer" who "horrifically, reaped what he sowed."
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