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Mississippi Republicans Want to Ban Ballot Initiatives on Abortion

Fun new attack on democracy

Posters outside the pink abortion clinic read things like "This clinic is a refuge" and "Pink House, thank you for being here. These people, this place, has saved my life."
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, on July 7, 2022. The clinic is now closed.

Mississippi lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give citizens back the right to vote on ballot initiatives—except on laws about abortion access.

State residents were stripped of their right to introduce citizen-led ballot initiatives in 2021. This new bill, introduced Tuesday, would allow them to propose changes to laws but not constitutional amendments. They would also not be allowed to “propose any new law or amend or repeal any existing law relating to abortion.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last summer to roll back the nationwide right to an abortion. The case concerned the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks. After the ruling, Mississippi’s trigger law went into effect, and abortion is now illegal in the state except in cases of rape or incest or to save the pregnant person’s life.

Opinion regarding abortion in Mississippi is almost evenly split. A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 49 percent of state residents believe the procedure should be legal in all or most cases. In July 2022, a month after the Dobbs ruling, a poll conducted by Blueprint Polling for the ACLU of Mississippi found that 51 percent of state residents disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

Mississippi residents also rejected a previous ballot initiative aimed at curbing abortion access. In 2011, anti-abortion groups put the Personhood Amendment on the ballot. The amendment would have defined the word “person” in the state constitution to include fertilized human eggs. An overwhelming majority of voters, 58 percent, rejected the initiative.

Lawmakers in Mississippi have a history of using the right to ballot initiatives as a punitive tool. It has been taken away twice, once in 1922 and again in 2021, because officials disagreed with the results of citizen-led ballot initiatives.

If the measure passes the state legislature, it would be just another instance of lawmakers creating loopholes to continue restricting abortion, instead of letting the people decide what they want for themselves. This has also happened in Kentucky, where a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill to prosecute people who get illegal abortions for criminal homicide, despite state residents voting in the 2022 midterms against an amendment that would have said abortion is not a protected right in the state.

The most egregious example is Kansas, where residents voted overwhelmingly in August to keep abortion protections in the state constitution. Lawmakers responded by introducing a bill that would let individual cities and counties restrict abortion, directly circumventing the will of the people.

Texas GOP Bill Would Give Major Tax Cut to Straight, Never-Divorced Parents

If you make it to kid number 10, there’s an extra reward for you.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Conservatives are always seeking ways to (a) defund the government and its services and (b) push their own cultural values onto others. One Texas state representative found a way to try doing both.

Representative Bryan Slaton has filed a bill to roll back 100 percent of property taxes for heterosexual married couples with 10 children.

The legislation calls for property tax relief by increments of 10 percent for each child, starting with married couples with four “qualifying children” receiving a 40 percent credit, those with five receiving a 50 percent credit, and so on. (Couples with three children or fewer do not qualify for the credit.)

If a “qualifying married couple” has 10 or more “qualifying children,” they would receive a 100 percent credit off their property taxes.

Language in the bill defines a “qualifying child” to be a “natural child of both spouses of a qualifying married couple born after the date on which the qualifying married couple married,” or an adopted child of one or both spouses, adopted after the couple was married.

And what constitutes a “qualifying married couple,” you may ask? Well, it “means a man and a woman who are legally married to each other, neither of whom have ever been divorced.”

“With this bill, Texas will start saying to couples: ‘Get married, stay married, and be fruitful and multiply,’” Slaton said in a statement.

The bill may not be surprising coming from Slaton. The Houston Press reports that the Texas representative, a former minister, has proposed banning minors from all drag events and has also dedicated much of his time in government to trying to attach various anti-LGBTQ amendments to completely unrelated legislative packages.

Slaton’s former intern Jake Neidert is a self-described Christian nationalist who has menacingly called for trans people to be “publicly executed.” The vicious figure went on to work as legislative director for Representative Tony Tinderholt, Slaton’s ally in many of his anti-LGBTQ crusades.

So, whether or not this specific bill gets awfully far, rest assured its author is heavily active in working to advance a radical fundamentalist agenda on Texans.

Donald Trump Can Be Sued for Inciting January 6 Riot, Justice Department Says

Trump cannot claim presidential immunity from lawsuits filed against him by Capitol Police officers and House Democrats.

Donald Trump waves to the crowd at a "Stop the Steal" rally shortly before rioters stormed the United States Capitol
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is not entitled to immunity from civil lawsuits over his role in the January 6 insurrection, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

Two Capitol Police officers, backed by 11 Democratic House members, have sued Trump for physical and psychological injuries they suffered during the riot. The suit was brought under a statute that allows for damages to be paid when force, threats, or intimidation are used to prevent government officials from doing their job. Trump has argued that he is protected against the suit by presidential immunity.

But the Justice Department disagreed. “Speaking to the public on matters of public concern is a traditional function of the Presidency, and the outer perimeter of the President’s Office includes a vast realm of such speech,” attorneys for the department’s Civil Division said. “But that traditional function is one of public communication. It does not include incitement of imminent private violence.”

A U.S. district judge had found in February 2022 that Trump could be sued, and the former president’s lawyers appealed the decision. The appeals court debated the case in December and ultimately asked the Justice Department to weigh in.

A dozen former White House and Justice Department officials from Democratic and Republican administrations had already called for the court to reject Trump’s immunity argument, saying it was “the rare but clear circumstance in which a President broke the law while acting well beyond any official capacity.”

Another group of Capitol Police officers have sued Trump in a separate case for inciting the insurrection, as have D.C. police officers. The partner of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after being brutally attacked by rioters, has also sued Trump, as well as two members of the mob.

Capitol Police officers have made it clear they hold Trump and other Republican leaders accountable for the deadly riot, as well as for law enforcement’s lack of preparedness on the day.

Quite a Few Notable Republicans Are Skipping CPAC This Year

CPAC used to be a premier event for Republicans. Now it’s looking more like a Donald Trump fan party.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

The Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off this week, minus a few noteworthy faces.

The annual gathering was once considered a premier event for Republicans and a must-do for anyone considering a presidential run. But this year, the event has been overshadowed by sexual assault allegations against Matt Schlapp, head of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC. A staffer on Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign has accused Schlapp of groping him without consent. Schlapp has denied the allegations but has yet to address them at CPAC, during which he is speaking multiple times, along with his wife and one of his children.

Another reason many notable Republicans are staying away from CPAC could be that it has turned into more of a Donald Trump fan party, which seems to have turned off many of the people seeking to challenge him in 2024.

Chief among them is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is predicted to be Trump’s main contender for the Republican presidential nomination. DeSantis, who seems to be busy curtailing human rights in his state, will instead be at a retreat hosted by the Club for Growth, a conservative economics organization.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is also reportedly considering a presidential run, will similarly be at the Club for Growth event. Pence has tried to walk a fine line recently of distancing himself from Trump enough to appeal to potential moderate supporters, but not so much that he alienates his former boss’s most loyal fanbase.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will not be at CPAC, which comes as a surprise given all his efforts to stay in Trump’s good graces. Neither will Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has become a Trump critic despite using the former president to push through conservative judges and legislation.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel won’t be there, either. Trump backed her run for reelection as RNC head, but McDaniel announced Sunday that all Republican presidential candidates would be required to sign a pledge to support the eventual nominee, no matter who, in order to be allowed onto the debate stage. In response to McDaniel, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman told CNN that Trump “will support the Republican nominee because it will be him.”

These absences could be a sign that some of the Republican Party is turning on Trump, who will be the closing speaker at CPAC on Saturday. The event seems to be turning into a glorified Trump rally. In 2021, CPAC unveiled a golden statue of the former president for attendees to take selfies with, and the 2023 speaker lineup has been packed with Trump loyalists, including Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Donald Trump Jr., and even Jair Bolsonaro.

However, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, both of whom are running against Trump in 2024, and Mike Pompeo and Tim Scott, who are reportedly considering running, will speak at CPAC. All four of these candidates are considered extreme long shots, so they could be trying to peel support away from Trump over the course of the event.

Rail Workers Cleaning Up Ohio Train Derailment Say They Were Never Given Proper Protective Gear

Workers say Norfolk Southern ignored their requests for protective gear, even as they began to fall sick.

Rebecca Kiger/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Crews work along Sulphur Run, where chemicals from the train derailment are present in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 14.

Norfolk Southern workers are saying that, in the aftermath of the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, the rail giant assured them it was safe for them to clean up the mess, and that the company offered them little more than N95 masks to wear while doing it.

In a letter addressed to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, union leader Jonathon Long wrote that in the immediate days following the derailment, Norfolk Southern directed approximately 40 rail maintenance workers to clean the crash site. Workers reported that the company failed to provide personal protective equipment.

Long, a 28-year veteran of Norfolk Southern and general chairman of the American Rail System Federation for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, or BMWED, told TNR that workers had asked for better respirators, but “none of the good ones were left.” There was allegedly no additional equipment, even rubber gloves or boots—let alone hazmat suits or eye protection—for the workers; meanwhile, the workers were assured it was safe for them to continue working.

A spokesperson for the company said that the company coordinated their response “with hazardous material professionals who were on site continuously to ensure the work area was safe to enter and the required PPE was utilized, all in addition to air monitoring that was established within an hour.”

What the company considers “required PPE” may be up for dispute.

One worker claimed to have called his supervisor, requesting to be transported off the site due to concerns for his safety; he was reportedly feeling nauseous and suffering from migraines. Allegedly, the supervisor said he would get back to the employee. The worker never heard back, and was left to keep working.

Other workers reported similar symptoms of migraines and nausea, even days after the derailment. Such reports are unsurprising, given that residents even miles out of city limits reported such symptoms and worse—even while not undergoing direct, prolonged exposure to the hazardous materials.

Long also wrote of troubling negotiations with the company as workers attempted to attain paid sick leave. An attached memo from the company showed that Norfolk Southern was bargaining the offer for paid sick leave, so long as BMWED relented on its opposition to the expansion of the company’s automated inspection program.

“The gall to ask BMWED to rescind our comments and concerns about maintaining track structure integrity with a sensible precautionary measure in the form of qualified human track inspections following their test equipment while the world watches NS’s mistake cause disruption and chaos in an American Hometown is unfathomably obtuse and shameless,” Long wrote.

Long reiterated to TNR that workers are not opposed to the automated system. Rather, they’re uncomfortable with the idea of substituting automation with the current practices that include checks conducted by train inspectors; they’re perfectly satisfied with a system that includes both automated and manual procedures.

Though the BMWED workers were able to reach an agreement with the company, the behind-the-scenes look reveals troubling ways the company still dug in its heels before providing some of its workers paid sick leave.

“NS and other railroads alike must be stopped from continuing their cost-cutting business model and start focusing on how they can improve their performance to be as safe as possible,” Long wrote to DeWine. “NS and other railroads alike must be held accountable in their operations, through rule-making and regulatory reform that establishes minimum safety standards in their operations.”

McCarthy’s First Announced Bill As Speaker Is a “Parents Bill of Rights” That Polices Schools and Students

This bill may not seem dangerous, but it escalates an attack on schools across the country.

Kevin McCarthy
Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Kevin McCarthy

To become speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy had to give the most radical parts of his party pretty much everything they asked for. The negotiations elided the fact that McCarthy is actually not all that different from his detractors. By introducing the repressive so-called “Parents Bill of Rights,” McCarthy reminds us that indeed, he’s in good company.

The Republican-led bill aims to police teachers and school staff even more, at a time when school boards across the country have expressed concern for academic freedom (and even for their lives) in the face of a loud minority protesting everything from Covid safety precautions to classroom material.

The bill, introduced on Wednesday by Representative Julia Letlow, says that parents’ “God-given right to make decisions for their children’’ is being disrupted as “special interest groups try to criminalize free speech.” Letlow’s bill—applauded by far-right special interest groups like Moms for Liberty (funded by billionaire heiresses and endorsed by figures like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis)—polices schools down to the materials teachers use in class and what books kids are allowed to read.

Couched in what may appear like reasonable respect for parents’ concern for their children, the bill in reality opens up more avenues to attack already overworked and under-appreciated teachers.

The bill—echoing practices already being rolled out in places like Florida—calls for school districts to post curriculum information and provide parents with lists of reading materials available in school libraries. Again, what may seem like reasonable enough requests have been, in practice, draconian. Teachers in Florida subject to similar standards have been forced to either empty classroom libraries, cover them up, or catalog each book into a central system to check for compliance with their districts’ restrictive standards.

Other parts of the Bill of Rights seem to fearmonger and imply that parents are never listened to in schools. The bill calls for school districts to consider community feedback when making decisions, allow parents to address school boards, and notify parents of violent activity happening on school grounds. These are already more-or-less standard practices for schools across the country, but in combining these demands with others that are more radical, the bill’s proponents push an agenda that escalates an already ongoing assault on teachers and students.

In 2021, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to the government asking for a comprehensive investigation into violent threats against school board members, writing that the threats “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the Justice Department to carry out such an inquiry shortly after. In February, House Republicans subpoenaed officials including Garland, questioning such efforts to support school board members, in attempts to cast doubt on the school board letter and their concerns in the first place.

And now, Republicans are lining up behind a bill that broadly mandates educators and policymakers to “respect the First Amendment rights of parents as well as their right to assemble.” In hiding behind amorphous constitutional language, Republicans are signing off on, and encouraging, threats against school staff and escalating an attack on the freedom of teachers to teach and students to learn without being policed by outside interests.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel Was Targeted in Plot to Kill Jewish State Officials

The Democratic attorney general is the latest target in growing antisemitism and political violence in this country.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks outside with a microphone in hand
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel revealed Thursday that she was the target of an antisemitic extremist attack, part of a growing wave of violence against Democratic lawmakers and Jewish people.

The FBI and local authorities arrested a man named Jack Carpenter III for plotting to kill all Jewish Michigan elected officials. Carpenter tweeted on February 17 that he was “heading back to Michigan now threatening to carry out the punishment of death to anyone that is jewish in the Michigan govt if they don’t leave, or confess,” according to court documents. He also insisted that a “New Israel” had been formed in the town of Tipton, where he lived.

The FBI has confirmed I was a target of the heavily armed defendant in this matter,” Nessel tweeted Thursday morning. “It is my sincere hope that the federal authorities take this offense just as seriously as my Hate Crimes & Domestic Terrorism Unit takes plots to murder elected officials.” Carpenter had three handguns, a shotgun, and two hunting rifles, one of which was a military-style weapon.

Nessel is not the only recent victim of political violence. She isn’t even the only one in her state: In 2020, four men plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer because of the Covid-19 safety restrictions she had implemented. They also thought she would tighten gun regulations.

More recently, a man broke into former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco in October and attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer. Paul Pelosi had to have emergency surgery on his skull because of his injuries, though he appears to be recovering.

Antisemitism has also become increasingly visible over the past year, fueled in part by rapper Kanye West’s open embrace of Nazis and hateful rhetoric. He and noted antisemite Nick Fuentes met and had dinner with former President Donald Trump in November.

Trump did not apologize for the meeting or condemn the two men’s beliefs. Republican leadership has stayed mostly silent on the meeting. They have also used the Paul Pelosi attack to spread conspiracy theories and even mock the Pelosi family.

In doing so, they are condoning political violence. Keep in mind, this is the party that has continuously played down the January 6 insurrection and even tried to claim that it was not carried out by Trump supporters. Their actions will only embolden more people to keep up these and other terrifying attacks.

Every Democrat Who Voted With Republicans to Block a Rule on Sustainable Investing

Environmental, social, and corporate governance, or ESG, investing is Republicans’ new favorite target in the war on “wokeness.” And a few Democrats are helping them.

Senators Joe Manchin and John Tester speak outside. The Capitol is in the background.
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Senators Joe Manchin and John Tester

Two Senate Democrats sided with Republicans Wednesday to pass a bill blocking the Labor Department from implementing a rule that allows retirement plans to consider environmental, social, and corporate governance, or more sustainable, investing practices.

The bill, the latest salvo in Republicans’ manufactured culture war, passed 50–46. It passed the House on Tuesday and now goes to Joe Biden, who has said he will use his veto powers for the first time in his presidency to block the measure.

The Democrats who helped Republicans get the bill over the finishing line in both chambers of Congress are:

  • Senator Jon Tester of Montana
  • Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia
  • Representative Jared Golden of Maine

Environmental, social, and corporate governance, or ESG, is a framework that helps investors understand how an organization—in this case, retirement savings plan managers—manages risks and opportunities regarding sustainability. Issues of sustainability include environmental protection, impact on society, and aligning corporate leadership goals with stakeholder ones.

The Labor Department rule makes it easier for retirement plan managers to consider ESG factors such as climate change when making investments or voting on behalf of shareholders. It does not actually require the plans to include these considerations, making it clear this bill is just another Republican attempt to fearmonger over something that’s really not bad.

ESG investing also tends to have positive long-term effects, including higher sales to customers, higher employee productivity, and higher company valuation, as well as the impact on environmental and social issues.

Both Manchin and Tester, who are up for reelection in 2024, said they were voting to block the Labor Department rule because they thought retirement funds should focus solely on ensuring returns on investments—even though there is a link between positive performance for ESG investments and financial returns.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have introduced a competing bill called the Freedom to Invest in a Sustainable Future Act that would codify retirement plan managers’ right to consider ESG factors when making decisions. It is unlikely to get the support it needs to pass the Republican-controlled House.

Kevin McCarthy’s Pathetic Defense for Giving January 6 Footage to Tucker Carlson

The House speaker keeps coming up with new reasons why the Fox News host should get access.

A close-up of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, glancing to the side.
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has accused the news media of being “jealous” that Fox News host Tucker Carlson got there first to ask for access to the security footage from the January 6 attack.

McCarthy has come under fire for giving Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of security footage from the 24 hours surrounding the insurrection. Democrats are worried that Carlson, who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the attack and claimed it was a false-flag operation, will use the videos to spread more disinformation about January 6.

“It almost seems like the press is jealous,” McCarthy told The Washington Post. “And that’s interesting because every person in the press works off exclusives on certain things.”

“People like exclusives, and Tucker is someone that’s been asking for it,” said McCarthy, describing Carlson’s coverage as “opinion,” not news. “So I let him come in and see it, but everyone’s going to get it.”

Putting aside the fact that McCarthy’s main argument is that Carlson called first dibs, giving Fox News access in any case is dangerous. As Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, “They are experts in manipulating media and cutting context, so it’s absolutely true that they may take some of that tape and manipulate it in really disturbing ways that could incite violence.”

Carlson and his colleagues are fully aware that they are spreading conspiracy theories and false information about the 2020 election and January 6. Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch admitted he knew his organization was spreading lies about the 2020 election results in a deposition for a lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems made public Monday. A week earlier, Dominion also released a trove of messages and depositions from anchors, including Carlson, in which they admitted they knew the election conspiracies were false but continued to share them anyway.

Releasing the footage could provide key information to anyone who might want to try to redo January 6. The videos could reveal strategic locations in the Capitol, such as safe rooms and cameras, as well as give people a better sense of the building’s layout, making it harder for lawmakers to run and hide.

McCarthy has managed to one-up himself, though, announcing Tuesday that the January 6 footage would also be made available to the defense lawyers for people charged in connection with the riot.

The California Republican insisted that the footage was already made available to the defendants under former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But a Pelosi spokesperson said she never authorized access to the footage “because Speaker Pelosi did not have that authority and believes that it appropriately belongs to security officials.”

McCarthy also accused the Democrats of hypocrisy because the House January 6 investigative committee had shown footage from the day, and Pelosi’s daughter had posted a video online of lawmakers in a secure military base after evacuating the Capitol.

Alexandra Pelosi’s video did not show the escape route from the Capitol or any information about their location that was not already publicly known. A spokesman for the January 6 committee had already said in a statement that any footage shown during the hearings “was treated with great sensitivity.”

“Access was limited to members and a small handful of investigators and senior staff, and the public use of any footage was coordinated in advance with Capitol Police. It’s hard to overstate the potential security risks if this material were used irresponsibly,” the spokesman said.

Bernie Sanders Moves to Subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for Union-Busting Allegations

Schultz has previously declined invitations to appear before the Senate about the allegations.

Howard Schultz close-up
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for The New York Times
Howard Schultz

Senator Bernie Sanders is continuing to use his newfound committee influence to hold corporate leaders’ feet to the fire. Now he’s calling to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, on allegations of the company’s union-busting.

Sanders announced Wednesday that the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, Committee will vote on March 8 as to whether it will issue a subpoena to the Starbucks executive, who previously declined a voluntary invitation to appear in front of the committee.

Starbucks cited Schultz’s scheduled March step-down as reason to offer a company chief public affairs officer to appear instead. The HELP committee was not interested in the alternative and subsequently is looking to forcibly subpoena Schultz.

“The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed over 75 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law and there have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against his company,” Sanders said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Mr. Schultz has given us no choice, but to subpoena him. A multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity. The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable.”

The announcement comes the same day that over 70 white-collar Starbucks employees and even managers released a letter in protest of the company’s return-to-office policies and its alleged union-busting activity. “We call on Starbucks to commit to a policy of neutrality and respect federal labor laws by agreeing to follow Fair Election Principles, and allow store partners, whether pro- or anti-union, to decide for themselves, free from fear, coercion, and intimidation.”

As of this writing, at least 412 Starbucks stores nationwide have attempted a unionization effort; 281 have successfully unionized, and another 37 elections are ongoing. Given allegations of union-busting activity coming from both store and corporate workers, as well as Congress itself, the 57 failed and 33 withdrawn bids may generate further scrutiny, when compared to the overwhelming number of successful efforts.