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House Speaker John Boehner at a Capitol Hill news conference on June 25. Boehner said Wednesday the Republican-controlled House will file a lawsuit accusing President Obama of failing to carry out laws passed by Congress. (AP)

House GOP Plows Forward With Plans To Sue Obama

Jul 11, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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House Republicans are pushing ahead with a plan to sue President Obama, accusing him of trying to sidestep Congress and make his own laws.

But the president is also using the suit, which is considered a long-shot in legal terms, to score political points.

House Speaker John Boehner says the lawsuit will focus on the administration's decision to postpone the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that large employers provide health insurance for their workers.

But the White House describes the suit as a "taxpayer-funded political stunt," and the president used it as a convenient punch line this week during a boisterous campaign-style rally in Austin, Texas.

There he told a friendly crowd that Republicans are upset with him just for doing his job.

"I've got a better idea: Do something," Obama said. "If you're mad at me for helping people on my own, let's team up. Let's pass some bills."

Obama complains that Republican lawmakers, especially in the House, have blocked action that many Americans support, such as immigration reform and a higher minimum wage.

"They are common sense things. They are not that radical," he said. "We know it's what should be doing. And what drives me nuts - and I know it drives you nuts - is that Washington isn't doing it."

In the face of congressional stalemates, Obama says he'll continue to exercise his executive powers whenever possible. He's already ordered federal contractors to pay their workers a higher minimum wage. And two years ago, his administration granted temporary legal status to young people who had been brought to the country illegally as children.

But Boehner says that in doing so, the president has over-stepped his authority, which is why the Republican-led Rules Committee will meet next week to consider green-lighting the lawsuit.

"This isn't about me suing the president. It's not about Republicans versus Democrats," Boehner said. "This is about the legislative branch being disadvantaged by the executive branch."

Obama suggests the complaints are driven by party politics, and that while he'll often highlight executive orders to show he's not hamstrung by Congress, he's actually issued fewer than any president since Grover Cleveland.

"Republicans didn't seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did," he told supporters at the rally. "Maybe it's just me they don't like. I don't know."

But Boehner counters it's not the number of executive orders that matters.

"Every president does executive orders; most of them, though, do them within the law," he said. "What we're talking about here are places where the president is basically rewriting law to make it fit his own needs."

The Supreme Court has already found that Obama went too far in some cases this year, striking down some of his recess appointments, and a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires most employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control.

In their lawsuit, however, Republicans have chosen to focus on a part of the health care law that's not being enforced: The administration decided last year to put off the requirement that large employers provide health insurance.

Republicans are thus fighting the decision to suspend a requirement that they didn't like in the first place.

In Texas this week, Obama said he's interested in solving problems, not staging photo-ops. But the picture developing in Washington remains one of a deeply divided government.

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House Speaker John Boehner at a Capitol Hill news conference on June 25. Boehner said Wednesday the Republican-controlled House will file a lawsuit accusing President Obama of failing to carry out laws passed by Congress. (AP)

The World Looked Better Through Anne Hollander's Eyes

by Alva Noë
Jul 11, 2014

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Plato once remarked that it is easy to make a picture. Anyone can do it. You just hold up a mirror to whatever you are interested in and presto! you have its picture.

Plato was mistaken. A reflection is no more a picture than a footprint is a sculpture. We make pictures, for this or that purpose; reflections, in contrast, just happen; we stumble upon them. Moreover, I see the car in the rearview mirror, but I do not, in the same sense, see my grandfather, long since deceased, when I look at his photograph.

In another sense, perhaps not quite intended, though, Plato may have been exactly right.

Mirror images may not be pictures, but we use them, sometimes, as if they were. This is because we think of ourselves, and of others — of how we look — on the model of how we show up, or might show up, in a pictorial representation.

The picture — in the words of art historian Anne Hollander, who died after a short illness this past week, — "is the standard by which the direct view is assessed — including the direct view of the self in the mirror."

When we turn to look at ourselves in the bathroom, vestibule or bedroom mirror, what we take an interest in is a kind of provisional self-portrait. In Hollander's words:

"Far from seeing objectively, the mirror gazer is engaged in creating a studio portrait of himself, not even a candid shot."

This idea of Hollander's is beautiful and profound. Her focus was clothing and the idea that our attitude and responses to clothing reflect standards and conventions from visual art. We measure the dressed people we see, and how we feel about our own visible bodies, by the standards set up in pictures.

Her point, I believe, is not merely that art influences us — sort of in the way ideologies might shape attitudes of all kinds — but rather that our lively and everyday interest in dressing and in the way others are dressed — an interest that is not parochial or contemporary but may very well be one of our defining preoccupations as a species — is in fact also an engagement with art.

If this is right, art isn't a cultural imposition from on high. Our experience is shaped by art from the ground up as we get dressed in the morning.

I suspect that Hollander's beautiful idea — that pictures provide the standards by which the direct view is assessed — might generalize beyond the scope of clothing and the human figure to include our interest in the visible world itself.

Western art aims at representing the visible world with conviction, Hollander writes. Perhaps there is a sense in which we are only convinced that we are getting things right when how things look conforms to what we would expect to see in a picture. Maybe this is why we sometimes feel convinced, of a beautiful landscape, that it is almost as if it was painted. And perhaps this is also why, these days at least, we so often feel driven and compelled to photograph anything of any value whatsoever, as if our depicting it makes it so.


You can keep up with more of what Alva No is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

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House Speaker John Boehner at a Capitol Hill news conference on June 25. Boehner said Wednesday the Republican-controlled House will file a lawsuit accusing President Obama of failing to carry out laws passed by Congress. (AP)

Remembering Jazz Legend Charlie Haden, Who Crafted His Voice In Bass

Jul 11, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Jazz legend Charlie Haden has died at the age of 76. Polio damaged Haden's voice when he was young, but as a bassist and composer, Haden helped shape the sound of jazz and still spanned country and gospel. For more on Haden's life and music, Melissa Block talks with Slate magazine columnist and jazz critic Fred Kaplan.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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House Speaker John Boehner at a Capitol Hill news conference on June 25. Boehner said Wednesday the Republican-controlled House will file a lawsuit accusing President Obama of failing to carry out laws passed by Congress. (AP)

Fate Of The New N.C. Voter ID Law Now Rests In A Judge's Hands

by Jeff Tiberii
Jul 11, 2014 (All Things Considered / WUNC-FM)

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North Carolina's voter ID law has come under fire in the courts, challenged by lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAACP and voting rights groups. A judge will decide whether parts of the law should be implemented or delayed. Jeff Tiberii of WUNC has been following the hearing, and he wraps up recent developments and possible outcomes.

Copyright 2014 WUNC-FM. To see more, visit http://wunc.org.

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An aerial view of oil palm fields of international agro-food company Olam, in Kango, central Gabon. (AFP/Getty Images)

Spread Of Palm Oil Production Into Africa Threatens Great Apes

by Maanvi Singh
Jul 11, 2014 (WUNC-FM)

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Gorillas in Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2013. Great apes like the gorilla have become increasingly threatened by the expansion of palm oil production in Africa.

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In recent years, consumers have grown increasingly aware that the explosion of palm oil plantations to supply food companies making everything from Pop-Tarts to ramen noodles has taken a heavy toll on the environment.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, where most of the world's palm oil is produced, environmental groups have been putting pressure on suppliers that convert rain forests into plantations.

Now it seems palm oil production in Africa is picking up, too. And the new farms there are threatening great ape populations in West and Central Africa, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

"Africa seems to be the new frontier," says Serge Wich, a primate biologist at Liverpool John Moores University and the lead author of the report. Sixty percent of African oil palm concessions — or land that's been set aside for the development of oil plantations — overlaps with the ape habitats.

Most of the areas in Southeast Asia that are suitable for palm oil production are already in use, Wich says. And as producers have scouted for new terrain suitable for growing palm, they've landed on Africa. That may be bad news for chimpanzees and gorillas in countries like Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon.

Although oil palms are native to Africa, they grow better in Southeast Asian climates, Wich tells The Salt. So palm oil companies that are moving to Africa have to use more land to keep up with the high yields of Asian plantations.

That may have an especially big impact on species like the bonobo — a kind of miniature chimp found mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Wich says. Bonobos are already endangered, and much of their habitat overlaps with the palm oil land concessions.

Wich says he started looking into palm oil production in Africa after seeing the damage the industry did to ape habitats in Asia. "I've seen the impact of oil palms on orangutans in Borneo," he says. "And I began to get worried that the same thing would happen to African apes."

This doesn't necessarily mean we need to stop consuming palm oil to save forests, Wich says. "I think it's difficult to ask consumers to use less oil."

Plus, oil palms are a more efficient source of vegetable oil than say, soybeans or rapeseed, he says.

What palm producers could do is switch to more sustainable growing practices. Producers often prefer to chop down forests because they can sell the wood to pay for the overhead costs of developing a plantation. But "there are areas without forest where oil palm development can happen," Wich says.

As we've reported, in response to pressure from environmental groups, consumers and investors, companies like Kellogg and Dunkin Donuts have committed to using sustainable palm oil.

Glenn Hurowitz, the campaign director at Forest Heroes, a rain forest protection coalition, says the African rain forests and the apes that live there can be saved. "I'm cautiously optimistic," he says. "We're pushing for companies to adopt no-deforestation policies."

And some producers are listening. Wilmar and Golden Agri-Resources, both big palm oil producers working in Asia and Africa, have such policies.

Wich says that's a bit of good news for apes. "There is some progress but it's going very slowly," he says. "And oil palm development is happening very fast."

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