Weekend open thread: Frightening news

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

To get the conversation started, I’ve posted some scary or disturbing news after the jump.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of a husband who wants to bury his wife in Iowa, despite her preference to be buried in Montana. I am not an attorney, but I think the five justices in the majority got this one wrong. She had been separated from her husband for more than 15 years at the time of her death and had appointed her sister as executor of her will.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that a 2008 law requires residents to spell out in their health care power of attorney document who they want to handle burial arrangements. If they don’t, the decision will fall first to their spouse and then to their children, but they are not required to honor burial wishes.

The court made the ruling in the case of Mary Florence Whalen, who died in June in Anamosa at age 86.

Whalen was visiting Iowa from New Mexico last year, when she became too ill to return home. In Iowa, she stayed with her husband, Michael Whalen, who had separated from her in 1996 and moved to Anamosa.

Two months before she died, in April 2012, Whalen wrote a letter to her 10 children and her sister, Mary Ann McCluskey, the executor of her estate. In the letter, she said she wanted to be buried in Billings, Mont., because she had spent 51 years of her life and raised 10 children there. She said she had already purchased a plot and a casket and left instructions for her burial.

“I just want all of you to know that this is very important to me and because you all love and respect me, I know that you will see that my wishes are carried out,” the letter said.

But although Whalen had named her sister executor and detailed the burial wishes in her will, she did not designate anyone to handle burial arrangements on her health care power of attorney declaration.

This poor woman lived in New Mexico toward the end of her life and could not have expected to die in Iowa. She stated her wishes clearly in writing to her sister and her children. How was she supposed to know about an obscure provision in Iowa law, requiring her to designate in her medical power of attorney document  a person to handle burial arrangements? I agree with Chief Justice Mark Cady, who wrote in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Bruce Zager,

“Last wishes are sacrosanct, and every law or statute concerning last wishes has been constructed solidly upon this fundamental, common understanding,” he wrote. “This statute did not clearly negate our rich common law that has always protected our last wishes to claim our final resting place.”

Incidentally, how big a jerk is her husband for not honoring her wishes? She should have divorced that guy instead of remaining separated for all those years.

Speaking of court rulings, this week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to individual campaign contribution limits. Technically, the plaintiff is challenging only the limit on how much any one individual can donate collectively to candidates for federal office during a two-year election cycle (not the $5,000 limit on contributions to any one federal campaign during that period). However, in light of the Roberts Five’s expansive Citizens United ruling, I would not be surprised to see the same group strike down all federal campaign contribution limits. If that happens, a few individuals writing six-figure or seven-figure checks will more easily be able to buy members of Congress. As Fred Wertheimer writes, the court could “create a system of legalized bribery in Washington.”

Todd Dorman’s latest column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette tells a sad local story about compulsive gambling. He cites some of the conflicting evidence about whether living in close proximity to a casino increases gambling addiction. I don’t think Americans appreciate the huge scope of this problem. The talented former Des Moines Register writer Ken Fuson has spoken publicly and written about how his gambling addiction affected his life. The Linn County election on a proposed casino is in Cedar Rapids is set for March 5. I would vote no if I lived there.

A hospital in Flint, Michigan is getting sued after management honored a request from a man with a swastika tattoo not to assign African-American nurses to care for his infant in the NICU. Apparently it is not unusual for hospitals to honor patients’ racist requests.

Fordham University law professor Kimani Paul-Emile said she suspects nurses file more discrimination suits than doctors.

“With nurses and other sorts of staff, the hospital is telling them they can or cannot do something,” she said. “That might go to why you might see more lawsuits brought by nurses.”

She wrote an article last year in the UCLA Law Review titled “Patients’ Racial Preferences and the Medical Culture of Accommodation.” It was the source of the “open secrets” phrase.

Paul-Emile’s research cited a 2007 study at the University of Michigan Health System and others on how physicians respond to patients’ requests to be assigned providers of the same gender, race or religion.

The survey of emergency physicians found patients often make such requests, and they are routinely accommodated. A third of doctors who responded said they felt patients perceive better care from providers of shared demographics, with racial matches considered more important than gender or religion.

“The notion of white patients rejecting minority physicians for bigoted reasons in emergency departments and other hospital settings is deeply troubling and uncomfortably reminiscent of the type of discrimination that the civil rights statutes were designed to eliminate,” Paul-Emile wrote in her article.

Another study she cited found that patient requests for care by a physician are most often accommodated when made by racial minority patients.

I wonder how often Iowa hospitals honor such requests.

Robert Draper’s cover story for last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine should scare the living daylights out of Republicans.

The unnerving truth, which the Red Edge team and other younger conservatives worry that their leaders have yet to appreciate, is that the Republican Party’s technological deficiencies barely begin to explain why the G.O.P. has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The party brand – which is to say, its message and its messengers – has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”

I put that part in bold to emphasize that the Democratic advantage with young voters was not inevitable. When I was in high school and college, Republicans did extremely well with my age group. In fact, the first generation after the baby boomers is still the most GOP-leaning age cohort, to my knowledge.

This part of Draper’s piece would terrify me if I were a Republican.

The first [focus group] consisted of 10 single, middle-class women in their 20s; the second, of 10 20-something men who were either jobless or employed but seeking better work. All of them voted for Obama but did not identify themselves as committed Democrats and were sufficiently ambivalent about the president’s performance that Anderson deemed them within reach of the Republicans. Each group sat around a large conference table with the pollster, while I viewed the proceedings from behind a panel of one-way glass.

The all-female focus group began with a sobering assessment of the Obama economy. All of the women spoke gloomily about the prospect of paying off student loans, about what they believed to be Social Security’s likely insolvency and about their children’s schooling. A few of them bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid. “You get more off welfare than you would at a minimum-wage job,” observed one of them. Another added, “And if you have a kid, you’re set up for life!”

About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.””Change.””Open-minded.””Spending.””Handouts.””Green.””More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.””Old.””Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Anderson concluded the group on a somewhat beseeching note. “Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

“What would be the sign to you that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction?” Anderson asked them.

“Maybe actually pass something?” suggested a 28-year-old schoolteacher named Courtney, who also identified herself as conservative.

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list – “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

When I was in my 20s, the self-identified anti-abortion, conservative young people who thought welfare moms were “set up for life” were voting Republican.

I saved the worst news for last: “Six underground tanks holding radioactive waste are leaking at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington.” The reservation is already “America’s most contaminated facility.” Lacking the technology to safely keep nuclear waste out of groundwater permanently, we should not even be considering building more nuclear power plants.

  • Reaction

    1. “Create” system of legalized bribery?  Bribery is already well in place, as politicians troll K street, like prostitutes looking for johns, or head for their boiler rooms across the street from the Capital between votes to make desperate fundraising calls…..been that way for many years, and isn’t changing any time soon.

    2. The Times piece – good piece,  read it earlier, referred it to relatives who far right, one percenters. Their reaction?  Shrugs of shoulders, and discounted because it is in The Times.  Clueless. Bob Ray continues to turn over in his grave, and he isn’t even dead.

    3. Really, in life, this woman thought she would be buried in MT and therefore was at peace on that score in her closing days. Now that she is dead, the disposition of her remains doesn’t matter to her one bit. The part of her that really matters is in a much better place. RIP. The relatives are probably mad, and the “husband” is indeed a jerk.

    Little off topic and just anecdotal, but as I age and more friends/family die, it seems there are fewer and fewer “whole nine yards” funerals (visitation, casket,flowers,limo, funeral service and burial plot) and more immediate cremations with “memorial services to be held at a later date”. My own recent experience with a loved one was body donation, and a church service 10 days later.  The obituary cost more than what we paid the funeral home for a night’s stay, and a ride to the med school.  Has to be driving the funeral industry, what with its infrastructure, crazy.

    • point taken

      Should have said would make the legalized bribery system even worse.

      Draper’s article was interesting. Doesn’t mean Republicans can’t hold the House for a long time and maybe even win back the Senate, but it does make you wonder when they will be able to win another presidential election.

  • Fallon announcement?

    So, anyone know what office Ed Fallon will run for? I just saw on Facebook that he’ll be announcing a campaign this Friday.

    • Fallon

      Prime Minister of Iceland….No, he’s probably just trying to get a couple more people to tune into his show.  His show is actually interesting because of the guests and the topics.

    • he's announcing "a campaign"

      which is not necessarily a candidacy. I would not advise him to run for governor or Congress again, in any event. He could be thinking about a local race, like the Des Moines school board.

    • If he runs for something

      I look forward to voting against him. Even if it means voting Republican.

      • Agree

        If he runs I am looking forward to working and voting against him.  In 2000 Fallon worked and voted for George Bush against Al Gore.  If Fallon was that stupid to think George Bush would have been a better president than Al Gore.  Then Fallon is too stupid to have any public job higher than outhouse inspector.

    • not a candidacy

      He’s trying to mobilize people to march across the country to raise awareness about climate change.

  • I noticed the careful wording too

    Seems more likely it’s not a candidacy. But with so many potential races for him to jump in, maybe he just couldn’t resist going for it.

  • a

  • Sounds like the legislature is to blame

    On the burial case: I understand that the Iowa State Bar Association and the funeral-director lobby battled over this issue in 2008 and that the funeral-director lobby won. If that’s true (I’m hearing this second hand), then the blame falls on the legislature, not the five-justice majority.      

    • probably that too

      It would not surprise me to learn that legislators approved a poorly-worded law. However, the court could have accepted common-law precedent.

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