2011 - %3, February

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 24, 2011

Thu Feb. 24, 2011 5:25 AM EST

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Paratroopers with the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, engaged enemy forces during a Joint Operation Access Exercise on Fort Bragg, N.C., 14 Feb. The 3rd BCT parachuted from the sky into a real-world scenario where they had to clear an area and establish a base of operations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cody A. Thompson, 40th Public Affairs Detachment)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Corn on "Hardball": What Wisconsin Means

Thu Feb. 24, 2011 4:33 AM EST

David Corn and Chris Cillizza followed Marty Beil, the executive director of the Wisconsin AFSCME, on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the protests in Wisconsin and how the changing events there portend for similar situations in other states and the future of organized labor as a political force.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook. Get David Corn's RSS feed.

In Zimbabwe, Zero Tolerance for "the Egyptian Way"

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 8:24 PM EST

Have the Middle East's revolutionary stirrings made their way to southern Africa?

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, isn't taking any chances. On Saturday his government arrested 46 people for attending a lecture titled "Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia: What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa?" The group of students, activists, and trade unionists was charged with treason and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports that Mugabe has dispatched commandos to the other end of Africa to help Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi repress the popular uprising that is taking over his country. (Read MoJo's explainer for more on Libya.)

Polar Bear Cubs Emerge From Hibernation

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:25 PM EST

This post courtesy BBC Earth. For more wildlife news, find BBC Earth on Facebook and Posterous.

January and February is a fantastic time of year for new life all over the world! And activity in the Arctic is of no exception, even though the freezing temperatures may have you thinking differently. Surviving and succeeding in the most extreme elements, the polar bear is one of nature's great fighters. And it starts from day one.

Born in the darkness of December, within the mountainous areas of the Arctic Circle, the first few weeks of these cubs' life would be fraught with danger if it wasn't for one thing: the dedication of their mother.

After consuming huge amounts of food (almost doubling their body weight!) in preparation for hibernation, the female polar bear will first wait for the sea ice to break up. Then in the snow drifts near the coastal waters, will go about making her den that will be her resting place for the next three to four months.

Resting in their deep warm nesting place, the polar bear mother will usually give birth to a pair of cubs. Born blind and deaf, these vulnerable bears take several weeks to develop even the basic abilities of seeing, hearing, smelling and walking. However with the dens insulation and their mother's fur and fatty milk, they'll be off to a fighting start in no time. And when the time does come, how exciting it is!

With the cubs weighing about 25 pounds and with the right weather conditions, the polar bear mother will break the den. Heading out on her own initially, mum will enjoy the shining sun, open space and fresh snow that she has been without throughout this entire process. And then it's time for the cubs.

 

Although it's no easy ride! The first breaths of the cold Arctic air and their inexperience of the snowy terrain means they won’t be traveling far a few weeks yet. However mum will continue to nurse them, they will learn communication and socialization skills through play with each other, and then the journey begins down the great slopes... to find their first tasty meal.

TN Legislature May Force Schools to Teach Science "Controversies"

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:18 PM EST

The Tennessee House of Representatives is debating a bill on Wednesday that would push teachers to frame evolution, global warming, and other science topics as controversial in their classrooms, creating the impression that their validity is open for debate.

The measure, introduced earlier this month, requires state and local education systems to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" so that teachers can "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." An identical bill has also been offered in the state Senate.

"The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy," the bill states. Further, the state will not prohibit any teacher from "helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

It's not clear what the efforts to "assist" teachers in framing science as controversial would mean; it would probably depend largely on the school district. But the second part of the bill would make it entirely permissible for educators to teach whatever they want to kids about these subjects as long as they frame it as "science" and somehow relevant to the "controversy." And the bill doesn't limit this to just the "controversies" it lists explicitly. The intent of course is clear—compelling teachers to include creationist or climate-change denying materials alongside of actual scientific lessons.

As Julia Whitty wrote here last month, the most recent national survey of high school biology teachers found that only 28 percent consistently teach evolutionary biology. A full 13 percent already explicitly include creationism or intelligent design in their classes. The majority—60 percent—are cautious about even broaching the subject. As a result, nearly three-quarters of American students are in classrooms where information about evolution is "absent, cursory, or fraught with misinformation." The fear of controversy is enough to scare them away from the topic already.

It's the cautious group of teachers that the kind of state-level law proposed in Tennessee would most affect, said Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in the classroom. "For those folks, they're looking for a way out," said Rosenau. "They don't want to advocate for anything and they don't want to be seen as taking sides." And as a result, students don't learn even the basics about evolution in many public schools.

Five other state legislatures have presented anti-evolution bills already this year. A bill in New Mexico was tabled earlier this month and another in Oklahoma failed in committee on Tuesday. The Missouri House also has an anti-evolution bill on the table this session. Right now, the only state with this kind of law on the books is Louisiana, which passed a similar measure couched as "academic freedom" in 2008. And as I reported last year, global warming deniers and creationists have been joining forces more often in recent years to force schools to "teach the controversy" on these subjects.

Did Gov. Scott Walker Break the Law During Prank Call?

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:01 PM EST

Did Wisconsin Scott Walker break the law during his phone conversation with a prank caller posing as right-wing billionaire David Koch? At least one campaign finance watchdog, the Public Campaign Action Fund, is exploring whether Walker violated a ban against political coordination in Wisconsin.

Walker believed he was speaking to Koch who—along with his brother, Charles Koch—is among the richest men in the US and major funders of dozens of right-wing groups. The political action committee of Koch Industries, the brothers' business empire, was a top donor to Walker's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. In reality, though, Walker was actually speaking with Ian Murphy, a self-described gonzo journalist and editor of the Buffalo Beast. The prank has stirred up a major national controversy, with critics crying foul over Walker's comments to the faux "David Koch."

In his conversation, Walker says that GOP lawmakers in "swing areas" will need support for their decision to back Walker's controversial budget repair bill, which would cut collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions, among other changes. Walker appears to hint that the fake David Koch could be the one to provide that outside support to those swing-district Republicans. Here's the full exchange:

Gov. Walker: "After this in some of the coming days and weeks ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are going to need, they don’t need initially ads for them, but they’re going to need a message out. Reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy, a good thing to do for the state. So to the extent that message is out over and over again is certainly a good thing."

Ian Murphy (pretending to be David Koch): "Right, right. We’ll back you any way we can."

"If Wisconsin law forbids coordination with political donors similar to federal law, Gov. Scott Walker is not just in political trouble, but in legal hot water," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund.

There are several looming questions here. First, can what Walker said actually be considered collaboration? And does the law even apply if the caller is a prankster? Adam Smith, spokesman for the Public Campaign Action Fund, says the group is looking closely at Wisconsin law to answer these questions and take appropriate action, if any at all.

The controversy centers around Walker's budget bill, which would, among other things, eliminate public-sector unions' right to collectively bargain and allow the state hold no-bid auctions for state-owned energy assets like power plants. For the past nine days, unions and left-leaning groups have been protesting Walker's bill, demanding that he allow unions to keep their bargaining rights. Walker, however, has refused to negotiate with labor leaders, saying the bargaining provision is crucial to the state's future fiscal health.

In addition to donating to Walker's 2010 campaign, the Koch Industries PAC also gave more than a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent more than $3 million attacking Walker's 2010 opponent, Democratic Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Quote of the Day: Shutting Down the Government

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 2:51 PM EST

From Jamelle Bouie, writing about the possibility of a tea party-inspired government shutdown next month:

Compared to 1995, today's GOP is far more anti-government and far more ideological than it was under Gingrich.

For anyone who live through that era, this is hard to believe. But it's true. It's also true, as Jamelle says, that a shutdown would pretty quickly lead to real consequences for real people: "This was damaging enough in 1995, when the economy was in the middle of an unprecedented expansion. Today, with slow growth and double-digit unemployment, it would be catastrophic." Yes it would. See David Leonhardt about the austerity programs in Germany and Britain for more about that.

GOP Wants EPA to Keep Sitting On Its Ash

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 2:04 PM EST

The Environmental Protection Agency has been weighing several regulatory options for dealing with coal ash, the toxic remnants left behind in the process of burning coal in our nation's power plants. The new regulations have been delayed for months now, and there's a good deal of concern that the agency may bow to pressure from industry groups to set a weaker standard. But if House Republicans get their way, the EPA won't set new rules for coal ash disposal at all.

Among the many anti-environmental provisions in the spending bill that the House passed early Saturday morning was a provision blocking the EPA from finalizing a coal ash rule, sponsored by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). As the Center for Public Integrity reports, both lawmakers have been heavily backed by utilities.

The EPA was already under a great deal of pressure to issue a weak rule on coal ash, the stuff captured by scrubbers because we have deemed it too hazardous to emit into the air. The agency proposed a tough rule in October 2009 that would have designated the waste as toxic, but when the rule emerged from the White House Office of Management and Budget last May a much weaker option was also on the table. The administration has faced a good deal of pressure from utilities and the coal-ash recycling industry to adopt the weaker option in setting a final rule.

Right now, utilities are allowed to dump the ash into vast open pits. The EPA signaled its plans to regulate the waste in December 2008, after an earthen dike containing 1.1 billion gallons of the sludge ruptured at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee. But if House Republicans get their way, nothing will change—leaving a number of communities around the country in harm's way. The Environmental Integrity Project has identified 137 sites where toxic materials from coal ash have leached into the groundwater, and the EPA has labeled 49 dump sites "high hazard."

The House-passed continuing resolution would also bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and slash the agency's budget by a third.

Maine Gov: "Worst Case Is Some Women May Have Little Beards"

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 1:31 PM EST

Today, the Bangor Daily News reports on Maine governor Paul LePage's weird comments on the chemical bisphenol A. Last week, LePage remarked:

"Quite frankly, the science that I'm looking at says there is no [problem]," LePage said. "There hasn't been any science that identifies that there is a problem."

LePage then added: "The only thing that I've heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards."

Quick, someone call JAMA! We have a scientist in the house, folks.

Unfortunately, bizarre though LePage's comments may be, he's not the only one confused about BPA, as I reported in my piece on BPA in canned foods. The FDA can't seem to make up its mind on the issue, despite National Institutes of Health's finding that BPA is of "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures."

Also, I don't want a beard, even a little one. Just saying.

Indiana Conducting "Immediate Review" of Official Who Called For Using "Live Ammunition" on Wisconsin Protesters

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 1:25 PM EST

UPDATE: Jeff Cox has been fired

ORIGINAL POST: Wednesday morning, Mother Jones reported that Jeff Cox, an Indiana deputy attorney general, had called for using "live ammunition" against Wisconsin protesters. Cox's bosses have issued a statement noting that they are conducting an "immediate review" of the prolific tweeter and blogger and that the state attorney general will take "appropriate personnel action" when the review of the "serious matter" is complete. The statement:

The Indiana Attorney General's Office does not condone the inflammatory statements asserted in the "Mother Jones" article and we do not condone any comments that would threaten or imply violence or intimidation toward anyone. Civility and courtesy toward all constituents is very important to this agency. We take this matter very seriously.

An immediate review of this personnel matter is now under way to determine whether the assertions made in the "Mother Jones" article about an employee are accurate. When that review is complete, appropriate personnel action will be taken.

The reporter who wrote the "Mother Jones" article informs us that the offensive postings over the weekend were made using a personal Twitter account and personal email, not a state government email account.

As public servants, state employees should strive to conduct themselves with professionalism and appropriate decorum in their interactions with the public. This is a serious matter that is being addressed.

Meanwhile, People for the American Way, a national progressive advocacy organization, has called for Cox to resign. The group says Cox's "call for violence" is "beyond the pale" and adds that he "should step down immediately."