2011 - %3, March

Obama's Snoozefest of an Energy Speech

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 4:10 PM PDT

The Obama administration has had terrible luck when it comes to energy. A year ago tomorrow President Obama called for increased offshore drilling, only to have the Deepwater Horizon explode a few weeks later and unleash the worst oil spill in US history on the Gulf of Mexico. In this year's State of the Union he called for a "clean energy standard" that included, among other things, nuclear power—only to have a bunch of reactors malfunction in Japan. I do feel a little bit bad for the administration for that reason. But it's worth noting that the administration didn't change courses on those two issues at all in Obama's energy speech on Wednesday. In fact, Obama only dug in further on both oil and nuclear.

This is especially uninspiring given the context in which he gave the speech. The upheaval in a number of Middle Eastern nations has raised concerns about our dependence on the region for oil. Rising gas prices are making Americans anxious. Japan is still in the middle of a nuclear disaster. The first anniversary of the Gulf spill is upon us. And the Senate is currently considering several measures to block the EPA from acting on greenhouse gas emissions, an issue inextricable from our energy concerns.

There were a few good promises in the speech on the energy front. You can read his remarks here or read more on the Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future. In them, Obama calls for a one-third cut in oil use in the next 10 years, in addition to the goal of drawing 80 percent of our energy from "clean" sources 2035 that he outlined earlier this year. You should read David Roberts at Grist for more detailed griping about the speech.

But the administration's energy and climate agenda is probably on the back burner for the foreseeable future, so I'm having a hard time really getting too worked up about the speech. I have very little faith that the House and Senate can come to an agreement on even minor policy on this—even if Obama had said all the right things in the speech.

I will point out, though, that it would have been nice if he'd lent some support to the Environmental Protection Agency's work on greenhouse gas regulations in the speech, given that the Senate may well vote this week to block the agency from acting. Reaffirmation of the administration's support for those rules would have been useful today of all days.

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The GOP's Pathetic Attack on Elizabeth Warren

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 3:12 PM PDT

Republicans in Congress love to attack Elizabeth Warren, the White House aide overseeing the start-up of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). At a March 16 hearing, House GOPers used Warren as a "punching bag," as one columnist put it, questioning her authority as the CFPB's for-the-time-being leader and predicting the bureau's imminent demise. None of those criticisms, however, compares to the pathetic accusation leveled by Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in a letter (PDF) sent to Warren on Wednesday.

Bachus and Moore Capito accuse Warren of misleading Congress about the CFPB's role in the negotiations over a proposed settlement for the mortgage servicing industry. The settlement—which has been savaged by Republicans, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, and other conservatives—will likely demand that servicers fix their dysfunctional operations so that homeowners aren't ripped off and improperly foreclosed on, an all-too-common occurrence. Warren told Congress that the CFPB offered advice on what the settlement should contain. But in their letter, Bachus and Moore Capito say Warren's agency "did more than provide advice: it recommended the goals and provided a detailed framework for the structure of the settlement." It's a clear insinuation: you lied to us.

Nebraska Denies Prenatal Care to Undocumented Women

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 3:01 PM PDT

So much for being pro-life. Nebraska, the state that outlawed nearly all abortions past 20 weeks, eliminated prenatal care for about 1600 Medicaid patients last March. A year later, the results are stark: at least five babies have died and more women are foregoing prenatal care, with sometimes tragic consequences. As the Lincoln Journal Star reports

At least five babies have died. Women are traveling 155 miles to get prenatal care. Babies have been delivered at clinics, in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms... About half of the women dropped from the program are undocumented. Those babies are U.S. citizens as soon as they are born and will automatically qualify for Medicaid health services upon delivery.

At the Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus, the number of female patients has doubled, and the income for the prenatal program has dropped drastically, said Rebecca Rayman, executive director. Women are coming to the center from 22 counties. Even with shifting money from other programs, the clinic finished 2010 losing $167,530. Four infants died in utero at the Columbus health center, she said. In the previous seven years, the clinic had never had an in utero death.

A bill currently on the Nebraska state floor would reinstate Medicaid prenatal coverage for all Nebraska "pre-citizens", regardless of the legal status of their mothers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Campbell, states that "ensuring prenatal care for more children will significantly help reduce infant mortality... and will spare many infants from the burden of congenital disabilities and reduce the cost of treating those congenital disabilities after birth." However, a similar bill sponsored by Campbell failed in 2010 because Campbell could not get enough votes to pass it in the Senate. Part of the lack of support came from increased pressure by anti-immigration groups, but a threatened veto by Gov. Dave Heineman was key.

Pro-life groups have been divided on the issue of providing care to undocumented pregnant women in Nebraska. The Archdiocese of Nebraska endorsed Campbell's bill reinstating prenatal coverage, but Nebraska Right to Life continued to endorse Gov. Heineman even after he decided that not all unborn children are created equal. It's ironic that although Gov. Heineman has been rabidly anti-abortion, his anti-immigrant views may be creating more terminations. Some low-income women reportedly told their doctors they would be getting abortions rather than go through pregnancy and birth without any prenatal care. As Caron Gray, an OB/GYN practicing at the Creighton Medical Center in Omaha, told a reporter: "It comes down to a pro-life issue. If you are pro-life, then you would be doing all you can to provide care for the unborn US citizens."

 

h/t Wonkette

This Week in Zany Florida Republicans

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 1:32 PM PDT

Not to pick on the Sunshine State, where I was reared and the 2000 election was sorta decided, but it's always been the crazy-news nexus of the universe...and that was before last year's elections, which handed legislative supermajorities and every state cabinet office over to the GOP—including the governorship, to tea party-friendly (and common-sense-challenged) Gov. Rick Scott. In recent weeks, we've detailed the hilarity that ensues when tea partiers decide to dismantle the protections of government that had been assembled by Democrats and Republicans alike in this, the fourth-largest state in the union. Included in the fun:

But wait! There's more! Here's a roundup of the latest Tallahassee terror from just the past three days. If we have time, this will probably become a regular feature. There should be no shortage of down-South silliness, at least until the 2012 elections.

Kansas, Idaho Advance "Pain-Capable" Fetus Bills

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 1:13 PM PDT

Kansas and Idaho are the latest states to take up bills that would reduce the window of time in which women can obtain an abortion. Last month, we reported that Minnesota lawmakers had introduced a bill that would limit abortions to 20 weeks after conception, based on the (not-scientifically-sound) claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point. That bill was approved in committee, the Minnesota Independent reports, and is expected to advance.

This week, the Kansas legislature passed a similar bill that would ban abortion at 22 weeks, on the same premise that the fetus can feel pain at that point. The law creates an exemption if the abortion is needed to save the life of the mother or if there will be "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman"—but explicitly states that the mental or emotional health of the woman doesn't count. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Sam Brownback, a staunch anti-abortion Republican. As the Kansas City Star reports, the state legislature there has repeatedly passed bills that would have made obtaining an abortion in the state much more difficult, but the previous Democratic governor vetoed them. Kansas lawmakers also approved a bill that will require teenagers seeking an abortion to get written consent from both parents before they can do so, as Robin Marty reports at RH Reality Check.

Idaho lawmakers also advanced a bill on Wednesday that sets the "fetal pain" ban at 20 weeks. It was passed out of committee in the state House and will now go to a full vote; it already passed the state Senate. The bills are all similar to one passed in Nebraska last year.

Supreme Court Rules Against Exonerated Death Row Prisoner Who Sued Prosecutors

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 12:33 PM PDT

Last October, Mother Jones published a long piece about the case of John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated--based on evidence that had been purposefully withheld by prosecutors in the office of New Orleans DA Harry Connick Sr.  A Louisiana jury found the DA's office culpable for Thompson's ordeal (which included coming within weeks of execution before the exculpatory evidence was revealed), and awarded him $14 million in compensatory damages.

The state appealed the jury's verdict all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which yesterday ruled against Thompson and stripped him of his award. As reported by the Washington Post:

Conservative justices prevailed in the 5 to 4 ruling, which shielded the district attorney’s office from liability for not turning over evidence that showed John Thompson’s innocence.

Justice Clarence Thomas said Thompson could not show a pattern of “deliberate indifference” on the part of former district attorney Harry Connick Sr. in training his staff to turn over evidence to the defense team.

It was the first decision of the court term that split the justices into ideological camps, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disagreement by reading a summary of her dissent from the bench.

“I would uphold the jury’s verdict awarding damages to Thompson for the gross, deliberately indifferent and long-continuing violation of his fair trial right,” she said, adding that she was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

She said the actions of prosecutors under the control of Connick, who left office in 2003 and is the father of the famous singer of the same name, “dishonored” the obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the accused established in Brady v. Maryland nearly 50 years ago.

Ginsburg also wrote that "Connick’s deliberately indifferent attitude created a tinderbox in which Brady violations were nigh inevitable.” As we wrote in October, many other convictions secured by the office have also been overturned, all due to suppression of evidence. “They all try to portray it as rogue prosecutor; a fluke,”  said New Orleans Defense Attorney Nick Trenticosta, but “Harry Connick used to give awards to prosecutors for successfully convicting people.”

Connick, Trenticosta said, created a culture where convictions were won “at any cost.” The office's zeal for sending people to death row was such that a New Orleans prosecutor kept on his desk a model electric chair holding photos of five condemned men--John Thompson among them. Trenticosta has called the prosectors’ actions “calculated measures to take people’s lives away.” 

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Chernokids: Chernobyl's Cartoon Heroes

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 12:14 PM PDT

Chernokids (english subtitles) from Les Chernokids on Vimeo.

 

This video is disturbing, tragic, hopeful, and oddly beautiful. It's hard to watch. Kinda queasy-making, with hints of exploitation. But also kinda gorgeous. From Chernokids, a French crew. See what you think.

And, yeah, there are cartoon superheroes—at about 04:30.

 

What's Next, Hello Kitty Chainsaws?

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 11:50 AM PDT

A week ago I traveled down to Compton, Calif. to report on a community fight there over the future of a public school. (Stay tuned for more on that front.) As I waited to meet with parents in McKinley Elementary's PTA room, Compton School Police Officer Lorenzo Gray came in and pulled out a thick, black binder filled with pictures of colorful guns—pink guns, yellow guns, guns with American flags, guns with white bunnies on them.

"Is this gun real or fake?" he asked six Latina mothers at the PTA room. "Fake," the six mothers responded after they consulted with each other.

After 20 images, the officer then passed a heavy, gray, metal gun around the room. I am actually used to holding real guns—my father and I used to shoot pinecones and bottles during our country summer vacations when I was growing up in Latvia—so I was curious to see how an American handgun compared to the Soviet ones my father used to own. The weight was similar, it was cold to the touch, and it felt rough around the edges. There was a small sign that said, "Made in Japan," and it had serial numbers on it. "Fake or real?" the officer asked me, as I turned to him. "Don't point it at me!" he laughed. Turns out the one I was holding was a toy, and those pink and patterned ones (like the ones shown here) were real.


The Power Politics of Left and Right

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 11:27 AM PDT

Back during the brief period when Democrats controlled 60 seats in the Senate, they could have rammed through a bill to grant statehood to Washington DC. This would have guaranteed them two extra Democratic senators and at least one extra Democratic House member. So why didn't they do it? Jonathan Bernstein suggests that it demonstrates a core difference between the parties:

I think perhaps the reason is that for whatever reason, in recent years Republicans have tended to use their best legislative and executive chances to secure long-term electoral advantages, while Democrats have tended to use theirs to enact substantive policy.....The point here isn't that the Democrats are especially spineless (or that Republicans are especially ruthless) — it's that they (may) think about, and use, power differently.

....Speaking of which...this also explains another of this blog's hobbyhorses, the GOP certainty that Democrats are going to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine in order to shut down Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio hosts. If it's true that conservatives do think as Drum and I have speculated, then their belief is explained because they know that that's what they would do if they were in a similar situation. And guess what? As soon as they gained a majority in the House (at least this time around), conservatives moved quickly to defund NPR, which they see as the liberal alternative to conservative talk radio.

This is, more or less, an answer to my question about longtime Republican efforts to defund the left: the reason that Democrats don't do the same thing is because they're more interested in passing substantive policy, and there's only so much bandwidth available to them. If you spend all your time on policy, you just don't have time to do a lot of other stuff.

I'm not sure I buy this entirely, since defunding activities are often pursued by different actors than policy activities. Still, it's an interesting notion, and one that jibes with something I've heard repeatedly on the funding side as well: conservative donors are generally eager to fund overtly political activities, while liberal funders are more interested in funding things they consider worthy endeavors. (And more likely to want lots of control over and accountability from the things they fund.) Food for thought.

Who Paid for This Documentary Calling Public Schools Evil? (Video)

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 10:58 AM PDT

Evolution? Prayer in schools? Drops in the bucket, according to the new 90-minute "documentary" flick, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America. (Check out the trailer below!) The film takes viewers on a trip across the US in a big ol' yellow school bus to learn about the state of education, as presented by producer Colin Gunn, who won an award at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival for something titled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. What Gunn and his family find in IndoctriNation, according to the movie's website, "is a masterful design that sought to replace God's recipe for training up the next generation with a humanistic, man-centered program that fragmented the family and undermined the influence of the Church and its Great Commission."