2011 - %3, March

The "Most Anti-Environmental" Bill in 40 years?

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 5:51 PM EST

If you're following the budget fight, Wednesday marked a new round of debate over what it will look like. With no resolution yet reached between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate debated and voted on two separate options for the seven-month spending plan, known as the continuing resolution, neither of which mustered the 60 votes needed to move forward.

It's worth revisiting just how bad the House-passed CR is when it comes to environmental matters. It would block the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward on greenhouse gas regulations, which has drawn quite a bit of attention already. But it also specifically bars the EPA from acting on a number of other regulatory issues—like coal ash, toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants, emissions from cement kilns, and particulate emissions.

On top of those specific riders, it cuts the EPA's budget by a third—effectively limiting its ability to uphold basically every environmental law in this country. Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council has a recap of what he calls the "most anti-environmental bill to come before Congress in the last 40 years."

The Democrat's budget plan includes some cuts to environmental programs, but nothing close to what the Republican version calls for. But since both versions failed, senators will have to take another stab at negotiating something, which means major cuts to environmental programs are still in play.

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WATCH: The Irvine 11: Free Speech on Trial (Video)

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 5:20 PM EST

On Friday, March 10, eleven Muslim students will be arraigned on criminal charges for "conspiracy" to disrupt Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's 2010 speech at UC Irvine. If convicted, the students face up to six months in prison. Since heckling is common on college campuses, are these students being unfairly singled out? A Mother Jones video:

 

UPDATE 1, Friday, March 11, 3:06 p.m. PST: Reem Salahi, an attorney on the Irvine 11's legal defense team, tells me that the team has filed a motion to move the case to the California Attorney General’s jurisdiction. "We do not feel confident in the ability of the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) to prosecute this case," Salahi said. "They have engaged in prosecutorial misconduct."

She claims that OCDA illegally used subpoenas reserved for felony cases to obtain confidential client-attorney emails as the basis for the Irvine 11's misdemeanor case. In addition, Salahi alleges there is discrimination involved; she cites an internal OCDA email with the subject heading, "UCI Muslim case," even though the OCDA’s charges do not involve religion. "It raises the question of whether this is truly a case about the First Amendment," Salahi said.

Orange County Assistant District Attorney Wagner told the Orange County Register that his office had used the "UCI Muslim case" subject line as "shorthand" for Muslim Student Union. He also insisted that the defense has not stated "any grounds at all that would lead to the suppression of the evidence [obtained]."

The judge will consider the defense's motion, and has rescheduled the arraignment for Friday, April 15. More updates will be added to this post as they occur.

UPDATE 2, Friday, April 15, 5:05 p.m. PST: At today’s arraignment, all 11 defendants entered "not guilty" pleas. Reem Salahi, one of the "Irvine 11" attorneys, told me the case raises questions about "whether dissent will become criminalized." The judge said the defense’s arguments to remove the Orange County DA from the case will be heard June 17. The judge also set a pre-trial date of June 30 and a trial date of August 15.

There is a possibility that media statements made by the Orange County DA’s office, including Susan Schroeder’s video interview with Mother Jones, will be entered as evidence of the DA’s "selective and discriminatory prosecution," Salahi says. "The DA viewed this case differently than other prosecutions. That’s clear from looking at the internal documents, and hearing some of the statements they made—including the video on your website where Susan Schroeder….insinuates that the students were anti-Semitic."

Schroeder was not available for comment, but Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner said, "To put a finer point on it, what they were saying was certainly anti-Israel." Asked if anti-Israel and anti-Semitic was the same thing, Wagner replied, "I think they are making a distinction about that. To me, it’s about the same." He added later, "It’s pathetically slender evidence [they have] to say that we have religious bias against them."

Earlier this month, Jewish students at Brandeis University disrupted a Q&A session following Israeli parliamentarian Avi Dichter’s speech at the university. Students stood up one by one, accusing Dichter of war crimes, then left the room. Below is a video of the incident. Although the incident at UC Irvine was very similar in execution, the Brandeis students have not been prosecuted.

Navy Report Attacks "Pervasive" Tailhook Mentality

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 4:06 PM EST

When last we checked in with Navy Capt. Owen Honors in January, the second-highest-ranking officer on the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was sinking in some heavy seas. He'd planned and starred in a bunch of "movie night" video skits for the ship's 5,000-plus sailors—skits "whose coarse language and sexual frankness led his sailors to complain...and led the Navy to investigate," as we put it back then. (A short compilation of some of Honors' ill-advised cameos is here.)

That Navy inquest (PDF) was completed earlier this month. Predictably, several heads (including Honors') have rolled. But the investigation—authored by Rear Adm. Gerald R. Beaman, a former FBI agent—went much, much farther: It launched a broadside attack on "the continuing remnants of a pervasive culture in Naval Aviation that mistakenly accepts that a certain, extreme level of coarse humor is acceptable" in training warfighters.

The New York Times' Rape-Friendly Reporting

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 3:25 PM EST

From today's New York Times:

The police investigation began shortly after Thanksgiving, when an elementary school student alerted a teacher to a lurid cellphone video that included one of her classmates.

The video led the police to an abandoned trailer, more evidence and, eventually, to a roundup over the last month of 18 young men and teenage boys on charges of participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in the abandoned trailer home, the authorities said.

This story from Cleveland, Texas, is beyond horrifying. Obviously. Unfortunately, further injustices have now been heaped on the victim (and the movement to end rape culture) by the article's writer and editor.

"Gang Rape of Schoolgirl, and Arrests, Shake Texas Town," the Times article covering the atrocities, is a collection of one perpetrator-excusing, victim-blaming insult after another. It starts right after the lede and some further information about the suspects, who include middle schoolers and a 27-year-old. Then:

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act? [Italics mine.]

Hmm. My editors let me get away with passive voice, too, but in this case it seems inappropriate, as does the peculiar verb choice, which gives the suspects a little bit of a pass. If the allegations are proved, then the young men of Cleveland, Texas, committed these dreadful acts. However, by the story's semantics, they didn't allegedly do anything. They were coerced into it by some unnamed influence or entity.

But okay, maybe how 18 young men were allegedly drawn into gang-raping a child is truly the question on Clevelanders' minds. The article was written by a reporter, not a pundit, so perhaps it can't be helped that some of the reported content is wildly insensitive. For example:

"It's just destroyed our community," said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. "These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives."

You can't blame a reporter for reporting uncomfortable facts, like this evidence of a culture that places more responsibility on victims and has more sympathy for rapists. You can blame a reporter, though, for not using the tools available to him to provide a basic balance of information and opinions. A transition like this could follow that last quote: "But others have different concerns, like…" Now insert a quote from a person wondering what it's going to be like for the victim to have nightmares, post-traumatic stress, depression, possibly crippling intimacy issues for a very long time. Instead, the only other people quoted are saying things like this:

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands—known as the Quarters—said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.

"Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?" said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. "How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?"

This is the point at which, as the writer's editor, I would send him an email. "Dear James," it would say. "Thanks for getting this in! I have some concerns that we've only got quotes from people who are worried about the suspects ('The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next') and think the girl was asking for it, especially since, even if she actually begged for it, the fact that she is 11 makes the incident stupendously reprehensible (not to mention still illegal). We don't want anyone wrongly thinking you are being lazy or thoughtless or misogynist! Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster." 

It seems such a message never happened, because the story ends with the school district spokeswoman, whose primary concerns appear to be as screwed up as the rest of the community's.

The students who were arrested have not returned to school, and it is unclear if they ever will. Ms. Gatlin said the girl had been transferred to another district. "It's devastating, and it’s really tearing our community apart," she said. "I really wish that this could end in a better light."

You know what I really wish? After wishing that this had never happened, and didn't happen all the time? That major media organizations would stop sneakily, if unintentionally, promoting rape-friendliness. It doesn't help the cause of keeping our youth from getting drawn into such acts.

Cashing Out

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 3:11 PM EST

Matt Yglesias, who's a big fan of cashing out welfare benefits and thinks that "folk morality" gets in the way of implementing better policies, points us to a short piece in the Economist about a pilot program to help the homeless in London:

The Square Mile has more rough sleepers than any other London borough except Westminster: 338 were identified by Broadway, a charity, over the past year, most of whom had spent more than a year on the streets....Broadway tried a brave and novel approach: giving each homeless person hundreds of pounds to be spent as they wished....One asked for a new pair of trainers and a television; another for a caravan on a travellers’ site in Suffolk, which was duly bought for him. Of the 13 people who engaged with the scheme, 11 have moved off the streets. The outlay averaged £794 ($1,277) per person (on top of the project’s staff costs). None wanted their money spent on drink, drugs or bets.

Hold on a second. Am I reading this right? Broadway identified 338 long-term homeless, but only 13 actually engaged with them? Something doesn't add up here. It hardly seems credible that if you offered 338 people free money or stuff with no strings attached, only 13 would take you up on it. But if that is what happened, then the big result from the experiment isn't that 11 out of 13 people benefited in some way, it's that only 13 out of 338 were even willing to participate.

I don't know. Maybe Broadway identified 338 homeless people but only approached 13 of them? In any case, it hardly matters: it's one thing to surprise a handful of people with an offer of assistance and receive fairly modest requests. It would be quite another to set this up as a large-scale, ongoing program. Does anyone doubt for a second that once people figured out what was going on, the size of the requests would skyrocket quickly?

There's an enormous literature on the pros and cons of cash welfare vs. in-kind benefits (i.e., housing, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.), and this is hardly going to be settled in a few blog posts. But as with anything else in a democratic society, social welfare programs have to deal not just with the technocratic merits of one approach over another, but with the views of the taxpayers who are funding the programs. And taxpayers, like it or not, are wary about handing out large sums of money to people with no strings attached. For one thing, Broadway's experiment aside, a fair amount of no-strings cash would get spent on booze, drugs, and gambling, and taxpayers are understandably non-thrilled about their money being used that way. It may be that this is a small price to pay for the benefits of cashing out, but that's a case that has to be made, and it can't be made by simply dismissing concerns over morality. Moral concerns have a claim on our attention that's as legitimate as any other kind, after all.

Minnesota GOP Looks to Pass Fetal Pain Bill

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 2:42 PM EST

It's getting hard to keep up with the litany of bills across the country that would seek to drastically limit abortion rights. The latest comes from Republicans in the Minnesota legislature, and, if passed, would be one of the most restrictive laws in the country.

From the Minnesota Independent:

The bill, SF649/HF936, makes it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks, and, in anticipation of legal challenges to the law, it creates a defense fund for the state using taxpayer money and “any donations, gifts, or grants made to the account by private citizens or entities.”

The bill, dubbed "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," claims that there "is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by 20 weeks after fertilization." It also states that there is a "compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain."

It's the fifth bill that the state's Republicans have introduced this legislative session to restrict abortion rights, the Independent reports.

This type of "fetal pain" legislation isn't really new—Nebraska passed a similar bill last year, and state lawmakers in Iowa and five other states are attempting to do the same, as RH Reality Check reports. All are based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks into a pregnancy—but that isn't actually supported by the science, which indicates that it's closer to the 27-week point in the development of the fetus. More broadly, though, the bills seek to substitute the opinion of politicians about when a fetus can feel pain for what a woman and her doctor believe is best in a particular case. The Des Moines Register has a heart-breaking story this week about how Nebraska's law forced one woman to give birth to a dramatically premature child that her doctor knew would not survive.

This is just the latest in a slew of anti-abortion measures around the country. Last month, Virginia passed a law that will regulate abortion clinics the same way as hospitals, which abortion rights advocates say will make it much harder to obtain first-trimester abortions. Georgia, Ohio, and Texas have also offered bills that would dramatically limit access to abortions. Iowa and Nebraska have put forward justifiable homicide bills that could potentially legalize the killing of abortion providers. And while South Dakota recently shelved a similar justifiable homicide measure, the state passed a bill last week that forces women to seek counseling at so-called "crisis pregnancy centers," which are generally run by anti-abortion groups, and triples the time women must wait before they can receive an abortion.

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The Conservative Catch-22

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 1:59 PM EST

Paul Krugman on what blogs he doesn't read:

Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t.

OK, that's sort of extreme. But probably not that uncommon these days: I still read some conservative blogs, but I read a lot fewer than I used to. The problem is sort of a Catch-22: reading the loony tunes blogs isn't worthwhile except for entertainment value, so I mostly don't bother. Conversely, the more moderate types have interesting things to say, but they're so out of touch with mainstream conservatism that they often don't seem worthwhile engaging with either. I mean, what's the point in arguing over some technocratic point that's a million light years away from the views of actual, existing conservatism, which doesn't yet admit that cutting taxes reduces revenues or spewing carbon into the air heats the globe? It all has a very ivory tower feel to it.

I'll go on reading the non-insane conservatives, because (a) it's worth having my views challenged by smart people and (b) you never know: maybe someday the tea party version of conservatism will collapse and the moderates will regain a bit of power. That sure seems like a pipe dream right now, though.

Barbour's New Hire: Dark Money and Voter Suppression

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 1:03 PM EST
Facebook/Haley Barbour

In the first presidential race post-Citizens United, what will candidates do to catch the wave of corporate cash? Here's a good indication, from The Fix:

Former Republican National Committee communications director Jim Dyke has signed on with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's political action committee, a major signing in the below-the-radar fight for staff talent in advance of the 2012 GOP presidential primary fight.

Dyke's deep connections in South Carolina politics should be a boon for Barbour, but his more recent place of employment might be more relevant: Dyke's a co-founder (along with Karl Rove) and until this week, secretary of American Crossroads, the shadowy conservative soft-money group that, along with its partner Crossroads GPS, funneled unprecedented levels of corporate cash into the 2010 midterms. As we told you this morning, American Crossroads has even bigger plans in 2012.

Dyke won't be holding onto his old job when he joins Haley's PAC—Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio explained via e-mail that Dyke "will not attend any board meetings, be involved in any decision making or receive any correspondence from AC durings his absence." (Update: In case I wasn't clear, Collegio writes that Barbour has "taken a leave of absence" from the Crossroads board). But he should be able to help Barbour, who's already something of a fundraising machine, tap into an even deeper network of corporate donors. It's also not the first Crossroads co-founder Barbour has courted; as MoJo's Andy Kroll reported last month, the Mississippi governor has already wooed former RNC-chair Ed Gillespie. Collegio said Crossroads "has made no plans" about whether to spend any of its expected $120 million on the presidential primary.

Temper Tantrums From the GOP

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 12:27 PM EST

There is no excuse for Republicans holding up Peter Diamond's nomination to the Federal Reserve. Likewise, there's no excuse for holding up Donald Berwick's nomination to head up Medicare. Or for turning the federal court system into a third-world travesty because it continues to have so many vacancies that it can barely function.

The whole thing is a disgrace, and Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for acting like small children over this. That is all.

The Wide-Open Fight to Woo Iowa's Evangelicals

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 11:19 AM EST
Former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Flickr/Aaron Webb

The church-going, plainspoken, socially conservative voters of Iowa: They're the key electorate for GOP candidates in that state's curtain-raising presidential caucus. Unlike in years past, when the GOP field featured an obvious favorite of the Iowa evangelical crowd—Mike Huckabee in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004—the 2012 Republican caucus is shaping up to be a wide-open battle. Huckabee has yet to say if he's in or out, while Sarah Palin, who boasts a strong evangelical backing, remains on the bubble, watching her public support plummet.

Here's Politico's Maggie Haberman with a smart look at how the 2012 GOP field might fare out in the heartland come January:

Both Huckabee and Palin skipped the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition confab on Monday night, yielding the stage to a second tier that included Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Buddy Roemer and Herman Cain, all of whom are seeking the votes of the state’s influential evangelicals.

Because many of the likely-to-run hopefuls are close together on social issues, conservatives have one of their biggest candidate pools to chose from in some time...

National top-tier hopeful Mitt Romney will face struggles with some evangelicals, but he has a base to start from thanks to his competition in the caucuses in 2008, although how hard the former Massachusetts governor plans to compete in Iowa remains a question mark.

Other options for evangelical voters are Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who many believe will fare strongly in Iowa's retail-based political system, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite who seems poised to score voters who might have been with Palin.