2011 - %3, April

Caving in to the Mob

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 2:46 PM EDT

Jane Mayer on Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 defendants in military tribunals instead of civilian courts:

Today’s news that K.S.M. is slated now for a military trial in the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, rather than facing a criminal trial in the civilian justice system that Holder believed was more fitting, may indeed be the defining moment for the Obama Justice Department, defining it, unfortunately, as incapable of standing up to to the political passions still stirred by the threat of terrorism.

....“History will show that the decisions we’ve made are the right ones,” [Holder said last year.] After telling me that he regarded the trial as a defining event, he added, “Between now and then I suspect we’re in for some interesting times.” At his press conference today, he said, “I have to deal with the situation as I find it.”

It's a cowardly decision, and not just from Holder and Obama. There was cowardice and demagoguery aplenty in this entire sorry episode.

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Nothing Beats a Limerick About the GOP

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 1:54 PM EDT

If you're on twitter, I highly recommend you do a search for @FloridaGOP. As you'll see, approximately 95.785% of tweets mentioning @FloridaGOP are about the #OMGuterus debacle, wherein the Florida GOP said the word "uterus" wasn't appropriate for the oh-so-delicate ears of young pages and families who might be listening to House debates. Uterus, you may ask? Isn't that a medically correct term for a body part the GOP really likes to regulate? Why yes, it certainly is. And the GOP might consider that at least some people on the Florida House floor have heard the word uterus because they have one. To further express my disdain for the Florida GOP's "no uterus" policy, I wrote this limerick. Because nothing says scorn like a limerick.

A man on the Florida House floor

Cried, "Let us say uterus no more!

It's vulgar and crude

(especially to dudes)

And that's who this party is for!"

 

Mitt Romney, Scared of His Own Shadow

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 1:13 PM EDT

Considering the clown show he's part of, I'd say that Mitt Romney is probably the least bad Republican candidate for president running right now. But that's a pretty low bar, and Romney's almost pathological fear of being on the wrong side of an issue — any issue — was on full display over the weekend in a speech that slammed Obama's foreign policy:

Yet Romney was silent on Libya, where the U.S. And its NATO allies are enforcing a no-fly zone as rebels try to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from power. Asked after his speech what his position is on Libya, Romney refused to take questions from reporters. Instead he and his wife Ann walked away and escaped up an escalator at the Venetian hotel-casino where the event was held.

“I’ve got a lot of positions on a lot of topics, but walking down the hall probably isn’t the best place to describe all those,” Romney said as he walked away with half a dozen journalists trailing him.

Silent on Libya! It's not as if this is the most critical foreign policy issue of the moment or anything. This comes via Daniel Larison, who comments:

Romney seems unable to stake out a foreign policy position until after the Republican consensus has formed, and he then adapts himself to whatever that consensus happens to be....[It's] just another reminder that Romney doesn’t hold foreign policy positions so much as he mimics those who do. There was fairly broad agreement in the GOP that the arms reduction treaty was flawed. It didn’t matter whether the criticisms were valid or not. Romney saw an opportunity to become a vociferous critic of the treaty to ingratiate himself with most of the party. Libya is a contentious issue, and the party is evidently split over which position to take, so Romney predictably cannot take one. For someone who is so fond of mocking Obama’s leadership or lack thereof, it is revealing that when Romney has to stake out a position one way or the other on a controversial question he is unable to show any leadership at all.

Hey, I think Libya is a tough issue. But I'm still willing to articulate a position (namely that intervention was a mistake), and I'm not even running for president. It's pretty hard to believe that even two weeks after it started, a guy who wants to sit in the Oval Office still can't think of anything intelligent to say about it. Obama might have made the wrong decision about Libya, but at least he made a decision.

Paul Ryan's Voucher Plan for Medicare

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 11:47 AM EDT

I imagine that we're going to spend a fair amount of time this week talking about Paul Ryan's plan to cut corporate taxes and slash Medicare, but I think I'll wait until tomorrow to jump in. I'd rather react to the plan itself than to the Sunday chat show version of what the plan might be.

But I'll just say this in advance: I'm pretty sure that Ryan is going to loudly and relentlessly insist that his Medicare proposal isn't a voucher plan. I'm not sure why, but I assume that "voucher" must have polled poorly in some recent Frank Luntz poll or something. But if it walks like voucher, talks like a voucher, and quacks like a voucher, then it's a voucher.

And it does, and it is. So don't let Ryan pull the wool over your eyes on this. You can like or dislike the plan all you want, but it's based on giving you money and then sending you into the private market to buy your own health insurance. That's a voucher, no matter how many times Ryan says it isn't. What's more, I'm pretty sure it isn't even a very good voucher plan. But I guess we'll know for sure tomorrow.

Mike Huckabee's Memory Hole

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 11:11 AM EDT

I can't really think of anything to actually say about this, but I'm sort of gobsmacked by Siddhartha Mahanta's piece today informing us that Mike Huckabee physically erased and crushed all the hard drives in his office when his term as governor of Arkansas ended:

In February, Mother Jones wrote to the office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe seeking access to a variety of records concerning his predecessor's tenure, including Huckabee's travel records, calendars, call logs, and emails. Beebe's chief legal counsel, Tim Gauger, replied in a letter that "former Governor Huckabee did not leave behind any hard-copies of the types of documents you seek. Moreover, at that time, all of the computers used by former Governor Huckabee and his staff had already been removed from the office and, as we understand it, the hard-drives in those computers had already been 'cleaned' and physically destroyed."

....What do the Huckabee files hold? The records could provide details on any number of unsettled controversies involving a governor that faced at least 15 ethics complaints concerning, among other things: his failure to report gifts and outside income, his alleged use of state funds and resources for political and personal purposes, and the pardon of a convicted murderer and rapist who went on to kill again once released.

A former high-ranking Arkansas Republican who was once close to Huckabee and who requested anonymity told Mother Jones that the destruction of the hard drives puzzled him. "I don’t know what that was about, if they had things to hide or not," he says. But, he adds, the episode fits with Huckabee's general reticence when it comes to public disclosure. "Huckabee just absolutely doesn’t trust anybody. In my experience, if you don't trust people, it's because you're not trustworthy. We see the world through our own eyes."

Apparently this came up briefly during Huckabee's 2008 presidential run, but died away quickly. And I assume that Arkansas doesn't have a law requiring gubernatorial records to remain public. But still: wow. Just wow.

The Mystery of Stack-O-Lee

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:45 AM EDT

On Christmas Day, 1895, a local pimp named "Stack" Lee Shelton walked into a St. Louis bar wearing pointed shoes, a box-back coat, and his soon-to-be infamous milk-white John B. Stetson hat. Stack joined his friend Billy Lyons for a drink. Their conversation settled on politics, and soon it grew hostile: Lyons was a levee hand and, like his brother-in-law—one of the richest black men in St. Louis at the time—a supporter of the Republican party. Stack had aligned himself with the local black Democrats. The details of their argument aren't known, but at some point Lyons snatched the Stetson off Stack's head. Stack demanded it back, and when Lyons refused, shot him dead.

The story of Stack-O-Lee—or Stack O'Lee or Stagger Lee or Stack A Lee depending on who's singing—became the popular subject of murder ballads and blues songs in the early 20th century. In the liner notes of a new collection, People Take Warning: Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs, 1913-1938, Tom Waits argues that most murder ballads are "just a cut above graffiti...the oral tabloids of the day." They were written by street singers to capitalize on the pulp appeal of violent local crimes. Certainly the ballad of Stack-O-Lee seems to have begun this way. But unlike most ballads of its time, Stack-O-Lee's has survived and flourished through the years. What accounts for the story's longevity?

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The Religious Right's Anti-Union Crusade

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:17 AM EDT

Wisconsin's ongoing labor battle has officially become a holy war. The Family Research Council, the evangelical advocacy organization founded by James Dobson, has been dipping into its war chest to defend Republican Governor Scott Walker's efforts to curtail collective bargaining for public-sector unions. FRC president Tony Perkins interviewed backers of Walker's anti-union bill on his weekly radio program and has tweeted his support for the bill, directly linking social conservatism with an anti-union, pro-business agenda: "Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda."

The FRC's new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who's running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg would alter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. "Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people," say the ads. "A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court."

The FRC's anti-labor campaign in Wisconsin is part of its larger agenda to meld fiscal conservatism with its family-values message. Its recent priorities have included fighting health care reform, new taxes on the wealthy, and President Obama's budget proposals. In recent weeks, Perkins has used his radio show to hash through small-government talking points with House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Tea Party caucus head Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who told him, "The bigger government gets, the smaller God gets." After exploring the value of union busting with Republican state Representative Robin Vos of Wisconsin last month, Perkins expressed "our thanks to you, as conservatives across the country."

Florida Bill Will Force Women to Look at Their [Redacted]

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Photo by massdistraction, via Flickr.

Florida lawmakers apparently aren't allowed to say the word "uterus" on the House floor. But next week those same lawmakers will be considering legislation that will force Florida women to look at their you-know-whats before they can obtain an abortion.

The bill in question, HB 1127, would make Florida women seeking abortions subject to both an ultrasound and a doctor's detailed description of what's in there.  I'm guessing the doctor might even be forced to—gasp!—use the word "uterus" as he or she performs the ultrasound.

"How do you ban the word 'uterus' at the same time you're debating a bill that would force women to look at a picture of their uterus?" asks Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Florida's bill, which has been introduced in both the state House and the Senate, is much like sonogram bills that other states have considered. From the House version of the bill:

The person performing the ultrasound must allow the woman to view the live ultrasound images, and a physician or a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, advanced registered nurse practitioner, or physician assistant working in conjunction with the physician must contemporaneously review and explain the live ultrasound images to the woman before the woman gives informed consent to having an abortion procedure performed.

A woman can sign a waiver that allows her to avoid viewing the ultrasound, but she will still have to listen to the doctor describe it.

The bill creates an exception for women who are the victims of rape, incest, domestic violence, or human trafficking, but only if the woman produces a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order proving she is exempted. Providing "documentation" for these crimes is often quite difficult. A woman would also be excused from the ultrasound if she has a serious medical condition that required an abortion to prevent "the risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."

The bill has already passed through one Senate committee and one House committee, and additional committees in both chambers are expected to debate and approve it this week. Similar bills have passed in the Florida House every year since 2007, Kunkel says. The Senate also approved a similar measure in 2010, but then-Gov. Charlie Crist (R) vetoed it, arguing that it "places an inappropriate burden on women seeking to terminate pregnancy." But with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate and a new, more conservative governor, Rick Scott, in office, advocates for abortion rights fear that the ultrasound bill will become law in 2011.

There are a total of 18 bills in the Florida legislature this year that would limit abortion access. Since the Speaker doesn't want to hear the Part of the Woman's Body Which Cannot Be Named in debates, abortion rights advocates in Florida argue that he should probably not be making laws that affect it. "If the speaker can't bear to hear or say the word 'uterus,' he shouldn't be legislating it," Kunkel says.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 4, 2011

Mon Apr. 4, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Fox (left), with Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, assists Iraqi army soldiers assigned to 8th Iraqi army Brigade, 1st Division, as the soldiers practice Military Operations in Urban Terrain procedures at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, on March 8, 2011. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Tanya Thomas, U.S. Army. (Released)

Are Humans Giving Animals Cancer?

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 3:01 AM EDT

"Tasmanian Devils are not the friendliest of animals," explains Kathy Belov as she tries to punch a skin sample from the ear of one of the famously ferocious marsupials. (This one is, fortunately, stuffed inside a burlap sack.) Belov, a geneticist at the University of Sydney, studies Devil Facial Tumor Disease, which has killed almost three quarters Tasmania's devil population. The unusual affliction, which rots the animals' faces off and causes them to starve to death, is the unintentional result of contact with humans: Early colonists' efforts to exterminate the creatures worked so well that they are now seriously inbred, making them vulnerable to this contagious cancer, which is spread by biting. Though the Tasmanian Devils' case is unique, conservationists are becoming increasingly concerned about other cancer outbreaks in disparate kinds of wildlife—and what role people played in causing them. Some more examples: