As Sgt. Albert Smith pulls security, two young Afghan boys navigate their way around him in a village near Qalat, Afghanistan, April 26. Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul visited the village to discuss agricultural issues with the residents. Photo via US Army.

David Corn and Josh Marshall joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the White House's release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate and the political consequences for Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Franklin Graham, and the rest of the birther movement.

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

Despite what the protesters at your local Planned Parenthood may say, abortion is not unsafe. In fact, you're about 20 times more likely to die from childbirth-related ailments than you are from getting an abortion.* In California, a disturbing new report shows that more pregnant women are dying than before, due to increased obesity rates, more Cesarean sections, older mothers, and limited health care access. Part of the rise is also attributed to better data reporting methods.

The study (PDF) says that the maternal mortality rate in California is about 14 out of 100,000 live births. In 2005, it was around 12 and in 2002 it was around 10. The rate (and increase) may not sound high, but take into consideration that more than half a million women give birth in California each year, and the state accounts for 1 of 8 births in the US.

In 2004, 82% had insurance that covered maternity services. Today, only 22% do.

The rise in mortality seen in California also reflects national trends, the report says, which is bad news for moms, especially moms of color. African-American women suffer maternal mortality rates far higher than any other ethnic group: about 46 of 100,000 African-American mothers die due to childbirth, as compared to much lower rates in Whites (12.4), Hispanics (12.8), and Asians (9.3). The authors of the report are still not sure exactly why African-American women are four times as likely to die than women of other races, but they suspect a combination of higher obesity rates, lower use of prenatal health care, less adequate care, and various risk factors as a result of lower socioeconomic status (e.g. higher stress). But the authors still seemed to be scratching their heads about how one ethnic group could make up only 6% of all California births, but 22% of maternal deaths.

Another anomaly: although Hispanics overall account for 51% of all California births, foreign-born Hispanics had much better health than those born in the US. "Immigrant Hispanics tend to have better health than the average American population, in spite of what their aggregate socioeconomic indicators would predict," write the study's authors. It could be because foreign-born women give birth at younger ages, when they are less likely to encounter complications. Or it could simply be that the American lifestyle, and health care system, is so unhealthy that it's actually a liability. The high Cesarean rate, which accounts for a third of all births, in particular, is directly related to maternal mortality. And then there's the question of care, and of cost. Only 22% of people with health insurance in California (the report says) have coverage for maternity services: In 2004, 82% of them did. For those who can't get, or can't afford, private health insurance, there's Medi-Cal, which paid for 47% of all prenatal and pregnancy-related costs in 2008. An especially interesting tidbit found in the report is that 7% of women in Medi-Cal's maternity program actually HAVE private insurance: their insurance just doesn't cover maternal services.

There's something seriously wrong when your health insurer doesn't cover your prenatal care. Maybe this could be a new torch for the pro-life movement, or a larger one for the pro-choicers. It seems like a perfect platform for a "family values" Republican, no?


*This is provided your abortion is in the first trimester, as 90% of all abortions are. The risk goes up for later abortions.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

There's a lot of annoying mendacity in Paul Ryan's budget proposal, but the most annoying by far is his repeated insistence that under his plan seniors would get "the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy." Aside from the fact that he's offered no details about how or why private insurers would magically decide to provide the same kind of benefits to the elderly that they do to members of Congress, he's just flatly lying about the most important part of his proposal: namely that it will force seniors to pay far, far more for Medicare than they do now — and far, far more than members of Congress pay for their health insurance. If you're a millionaire, maybe this counts as the "same kind" anyway, but for the rest of us it doesn't.

Here's the difference: under Ryan's plan, the government pays a set amount for Medicare and you pay for the rest. So far, that's pretty similar to the congressional plan. But that set amount goes up very slowly under Ryan's plan — much more slowly than the actual rise in the cost of health insurance — which means that seniors have to pay a bigger and bigger share of the total premium cost as the years go by. CAP's Tony Carrk and Nicole Cafarella ran the numbers to see how that would have worked out if Ryan's formula had applied to Congress over the past decade, and the dismal results are on the right, below.

Under the actual congressional plan, family premiums have gone up from $2,500 to $5,000. Under Ryan's plan, premiums would have gone up to about $8,300. That's a difference of $3,300 in only ten years. Over the course of 30 years, the difference would be more like $10-15,000.

That's a pretty whopping difference, and it would be even bigger for Medicare beneficiaries since Medicare starts from a bigger base. The result is that lots of seniors just flatly wouldn't be able to afford to buy Medicare. They wouldn't have enough money to pay their share of the premium, and that means they'd be uninsured and uncovered. Ryan has, of course, offered up a bunch of handwaving about how indigent seniors would get bigger subsidies, but unsurprisingly has been pretty sparing with any details. If he explained things, after all, everyone would immediately figure out (a) just how miserly his plan is, and (b) how much it would actually cost to support all those seniors who couldn't afford the astronomical premiums his plan forces on them.

The end result of all this is debatable. What's not debatable, however, is whether his plan is "the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy." It's not. It's not even close.

House Republicans attracted a lot of outrage earlier this year when they attempted to redefine rape in a way that would limit exceptions to the ban on federal funding for abortions. The GOP originally proposed limiting the situations in which the government could help pay for abortions to those in which the pregnancy was the result of "forcible rape" or incest "if [the victim is] a minor."

Eventually, the party dropped that effort: its amended legislation returns to straightforward exceptions that allow the government to pay for abortions "if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest." But it's worth noting, as Ms. reminds us, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still operating under a "forcible rape" framework.

For 82 years, the bureau has been using this definition of rape for its Uniform Crime Report:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Included are rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape. Statutory offenses (no force used--victim under age of consent) are excluded.

The year 1929, as Ms. points out, was quite a while ago—before the Great Depression, before Mickey Mouse, and before the Empire State Building, to name a few. It was also before roofies had been invented and before date or partner rape were even concepts.

This dated language has led to a Feminist Majority Foundation campaign asking FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder to modernize the FBI's definition. The activists also note that the current definition "excludes victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape, and male rape," and that it "is often used by law enforcement to exclude rapes of women whose ability to give consent has been diminished by drugs or alcohol."

  • After a special education first grade student became upset that his Easter egg painting didn't work out, police restrained him using metal handcuffs, Huffington Post reports. The New York Police Department says the 7-year-old boy was "spitting, cursing and acting in a threatening manner." The boy's mother has retained a lawyer. Handcuffing first graders is apparently a trend. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of a Louisiana first grader who was handcuffed by an armed security guard at school. And in Florida, a first grader was handcuffed last year and then committed to an adult mental health facility by her school without her parent's knowledge.
  • Tanya McDowell, a Connecticut homeless woman, may face up to 20 years in prison and pay up to $15,000 in fines for enrolling her son in kindergarten using her friend's address. Like Kelly Williams-Bolar, the Ohio mom who was jailed for using her father's address to send her kids to a better-performing school, McDowell is black, sparking questions of race and poverty's role in these prosecutions. The NAACP has appointed a lawyer to McDowell's case.
  •  Ironically, about 400 Baltimore parents faced possible jail time this school year because their kids are repeatedly absent from school, The Baltimore Sun reports. Critics, on the other hand, argue courts are not the way to improve student attendence.
  • Out of 2 million undocumented minors in the US, only an estimated 20 percent enroll in college. Mother Jones reporter Kristina Rizga tells one undocumented teen's harrowing tale of defying deportation to make it to college.
  • Definitely biased is SB 49, the Tennessee bill banning kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers from talking about homosexuality in their classrooms because if teachers talked about gay sex, it would suddenly exist? To be clear, Tennessee teachers can teach human sexuality if the bill passes; just hetero human sexuality. 
  • Which outspoken public education reformers never taught in a public school in their life? In Education Week's latest forum, teachers comment on the negative portrayal of educators in the media and dish out on some education reformer bios.
  • No Child Left Behind has yet to be revised. But in 2009, Arne Duncan granted 315 waivers so schools and districts to circumvent some NCLB requirements.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, left, offers agency-donated gifts to the Marine Corps “Toys for Tots” campaign.

Facing a military budget battle, Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns, and a political clash over the country's global security strategy, Barack Obama needed a new defense secretary who could either win over Capitol Hill or cow it into cooperating. He needed new blood. Instead, he promoted the old guard, announcing today that Leon Panetta, the 72-year-old CIA director, would be nominated to replace Robert Gates later this year.

There's no question that Panetta's long career of public service—from running the Office of Management and Budget to working as Bill Clinton's chief of staff to his current contentious position—prepares him well to steer a large bureaucracy through political minefields. But with conservatives already painting him as a Left Coast Democratic stalwart, his good ideas are likely to meet stiff partisan resistance in Congress. And in picking a consummate political insider for the DOD post, Obama passed over two top-notch candidates, missing a chance to disarm conservatives with a defense-savvy Southern Democrat...or a bold, history-making woman.

IQ and Incentives

Via Tyler Cowen, this is a genuinely startling result:

....material incentives in random-assignment studies increased IQ scores by an average of 0.64 SD, suggesting that test motivation can deviate substantially from maximal under low-stakes research conditions. The effect of incentives was moderated by IQ score: Incentives increased IQ scores by 0.96 SD among individuals with below-average IQs at baseline and by only 0.26 SD among individuals with above-average IQs at baseline.

Let me translate this into English. On IQ tests, a single standard deviation equals 15 points. So if this research is right, giving people actual incentives to do well on IQ tests (money, for example) has the following effect:

  • Those with low IQs scored 14 points higher.
  • Those with high IQs scored 4 points higher.

In other words, giving people an incentive to do well collapsed the gap between high and low by ten points — and bigger incentives created even bigger effects. These results are based on a meta-analysis of previous studies, not on new research, and metastudies are notoriously tricky to do properly. So take this with the usual grain of salt until these results get replicated elsewhere.

But ten points is a helluva lot. If this holds up, it's pretty significant.

Natalie* is a smart and witty sophomore at Mission High in San Francisco. Despite her struggles with ulcers and depression, she tries to make it to school on time every day. But since Natalie commutes across town, taking two buses in the process, some days she is late for her 8:10 a.m. history class. Last time she walked into class 10 minutes late, her teacher Ms. Bowman nodded and smiled at her without interrupting the lecture.

If Natalie went to public school in Los Angeles, though, she might have been stopped by a police officer at the bus stop or near the school entrance. The police officer would question her about her tardiness, might search her bag, and would write up a ticket for $240. That's because until recently, the Los Angeles city and school police would do "sweeps" near schools and give out tickets to students who were late or not in class. The San Fernando Valley Sun reports that student Gustavo Fernandez was slapped with five truancy tickets from the LAPD during his senior year at Los Angles High School, and he now owes the city close to $2,000 in fines. Because of this debt, he can't get a driver's license. Los Angeles police issued more than 47,000 citations for high school students who are not in class from 2004 to 2009, according to the Los Angeles Times. Manuel Criollo, the lead organizer against this trend with the Labor and Strategy Community Center, says that increasing number of such citations are going to students who are actually on their way to school, but are running late for often legitimate reasons. Criollo and other advocates also noted that these tickets were issued primarily to students of color: 62 percent were issued to Latino students, 20 percent to Afrian-American and only 7 percent to white students.

A friend of mine reads National Review's leading lights so I don't have to:

The Corner is funny today. No, this is not an embarrassing day for the right. Quite the contrary. That speech was way, way too petulant. (Seriously. Go back and watch it again. Did you see it? ...Okay, try watching it again. ...Still no? Just trust me. He's a ball of rage.) He was so unlikeable when he was releasing his birth certificate. And you know what the real question is: why did he wait so long to release it?

Also, you know why the media covered the Birther issue? It has nothing to do with the fact that the majority of the primary voters in our Party are Birthers, or that they have been kicking this story around for more than two years, or the fact that the presidential "candidate" who is now leading in many polls has made this his main issue. No. That would be embarrassing to admit. Which we don't have to, because the real reason the media covers it is this: because Obama's budget plan doesn't add up!

Plus, you've got to give Trump credit for forcing the issue here. Am I right?

Finally putting the Birther thing to rest: a bad day for Obama.

This is great. And while we're on the subject, I'd like to encourage the rest of my friends to write my blog posts for me too. It really makes my job a lot easier.