2012 - %3, February

Palin to Staff: Delete Right-wing Pastor John Hagee

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 3:02 PM EST
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks to reporters during the 2008 campaign.

In internal emails with her communications staff, then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin tried to censor a press release put out by an independent organization linking her to controversial Texas pastor John Hagee, the influential Christian-Zionist leader whose statements on Catholicism and Hurricane Katrina caused Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to publicly repudiate him in 2008. The exchange comes as part of a new trove of emails released by the the Alaska Secretary of State in response to a public records request first filed by Mother Jones.

After Palin appeared at an event in March 2009 sponsored by Hagee's organization, Christians United for Israel, CUFI spokesman Ari Morgenstern sent the governor's office a draft of its press release trumpeting the event, a courtesy often provided to high-profile figures. Although William McAllister, Palin's communications director, initially wrote back saying there was no need for coordination, Palin herself jumped in and began to micro-manage. She suggested two more individuals whose names she'd like to see referenced in the press release (including an Anchorage rabbi), and added, "Let me know when they have done so."

An hour and a half later, she had apparently thought about it some more and come up with an additional request: "Eliminate reference to Hagee." But she wanted her role in this de-Hageee-ficiation kept a secret. "[Y]ou guys do that—don't tell them 'the Governor said...'"

The idea that Palin would want to purge the name of CUFI's founder from CUFI's own press release struck her staff as an odd request. "I'm not a fan of Hagee, but I don't know how to propose eliminating him without offering an explanation for the request," McAllister wrote back. "In presenting this to use, I think mostly they wanted to be sure the reference to you raised no objections." At that point, Palin decided to take the conversation off list, asking McAllister to call her.

Palin's reluctance to be associated with Hagee was a marked shift from her positions a few years earlier, and reflected her increasing discomfort with the media spotlight. Palin had expressed her admiration for Hagee previously. In a May 3, 2007, email, Palin had asked her scheduler if she had time to attend a Hagee event at the Juneau Christian Center. When she was informed she had the day off, she replied, "I should try to get back to juno for this one." At that event, she and Hagee were joined by country singer Randy Travis (who starred in the film adaptation of Hagee's end-times thriller, Jerusalem Countdown).

This time around, no scheduling conflict prevented Palin from attending CUFI's event. The draft press release noted that she had spoken at two separate functions supporting Israel the previous week in Juneau and Anchorage, which were attended by a few hundred people. But afterward, she preferred that the rest of the world not know that just one year after McCain was forced to renounce Hagee, she was still hobnobbing with the pastor's group.

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Which Catholic Institutions Cover Birth Control?

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 2:36 PM EST

Amid all the news on contraception coverage and the bishops in the past few weeks, a number of outlets have flagged individual Catholic-affiliated institutions that already provide birth control coverage. Now the National Women's Law Center has put together a fairly comprehensive list detailing 34 universities and hospitals that over some form of coverage.

Schools like Sacred Heart University, in Connecticut, already cover "certain contraceptive and family planning services, even though not provided to treat an illness or injury." The University of Notre Dame in Indiana covers oral contraception if it's for the "correction of existing pathologies of the reproductive system," but not for preventing pregnancy. And others, like Loyola University in Chicago, allow employees to use their pre-tax Flexible Spending Account to pay for "birth control items."

As the NWLC points out, some of these schools are in states where coverage is already required by state law, while others have elected to do so even without a legal requirement. "The bottom line is a lot of Catholic institutions are already covering contraception," said Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the NWLC.

Here's the list:

Barack Obama Has Consistently Defended Religious Freedom

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 1:45 PM EST

Is President Obama waging a war on religion? Just typing the words is enough to make slitting my wrists seem like a fairly reasonable life choice. But Steve Chapman, obviously a stouter man than me, takes the time to dissect just how dumb this argument is:

Amid all the uproar, it's easy to overlook something equally important: the administration's many battles for religious liberty.

....The most conspicuous surprise involves government rules for faith-based organizations that get federal funding for social services. President George W. Bush issued an executive order allowing such groups to hire only people who share their faith—exempting them from the usual ban on religious discrimination....In his presidential campaign, [Obama] said his view was simple: "If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them—or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion." But it hasn't worked out that way. Obama has left Bush's rule in place, infuriating many groups that expected a reversal.

....His commitment is also on display in defending churches against municipal governments that would prefer to do without them....It filed a brief in support of a Hasidic Jewish congregation's lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, which had forbidden it to hold services in a private home. A federal court ordered the city to back off.

The administration has also intervened in cases where prisoners are denied religious literature. After a South Carolina sheriff prohibited inmates from getting devotional materials and other publications in the mail, the Justice Department sued. In the end, the county agreed to let inmates receive Bibles, Torahs, Korans and related fare.

....In doing all this, the administration isn't simply doing the politically appealing thing....The congregations victimized by zoning regulations are too small to matter. Prison inmates generally can't vote. There is no detectable political gain in anything Obama is doing here.

No detectable political gain? I suppose. But look: we're dealing with people who think the reason Obama has left gun laws alone is because he wants to "lull gun owners to sleep and play us for fools in 2012." So he's probably doing the same thing here. Reelect the guy on November 6th, and on November 7th he'll begin his war on the Catholic church. There's really no arguing with this, is there?

Palin and Aides Felt Snubbed by McCain in Early 2008

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 1:31 PM EST

In 2008, months before John McCain would pick Sarah Palin to be his running mate, the Alaska governor and her crew felt snubbed by the Arizona senator, according to Palin emails recently released by Alaska in response to an open records request filed by Mother Jones, other news  organizations, and citizen activists.

A second batch of emails released this week by the state covers the last ten months of Palin's self-abbreviated tenure as governor. But the batch also includes emails left out of the first round of emails made public last year. Several of those emails—full of redactions—refer to efforts of the 2008 Republican presidential contenders to court Palin in advance of the Alaska caucuses, which were held on February 5 that year.

In an email sent that day to Sean Parnell, then the lieutenant governor, Palin noted,

Talked to Romney today! Thank you for hooking that up. Can't believe he took to the time. Talked to him about women in leadership. He said all the right things.

In a separate email to several of her aides and her husband Todd, Palin reported on her conversation with the former Massachusetts governor:

Romney called. Said good things just like Huck [as in Mike Huckabee, who was also running for the GOP presidential nomination].

In response one of the aides, Kris Perry, wrote back: "Did you ever hear from mccain?"

Palin had a one-word reply: "No."

Perry responded: "Well, I haven't been impressed and this is just icing on my cake."

Palin emailed back: "Yeah, it's good to know. He's probably written off AK anyway."

Alaska ended up not being kind to McCain. He placed fourth in the caucuses there, picking up just three delegates to Mitt Romney's 12, Huckabee's six, and Ron Paul's five. But when he needed a veep nominee half-a-year later, he didn't hold this against Palin. Nor did she maintain a grudge.

Republicans Determined Not to Get Fooled Again

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 12:34 PM EST

Steve Benen points out that the Republican candidates are finally talking about the Bush years. But they aren't big fans:

We've reached the point in Republicans politics at which GOP candidates are considered too liberal if they sided with the Bush/Cheney administration on most key areas of domestic policy.

Indeed, as Jon Ward added, Rick Santorum felt the brunt of these criticisms because he was, by 2012 standards, too loyal to the conservative Republican president in office during his congressional career.

The message to the American electorate is therefore rather striking: "Vote Republican in 2012: We won't be moderate like that Bush guy was."

What to make of this? For starters, I actually have some sympathy for this position. I won't repeat chapter and verse here, but I've argued a few times before that although George Bush was a temperamental conservative, he actually governed pretty moderately, especially on domestic issues. With the exception of tax cuts and judicial appointments, most of his legacy is either centrist or actively liberal.

This is an old argument that I won't rehash except to say that conservatives unquestionably believe it's true. And this explains a lot about the current race. In 2000, conservatives were determined to avoid another George H.W. Bush, so they picked a candidate whose dedication to conservatism seemed unassailable. And as far as they're concerned, even that didn't work out. Not because of Katrina or the wars or the economic collapse — all the stuff the rest of us hold against Bush — but because of NCLB and Sarbanes-Oxley and the Medicare prescription bill and the inexorable rise in spending during his watch. So what are you going to do? If even George W. Bush turned out to be a poser, this time around you're going to demand absolutely ironclad guarantees of orthodoxy. Thus the right-wing game of one-upmanship that's turned the Republican primary into such a clown show.

It all makes sense, in a weird kind of way. After all, you know the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, can't get fooled again. No one's going to get fooled this time around.

Santorum: Higher Education a Plot to Secularize America

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 11:42 AM EST

So here's a dilemma: yesterday I suggested that Rick Santorum's candidacy was useful for the spotlight it shined on the movement conservative id, something that America might do well to confront directly. So does this mean I should highlight (as a public service, of course) every outlandish paranoid theory that issues forth from Santorum? That would keep me pretty busy, and I really don't think I can commit to it on a long-term basis. But here's the latest:

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely ... The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.

Now, this is a new one to me. It's commonplace for movement conservatives to believe that universities are dens of depravity and radical left indoctrination. So far, so normal. But as far as I know, most of them don't believe that efforts to get more kids into college are motivated by a desire to destroy their faith. That's a step beyond even normal wingnut land.

This stuff leaves me kind of speechless. I already know what hardcore conservatives think of academia and university life in general. Nothing new there. And let's face it: the political mood at most universities is pretty liberal. So fine. But what kind of person actively believes that the president of the United States favors more access to higher education as a plot to secularize the country? This is 10-page-single-spaced-crank-letter-to-the-editor territory. I wonder if even one single real conservative (not the apostates or the RINOs — and you know who you are) will step up and suggest that this is just a wee bit crackpottish?

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Sweden Moves to End Forced Sterilization of Transgender People

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 8:00 AM EST
Love Georg Elfvelin and Ulrika Westerlund delivering a petition to representative of the Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt. Source: AllOut.org.

Swedish trans people and LGBT activists have something to celebrate this week, as the country—one of 17 in the European Union that requires sterilization for people who wish to switch genders on legal documents—may soon repeal the requirement. As I reported previously, Sweden's liberal and moderate members of parliament expressed desire to remove forced sterilization last month, only to be blocked by an opposing coalition of conservative political groups led by the Christian Democrat Party. Now, according to the Swedish paper The Local, the Christian Democrat Party appears to have reversed its stance, making way for the repeal.

On February 18, The Local reported that Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund and others in the party "outlined the party's new position in that it now wants the law changed and the sex-change sterilization requirement removed." Why the sudden change in opinion? When the Christian Democrats and others announced that they would not support repealing forced sterilization, the news sparked outrage on the internet and among advocacy groups, sending shockwaves through international media. One petition by AllOut.org received nearly 80,000 signatures. The public pressure seems to have achieved some success.

 

Book Review: "Half Blood Blues"

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 7:08 AM EST

Esi EdugyanEsi EdugyanIn 2011 Esi Edugyan’s bestelling novel Half Blood Blues snagged Canada’s highest literary honor, was a finalist for Britain’s Man Booker Prize, and was translated into nine languages. A Canadian with roots in Ghana, 34-year-old Edugyan’s novel explores the overlooked histories of Africans and mixed-race foreigners through the travails of a popular jazz band trapped in Nazi-era Europe. With a light touch and a deft hand, she provides original insight on the black American experience. So it’s a shame the novel is only now being released in the US, by Picador on February 28th. 

The story opens as the Hot-Time Swingers, whose members include African-Americans, a Jew and a German with African ancestry, cut a record in occupied Paris. Their sound will become legend, but in Nazi Europe jazz is the degenerate music of half-breeds, or mischlings. When the band’s frontman, the young trumpeter Hieronymus Falk, nicknamed Hiero, rashly decides to venture outside for a glass of milk, he is arrested.

A shy 19-year-old, Hiero is the locus of his band’s hopes and an undisputed genius. In one scene Louis Armstrong gifts the boy with his trumpet. But as one of Germany’s ‘Rhineland Bastards,’ (the offspring of German women and French-Senegalese colonial soldiers posted in the Rhineland following WWI), Hiero is a mischling of the first order and a refugee of sorts: considered stateless in Germany and a despised German in Paris, he’s a young man in limbo, an easy target. When Hiero is banished to a concentration camp and presumed dead, what remains of the band disintegrates.

The virtuosity of Edugyan’s writing is noticeable in how Hiero, who serves as a projection screen for the motivations of others, is himself barely sketched. The narrator is Sid Griffiths, a jealous bassist whose talents at rendering the sounds of jazz into words, in a brassy, thumping patois, overshadows his musical abilities.

Fifty years later, Sid is a retired medical transcriber in Baltimore with a secret: he committed a betrayal that sent Hiero to the camps. When his old bandmate Chip turns up, he informs Sid that Hiero is alive. As they set out to find him, the story moves between the dawn of a reunified Europe and Sid’s flashbacks from the early days of the war. The old man’s shame is slowly exhumed—along with the complex implications of the band members’ skin colors, nationalities and ethnicities in hostile territory.

And yet Edugyan avoids the familiar tropes of Nazi thuggery. Rather than dwelling on their well-documented rape and mayhem proclivities, she reveals how the Red-Hot Swingers transform the Nazi Party anthem into protest music.

The novel's surprising end, and Edugyan herself, are proof that the mischling experience beautifies art in all of its forms.

 

How Factory Farms Are Killing Seals

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 7:00 AM EST

The meat industry defends its reliance on routine antibiotic use by flatly denying the practice poses any public health problem. The view is summed up by this 2010 National Pork Producers Council newsletter: "[T]here are no definitive studies linking the use of antibiotics in animal feed to changes in resistance in humans." The claim, I guess, is that the drug-resistant bacteria that evolve on antibiotic-laden feedlots stay on those feedlots and don't migrate out.

That contention is looking increasingly flimsy. My colleague Julia Whitty recently pointed to a new study showing that a particular antibiotic-resistant pathogen "likely originated as a harmless bacterium living in humans, which acquired antibiotic resistance only after it migrated into livestock." In its new, harmful form, Julia reported, the bacterial strain "now causes skin infections and sepsis, mostly in farm workers."

And humans aren't the only creatures paying the price of routine antibiotic use. A research team from the Pacific Northwest has found that terrestrial pathogens, including strains of E. coli resistant to multiple antibiotics, are now infecting sea mammals. The researchers collected and performed autopsies on more than 1,600 stranded seals and otters over 10 years. They found that infectious diseases accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the deaths. "Comparing the diseases found in marine mammals with terrestrial mammals has identified similar, and in many cases genetically identical disease agents," the researchers report.

Occupy vs. Tea Party: The Google Smackdown

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 7:00 AM EST

In the battle for America's attention, the Occupy movement rocketed past the tea party this fall and remains in the lead, though not by much anymore. Here's a chart from Google Trends comparing the dueling movements' Google hits (top graph) and news mentions (bottom graph):

(The letters A-F are automatically generated by Google Trends)

Here's my best guess of what accounts for the peaks: