Alaska state Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, announced last week that he wants to use state funds to supply bars with pregnancy tests to help combat the state's epidemic of fetal alcohol syndrome. But Kelly told the Anchorage Daily News he would not support the same measure for birth control, noting that "birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly." Kelly, who came under fire for his remarks by Democrats, took to the Senate floor Monday to elaborate on why he doesn't think birth control is an effective way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome:
If you have people who are binge drinking or chronic drinkers, we're hesitant to say 'use birth control as your protection against fetal alcohol syndrome,' because again, as I say, binge drinking is a problem...If you think you can take birth control and then binge drink and hope not to produce a [baby with fetal alcohol syndrome] you may be very wrong. Sometimes these things don’t work. Sometimes people forget, sometimes they administer birth control improperly and you might produce a fetal alcohol syndrome baby. That would be irresponsible of us until we get better information on that to say that well, maybe that is a good idea.
When reached by Mother Jones, Kelly said "it's fine for women [both married and unmarried] to use contraceptives," but he reiterated that "people forget, people administer contraception incorrectly, and sometimes the methods simply fail." He said that if contraceptive measures are found to be effective at reducing fetal alcohol syndrome, lawmakers could pursue using state funds to offer them as well. He did not elaborate on whether he would personally support this, although he told the Anchorage Daily News last week that he would not.
Medical experts say that, in fact, relying on birth control to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is an excellent idea. The Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center says that in order to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, women should "use birth control until [they] are able to quit drinking" and "avoid heavy drinking when not using birth control." The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that social workers advise women who are likely to drink if they become pregnant to use birth control.
At the Senate session, Kelly expressed dismay over how people have fixated on his birth control comments. "Because it got kind of caught up in the blogosphere, it got turned into something like a war on women or something like that. That's not important. What is important...are these pregnancy tests kiosks," he said. In a Facebook post earlier this week, he criticized Democrats for "turning his attempt to deal with the tragedy of FASD [fetal alcohol syndrome] into such disgusting politics."
“Pete Kelly’s going all out with the War on Women, but from his defensive comments it looks like Alaska women may be winning,” Kay Brown, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in a press release on Monday.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a devastating problem in Alaska, so state Senate Finance Committee co-chairman Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has made it his personal mission to stamp it out. This week, in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, he described the ways he plans to clamp down on the problem, including spending "a lot of money" on media campaigns and providing publicly funded pregnancy tests in Alaska's bars and restaurants, so that women will be discouraged from shooting whiskey if they find out they're pregnant. But make no mistake: Kelly is not interested in providing state-funded birth control in public places. He says that "birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly" and that would amount to "social engineering."
Providing pregnancy tests in bars isn't an entirely new concept. In 2012, a pub in Minnesota got national attention for installing a vending machine that dispensed pregnancy tests at $3 a pop—but the tests weren't state-funded. Kelly envisions the government contracting with a nonprofit to make the tests widely available at places that serve alcohol. As he explains, "So if you're drinking, if you're out at the big birthday celebration and you're kind of like, 'Gee, I wonder if I…?' You can just go in the bathroom and there should be a plastic, Plexiglas bowl in there, and that's part of the public relations campaign, too. You're going to have some kind of card on there with a message."
The interviewer asked Kelly whether he would also support offering state-funded birth control in bars. Alaska does not accept federal money from the government's Medicaid expansion, which would fund contraception, and state Sen. Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) recently spoke out against it, declaring that if people can afford lattes, they can afford birth control. In response to the birth control question posed by Anchorage Daily News, Kelly said he wouldn't support it:
No, because the thinking is a little opposite. This assumes that if you know, you'll act responsibly. Birth control is for people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly. That's—I'm not going to tell them what to do, or help them do it, that's their business. But if we have a pregnancy test, because someone just doesn't know. That's probably a way we can help them.
When the interviewer pointed out that using birth control could be seen as being responsible, Kelly replied: "Maybe, maybe not. That's a level of social engineering that we don't want to get into. All we want to do is make sure that people are informed and they'll make the right decision." He then said that lawmakers would consider, down the road, discussing involuntarily commitment if someone "is damning [her] child to a lifetime of mental problems and physical problems." But he added, "We haven't gone down that road far enough to make a decision."
On Thursday, shortly after President Obama expanded sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry released its own list of nine US officials and lawmakers who will be targeted by sanctions. The list includes three White House aides—deputy national security advisors Ben Rhodes and Caroline Atkinson, and senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer—as well as six US lawmakers: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.).
Many of the Sanctioned 9, none of whom will be allowed to visit the Russian Federation or attend Valdimir Putin's birthday party (assuming it is held in the Russian Federation), took to Twitter to win the morning show their strength and solidarity.
On Wednesday, Malaysian police announced that a flight simulator belonging to Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the captain of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, was missing data that had been erased about a month before the plane disappeared, potentially as part of routine computer maintenance. In an investigation that has produced precious few clues—on Thursday Australian officials were investigating debris found via satellite imagery—Shah's background, naturally, is being closely analyzed by authorities, including the FBI. But Shah—who liked to cook, watched atheist videos, and who was a fan of a democratic opposition leader in Malaysia—didn't express any suspicious sentiments on his public Facebook page. On the contrary, in an exchange that occurred shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings, he criticized his Facebook friend, Muhammad Khatif Mohd Talha, a self-identified former captain at Malaysia Airlines, for promoting the conspiracy theory that the bombing was a "False Flag attack by the Satanist elite."
To convince Shah, Talha posted a clip from a press conference during which Boston authorities ignored a shouting conspiracy theorist who claimed that local officials had called for public calm before the bombings. Shah didn't buy this, and he told Talha it would have been natural for authorities to request calm and order during a large public event.
In the second part of the discussion thread, Talha posted a tweet from the Boston Globe, reporting that Boston officials had announced a controlled explosion as part of post-attack bomb squad activities, as if this supported the notion that the Boston Marathon was some sort of inside job. Shah replied, sarcastically, "Wow now we get to believe the police (GOV) of blewing up people."
The public Facebook postings do not indicate what kind of relationship Muhammad Khatif Mohd Talha and Shah maintained, if any, in real life. (Talha is one of Shah's 239 friends.) But they do have several mutual Facebook friends who work in the airline industry. On his Facebook page, Talha, who refers to himself as a former pilot for Malaysia Airlines, expresses support for a wide range of conspiracy theories: "satanic" symbolism in Katy Perry videos, weather warfare, and vaccines and autism. He writes often of a coming apocalypse and is a member of a "Malaysian Preppers" Facebook group, and he posts regularly about his religious beliefs (including his support for Islamic law) and what he believes is the imminent collapse of the global economy. Shortly after the plane's disappearance, Talha posted, in Malaysian, "Thank you all for your wishes for me. God- willing, I pray for the best for everyone." Talha did not respond to requests for comment.
Yazran Ahmad, who replied to Talha's Facebook post above, was Facebook friends with Talha and Shah, and he notes on his Facebook page that he studied at the Malaysian Flying Academy. On March 8, he wrote a poignant note regarding the missing airline. (Ahmad did not respond to request for comment.)
In January, McDonald's announced that it will begin the transition to sustainable beef in 2016. The plan was met with skepticism, since it didn't actually define "sustainable." In the weeks that followed, McDonald's continued working with a group called the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) to come up with a working definition of the term, and on Monday, GRSB released a draft of its definition for public comment. In addition to McDonald's, GRSB's new set of sustainability guidelines will also be implemented by the group's other members, which include Walmart, Darden Restaurants (the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster), Cargill, Tyson Foods, and the pharmaceutical company Merck.
Despite its name, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is not so much an environmental organization as a meat industry group. Its executive committee includes representatives from McDonald's, Elanco, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Just two environmental groups—the World Wildlife Fund and Netherlands-based Solidaridad—are part of its executive board. Cameron Bruett, president of GRSB and chief sustainability officer for JBS USA, a beef-processing company, said that McDonald's, along with other members, helped come up with the organization's "sustainability" definition and guidelines.
"I don't know if there's any justification for banning antibiotics in feed," said a GRSB spokesman.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the group's leadership, theGRSB's guidelines are short on specifics. Instead, the group provides a definition for sustainability that is open to members' interpretation. The plan says, for example, that sustainable companies must provide "stable, safe employment for at least the minimum wage where applicable" and institute "where applicable, third-party validation of practices by all members of the value chain." But it doesn't doesn't specify which third-party groups should conduct audits, and doesn't explain how workplaces should be monitored to prevent labor violations. In its section on climate change, it says that GRSB members should ensure that "emissions from beef systems, including those from land use conversion, are minimized and carbon sequestration is optimized." But it does not include any specific examples of target emissions standards or grazing policies.
Also absent from the plan is any mention of the beef industry's use of antibiotics. In the United States, four-fifths of all antibiotics go to livestock operations. McDonald's uses antibiotics to "treat, prevent, and control disease" in its food-producing animals, according to a McDonald's spokesman.
Using antibiotics to prevent disease—rather than only to treat infections—has been criticized by some food-safety experts. But the new plan doesn't recommend that members ditch the practice. "I don't know if there's any justification for banning antibiotics in feed, I know that's popular in some media circles, I haven't seen the scientific evidence," said Bruett. Yet studies have shown that antibiotic-resistant bugs can jump from animals to humans. In February, several experts told Mother Jonesthat McDonald's couldn't call its beef plan sustainable unless it addressed the overuse of antibiotics in livestock. When asked about whether McDonald's will continue to be given antibiotics under the new sustainability plan, a McDonald's spokesman referred Mother Jones tothis statement from February, saying "We take seriously our ethical responsibility to treat sick animals" and indicated that the company will continue to review its policy.
GRSB says that the lack of details in the plan is intentional; it "deliberately avoids" metrics that could be used to measure progress in sustainability, instead leaving it up to local roundtables to tailor the recommendations to specific regions. Bruett noted that "You could come out with a global standard, but it would simply be ignored, and it wouldn't lead to improvements among members." He adds, "There's all the discussion about sustainability, but it's by people who have very little knowledge or participation in the livestock industry...you'll never achieve [improvement] unless you have producer participation or support."
But Dr. David Wallinga, the founder of Healthy Food Action, a group of health professionals dedicated to promoting good nutrition, points out that while it's true that one-size-fits all metrics don't always work, without specifics, policies are "largely unenforceable." He adds, "I suppose it's good that McDonald's is taking on the task of setting guidelines for sustainable beef, [but] a few foundational blocks are missing."