Molly Redden

Molly Redden

Reporter

Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden. Email her at mredden at motherjones dot com.

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Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

GOP Senate Candidate Cory Gardner Disavows His Support for Fetal Personhood—After Sponsoring a Bill Last Year

| Mon Mar. 24, 2014 12:51 PM EDT

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Col.) has Democrats spooked. Less than three weeks after his late-in-the-game announcement that he would challenge Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.), a poll from the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found Gardner trailing Udall by just two points.

But Gardner, a two-term congressman, brings plenty of baggage to the race, including his background as a fierce culture warrior. Among other attempts to limit abortion access, he co-sponsored a 2011 bill that would have changed the definition of rape under federal law, limiting abortions that could be covered under Medicaid to instances of "forcible rape." So on Friday, Gardner took a step toward softening his image as a social conservative crusader by recanting his vocal support for fetal personhood laws, which would confer constitutional rights on fetuses and ban abortion from the moment of conception.

"This was a bad idea driven by good intentions," Gardner told the Denver Post. "I was not right. I can't support personhood now. I can't support personhood going forward. To do it again would be a mistake… The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position."

What changed? Gardner says he "learned to listen" to critics of fetal personhood measures—something it couldn't have hurt to have done before he co-sponsored a House bill that established a "right to life [for] every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization." That bill, which Gardner signed last July, was named the "Life at Conception Act." During his first run for Congress, in 2010, Gardner boasted of circulating a petition for a personhood ballot measure at his church. Coloradoans voted against that ballot measure—and a nearly identical measure in 2008—by a margin of 3-to-1 that year.

But their opposition didn't register with Gardner until he faced an electorate that voted for Obama in the 2012 presidential race. Now, his eyes are open. "The voters of Colorado have spoken on this issue," Gardner told the Post. "To me, that's the end of it." What a difference a tight Senate election makes.

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Watchdog: Chris Christie's Post-Sandy Proposal for Federal Funds Is "a Contradictory Mess"

| Fri Mar. 21, 2014 11:01 AM EDT

An environmental watchdog group has slammed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's proposal for more Superstorm Sandy recovery funds, saying that the plan "conflicts with its own announced projects, ignores known threats, and contains numerous flaws."

New Jersey's Office of Emergency Management released the plan early last week. The state must submit this proposal, known as a hazard mitigation plan, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by the end of the month in order to receive more disaster recovery and mitigation aid. The plan does not ask for a specific amount of money, but functions instead as a wish list that may open up new funding streams for New Jersey in the future.

But having reviewed the plan, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit environmental watchdog group, is calling for FEMA to require New Jersey to make major changes before accepting the plan.

"The plan looks like it was put together at the last minute by a sleep-deprived college student, furiously cutting and pasting regardless of whether it is coherent," says Bill Wolfe, the director of PEER's New Jersey branch.

The proposal is detailed about the risks facing coastal New Jersey in the event of another storm like Sandy. But, Wolfe tells Mother Jones, it is almost entirely lacking in details on how New Jersey would rebuild the coast differently. "In real terms, in exchange for [FEMA] resources, the state is proposing no concrete, enforceable commitments to change anything," Wolfe says. In light of this, Wolfe says FEMA ought to require New Jersey to make broad changes to its municipal planning codes and state building requirements before giving the proposal its seal of approval.

In a press release, PEER states that it has only made "a cursory review" of the Christie administration's plan. But even its glancing evaluation turned up numerous errors. Christie's office set an April 11 deadline for public comments on the plan; but the final version is due to FEMA by the end of March. A section of the plan refers to the "Coastal Management Office," which Christie-appointee Bob Martin, the commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, abolished.

In other sections, the proposal makes statements undermining the state's ongoing construction projects. One portion of the plan decries the "hard structures" some coastal towns have built to protect vulnerable properties, as these can exacerbate erosion. But in a paragraph that follows, the plan praises work that New Jersey is overseeing to build new hard structures.

Pieces of the plan that deal with flood risks are especially problematic. In writing the flood risk section, the plan's authors failed to map New Jersey's hazardous waste management facilities, toxic waste sites, or chemical storage sites, and assess the risk of their releasing contaminants in the event of a flood, according to PEER. The plan also fails to evaluate the future risk of flood for the Barnegat Bay and Raritan Bay areas—two portions of New Jersey worst-hit by Sandy.

The plan "hides the risk of sea level rise by using a scale that makes it impossible to see the impacted areas on the map," PEER evaluators note. And some flood maps in the plan fail to account for projected levels of sea level rise, period.

PEER likens these flaws to the issues that spurred the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general to audit New Jersey's plans to spend $1.5 billion the state has already received in federal recovery aid—an ongoing probe partially inspired by PEER's complaints. In both cases, Wolfe notes, the plans were written with the help of private contractors who solicited little public input. "The process employed here typifies a governing style that is hyperpoliticized, fiercely insular, and ultimately utterly ineffective," he says.

Alabama DA Drops Effort to Send Man Who Raped 14-Year-Old to Prison

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 3:56 PM EDT

Facing an uphill battle in the state supreme court, an Alabama district attorney has dropped his effort to put a man convicted of raping a 14-year-old behind bars. The News Courier reports that Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones has decided not to challenge the state appeals court ruling that allowed Austin Smith Clem to avoid prison time for his three rape convictions. "After consultation with the victim and her family, we have decided not to pursue a petition for writ of mandamus to the Alabama Supreme Court," Jones told the News Courier. "Courtney Andrews has shown immense courage and tenacity during this ordeal. My hope is that, through her example, other victims of sexual offenses will find the courage to speak out and to come forward with these crimes."

Read our earlier coverage of the Clem case here and here.

 

Pregnant? Your Boss May Have It In For You

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 11:05 AM EST

Employers who illegally fire workers for being pregnant often attempt to skirt discrimination laws by smearing the employees as tardy, poor performers, or by chalking up their termination to company restructuring—even in cases where worse-performing employees, who were not pregnant, were allowed to remain on staff, and "company restructuring" turned out to be code for replacing pregnant workers.

That's according to a new study by sociology professor Reginald Byron of Southwestern University in Texas and Vincent Roscigno, a professor at Ohio State University. Their research, which will be published in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, is a major investigation into the phony justifications that employers who discriminated against pregnant workers gave to employees before firing them.

Byron and Roscigno examined 85 confirmed cases of pregnancy discrimination processed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for most years from 1986 to 2011. They found that pregnancy accounted for 40 percent of gender-related terminations. In around 30 percent of those cases, employers told the pregnant women that they were being fired for performing poorly; another 15 percent were let go for tardiness.

But a closer look at their workplaces found that pregnant employees were placed under greater scrutiny than their non-pregnant coworkers. Many pregnant women in Byron's sample, he writes, "identified other non-pregnant workers in their workplaces who had, for instance, more absences, less seniority, lower job performance or more workplace infractions, but who were not sanctioned or pushed out at all." But even in those cases, he says, pregnant women who had been fired were typically unable to win back their employment.

Byron notes,

Pregnant women, in these employer accounts, are presented as undependable workers because of physical limitations or violations of attendance and tardiness policies. Such concerns may, at face-value, seem legitimate in a business sense. However, the same policies and rationales were not invoked in the case of non-pregnant employees (including those with worse records of performance, attendance, tardiness etc.). Employers also contend that their decisions really have little to do with the pregnant employee herself and, instead, mostly concern workplace restructuring, cost savings and/or the inability to bear financial cost relative to accommodating particular employee needs.

In another 10 percent of cases, pregnant women were told that they were let go for business reasons unrelated to their performance. That, too, often turned out to be demonstrably false. In one case Byron and Roscigno write about, employers fired a pregnant assistant restaurant manager, saying that the company needed to reduce its assistant managers from three to two for cost-cutting reasons. But the company quickly hired a man to fill her position after letting her go.

Stories like these lead Byron, who is conducting a similar study of four other states, to conclude that pregnancy-related firings can stem from stereotypes about the abilities of pregnant workers. "Without attending to such cultural and structural power imbalances and the relational processes that undergird them, pregnancy discrimination will remain a significant problem," he writes.

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