In Henderson County, Kentucky, sequestration has consequences. With Congress showing no signs of breaking its impasse on the massive cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, the school district found itself looking to cut $1 million in funding. One of the first casualties: a local Head Start program, which will now close in early May 3, about a month earlier than originally scheduled. That means parents are now stuck figuring out where to put their kids for the rest of the year—and how to pay for it.
As one parent told Owensboro's NBC affiliate, WFIE, "All through school we hear the slogan 'No Child Left Behind.' And now, apparently, all the three-year-olds are."
On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled his new budget proposal which, among other things, looks to expand federal funding for pre-school by raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. That's too little, too late for the parents with three-year-olds in Henderson County, though.
On Tuesday, the Montana legislature took a huge step toward officially decriminalizing sex between two consenting adults of the same gender, when the house of representatives—on a 64–36 vote—approved a bill to repeal the state's ban on "deviate sexual relations," sometimes referred to as a sodomy ban. Per the state's law code, "'Deviate sexual relations' means sexual contact or sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex or any form of sexual intercourse with an animal." The statute was effectively nullified by the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas, but Montana, like more than a dozen other states, has kept its version of the law on the books as a matter of principle—despite repeated efforts to have it stricken.
This is progress for Montana, but as the three-dozen "no" votes attest, the repeal effort was more than a little controversial. And here's state Rep. Dave Hagrstrom (R) explaining that—try to follow along here—he can't vote for the bill because, like a ballpoint pen, sex has both a primary purpose and a secondary purpose, and so by definition any sex that fulfills only the second purpose is "deviate" from the primary purpose. (Under this definition, having sex while using birth control would also be classified as "deviate" activity and therefore criminal behavior, but Hagrstrom doesn't really get into that.)
Take a look:
Hagrstrom: I have a lot of love and respect for a whole number of homosexual friends, so there's no homophobic issues going on here at all with me. My question is what's the purpose of sex? ...I'll just speak to the bill. I'm gonna vote no on this bill, but it's just for this reason. I don't think that homosexual sex is necessarily not deviate. Deviate isn't a bad word. Deviate simply means not normal. It's not typical. I kind of liken it like this. This pen has two purposes. The first purpose is to write. The second purpose is to retract so that it doesn't leave a stain on your shirt or your purse. So it has two purposes, but one is primary and the other is secondary. To me, sex is primarily purposed to produce people. That's why we're all here. Sex that doesn't produce people is deviate. That doesn't mean that it's a problem. That just means that it's not doing it's primary purpose. So I'm just speaking to the bill so I encourage people to vote red. Thank you."
State sodomy laws are having something of a moment right now. On Monday, a court blocked Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli's appeal to uphold an anti-sodomy statute in that state.
In March, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) held his first hearing as chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, which is responsible for, among other things, studying the impact of climate change on America's natural resources. The catch: Stewart is something of a climate skeptic who is "not as convinced as a lot of people are that man-made climate change is the threat they think it is."
At a town hall forum in his district last week, Stewart elaborated on those views when pressed by local environmental activists. Although his beliefs put him at odds with 97 percent of climate scientists, Stewart argued that his views on climate change put him squarely within the scientific mainstream. His evidence: If there really were a consensus, Congress would have have taken action to combat climate change years ago. Here's the video, via the pro-climate group Forecast the Facts:
Let me say that when I'm talking to you here right now, my position on climate change was very moderate and actually very mainstream. And that is this: If you think that the science on climate change is settled, you're simply overstating the facts. And let me give you an example of that. Two years ago, President Obama controlled the House and the Senate—the Senate by a 60-vote margin. They did not put forth a vote on human climate change. And do you know why? Why do you suppose they didn't? Because they recognized that science behind this...
There's one final thought that's really important in this, which is that even if you concede that climate change is real, even if you concede, there are no reasonable remedies that don't absolutely bankrupt the West.
Stewart's narrative is a bit off, actually. The House did pass major climate legislation in 2009, and the Senate came pretty close, but negotiations within the bipartisan coalition that was working on the bill broke down. The issue wasn't that the Senate rejected climate science—the legislation failed due to a variety of political pressures, including concerns from coal-state Democrats, and South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham's insistence that the body put immigration reform first. (Ryan Lizza has the best explanation of that episode here.)
On Tuesday morning, McConnell's campaign twitter account blasted out a link to a new splash page ("teammitch.com/wiretap") asking supporters to "stand with Senator McConnell" by signing up for his mailing list—and donating to his campaign. The campaign specifically charges the "liberal media," which in this case is apparently Mother Jones, with "illegal and underhanded tactics":
As we explained in the piece, Mother Jones was provided a copy of the tape. It was not involved in making the tape.
McConnell's move isn't unusual for a campaign dealing with a news story like this—which may have some benefits for a politician who has worked hard to ingratiate himself with the state's conservative activists. What better way for McConnell to show his mettle than by coming under attack from the left?
Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern (R) with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
The Oklahoma legislature moved one step closer to protecting the state from the long hand of Islamic law on Monday, when the state Senate approved on a 40–3 vote a bill prohibiting the use of foreign or religious laws in state courts. If that sounds like something you've heard before, it's because you have—the bill is an attempt by conservative lawmakers to finish what they started in 2010, when voters in the Sooner State approved a constitutional amendment to prohibit Islamic Shariah law from being used in state courts. That amendment, which passed with 70 percent of the vote, was almost immediately blocked by a federal court and promptly ruled unconstitutional because it specifically targeted Islam. Citing a handful of child custody and divorce proceedings, anti-Shariah activists alleged that the American way of life could soon be under threat from radical Islam.
Creating a legislative bulwark against a global caliphate in Oklahoma—where less than 1 percent of the population is Muslim—is a bit like building a seawall in the desert, but one can never be too certain about these things, and so, in March, state Rep. Sally Kern (R) introduced a bill to make things right. HB 1060 differs from the constitutional amendment in that it doesn't single out Islam specifically; instead, it applies a blanket policy to all religious institutions and foreign laws, borrowing from a model that has been introduced in more than two dozen states and passed in six since 2009.
Here's the bill:
If you think Kern is overreacting, consider that she believes Islam isn't the biggest threat facing the nation—the real problem is homosexuality. "Not everybody's lifestyle is equal, just like not all religions are equal," she said in a 2008 speech. "Gays are an even bigger threat than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat."