2011 - %3, February

Indiana Conducting "Immediate Review" of Official Who Called For Using "Live Ammunition" on Wisconsin Protesters

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 11:25 AM PST

UPDATE: Jeff Cox has been fired

ORIGINAL POST: Wednesday morning, Mother Jones reported that Jeff Cox, an Indiana deputy attorney general, had called for using "live ammunition" against Wisconsin protesters. Cox's bosses have issued a statement noting that they are conducting an "immediate review" of the prolific tweeter and blogger and that the state attorney general will take "appropriate personnel action" when the review of the "serious matter" is complete. The statement:

The Indiana Attorney General's Office does not condone the inflammatory statements asserted in the "Mother Jones" article and we do not condone any comments that would threaten or imply violence or intimidation toward anyone. Civility and courtesy toward all constituents is very important to this agency. We take this matter very seriously.

An immediate review of this personnel matter is now under way to determine whether the assertions made in the "Mother Jones" article about an employee are accurate. When that review is complete, appropriate personnel action will be taken.

The reporter who wrote the "Mother Jones" article informs us that the offensive postings over the weekend were made using a personal Twitter account and personal email, not a state government email account.

As public servants, state employees should strive to conduct themselves with professionalism and appropriate decorum in their interactions with the public. This is a serious matter that is being addressed.

Meanwhile, People for the American Way, a national progressive advocacy organization, has called for Cox to resign. The group says Cox's "call for violence" is "beyond the pale" and adds that he "should step down immediately."

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James Galbraith on Countervailing Powers

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 11:14 AM PST

My magazine piece on the decline of labor was all about labor's role as a countervailing power against the corporate community. The concept of countervailing powers is, of course, the brainchild of John Kenneth Galbraith, and today Ezra Klein talks to his son, James Galbraith, about how this applies to the world today:

What if labor never gets off the mat, and initiatives like the one in Wisconsin succeed? Are there any other actors in the economy who can play the countervailing role that labor has traditionally played?

There are certainly other organizations in the system. Voluntary associations and churches and so forth. But there’s nothing able to play the role as effectively on economic issues as an organization based on economic roles. Everything else is divided up into particular concerns — many of which are very important, like civil rights and environmental issues. But what has faded out is an organization with a clear and coherent focus on the economic position on the working population. And not the working population composed of manufacturing workers, but the mass of service sector jobs and others who are not organized.

This is a very good way of putting it, and it's similar to a few paragraphs I wrote for an early draft of my article. The left still has plenty of interest groups, and they play important roles. But most of the best funded groups don't really focus strongly on economic issues, and most of the groups that focus on economic issues aren't well funded. As I put it in the article, we lack a countervailing power "as big, crude, and uncompromising as organized labor used to be." Somehow we need to figure out how to get that back.

Obama Reverses Course on DOMA

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 10:52 AM PST

The Obama administration has decided to stop defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman. This is from the Dept. of Justice statement:

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that [...] classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.

This, by the way, is a good example why I've never joined in the general condemnation of conservatives for "reigniting the culture wars" whenever they introduce an abortion bill or somesuch. I'm on the opposite side of these conservative efforts, of course, but the fact is that liberals started the culture wars in the 60s and it's something we should be proud of. So while I oppose the conservative side of the culture wars, I approve of the culture wars in general, and I applaud Obama and Holder for reigniting it last year when Congress repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell and for reigniting it in the case of DOMA today. Blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, the disabled and millions of others have benefited tremendously from the culture wars, and I'm happy to see it continue until there's no more war to fight.

The Worm Turns in Wisconsin

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 9:58 AM PST

What's the endgame in Wisconsin? Andy Kroll rounds up the possibilities today, and outcome #1 is that eventually the union busting bill passes. This has seemed the most likely outcome to me from the start. Gov. Scott Walker has run a very disciplined operation so far, he has a lot of leverage and doesn't seem afraid to use it, he's taking on an unpopular target, and Democrats can't hide out in Illinois forever.

But I've been a little surprised at how things have turned out so far. Democrats might not be able to hide forever, but it turns out they can hide for a good long time. Even more important, it turns out that Walker's position may not be as popular as I thought. A national Gallup poll yesterday showed that 61% of Americans don't favor taking away collective bargaining rights from public sector unions. This doesn't mean teachers unions are suddenly everyone's heroes, but it does mean that a sizeable number of people think that busting unions entirely is a step too far.

And then there are Walker's fellow Republicans. One of the big questions swirling around the situation in Wisconsin is the notion that it's a bellwether: if Walker wins, will other Republican governors follow suit? There's still no telling, but just yesterday both Indiana's Mitch Daniels and Florida's Rick Scott have spoken out against the idea of eliminating collective bargaining rights. Their statements were mild, but they still take a bit of momentum out of Walker's anti-union crusade.

Even if unions lose the battle in Wisconsin, one benefit of their protest is to show other Republican governors that they're in for a pretty serious war if they try to do the same thing. That's worth a lot all by itself.

What's Happening in Egypt Explained

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 8:40 AM PST

This regularly updated explainer was first posted at 1:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday, January 25. It is no longer being updated as of late February.

(Missed a day? Jump right to it: January 25 | January 26 | January 27 | January 28 | January 29 | January 30 | January 31 | February 1 | February 2 | February 3 | February 4 | February 5 | February 6 | February 7 | February 8 | February 9 | February 10 | February 11 | February 12 | February 13 | February 14February 15 | February 16 | February 17 | February 18 | February 19 | February 21 | February 22 | February 23 )

The basics: Egypt is a large, mostly Arab, mostly Muslim country. At around 80 million people, it has the largest population in the Middle East and the third-largest in Africa. Most of Egypt is in North Africa, although the part of the country that borders Israel, the Sinai peninsula, is in Asia. Its other neighbors are Sudan (to the South), Libya (to the West), and Saudi Arabia (across the Gulf of Aqaba to the East). It has been was ruled by Hosni Mubarak since from 1981 until February 11

Ga. Law Could Give Death Penalty for Miscarriages

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 5:32 AM PST

It's only February, but this year has been a tough one for women's health and reproductive rights. There's a new bill on the block that may have reached the apex (I hope) of woman-hating craziness. Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin—who last year proposed making rape and domestic violence "victims" into "accusers"—has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize miscarriages and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal. Both miscarriages and abortions would be potentially punishable by death: any "prenatal murder" in the words of the bill, including "human involvement" in a miscarriage, would be a felony and carry a penalty of life in prison or death. Basically, it's everything an "pro-life" activist could want aside from making all women who've had abortions wear big red "A"s on their chests.

I doubt that a bill that makes a legal medical procedure liable for the death penalty will pass. The bill, however, shows an astonishing lack of concern for women's health and well-being. Under Rep. Franklin's bill, HB 1, women who miscarry could become felons if they cannot prove that there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" of their miscarriage. There is no clarification of what "human involvement" means, and this is hugely problematic as medical doctors do not know exactly what causes miscarriages. Miscarriages are estimated to terminate up to a quarter of all pregnancies and the Mayo Clinic says that "the actual number is probably much higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn't even know she's pregnant. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally."

Holding women criminally liable for a totally natural, common biological process is cruel and non-sensical. Even more ridiculous, the bill holds women responsible for protecting their fetuses from "the moment of conception," despite the fact that pregnancy tests aren't accurate until at least 3 weeks after conception. Unless Franklin (who is not a health professional) invents a revolutionary intrauterine conception alarm system, it's unclear how exactly the state of Georgia would enforce that rule other than holding all possibly-pregnant women under lock and key.

I've seen a lot of anti-woman, hate-filled bills this year, but this one takes the cake. And it's not just anti-woman, it's anti-logic. The bill contends that Georgia is exempt from upholding Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade because the Constitution's Article I only governs five crimes: counterfeiting, piracy, high seas felonies, offenses against the law of nations, and treason. According to the bill, since murder is not one of those five crimes, it should be solely governed by the state. The bill also mandates that doctors must try to save the mother and the fetus, even though as we know, there are many situations in which both cannot be saved. It also changes medical terminology, re-designating all zygotes, embryos, and concepti as fetuses. In the bill's logic, a fertilized egg is the same as a person, and its destruction is murder. Sometimes even a fertilized egg will fail to adhere to the uterine lining, so would that make a uterus a murderer? At least the bill doesn't propose instituting pro-life Stork Bucks or outlawing "space abortions"...yet.

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America's "Race to Nowhere"

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 4:00 AM PST

After Jane Marvin's 13-year-old daughter Devon committed suicide in 2008, Marvin reviewed every email, chat, and phone call for missed signs of a troubled mind. A high-achieving, highly popular student, Devon had shown no symptoms of depression, Marvin reflects in the new documentary Race to Nowhere. Eventually Marvin uncovered just one clue: an unexpected "F" on a math test—the first one for Devon, a straight 'A' student.

It was this death that compelled ex-Wall Street lawyer (and mother of three) Vicki Abeles to make Race to Nowhere. Abeles—who interviewed psychiatrists, child development experts, teachers, parents, and teens in affluent and low-income communities for the film—claims that a silent epidemic of stress-related diseases among American children is leading to increased rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety. While I think the film at times oversimplifies the connections between No Child Left Behind testing and increased mental disorders, Race to Nowhere is still a must-see for any parent who wants to understand the daily pressures facing kids in schools.

Check out this site to find or host a film screening in your area, or get school survival tips.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 23, 2011

Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:30 AM PST

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, currently deployed to the U.S. Army's National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., fire the M777 A2 Howitzer Feb. 19. (U.S. Army Photo By. Cpt. Angela Chipman, 2-8 FA UPAR)

Did Scott Walker Get Crank-Call Pwned? (AUDIO) UPDATE: YES

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:15 AM PST

UPDATE (1): Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's office confirms that the recording of a call between the governor and an alt-weekly writer posing as David Koch, one of the billionaire GOP financier brothers, is real and that it is actually Walker on the recording. The governor's office has released a statement:

The Governor takes many calls everyday," Walkers spokesman, Cullen Werwie said in a statement. "Throughout this call the Governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. The phone call shows that the Governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having.

The Buffalo Beast site, which organized the prank, is down, but you can hear the call below.

UPDATE (2): Ian Murphy, the guy with the catch of the week, responded warmly to our questions about his call to Walker. His comments have been added in the original post below.

ORIGINAL POST: Is that really Scott Walker? [Update: Yep.] A New York-based alt-news editor says he got through to the embattled Wisconsin governor on the phone Tuesday by posing as right-wing financier David Koch...then had a far-ranging 20-minute conversation about the collective bargaining protests. According to the audio, Walker told him:

  • That statehouse GOPers were plotting to hold Democratic senators' pay until they returned to vote on the controversial union-busting bill.
  • That Walker was looking to nail Dems on ethics violations if they took meals or lodging from union supporters.
  • That he'd take "Koch" up on this offer: "[O]nce you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."

But was it for real? Check out the details on the guerrilla caller and audio of his conversation below the jump.

South Dakota Advances Bill Mandating Controversial Anti-Abortion Counseling

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 6:13 PM PST

Last week, South Dakota's legislature shelved a controversial bill that appeared to legalize the killing of abortion doctors. But South Dakota's powerful anti-abortion lobby and its political allies didn't let one defeat stop them from pursuing their agenda. Far from it: on Tuesday, the state's house of representatives voted 49 to 19 to approve HB 1217, a first-of-its-kind law that supporters hope will drastically restrict access to abortion in the Mount Rushmore State.

The legislation, which is expected to face a vote in the state senate in the next few weeks, would require women to visit crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)—facilities that are most often run by anti-abortion groups—before obtaining an abortion. A woman would need to first consult with the doctor providing the abortion, then visit a CPC and wait 72 hours before undergoing the actual procedure. There has been controversy at the federal level about taxpayer dollars going to support CPCs, but this would mark the first time that a state would force women to visit such a center.

CPCs are not regulated, and are generally run by anti-abortion Christian groups. They are staffed by volunteers—not doctors or nurses—with the explicit goal of discouraging women from having abortions. (See Maddie Oatman's post on a documentary detailing what happens at CPCs.) A congressional investigation into CPCs in 2006 found that the centers often provide "false or misleading information about the health risks of an abortion." Many make false claims about ties between abortion and breast cancer, decreased fertility, and mental illness. "This may advance the mission of the pregnancy resource centers, which are typically pro-life organizations dedicated to preventing abortion," the congressional report concluded, "but it is an inappropriate public health practice."

The text of HB 1217 doesn't mince words about the bill's purpose: the law is intended to help women "maintain and keep their relationship with their unborn children." It goes on to explain: "It is a necessary and proper exercise of the state's authority to give precedence to the mother's fundamental interest in her relationship with her child over the irrevocable method of termination of that relationship by induced abortion."

The bill's sponsors have been equally clear about their goals. "We feel that with proper assessment and hearing both sides of the story, that the number of abortions in South Dakota will be seriously and drastically reduced, which of course is admittedly is an objective of this type of legislation," state Rep. Roger Hunt told the Christian radio program VCY America in an recent interview.

Besides requiring women to visit CPCs, HB 1217 would also require doctors to develop an analysis of "risk factors associated with abortion" for each woman. Critics of this measure say it is intentionally vague, and may expose abortion providers to lawsuits. The Nebraska legislature passed a similar measure last spring, but a federal judge threw it out it last July after finding that it would "require medical providers to give untruthful, misleading and irrelevant information to patients" and create "substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles" for women seeking abortions. Pro-choice groups in South Dakota are hoping that, should this bill become law, it will suffer a similar fate in the courts.

As written, HB 1217 would force women to be "pounded to a pulp emotionally, psychologically" after they have already consulted with their doctor, says Sarah Stoesz, the president of Planned Parenthood for the upper Midwest. "This is not about options. This is about brutality," she added. "By the time [women] are 72 hours away from their procedure, they have already made their choice." Under a 2005 law, the state already requires doctors to read a script to women that states that an abortion "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."

In South Dakota, where Stoesz's organization is the only abortion provider, the new law would also create a significant logistical burden. Extending the wait time and requiring a woman to consult first with the doctor, then with the CPC, and then meet with the doctor again before obtaining an abortion isn't exactly easy in South Dakota. Planned Parenthood flies in a doctor once a week to its clinic in Sioux Falls, and women may have to drive up to six hours to reach this lone clinic offering abortion services. But if you take Rep. Hunt at his word, those sorts of barriers to access are exactly what HB 1217's supporters have in mind.