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The Science of Gayness: Does it Really Matter?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 3:49 PM EDT

As California same-sex couples lined up to get married, so did the protesters. But more and more, the battle over homosexuality has moved from the social studies department to the biology classroom. A study published this week showed that gay men and straight women's brains are symmetrical, while straight men and lesbians' brains are asymmetrical. Also, gay men and straight women's amygdalas (the part ruling aggression and fear) have similar connective patterns.

So what does this mean? According to the lead researcher, Ivanka Savic, it's "robust" proof that there are biological differences between gays and heterosexuals. But even Savic admits that the study can't tell whether these differences are genetic or the result of the fetus getting too much or too little testosterone while developing in the womb.

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Do Your Condoms Work?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 3:32 PM EDT

If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

Read more about it here.

McCain Hypocrisy on Obama's Opt-Out Decision

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 3:10 PM EDT

The McCain campaign has sharply criticized Barack Obama's decision to become the first general election presidential candidate since the 1970s to opt out of the public financing system, a decision Obama can afford because of his stunning success with hundreds of thousands of low-dollar donors. As David notes at the link above, the McCain campaign said Obama's decision "undermines his call for a new type of politics."

But McCain, a longtime foe of Big Money in politics, once had a friendlier view of presidential fundraisers like Obama.

Here he is on the Fox News show "On the Record," in January 2004:

"I think it's wonderful that Howard Dean was able to use the Internet, $50, $75, $100 contributions. That's what we want it to be all about. We want average citizens to contribute small amounts of money, and that's a commitment to a campaign. So I'm for that. I think it's a great thing. I think the Internet is going to change American politics for the better."

And here he is on MSNBC's "Hardball," in June 2004:

"The Internet is generating more and more people involved in the political process with relatively small campaign contributions, $50, $75. That's wonderful. No longer can an office holder call up a CEO or a trial lawyer or a union leader and say, I need $1 million. And, by the way, your legislation is up before my committee again."

FISA, Compromised

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:39 PM EDT

A few moments ago, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released what he refers to as a “bipartisan” “compromise” bill: The FISA Amendment Act of 2008, which he authored along with Jay Rockefeller, Kit Bond, and Roy Blunt (respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence committee, and the House Minority whip). The word “bipartisan” is technically indisputable. The word “compromise”, by contrast, is a total farce.

The most controversial elements of the February legislation were provisions that would have allowed the White House to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, and that would have immunized telecommunications companies from participating in the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program back in the halcyon days when warrantless wiretapping was unquestionably illegal.

Here’s how the new bill deals with the immunity question.

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a civil action may not lie or be maintained in a Federal or State court against any person for providing assistance to an element of the intelligence community, and shall be promptly dismissed, if the Attorney General certifies to the district court of the United States in which such action is pending that…the assistance alleged to have been provided by the electronic communication service provider was in connection with an intelligence activity involving communications that was authorized by the President during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, and ending on January 17, 2007.

That’s the game. Non-profit groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation can sue the telecoms if they want, but if Attorney General Michael Mukasey says “presto”, the lawsuits must be dismissed.

As for the nitty gritty of surveillance powers the bill authorizes, here’s what the ACLU says: “This bill allows for mass and untargeted surveillance of Americans' communications…. The process by which this deal has come about has been as secretive as the warrantless wiretapping program it is seeking to legitimize.” And the media blackout over the last few months is testament to that. None of Congress’ civil liberties stalwarts partook in these negotiations. Neither John Conyers, nor Patrick Leahy–chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees respectively–got a say. Nor did Sens. Chris Dodd or Russel Feingold. Nor did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Leahy says “the legislation unveiled today… is not a bill I can support.”

Nonetheless, it looks very much as if Pelosi–who has substantial power to control what does and does not appear on the floor of the House–will allow this to come to a vote.

I’ll keep my eye on the comings and goings.

Brian Beutler is the Washington correspondent for the Media Consortium, a network of progressive media organizations, including Mother Jones.

Obama Opts Out of Public Financing: Promise-Breaker or Reform-Shaker?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:00 PM EDT

In the decades after Watergate, the basic thrust of campaign finance reform was this: limit the flow of big-money private contributions to candidates. No more bags of money for the pols. Now, only donations of up to $2300 from individuals are acceptable. And in the presidential race, there is public financing: the nominees--if they agree to forgo fundraising--receive full underwriting of their general election campaigns. This year that subsidy is about $85 million.

This system has been an imperfect reform. There have been loopholes. Well-heeled private interests have poured money into independent efforts to support a preferred candidate or, more often, blast that candidate's opponent. And parties could raise money, while corporations could donate unrestricted amounts to presidential conventions. So the opportunity for one side to outspend the other (using unlimited donations from wealthy individuals, corporations or unions) has remained. The influence of big money has not been eradicated. Still, presidential candidates, once nominated, could focus on campaigning, rather than cash-hunting.

Now comes Barack Obama.

He has run for president as an agent of change who slams the money-talks ways of Washington. As an Illinois state senator and as a U.S. senator, he has passed reform measures. Yet on Thursday, in an email to his supporters, he announced that he would not participate in the public financing system in the general election, despite an earlier promise to stay within this system. He will be the first major presidential nominee to reject public financing for the general election since Watergate. Instead of relying on that check from the U.S. Treasury, he will continue his record-setting fundraising operation. John McCain's campaign immediately and predictably proclaimed that this decision "undermines his call for a new type of politics" and will "weaken and undermine the public financing system."

Obama said:

Under the Radar: The Child Abuse Bill Swap

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 1:51 PM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by MoJo author Maia Szalavitz:

Congressman George Miller recently introduced strong legislation to fight abuse in teen boot camps and other "tough love" residential facilities. But the version that passed the House Education and Labor Committee in May is not the version that will be voted on by the House Tuesday.

A new "bipartisan" draft of HR 5876, the "Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008," has been submitted instead. And the provision most likely to hold these programs accountable and reduce abuse—a "private right of action" which would allow parents and children to sue the facilities in federal court and receive reimbursement for attorneys' fees—has been removed. Why?

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Why the Offshore Drilling Pander Might Actually Work

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 11:59 AM EDT

It's a pander, no doubt, but it might be a successful one. Why? Because people don't know that it won't reduce gas prices. Check out these numbers from a recent Rasmussen poll:

In order to reduce the price of gas, should drilling be allowed in offshore oil wells off the coasts of California, Florida, and other states?
67% Yes
18% No
15% Not sure
If offshore oil is allowed, how likely is it that the price of gas will go down?
27% Very likely
37% Somewhat likely
21% Not very likely
6% Not at all likely
8% Not sure

I'll only add that this whole thing may not matter in the long run because offshore drilling seems bound to be one of those election-season issues that flare up for a few weeks and then disappear, never to be heard from again. Remember the gas tax holiday that we all went bonkers over?

How You Know McCain's Offshore Drilling Reversal Is a Pander

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

It might seem obvious that McCain's new-found support for offshore drilling is a pander: after all, the federal government itself says that if you were to drill all over the continental United States, you'd find enough oil to last America just two and a half years, meaning we're not talking about a long-term solution. Moreover, offshore drilling will cause only a marginal impact on prices, and even that tiny impact won't be felt for another seven to 10 years, according to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry trade group that points out that production cannot start right away.

But maybe McCain didn't check the numbers. Is there any other way you can tell that offshore drilling is actually pointless, and serves only as a base election-season pitch to voters angry about high gas prices? There is. There are no ships.

Warning: This Durex Condom May Be Completely Useless

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 7:56 PM EDT

condom.jpeg


If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

"Perfectly reasonable question," said company PR rep Mark Weaving. "And the answer is that these [studies] were completed. When the Avanti first came out in the US, it formed a completely new category of product, so the FDA wanted some extra studies to be done" on the (novel) polyurethane (as opposed to traditional latex) condoms. In the meantime, Durex could sell the condoms as long as it printed the inconspicuous warning on the box. Those additional studies have since been completed and shown slippage and pregnancy rates to be "well within the normal range." (Durex recently announced that it is discontinuing the Avanti, not because of any issue with the product, but to make way for a new version of it.) Still. As you can't really be too careful when it comes to condom effectiveness, it seems the FDA probably should have made the company postpone Avanti's release until the studies were done. And why wouldn't Durex have voluntarily waited to sell the questionable—and crucial—product in the first place? Speculated Weaving, "I think the pregnancy studies can go on for quite a long time."

Navy Spends Your Precious Tax Dollars ... Buying Crate After Crate of Manga

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 6:19 PM EDT

manga.jpg

Residents of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, are concerned about the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is set to be permanently deployed outside their city. Some say the American ship will hurt the fishing industry; others have safety concerns, especially justified after there was a fire on the George Washington last month.

Solution: charm offensive! Specifically, the Navy dropped $72,000 to commission "Manga CVN 73," a 200-page Japanese-style comic book. Produced by two Japanese artists and named after the ship's hull number, it follows the experiences of fictional Japanese-American Petty Officer 3rd Class Jack Ohara. Over 20,000 copies were printed and, earlier this month, a huge crowd lined up outisde the American base to get their free copies. Commented a naval spokesman to the Navy Times:

"The most-read, most-used medium is manga — not TV, not radio, not the Internet. Manga is a traditionally read, heavily sold medium in this country. We went, OK, there you go, the Japanese people have given us the way to talk to them."

Here's my question: Where does this sort of thing appear on the Navy's budget justification? Download the 18 meg .pdf file here here, in Kanji or English text. (via)