Linda Laroca has filed suit against her former manager, Beverly Fath, and her former company, Advantage Sales and Marketing, Inc. because, she says, she was fired because of a bumper sticker. According to Laroca, Fath saw her 1360 Air America Talk Radio bumper sticker and called it "that Al Franken left-wing radical radio station." Laroca says Fath then told her: "The country is on a high state of alert. For all I know, you could be al-Quaida," and then fired her.

California's labor law prohibits employers from controlling or directing their employees' political activities. Laroca is seeking lost wages and damages not only for violation of the state labor law, but also for wrongful termination, emotional distress, and violation of the state constitution.

The Washington Post reports:

After saying in January that he would end his regular meetings with lobbyists, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), the third-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, has continued to meet with many of the same lobbyists at the same time and on the same day of the week. ...

[The] purpose [of the meetings] is to help Santorum's reelection effort, but many of the same topics other than jobs are discussed, aides and participants said. ...

[T]he new meetings have added 20 to 30 people to their invitation lists, while retaining from the old list 40 of the 70 or so lobbyists who had been regularly invited. ...

One lobbyist called the attendees "the usual suspects," and said they were among the city's best-known lobbyists whose firms represent financial services, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, oil production and tobacco companies. ...

"We're going to formalize this [meeting] into a campaign briefing about once a month," [Mark] Rodgers [staff director of the Senate Republican Conference] said. "This will grow with people who are committed to Rick's campaign."

Recall that this is the guy Senate Republicans put in charge of lobbying reform.

The National Center for Men has launched its "voluntary fatherhood" project by filing a federal lawsuit, arguing that as long as women can chose to have an abortion, then men should have the right to chose fatherhood—and to decide whether they pay child support or not. The Center's affidavit reads:

We will ask a United States district court judge to apply the principles of reproductive choice, as articulated in Roe vs. Wade, to men. We will ask that men be granted equal protection of the laws which safeguard the right of women to make family planning decisions after sex. We will argue that, at a time of reproductive freedom for women, fatherhood must be more than a matter of DNA: A man must choose to be a father in the same way that a woman chooses to be a mother.
The lawsuit has little chance of winning, and for good reason. Yes, women have the same access to birth control as men, and also have the right to an abortion. But the problem here is the simple truth that women and men are not equal in their child-bearing roles. The government forcing a woman to carry a baby to term is not the same as a man carrying a financial burden. The National Center for Men can call it a double standard. I call it biology.

Civilian Deaths Rise in Iraq

Today Iraq Body Count released a new report noting that the number of civilian deaths in Iraq has increased each year of the occupation. The figures, which start in May of 2003, rose from an estimated 6,331 civilians killed in the first year to a total of 12,617 killed in the third year (Mar. 2005-Mar. 2006), and are based on data from the morgue in Baghdad.

Even more staggering, the statistics for the third year don't include the majority of civilian deaths that resulted from sectarian violence after the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra—a figure estimated at around a thousand deaths—and exclude January and February data from the Baghdad morgue.

"The initial act that sparked this cycle of violence is the illegal US-led invasion of March and April 2003 which resulted in 7,312 civilian deaths and 17,298 injured in a mere 42 days," IBC co-founder John Sloboda said. "The insurgency will remain strong so long as the US military remains in Iraq, and ordinary Iraqi people will have more death and destruction to look forward to." Following its initial 2003 evaluation, the organization concluded that, by the numbers, the American military was incapable of protecting the civilian population in Iraq from attacks. "And if the US military can't ensure the safety of Iraqi civilians and itself poses a danger to them, what is its role in that country?"

Via the Guardian:

Earlier this week Mr Rumsfeld said reports had overestimated the possibility of civil war breaking out in Iraq following the sectarian clashes provoked after insurgents destroyed an important Shia shrine in Samarra last month.

Today he conceded there was a high level of "tension in the country, sectarian tension and conflict," but he added that it had not yet become a civil war "by most experts' calculation."

Mr Rumsfeld said: "The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the—from a security standpoint— have the Iraqi security forces deal with it, to the extent they are able to."

Feel better now?

This month's Health Affairs has a couple of good pieces on health care costs and debt that are worth reading. The first article, by David Dranove and Michael Millenson, argues that only about 17 percent of all bankruptcies today are caused by unaffordable medical expenses, which is far lower than the 54.5 percent figure found by David Himmelstein and colleagues about a year ago.

So maybe crippling health care costs aren't as crippling as once assumed, right? Hold on. Himmelstein and colleagues respond to the new study here, saying that Dranove and Millenson "misrepresented" their data. Among other things, Himmelstein and friends note that many people who appear before bankruptcy court give as their reason "credit card debt" or "mortgage," even though that problem had been brought about by medical expenses. Yet Dranove and Millenson didn't seem to count these people as those who go bankrupt because of medical bills, even though common sense would say otherwise.

It's a fun debate, but either way, Robert Seifert and Mark Rukavina probably have the last word on the subject in this third piece, noting that regardless of who's right, bankruptcy is really only the tip of the iceberg here. It's still the case that one of six nonelderly adults—some 29 million Americans—are currently shouldering debt caused by medical bills, and another 56 million adults are at risk of incurring heavy debt, should they happen to get hurt or fall ill through no fault of their own. Regardless of how many people are being driven to actual bankruptcy by medical costs, a lot of people are finding themselves in pretty dire straits.

Additionally, the mere prospect of being saddled with medical debt prevents many people from seeking care—they don't fill a prescription, or don't see a specialist, or don't visit a clinic for a medical problem. (Sometimes this is self-imposed, but sometimes not: some providers will refuse treat a patient with previous outstanding medical bills, so a person with too much medical debt may simply be denied care.) It's another indication that merely reducing the number of uninsured Americans won't solve the health care crisis in this country—many of those who are insured still face all sorts of problems associated with not being able to pay for necessary health care.

This weekend Florida's Clermont Fellowship Church is hosting a "Free Porn" weekend, with symposiums led by reformed adult porn stars and pastors who have been "freed" from porn. Getting past initial chuckles over events such as the screening of the "award-winning" documentary, Missionary Positions, the church's website seems to take a somewhat unorthodox position on porn—advocating for love, acceptance, and forgiveness rather than pure damnation. As Lead Pastor Tom Casolaro says:

Via Jacob Weisberg's Democratic-bashing article in Slate (and this wasn't one of the good Democratic-bashing articles, attacking the minority party on substance for being too filled with pro-corporate moderates who back bad bankruptcy bills, harmful abortion restrictions, and defeating the Kyoto Protocol; no, no, it was one of those bitchy "insider" pieces where we learn that Harry Reid is "colorless," Nancy Pelosi is "Washington's answer to Barbara Streisand," and Howard Dean stands for "incandescent rage"—in other words, sheer wankery), here's a New York Times piece that talks about the problems with the Democratic Party's electoral strategy:

Last year, Mother Jones put out a special package on global warming and the Bush administration's determined refusal to take it seriously. As expected—to quote Jon Stewart—the issue was never a problem again.

Or so we thought. David Ignatius, in his Washington Post column, sets us straight:

Every week brings new evidence that global climate change is real and that it's advancing more rapidly than scientists had expected. This past week brought a report in Science that the Antarctic is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year. Last month researchers reported that glaciers in Greenland are melting twice as fast as previously estimated. One normally cautious scientist, Richard Alley, told the Post's Juliet Eilperin he was concerned about the Antarctic findings, since just five years ago scientists had been expecting more ice. "That's a wake-up call," he said. "We better figure out what's going on."

Animals don't have the luxury of ordering up more studies of global warming. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times reported in January that colorful harlequin frogs found in Latin America are dying at alarming rates because of a fungus that seems to be linked to global warming. Doug Struck explained last week in the Post that climate change is helping the ravenous mountain pine beetle devour forests in British Columbia, killing more trees than wildfires or logging. Similar findings are stacked in a depressing pile in my study that keeps getting taller.

And no, still nothing halfway serious on this from the Bush administration or Congress.

A few weeks ago we predicted that the Bush administration's bold new promises to help stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur—perhaps by employing NATO—wouldn't amount to much. Sadly, that prediction proved entirely correct. On Monday, NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Schefer said NATO had no intention of putting "boots on the ground" in Darfur. (As mentioned before, in most European countries there's not really any popular outcry among civil society groups to do anything about a bit of ethnic-cleansing in Africa.)

Eric Reeves, who's followed the Darfur conflict closer than just about anyone else on the planet, notes today that it's not just Europe that deserves the blame here. The United States isn't exactly leading on the issue, either. And while both the EU and the U.S. are pushing for UN involvement, that won't be enough—ultimately, NATO needs to get involved: