Mojo - May 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 10, 2010

Mon May 10, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C., move to their objective on April 29, 2010, after conducting airborne operations the night before as part of a joint forcible entry exercise. Photo via the US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean M. Worrell.

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The Pill's 50th Birthday Party

| Sun May 9, 2010 4:33 AM EDT

50 years ago today, the FDA promised to give women a reliable way to control their fertility without resorting to crocodile dung, Lysol douches, or lemon rind diaphragms. Fans of irony will note that the pill's FDA approval was nudged into being by a fervently Catholic doctor named John Rock, whose attempts to please the Pope also inspired the Pill's medically pointless 28-day cycle.

[Read Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating 2000 New Yorker article on Rock and the Pill's birth here.]

More than a million women were carrying the small circular pill containers in their purses by 1962, medicine masquerading as makeup compacts. As Time's Nancy Gibbs writes, "There's no such thing as the Car or the Shoe or the Laundry Soap. But everyone knows the Pill, whose FDA approval 50 years ago rearranged the furniture of human relations in ways that we've argued about ever since."

Gail Collins has a great column this weekend on what the Pill arguments are about now. Plus, don't miss Elizabeth Gettelman's whirlwind history of contraception here.

Happy 50th, Pill!

Woman Prisoner Sent to Solitary for Reporting Rape by Guard

| Sat May 8, 2010 6:01 PM EDT

Michelle Ortiz was serving one year at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, a state prison in Marysville, when she was molested by a male guard. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch describes what happened next: 

When Ortiz reported the first assault to prison official Paula Jordan, the official told the inmate that the male guard was being transferred from the facility and was "just a dirty old man." That same evening, the male guard assaulted her again. 

Rebecca Bright, another prison official who launched an investigation, ordered Ortiz placed in solitary confinement, where she was handcuffed. Bright reportedly argued that Ortiz was talking about the incident with other inmates. 

Other accounts were more specific: In the first assault, Ortiz was "fondled" by the guard, who then told her "I'll get you tomorrow, watch." In the second, which took place after she had appealed for help, the guard returned while Ortiz was asleep and raped her. The assaults took place back in 1996. Subsequently, Ortiz sued both prison officials in federal court for doing nothing to protect her from the guard and punishing her instead. A jury awarded her $625,000 in damages.

Why Democrats Could Still Lose Latino Voters

| Fri May 7, 2010 4:25 PM EDT

Arizona’s immigration law has infuriated and mobilized the Latino community. And Republican support for the measure could end up alienating Latino voters and damaging the party’s long-term prospects. At the same time, the circumstances won’t necessarily translate into political gains for the Democrats this year if the party fails to make a strong bid to protect Latino rights, the American Prospect’s Adam Serwer argues:

[T]he anti-immigrant sentiment of today's GOP won't keep Latinos voting Democratic if they ultimately get nothing out of it. Latinos today, like black Americans in the past, won’t just be looking for a party that will reach out to them rhetorically -- they will want parties and politicians that can achieve their legislative goals.

Serwer draws a comparison with how black Americans ended up moving away from the Republican Party after the Civil War: Despite the racist attitudes of the old Democratic Party, the GOP “proved itself unwilling or unable to continue a sustained struggle for black rights following the Civil War”—and blacks ended up migrating to the other side.

Similarly, present-day Democrats still risk taking Latino voters for granted if they fail to act on their promises to the Latino community. While the GOP has certainly shifted to the right on immigration reform since the failure of the 2007 bill, the Democrats have as well. Since President Obama first took office, the administration has devoted its resources on immigration to ramping up border enforcement and deporting criminal immigrants. In fact, it deported 5 percent more immigrants than the Bush administration in its first year. And the Senate Democrats’ current plan for an immigration overhaul places a huge emphasis on border security and enforcement in their attempt to win over moderates and conservatives, providing extensive detail about cracking down on illegal immigrants in the workplace while making only brief mention of a pathway toward legalization.

But so far, no Republicans have come to the table since Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pulled away from the discussions. And Obama, in his recent comments, has made it increasingly clear that the Democrats will continue to slow-walk an immigration overhaul this year. So the Democrats are simply left with calls for heightened border security and other immigration crackdowns—which the Republicans are matching with hard-line proposals of their own, as Politico points out.

That doesn’t mean that Latino voters will be particularly eager to run into the arms of the GOP, particularly as more conservatives have begun to embrace the Arizona law. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll swing heavily for the Democrats, either. As TAP’s Gabriel Arana writes, despite their recent denunciation of the Arizona law, “progressives have failed to provide a counterweight to anti-immigrant sentiment” by strongly advocating for immigrant rights. And until then, Latino voters could still decide to stay home this fall and sit this one out.

Anti-Gay Crusader Just Trying to "Help" Gay Escort

| Fri May 7, 2010 3:43 PM EDT

UPDATE: Rekers said he'd been with other escorts, Lucien claims. (See end of post.)

George Rekers, cofounder of the fundamentalist Family Research Council, hired a male prostitute from a gay website called RentBoy.com in order to save him.

Or at least that's Rekers' spin attempt since Wednesday, when Miami New Times contributors Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp exposed the anti-gay crusader's two-week European romp with a rent boy they dubbed "Lucien."

"I have spent much time as a mental health professional and as a Christian minister helping and lovingly caring for people identifying themselves as 'gay.' My hero is Jesus Christ who loves even the culturally despised people, including sexual sinners and prostitutes. Like Jesus Christ, I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them," Rekers wrote in a statement obtained by Joe. My. God.—a blog I'm going to have to read more often.

US Getting Real on Israel's Nukes

| Fri May 7, 2010 3:39 PM EDT

It does seem as if something may be changing, however slowly, in Washington when it comes to policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. Rumors, for instance, are spreading in the media that the Obama administration is threatening to take Middle East peace negotiations out of the hands of the Israelis (and Palestinians) and put them in the hands of an "international peace conference," should there be no breakthrough in peace talks by the fall. This would represent something new. But perhaps the most striking sign of possible change has hardly been noticed. Washington is beginning to speak openly about the Israeli nuclear arsenal, estimated at up to 200 weapons, a potential banquet of civilizational destruction.

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The April Jobs Report

| Fri May 7, 2010 2:21 PM EDT

There's a lot to be pleased with in April's jobs report. The economy gained 290,000 jobs, the biggest increase in four years. And although the official unemployment rate went up (from 9.7 to 9.9 percent), that's because some 805,000 people, feeling better about their prospects, resumed searching for work. President Barack Obama called the report "very encouraging news." Paul Krugman says the report is "good" but then proceeds to rain all over Obama's parade:

But a long, long way to go. Two things worth remembering. First, during the Clinton years the economy added around 230,000 jobs a month on average — that is, over an eight-year period. One month like this isn’t much. Second, on a reasonable estimate it would take something like 4 or 5 years of job growth at this rate to restore anything resembling full employment.

When you put it that way, the report doesn't actually seem so encouraging. There are still a ton of people out there looking for work. One broader measure of unemployment, "U6," which counts people who have stopped looking or are working part-time involuntarily, is at 17.1 percent. That number is going to have to come down if Democrats don't want to get clobbered in November (and if Barack Obama wants to get reelected).

While Republicans will try to keep Americans focused on the unemployment rate, Dems will want voters to focus on Steve Benen's now-famous chart of jobs numbers:

In case it isn't clear, the chart shows job gains and losses during the Bush (red) and Obama (blue) administrations. It's powerful stuff. Unfortunately for Democrats, people are much more likely to focus on their own situations than on a pretty bar graph. Today's job news was good. But it's going to have to get a lot better to dig us out of the hole we're in:Obama often says that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Will the arc of the jobs universe keep bending towards full employment? Obama and his party had better hope so.

Goldman CEO Safe—For Now

| Fri May 7, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

[UPDATE]: Earlier, I wrote about rumblings that Goldman Sachs CEO and chairman Lloyd Blankfein could be on his way out if Goldman decides to settle the Securities and Exchange Commission's fraud suit against the firm. Blankfein, however, isn't going down without a fight. Today, in a massive vote of confidence, Goldman's shareholders voted against splitting the firm's CEO and board chairman roles; for now, Blankfein remains the undisputed leader of the firm. "I have no current plan to step down," Blankfein told shareholders. Today's vote is sure to boost Blankfein's, um, stock, and should dampen calls for his ouster.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that besieged investment firm Goldman Sachs and the Securities and Exchange Commission have held early settlement talks to end the SEC's blockbuster civil suit. That's a big step away from the firm's initial reaction to the suit, saying it was completely false. The securities regulator filed suit against Goldman for allegedly misleading its clients about a complicated financial product that the SEC says was designed to fail. Moreover, the SEC claims Goldman failed to disclose that a trader betting against that product, a synthetic collateralized debt obligation named Abacus, played a large role in designing the product and ensuring its demise. Kind of like allowing a guy help build a house out of pure kindling, then letting him buy fire insurance against the sure-to-burn house and wait to collect his payout. Ultimately, the trader "shorting," or betting against, Goldman's Abacus, a hedge fund guru named John Paulson, made $1 billion in the deal, while investors who thought Abacus would succeed lost around $1 billion.

The settlement talks are in the very early stages, the Journal reports, and right now there's a sizeable gulf between the two parties' positions. One fund manager, Michael Mayo, suggested that if Goldman did indeed settle, the settlement figure could reach $1 billion—not much compared to the firm's $850 billion balance sheet, but a symbolic blow nonetheless. Even more jarring would be the forced departure of Goldman CEO and chairman Lloyd Blankfein. There've been rumblings that any settlement agreement would involve ousting Blankfein, the man at the helm during the go-go subprime years, the firm's decision to short the housing markets, and the 2008 collapse. Blankfein was also running the firm when the Abacus deal went down, in 2007.

It would undoubtedly be a blow to Goldman to lose Blankfein, a long-time trader and executive in the firm and the man who's lead Goldman through arguably the bleakest period in its history. But if the firm is to move past the tumult of the last two or three years, odds are you'll see Blankfein packing his bags.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 7, 2010

Fri May 7, 2010 9:52 AM EDT

US Army Soldiers board Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft for a static line airdrop during a forcible entry exercise on Pope Air Force Base, N.C., on April 26, 2010. Photo via the US Army.

'Race to the Top' Winner Gets an 'F'

| Thu May 6, 2010 5:33 PM EDT

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan awarded Tennessee $500 million in the first round of President Obama's $4 billion Race to the Top competition, yet the volunteer state's academic standards were given an failing grade of "F" in a new study by Harvard University researchers. Study authors Paul E. Peterson and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón assessed states' education standards by comparing 4th- and 8th-grade students' performance on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress—a standardized test considered the gold standard in testing efficacy—with their performance on the standardized tests administered by each state individually, tests whose levels of difficulty vary considerably.

Peterson and Lastra-Anadón found that 90 percent of Tennessee's 4th-graders demonstrated proficiency in math on the state's own assessment, while only 28 percent achieved at that same level on the national exam, a result that indicates Tennessee's state education standards have been watered down. "With such divergence, the concept of 'standard' has lost all meaning," the researchers concluded. "It's as if a yardstick can be 36 inches long in most of the world, but 3 inches long in Tennessee."

Delaware, the only other Race to the Top winner, received a grade of "C minus" for the disparity between its students' scores on NAEP and their performance on Delaware's state standardized test. Five states—Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington—earned grades of "A" in the study, while Alabama and Nebraska joined Tennessee in the group of states who received grades of "F."

Duncan chose Tennessee and Delaware as winners from among 16 finalists for Race to the Top, a competition that encourages states to fight for federal education funds by pledging to institute school reforms favored by Duncan, like expanding charter schools or evaluating teachers based on students' gains on standardized tests. The results of this study, and another recently released report, raise concerns about what Duncan is rewarding with the $4 billion carrot he's been dangling in front of budget-crunched states. At the very least, the Harvard report adds to the debate over whether Duncan is promoting true education excellence and whether his approach will work for the nation's students. "Curricula can be perfectly designed," Peterson and Lastra-Anadón write, "but if the proficiency bar is set very low, little is accomplished by setting the content standards in the first place."