Mojo - March 2012

Dear Rush Limbaugh: Birth Control Doesn't Work Like Viagra

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 9:37 AM EST

Does Rush Limbaugh think birth control pills work like Viagra?

His misogynistic assault on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke indicates that he does.

Fluke, who was prevented from testifying at Rep. Darrell Issa's nearly all-male hearing on contraception, has been the target of a barrage of sexist invective from Limbaugh over her view that Georgetown's health plan should include birth control. Wednesday Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute", declared that "she's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception," and asserted that covering contraception was tantamount to paying her for sex. On Thursday he blurted out: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

Once you wade through the bile and the realization that the country's most popular conservative radio host has devoted hours on his show to attempting to bully a woman into silence for her views on birth control, it becomes clear that Limbaugh, a man over 60 who is now on his fourth marriage, does not seem to understand how birth control pills work. On Wednesday and Thursday, Limbaugh repeatedly suggested that the amount of sex a woman has is related to the amount of birth control she needs to take, as though women took birth control pills every day they had sex. This is how, say, Viagra, the erectile dysfunction medication, works. Aside from the morning-after pill*, when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.

Limbaugh is a figure of almost religious stature among conservatives—for Republican elected officials, criticizing him is particularly dangerous—so Republican lawmakers have largely remained mum on Limbaugh's despicable tirades. Some conservatives have tried to defend Limbaugh, however, arguing that his analogy, while crude, gets to a legitimate concern over whether religious organizations and insurance companies should have to "finance" someone else's "sex life."

The trouble with this analogy is that insurance companies already "subsidize" men's sex lives, by covering erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra. That insurance companies were already covering those drugs was part of the reason why the Employment Equal Opportunity Commission ruled in 2000 that insurance companies providing prescription coverage could not exempt birth control.

It's almost surreal to have to point out that regulating pregnancy is a legitimate medical need. Unlike erectile dysfunction drugs, whose sole purpose is to facilitate sexual activity, birth control has other legitimate medical uses beyond preventing pregnancy. It mitigates menstrual pain and helps women regulate their cycles, which is why many women use birth control even if they are not sexually active or have never had sex. In her prepared remarks, Fluke tells the story of a lesbian friend who lost an ovary due to polycystic ovary syndrome, which could have been treated with access to birth control. As Fluke dryly points out, her friend was not trying to avoid pregnancy.

The "subsidizing-your-sex-life" argument Limbaugh is making is related to, but nevertheless distinct from, the religious objection to birth control. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has opposed even allowing insurance companies to foot the bill for contraception for employees of Catholic institutions. However, it has no objection in principle to prescription drug coverage that includes Viagra. Neither, one assumes, does Rush Limbaugh. So if he wants to contend that covering birth control is akin to paying women for sex, let's hear him explain why men who want their insurance to cover their erectile dysfunction pills are not "sluts" or "prostitutes."

Correction: I initially misread the government's advice on contraception; it is perfectly safe to take Plan B when you're already on the pill.

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Mass Appeal to Governors: Don't Privatize Prisons

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EST

The private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America has made states an offer they can—and should—refuse. That's the message that went out to state governors on Thursday in letters signed by 60 policy and religious groups. The letters urged the governors of all 50 states not to take up a blanket deal CCA has put forth to buy and privatize their state prisons in return for a promise to keep those prisons filled. 

Two weeks ago, the Huffington Post revealed that CCA was reaching out to states, offering to buy their prisons as a way to deal with their "challenging corrections budgets." The company is proposing that it receive, in exchange for the cash, a 20-year management contract that would require the states to keep their prisons at least 90 percent full for the duration.

This power play by the private prison firm may indicate some anxiety in what has historically been a growth industry. (See charts below.) Beginning in 2009, for the first time in nearly 40 years, the overall US prison population declined slightly. And in several states, plans to privatize prisons have been scaled back, stalled, or rejected.  

My Tussle With Breitbart, the Genius of Agitprop

| Fri Mar. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EST
Andrew Breitbart

I'm hardly the person to properly eulogize Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing provocateur who died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 43. My only contact with him was brief, but revealing. Like so many others who found themselves in Breitbart's crosshairs, my interaction with him was through Twitter, where he hounded me to admit that the media had applied a double standard in its coverage of the tea party and the budding Occupy protest movement I'd been following in Oakland last fall. Insisting I was willfully ignoring the ugly reality of Oakland's tent camp, 

I didn't take the bait, and our exchange turned into a light-hearted back-and-forth in which he declined my invitation to play soccer in San Francisco. "More of a baseball and football guy!" he tweeted back. "Moving. Fast. Or. Even. Slow. Not. My. Strong. Suit."

Offsides: Breitbart demurs to a invitation to a friendly soccer match.Offsides: Breitbart turns down an invitation to a friendly soccer match.Our brief correspondence angered at least one Occupier, who demanded to know why I had given Breitbart the time of day, or at least hadn't tried to savage him. Her reaction was indicative of Breitbart's simple genius, upon which his shock-jock journalism shop successfully, relentlessly trolls its political foes, who then unwittingly play into its hands. My first story on Occupy Oakland touched on this: By taking easy jabs at the left, Breitbart and his co-conspirators elicit hysterical reactions that reinforce whatever perceived hypocrisy they're assaulting.

Such a tactic isn't particularly novel, but it was the extent to which Breitbart flaunted boundaries—hijacking former Rep. Anthony Weiner's resignation press conference, screaming at Occupy CPAC protesters to "stop raping people!" (see video below)—that defied the tediousness of a Hannity or an O'Reilly. His outbursts were so outrageous that he often seemed unhinged. But he acted with purpose, reckless though it could be, and he was surprisingly effective. I wasn't the only one to suspect that the early reports of his death were another ploy until a coroner's report confirmed them.

Corn on "PoliticsNation": Why Isn't Romney the GOP Front-Runner Yet?

Thu Mar. 1, 2012 5:38 PM EST

David Corn and Democratic strategist Tad Devine joined Al Sharpton on MSNBC's PoliticsNation to discuss what Mitt Romney's narrow victories in Michigan and Arizona say about his chances on Super Tuesday. The strain of the campaign seemed to show in Romney's victory speech: "We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts," he said before urging supporters to donate to his campaign. As the GOP primary drags on, will Romney ever be able to gain a definitive edge over the other candidates?

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Student Protests Seek to Breathe New Life Into Occupy

| Thu Mar. 1, 2012 4:49 PM EST

march1strikeucsc.orgmarch1strikeucsc.orgIn the past three years, California has slashed funding for public education by $20 billion and laid off 40,000 teachers. Once known for its stellar public school system, the state now has the lowest staff-to-student ratio in the country. Even its crown jewel, the University of California, is losing luster. Tuition has gone up by 300 percent since 2000. Other states' public and university systems are in similarly dire straits.

In the era of offshoring, digitization, and corporate downsizing, public education remains one of the few hopes for sustaining the middle class. While a generation ago, high-school graduates (or even dropouts) could reasonably expect to earn enough working a factory floor to buy a house and put their kids through college, those jobs have mostly been replaced by an "innovation economy" that demands even factory workers to have years of specialized training. As Adam Davidson ably explores in "Making It In America," his article in the current Atlantic, we live in a world in which "the opportunities for being skilled grow and the opportunities for unskilled Americans diminish."

Nobody understands the importance of reinvesting in education better than the students who now depend on it for their futures. As tuitions skyrocket, some of them are being priced out of a college education. Others are entering an uncertain job market saddled with mountains of student debt, which now totals more than a trillion dollars nationally.

Today, many students are joining protests organized by Occupy Education, a coalition of 80 occupy, labor, and community groups, to launch a week of action around the idea that "education is a human right." Rallies using the Twitter hashtags #OccupyEducation and #M1 are taking place in seven cities. Students will stage walkouts in Boston and Philadelphia. In Oakland, organizers will embark on a 99-mile march from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza (the old home of Occupy Oakland) to Sacramento, where they plan to occupy the state capitol on Monday. Their demands: Killing a proposed 24 percent tuition increase at UC Berkeley and getting the university to support a tax on millionaires that would raise $6 billion annually for public education.

"I think this is the beginning of an uprising of the 99 percent on campuses this spring," says Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley PhD student in sociology. He believes "the stakes are huge" but the students' demands aren't: All they want is to "get an education without taking on a huge amount of debt and have an opportunity to get a job when we finish."

See the Racist Email About Obama Sent by a Federal Judge

| Thu Mar. 1, 2012 2:08 PM EST

The Great Falls Tribune reported Wednesday that Richard Cebull, a George W. Bush-appointed federal judge in Montana, sent a racist joke about President Barack Obama from his official email account. Even as far as racist jokes go, the dig is mightily unclever—the punchline contains an implied comparison between black people and dogs. 

Josh Glasstetter at Right Wing Watch has obtained an image of the email, which he writes has been going around the Internet around for months. It resembles a cheesy greeting card:

The joke also implies that instead of being married to Barack Obama Sr., Obama's mother Ann Dunham merely got pregnant at a party at which she was drunk, because how else could a white woman end up sleeping with a black man? So it manages to be profoundly racist and sexist at the same time.

Judge Cebull apologized and said he understood the joke was racist. What's interesting was his explanation for sending it around anyway:

"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull said. "I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."

Cebull doesn't seem to understand there's no way to deploy racism exclusively against President Obama. Racist animus cannot be focused on a single person. It is, by definition, a collective judgement on an entire people.

Perhaps Cebull's cognitive dissonance explains the appeal of certain racialist explanations for Obama's behavior—"Kenyan anti-colonialism" and so forth—and why some conservatives don't seem to understand why so many black people react to such language as though they're being personally targeted. They are, even if those doing the targeting don't seem to realize it.

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Chinese "Occupy" Obama's Google+ Page

| Thu Mar. 1, 2012 1:05 PM EST
President Barack Obama reaching out a hand to Chinese President Hu Jintao

A crack appeared recently in the Great Firewall of Chinawhere the government blocks Facebook and Twitter and censors search terms like "democracy", "human rights", and "dictatorship". Google noticed early last week that Chinese netizens started accessing its social network Google+ and almost immediately began inundating President Obama's page, Reuters reported yesterday. In what seemed like a mad scramble, commenters posted as early as 5:00 a.m. in China to be one of the 500 comments Google allows on each post. Google says it had not implemented any changes that would have allowed for access, which suggests that Chinese web users may have found a censorship loophole by surfing the internet on their cell phones rather than personal computers.