Mojo - March 2013

The Anti-Marriage Equality Movement Meets on the Mall—and Tries to Think Happy Thoughts

| Tue Mar. 26, 2013 2:09 PM EDT

Ruben Diaz, a 69-year-old Democratic state senator from the Bronx, was one of the best-received speakers at the National Organization for Marriage's March for Marriage on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. His message, shouted out in two languages (with a sidekick yelling the English), was fairly succinct:

"One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer! One man! Un hombre! One woman! Una mujer!"

You get the picture. Diaz is the Edith S. Childs of the anti-equality movement.

Though NOM's rally features the loud music and chants of a pep rally (also: bagpipes, grown men dressed like Buckingham palace guards, and dudes wearing red sashes), it has a different vibe: that of coping. With public opinion swinging wildly in favor of marriage equality, dozens of politicians in both parties following suit, and the Supreme Court poised on the brink of one (if not two) landmark decisions, the once dominant campaign against gay marriage is up against the ropes. Even a majority of young Republicans now believe same-sex marriage should be legal. The movement that conservative columnist George Will noted is "literally dying" decided to hold its rally in front of the Museum of Natural History—just a few paces, that is, from actual fossils.

NOM is attempting to convince its political allies, the media, the public, and perhaps itself that, despite appearances, it has been a good year for the anti-equality movement—that its argument is still a winning one.

On the National Mall, this happened in several stages. The first was grief. Diane Hess of Maryland was standing stage left with a sign that left little room for ambiguity. "Same sex marriage + the liberal media + Obama = the new Axis of Evil." From her perspective, the nation is totally screwed. "I do see us in a worse place, in a more godless place in 20 years," she said. Same-sex marriage is here, and it's only the beginning. "There is going to be a persecution of the Christian church." Sarah Stites, a student at Grove City College and one of the few actual young people at a rally was only a bit more bullish. "It seems to be heading that way," she said, when I ask about marriage equality. "I feel like people my age aren't getting all the information. They're being swayed by the media."

"Eventually there is gonna be a backlash," she remarked, "but I do think think we're going in the direction of same-sex marriage."

The second stage was doubt. As this line of thinking goes, everything you've been told about support for marriage equality should be questioned. "The Field Poll only said there was [38] percent support for traditional marriage," said NOM president Brian Brown, referring to a poll of Proposition 8 in California. "And guess how that turned out!" (Never mind that the survey was taken five years ago.) Martha Marsh of Maryland told me much the same thing: "First of all, I don't think the majority of Americans are behind same-sex marriage—I think a lot of politicians are for it." Wei Feng, who drove down from Rochester, New York, with his two daughters for the march on the Supreme Court, insisted that there's a "silent majority" that still opposes marriage equality. They'll speak up; just give them time.

The last stage of coping set aside the skepticism entirely and fixated on a fact-free assertion: young people really are on our side. "They are perpetually telling you in the media that young people are supporting same-sex marriage," Brown said at one point. "I'm gonna tell you something: That is not true." Never mind that the Pew study last week found that 70 percent of adults born after 1981 support marriage equality. Brown had something more powerful than a scientific survey: an anecdote. That is, a child: Grace Evans, an 11-year-old from Minnesota who became the next great hope of the anti-equality movement earlier this month when she testified before the Minnesota legislature in opposition to same-sex marriage. Evans, after explaining why her parents were awesome, posed a question to the lawmakers: "Which parent do I not need—my mom or my dad?"


On Tuesday, Brown showed a two-minute video of Evans' testimony on the big screen. When the audience had settled down, he got to the point: "The next time someone tries to intimidate you or they call you a name because you oppose gay marriage, think about that 11 year-old girl."

Just try not to think of all the others.

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Why the GOP Should Love Duck Penises

| Tue Mar. 26, 2013 10:24 AM EDT

My colleague Asawin Suebsaeng missed the most important point about Duckpenisgate: right-wingers should like duck sex research, because it almost, kind of, makes Todd Akin look not-so-bonkers.

Unlike humans, female ducks actually do have a way to "shut that whole thing down" when raped by a male duck. As Richard Prum, an evolutionary ornithologist at Yale University, explained to Politifact:

In duck ponds, Prum said, a lot of forced copulation occurs. Forced copulation is what it sounds like—rape in nature. Even gang rape happens among ducks. And Prum found that while 40 to 50 percent of duck sex happens by forced copulation, only 2 to 4 percent of inseminations result from it (meaning times the female duck ends up with a fertilized egg).
"The question is why does that happen? How does a female prevent fertilization by forced copulation?" he said. "The answer has to do with taking advantage of what males have evolved—this corkscrew shaped penis."
Prum said the duck penis is a corkscrew whose direction runs counterclockwise. Female ducks, he said, have evolved a complex vagina also shaped like a corkscrew -- but a clockwise one.
"This is literally an anti-screw anatomy," he said.

It's not just ducks. Other fowl—like the feral chickens studied here—are able to eject sperm from their body after sex. They can eject up to 80 percent of the ejaculate! (Hat tip: University of Rhode Island professor Holly Dunsworth.)

Duck penii and sperm-ejecting chickens aren't some novelty. They actually raise fascinating questions about evolution and procreation. Even if humans can't "shut that whole thing down" (sorry, Todd), it's worth figuring out why our fowl friends can.

Rand Paul Threatens to Filibuster Gun Control Bill

| Tue Mar. 26, 2013 10:19 AM EDT

Fresh off his 13-hour drone-protesting filibuster of John Brennan's nomination as CIA director, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is threatening to do the same with the Senate's soon-to-be-debated gun control package, Politico reports. In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), co-authored by fellow Brennan-blocking senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), Paul wrote, "We will oppose the motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions."

Paul's main gripe appears to be provisions drawn from Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) proposed assault weapons ban, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote but was dropped from the initial gun control package that is expected to get a vote in early April. Reid has promised to allow Feinstein's proposals—which include a ban on 157 specific models of assault weapons as well as magazines of more than 10 rounds—to be voted on as amendments.

Politico reports:

Though they don't use the word "filibuster" in the letter, the conservatives are leaving no doubt that they would filibuster on an initial procedural question—the motion to proceed.

Lee staged a test vote on the issue during consideration of the Senate budget last week. He tried to amend a point of order against gun control legislation to the budget but fell short. It needed a three-fifths supermajority and failed 50-49, needing 60 votes to pass. But the final tally emboldened Lee, Paul and Cruz because they were so close to a majority and a filibuster takes just 41 votes to sustain.

Even if Rand and his colleagues drop the filibuster threat and the assault weapons ban does manage to make it into the package, it will stand little chance of passing in the Republican-controlled House. Most gun control advocates now consider a bipartisan expansion of background checks as their best opportunity for reforming gun laws.

The Latest Conservative Outrage Is About Duck Penis

| Tue Mar. 26, 2013 9:19 AM EDT

The $16 muffin ain't got nothing on duck penis.

On Monday afternoon, FoxNews.com posted this poll to its opinion section:

duck penis study poll fox news
The Yale animal behavior study, titled "Conflict, Social Behavior and Evolution," is headed by Dr. Richard Prum and Dr. Patricia Brennan. FoxNews.com

News of Duckpenisgate was broken to a shocked and outraged nation by CNSnews.com, a conservative news site run by the Media Research Center, an organization dedicated to raging against secularism and the mainstream media. From there, Fox Nation and Fox News radio host Todd Starnes picked up on the duck penis/federal waste exposé. The duck penis news easily found its way onto other conservative outlets such as Human Events and birther website WorldNetDaily.

If you think that less than $400,000 spent on a scientific study is a prime example of waste, it's worth noting that that's roughly 0.0000001 percent of what the federal budget is likely to be in 2013. Also, the study, funded by the National Science Foundation (a government agency responsible for assigning billions of dollars to research and education), is not actually a waste of tax dollars. Science writer Carl Zimmer explains:

Studying animals is also a way for us to look in the evolutionary mirror. We share a common ancestor with other animals, and the same kinds of evolutionary processes play out in both us and them. Now, you may wonder what ducks—with gigantic cork-screw-shaped penises and a gigantic cork-screw-shaped reproductive tracts—could possibly have to do with us. The manifestation of sex evolution may be different in different species. But the process is similar.

As in many other species, the evolution of ducks has been driven in part by something call[ed] sexual conflict...Other scientists first explored sexual conflict in many other species first—species including ducks. That's just how science works, no matter what culture warriors may claim.

(For related reality checks, click here, here, and here.)

There's really no reason whatsoever for any of the right wing's snarky outrage, no matter how ridiculous federally abetted duck-penis research may sound.

But hey, things could always be worse. It's not like we're all freaking out over how much it cost for the vice president to stay at a hotel in Europe, right?

Right?

 

UPDATE: My colleague Kate Sheppard reminds us why Republicans (particularly Todd Akin) should love duck penis.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 26, 2013

Tue Mar. 26, 2013 8:34 AM EDT

Marines with Rolling Thunder 1, Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 2 and 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, tie up a damaged mine roller during a combat logistics patrol to forward operating base Payne, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 23, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz.

 

 

Anti-Marriage Equality Leader Says America Cannot Remain "Half Slave and Half Free"

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 2:14 PM EDT
NOM President Brian Brown at a 2010 rally in Wisconsin.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which since 2007 has successfully fought to ban same-sex marriage in several states and fought to punish legislators and judges who have supported it, offered interesting analogy on the eve of Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Friday, appearing on the show of conservative radio host Steve Deace, Brown argued for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying "We need a solution in this country, we cannot be, as Lincoln said, half slave, half free."

Here's the transcript from Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch (emphasis mine):

I think we're going to win these cases. But say the worst happens and we lose in a broad way—that means that the Court somehow does a Roe, a Roe v. Wade, on marriage and says that all these state constitutional amendments are overturned, gay marriage is now a constitutional right – well, we’re going to press forward on a Federal Marriage Amendment. We’ve always supported a Federal Marriage Amendment, and there’s a lot of misconceptions about it. Some people try and argue, 'Well, this is against federalism.' No, our founders gave us a system where we can amend the Constitution. We shouldn't have to do this, we shouldn’t have to worry about activist judges, you know, making up out of thin air a constitutional right that obviously none of our founders found there and no one found there until quite recently. But if we do, for us, the Federal Marriage Amendment is a way that people can stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' We need a solution in this country, we cannot be, as Lincoln said, half slave, half free. We can't have a country on key moral questions where we're just, where we don't have a solution. And if the Court forces a solution, the way we'll amend that is through the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Brown is referencing Abraham Lincoln's famous "House Divided" speech, which was about the inevitability of conflict within the Union over the issue of slavery. In Brown's analogy, presumably, the states where relationships between same-sex couples are legally recognized are the "slave states."  

The issue of same-sex marriage will most likely be resolved with less bloodshed than the abolition of required. But judging by the evolution in public opinion on the issue, the marriage equality "solution" won't be the one Brown is hoping for.

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The US Has Officially Transferred Controversial Bagram Prison to the Afghan Government

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 2:01 PM EDT

An aerial shot of the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009.

On Monday, the US military handed over the Parwan Detention Facility (a.k.a. the Bagram military prison) to the Afghan government. It was the last prison in Afghanistan still under American control. The transfer ceremony took place at the detention facility—renamed the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan—as US Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top American commander in Afghanistan, was in charge of transferring the facility at the ceremony.

Al Jazeera English reports:

Afghanistan has taken full control of Bagram military prison from the United States, as US-led forces wind down more than a decade of war.

The handover on Monday follows an agreement reached after a week of negotiations between US and Afghan officials, which includes assurances that inmates who "pose a danger" to Afghans and international forces will continue to be detained under Afghan law...The United States last year agreed to hand over responsibility for most of the...detainees at the prison to Afghanistan and held a transfer ceremony in September.

US soldiers remained at the prison, however, and controlled the area around it.

The detention center, located near the US-run Bagram military base north of Kabul, holds over 3,000 prisoners, the vast majority of whom were already under Afghan control. About three dozen non-Afghan detainees will stay under American control. Transfer of control has been one of messier issues of contention between Kabul and Washington as most US forces prepare for an exit in 2014. Though the facility never enjoyed the same kind of name recognition as Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, it was at the center of major controversies and allegations of torture and human rights abuses. Here is some essential background on the detention center and the Bagram air base:

Senate Agrees "Too Big To Jail" Should Die

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 11:26 AM EDT

In a largely symbolic vote early Saturday morning, the Senate agreed that badly behaving financial institutions should not be "too big to jail," or so large that the government is afraid to prosecute them for fear of damaging the economy.

After 1,448 days without a budget, the Senate finally passed one Saturday morning. The process entailed a 13-hour voting session, called a vote-a-rama, in which lawmakers filed over 500 amendments, and voted on 70. Amendment 696 was Sen. Jeff Merkley's (D-Ore.), which would officially warn the Department of Justice that "too big to jail" is unacceptable and recommend prosecution when a crime is committed. Most of the amendments are more political posturing than anything else, because it's pretty unlikely the Senate's budget will be merged with the radically different House budget. Still, some of the add-ons, like Merkley's, are important because they point toward legislation that might not be far off.

In recent years, major US financial institutions have gotten away with book-cooking, fraud, terrorist financing, and money laundering, often without much more than a wrist-slapping. Last year, for example, the Justice Department declined to prosecute HSBC for years-long violations of money-laundering laws, slapping it with a fine instead. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitted that the size of banks causes this kind of impunity:

I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.

At a hearing on bank money laundering earlier this month, a treasury official told senators that federal prosecutors had consulted with Treasury over the potential economic consequences of prosecuting HSBC. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was not happy. "If you're caught with an ounce of cocaine, you're going to go to jail," she said. "But if you launder nearly a billion dollars for international cartels and violate sanctions you pay a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed a night."

Merkley's amendment would create a reserve fund to facilitate the criminal prosecution of financial institutions that break the law, no matter how big they are. Although the amendment will most likely not become law, it does indicate that lawmakers are fed up.

"Under our American system of justice—where Lady Justice is blindfolded—there should never be a prosecution-free zone," Merkley posted on his website after the vote. "But that is what our Department of Justice created...Too big to jail is wrong under our Constitution that promises equality under the law and we must end it."

Poll: Most Americans Oppose Drone Strikes on Americans

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 9:17 AM EDT

A new survey from Gallup shows Americans oppose the use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists who are Americans whether those Americans are on American soil or abroad. But Americans still overwhelmingly back strikes against suspected terrorists abroad who are not American. 

Here are the results, which suggest the public debate over targeted killing is affecting perceptions of the policy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most surprising result may be that 25 percent of those surveyed are okay with using drone strikes to target non-citizen terror suspects in the US. Maybe they just really don't like their neighbors?

Nevertheless, the premise of Gallup's question remains flawed. Although most of the debate over targeted killing has focused on drones, the survey is of limited usefulness because it focuses on the method of killing rather than the authority to kill. As far as Americans are concerned, the question is really whether and under what circumstances the government has the authority to use lethal force and what the limits are on that authority. 

Although the use of drone airstrikes in the United States remains a far-fetched hypothetical, the use of targeted killing abroad is not. Between 3000 and 5000 people have been killed in US drone strikes abroad, including many civilians. Based on what we know publicly, only four Americans have ever been killed in drone strikes. Yet the kind of strikes the US is overwhelmingly engaged in are so popular that the number of people who oppose them is similar to the number who think the government should be firing missiles at terror suspects inside the United States. 

Correction: This post originally stated that three Americans have been killed in drone strikes. The correct number is four.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 25, 2013

Mon Mar. 25, 2013 8:31 AM EDT

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Audrey Griffith, points out an area of interest during a force protection drill to Spc. Heidi Gerke along the perimeter of Forward Operating Base Hadrian in Deh Rawud, Afghanistan, March 18, 2013. Photo by Australian Army WO2 Andrew Hetherington.