Political MoJo

Stem Cells and Swing States

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 7:45 PM EDT

Swing State Project has a roll call of the 37 senators who voted against the bill to ease the federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

Those up for reelection are the following Republicans:

George Allen (R-VA)
Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Mike DeWine (R-OH)
John Ensign (R-NV)
John Kyl (R-AZ)
Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Jim Talent (R-MO)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)

as well as the Democratic senator from Nebraska, Ben Nelson.

Over at the New York Times, you can scroll over a map of the U.S. that provides you a state-by-state pop-up of how each delegation voted. And the Times also provides a way for you to email your senators and let them know what you think of their vote.

Pundits say that it is "unlikely" that there could be enough votes (just 3 more in the Senate) to override the veto. But if you scroll down a list of Republicans who in favor of expanding embryonic stem cell research--Orin Hatch, Bill Frist, etc.--it becomes clear that reason and compassion can cross party lines.

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Where You Vote Can Influence How You Vote

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 7:07 PM EDT

Louis Menand had a memorable piece in the New Yorker a few years ago on political science's attempts to divine why undecided voters vote as they do. The picture that emerged wasn't one you'd recognize from a Civics 101 class. "'[V]ery substantial portions of the public,' [he cited a researcher as concluding] hold opinions that are essentially meaningless—off-the-top-of-the-head responses to questions they have never thought about, derived from no underlying set of principles. These people might as well base their political choices on the weather. And, in fact, many of them do." (He's not joking.) In 2000, 18 percent of voters said that they decided between Gore and Bush only in the last two weeks of the campaign, and five per cent decided the day they voted, many of them presumably based on "factors that have no discernible 'issue content' whatever."

A new research paper out of Stanford University shows that a certain kind of voter is motivated by a factor that kind of does, kind of doesn't have "issue content": the place where they vote.

A field study using Arizona's 2000 general election found that voters were more likely to support raising the state sales tax to support education if they voted in schools, as opposed to other types of polling locations. ... A voting experiment extended these findings to other initiatives (i.e. stem cells) and a case in which people were randomly assigned to different environmental [cues] (i.e. church-related, school-related or generic building images). (My italics)

This tracks with marketing research showing that supermarket shoppers, for example, are more likely to buy French (versus German) wine when French (versus German) music is playing in the store. Similarly, I presume, having to wait for hours in long lines to vote in chaotic, poorly run urban polling stations (versus, say, dropping in and out of an orderly suburban one) might influence whether or not one thinks electoral reform a good idea? In any event, the research purports to offer yet more evidence that "even in noisy, real-world environments, subtle environmental cues can influence decisions on issues of real consequence."

Ghetto Tax: Poor Losers Gain Street Cred. Or, Whither John Edwards?

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 6:40 PM EDT

As reported in the New York Times article "Study Documents 'Ghetto Tax' Being Paid by the Urban Poor," Brookings Institution Senior Research Associate has Matt Fellowes has documented how the poor are charged more than the rest of us for basic services.

As the executive summary notes:

In general, lower income families tend to pay more for the exact same consumer product than families with higher incomes. For instance, 4.2 million lower income homeowners that earn less than $30,000 a year pay higher than average prices for their mortgages. About 4.5 million lower income households pay higher than average prices for auto loans. At least 1.6 million lower income adults pay excessive fees for furniture, appliances, and electronics. And, countless more pay high prices for other necessities, such as basic financial services, groceries, and insurance. Together, these extra costs add up to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars unnecessarily spent by lower income families every year.
In the current issue of Mother Jones, I cited Fellowe's previous research on the barriers facing Philapelphia's poor (see chart) along with a whole bunch more depressing stats (all fully sourced) about how the poor are overcharged.

exhibit_chart2_265x262.gif

In Chicago's poorest areas, the ratio of check-cashing outlets to banks is 10-to-1. Check-cashing fees for a worker who brings home $18,000 a year add up to about $450 —that's 2.5% spent just to access income.

underserved:

In 1997, 3 out of 4 doctors provided some free or reduced-cost care. Now, 2 out of 3 do.

And just generally screwed over:

In 2004, 7 million working poor families spent $900 million on tax prep and check-cashing fees to get their refunds sooner. Average amount of time by which they sped up their refunds: 2 weeks.

Recently, I did a radio interview on this topic, in which the host asked me why nobody but John Edwards seemed to be concerned with the plight of the poor. I didn't have a good answer, certainly the rest of the Democratic Party seems to be nowhere on this issue. Perhaps the best explanation is that Americans still believe that poverty is a sign of personal failing.

But the sad fact of it is that with 1 in 4 U.S. jobs paying less than a poverty-level income, more and more Americans will find themselves to be poor at some point in their lives. During the 1980s, 13% of Americans age 40 to 50 spent at least one year below the poverty line; by the 1990s, 36% did. And since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

And the poor are getting poorer. Among households worth less than $13,500, their average net worth in 2001 was $0. By 2004, it was down to –$1,400. That's negative $1,400.

Local governments need to do their part. The Times notes that

"at a meeting connected with the [Brookings] report's release, officials from three states—New York, Pennsylvania and Washington— said they were already doing just that through a variety of programs to draw banks to poor neighborhoods, help finance the construction of supermarkets and encourage innovative insurance schemes."

That's great. But in the meantime, President Bush's tax cuts (recently extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

Oh, and in 2002, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) compared those who point out statistics such as the one above to Adolf Hitler.

Bush's Stem Cell Position: Still Incoherent

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 5:21 PM EDT

It's become commonplace to note the utter incoherence of President Bush's position on stem cell research, and Clara touches on the subject below, but I think it's worth repeating over and over again to emphasize that his veto today was cheap opportunism at its worst. The president opposes stem cell research because it involves removing cells from a blastocyst and so destroying a five-day-old embryo. But he has no problem whatsoever with IVF treatment, a process that usually produces far more embryos than are needed and so potentially requires the destruction of some of them (they can't all be snowflake babies, after all). Indeed, he's explicitly praised the work of fertility clinics.

Moreover, if Bush really believes that stem cell research involves the "murder" of embryos, as Tony Snow announced yesterday, then simply opposing federal funding for the research isn't enough. He should, logically, support a ban on all stem cell research. Murder is murder, after all, whether it's funded by the government or not. But of course Bush has never supported a ban on the privately-funded destruction of embryos. As Michael Kinsley once wrote, "Moral sincerity is not impressive if it depends on willful ignorance and indifference to logic."

Waxman Exposes Pregnancy Crisis Centers

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 5:16 PM EDT

Rep. Henry Waxman has released a new report on "pregnancy crisis centers," which deceptively tout themselves as resource centers for pregnant women but end up giving false and misleading information about the "dangers" of abortion (a procedure which, at last count, is still safer than actually giving birth).

The report said that 20 of 23 federally funded centers contacted by staff investigators requesting information about an unintended pregnancy were told false or misleading information about the potential risks of an abortion

The pregnancy resource centers, which are often affiliated with antiabortion religious groups, have received about $30 million in federal money since 2001, according to the report, requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). The report concluded that the exaggerations "may be effective in frightening pregnant teenagers and women and discouraging abortion. But it denies the teenagers and women vital health information, prevents them from making an informed decision, and is not an accepted public health practice."Amanda Marcotte wrote a great article awhile back for Alternet about pregnancy crisis centers. A pregnant 17-year-old walked into one center under the mistaken impression that it was a Planned Parenthood. The center ended up calling the police, and then resorted to "staking out the girl's house, phoning her father at work, and even talking to her classmates about her pregnancy, urging them to harass her" into not having an abortion. As a bonus, many states fund these places by slashing their family planning budgets.

Stem Cells: Science v. Spending

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 5:02 PM EDT

Quick, count the people in your life facing a critical or degenerative illness, or those you've lost to the same. Alzheimer's, Diabetes, spinal cord injury, Leukemia and other aggressive cancers, heart disease...

Got a number?

Now tally up the amount that those diseases cost society. Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, for example, are estimated to cost $248 billion world wide.

$248 billion. That's almost four times what the Bush administration allocated for the Department of Education this fiscal year. It's about 10 times what is spent on the Department of Agriculture.

So when the true cost of impeding scientific inquiry that may produce cures for these devastating illnesses is tallied up, it's not just your friends and family, and all the other Americans for whom embryonic stem cell research holds out the best hope for a cure. It's all the money that we currently spend to treat people with these illnesses. Money that could be put to other uses.

Against the bill (H.R. 810) that opens the way to humane treatment for the sick and disabled, is the belief of those, like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, that the destruction of embryos, frozen within a few days of fertilization when they're just a handful of cells, is akin to to murdering a live infant.

Sen. Brownback is entitled to his beliefs. And his encouragement of "embryo adoption" is fine, too. But currently there are an estimated 500, 000 frozen embryos. It's not clear that there are that many potential parents out there willing to adopt in this manner. But even if there were, we know for a fact that there are parents who don't like the notion of offering up their embryo for adoption but who would embrace donating their unused embryos for stem cell research.

Nobody's going to force parents who are against stem cell research to participate in it. But for those who would, is Congress going to stand in their way, and stand against the sick and the dying?

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Could someone please hand Bill Kristol a newspaper?

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 4:55 PM EDT

This is what he said right before the U.S. invaded Iraq:

We are tempted to comment, in these last days before the war, on the U.N., and the French, and the Democrats. But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam's regime. … History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.

And this is what he said this morning:

We can try diplomacy. I'm not very hopeful about that. We have to be ready to use force." Kristol claimed the people of Iran would embrace "the right use of targeted military force."

He added that military force could "trigger changes in Iran," causing them to embrace regime change.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn here: 1. Kristol hasn't seen a television or a newspaper in a few years (if he is watching Fox News, or even CNN, this is kind of a viable theory), or 2. He has found a way to interpret what is going on in Iraq as a "success."

Think Progress has this morning's video.

Bush's Stem Cell Veto Will Hurt Hundreds of Thousands of Sick Americans

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 3:51 PM EDT

Bush's much-anticipated veto of H.R. 810, a bill seeking to lift the severe restrictions on federal funding to embryonic stem cell research, is expected today. It will come as a blow to the hundreds of thousands of Americans with Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Diabetes, and spinal cord injuries, many of whom are probably too sick to march on Washington, but for whom the potential use of the 500,000 embryos left over from IVF treatments holds great promise. As I reported in the current issue of Mother Jones:

Two out of three Americans (and even 50 percent of evangelicals) support embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), yet only 3 percent of excess embryos have been designated by parents for research. Since President Bush's ban on federal funding for ESCR in 2001, it has simply not been on their menu of options. ESCR is carried out by only a few private laboratories and state-funded labs in New Jersey and Illinois. (California, where voters approved $3 billion for ESCR in 2004, has yet to distribute research funds because of a lawsuit brought by an affiliate of Focus on the Family, among others.) In either case, these labs get their embryos from the handful of IVF clinics that accept donations for research.

This puts Republicans in an awkward position. How to mollify voters (to say nothing of Nancy Reagan) without alienating their pro-life base? Enter Pennsylvania Republican Senators Rick Santorum (who has likened ESCR to abortion but who is up for reelection) and Arlen Specter (an ardent proponent of ESCR), who, backed by the President's Council on Bioethics, have concocted a novel way to split this political baby. Their bill, S.B. 2754, proposes manufacturing nonviable embryos by replacing the nucleus of a woman's egg with that of an adult cell in which the DNA has been altered. The resulting "entity"—in the words of one researcher; others have called it a "biological artifact"—is "pluripotent," i.e., able to transform itself into most types of human cells, while bypassing the "totipotent" stage, when the embryo could develop into a human being.

The co-sponsor of H.R. 810, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Co.) has called the Santorum/Spector bill, along with Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback's bill to stop "fetus farming"—which is in fact nonexistent; leftover IVF embryos are slated for destruction or what is euphemistically called "expiration"—nothing more than a "fig leaf." As DeGette, whose own 12-year-old daughter has Type 1 diabetes, noted: "I guess what the president is saying is he thinks it would be better to throw these embryos away as medical waste."

No To U.S. Global Dominance

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 3:15 PM EDT

Just posted at MotherJones.com: Michael T. Klare (via Tomdispatch) responds to the charge, leveled in the conservative Washington Times, that he is a "defeatist" when it comes to America's expansionist military policy abroad. The piece is titled, "An Imperial Defeatist -- And Proud of It," so you get the idea where he's coming from. He writes:

My initial response...was to insist -- like so many anxious liberals -- that no, I am not opposed to American preeminence in the world, only to continued U.S. involvement in Iraq. But then, considering the charge some more, I thought, well, yes, I am in favor of abandoning the U.S. imperial role worldwide. The United States, I'm convinced, would be a whole lot better off -- and its military personnel a whole lot safer -- if we repudiated the global-dominance project of the Bush administration and its neo-conservative boosters. ...

I say: repudiate empire, overcome our oil addiction, and bring the troops back home. This will save lives, save money, and restore America's democratic credentials. Even more significant, it will help us prevail in any long-term struggle with small, stateless groups that employ terror as their weapon of choice.

Let's be very clear: the pursuit of empire and success in what the President calls "the global war on terrorism" are mutually incompatible. The more we seek to dominate the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, the more we will provoke anti-American fury and the very violent extremism with which we claim to be at war.

Read the piece in full here.

India Dabbles in Censorship

Wed Jul. 19, 2006 3:15 PM EDT

Censorship be a tricky business. India's 40,000 or so bloggers were cut to the quick yesterday when the government demanded that the country's service providers take down 20 or so "extremist" sites, an act which ended up shutting down all of the blogs in India. Goodbye Geocities; bye-bye Blogspot. A blogger for the Times of India wrote angrily, "By trying to curb freedom of expression they might ultimately manage to antagonize the last remaining support" for the government. The Guardian reports that 300 Delhi-based bloggers are circulating a petition to demand the reinstatement of their sites.

In the wake of last week's vicious attacks on seven Mumbai trains, Indian authorities are targeting sites that they say foment religious or political animosities. But as the Times blogger notes, "While one must concede that there are a few rotten apples in every sphere, to typecast blogging, per se, as being anti national, is a bit over the top." Fortunately, it appears the problem will be short-lived: officials are promising to develop a more pin-pointed way to censor Indian bloggers (cyber smart bombs, perhaps?), and to allow the rest of the bunch back online. As one blogger wrote, "It is completely ridiculous… We are not living in China here." Good thing, too.