Political MoJo

Arizona citizens mobilize to defeat factory farm control

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 7:37 PM PST

Arizona is a major factory-farming state. At some hog-breeding farms, gestation crates are used. These two-foot wide crates keep the hogs confined to a tiny space their entire lives, much the same as hen battery cages and veal crates.

The Humane Farms Initiative was proposed in Arizona so that crates such as these would be outlawed. A similar initiative was successful in Florida, making it the first state to enact such a ban. Arizona factory farm interests fought back with Senate Concurrent Resolution 1035, which would have placed on the November ballot a constitutional amendment to require that all laws dealing with agriculture in the state of Arizona be adopted by an unnamed executive agency only. Passage of SCR 1035 would have made it impossible for the legislature to enact any control over the agricultural industry. The Humane Farms Initiative, even if it passed, would be become void by passage of SCR 1035.

Last month, the Arizona Rules Committee passed SCR 1035, but after a large number of Arizona citizens called, faxed, and emailed their senators, the resolution failed this week in the Committee of the Whole.

Surprising though it may be that Florida has led the way in banning certain of factory farming's more horrific practices, now that the citizens of Arizona have picked up the campaign, there is every reason to believe that soon, other states will begin campaigns to stop at least some of America's institutionalized cruelty against millions of farm animals.

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The emotional toll of Katrina: "We are so definitely not OK."

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 2:17 PM PST

Today's LA Times has a disturbing eye-opener on the emotional toll of Hurricane Katrina. About half a million people need some form of mental health service, at a cost to the federal government of more than $200 million.

In New Orleans, even those trained to offer solace break down easily and often: A hospital nurse, a school psychologist, a paramedic, a counselor all lose composure as they talk about Katrina.

"The truth is, we are not OK. We are so definitely not OK," said Burke Beyer, 31, who leads a federally funded team of counselors in New Orleans.

...The half-year mark should be a milestone; many locals expected recovery to be well underway. Instead, their lives are still a mess, their city is still in ruins, and they can see no end to the chaos.

"You try to adjust but you can't," said Walter L. Collins Jr., 30, a truck driver.

The article says that, nationally, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are up 60 percent since Katrina, and it has these excerpts from a recent survey of second- and third-graders, who were asked to write down their fears:

"I'm worried that I will never see my family again."

"Katrina threw my house somewhere."

"My cat is gone."

"My friends are gone forever."

"What will we do? Where will we go?"

Meanwhile, hurricane season is fast approaching, with the levee system, under repair by the Army Corps of Engineers, "susceptible to flooding with a category two [hurricane]." (At its height, Katrina was a category five.)

Congress Steps Up Fight Against Porn

Fri Mar. 17, 2006 1:25 PM PST

Legislation introduced yesterday by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Max Baucus (D-MT) would require all "adult websites" to have an .XXX domain, allowing parents more power to censor the internet content of their computers. The bill, called the "Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006," specifies that any web "communication" including images, articles, recordings or other "obscene matter," including actual or simulated sexual acts and "lewd exhibition of the genitals or post-pubescent female breast" be categorized under the .XXX domain.

Surprisingly, the bill has generated opposition from the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative organization which argues that the bill would facilitate the proliferation of the porn industry by providing it with its own domain in addition to the "cash cow" of .com sites that the industry will never abandon. The FRC believes porn destroys "marital bonds, and pollutes the minds of child and adult consumers," and would rather see the entire industry totally wiped out, rather than relegated to a specific domain. Meanwhile, The Free Speech Coalition, a "trade organization of the adult entertainment industry," opposes the bill on the grounds that it will "ghettoize content-based speech." Well, maybe they should reconsider the names of their sites, and while they're at it, those horribly offensive pop-ups, if they are feeling sensitive to the potential ghettoization of their brand.

A difficult aspect to the Cyber Safety bill lies in the fact that a significant chunk of the $12 billion dollar internet pornography industry originates off-shore, making it considerably more difficult to regulate. Additionally, the .XXX doesn't do very much to curb the creeps and pedophiles lurking in seemingly benign chat rooms. But the bill would help regulate internet usage in libraries and schools by completely nixing .XXX sites altogether. Clearly this is just a step in the right direction, but parents also need to take a more active role and not turn their thirteen-year-olds loose on the internet.

Congress Raises the Roof on Debt

Fri Mar. 17, 2006 1:20 PM PST

The national debt is currently $8.3 trillion , and Congress just approved a $781 billion increase in the government's debt limit, raising the ceiling for the fourth time in Bush's presidency. Previous increases of $450 billion in 2002, a record $984 billion in 2003 and $800 billion in 2004 have all contributed to the statutory debt limit rising more than $3 trillion since Bush took office.

The new Paul Hackett: "Some have alleged that our president led us to war on false pretenses. I believe we should look into this

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 1:19 PM PST

Hilarious Daily Show clip on Paul Hackett, erstwhile Democratic congressional candidate and subject of this Mother Jones cover story and these follow-ups. Hackett recently dropped his bid for an Ohio Senate seat, claiming he'd been sandbagged by establishment Dems.

Some highlights:

Paul Hackett: "I was asked by Senator Schumer and Senator Reid and others to get out of the race.... They backed away from supporting me because they realized that I'm outspoken, that I believe in what I say and I'm willing to fight for what I
believe in."

Ed Helms: "There's your problem right there."

On today's Democratic Party:

"If you take a look back at the party of FDR ... and ... of Truman and even Kennedy. That was a party that had balls. The new Democratic Party eventually is going to have to get back to that"

By the end of the segment the "Democratic Party machine" has smoothed out Hackett's rough edges ("Try it again, but without the emotion."), and he's back on message:

Hackett: "Some have alleged that our president led us to war on false pretenses. I believe we should look into this.... I believe we should take care of our environment. That's why I'm standing in front of a river."

Voiceover: "Paul Hackett for Senate—because he won't rock the boat."

Can the WTO Alleviate Poverty?

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 1:14 PM PST

Trade-bashing probably gets tiresome after awhile, but here's some more of it. A few months ago I looked at some research suggesting that the Doha Round of WTO talks, if completed, was likely to produce very, very tiny gains for developing countries—so tiny that they probably wouldn't offset many of the bad effects from trade liberalization. Well, now Sandra Polanski the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a new study that comes to an even more dire conclusion.

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How Lobbyists Control Health Care Policy

| Thu Mar. 16, 2006 12:22 PM PST

I believe the technical name for this sort of thing is Dingbat Kabuki. Yesterday Republicans in the Senate appeared to do something good and benevolent on the health care front when they voted to allow Medicare to use its vast bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices. The GOP had originally forbidden the government to do this when it crafted the drug benefit back in 2003, succumbing to pressure—and lavish campaign contributions—from the pharmaceutical industry. Now, however, the party seems to be scared of a senior backlash over the entire Medicare fiasco, and wants to do something.

Well, sort of. Really, though, it's extremely unlikely that anything will come of this. What the Senate actually passed yesterday wasn't in any way a binding resolution or piece of legislation. It's merely an amendment to a budget resolution that "provides only guidance for future legislation." In other words, cheap talk. A quick prediction: This measure will never make it into law. The GOP would never, ever go against the wishes of Big Pharma, and this amendment is only meant to help the party look like it's trying to fix the disastrous Medicare drug benefit. Seniors, after all, tend to have a lot of influence when midterm elections roll around. Best to try to appease them, quietly.

That's not a bad prediction. For further proof that the GOP will only ever pass bills paid for and written by lobbyists, look no further than a second Los Angeles Times story on yet another health care vote. Yesterday a Senate Committee also approved "a bill that would preempt state laws that require insurance policies to cover specific services, such as maternity care and supplies for diabetics." It's a terrible idea for, you know, actual people. Guess who came up with it.

States require insurers to cover specific services because otherwise, those insurers could end up making certain services—like maternity care and supplies for diabetics—unaffordable for certain people. For their part, insurers have always complained that all those burdensome state requirements force them to raise premiums. Maybe they have some small point, but then again, they would say that, and the insurance industry is pretty much the last industry to get the benefit of the doubt, ever. They've also been complaining for years that an epidemic of malpractice lawsuits has driven up premiums—a line that's totally false. It was never even sort of true. On the bright side, the new bill, if passed, should help pad the industry's profit margins. And Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee can look forward to fatter re-election campaign chests.

Missouri House bans contraception for poor women

| Thu Mar. 16, 2006 7:51 AM PST

The Missouri House voted yesterday to ban contraceptive funding for low-income women, and to prohibit state-funded programs from referring those women to other programs. The sponsor of the proposal, Rep. Susan Phillips, declared contraceptive services an "inappropriate use of tax dollars."

According to the Kansas City Star, the proposal does not save Missouri any money. Rather, it restricts how state agencies can spend $9.23 million set aside for public health programs for people with low incomes who do not qualify for Medicaid.

Phillips says that both Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Catholic Conference supports her proposal. Opponents repeatedly pointed out that eliminating contraception paves the way for increased abortions, but Republicans and a couple of Democrats voted for passage.

Foreign Aid Goes to Banks, Not Poor

| Wed Mar. 15, 2006 6:48 PM PST

In Rolling Stone this month, Joshua Kurlantzick takes a look at the Bush administration's Millenium Challenge Corporation—which was supposed to revolutionize foreign aid by giving it only to countries that met certain accountability benchmarks—and discover that it's (shockingly) a mess.

The MCC, Kurlantzick discovered, is led by conservative ideologues rather than foreign aid experts, it's too understaffed to dispense all of the $5 billion it's supposed to dispense, and much of the money it does dole out ends up going to help banks and other financial interests overseas rather than to programs that directly aid the poor, like health care and education. It's the foreign aid version of trickle-down economics:

Poor nations are being told, in effect, that projects won't be considered for funding unless they can generate a profit. "Every indication they get from the MCC is that this is about economic growth," says Asma Lateef, senior policy analyst for the aid organization Bread for the World. "You have to yield economic rates of return in three to five years." But for many impoverished nations, such profitability is simply impossible. "In such poor countries, you're not going to be able to guarantee things like economic growth," says Patrick Cronin, a former U.S. AID official who helped create the MCC. "You might lose money [on projects like health and education], but you'll help people. But if you're used to making investments, you may be biased toward that instead." […]

In fact, while the MCC steers aid to business, the president has slashed funding for children's health in the world's poorest countries. "Resources for fragile states in Africa -- such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia and northern Uganda -- have been cut from last year, despite unmet needs they have right now," said Rep. Nita Lowey, who initially supported the MCC. "I find it extraordinary that the MCC model is being touted by the administration as an ideal and successful solution to poverty alleviation."Luckily, the Bush administration seems to be on top of this stuff. The last CEO of the corporation, Paul Applegarth—who was "a Republican campaign contributor with limited experience in foreign aid"—has stepped down. His replacement? John Danilovich. Not a foreign aid expert per se, but he is "a businessman who contributed $20,000 to the Republican National Committee." It's sort of like the Bush administration's version of staying at a Holiday Inn. He should fit in just fine.

USA Today Misleads on Spending Statistics

Wed Mar. 15, 2006 5:40 PM PST

A recent—and misleading—USA Today headline states: "Federal aid programs expand at record rate." The lede: "A sweeping expansion of social programs since 2000 has sparked a record increase in the number of Americans receiving federal government benefits such as college aid, food stamps and health care."

Sounds like out-of-control spending. But there are a couple particulars the article buries towards the bottom. Most notably, being that the expansion of services is actually due to "a rise in the poverty rate from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent in 2004, the most recent year." That's not quite how the newspaper presented the problem at first.

The Century Foundation explains why the entire article is a giant mess:

The front page graph shows enrollment in 25 "federal aid" programs is up 17 percent, increasing from 263 million to 307 million. That's quite something, considering that there are only 300 million U.S. citizens. Oh, right, there is a note in agate type to the effect that some people participate in multiple programs. But what then is the logic behind combining numbers for age-dependent universal programs like Social Security and Medicare, to which recipients have paid dedicated taxes, with means-tested safety net programs? And if one person falling into poverty can add three, four, or five to the enrollment count of safety net programs, disproportionately elevating percentage increases, how are readers supposed to begin to make sense of what that number means?
USA Today then concludes with a quote from conservative Minnesota Rep. Gil Gutknecht, who points out social services should, in fact, not be growing since unemployment is so low. The solution? Cuts! "It's probably time to revisit food stamps and its goals and costs," he said. But Gutknecht is basing his argument on faulty statistics—low unemployment is perfectly compatible with "growing" social services so long as growing means "people are signing up for multiple problems" rather than "more total people are signing up."