Thursday, March 15, 2012
—By Kevin Drum
| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 7:06 PM PDT
The state of Texas recently adopted a law that requires residents to present photo ID at the polling place before voting. These kinds of laws are problematic even in the best cases, but Texas being Texas, their law is almost laughably brazen in its intentions. For example, in addition to driver's licenses, the law specifies that military ID and handgun permits are acceptable forms of identification; specifies that student IDs aren't acceptable forms of identification; and automatically qualifies elderly voters to cast mail-in ballots, which require no ID. In other words, the law does its best to make voting easy for every possible identifiably Republican-leaning constituency and hard for every possible identifiably Democratic-leaning constituency.
And those are just the identifiable Democratic constituencies. There are others that, for pesky legal reasons, can only be indirectly targeted: primarily blacks, Hispanics, and the poor. These constituencies lack photo ID at higher rates than white, middle-class voters, and this is what the Justice Department homed in on today when it put the Texas law on hold:
Our analysis of the January data indicates that 10.8 percent of Hispanic registered voters do not have a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS, but only 4.9 percent of non-Hispanic registered voters do not have such identification. So, Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification.....An applicant for an election identification certificate will be required to provide two pieces of secondary identification, or one piece of secondary identification and two supporting documents. If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate....As noted above, an applicant for an election identification certificate will have to travel to a driver’s license office. This raises three discrete issues. First, according to the most recent American Community Survey three-year estimates, 7.3 percent of Hispanic or Latino households do not have an available vehicle....Second, in 81 of the state’s 254 counties, there are no operational driver’s license offices....The third and final point is the limited hours that such offices are open. Only 49 of the 221 currently open driver’s license offices across the state have extended hours.
The second paragraph here is a key one. Lots of people assume that getting photo ID is no big deal. Most people have it, and even the ones who don't can easily get it. After all, it's free! But that's not true. First, you need a birth certificate. Middle-class folks might not realize this, but not everyone has a birth certificate handy, and both the hassle factor and the cost of getting one can be real deterrents. Add to that the hassle of getting a ride to a DMV office two counties away during working hours, and voting in the next election suddenly got a whole lot harder for you than it is for your average middle-class white suburbanite. You might even never get around to it.
Which, of course, is the whole idea. Kudos to the Justice Department for pointing that out and doing the right thing here by putting the Texas law on hold.
—By Kevin Drum
| Wed Mar. 14, 2012 4:09 PM PD
Glenn Greenwald commends to our attention today a piece by Jeremy Scahill about the imprisonment of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye. You should read all of Scahill's piece, but here's the nickel summary for those of you who won't.
On December 17, 2009, the Yemeni government — "with American assistance" — launched an attack on an alleged al-Qaeda site in the village of al Majala. The Yemeni government claimed that its own air force was responsible for the attack, but Shaye visited the site andphotographed pieces of Tomahawk missiles (helpfully labeled "Made in the USA") that the Yemeni air force doesn't possess. He also revealed that 14 women and 21 children were among the casualties. Seven months later Shaye was seized by Yemeni security forces who, according to a friend of Shaye's, warned him to shut up and then dumped him back on the street. But Shaye didn't shut up, and a month later he was arrested, thrown in prison, probably tortured, and then tried and convicted on charges of aiding and abetting al-Qaeda.
But that's not the end of the story. Tribal leaders immediately began pressuring the Yemeni president to pardon Shaye, and a month after Shaye's conviction a pardon was in the works. But then, on February 3rd, 2011, in a phone call, President Obama "expressed concern" over Shaye's release. After that the pardon was shelved and Shaye remains in prison to this day.
But why? "There is no doubt that Shaye was reporting facts that both the Yemeni and US government wanted to suppress," says Scahill, and he quotes Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University who was in frequent contact with Shaye, saying much the same thing: "Certainly Shaye's reports were an embarrassment for the US and Yemeni government," says Johnsen, "because at a time when both governments were seeking and failing to kill key leaders within AQAP, this single journalist with his camera and computer was able to locate these same leaders and interview them."
Scahill is circumspect about going further, but Greenwald isn't:
There is one reason that the world knows the truth about what really happened in al Majala that day: because the Yemeni journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, traveled there....Shaye’s real crime is that he reported facts that the U.S. government and its Yemeni client regime wanted suppressed.
Now we get to the part where I wonder what's really going on. Because here's the thing: the attack on al Majala was no secret. It happened on December 17, and the very next day, on its nightly newscast, ABC News reported this:
On orders from President Barack Obama, the U.S. military launched cruise missiles early Thursday against two suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen, administration officials told ABC News in a report broadcast on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.....Until tonight, American officials had hedged about any U.S. role in the strikes against Yemen and news reports from Yemen attributed the attacks to the Yemen Air Force.....Along with the two U.S. cruise missile attacks, Yemen security forces carried out raids in three separate locations. As many as 120 people were killed in the three raids, according to reports from Yemen, and opposition leaders said many of the dead were innocent civilians.
This story was picked up fairly widely, including in this detailed report from Bill Roggio and in this post from Glenn himself. So while Shaye's photos might have been the kind of smoking-gun proof you'd need in a courtroom, within a few hours of the strike it was common knowledge that U.S. cruise missiles had done most of the damage and that there were local reports of many civilian casualties.
So is President Obama keeping an innocent Yemeni journalist in prison merely because he reported facts that Obama wanted suppressed? If I said that I find that hard to believe, I supposed I'd be accused of terminal naiveté or possibly an acute case of Obama worship. But what's the alternative? Everything that Shaye reported in 2010 had long since been common knowledge. Obama has suffered, as near as I can tell, literally zero embarrassment from this episode. The al Majala attack got a small bit of media attention when it happened and has been completely forgotten since.
So what kind of person would pressure the Yemeni president to keep an innocent journalist in prison over a slight so tiny as to be nearly nonexistent? Almost literally, this would be the act of a sociopath.
The U.S. government insists that Shaye is no mere journalist. "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating Al Qaeda and its planning for attacks on Americans and therefore we have a very direct interest in his case and his imprisonment," says Gerald Feierstein, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen. Is that true? I have no idea.
But which do I find more likely? That Shaye is indeed affiliated with al-Qaeda based on evidence that hasn't been made public? Or that Barack Obama is a sociopath who pressures foreign leaders to keep innocent journalists in prison based on the fact that they very slightly annoy him? Call me what you will, but I have to go with Door A. U.S. attacks within Yemen might be bad policy. The entire war on al-Qaeda might be bad policy. What's more, Obama — along with the entire security apparatus of the United States — might be specifically wrong about Shaye. But I don't believe that they're simply making this story up because of a basically inconsequential piece that Shaye wrote two years ago. That just doesn't add up.
Rick Santorum claims it's "just a few dollars." Time for a reality check.
| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 4:00 AM PST
As the huge majority of American women who've used it know, birth control costs a lot more than a couple bucks. The typical American woman spends about 30 years trying to prevent pregnancy, so even relatively small monthly copays add up. Enter in your age and your preferred birth control method below, and our handy contraceptive calculator will tell you just how much you'd be dishing out for pills, patches, and rings over the rest of your fertile years without Obama's free birth control plan:
Center for American Progress, even women with private health insurance often shoulder a significant portion of the cost for their prescription birth control needs. That's one of the reasons women of reproductive age spend 68 percent more on out-of-pocket health care expenses than their male counterparts do. And contrary to Rep. Price's claim, surveys show that women do indeed forgo contraception—or use it inconsistently—when they're in a financial crunch. According to a 2009 study from the Guttmacher Institute (PDF), 23 percent of middle- and low-income women said they had a harder time paying for birth control in the current economy and 24 percent put off a visit to the gynecologist in order to save money. A recent Hart Research Associates survey found that one in three women voters—including 55 percent of young women—have struggled to afford birth control. In fact, the high cost of birth control is exactly why the Institute of Medicine recommended that it be covered without a copay.
Birth control isn't just about pregnancy prevention—many women use it for other medical reasons too. A recent study found that only 42 percent of women using the pill in the United States are using it solely to prevent pregnancy.
Please note that birth control costs can vary considerably depending on your insurance coverage, health care provider, and location. Our calculator is based on data from the Center for American Progress, which provided a range of prices for each contraceptive method. CAP's price estimates were based on info from Planned Parenthood and confirmed by surveys of other health care providers and pharmacies, academic studies, and consumer and advocate reports.
—By Hannah Levintova
| Thu Mar. 8, 2012 4:00 AM PST
As Republican lawmakers have pushed ever more intrusive andexpansive uterus-related legislation, some of their colleagues across the aisle have fired back with intentionally and equally ridiculous counterproposals. From mandatory rectal exams for guys seeking Viagra to prohibitions on sperm-stifling vasectomies, most of these male-only provisions have, unsurprisingly, flopped. But they've scored big as symbolic gestures, spotlighting the inherent sexism of laws that regulate only lady parts.
Some of the tongue-in-cheek ideas introduced across the country:
Delaware: By an 8 to 4 vote, the Wilmington, Delaware, city councilrecognized the personhood of semen because "each 'egg person' and each 'sperm person' should be deemed equal in the eyes of the government."
Virginia: As the state Senate debated requiring transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, Sen. Janet Howell proposed mandating rectal exams and cardiac stress tests for men seeking erectile dysfunction meds. Her amendment failed by just two votes.
Georgia: Responding to a Georgia house bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Rep. Yasmin Neal wrote a bill outlawing most vasectomies because they leave "thousands of children…deprived of birth."
Ohio: A bill introduced by state Sen. Nina Turner would compel men to get psychological screenings before getting prescriptions for impotence meds."We must advocate for the traditional family," Turner said, "and ensure that all men using PDE-5 inhibitors are healthy, stable, and educated about their options—including celibacy as a viable life choice."
Illinois: State Rep. Kelly Cassidy proposed requiring men seeking Viagra to watch a video showing the treatment for persistent erections, an occasional side effect of the little blue pill. As she explained, "It's not a pretty procedure to watch."
Missouri: Protesting the legislature's vote to reject Obama's contraception coverage mandate, nine female lawmakers cosponsored a bill restricting access to vasectomies except for men risking death or serious bodily harm. "In determining whether a vasectomy is necessary," the bill reads, "no regard shall be made to the desire of a man to father children, his economic situation, his age, the number of children he is currently responsible for, or any danger to his wife or partner in the event a child is conceived."
Oklahoma: When a zygote-personhood bill came before the state Senate, Sen. Constance Johnson penned an amendment declaring thatejaculating anywhere outside a woman's vagina constitutes "an action against an unborn child." Bonus: Johnson also suggested that any man who impregnates a woman without her permission should pay a $25,000 fine, support the child until age 21, and get a vasectomy, "in the spirit of shared responsibility." In response to the same bill, state Sen. Jim Wilson proposed an amendment requiring the father of an unborn child to be financially responsible for its mother's health care, housing, transportation, and nourishment during pregnancy.
Texas: Contesting a bill mandating sonograms before abortions, Rep. Harold Dutton unsuccessfully offered three amendments in a row. The first would have required the state to pay the college tuition of children born to women who decide against an abortion after seeing a required ultrasound image. The second would have subsidized the children's health care costs until age 18. When that failed, he lowered the age to 6. That didn't fly, either.
Are you a slut? It's a question that, to be perfectly honest, we would have felt more than a little uncomfortable asking as recently as a few weeks ago. For one, there's the word itself—as misogynistic an insult as you could conjure. And there wasn't much of a peg, what with the rest of the world focused on more pressing issues, like Israel's threats of conflict with Iran, and jokes about Mitt Romney's dog (this is a particularly good one).
But then conservative icon Rush Limbaugh—who was once caught trying to bring 29 100 mg Viagra pills with him to the Dominican Republic—spent three days ripping into Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke (rhymes with "look"), calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying before Congress about birth control, and suggesting that he'd like her to send him a sex tape. The #iamnotaslut Twitter campaign went viral; Limbaugh began losing sponsors (20, at last count). And now we can't seem to talk about anything else but "sluts." Seriously, just take a look at this chart from BuzzFeed.
The national conversation about sluts of 2012 hasn't really given us much clarity—but it has given a variety of commentators a platform from which to disseminate their definition of "slut." Which, it turns out, is really, really broad. Fluke—who noted in her testimony about contraception access that she has a friend who uses the pill out of medical necessity—has been maligned for oversharing about her sex life, which she didn't even discuss on the Hill. One Georgetown law school classmate of Fluke's quoted in the National Review put it worst: "When did Georgetown Law start admitting Kardashians?"
So back to that question: Are you a slut? It's a head-scratcher, so we've put together this handy flowchart to help you out:
Here it is in chart form, for the clicking-impaired:
March 09, 2012
By Anne Weismann
Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News
Today begins another Sunshine Week, when we pause to assess where on the transparency spectrum we find ourselves and what, if any, progress our government has made during the past year. Sadly, the picture is far from rosy. Just days ago, in a brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Department of Justice trotted out arguments first made by the Bush administration on why the Secret Service can not be compelled under the Freedom of Information Act to release White House visitor logs. And as happened with the Bush era torture memos, Attorney General Eric Holder is refusing to release any part of his department’s memos justifying the killing of certain U.S. citizens at the unreviewable discretion of the president. The administration’s claims of greater transparency ring particularly hollow against a backdrop of failed promises that have robbed the word “transparency” of much of its vitality.
Despite the administration’s rhetoric, we decidedly have not entered a new and improved era of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. A recent study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse’s FOIA Project revealed that even though Attorney General Holder imposed more rigorous standards for the Department of Justice to defend agency withholdings under the FOIA, no evidence exists these standards have ever been implemented. Instead, evidence abounds that at DOJ, it is business as usual.
CREW’s experience supports this. This administration began its so-called transparency agenda defending the withholding of FBI notes of its interview with Dick Cheney as part of its investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity. Even the district court judge in the case expressed surprise that the Obama Department of Justice was clinging to the position the records must be protected as law enforcement records, even though the investigation was long over and no one beyond Scooter Libby faced any chance of prosecution. Then came the White House visitor logs litigation, a public relations disaster for the Obama White House then in the midst of health care negotiations. While CREW reached a settlement with the White House that allowed more general public access to visitor records on an ongoing basis, the White House and DOJ maintained the position that the records are not subject to the FOIA.
More recently, DOJ has fought tooth and nail to resist even identifying any records responsive to CREW’s FOIA requests concerning members of Congress investigated but not prosecuted by DOJ. Two separate district court judges have rejected DOJ’s strained arguments that the privacy interests of these very public figures – Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) – are so strong as to justify categorically withholding all responsive documents. As one judge noted, “especially in the wake of [DOJ’s] failure to successfully prosecute Senator Ted Stevens . . . the public has a clear interest in documents concerning DOJ’s handling of the Lewis investigation.”
If the president is still pushing the notion of government transparency, his justice department hasn’t gotten the message. We must continue to fight for access to records that will explain why our government has made some of its most controversial decisions and why agency components like DOJ’s Criminal Division appear to have failed so miserably in exercising prosecutorial discretion. Forty years ago a break-in at the Watergate complex begat sunshine laws that provide access to what our government is doing and why. Imperfect as they may be, these laws grant us a legal right that no administration can take away from us. This Sunshine Week, we must keep in mind it is up to all of us to insist on government transparency.
President Obama Speaks on American Energy
March 15, 2012 | 31:58 | Public Domain
President Obama speaks about an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy – not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power and biofuels – while building more fuel-efficient cars and trucks that get more miles to the gallon and investing in other technologies that help us use less energy altogether.
Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
Barack and Michelle Obama stand alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha as they arrive for a State Dinner on March 14.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
President Barack Obama accidentially steps on First lady Michelle Obama's dress as they walk onto the North Portico before the arrival of British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
President Barack Obama proposes a toast as he hosts British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron for a state dinner at the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday night.
Susan Walsh / AP
The White House is awash with color for the State Dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday night.