The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sorting out the latest contraception flap

Zack Beauchamp, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog, has a well-argued explanation of how the Obama administration is not threatening the religious freedom of the Catholic Church by enforcing regulations on health insurance coverage:

Allowing "conscience" exemptions whenever an employer doesn't feel morally clean when complying with regulations in principle neuters all regulation. The argument for allowing Catholic hospitals a pass on covering birth control has to rest or fall on the specifics of the case rather than a general commitment to protecting "voluntary communities."

This is where the case against the Administration's ruling is at its weakest. Birth control is for 98% of women the principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty - the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.

I'm fine with religious freedom. I am not fine with religious organizations taking public money, and then claiming special conditions on how they'll accept it.

Coup d'État in Maldives

Maldives, an archipelago of 400,000 people with less than twice the area of Washington, D.C., has overthrown its government:

The ex-president of the Maldives said on Wednesday that he was forced to resign at gunpoint, despite earlier claims by the Indian Ocean resort islands' new leader that there had been no coup.

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Mohamed Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation. "There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn't hesitate to use them if I didn't resign.

The Maldives, one of the world's most high-profile luxury tourist destinations, installed Mohamed Waheed Hassan as president on Tuesday after the man credited with bringing democracy to the islands resigned, apparently under military pressure following a police mutiny. It was not immediately clear who was holding the guns.

The U.S. State Department, usually right on top of these things, has not yet issued a travel warning; however, the British Foreign Office has advised against travel to the capital, Male.

Near-record January temperatures in 14 states

None of the lower 48 had their warmest January ever (Illinois had its 6th warmest), but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January averaged out to be the 4th-warmest ever:

The average contiguous U.S. temperature in January was 2.4°C, 3.0°C above the 1901-2000 long-term average -- the fourth warmest January on record, and the warmest since 2006. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 46.9 mm. This was 9.4 mm below the long-term average, with variability between regions.

In contrast to the contiguous United States being much warmer than average, several towns across Alaska had their coldest average January temperatures on record -- Nome (-27.0°C), Bethel (-27.4°C) McGrath (-33.6°C), and Bettles (-37.6°C).

And none of the four Republican front-runners acknowledges anthropomorphic climate change theory...

Developments in Prop. 8 and Komen

Earlier today, Komen's head of public policy, Karen Handel, resigned from the organization, mischaracterizing her opponents as having mischaracterized her:

Karen Handel, the charity's vice president for public policy, told Komen officials that she supported the move to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. She said the discussion started before she arrived at the organization and was approved at the highest levels of the charity.

"I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it," Handel said in her letter. "I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen's future and the women we serve."

A source with direct knowledge of decision-making at Komen's headquarters in Dallas said the grant-making criteria were adopted with the deliberate intention of targeting Planned Parenthood. The criteria's impact on Planned Parenthood and its status as the focus of government investigations were highlighted in a memo distributed to Komen affiliates in December.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, a driving force behind the move was Handel, who was hired by Komen last year as vice president for public policy after losing a campaign for governor in Georgia in which she stressed her anti-abortion views and frequently denounced Planned Parenthood.

Shorter version: Karen Handel is lying. But so are other people at Komen, who either can't see, don't understand, or don't care about the damage they've done to the organization by bringing naked politics into it. Then again, criticisms of Komen's politics and methods go back many, many years; their troubles this week may be less "implosion" and more "straw on the camel's back."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt said,

Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.... The Constitution simply does not allow for "laws of this sort."

More analysis later. For now, lots of people are wondering whether the law remains in force pending appeal, whether the Supreme Court will hear the case, and whether the bigots in California will lose now or in five years.

You have the right to remain silent

A man accused of rape in Alabama got into an online argument with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office on the office's Facebook page:

U.S. Marshals took Dustin McCombs into custody today in Ohio, said Chief Deputy Randy Christian.

The U.S. Marshal's Gulf Coast Regional Task for in Birmingham shared information with their counterparts in Ohio who tracked down the fugitive.

McComb's was featured on the Jefferson County Sheriff Department's Facebook page as its "Creep of the Week" because of an outstanding forcible rape charge.

McCombs apparently decided that was a challenge, taking up a posting duel with the department on Facebook, according to the website Gizmodo.

Of course, McCombs has not been convicted of the crime that led to his arrest warrant, but wow is he stupid. The entire exchange is still available on Failbook, and worth a look. So is the sheriff's Facebook page, which seems like an effective use of social media by government.

Timeline of a non-profit implosion

Erin Ryan at Jezebel put together a brief outline of the Susan Komen Race for the Cure public relations disaster over the past week:

We reported that the timing of Planned Parenthood's defunding seemed oddly coincidental, seeing as less than a year ago, Komen appointed a woman named Karen Handel to serve as the charity's Senior Vice President of Public Policy. Handel had run unsuccessful for governor of Georgia in 2010 on an anti-choice platform that cited as one of its central tenets the necessity of defunding Planned Parenthood. Could the defunding of Planned Parenthood have been a political move forced by external anti-choice voices as well as Komen's own personnel?

On Thursday, Joseph Goldberg at The Atlantic reported that according to sources inside Komen, Karen Handel was indeed behind the curiously recent "rule change" that led to Planned Parenthood's defunding, and that when the rule was put on the books in December, it upset one high-level Komen employee so much that she resigned in protest.

People's initial reaction—Komen bowed to pro-life pressure—has given way to the uncomfortable realization that Komen was the pro-life pressure. It's sad, really. But Komen isn't the only organization fighting breast cancer. New Jersey reporter Kathleen O'Brien came up with three local alternatives (who don't have prominent Republicans as CEOs) in just a few minutes: The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, Friend 2 Friend/Sussex County (N.J.) Women's Forum, and Operation Bling.

As one commenter at Jezebel wrote, "In all honesty, I'm sort of weirdly glad that all this happened, because finally I won't have people being all "WHY DO YOU HATE THIS CHARITY OBVIOUSLY YOU LOVE BREAST CANCER YOU HEARTLESS WITCH" whenever I state that I think Susan G. Komen is a bloated money-making machine that's focused more on selling pink crap and creating this simultaneously sanitized and sexualized image of breast cancer than actually helping women."

Harsh, perhaps, but Komen's complete mishandling of this event, orchestrated in part by former George W. Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, of all people, may have politicized the organization into irrelevance. Let's see what happens to pink ribbons over the next few months.

Shooting the moon...again...

Sure, I've posted photos of the moon before, but it never gets old to me:

Well, all right, at 4½ billion years it is old to me, but you know what I meant.

On a side note, I just Googled "age of the moon" and discovered that many of the top results are from outside the reality-based community. For example, the second item on my results came from the Institute for Creation Research ("Biblical. Accurate. Certain."), in which one Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc., begins with the assertion: "It takes but one proof of a young age for the moon or the earth to completely refute the doctrine of evolution." If you're a science teacher, you might want to have a look at this article, because it could be a great way to introduce kids to the meanings of theory, hypothesis, and fallacy.

And could someone please tell me what the credential "D.Sc." purports to be?

Unfit for public office, but fun to have in the race

Robert Wright secretly loves Newt's candidacy:

The horror I feel when I imagine Newt assuming a position of responsibility can give way to melancholia if I contemplate the prospect of life without the feisty, aging smurf. Here are some things I'll miss should anyone ever succeed in driving a stake through Gingrich's heart...

Newt boldly goes where no aspiring president has gone before. He has pledged that as president he would support something that he (who else?) dreamed up as a congressman: "the northwest ordinance for space," which says that, once you have 13,000 Americans on the moon, the moon can apply for statehood.

The problem isn't the conundrums this would raise. (With one senator per 6,500 moon residents, would lunar interests be overrepresented in Congress? Or might this effect be partly offset by the difficulty senators would have flying home to take the pulse of their constituents on three-day weekends?) The problem, rather, is that this sounds like a crazy person talking!

What's not to like?

Unfit for public office

Without Andrew Sullivan, I might miss some of the more outrageous events in public discourse. Take, for example, the Kansas House Speaker—i.e., the leader of the legislative branch of one of the states here in the U.S.—two weeks ago not-so-subtly called for the President's death:

"Pray for Obama. Psalm 109:8." That's the slogan an email from [Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal (R-Hutchinson) to his Republican colleagues] refers to, a phrase that's become popular in some circles on bumper stickers and other merchandise. The bible passage itself reads, "Let his days be few; and let another take his office." The real controversy arises in the next verse of Psalm 109, however, which continues, "May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow."

In a message accompanying the email, O'Neal writes:

"At last -- I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up -- it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!"

Where to begin? I am overwhelmed.

Let's start with Exodus 20:13, yes? But no—you don't need a commandment from a deity to know this one is wrong, even if you're Mike O'Neal.

All right then, how about 18 USC 871? Again, though, that's an appeal to authority, which isn't entirely logical. I mean, if O'Neal were a three-year-old or a dog, a firm correction would help establish appropriate boundaries of behavior. But he's neither, which is unfortunate, because that means Kansans might be stuck with him as the guy representing their state to the outside world, whereas were he a toddler, he could be brought inside and made to stand in a corner until he grew up.

Golden rule, then? Appeal to self-interest (don't make threats against other people lest they make threats against you)? Appeal to politics (you hurt your cause by making statements like that in public)?

Ultimately, I don't think any appeals, logical or illogical, will work in this case. Mike O'Neal has demonstrated that he's not fit to hold public office in the United States. But we live in a republic; his district in Kansas elected him to the state house; and his colleagues elected him to speak for them. So let me broaden the question somewhat, and ask the people of the Kansas 104th: do you really want this guy speaking for you? If so, what the hell's the matter with you?

Now, O'Neal has apologized since the initial incident. But that doesn't diminish my point. He displayed contempt for republican ideals, contempt for democracy, and contempt for common sense with his email. He should not hold public office anywhere in this country.