Cross-posted from Think Progress. Yesterday afternoon, AP photographer Charles Riedel filed some of the most disturbing images yet of the effect the BP oil spill is having on Gulf Coast birds: No wonder BP is trying to keep journalists away from the region.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Last week, the LA Times reported that local fishermen hired by BP to clean up the Gulf Coast spill had “become ill after working long hours near waters fouled with oil and dispersant.” Especially galling was the fact that one of the fishermen said that the companyhadn’t provided them with any protective equipment, like gloves. Now, John Wunstell, Jr., one of the fishermen who became sick with “nosebleeds, an upset stomach, and aches,” is filing a restraining order against BP, citing the treatment he faced from the company after he went to the hospital:
“At West Jefferson, there were tents set up outside the hospital, where I was stripped of my clothing, washed with water and several showers, before I was allowed into the hospital,” Wunstell said. “When I asked for my clothing, I was told that BP had confiscated all of my clothing and it would not be returned.” The restraining order requests that BP refrain from “altering, testing or destroying clothing or any other evidence or potential evidence” when workers become ill.
BP CEO Tony Hayward has tried to downplay the sicknesses, attributing them to food poisoning. However, Dr. Michael Osterholm, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, has said that Hayward’s explanation sounds fishy, explaining that the fishermens’ symptoms are more in line with a respiratory illness. On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called on BP to provide treatment for clean-up workers who become sick. (HT: scorpiorising at DailyKos)
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Late last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Arizona Department of Education “recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English”:
State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators. [...] “This is just one more indication of the incredible anti-immigrant sentiment in the state,” said Bruce Merrill, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who conducts public-opinion research.
At one school, for example, state auditors complained that teachers pronounced “words such as violet as ‘biolet,’ think as ‘tink’ and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.” The principal at that school acknowledged that teachers “should speak grammatically correct English” but said they shouldn’t be punished for having an accent. The man in charge of this project, far-right Arizona superintendent Tom Horne — who is running for attorney general — has been going on national media in recent days to defend his policies. Yesterday he went on Hannity, and this morning he went on Fox and Friends. Yesterday he was also on CNN and argued that he isn’t targeting teachers with accents — just people who use “faulty English.” However, the “faulty English” he cited was an example of someone having an accent:
HORNE: We’re not going after any accents, including Spanish accents. It has to be faulty English. If students are being taught English, and they’re going to refer to a “comma” as a “COH-ma,” people are going to misunderstand them.
Watch it: Horne is the same person who has taken an active role in ridding the state of ethnic studies classes, saying that they encourage “ethnic chauvanism.” Earlier this year, he took heat from Arizona Latinos for referring to venerated civil rights leader Dolores Huerta as a “former girlfriend” of Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chávez — even though she was actually his sister-in-law.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Since the disastrous Gulf Coast oil spill, BP and the other companies responsible for the tragedy have been beefing up their lobbying and public relations efforts. Today, the oil giant has full-page ads in the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today defending its response to the oil spill. From the ad:
Since the tragic accident on the Transcocean Deepwater Horizon rig first occurred, we have been committed to doing everything possible to stop the flow of oil at the seabed, collect the oil on the surface and keep it away from the shore. BP has taken full responsibility for dealing with the spill. We are determined to do everything we can to minimize any impact. We will honor all legitimate claims.
BP’s ads come as a new poll finds that 76 percent of the American public disapproves of how the company is handling the spill. And BP is not taking “full responsibility” for the spill. In fact, officials have repeatedly tried to downplay the disaster and argued that attempts to accurately measure the rate of flow at the seabed are impossible and unnecessary:
– Tony Haywood, BP CEO: “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest. It is impossible to say and we will mount, as part of the aftermath, a very detailed environmental assessment as we go forward.” [5/18/10] – Haywood: “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” [5/14/10] – Lamar McKay, President of BP America: “The volume estimates are based effectively on surface expression, because you can’t measure what’s coming out at the seabed.” [Senate testimony, 5/12/10] – Tom Mueller, BP: “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.” [5/14/10] – Doug Suttles, BP COO, Global Exploration: “Since the beginning, we’ve said it’s almost impossible to get a precise number. But ourselves and people from NOAA and others believe that something around 5,000 — it’s actually barrels a day — is the best estimate.” [ABC News, 5/14/10]
In Boston Globe op-ed today, columnist Derrick Z. Jackson hits BP for its ads:
It is difficult to conceive of a more resounding insult to our intelligence than BP’s full-page advertisements in the New York Times and USA Today about its response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The most intriguing paragraph of the BP ad was, “This is an enormous team effort. More than 2,500 of our operational and technical personnel from around the world are working tirelessly in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, and federal, state and local government agencies.’’ But until Deepwater Horizon exploded, BP’s idea of working tirelessly with government agencies was lobbying them to bypass environmental-impact reviews for well permits. Yesterday, the Times had yet another story on how drilling projects have proceeded with environmental waivers, despite President Obama’s so-called moratorium on permits. Deepwater Horizon received an environmental waiver last year and received another one just before the April explosion.
While BP will likely survive this tragedy because of its massive profits, these attempts to shirk responsibility are already beginning to drag the company down in the public’s eyes.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Baptist minister and clinical psychologist George Rekers has devoted himself to “curing” homosexuality, co-founded the far-right Family Research Council, and “played a significant role in many of the ugliest assaults on gay people and their civil rights over the last three decades.” Most recently, this anti-gay zealot became infamous for getting caught at the Miami International Airport with a “rent boy.” The male escort, Jo-vanni Roman, said that he gave Rekers “nude ’sexual’ massages” every day during their two-week trip to London and Madrid. Since then, Rekers has been causing all sorts of awkwardness for the Republicans, who have heartily embraced him in the past. Rekers, for example, was Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum’s (R) star witness in a case arguing why same-sex couples are unfit to adopt children. Rekers may even be a problem in cases where he didn’t testify. Today, the New York Times reports on his role in the high-profile challenge to California’s marriage equality ban:
Dr. Rekers did not testify in that case, but his views, in the form of a declaration filed in a previous case, were cited in the documents prepared for trial by two men initially identified as expert witnesses. (Only one, David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, testified.) The question of whether sexual orientation could be altered through therapy was also discussed extensively in court.
Charles J. Cooper, the attorney defending the marriage equality ban, told the Times that Rekers “has had no involvement in the Proposition 8 case.” However, ThinkProgress found at least four ties to the Prop. 8 trial:
1. Blankenhorn was the defendants’ star witness and was eviscerated on the stand by attorney David Boies, who was arguing against Prop. 8 for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Blakenhorn has claimed that he is “not familiar” with Rekers’ work and didn’t “cite anyone named ‘Dr. Rekers’” in his “expert testimony submitted to the court.” However, Blankenhorn did reference Rekers’ work the bibliography of his “expert report” for the trial: This Rekers declaration that Blankenhorn references has statements such as “The inherent structure of households with one or more homosexually behaving members deprives children of vitally needed positive contributions to child adjustment and to the child’s preparation for successful adulthood adjustment that are present in heterosexual homes.” (View it here.) 2. One of the witnesses arguing against Prop. 8 was Ryan Kendall, a gay man who was forced to undergo “reparative therapy” as a teenager to make him straight. He “was first sent to see a Christian therapist and then the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH),” and the experiences left him contemplating suicide. Rekers was on the board of NARTH during the Prop. 8 trial and only recently stepped down after the “rent boy” scandal broke. 3. Rekers is a member of the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), which submitted an amicus brief to Chief Judge Walker in the Prop. 8 trial. ACP is a sham, right-wing group. When “the American Academy of Pediatrics passed its policy statement supporting second-parent adoptions by lesbian and gay parents in 2002, a fringe group of approximately 60 of the AAP’s more than 60,000 members” broke off and formed ACP. 4. The Prop. 8 defense had a witness named George Robinson who was going to testify about how being gay is a choice, although he was eventually withdrawn. He had also based some of his expert report on Rekers’ Prop. 22 declaration.
Rekers also testified in a 2004 suit to restrict same-sex couples from fostering children in Arkansas. The judge, however, overturned the law and said that he found Rekers’ claims “extremely suspect.”
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. While the Tea Party movement has tried to portray itself as organic and grassroots, it has had, in reality, several powerful, well-funded interests backing it up. Two of those entities have been Fox News host Glenn Beck and Dick Armey’s corporate front group FreedomWorks. Beck regularly cheerleads for the protests, often broadcasts live from their events, and has even helped them raise money. FreedomWorks staffers have given valuable logistical and administrative astroturf support to the Tea Parties. Today on its Twitter page, FreedomWorks announced that it was officially partnering with Beck: The tweet links to a video on the YouTube page of FreedomWorks Action — the c4 advocacy arm of the organization — of Beck explaining the partnership: BECK: I have to tell you, this was a hard decision for me to take on FreedomWorks, and here’s why: because I don’t want to send the message to you that the way to restore our republic is through the political process only. And I was afraid that you would hear “FreedomWorks” and you would say, “Well, wait a minute, what does that mean? I think you do. I think you do. I think you need to get onto every bandwagon you can get onto right now.” I want to send you the message that FreedomWorks is the only– and we’ve looked — the only organization that we have seen that really truly has the organizational power (the other one is like the NRA is also like this). They have the infrastructure, they have the organizational power, they have the ability to get information to people quickly, en masse. And we must, must, must link arms with people. Everybody plays a different role. My message to you is to shore yourself up personally, with history, with faith, and with your own personal finances. That is my course that I am charting. I’ve got to move away from the political stuff. That is what kept me up last night. But political stuff has got to be done. You have to pay attention. There are things that are happening in Washington that you have to know about. We need the Tea Party protests to continue. We need to organize and reach out to each other. So I want you to go to, because freedom works. Listen here:

Beck’s pairing with FreedomWorks is a perfect marriage of their economic interests. Both groups are Tea Party profiteers, exploiting the fears of the conservative base to enrich themselves personally. Beck may do more than just promote the Tea Parties: FreedomWorks Action has made clear that it has a list of “targets” in the 2010 elections — all of whom happen to be Democrats or Independents — that it will be going after. The candidates the group is supporting are far-right conservatives like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Pat Toomey. Despite the everyman, outsider image he likes to portray, Beck’s partnership means that he will be working even closer with a bevy of DC insiders. In the past, Beck has picked up the opposition research and talking points of another corporate-funded front group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP). His character-assassination campaign directed at Van Jones was fueled by AFP’s policy effort to kill green jobs. Beck also followed AFP’s lead in calling net neutrality an attack on freedom of speech. UPDATE On Friday, Beck had his worst ratings in 2010.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Earlier this year, Texas faced national scrutiny for the efforts of a determined bloc of far-right ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education to rewrite history in the state’s social studies textbooks and curriculum. They succeeded in making students learn about the “conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s,” “documents that supported Cold War-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy,” and the difference “between legal and illegal immigration.” Because of the state’s size, Texas has significant pull in shaping what the nation’s social studies books will say. However, California state Sen. Leland Yee (D) has introduced a bill to keep Texas at bay:
Under Yee’s bill, SB1451, the California Board of Education would be required to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks. The board must then report any findings to both the Legislature and the secretary of education. The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings” and “a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.” Tom Adams, director of the state Department of Education’s standards and curriculum division, said the Texas standards could make their way into national editions of textbooks, but those aren’t used in California. “Our main concern is whether materials meet California’s standards,” he said. “There’s nothing in our review process that says we should be following Texas or anything like that.”
A new report in the Guardian reveals that the Texas State Board of Education also “dropped references to the slave trade in favour of calling it the more innocuous ‘Atlantic triangular trade,’ and recasts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as driven by Islamic fundamentalism.” The board will be meeting again this week and conservatives have promised to “keep working to the last moment to correct years of liberal bias in history classes.”
Cross-posted from Think Progress. Although Maine is known for its two moderate Republican senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — last week’s state GOP convention showed the growing influence of far-right activists. An “overwhelming majority of delegates” voted to “scrap the the proposed party platform and replace it with a document created by a group of Tea Party activists.” Maine Politics called it “a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords and outright conspiracy theories.” The Republican convention was at the Portland Expo, but participants went to the nearby King Middle School to hold their caucuses. While there, they went through eighth-grade teacher Paul Clifford’s items, opened sealed boxes, stole a prized poster, and vandalized the room with Republican slogans. Some details on what they did:
– For seven years, Clifford has had “a collage-type poster depicting the history of the U.S. labor movement” on his classroom door. He uses it “to teach his students how to incorporate collages into their annual project on Norman Rockwell’s historic ‘Four Freedoms’ illustrations.” When Clifford returned to his classroom on Monday, after the GOP caucuses, the poster was gone; in its place was a sticker reading, “Working People Vote Republican.”Republicans opened a “closed cardboard box they found near Clifford’s desk” and later objected to the fact that it contained copies of the U.S. Constitution donated to the school by the American Civil Liberties Union. – After the caucuses, “rank-and-file Republicans who were upset by what they said they had seen in Clifford’s classroom” began calling the school, objecting to student art they had seen and a sticker on a filing cabinet reading “People for the American Way — Fight the Right.”
Although some of these callers said they supported the fact that Clifford’s poster had been stolen, the Maine Republican Party’s leadership has taken a more conciliatory approach, apologizing to the school and promising to return any stolen materials it finds. “King Middle School was kind enough to allow the (party) to use their facilities and we are deeply concerned about the lack of respect shown to the faculty,” said Maine GOP Executive Director Christie-Lee McNally. Local Knox County GOP Chairman William Chapman agreed that the vandalism was inappropriate, but added that it was disturbing that there was “nothing” in Clifford’s room “that appeared to give a more balanced view.” Even some students are appalled by the GOP caucus-goers’ behavior. Simon Johnson, a graduate of Clifford’s eighth-grade class, wrote an open letter saying that Maine Republicans had gone too far:
I am an unapologetic graduate of Paul Clifford’s eighth grade English class at King Middle School. I participated in the “Four Freedoms” expedition, and I made a poster decrying war quite similar to the one with which the Republicans took issue. I am not brainwashed, I am not a puppet, I am not anti-American or anti-religious, and I am certainly not stupid. Paul Clifford’s class taught me to think critically, to deductively reason and, if anything, to appreciate America for all the freedoms with which I am ensured on a daily basis. Clearly, the Knox County Republicans — who took a cherished, pro-Labor poster from Clifford’s room and who now are making slanderous and uninformed claims about Clifford — have a different agenda.
The Portland Press Herald also said that it received “several” e-mails from students “decrying the behavior of their weekend guests.” “I am not being brainwashed in his class under any circumstances,” wrote one student. “I am being told that I have the right to my own opinion. … These people were adults and they were acting very immaturely.”
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. As ThinkProgress has reported, many far-right members of the Oklahoma legislature have made denying women rights a full-time a mission. What the legislature has done in recent weeks:
– Both the House and the Senate passed a law mandating the collection of personal details about every single abortion performed in the state, which will then be posted on a public website. – The legislature overrode the governor’s veto of an ultrasound mandate, which requires that doctor’s show women seeking an abortion ultrasounds of their babies and “describe the size of the fetus and any viewable organs and limbs. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.” The law also “limits who can do the ultrasound and which technology can be used — issues lawmakers are ill-equipped to decide.” – The legislature also overrode the governor’s veto of a measure to prevent women from filing “wrongful life” lawsuits against “doctors who withhold information about a fetus or pregnancy that could cause a woman to seek an abortion.”
Yesterday, the Oklahoma House was at it again, this time passing, in a 70-21 vote, a bill (HB 3290) to bar private insurance companies from covering abortion. From the legislation:
No health plan, including health insurance contracts, plans or policies, offered outside of the state Exchange, but within the state, shall provide coverage for elective abortions except by optional separate supplemental coverage for abortion for which there must be paid a separate premium in accordance with subsection D of this act.
The bill does provide “exceptions in cases of rape and incest or to prevent the death of the mother.” Rep. Skye McNiel (R), the author of the legislation, said that it was simply meant to “ban state insurance exchanges created under the recently signed federal health care legislation from covering abortion procedures.” However, several legislators — including a Republican Rep. Doug Cox, who is also a doctor — spoke out against what the House was doing:
“This bill is nothing but pure politics so people can go home and stand up and beat their chests and say, ‘I voted against abortion of any type,’” Cox said. “You’re going to be trampling on some people who are good Christian people who are against abortion, but when it comes to one of these sad, terribly sad, freaks of nature that happen, you’re going to be punishing those good Christian people who are against abortion except in these cases.”
As CAP’s Jessica Arons has pointed out, making women purchase a separate abortion “rider” — as this legislation does, is discriminatory and requires women “to plan for a completely unexpected event.” Rep. Jeannie McDaniel (D), who also voted against the legislation, pointed out that the “purpose of insurance is to cover potential financial losses that can’t be foreseen.” Oklahoma joins other states such as Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee in prohibiting insurers from offering abortion coverage in state exchanges, even if it’s paid for with private dollars. State Sen. Steve Russell (R) recently tried to justify the abortion-reporting bill by saying, “This is not about women. It is about children in the womb deserving a life that got created.” The fact that lawmakers like Russell are leaving women’s interests out of the equation underscores the problem of what’s going on in Oklahoma.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. As soon as President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, right-wing governors, attorneys general, and state lawmakers immediately began pushing measures to nullify the new health care benefits. However, even many conservative legal scholars acknowledged that their argument for the unconstitutionality of health reform was “weak” and nothing more than a political stunt. Nullification efforts around the country have largely lost momentum and failed to pass. Nevertheless, this morning on Fox News, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said that he wants to make this fringe view of health care reform a centerpiece of Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing:
BARRASSO: The other issue is the health care bill that’s come out — there’s a mandate everybody in the country has to buy a product. That’s a 10th amendment issue. Twenty states right now, Martha, are suing the federal government, and she is going to have to make a decision if she’s on the court about how that goes forward with these 20 states suing. So where do states’ rights come in, where is the role of the federal government, what can they mandate to the American people, and I’m going to want to hear answers on that. And this is very different than a year ago with Sotomayor. This was not an issue because we didn’t have this unpopular health care bill that’s been forced down the throats of the American people.
Barrasso also seemed to imply that he’ll make the second amendment into a litmus test for Kagan, saying, “The attorney general does not agree with my interpretation of the second amendment; I want to make sure this nominee does. So that will be another issue.” Watch it: When Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) also put out a statement indicating that he was going to make health care an issue, saying that “the court’s interpretation of the Constitution in the coming years could significantly affect the implementation of domestic polices approved by the president and Congress over the past year.” The right-wing belief that health care reform is unconstitutional has no legal foundation. As University of California, Irvine law professor Erwin Chemerinsky has stated, “Those opposing health care reform are increasingly relying on an argument that has no legal merit: that the health care reform legislation would be unconstitutional. There is, of course, much to debate about how to best reform America’s health care system. But there is no doubt that bills passed by House and Senate committees are constitutional.”