Political MoJo

Watch These Dudes in Congress Tell Planned Parenthood How to Protect Women's Health

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 5:45 PM EDT

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards appeared today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in the most recent congressional hearing examining the use of taxpayer funds by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This was Richards' first appearance before Congress. She had not been invited to participate in either of the two hearings conducted by the House Judiciary Committee earlier in the month, in the wake of the heavily edited and controversial videos released by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden.

Planned Parenthood receives approximately $450 million annually in federal funds, nearly all of which are reimbursements for women's health services from programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to Planned Parenthood, last year 41 percent ($528.4 million) of its revenue came from government health services grants and reimbursements.

"The question before us is: Does this organization—does Planned Parenthood—really need a federal subsidy?" said House Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). "Every time we spend a federal dollar, what we're doing is pulling money out of somebody's pocket and we're giving it to somebody else. What I don't like, what I don't want to tolerate, what I don't want to become numb to is wasting those taxpayer dollars."

Here are some of the recurring themes from the hearing that attempted to answer his question.

1. Her salary is too high: Chaffetz spent much of his allotted time interrogating Richards about her $590,000 annual salary, which he characterized as "exorbitant." She corrected him, saying her annual salary is actually $520,000. (Female nonprofit CEOs still make markedly less than male CEOs. In 2013, for example, Laurance Hoagland Jr., chief investment officer of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, made $2.5 million, and John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, made $2.1 million.) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) responded angrily to this inquisition. "The entire time I've been in Congress, I've never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary," she said. "Ms. Richards heads a distinguished organization providing health care services to millions of Americans. I find it totally inappropriate and discriminatory."

2. Her apology was self-incriminating: Several times, Richards was subjected to loud, often aggressive mansplaining about when it is and is not appropriate to issue an apology. Members were referring to a video that PPFA released days after the first sting video in which Richards said, "Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the [sting] video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) repeatedly asked Richards to justify this. "Why did you apologize?" he asked over and over again. "You can't have it both ways. If nothing was done wrong, why did you apologize? You don’t apologize if she didn’t say anything that was wrong."

Richards explained that her apology was more about the setting of the discussion. "I spoke with Dr. Nucatola, and it was inappropriate to have a clinical discussion in a nonconfidential, nonclinical setting," Richards said. "It was that she used bad judgment to have a clinical discussion in a nonclinical setting." The conversation in the sting video was over lunch and wine.

3. Planned Parenthood doesn't provide mammograms: Republican critics of PPFA were also upset that Planned Parenthood clinics don't provide mammogram services, despite the fact that radiology centers usually offer them because Medicaid reimbursements can't come close to covering their operational costs. This point seemed to be lost on committee members who considered the lack of mammography as evidence that Planned Parenthood did not really provide women's health services. Richards explained that when she goes to see her general practitioner and she gets a breast exam, she is referred to a radiologist to get a mammogram. Centers that depend on Medicaid reimbursement are often unable to pay for the equipment and radiologists' salaries. New 3-D mammography technology is even more expensive. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) saw this as evidence that Planned Parenthood fell short in providing acceptable women's health services: "Do you acknowledge that community health centers offer a broader range of services, including mammograms?" To this, Richards replied, "I’m not an expert on what all community health centers provide."

4. Taxpayer dollars are paying for abortions: The repeated expressions of outrage by Republicans over "taxpayer dollars" being used for abortion services was, according to committee member Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), "exhausting." 

"I know my colleagues are more intelligent than this," Lawrence said. "This is not a lump sum we give Planned Parenthood. It is a reimbursement."

Under federal law, no taxpayer dollars are allocated to abortion services. PPFA has submitted its tax filings and reimbursement records, and so far there has been no evidence that it violated this law. That did not stop Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) from expressing concern that "taxpayer dollars are being used to free up services that you provide that are aberrant services in the view of many taxpayers."

5) Planned Parenthood provides too many abortions: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) does not understand how the 327,000 abortions Planned Parenthood performed in 2014 amount to only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services. Meadows claimed it was more like 12 percent. But as Richards explained, some patients visit more than once, and for multiple services, bringing the percentage down substantially.

And as my colleague Kevin Drum reported, Chaffetz used a chart from anti-abortion group Americans United for Life that incorrectly claimed that Planned Parenthood's breast examinations have trended radically downward in recent years, while abortion services have substantially risen. In fact, cancer screenings have declined because, as Richards said, "some of the services, like pap smears, dropped in frequency because of changing medical standards about who should be screened and how often." Abortion rates for Planned Parenthood have only increased about 2 percent per year since 2006.

6) Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with President Barack Obama: Toward the end of the nearly six-hour hearing, Jordan asked Richards about the internal workings of her staff. "Since the videos, has anyone from HHS, CMS contacted you?" Richards replied that because she has a big staff, she can't answer that with 100 percent confidence. "Has the Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch contacted Planned Parenthood?" Jordan persisted. "Has anyone from the Justice Department contacted Planned Parenthood since the videos surfaced? There are potentially four federal crimes committed here, and all I'm asking is, has the Justice Department contacted you?" Richards repeated that she could not answer his questions with any certainty.

Jordan then escalated his attack. "Have you had any conversations with the president of the United States?" he asked. "Since the videos have surfaced, how many times have you been to the White House? How many times have you been to the White House since Mr. Obama's been president?" Richards again said she couldn't be sure, but Jordan was ready with an answer. "Our count shows that you, your board members, and senior staff have been to the White House 151 times in six and a half years."

Investigations are also ongoing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and in the House Judiciary Committee. So far, no wrongdoing has been found. Six state investigations that were triggered by the videos have also been closed after finding no evidence that Planned Parenthood violated law.

A subpoena has been issued to anti-abortion activist Daleiden for his investigative materials, and according to Chaffetz, they have been received but not yet opened or examined.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Fetus Video Described by Carly Fiorina Was Just Released in Full. It Still Means Absolutely Nothing.

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 12:58 PM EDT

On Tuesday, an anti-abortion activist released the full recording of the video discussed by Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina during a GOP debate earlier this month. In her remarks, Fiorina memorably described the video showing a "fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain."

Time first reported the full video today, despite the fact that activist Gregg Cunningham was unable to confirm where the video was found or if it even had anything to do with Planned Parenthood.

"I am neither confirming or denying the affiliation of the clinic who did this abortion," Cunningham told Time

The video was released just hours ahead of today's much anticipated Planned Parenthood hearing before the House Oversight Committee, where Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president, is speaking before Congress for the first time to defend the health organization against Republican attacks. The push to defund the organization comes in the wake of an ongoing sting campaign using secretly recorded and selectively edited videos that suggest Planned Parenthood officials are discussing the sale of fetal tissues from abortions.

Fiorina's description of the abortion video during the September GOP debate was quickly praised by conservatives and her overall performance catapulted her to second place in several polls among the slew of Republican presidential hopefuls. But after the video described by Fiorina was questioned, her supporters scrambled to create their own abortion video using heavily edited footage of several different clips.

Cunningham's refusal to state the video's source on Tuesday, combined with Time's own observation that "there are no images on the full video of any attempt to harvest the brain of the fetus, and there is no sound," was ignored by many on social media who still insist the full recording lends credibility to Fiorina's initial description.

But our own Kevin Drum points out the problem:

The video was not taken at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The fetus shows some reflexive movement, but that's all. No one says the fetus has to be kept alive. No one harvests the brain.

But other than that, Fiorina was 100 percent correct!

Snowden Just Joined Twitter. Guess Who His First Follow Is.

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 12:33 PM EDT

Fugitive leaker Edward Snowden has bunkered down in Russia, but he has remained in the public eye via media interviews, Skype chats, and the like. And now he's taken another step at increasing his profile: He's joined Twitter.

On Tuesday, he put out his first tweet.

And, in a way, he trolled the former government agency he once worked for as a contractor: His first and, initially, only follow was an NSA Twitter account.

Within half an hour of being a tweeter, Snowden had nearly 65,000 followers. As of now, the NSA has 74,000 followers.

Update: Snowden's first Twitter exchange was with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who welcomed Snowden to Twitter. Snowden replied:

There Are Thousands of Clinics That Could Replace Planned Parenthood, Right? Nope.

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

This week, the Congressional controversy over Planned Parenthood could come to a head as investigations continue through the House of Representatives. Today, Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will testify before the House Oversight Committee, one of several committees conducting an investigation in the wake of videos from anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, who is also expected to testify in the continuing discussion.

Most of the clinics listed don't even appear to have a certified OB-GYN on staff.

One of the claims they may address has been neatly presented in a map circulating on social media. The graphic claims that there are 13,540 clinics where women can find comprehensive health care, as opposed to a mere 665 Planned Parenthood locations. It has become a popular talking point in the conservative push to defund Planned Parenthood—most notably mentioned by Jeb Bush in the GOP debate earlier this month. The map in question seems to be referring to a list of clinics, organized by state, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

But what the graphic doesn't mention is that most of the clinics listed don't even appear to have a certified OB-GYN on staff. The clinics are mostly general practice, meaning they may lack equipment and expertise to deliver reproductive health care to women. It's not clear what criteria the groups circulating the map used to define viable options to replace Planned Parenthood's services, and the groups did not respond to requests for comment.

While the clinics on this list do accept Medicaid, they are not set up to take the massive influx of patients that would result from a shutdown of Planned Parenthood. What's more, many private reproductive health care clinics—those that aren't represented on the list—don't take Medicaid at all. That's because the program pays just a fraction of what private insurers will reimburse.

The claim that community clinics could replace Planned Parenthood represents "a fundamental misunderstanding of how the health care system works."

Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, is set up to handle large numbers of Medicaid patients. Nearly half of all Planned Parenthood patients use Medicaid coverage, and more than a third of women who receive publicly funded family planning care rely on Planned Parenthood.

Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, says it's common for practitioners not to accept Medicaid patients, because the reimbursement rates can't come close to offsetting the operating costs of their clinics. "The reimbursement is such that Medicaid just by definition doesn't pay anywhere near what private insurers pay for OB-GYN visits," says DeFrancesco.

Sara Rosenbaum, a health law professor at George Washington University, agrees. In a blog post for Health Affairs, she writes that the claim that community clinics could replace Planned Parenthood represents "a fundamental misunderstanding of how the health care system works."

Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report issued earlier this month that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, as many as 650,000 women "in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations" would lose their reproductive health care. And a survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that women often value specialized family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood over primary care clinics for reasons such as affordability, increased confidentiality, and a greater range of contraceptive options. Guttmacher also reports that in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only "safety net" family planning service, meaning that a large portion of their patients are either uninsured or reliant on Medicaid.

If Planned Parenthood were to lose a third of its entire budget, DeFrancesco warns, "these patients won't have anywhere else to go."

George Zimmerman Posted a Photo of Trayvon Martin's Dead Body

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 2:52 PM EDT

Over the weekend, George Zimmerman retweeted an image of Trayvon Martin's dead body. The image was first tweeted to him by a fan who wrote, "Z-Man is a one man army."

After the tweet was deleted, apparently by Twitter, Zimmerman posted a tweet directing media inquiries to the phone number of a car audio shop. When I called it, a disgruntled man said it was not affiliated with Zimmerman. I asked what he meant, and he said, "It's pretty cut and dry, dude. Do you understand English?" Then he hung up. The number, it turns out, belongs to a man Zimmerman has been waging a social media campaign against.

Twitter would not comment on why they took down the photo, but the company directed me to its policy, which states that users "may not publish or post threats of violence against others or promote violence against others."

Previously, Zimmerman's tweets have referred to black people as primates and "slime."

In August, Zimmerman teamed up with the owner of a gun store with a no-Muslims-allowed policy to sell prints of his Confederate flag art, which he says "represents the hypocrisy of political correctness that is plaguing this nation."

Elizabeth Warren Just Showed Democrats How to Talk About Race in America

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 2:48 PM EDT

In the modern-day fight against racial inequality, activists and policymakers alike should look to the past to change the present.

That's the message Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent on Sunday in a stirring speech at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. Warren called for wide-ranging civil rights reforms to combat racial inequality, from the restoration of voting rights to changes in policing practices.

In a year marked by public outcry over police brutality, Warren echoed the sentiments of the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing connections between the group's push for social-justice reforms and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"None of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets," Warren said. "This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter." 

Here are five issues Warren covered in her speech, which starts at the 12:25 mark in the video above:

On violence against African Americans:

Fifty years later, violence against African Americans has not disappeared. Consider law enforcement. The vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of an honorable profession that takes risks every day to keep us safe. We know that. But we also know—and say—the names of those whose lives have been treated with callous indifference. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. We've seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air—their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protestors have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets. And it's not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church. We must be honest: Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.

On voting rights:

And what about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting. Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed—voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal-justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.

On economic inequality:

Violence. Voting. And what about economic injustice? Research shows that the legal changes in the civil rights era created new employment and housing opportunities. In the 1960s and the 1970s, African American men and women began to close the wage gap with white workers, giving millions of black families hope that they might build real wealth.


Today, 90 percent of Americans see no real wage growth. For African Americans, who were so far behind earlier in the 20th century, this means that since the 1980s they have been hit particularly hard. In January of this year, African American unemployment was 10.3 percent—more than twice the rate of white unemployment. And, after beginning to make progress during the civil rights era to close the wealth gap between black and white families, in the 1980s the wealth gap exploded, so that from 1984 to 2009, the wealth gap between black and white families tripled. 

On policing:

Policing must become a truly community endeavor-not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve. They should reach out to support and defend the community—working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces—not just some—must be trained to de-escalate and to avoid the likelihood of violence. Body cameras can help us know what happens when someone is hurt. 

On housing discrimination and predatory lending:

The 2008 housing collapse destroyed trillions in family wealth across the country, but the crash hit African Americans like a punch in the gut. Because middle class black families' wealth was disproportionately tied up in homeownership and not other forms of savings, these families were hit harder by the housing collapse. But they also got hit harder because of discriminatory lending practices—yes, discriminatory lending practices in the 21st century. Recently several big banks and other mortgage lenders paid hundreds of millions in fines, admitting that they illegally steered black and Latino borrowers into more expensive mortgages than white borrowers who had similar credit. Tom Perez, who at the time was the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, called it a "racial surtax." And it's still happening—earlier this month, the National Fair Housing alliance filed a discrimination complaint against real estate agents in Mississippi after an investigation showed those agents consistently steering white buyers away from interracial neighborhoods and black buyers away from affluent ones. Another investigation showed similar results across our nation's cities. Housing discrimination alive and well in 2015.

You can read Warren's full remarks here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama Issues Strong Condemnation of Russia in UN Speech

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 11:32 AM EDT

President Barack Obama issued a strong condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's use of force in Ukraine in an address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, warning world leaders of "dangerous currents" that stand to threaten international stability.

"We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated," Obama told world leaders at the 70th annual session at the United Nations.

"Imagine if instead Russia had engaged in true diplomacy and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected," Obama said. "That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia and better for the world. This is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved."

Obama's criticism of the Kremlin comes ahead of a scheduled meeting with Putin later today, where the two leaders will sit down to discuss their approaches to Syria.

In his remarks on Monday, Obama also focused his attention on Syria, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "tyrant."

"We're told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that it's the only way to stamp out terrorism and prevent foreign meddling," he said. "In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children because the alternative is surely worse."

The president's speech pressed for international cooperation to help the United States combat rising dictatorships around the world. In appealing for peaceful negotiations, he touted the Iran nuclear deal and recent steps by the United States to ease relations with Cuba as examples of diplomacy's triumph over the use of force.

Donald Trump Is Not Fit to Win the War on Christmas

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 2:48 PM EDT

Donald Trump is pandering to some social conservatives today, so naturally he brought up the nonexistent War on Christmas:

"The word Christmas, I love Christmas," Trump said. "You go to stores, you don’t see the word 'Christmas.' It says 'happy holidays' all over. I say, 'where's Christmas?'"

"I tell my wife, don’t go to those stores," he continued, as the crowd began cheering. "I want to see Christmas. You know, other people can have their holidays, but Christmas is Christmas. I want to see 'Merry Christmas.' Remember the expression, 'Merry Christmas?' You don’t see it anymore. You’re going to see it if I get elected, I can tell you that right now."

Trump did not explain how he would, as president, compel business owners to promote Christian expressions.

But if President Trump really wants to defend Christmas, he's going to have to explain his earlier flirtations with the enemy:


Pope Francis Just Said the "Very Existence of the Human Species" Is Under Threat

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 10:58 AM EDT

Pope Francis issued a stark warning to the United Nations on Friday morning, telling world leaders assembled for the General Assembly that "large-scale destruction of biodiversity can threaten the very existence of the human species." His speech urged leaders to tackle the unfettered capitalism that he believes is the root cause of environmental destruction, and outlined a religious duty to protect the planet. He also declared a "right of the environment" alongside other fundamental rights like education, work and religious freedom.

"The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species," he told the General Assembly. "The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man."

Francis went on to commend the United Nations for its sustainability efforts, calling the upcoming summit an "important sign of hope” for climate action. Every speech the pope has made so far in the United Stats has touched in some way on taking action to protect the planet.

The leader of the Catholic Church also touched upon the church's stance on "moral laws" on issues such as abortion, saying that "absolute respect for life in all its stages" was part and parcel of the moral fight against inequality.

Francis' address on Friday marks the fifth time a pope has spoken before the General Assembly. For the remainder of his stay in New York, the pope is scheduled to visit the 9/11 Memorial and tour Central Park in his motorcade.

John Boehner to Resign From Congress

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 9:52 AM EDT

House Speaker John Boehner is reportedly planning to resign from his post at the end of October, according to the New York Times on Friday. See a full statement from one of his aides below:

Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all. 

The Speaker’s plan was to serve only through the end of last year. Leader Cantor’s loss in his primary changed that calculation.  

The Speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. 

He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his Speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the Speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.

The announcement comes amid mounting pressure due to an impending government shutdown and pressure to defund Planned Parenthood. A sharply divided House of Representatives will elect his successor.

This is a breaking news post.