Mojo - February 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 10, 2011

Thu Feb. 10, 2011 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Sgt. Kevin Murphy, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, instructs Iraqi soldiers on individual movement techniques during a class at teh Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center, Feb. 2. The trainees, from 2nd Battalion, 11th Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division, began their 25-day training cycle at GWTC with individual and squad level training. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Shawn Miller

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House GOP Declares War on Planned Parenthood

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 4:26 PM EST

Capitol Hill's abortion fight was already heating up, with skirmishes over federal funding for abortion, the effect of the tax code on abortion, and a controversial "forcible rape" provision. But on Wednesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives declared war.

A draft continuing resolution to fund the government, due out tomorrow from the House appropriations committee, will cut $327 million in family planning funding that goes to organizations like Planned Parenthood but that cannot be used to pay for abortions. This money, instead, is used to fund cancer screenings, birth control, and other health care services for poor people. The $327 million is the sum total of this sort of funding under current law. The House GOP is trying to zero out Planned Parenthood.

Critics of the funding contend that because money is fungible, these dollars are, in effect, paying for abortion services. Doug Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said he'd "have to look at" the proposal before commenting, but groups that oppose abortion rights have long pushed for cutting this funding to Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.

The cuts are a victory for Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who has led the push for slashing all funding for abortion providers in general and Planned Parenthood specifically. "The fear of losing their federal funding has led [Planned Parenthood] to target me for my pro-life positions," Pence wrote in a November fundraising appeal. "They’ve even named me to their 2010 Election Hall of Shame for advocating a pro-life agenda on Capitol Hill," he said. "But I refuse to back down."

Groups that back abortion rights, naturally, are upset by the House GOP's move. The Republicans want "to take away birth control and cancer screenings from millions of American women and men," Nancy Keenan, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. "While these politicians attack abortion coverage from every angle, they now want to deny funding for birth control, even though that’s the best way to prevent unintended pregnancy." Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, also released a statement. Highlights:

Unbelievably, the House Leadership has set its sights on abolishing a program that provides lifesaving and preventive care to millions of women and saves taxpayers money by helping women plan their families. This is an extreme proposal, and the new leaders of the House are pushing it forward at great risk to women and at their own political peril.

Richards also pointed to data that she says suggests that for every dollar that is spent on family planning services, taxpayers save $4 in other costs.

If this provision is in the final version of the House appropriations bill, which now seems likely, Republicans should be able to pass it out of the House with ease. Then the fight heads to the Senate, where abortion rights supporters will have to fight hard to strip the provision from the bill (called a continuing resolution). Because the government will shut down unless the continuing resolution is passed, supporters of abortion rights will have less room to maneuver than they might have otherwise. And if there is no veto threat from the president, their hand will be weaker.

This story has been updated and edited since it was first posted.

NARAL Chief Worried About Abortion Bills in Senate

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 1:10 PM EST

Controversial bills pushed by opponents of abortion rights will sail through the House and have a serious chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told Mother Jones Wednesday. Keenan, whose organization is one of the largest abortion rights groups in the country, made the comments in advance of a House hearing on the "Protect Life Act," one of three bills that opponents of abortion rights have prioritized this legislative session. According to Keenan, NARAL believes only 40 senators are solidly on their side—barely enough to sustain a filibuster in the upper chamber.

If the Republican leadership attaches a limited version of any of the three anti-abortion rights bills to must-pass legislation such as a continuing resolution to fund the government, abortion rights supporters could have trouble holding their allies in place. (The most ambitious anti-abortion legislation, which included controversial "forcible rape" language, is seen as a non-starter.) The Senate, Keenan says, is her group's "first line of defense." Although House supporters of abortion rights—including Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette (Colo.), Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Lois Capps (Calif.), Jan Schakowsy (Ill.), and Anthony Weiner (N.Y.)1—put on a good show at a well-attended press conference Wednesday morning, they're hugely outnumbered in the lower chamber.

The real fight will be in the Senate, where abortion rights supporters including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and especially Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are readying to try to stop whatever the GOP-led House throws the upper chamber's way. But that battle could conceivably be lost, too. At Wednesday morning's press conference, House Dems and their allies repeatedly referenced President Barack Obama's veto pen. And Keenan tacitly acknowledged that she knows the looming Senate fight isn't a sure thing for her side: their last line of defense, she said, is in the Oval Office. The Obama administration has yet to explain what it might do if forced to choose between, for example, must-pass legislation funding the government or repealing controversial 1099 tax provisions and protecting the goals of groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood.


1Weiner, in particular, did an excellent job of explaining why the abortion fight has become so contentious, so quickly. Basically, abortion rights supporters believe their rivals have broken the "treaty" represented by the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions except in very limited circumstances. Abortion rights supporters say that by trying to extend the "ban" to the tax code, opponents are pushing past the generally agreed-upon line laid out by Hyde. Groups that oppose abortion rights, of course, see it differently: they think that by offering tax credits to people who buy health insurance and letting those people pay for abortion insurance with separate checks, the other side broke the "treaty" first.

On 9/11, Rumsfeld Fiddled While Cheney Ran the Country

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 12:47 PM EST

In her interview last night with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, author of a new autobiography, Diane Sawyer asked him about a tough decision he had to make on the morning of 9/11. Was it not difficult, she asked, to order military pilots to shoot down passenger jets that the government believed to be hijacked and headed toward targets in Washington–maybe the White House, maybe the Capitol. For a moment, Rumsfeld dropped his generally arrogant stance, and instead looked as if he were about to cry as he recalled the agony he went through in making the decision.

It might have been a poignant moment, were it not for the fact that Rumsfeld didn’t make the decision. It was Vice President Dick Cheney who made it. And it was Cheney who was running the country that morning, with a confused Rumfeld watching from the sidelines.

When the nation is threatened, it is the President, the  Commander-in-Chief who must make the decision to engage the military. Under the law, he orders the Secretary of Defense to implement his commands down through the military chain of command.  While President Bush was being shuttled around from bunker to bunker on the morning of September 11, 2001, supposedly out of cell phone contact at times, Rumsfeld was next in line. But Rumsfeld’s role on 9/11 has always been a mystery. In his new book, on page 339, the former secretary of Defense casts a little light on what he did that morning .

Santorum: '06 Smackdown Bodes Well for 2012

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 12:38 PM EST

Rick Santorum, the former US Senator from Pennsylvania, is probably best-known for the uproar he caused in 2003 when he likened homosexuality to beastiality. (He famously said the "definition of marriage" did not include "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.") In his reelection bid three years later, Santorum, who has embraced hard-right positions on social issues like abortion rights, was trounced by Democrat Bob Casey by 18 percentage points, the widest margin of defeat for a sitting senator in 23 years.

Now, Santorum is mulling a presidential bid for the 2012 elections. And he's using his defeat in 2006 as evidence of his conservative credentials, according to the AP:

Santorum said there still could be an opening for someone with his strong social and fiscal conservative views.

"I can look at it and say, 'I was there doing the things everybody says we should be doing, and I was doing them when they weren't necessarily the most popular thing to do,'" he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Santorum hopes the same conservative streak that helped sink his re-election bid in the swing state of Pennsylvania could prove to be an asset in GOP primaries.

"What you're proposing matters, No. 1, and your authenticity matters," he said.

But first, Santorum will need an image makeover. As Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer reported, Santorum has a major online image problem. After Santorum made his inflammatory remarks on homosexuality in 2003, gay columnist Dan Savage held a contest to "memorialize the scandal." The result: SpreadingSantorum.com, a website that defines "Santorum" as "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." Sickening. And effective. When you search "Rick Santorum" in Google, Savage's site is the third hit. (Number two is the Wikipedia entry "Santorum (sexual neologism).") Ouch.

Malpractice Bill Sponsor Target of Many Suits Himself

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 10:51 AM EST

Republicans in Congress have offered up little in the way of new health care proposals. After retaking control of the House this year, they revived an old failed measure that would severely limit lawsuits against negligent doctors, drug companies that kill people, and companies that make defective pacemakers and other medical devices. The Republicans claim that curbing such suits would significantly reduce health care spending, a claim that's been disproven many times over. What the bill would do is protect doctors and other health care providers who harm people through bad medicine.

Case in point is one of the very congressmen sponsoring the bill, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.). In 2007, the New York Times reports, Gingrey, who is a doctor, settled a lawsuit for $500,000 in a case involving a pregnant woman whose appendicitis Gingrey and others failed to diagnose. Her appendix burst, causing a massive infection that left her unborn child dead and the woman partially disabled after she suffered a stroke as a result.

That wasn't the only time Gingrey has been sued. The Times writes:

In a pretrial deposition, Dr. Gingrey testified that he had been sued at least three other times over malpractice during his long career. In one case, a jury found against him; in another case, there was a settlement; and in another case, the patient dropped the action, he testified.

It's no suprise that the doctors who get sued a lot are the ones who complain the loudest about "frivolous" lawsuits. But the case against Gingrey seems anything but frivolous. But it's just those sorts of serious cases that Gingrey's bill would restrict. And far from saving money, the bill would simply shift the cost of negligent medicine from the doctors and their insurance companies to the taxpayers through Medicaid and other disability programs. Private health insurers also can often recoup their costs for covering malpractice injuries through those lawsuits. Catastrophic injuries like the one suffered by Gingrey's patient profiled in the Times tend to bankrupt people, leaving them reliant on government health care, and the costs can be significant.

In 2004, the state of Nevada was considering a measure similar to Gingrey's bill that would have capped pain and suffering awards at $350,000 and made it harder for plaintiffs to collect on court judgments against doctors. Evidence provided to the state supreme court showed that malpractice lawsuits had returned more than $6 million to the state Medicaid program in the previous five years, and that the state program for indigent health care would have been entitled to more than $4 million in a single case that was pending at the time. None of that money would have returned to the taxpayers if the lawsuit restrictions had been in place at the time. Despite what Republicans want to believe, making malpractice lawsuits disappear doesn't make the health care costs of medical errors go away. It simply means that it's just not the wrongdoers who pay for them.

Oh, and as a side note: Gingrey doesn't seem to be paying much attention to the affairs in his home state. In 2005, Georgia passed a cap on malpractice damages much like the one Gingrey would like to impose on the whole country. Last year, in a 7-0 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court threw out the law, calling it a huge violation to the constitutional right to a jury trial, and one that infringed on the separation of powers. Not only is Gingrey's bill bad health care policy, it's likely to be bad law, too.

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Mansions, Fine Dining, Cronyism: The RNC's Spending Splurge

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 10:37 AM EST

Consider it Michael Steele's parting gift to his replacement, new Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. The RNC's latest financial filings with the Federal Election Commission reveal the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the committee's planning team for the 2012 convention in Tampa. Led by Steele personal assistant Belinda Cook, the six-person crew spent more than $1 million of a federally-backed line of credit on things like renting a waterfront mansion on Florida's Treasure Island and meals at swanky restaurants, the Tampa Tribune reports. Cook also used that money to put friends and family on the RNC's payroll, including Cook's sister, her son, and her son's friend. Cook's niece also pocketed nearly $3,000 as a member of the planning team.

The RNC's convention debacle, of course, isn't the first time controversial spending has left the commitee with egg on its face. Last spring, an RNC staffer named Erik Brown threw a fundraiser for young GOPers at a bondage-themed club in Los Angeles called Voyeur West Hollywood, spending nearly $2,000 of the RNC's money at the event. Many Republicans demanded Steele resign after the stripper incident, but ultimately it was the RNC's top fundraiser, Sam Fox, who stepped down. According to Politico, Fox was "deeply troubled by the pattern of self-inflicted wounds and missteps" at the committee under Steele's leadership.

Conspicuous spending, even during a deep recession, seemed to the norm at the RNC under Steele. Committee financial filings showed charges of $17,000 for private jet travel, $13,000 for limos, and $9,000 for a jaunt out to the Beverly Hills Hotel. It's not surprising, then, that new RNC chairman Priebus took over a committee with $23 million in debt and only $1 million in cash on hand at the end of 2010. Priebus pledged during his campaign for RNC chair to bring some belt-tightening and restraint to the free-wheeling committee. As the Tribune reports,

Last week, Priebus announced he has chosen Georgia businessman and GOP activist Alec Poitevint to take over the convention in Tampa and "clean up" the planning work.

"Obviously there were some concerns with what had been going on in Tampa," Priebus said at a press conference in Tampa. "Our committee had had enough with some of the questionable expenditures."

"We've been involved and our lawyers have been involved with the preliminary work that's gone on," he added.

Qaddafi's Summer Reading List

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 10:00 AM EST

When Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is not palling around with a "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse, he likes to read. Not breezy novels but policy volumes—written by Americans. Well, at least summaries of such books.

A classified 2008 cable sent by the US embassy in Tripoli to the State Department (and released by WikiLeaks) reveals how the embassy came to uncover what it dubbed "Colonel al-Qaddafi's Summer Reading List."

In October 2008, an embassy officer met at the foreign affairs ministry with a senior official named Ahmed Fituri, and Fituri pointed out a stack of English-language books on his desk. He explained that he had been ordered by Qaddafi to read "significant" English-language book on American politics, policy, history, and current affairs, and then produce four- to seven-page summaries in Arabic for the Libyan leader. Fituri, who had received a PhD from the University of Michigan, said that he had been handling this task for several years—translating and summarizing six to eight books a year—though Qaddafi's demand for these reports had diminished in the previous year.

Fituri told the US embassy officer that he was currently summarizing Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World. And next up was Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat 3.0. He noted he had recently translated for Qaddafi an article Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had written for Foreign Affairs. And in the past year, he had summarized for Qaddafi Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, and George Soros' The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror.

Fituri noted that Qaddafi truly enjoyed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom—that is, the summary of it. But more so than Obama's book?

Fituri also said that Qadaffi had asked him six months earlier to undertake a similar program for his son, Muatassim Qaddafi, who was the national security adviser. So far, Fituri had merely sent the son copies of the summaries he had prepared for the Libyan leader. But Fituri told the US embassy officer that the head of the External Security Organization, Musa Kusa, had complained to him that Muatassim was "not an avid reader" and had to be prodded to peruse even summaries. Fituri added that many senior government officials did not consider Muatassim to be as intellectually curious as his father or his old brother, who was then pursuing a PhD at the London School of Economics.

So was this useful intelligence for the United States? The cable notes that the downturn in Qaddafi's reading coincided with a period in which he had reportedly suffered a series of minor strokes. Perhaps here was confirmation of Qaddafi's diminished health. Moreover, Fituri's description of Muatassim reinforced the embassy's view of him: "Fituri's characterization of Muatassim's less than enthusiastic embrace of the reading program is no surprise, given what we've heard from other contacts, who describe him as a traditional strongman who has focused on consolidating his power-base and pursuing his business interests and social life."

There was no word on what the Ukrainian nurse liked to read.

A Senate Showdown Over GOP's New Abortion Agenda?

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 6:55 AM EST

Late last month, Mother Jones reported that language in a controversial GOP-backed bill would have limited the definition of rape for the purposes of abortion law. After a New York Times editorial, multiple follow-up articles, a Twitter and blogging activism campaign, and a Daily Show mention, the bill's backers caved, and promised to pull the language from the bill. But the proposed law—the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," sponsored by New Jersey GOPer Chris Smith—is still chock full of other provisions that supporters of abortion rights loathe. And abortion rights advocates fear that those measures, unlike the apparently defunct rape language, stand a chance of actually passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.

So far, the part of the bill that has received the most attention is the section highlighted in the Mother Jones article last week. But for abortion rights advocates, the problem is that the rape provision isn't the only problem. At the law's heart is a permanent, government-wide extension of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortions via Medicaid. Currently, pro- and anti-abortion rights forces have to battle every year over which areas of the federal budget are subject to Hyde-like restrictions. This would end that fight, for good—and represent a significant win for opponents of abortion rights.

Another part of the law is a sweeping attack on tax benefits and deductions that affect abortion. It would, for example, forbid self-employed people from deducting abortion costs as medical expenses and would outlaw the use of funds from tax-exempt Health Savings Accounts to pay for abortions. In effect, this would raise the taxes of nearly anyone who had an abortion or purchased insurance that covered abortion. "Going after the tax subsidies that affect abortion" would represent a "substantial victory for the pro-life movement in America," Timothy Jost, an opponent of abortion rights and an expert on health law at Washington and Lee University, told Mother Jones last year.

Ultimately, opponents of abortion rights may face a choice. The current bill is a great "message" bill—ideologically rigid and ambitious. That makes sense—it was written when Republicans were out of power, when it had absolutely no chance of passing in a Nancy-Pelosi-led House. Anti-abortion rights groups like the Susan B. Anthony List have been furiously raising money off of it. Some of that money will almost certainly be spent to target Democrats—including some who oppose abortion rights—next cycle. 

If the anti-abortion forces' main goal is to raise funds and beat Democrats, they'll do just fine continuing what they're doing. But if they want to actually pass legislation, they could force Senate Democrats to make some tough choices—and take some tough votes—by stripping the tax provisions from the bill. If they press forward with a version of the bill that includes just the government-wide, permanent extension of the Hyde amendment, they might actually get something done. Would Senate Democrats really be able to muster the votes to filibuster a bill that codified Hyde?

Abortion rights supporters fear that the current version of the Smith bill could easily pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives—even if the the rape language was reinstated. Abortion rights opponents basically have one way to get the bill past that point: attaching it to "must-pass" legislation. This could include the planned repeal of one of health care reform's tax provisions (which has bipartisan support), a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, or a "continuing resolution" extending the funding of the government. Abortion rights supporters think that's just what their opponents will try to do.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 9, 2011

Wed Feb. 9, 2011 5:30 AM EST

Paratroopers help their battle buddy climb from an artillery piece after hooking it up to a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during a field exercise between the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team and its Combat Aviation Brigade Feb. 2, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Paratroopers will retreat to the woodline before the helicopter lifts the howitzer into the air. U.S. Army photo by Michael J. MacLeod