Mojo - February 2011

Senate Dems: We Can Beat GOP Family Planning Cuts

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 5:45 PM EST

Last week, House Republicans declared war on Planned Parenthood. Now the organization and its Democratic allies in the Senate are striking back.

Last Wednesday, we broke the news that House Republicans—led by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a fierce opponent of abortion rights—had cut family planning funding in their proposed government-funding bill from $327 million to zero. (Much of that funding goes to Planned Parenthood and similar reproductive health care providers.) But at a Thursday press conference, Senate Democrats and Planned Parenthood officials said that they're confident that they have enough votes in the Senate to restore the funding, regardless of the outcome in the House. (UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, the House voted 240-185 to approve Pence's amendment barring any funding in the government-funding bill from going to Planned Parenthood.)

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Zombies, Egypt, Neocons, and More (Video)

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 3:36 PM EST

For your viewing pleasure, here's a Bloggingheads diavlog between Daniel Drezner, professor of international relations at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies, and an effete pasty round-faced dude who sounds like me. BHTV went whole-hog on Thriller music, after-effects, and hidden zombies. They're also offering a chance to win a copy of Drezner's book; check out the brain-sucking details below. Otherwise, enjoy the back-and-forth on who's the real walking undead: neocons, supply-siders, or Egypt protesters. Bonus: One (1) John Bolton mustache joke is hidden within!

ZOMBIE HUNT!

Win a copy of Theories of International Politics and Zombies! Hidden in this diavlog are five different images from well-known zombie features (four movies, one TV show). The first reader of this blog to correctly identify when those zombie scenes appear in the diavlog and from what movie or TV show they were taken, gets a copy of Dan Drezner's new book. For a chance to win: Send an email to bloggingheadszombiehunt@gmail.com. In the body of your email, include a link to this blog post, the five different times (minute and second) in the diavlog when the zombie images appear, and the movie/show from where the images were taken. Contest ends at midnight on March 1. Happy hunting!

Santorum Acknowledges Anal Sex Problem

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 2:44 PM EST

Well, it's about time. Back in September, I wrote a story about former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who was jetting around to Iowa and New Hampshire laying the obvious groundwork for a presidential run in 2012. But as I noted back then, getting voters to take him seriously is going to be a little challenging given that if you Google his name, one of the first search results is this site, created by Seattle Stranger editorial director and syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage. In revenge for some nasty homophobic comments Santorum made back in 2003, Savage successfully used the web to turn Santorum's name into a sexual neologism that means "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." The site is often credited with contributing to Santorum's defeat in his 2006 re-election bid.

Years later, Santorum's Google problem is still significant. I tried to ask him about it last year for my story, but he and his consultants refused to return my calls. But this week, Roll Call managed to put the question to Santorum and he actually answered! Here's what he said:

It's one guy. You know who it is. The Internet allows for this type of vulgarity to circulate. It’s unfortunate that we have someone who obviously has some issues. But he has an opportunity to speak.

Santorum advisers told Roll Call that burying Savage's site on Google was virtually impossible. The reporter suggested that Santorum might consider getting his supporters to fight back with blog posts and Internet traffic directed at his own sites. But his advisers wrote this effort off as too expensive. Of course, what they didn't say is that the homophobes Santorum panders to—he's a frequent fundraiser for the anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage—aren't nearly as many or as motivated as the pissed off gay people and their friends, relatives, and sympathizers who were outraged by the comments he made equating homosexuality with bestiality. The fact that Santorum can't generate enough web traffic to bury the Savage's seven-year-old site in the Google rankings suggests that winning the bigot vote won't be enough to put him in the White House. But of course, we knew that. After all, it wasn't even enough to keep him in the Senate.

Meanwhile, note to the Santorum campaign: Roll Call didn't mention this, but here is one really easy way the future candidate can solve his Google problem. Last year Savage told me that if Santorum would donate $5 million to the gay marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, he'd take down his site all together. Considering the alternatives, Santorum might consider that something of a bargain.

Wisconsin: Protest Like An Egyptian?

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 12:08 PM EST

Is this the Middle East? Nope, it's the Midwest.

For the second straight day, demonstrators have been pouring into the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, to protest Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-union plan to address the state's $137 million budget shortfall, prompting comparisons (and denounciations of these comparisons) to the uprising in Egypt. Walker's proposal would limit the collective bargaining power of many state and local employees, and roughly doubles their health care premiums. It would also give public union members the right not to pay their dues, deflating the groups' coffers. Experts expect that Walker's provisions will be voted into law by the end of the week by the state assembly and senate—both of which are controlled by Republicans.

In response, Madison public school teachers have called in sick for a second straight day. And teachers in over a dozen other school districts have followed suit. Meanwhile, union leaders are picketing the capitol, planning vigils and setting up phone banks to try to block Walker's effort. Other state legislatures, meanwhile, could see Walker's assault on public employees and their unions as a blueprint for how to fix their own budget catastrophes. The New York Times reports that such plans are already under consideration in places like Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee, where the GOP scored major electoral victories last November.

Walker insists that he's not deliberately targeting unions. But he's not far from targeting workers themselves: he's threatened to call in the National Guard if public employees decide to walk off their jobs. Protestors say that sounds a little…Mubaraky. They're carrying signs saying things like "Mubarak-check. Walker—?" and "Hosni Walker, Elected Dictator." And local liberal pundits are feeding the flames of anti-MubWalkerism. Liberal columnist Pat Schneider wrote that "[t]he success of a grass-roots uprising in Egypt in toppling strongman Hosni Mubarak was a source of inspiration for many of those who brainstormed Tuesday in Madison about resistance to attacks on US workers in several states." Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) told CNN "it's like Cairo's moved to Madison these days…[h]e's basically saying I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counterparts are, and he's getting riots."

But Harold Meyerson sees some instructive parallels:

Our unions have already been decimated in the private sector; the results are plain. Corporate profits are soaring, while domestic investment, wages, and benefits (particularly at nonunion companies) are flat-lining at best. With nobody to bargain for workers, America increasingly is an economically stagnant, plutocratic utopia. Is everybody happy?

American conservatives often profess admiration for foreign workers' bravery in protesting and undermining authoritarian regimes. Letting workers exercise their rights at home, however, threatens to undermine some of our own regimes (the Republican ones particularly) and shouldn't be permitted. Now that Wisconsin's governor has given the Guard its marching orders, we can discern a new pattern of global repressive solidarity emerging— from the chastened pharaoh of the Middle East to the cheese-head pharaoh of the Middle West.

Walker is no Mubarak, and the political and civil conditions that precipitated the events in Egypt obviously have nothing to do with those in Wisconsin. (Still, this website is totally hilarious.) But the double standard for American workers is maddening. And, in light of the fact that other states intend to follow Walker's example, we may soon have a real uprising on our hands.

South Dakota Shelves "Justifiable Homicide" Measure

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 11:30 AM EST

As we noted in an update Wednesday afternoon, South Dakota legislators have officially shelved the measure that would have allowed protection of a fetus to qualify as "justifiable homicide." After Mother Jones revealed that the bill created the potential for anti-abortion activists to use this as a defense for killing abortion doctors, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, faced a good deal of backlash in the state and across the country.

From the Times:

The House speaker, Val Rausch, said that the legislation had been shelved, pending a decision on whether to allow a vote, amend the language or drop it entirely. A spokesman for Gov. Dennis Daugaard said, "Clearly the bill as it’s currently written is a very bad idea."

When we first reported on the bill, Jensen maintained that its intent was only to clarify the code and balked at the interpretation that it could create a legal defense for killing abortion providers. Now there at least seems to be a recognition that the measure, passed as it was written, would have had serious consequences. And the Times even managed to find at least one anti-abortion activist who was willing to admit that the bill as it was written would have been used against abortion providers:

Dave Leach, an Iowa anti-abortion activist, praised the bill, saying it could end abortions in South Dakota by scaring away doctors or by establishing grounds for someone to kill those who stay.
"There may be something I'm overlooking, but from all appearances, this bill would certainly justify an individual taking the life of an abortionist in order to save human lives," he said.

It will be interesting to see if the bill comes back in an amended form, or whether it's gone for good at this point. Meanwhile, though, the bill that would force women to visit Crisis Pregnancy Centers—which are generally run by anti-abortion rights groups—before they can obtain an abortion is still on the table in South Dakota and likely to pass.

Tea Party Nation: Mother Jones Is Right!

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 11:30 AM EST

It's rare that a tea party group ever has good things to say about Mother Jones, which most grassroots conservatives seem to view as the leading voice of pot-smoking godless communists. But Wednesday, the founder of the Nashville-based Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, sent out an email responding to a 3-part Mother Jones investigation of a rival tea party group, Tea Party Patriots, noting that we had uncovered some "unpleasant details" about TPP's financial management. While many other conservative outfits and TPP loyalists have dismissed the allegations raised in the story as the work of the liberal media, Phillips takes them seriously, saying, "Just because they are liberal does not mean they are not right." That's about as close to a compliment as we're ever likely to get from him.

The reason for the semi-kind words is that Phillips has also heard some of the "rumblings of dissatisfaction" from local tea party activists about problems with TPP management and has found them to be legitimate. He acknowledges that there is no love lost between the two groups, writing, "We have never appreciated their arrogance, their claim they are the 'official home of the Tea Party movement', nor the way they have treated people." Phillips says that his group decided initially not to create its own local chapters for fear of causing more dissension in the movement by competing with TPP, suspecting that the tea party movement could only handle so many local grassroots groups. Instead, Tea Party Nation has stuck to holding (unsuccessful) conventions and managing a website. Meanwhile, Phillips writes, "we have watched Tea Party Patriots move from being a grass roots organization to being a slick, inside the beltway organization, indistinguishable from groups like Freedomworks."

Phillips has been complaining for a while now that the tea party movement was going mainstream and turning into "Big Tea." But now that it looks like TPP could be in trouble, Phillips has decided to jump into the fray and start some competing local tea party organizations to give local activists an alternative to TPP. The first one has already gotten off the ground at Brandeis University. And in these new groups, Phillips notes, Tea Party Nation's national leaders will never ask for them to turn over their email lists—a direct jab at TPP's unpopular practice of trying to vacuum up the contact lists of its local affiliates for its own fundraising purposes. Of course, he doesn't mention that it's virtually impossible to read anything on the Tea Party Nation website without logging in with an email address. But still, Phillips isn't pulling any punches. Let the tea party civil war begin!

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 17, 2011

Thu Feb. 17, 2011 6:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Maj. Rosemary Reed of the Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team helps U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paula Reill of the 3-19th Indiana Agricultural Developement Team with her head scarf before a women's shura held at Jaji Maidan in Khowst Province, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 10. The shura was the first women's shura held with coalition forces. They discussed concerns and issues the women of Jaji Maiden faced in their daily lives. Photo via US Army

Is Congress Wasting Money on Pot, Condom, and Yoga Studies?

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 12:53 PM EST

In an attempt to slam Democrats for frivolous spending, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has proposed a ban on government-funded studies that may sound extraneous, even laughable to some—at least at surface value. Politico reports that that Issa proposed amendments that that would ban "studies of how well men use condoms, the effects of integral yoga in treating hot flashes for menopausal women, whether video games improve old folks’ mental health, the use of marijuana in conjunction with malt liquor and with opiates, and the impacts of a possible soda tax."

It isn't the first time that Republicans have tried to single out silly-sounding research studies to criticize government spending. Shortly before the 2008 elections, Sarah Palin ridiculed Congress for spending money on "fruit fly research," and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal famously denounced Obama in 2009 for spending stimulus money on volcano monitoring. But while such jabs might produce easy laughs, in both instances there were substantive reasons for funding such research projects that Republicans blithely ignored. Fruit fly research, for instance, has lead to major advances in understanding autism, and volcano monitoring has been a critical part of preventing catastrophic natural disasters. (In fact, just four months after Jindal made his remarks, a massive eruption in Iceland wreaked havoc throughout Europe.)

It's hard to tell from the bare-bones Politico story whether the studies that Issa is attacking are similarly substantive. But it's certainly worth digging deeper to ask what the greater value of such government-funded research might be, rather than dismissing them out of hand as patently ridiculous. The effective use of condoms, for example, has been integral to preventing STDs and supporting public health. And Issa should be pressed to answer such questions before simply being rewarded with sympathetic laughs and attention-grabbing headlines.

Will Any Landlord Rent to This Abortion Provider?

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Mila Means, the Wichita doctor who wants to fill the void left by the 2009 murder of abortion doctor George Tiller, has been forced to search for a new place to work. Last month, Means' landlord requested and received a restraining order forbidding the doctor from providing abortion services in the building where her office is currently located. On Friday, Means told the state judge handling the case that she is hoping to secure a new location for her practice, and reached an agreement with her landlord not to provide the service at the current location.

Means has actually been looking for a new office for several months, her office manager, Andrea Hamel, tells Mother Jones. The doctor and her staff had long worried about security and the possibility that their current landlord might prove unhospitable. The threat of controversy has kept new landlords from accepting them—and the publicity brought by the restraining order hasn't helped matters, Hamel says. "We have looked at multiple buildings, but once people find out what we're going to be doing in the future, they don't want to be involved in it," said Hamel.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 16, 2011

Wed Feb. 16, 2011 6:30 AM EST

A U.S. Special Forces Soldier with Special Operations Task Force – South conducts a pre-operation brief Feb 8, 2011, with Afghan Commandos with 2nd Company, 3rd Commando Kandak, before embarking on a clearance operation in Shah Wali Kot District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The commandos detained and turned over 20 suspected insurgents to the District Chief of Police, Bacha Khan, during the operation. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Crisp)(Released).