Mojo - February 2011

Can Abortion Get a Fair Hearing in Wichita?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 6:00 AM EST

The Kansas judge who last week barred a doctor from providing abortion services in her Wichita office has, in the past, supported anti-abortion causes, according to state election records. His contribution to a political operation run by abortion foes raises questions about whether his personal views on abortion pose a conflict of interest in the case.

Last Monday, Judge Jeffrey Goering granted a temporary restraining order barring Dr. Mila Means from offering abortions in her Wichita office, which had been requested by the buliding's owner, Foliage Development Inc. In October 2009, Goering made a $100 donation to the Kansans for Life Political Action Committee. The PAC is connected to Kansans for Life, one of the groups leading the campaign to keep Means from providing abortions in Wichita.

Last week, the group sent a letter to supporters warning that a "grave evil threatens our community" and accusing Means of attempting to set up "a killing center." Rallying its supporters against Means, the group even held a prayer service on Friday across the street from where abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered in May 2009.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 11, 2011

Fri Feb. 11, 2011 5:30 AM EST

An Iraqi soldier's goggles catch the reflection of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Murphy, left, as he instructs Iraqi soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 11th Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division, on individual movement techniques at the Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center, Feb 2. Murphy and fellow Soldiers of 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, run Iraqi battalions through 25-day training cycles at the GWTC in order to teach them collective unit-level warfighting drills in order to bolster IA independence on national defense operations. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Shawn Miller

US Military Aid Paid for Mubarak's Yacht Repairs

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 7:46 PM EST

As Hosni Mubarak clings to CEDES! power in Cairo and the US figures out what to do with its Middle East ally, critics all over the world are looking askance at America's estimated $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. ProPublica blogger and MJ alum Marian Wang recently laid out how US aid gets distributed—and who benefits from it the most—in the region. But besides some fancy tanks and attack jets, what's it buy, exactly? Well, among other things, it purchased some Freedom. That's the name of the Egyptian presidential yacht—a storied steamer that Hosni Mubarak reportedly takes out just a few times a year, and that's so big it dwarfs the gauche ocean cruisers of every US billionaire, from Larry Ellison and Paul Allen to Steve Forbes and the Gettys. And according to US military investigators, money from Congress keeps Mubarak's Freedom ship chugging along.

US House of Frat

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 7:19 PM EST

Citizens, stay vigilant! Troublemaking lawmakers are bro-ing out on Capitol Hill, turning their hallowed congressional offices into a frat house.

Or so alleges the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has filed a complaint (PDF) listing 33 House members (all male) who may be violating tax laws by crashing in their offices at night. (After how many rounds of beer pong, the group doesn't say.) "Some critics of the practice have charged that it makes the House feel like a macho boys' club and promotes anti-Washington sentiment," CREW reports.

The complaint accuses the non-inclusive list of 26 Republicans and seven Democrats of misusing official resources, or at least failing to alert the IRS about their shenanigans:

If parking is a taxable fringe benefit, then surely, so is lodging. Therefore, at the very least members of Congress who sleep in House office buildings should have the fair market value of their housing—anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 a month—attributed to them as imputed taxable income.

What's more, these entitled frat brothers have started whining about how noisy construction is keeping them from getting a good night's rest!

But that's not all. The complaint also contends that the rowdy reps have run afoul of House Rule 23, which mandates that members act "at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House." By sleeping in their offices, the lawmakers are burdening the housekeeping staff—presumably by leaving empty beer cans and boxes of half-eaten pizza on the floor? And, they're roaming the halls "in sweat clothes or robes in search of a shower."

There's no word yet on when the House members will tap their next keg, nor how compatible bro code is with House ethics rules. But if this turns into anything resembling the sleaze on C Street we're bound to see more Chris Lee-style sextapades before long.

Newt Gingrich's Muslim Brotherhood Fearmongering

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 5:26 PM EST

Here at CPAC, the annual three-day gathering of conservatives of all stripes, there's been little buzz about the latest developments in Egypt, with president Hosni Mubarak refusing to relinquish his position as the country's autocratic leader. But the conflict hasn't gone completely unmentioned here, with a rare few conservative luminaries briefly discussing the massive unrest in Egypt, the protests and turmoil and potential change in power there.

Former House speaker and 2012 presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was one of them. At an afternoon CPAC event, Gingrich went out of his way to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic faction in Egypt that has maintained something of a distance from the protests roiling Cairo and other cities. Gingrich frequently points to "Islamofascism" as the biggest threat to the American way of life today, which he did today, quipping that Islamic terrorists "want to kill us because they want to kill us."

Gingrich stirred up all sorts of fear about the Muslim Brotherhood, painting them as religiously-driven killers whose "way is jihad." Here are Gingrich's remarks in full about the Brotherhood:

This is an organization which has as its original founding slogan that our constitution is the Koran, our way is jihad, and our method is dying for Allah. Now, I don't know which part of that is complicated. But it strikes me that any normal, reasonable, intelligent person would read that and go, 'you know, I wonder if there's something religious here.'"

Middle East experts depict the Brotherhood in far less severe terms. For instance, Islamic scholar Christoper Anzalone recently wrote, "Although it is far from being a force for social or political liberalism, certainly of the kind that is desired by progressives in the U.S. and Europe, the Brotherhood is also not the all-powerful Islamist bogeyman and twin sister of al-Qaeda that it is often portrayed as." That doesn't nearly sound as bad as Gingrich would have it.

Death Row Inmates Sue the FDA Over Execution Drugs

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 12:17 PM EST

“In keeping with established practice, FDA does not review or approve products for the purpose of lethal injection. FDA has not reviewed the products in this shipment to determine their identity, safety, effectiveness, purity, or any other characteristics.”

This is the statement now imprinted on shipments of lethal injection drugs that are brought into the country from foreign sources. Now, a group of six death row inmates is suing the Food and Drug Administration, claiming that the agency’s decision to allow one execution drug across U.S. borders without FDA approval is ”manifestly contrary to law and amount[s] to an abdication of the obligations imposed” by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

The prisoner’s lawsuit stand to throw a serious monkey wrench into the machinery of death. Sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, is one component of the three-drug death cocktail used by most death penalty states–and it is now seriously hard to come by in the United States. This fact has already delayed executions or changed execution protocols in several states.

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Bachmann: The GOP's Great Uniter?

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 11:13 AM EST

Kicking off Republicanpalooza 2011—otherwise known as CPAC—Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for conservative unity in the lead-up to the 2012 elections. In recent weeks, internal fights have revealed major fault lines in the national party: social conservatives, including Mike Huckabee and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-La.) have boycotted CPAC over the inclusion of gay conservative group GOProud, and on Capitol Hill, tea party freshmen have revolted against Speaker John Boehner on spending cuts and the extension of the Patriot Act.

A potential 2012 contender for president, Bachmann presented herself as a unifying figure for conservatives in disarray, despite her own reputation as a far-right flamethrower. Almost seeming to evoke Christine O'Donnell's infamous campaign slogan—"I am you"—Bachmann told the crowd:

You're also a very broad-based coalition. Some of you who are gathered here today, all of your passion is about fiscal conservatism, and I am one of you. And for some of you are here, your passion is about defending the moral values that grounded this country, and I am one of you. And some of you are all about national security and making sure we continue our legacy of peace through strength—I am one of you.

That being said, Bachmann devoted the bulk of her speech to fiscal concerns, railing against Obama's "socialism" and "evil bureaucrats" and warning the college students in the crowd that the government could end up taking away "75 percent" of their income in taxes. She paid only the briefest lip service to social issues and national security, focusing instead on the political goalposts of retaking the White House and gaining control of the Senate. In line with the new tea party slant of the GOP, she roused the crowd by chanting the New Hampshire state slogan: "Live Free or Die! Live Free or Die!"

But the recent revolts on the right have shown that Republicans could struggle to hold together their coalition in the run-up to 2012, now that they have the reins to govern in the House. Though Bachmann herself had ample praise for Boehner in her speech, she also railed against raising the debt ceiling—another looming civil war that could pit the tea party against the leadership in the GOP. Bachmann's love for incendiary rhetoric may indeed draw her support from diverse corners of the Republican base, but she's yet to cut the same profile with social conservatives and security hawks as the likes of Sarah Palin. Her call for unity may have presidential undertones, but it may not have real legs.

Handicapping the 2012 Contenders at CPAC

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 10:50 AM EST

It's that time of the year again, folks. For the next three days, 11,000 conservative politicians, speakers, activists, and organizers will descend on Washington for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, one of the most popular political events on the right. CPAC, as it's known, is also considered the unofficial kick-off to the 2012 presidential race, a chance for Republicans eyeing a bid for the White House to make their case before hundreds of supporters.

This year's schedule includes 11 potential GOP presidential candidates: 2008 candidate Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Texas governor Rick Perry, former US Senator Rick Santorum, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), and long-shot businessman Herman Cain. Because each presidential hopefuly arrives here at CPAC under different circumstances, here's a quick handicapping guide to who stands to gain and lose the most from their CPAC appearance.

Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor has often been a favorite of the CPAC crowd; in 2007 and 2008, Romney won the conference's straw poll of prospective presidential candidates. That support, however, didn't help Romney claim the GOP's presidential nomination in 2008, which he lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

This year, the conservative and tea party base is energized and out in force, and another straw poll win could mean more for Romney than in years past. That said, Romney, who passed a more progressive health care reform bill in Massachusetts, doesn't have quite the conservative credibility as Rep. Bachmann, so it'll be interesting to see the reception among CPAC attendees to Romney's speech on Friday morning.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.): The starlet of the tea party was the keynote speaker at CPAC, delivering a rousing speech this morning to a mostly-filled ballroom. Bachmann railed against the usual foes like Obama's socialist agenda, the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed greenhouse gas regulations, and last year's health care reform bill. A favorite at events like this, Bachmann's earned herself plenty of hoots and hearty applause from the audience, showing she's got the some of the best conservative backing among the GOP's 2012 presidential hopefuls. Bachmann also said she's hosting a party on Thursday evening for all CPAC attendees; perhaps she'll give us more of a hint about her future aspirations then.

Newt Gingrich: The controversial former House speaker is always popular here at CPAC, and this year is no different. This time around, though, Gingrich is widely considered to be mulling a presidential run. The coffers of his political operation, American Solutions for Winning the Future, are flush with cash. Gingrich has no problem winning over conservative crowds, but watch for any new hints from Gingrich that he'll make a run for the 2012 GOP nomination.

Tim Pawlenty: Part book tour, part early campaigning, Pawlenty has spent a lot of time in recent months talking to voters and meeting power brokers in crucial primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. CPAC, though, is a key litmus test for Pawlenty. The former Minnesota's governor enjoys support among moderate Republicans, but like Romney, his popularity among the red meat conservatives pales in comparison to Sarah Palin's or Michele Bachmann's.

Last year at CPAC, Pawlenty sought to burnish his hard-right cred by separating himself from the likes of Romney, ripping "elites" who wine and dine "at parties in San Francisco" and telling the president "no more apology tours, and no more giving Miranda rights to terrorists in our country." Look for Pawlenty to again try to win over the conservative crowd. Also, a win in the CPAC presidential straw poll could give TPaw, as he's known, a much-needed bump as the campaign gets into full gear.

Rick Perry: Is he in? Is he out? No one's quite sure whether Perry plans to run in 2012 or not. A recent Politico article suggested that Perry is indeed eyeing a run, after the Texas governor prioritized legislative items concerning border security and abortion—hot-button issues he can point to on the campaign trail as evidence of his record in Austin.

CPAC's friendly crowd would be just the place to drop a hint or two about his presidential intentions. His Friday, 4 p.m. speaking slot is a popular one, and there's sure to be a huge crowd when he takes the stage. Will we see some fireworks from Perry?

Rick Santorum: The controversial, ex-Pennsylvania senator has a lot to prove in his long-shot bid for the Republican nomination. After all, he lost his Senate seat in a landslide in the 2006 election. His far-right, polarizing position on social issues will be a hit among the CPAC crowd, but he's sure to be overshadowed by the likes of Bachmann, who speaks before Santorum today, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who addresses CPAC an hour or so afterward.

Mitch Daniels: The Indiana governor's inclusion on the CPAC roster stirred some controversy after Daniels called for a "truce" on divisive social issues such as abortion. One group, the American Principles Project, planned to boycott CPAC for putting Daniels on the speaking roster, calling it "an affront to the millions of conservatives who believe that social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage are non-negotiable," according to APP's executive director Andy Blom. As the Washington Post's Chris Cilizza put it this morning, "Daniels will need to be at his best to win over what almost certainly will be a skeptical crowd."

Daniels has been coy about his presidential prospects, previously saying he doesn't want to subject his family to the pressure and media barrage of the presidential campaign. He is, however, featured on the CPAC straw poll ballot. How well he fares on the poll will be indicative of Daniels' ability to woo conservatives.

Haley Barbour: The Mississippi governor, who's widely seen as considering a presidential run, has stumbled early on. In an interview with the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, Barbour praised the pro-segregation Citizens Council, which he claimed successfully integrated the public schools in Yazoo City. The NAACP accused Barbour of revising Southern history, calling it "offensive that he would try and create a new historical reality that undermines the physical, mental, and economic hardship that many African-Americans had to suffer as a result of the policies and practices of the White Citizens Council."

Barbour's speaking slot—Saturday morning at 9:30 am—is a mediocre one. It's unclear how much Barbour, a former RNC chair and lobbyist, has to gain here at CPAC. He's already quite popular within the party, and a win in the straw poll wouldn't do all that much to further his presidential aspirations.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.): A favorite among CPAC's attendees, the libertarian Paul won the conference's 2010 straw poll. As CBS News reported, Paul, who ran unsuccessfully in 2008, will address a conservative group in the key state of Iowa next month, suggesting he's considering another run for the White House. Paul says he's 50-50 on launching another presidential run in 2012. Another strong showing in the CPAC straw poll this year, though hardly a game changer, could tilt those odds more toward challenging for the GOP nomination once again.

John Thune: John who? The telegenic South Dakota senator's name is often featured on lists of potential GOP presidential candidates. But his name recognition is minimal, and he hardly registers in the polls.

If he does have presidential dreams, Thune's CPAC speech is a big moment. A win in the straw poll, or even a hearty reception from the conference's vocal attendees, could propel Thune into the limelight just as the campaign gets underway.

Herman Cain: Nothing the former Godfather Pizza CEO can say or do will help his extremely unlikely presidential bid.

The Stinginess of the Rich

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 7:31 AM EST

This week, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that large donations to charitable organizations plummeted in 2010 to the lowest level seen since it began tracking them a decade ago. The Chronicle's Philanthropy 50, the 50 most generous donors in America, gave a combined total of just $3.3 billion, a mere 20 percent of what they gave in 2008. It's tempting to cut the mega rich some slack for their stingy ways, given that the recession took a significant bite out of their net worth and incomes. Yet as a group they've substantially recovered from those losses. In fact, there has historically been a somewhat counter-intuitive relationship between large charitable contributions and the financial health of America's fat cats:

Sources: Philanthropy 50, Forbes 400, income data via PolitifactSources: Philanthropy 50, Forbes 400, income data via Politifact

Notice that only some portions of this graph match up with conventional wisdom: Between 2001 and 2004, 2005 and 2007, and 2008 and 2009, large charitable donations rose or fell in concert with the incomes and net worth of the richest Americans. During the other periods in the past decade, however, big donations moved in the opposite direction from the financial well-being of the über wealthy. Rich people lost their shirts during the tech crash of 2001 yet gave 66 percent more in big charitable donations than they had in 2000. The same thing happened in the early part of the recession that officially began in late 2007. In a more recent trend towards selfishness, however, the rich cashed in on 2010's bull market while making even fewer big bequests than they did during the economic seesaw of 2009.

So what gives? Maybe the wealthy can't bear to part with their money at a time when the stock market is going gangbusters; they want to grow every last penny. The opposite could be true when the market's falling. But a more likely explanation, in my view, is that there's simply a tenuous relationship between extreme wealth and charity. Indeed, the Chronicle of Philanthropy points out that only 17 of the 50 people on the Philanthropy 50 are wealthy enough to show up on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. A lot of rich people are simply greedy. As the uneven economic recovery further enriches the wealthy and impoverishes the middle class, it seems that most of America's plutocrats aren't feeling the pangs of conscience.

*A few notes on methods: I omitted a $50 billion donation from Warren Buffett in 2006 because it's totally out of scale with all other donations. I also projected the green line in 2009 and 2010 based on the DJIA and Forbes 400 since data for those years is not yet available. 

Every Day's Take Your Gun To Work Day in Indiana

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 6:00 AM EST

Just because your assistant keeps an AK47 in her car, doesn't mean you can fire her—at least, that's what Indiana legislators are gunning for. With Tuesday's 38 to 10 vote, Indiana's senate passed a law that would prevent employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on the gun collections they bring to work. If passed in the State House as well, "Parking Lot 2.0" will act as an amendment to a 2010 bill which gave employees the right to bring a gun to work as long as it's locked up in the parking lot.

The National Rifle Association—which has been encouraging members to press for similar gun deregulation laws in thirteen other states—is singing the praises of the bill. And it's no wonder: Parking Lot 2.0 was co-authored by state senator Johnny Nugent who just happens to be on the NRA Board of Directors. (I called Nugent several times, but he said he didn't have time to talk.)