Mojo - March 2011

Texas Considers Bill to Ban Almost All Abortions

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 5:04 PM EST

 From the Texas Independent:

House Bill 2988 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would prohibit abortions from being performed unless a physician determines there is a substantial risk to the woman's life or a major body function. Parker's bill comes on the heels of a bill by state Rep. George Lavender (R-Texarkana) banning abortions except in cases of medical necessity, rape or incest.

Among other things, Parker's bill makes no exception for cases of rape or incest, an exception that's long been considered untouchable even by many pro-lifers. It also explicitly prohibits physicians from considering possible impairments to mental health. A spokesperson for Rep. Parker told Mother Jones that the legislator "does intend to include [exemptions for rape and incest] if it moves through the process." But they're not included in the version that was filed on Thursday because Parker didn't actually write the bill; it was drafted at the behest of the Grass Roots Institute of Texas, an organization founded by conservative activist Bill Burch.

In February, Burch floated a similar bill in the Lone Star State that would establish that life "begins at the moment that the initial splitting of a human cell occurs during fertilization," explaining at the time that his bill "will eliminate abortion in the United States" by giving the Supreme Court a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Parker's effort is part of a nationwide effort by conservative lawmakers to scale back abortion rights. Last month, we reported on the House GOP's effort to redefine rape as part of its "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions." In South Dakota and Nebraska, legislators introduced legislation that could have provided legal justification for the murder of abortion providers. In Texas, a controversial bill requiring women to see a sonogram before having an abortion—with no exceptions for rape or incest—passed the house on Monday.

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Did the Monitor Group Flout Lobbying Disclosure Rules?

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 4:38 PM EST

Last week, we broke the story on the ties between the Qaddafi regime and a small cadre of Western intellectuals. The group included foreign policy luminaries like Harvard's Joseph Nye, Sir Anthony Giddens, and Demos' Benjamin Barber, who visited Libya between 2006 and 2007 on a series of trips funded and organized by the Monitor Group, a Boston-based consulting firm founded by a group of Harvard professors. Monitor had been contracted by the Libyan government for a project to "Enhance the Profile of Libya and Muammar Qadhafi," and, ostensibly, to help devise economic reforms. (Nye and Barber later wrote about their visits to Libya in the distinguished pages of the The New Republic and Washington Post, respectively, without fully disclosing that they were paid Monitor consultants.) Monitor's fee: $250,000 a month, plus an open expense account that maxed out at $2.5 million.

Smells like...lobbying. Yet Monitor failed to register with Justice Department as a "foreign agent" (a.k.a. lobbyist) for Libya. The Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) requires registration for US firms performing, among other things, "acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal"—which, according to internal Monitor memos obtained by a Libyan dissident group, is primarily what the Monitor project was about. So why didn't the company register? As NPR has reported, "after being shown the provisions of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a spokesman said Monitor Group is examining that question in more detail."

Was Monitor's failure to disclose its business arrangement with Libya an honest oversight? Or was the firm deliberately trying to mask its ties (and the hefty amount it was being paid for its image rehabilitation services) to a dictatorial regime. If the latter, it certainly wouldn't be the first.

Last month, Suzy Khimm reported on a former Bush administration official, Randa Fahmy Hudome, who had also lobbied for Libya. Fahmy Hudome, who is unapologetic about her work for the country, did disclose her agreement with the regime, and told Mother Jones that working for shady government's like Qaddafi's is only problematic when US firms attempt to skirt FARA's disclosure requirements. As Suzy reported, "Unregistered lobbyists risk working against American interests and potentially embarrassing the US government." And, of course, themselves.

Peter King, Qaddafi, and the IRA

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 3:27 PM EST

Peter King is, in one sense, uniquely qualified to hold hearings on the "radicalization" of young men to a terrorist cause: He may be the only member of the United States Congress to have undergone the process himself, at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

Some of King's previous dealings with the IRA have been reported, but the depth of his embrace is best documented by Ed Moloney, author of A Secret History of the IRA and former Northern Ireland editor of the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune, whose reportage on the IRA's operations is second to none. Moloney now writes a blog, The Broken Elbow, in which he recently recapped what he knows about King—including his links to none other than Col. Muammar Qaddafi, long known as an arms supplier to international terrorists:

The re-emergence of the old links to the IRA are embarrassing to Peter King and his response has been both utterly predictable and supremely dishonest – he has wrapped the peace process around himself as protection and justification for what he did. This is what he told the Washington Post:

"I [wanted] a peace agreement, a working agreement, where the nationalist community would feel their rights would be respected," King said in an interview at his Capitol Hill office. "I felt that the IRA, in the context of Irish history, and Sinn Fein were a legitimate force that had to be recognized and you wouldn’t have peace without them. Listen, I think I’m one of the people who brought about peace in Ireland."

The facts, sadly for him, do not support any of this. King first came to Belfast in 1980 just when the first hunger strike, the one led by Brendan Hughes, was reaching a climax, and was radicalized by what he saw and experienced. He came back for the second hunger strike, and it was then he met the family of Bobby Sands, in particular his sister Bernadette and her then partner, now husband Micky McKevitt. He would visit them on every trip he made and often stayed in their home in Louth.

GOP Budget Cuts Target Tsunami Warning Center

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 12:12 PM EST

A killer tsunami has devastated Japan and is now threatening Hawaii and the Pacific Coast of the US. But just last month, Republicans voted to gut funding for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center—a cut that would cripple the National Weather Service's ability to issue warnings about such disasters. 

In February, the union representing the National Weather Service warned that the Republican cuts could place the residents of Hawaii in mortal danger. "People could die... It could be serious," Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, told Hawaii's Star Advertiser. The House budget includes a 28 percent cut to the National Weather Service that would result in staffing cutbacks to Hawaii's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which monitors potential tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. 

The Obama administration is threatening to veto the cut, and Congressional Democrats have called the reduction a "reckless" means of forwarding a political agenda. "Those who claim that global warming is a myth find the hard data produced by such monitoring inconvenient," Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told the Star Advertiser. The cutback to the tsunami warning center also recalls Gov. Bobby Jindal's mockery of federal money for volcano monitoring back in 2009—just months before a volcano eruption in Iceland wreaked havoc on Europe. 

Similarly, Japan's tsunami may serve as a wake-up call to Congress' budget-slashing legislators. As the National Weather Service's union president Dan Sobien warned last month: "In the next hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire, lives will be lost and people will ask what went wrong. Congress' cuts and the devastation to the well-being of our nation's citizens are dangerously wrong."

What's Next for Wisconsin's Unions, Democrats, and Protesters?

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 11:20 AM EST

The deed is as good as done.

On Thursday evening, the Wisconsin Assembly, the state's lower legislative chamber, passed a rewritten version of the controversial "budget repair bill" that would strip most public-sector unions of their collective bargaining rights, in effect gutting organized labor in the state. The bill now awaits the signature of Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose original bill sparked weeks of protests in the streets of Madison and the halls of the state capitol building.

So where do labor unions, Democrats, and anti-Walker protesters go from here?

Democrats are already challenging the legality of the bill's passage in the Assembly and Senate. Democrats have asked (PDF) the Dane County district attorney to investigate whether Wednesday night's vote in the state Senate violated the state's Open Meetings Law; that law requires 24-hours' notice of "every meeting of a governmental body," and in the case of rushed meetings, two hours' notice at the very least. The state Senate's chief clerk, however, said (PDF) proper notice was given for the vote, in which 18 Senate Republicans voted in favor and one GOPer, Dale Schultz, voted against the bill.

That vote, of course, took place without the 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state on February 18 to block such a vote. They did so because the constitutionally mandated quorum for all bills relating to state finances requires at least one member of the minority—in this case, 20 votes. However, acting on legal advice, state Republicans on Wednesday rejiggered Governor Walker's "repair" bill so that it was, in their eyes, not a financial bill and thus didn't require the 20-vote quorum after all. Assembly Democrat Jon Richards, among others, is arguing that the bill was indeed a financial one, and wants a review of whether the Assembly's vote on the bill was legal if the Senate passed it without the necessary quorum.

If those legal challenges are shot down, we'll likely see the return of the 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state on February 18 to block a vote on what they believe is a financial bill. One of those senators, Chris Larson, said on Thursday he'd be back in Wisconsin "soon." The Democrats' return would mark a pretty significant defeat for pro-labor groups, who pinned their hopes of beating back Walker and his GOP allies on keeping the "Wisconsin 14" out of the state.

There could also be walk-outs, and possibly even a general strike, after Walker signs the "repair" bill. The president of Madison's firefighters union said on Wednesday he supported a general strike, and a labor umbrella group in Madison, the South Central Federation of Labor, endorsed the idea of a strike as early as Feb. 21. Striking or walking out, however, comes with a big risk: Buried in Walker's retooled bill, as I first reported, is a provision giving state officials the power to fire employees who strike or walkout, so long as the governor has declared a state of emergency. 

Then there's the April 5 election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the first election in the aftermath of the Madison protests. Organizers and politicos tell me they see the Supreme Court race, pitting Democrat JoAnne Kloppenberg against Republican David Prosser, as a test of whether the energy of the past few weeks can translate into support at the ballot box. A veteran assistant attorney general, Kloppenberg is the underdog in the race, squaring off against the conservative Prosser, a current Supreme Court justice who handily won a four-way primary in February to decide the final two candidates. In that February primary, Prosser claimed 51 percent of the vote, with Kloppenberg at 28 percent. Of course, since that vote, public opinion has shifted significantly away from Walker, so if Democrats can connect Prosser to the governor and his unpopular "repair" bill, they might unseat the conservative front-runner.

And gathering momentum by the day are campaigns to recall Wisconsin lawmakers, in particular Republicans in swing districts. The Progressive Change Campaign Coalition and Democracy for America have raised upwards of $750,000—they drummed up $200,000 on Wednesday night alone—for TV ads in support of a recall campaign targeting three GOPers: Sens. Randy Hopper, Alberta Darling, and Dan Kapanke. MoveOn.org says it has also raised $825,000 for its recall efforts in Wisconsin.

But even with fundraising hauls like those, progressive groups are fighting an uphill battle, as history is very much against them. In the Badger State's 162-year history, only two lawmakers have ever been successfully recalled.

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

Fri Mar. 11, 2011 6:30 AM EST

A U.S. Soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico March 1, 2011, as part of exercise Emerald Warrior 2011. Emerald Warrior is an annual two-week joint/combined tactical exercise sponsored by U.S. Special Operations Command designed to leverage lessons learned from operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom to provide trained and ready forces to combatant commanders. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez, U.S. Air Force/Released

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Birther Bill Author: What's a Long-Form Birth Certificate?

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 4:01 AM EST

Courtesy of State Sen. Mae BeaversCourtesy of State Sen. Mae BeaversLast month, Tennessee state Sen. Mae Beavers introduced SB 1091, a bill that would require presidential candidates to present a long-form birth certificate in order to qualify for the ballot in the Volunteer State. Beavers, a Republican, is in good company: Nearly a dozen states have now introduced similar legislation—part of national campaign mounted by the birthers, those conservatives who believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. To date they haven't had much luck; a bill proposed in Arizona looked the most promising but was scuttled in committee; on Wednesday, New Hampshire GOPers knocked down a similar proposal.

It's a far-fetched goal, and it turns out that Beavers, who recently discussed her bill on Reality Check, a radio show devoted to debunking birther legislation, still has some research to do. From the transcript:

RC: What are the specific requirements in the bill?

MB: That they have to have the long form birth certificate.

RC: What is the long form birth certificate?

MB: Now, you're asking me to get into a lot of things that I haven't really looked into yet.

The host then asked the obvious follow-up: why put a term into the bill, if you don't know what it means? Beavers responded, "Well, we are following some of the bills that have been filed in lots of other states, and you know how it is, you file your bill and, you know, you prepare before you go to committee."

File first, understand later?

Beavers went on to state more clearly, "I'm not entirely sure what long form means." She seemed genuinely surprised by the news that not all states even print long-form birth certificates anymore. "I only know about Tennessee," she explained. As for her motives for introducing the bill, Beavers didn't declare herself as an outright birther, but she noted, "I think people have raised questions about [Obama's birth] enough to make everybody wonder." Although the state of Hawaii has produced a certificate of live birth for Obama that has been been widely distributed, Beavers said proof of Obama's citizenship must have gotten buried in her inbox: "I get emails all the time with things in them, you know; I can't honestly tell you that I read all of them, because I get so many."

Beavers' long-form slip-up fits a trend of Republican state lawmakers amping up extreme right-wing legislation with dubious supporting evidence. As we reported last month, South Dakota state Rep. Phil Jensen floated a measure banning Islamic Sharia law that would have also undone child custody protections, and another bill that could have provided an opening for the killing of abortion providers. Alabama state Sen. Gerald Allen borrowed his own anti-Sharia bill from Wikipedia, and when asked by a reporter what Sharia actually is, said, "I don't have my file in front of me." Texas state Rep. Leo Berman, who introduced both an anti-Sharia bill and a birther bill, recently explained that he got most of his political information on YouTube because "YouTubes are infallible."

Beavers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Live Updates From Peter King's Radicalization Hearings

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 12:29 PM EST

Boehner, Where Is, "Where Are the Jobs?"?

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 11:47 AM EST

Before the 2010 congressional elections, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his fellow GOPers developed and implemented a simple campaign strategy: say "where are the jobs?" over and over and over. Even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had declared thst President Barack Obama's stimulus package had created or saved about 3 million jobs and a recovery (albeit weak) was under way, the Republicans blamed Obama for screwing up the economy (not Wall Street or the Bush-Cheney administration). In politics, an attack doesn't have to be fair or accurate to work—and this one did.

Since then, have you heard Boehner screaming about jobs? No. He and his comrades have focused on one thing: cutting government spending, which will undoubtedly lead to job loss in the short run (if not the long run). Wait—that's not fair. They've also focused on abortion (with legislation that would make it harder for a woman who was raped to obtain federal assistance for an abortion), Planned Parenthood (with legislation that would defund the outfit), NPR (ditto), and American Muslims (with today's hearings on radicalization among Muslim Americans). There's not been much talk of jobs.

Consequently, this new poll from Bloomberg is hardly a surprise:

Americans say President Barack Obama lacks an effective strategy for improving the U.S. economy. They have much less confidence in the Republican vision for success.

By a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll shows Americans say Obama lacks the right formula for long-term growth, a goal he presented in his State of the Union address with the phrase “win the future.”

The Democratic president still does better than Republicans: When asked who has a better vision for the years ahead, 45 percent of poll respondents chose Obama and 33 percent picked the Republicans.

Four months ago, the GOPers shellacked the Democrats. They became the new kids on the block and claimed they were eager to refurnish their image with the American public. Yet once in power, they have reverted to their old ways—culture war and spending cuts. Meet the new boss, same as the...

Kent Conrad Wants to Ditch Tax-Breaks for the Rich

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 11:12 AM EST

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is no fire-breathing lefty. The chair of the Senate Budget Committee has a long-standing reputation as a moderate centrist who isn't afraid to call himself a deficit hawk. But at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Conrad made the case for dropping tax breaks for the rich that he considers excessive and unfair. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Citing recent research by tax expert Martin Sullivan, Mr. Conrad said a resident of a typical Park Avenue building in New York – with average household income of $1.1 million – is paying taxes at an effective rate of about 15%. But the rate for janitors in the building hovers closer to 25%, Mr. Conrad said. "I don’t know how anybody can defend or justify that kind of tax burden," Mr. Conrad said.

The discrepancy has been noted previously, for example by investor Warren Buffett, who often complains that his tax rate is lower than his secretary’s. The differential is largely due to the lower tax rates the government imposes on investment income, such as capital gains and dividends. Defenders of the policy say it promotes investment and thus economic efficiency to keep taxes low on capital.

Conrad is trying to pull together an overhaul of the country's labyrinthine tax code as part of a bipartisan group of six Senators working on a deficit reduction proposal. The overarching goal would be to flatten and simplify the tax code: lowering tax rates for everyone, eliminating loopholes for the wealthy, and streamlining an unwieldy corporate tax structure that's been a drag on the expansion of businesses in the country. In other words, there seems to be something for everyone in a tax overhaul, and both parties agree that reform is necessary, at least in the abstract. 

But the political gridlock and partisanship that has gripped Congress has left most skeptical that any major overhaul has a chance any time soon. Even when both parties manage to agree in principle, enacting even minor reforms has been a cause for headaches in the new Congress. In recent days, a battle has heated up over the effort to repeal a tax-reporting requirement for small businesses in the federal health care law—the so-called "1099" provision that Democrats and Republican both agree needs to go. But finding a means of paying for the change has put both parties at loggerheads once again, and there's been a fight over the issue that's dragged out for months. And that's just over one minor line in the tax code.