Mojo - April 2011

Louisiana's "Feticide" Bill

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 3:39 PM EDT

I have a new story up today on a bill in Louisiana that would ban all abortions in the state and allow for abortion providers and women who obtain abortions to be charged with "feticide," a felony carrying a prison term of up to 15 years. John LaBruzzo (R), the Louisiana state representative behind the bill, claims that the inclusion of the line stipulating that women could be prosecuted for obtaining abortions was an accidental "mis-draft."

The current text of the bill is pretty explicit, though: "Feticide is the killing of an unborn child by the act, procurement, or culpable omission of a person, including the mother of the unborn child." In LaBruzzo's proposal, the word "including" replaces the words "other than," which appear in curent Louisiana law—a small change that completely alters the meaning of the provision.

It's pretty hard to believe this language was changed accidentially. I believe the real reason LaBruzzo now plans to remove it was not that it was a "mis-draft," but simply that, as LaBruzzo told the local news, including such a provision "would make [the law] too difficult to pass." He acknowledges the fact that most people—no matter how anti-abortion they are—don't actually think that a woman should be put in jail for up to 15 years, with hard labor, for obtaining an abortion.

Even if LaBruzzo removes the language on charging women with "feticide," the legislation should still raise questions about how exactly anti-abortion lawmakers think the state should deal with women who violated the law. Someone should ask him, then, what he does think the punishment should be. I tried to, but he didn't respond to my inquiries.

Writing about Louisiana's proposed law reminded me of a video of abortion protestors in Libertyville, Illinois. In it, a cameraman from At Center Network asks the protestors the seemingly simple question: If you think abortion should be illegal, how should violators be punished? It quickly becomes clear that many of the demonstrators haven't really thought that question through to its logical conclusion.

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Was That a Gay Soldier in That Beer Commercial? (Video)

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 1:05 PM EDT

Today, the military. Tomorrow, the gameday beer commercials. Michael Jensen of the gay blog After Elton drew our attention to this new Budweiser ad, which hits all the usual signposts—America-lovin', soldier-celebratin', barn parties, checked tablecloths, frosty brews—but adds an ambiguous chemistry between the homeward-bound overseas vet and his guy friend. Says Jensen:

So the first person our soldier calls is this other guy. Let's call him PB for Potential Boyfriend. Clearly the soldier isn't married or in a serious relationship with the girl we later see him hugging. Otherwise he surely would've called her first. So the possibilities are that either that PB is a best friend or ... a boyfriend. Hmm, would a soldier coming home really call his best friend before his parents?

If PB is his brother, the brother clearly doesn't live at home as we see the soldier also call his parents, while PB is driving away from his house to start getting the party ready. And PB sure seems to be much of the focus of the commercial as he prepares for the party. And then who is the first person to greet and hug our soldier? It's PB of course. And it's a fairly intense hug.

So is the commercially intentionally gay or not? Well, only Budweiser knows for sure, but if you substituted a woman for PB, it would read pretty much exactly like a heterosexual relationship. And while it's possible that an ad could inadvertently ready gay, Budweiser has a pretty slick advertising arm so that at least seems somewhat unlikely.

A spirited comment debate thus ensued on After Elton, as well as Bilerico. What do you think? Check out the video below and give us your opinion. I tend to agree with Jensen: Budweiser doesn't launch an ad without a lot of corporate handwringing, so the ambiguities—and their multiple readings—are likely intentional. But there's a more important point here.

As we've reported before, aside from a couple of outspoken right-wing haters, the country's shown a fairly rapid move to (finally) extend equal rights to gays and lesbians. Even the hidebound armed services have gotten into the spirit, putting the final nails in Don't Ask, Don't Tell's coffin. But, frankly, when we can posit even the ambiguous possibility of a gay-soldier relationship as a selling-point for domestic beer in the corporate-sponsored interlude between possessions in a Bears-Packers game, we've turned a corner culturally (and economically).

Having said that, though, I'm not sure it's going to help Budweiser sales with the gays. You'd like to think most people, regardless of their orientation, would opt for a beer that doesn't taste like chilled Clydesdale sweat.

Sen. Jim DeMint's Push to Unseat Sherrod Brown

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 11:26 AM EDT

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)—who raised millions for right-wing candidates in 2010—has found his latest target: fellow Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who's up for re-election in 2012. In a fundraising solicitation, DeMint slammed Brown for being "the Most Liberal Senator" in Congress and vowed to help defeat him in 2012. DeMint detailed Brown's sins in an email sent through right-wing website Townhall.com:

He recently made national headlines when he compared those of us who oppose unchecked union power to Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin…


There is no bigger supporter in the U.S. Senate of big-government spending, bailouts, and debt than Sherrod Brown. 

Thankfully he's up for re-election next year and freedom-loving Americans across the nation have a chance to end his assault on our liberties. 

Brown, a first-term Senator, certainly isn’t taking his re-election for granted: in the first three months of 2011, he raised $1.3 million and made appearances last week with Vice President Joe Biden back in Ohio. Polling has shown him leading potential Republican opponents by only a small margin.

No one's entered the race officially as of yet, but at least one prominent possible challenger has emerged in recent days: Ken Blackwell, Ohio's former secretary of state and a 2006 candidate for governor—a staunch conservative who's on the board of the National Rifle Association. Ohio voters ushered in conservative Republicans like Gov. John Kasich just last year, and the GOP seems to be betting the same will hold true in 2012.

Rep. Allen West: American Men are Being Neutered

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 11:09 AM EDT

Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has been known to say some pretty outlandish things from time to time. He's told constituents that "Islam is not a religion," called the President of the United States a "low-level socialist agitator," and asked supporters to "grab your muskets!" Now, he's outdone himself. Late last week, West spoke to the conservative group Women Impacting the Nation, and after West alleged that 33 percent of the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood, the discussion wandered—as discussions usually do!—to the subject of the increasing sissification of America's men. No, really, that's what West talked about. Via Tanya Somander:

We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side—these Planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness—to let them know what we are not going to have our men become subservient. That's what we need you to do. Because if you don't, then the debt will continue to grow.

That line about the debt sort of comes out of nowhere, right? Anyway, West, who has been floated as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012, went on to compare the nation's current set of crises to those faced by the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, as well as those faced by the samurai in the Tom Cruise movie, The Last Samurai. I would just note that the Spartans all died at Thermopylae. Here's the full(ish) video:

Donald Trump's South Carolina Problem

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 10:49 AM EDT

In a Winthrop poll out today, presidential hopeful Donald Trump drops from his frontrunner status to third out of 12 potential GOP hopefuls, trailing Mike Huckabee by nearly 8 percent and Romney by five. Of course, Trump did beat out right-wing stars including Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul. But when it comes to primaries, third place won't do much to help you win the party nomination.

Here's how the GOP contenders stacked up in the poll:

Mike Huckabee 19.1 percent
Mitt Romney 16.6 percent
Donald Trump 11.3 percent
Newt Gingrich 8.1 percent
Sarah Palin 7.9 percent
Chris Christie 6.2 percent
Michele Bachmann 3.7 percent
Tim Pawlenty 2.1 percent
Ron Paul 2.1 percent
Herman Cain 2.1 percent
Haley Barbour 2.0 percent
Rick Santorum 1.8 percent
Not Sure 13.6 percent

Joshua Green at The Atlantic spoke with Winthrop polling guru Scott Huffmon, who had this to say about Trump's standing in South Carolina:

He's saying a lot of things that a lot of conservatives want to hear, but he's saying it in a very heavy New York accent. A lot of South Carolina Republicans, I'm guessing, want to hear it in a different accent. Trump says a lot that I think people are enjoying hearing, but people liked the sound of Rudy Giuliani, too, and he was unable to gain traction in South Carolina. But Trump did best Sarah Palin by a little bit. So his name recognition alone is getting him somewhere.

The Winthrop poll comes hot on the heels of the Draft Trump 2012 operation's hiring of Scott Royce, an attorney, as its South Carolina coordinator. According to the press release, "Royce has kept a keen eye on Republican politics since the mid-eighties when he worked as a political field director in New Hampshire for Jack Kemp's presidential run in 1988," among a few other stints in politics. Hmm, hardly seems like the guy to help The Donald win the South Carolina primary.

Tennessee Shariah Bill Too Extreme For Tea Partiers (Updated)

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 8:30 AM EDT

Today in Nashville lawmakers will hold hearings on SB 1028, a bill that makes it a felony in Tennessee to provide material support for terrorism. That's already a federal crime, of course, but that's hardly the point: The bill, introduced by State Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Judd Matheny, both Republicans, is the most radical of the more than two-dozen proposals nationwide to block the implementation of Islamic Shariah law on the unsuspecting citizenry. Now Ketron and Matheny are facing opposition from an unlikely source: the tea party.

According to William Coley, a member of the Knoxville Tea Party and a Muslim-American, his group will formally condemn the legislation at a press conference this morning, warning that the bill expands the powers of the police state while doing nothing to make Tennesseans any safer.

(Update: I've got a copy of the statement; it's not a condemnation, but it's hardly an endorsement either. Here's the crux of it: "While the Knoxville Tea Party truly appreciates the sincere intentions behind SB1028, we do not feel that peaceful gatherings by ourselves, our friends, or neighbors is the problem, nor do we feel that increased surveillance by the State of Tennessee and intrusion into its citizens' lives is the answer. The federal government already does far too much of that.")

Last week, Coley says, he was thrown out of Rep. Matheny's office, along with a coalition of Tennessee Muslim leaders, after a contentious exchange over the legislation. In his version of events, Coley told Matheny he and the Knoxville Tea Party would work to defeat the legislation. Matheny told him that if that happened, he'd simply introduce the bill again next year. That was too much for Coley: "I was just like, 'Look, Bro, if you're going to propose this bill again next year, this is just a waste of our time.' This guy has forgotten he's an elected official.' I got up to leave and I said, 'You don't have job security and you will not be back again next year.'" (Coley does not live in Matheny's district.)

According to Coley, Matheny was supported in the meeting by a representative of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, the local chapter of Phyllis Schlafly's right-wing organization. It was the Eagle Forum that pushed for the Tennessee legislation originally, enlisting Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi's help in drafting the bill. But Matheny's argument that he has strong grassroots backing is misleading, Coley says, because the tea party is not fully on board. "Not the way Matheny is trying to make it look. Basically, when I told Matheny that, he told me he didn't believe me. I told him 'You can believe what you want; I've got the Knoxville Tea Party on speed dial—you can call them. I didn't threaten him with bodily harm, I threatened him with removal from office."

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"First Pro-Choice Terrorist" Ted Shulman Indicted for Alleged Death Threats

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

For years, opponents of abortion rights have complained to local, state, and federal law enforcement that Theodore "Ted" Shulman, a radical abortion-rights activist, was harrassing and threatening them. Nothing ever came of it until late February, when the anti-abortion rights blogosphere lit up with rumors that Shulman had finally been arrested.

"This is a huge relief to us that Ted Shulman is behind bars where he belongs," Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue, the controversial Kansas-based anti-abortion group, said in a post on the group's blog. But Politics Daily's David Gibson, the only reporter to cover the story back in February, could not confirm any charges against Shulman, and could not reach the FBI for comment. (Sullenger claimed the indictment had been filed under seal.) Now Mother Jones can confirm that Shulman, the 49-year-old son of famed feminist author and activist Alix Kates Shulman, faces a six-count federal indictment for allegedly threatening two unnamed anti-abortion activists. The charges, which each carry a maximum five-year-sentence, could land Shulman in prison for decades if he's convicted on all counts. Shulman pleaded not guilty.

Neither the FBI agent nor the assistant US attorney handling the case responded to requests for comment. A call and email to Shulman's lawyer went unreturned. It's not unheard of for extreme anti-abortion activists to face legal consequences when they cross the line. But Shulman is by far the most prominent alleged harrasser of abortion foes, and one of the first—perhaps the first—to be prosecuted under federal laws that forbid threatening others across state lines. He seemed to see himself as a kind of pioneer—according to Gibson, he liked to refer to himself as the "first pro-choice terrorist."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 26, 2011

Tue Apr. 26, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army soldiers with 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Focused Targeting Force, board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Khowst province, Afghanistan, on March 29, 2011. DoD photo by Pfc. Donald Watkins, U.S. Army. (Released)

Would You Like a Keepsake Photo With That Abortion?

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 10:12 AM EDT

If there was a clear takeaway from the 2010 elections, it was this: No government bureaucrat should ever come between you and your doctor—unless you're a woman. Two identical bills in front of the Michigan state legislature would add more obstacles to women seeking abortions in the state; under the proposed legislation, doctors would be required to perform an ultrasound, ask the woman if she'd like to listen to the heartbeat, and—in a new twist—"offer to provide the patient with a physical picture of the ultrasound image of the fetus." Reports the Michigan Messenger:

All of this is to be done at least two hours before the abortion procedure and women would be required to sign a statement acknowledging that these offers had been made...

"We are all for maximum information being given to any woman seeking an abortion, or any other major operation, for that matter," said James Muffett, president of Citizens for Traditional Values which supports the legislation. "It seems quite suspect that abortion providers do not already do this. Maybe they know that there really is a living baby in the womb and if the mother saw that, she might change her mind."

As currently written there are no exemptions, which means that doctors would be required to offer a photograph of the ultrasound, even to women who have been the victims of rape or incest.

As we've previously reported, in recent months conservative lawmakers have unleashed a flood of anti-choice legislation—often with potentially radical consequences. In Nebraska, a law enforcement official testified that a proposed bill to legalize "justifiable homicide" in defense of the unborn could lead to violence. A similar bill in South Dakota would have permitted the use of lethal force to protect a fetus could have allowed the killing of abortion providers. In Texas, a proposed bill would have outlawed all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest. And at the national level, a Republican effort to redefine rape (part of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act") ultimately fizzled after a public outcry.

Trump: Karl Rove Is a "Loser" Who Should Retire

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 5:01 AM EDT

Donald Trump clearly has no intention of buddying up with the Republican establishment. With his popularity ranking the highest among Republican presidential hopefuls in a recent Gallup poll, the New York real estate tycoon on Friday took a big swipe at GOP political mastermind Karl Rove, calling Rove "a loser" and suggesting he "go into retirement where he belongs."

Trump's jabs at Rove were part of a longer statement to conservative news site NewsMax.com. Here's the statement in full:

"Karl Rove is a loser. He is doing the Republican Party a great disservice by trying to stop the discussion about the president not being able to present his birth certificate to the American people—or to assure the American people as to his place of birth. This is a great issue for Republicans, and I can tell you that the president is spending millions of dollars fighting this issue and he doesn't like it at all.

I also have great respect for the states considering legislation that would require a birth certificate, not a certificate of live birth, be mandatory in order for a candidate to appear on a presidential ballot in their state.

Karl Rove should go into retirement where he belongs. The old machinery is broken, and new and much smarter blood is needed."

Trump's remarks come in response to a recent comment of Rove's dismissing Trump's 2012 candidacy. "His full embrace of the birther issue means that he's off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate," Rove recently said. For those who haven't followed Trump lately, he has made the non-issue of President Barack Obama's citizenship a centerpiece of his would-be campaign, going so far as to send private investigators to Hawaii to find the "truth."

By doing so, Trump's strategy has become plain as day: He's tossing red meat to the hard-right, Iowa-conservative crowd who still voice doubts over whether the current president is an American citizen. (For a full dissembling of that argument, read this.) Now, by ripping into the GOP's political guru, Trump is pushing himself ever farther to the right.