Mojo - April 2011

The Religious Right's Anti-Union Crusade

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:17 AM EDT

Wisconsin's ongoing labor battle has officially become a holy war. The Family Research Council, the evangelical advocacy organization founded by James Dobson, has been dipping into its war chest to defend Republican Governor Scott Walker's efforts to curtail collective bargaining for public-sector unions. FRC president Tony Perkins interviewed backers of Walker's anti-union bill on his weekly radio program and has tweeted his support for the bill, directly linking social conservatism with an anti-union, pro-business agenda: "Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda."

The FRC's new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who's running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg would alter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. "Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people," say the ads. "A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court."

The FRC's anti-labor campaign in Wisconsin is part of its larger agenda to meld fiscal conservatism with its family-values message. Its recent priorities have included fighting health care reform, new taxes on the wealthy, and President Obama's budget proposals. In recent weeks, Perkins has used his radio show to hash through small-government talking points with House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Tea Party caucus head Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who told him, "The bigger government gets, the smaller God gets." After exploring the value of union busting with Republican state Representative Robin Vos of Wisconsin last month, Perkins expressed "our thanks to you, as conservatives across the country."

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Florida Bill Will Force Women to Look at Their [Redacted]

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Photo by massdistraction, via Flickr.

Florida lawmakers apparently aren't allowed to say the word "uterus" on the House floor. But next week those same lawmakers will be considering legislation that will force Florida women to look at their you-know-whats before they can obtain an abortion.

The bill in question, HB 1127, would make Florida women seeking abortions subject to both an ultrasound and a doctor's detailed description of what's in there.  I'm guessing the doctor might even be forced to—gasp!—use the word "uterus" as he or she performs the ultrasound.

"How do you ban the word 'uterus' at the same time you're debating a bill that would force women to look at a picture of their uterus?" asks Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Florida's bill, which has been introduced in both the state House and the Senate, is much like sonogram bills that other states have considered. From the House version of the bill:

The person performing the ultrasound must allow the woman to view the live ultrasound images, and a physician or a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, advanced registered nurse practitioner, or physician assistant working in conjunction with the physician must contemporaneously review and explain the live ultrasound images to the woman before the woman gives informed consent to having an abortion procedure performed.

A woman can sign a waiver that allows her to avoid viewing the ultrasound, but she will still have to listen to the doctor describe it.

The bill creates an exception for women who are the victims of rape, incest, domestic violence, or human trafficking, but only if the woman produces a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order proving she is exempted. Providing "documentation" for these crimes is often quite difficult. A woman would also be excused from the ultrasound if she has a serious medical condition that required an abortion to prevent "the risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."

The bill has already passed through one Senate committee and one House committee, and additional committees in both chambers are expected to debate and approve it this week. Similar bills have passed in the Florida House every year since 2007, Kunkel says. The Senate also approved a similar measure in 2010, but then-Gov. Charlie Crist (R) vetoed it, arguing that it "places an inappropriate burden on women seeking to terminate pregnancy." But with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate and a new, more conservative governor, Rick Scott, in office, advocates for abortion rights fear that the ultrasound bill will become law in 2011.

There are a total of 18 bills in the Florida legislature this year that would limit abortion access. Since the Speaker doesn't want to hear the Part of the Woman's Body Which Cannot Be Named in debates, abortion rights advocates in Florida argue that he should probably not be making laws that affect it. "If the speaker can't bear to hear or say the word 'uterus,' he shouldn't be legislating it," Kunkel says.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 4, 2011

Mon Apr. 4, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Fox (left), with Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, assists Iraqi army soldiers assigned to 8th Iraqi army Brigade, 1st Division, as the soldiers practice Military Operations in Urban Terrain procedures at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, on March 8, 2011. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Tanya Thomas, U.S. Army. (Released)

The Reproductive Rights War Goes Global

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 6:17 PM EDT
Hosea Motoro washing a condom. Image courtesy of IRIN.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) may have taken his anti-abortion message to Kenya last week, but the policies Smith and other Republicans in Congress are pushing here at home are actually quite likely to increase the need for abortions there. The GOP budget included a 32 percent cut in funding for international reproductive health and family planning programs. It would also stop US contributions to the UN Population Fund, which provides family planning supplies and services.

Seeking to restrict abortion access while at the same time cutting funds for contraception, sex education, and other programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies is nothing new for conservatives. But as I was writing on Smith's trip to Kenya earlier this week, I came across this horrifying story about men in northern Kenya washing and recycling condoms. From IRIN:

Local TV channels recently showed images of men in Isiolo, in rural northern Kenya, washing condoms and hanging them out to dry; the men said the price of condoms meant they could not afford to use them just once. Other men in the village said when they had no access to condoms, they used polythene bags and even cloth rags when having sex.

What's distressing about this story is not that the men are doing this; indeed, that shows that education campaigns are working. IRIN talks to one man, Hosea Motoro, who is HIV positive and who walks 3 miles to the nearest health center to get condoms so he can avoid infecting and impregnating his wife. Sometimes, though, the health center doesn't have any to give him when he gets there. "When you go and you are lucky to get [condoms], you use, then you wash and use another time," says Motoro.

So while Smith was in Kenya pushing an anti-abortion agenda, back in the states he and his allies are trying to defund the very programs that could help prevent people like Motoro and his wife from needing an abortion in the first place.

Also among the anti-abortion inclusions in the House-passed budget bill is the reinstatement of the global gag rule, a policy that bars organizations that receive government funding from offering abortion services or even discussing abortion as an option. The gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, has been in place under executive orders issued by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan first instituted it in 1984. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rescinded the rule as one of their first actions in office, but congressional Republicans now want to reinstate it through legislation.

The 1973 Helms amendment bans using foreign aid money to pay for abortion services. But the gag rule puts global health organizations in an even tougher spot: They can either offer abortion services and forgo federal funds, or they can take the money and not provide abortions. Since Obama repealed the order, international organizations that offer abortions can at least get funding for other vital services, like health care and family planning. But if House Republicans get their way, that will no longer be the case.

Unions vs. Rich Businessmen: Who Funds the Democrats?

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 4:04 PM EDT

Kevin Drum's March/April cover story on the decline of labor unions as a political force in the United States and the corresponding rise of income inequality is a must-read as Republican governors across the country work to strip workers of collective bargaining rights. Kevin's conclusion—that if we don't want inequality and corporate/Wall Street rapacity to get out of hand, we have to find something to replace unions as a mass political force advocating for the interests of the middle class—was widely debated in the blogosphere. Kevin seemed to imply that the death of unions will mean the decline of the Democratic party, which relies on labor as a major source of campaign funds. But Matt Yglesias had another theory:

I think people should shy away from overestimating the partisan stakes here. It's true that in the very short term extirpating public sector unions will damage the finances of the Democratic Party. But the political system has a strong tendency toward equilibrium. Democrats will keep getting enough money to stay in business and will keep winning approximately half the elections. It's just that in post-union America, rich businessmen will be the only viable sources of political funding.

My friend (and former Mother Jones employee) Mike Beckel at the Center for Responsive Politics seems to have proven Yglesias' point. Mike crunched the data, and it turns out that as Democrats have become less dependent on unions, they've become ever-more-dependent on rich businessmen and corporations:

A decade ago, corporate PACs favored Republicans over Democrats by about a two-to-one ratio.

By the 2008 election cycle, however, when Democrats were poised to control both chambers of Congress and the White House, contributions from business PACs were split about evenly between Republican and Democratic candidates and groups. During the 2010 election cycle, that parity continued—almost down to the last dollar....

...All the while, labor union PAC contributions hovered between $59 million and $73 million, typically with 90 percent or more of those dollars supporting Democrats each election cycle, according to the Center's research.

While corporate PACs doled out 73 percent more money during the 2010 election cycle than they did during the 2000 election cycle, union PACs donated just 17 percent more.

Mike has charts, too. It's pretty clear, as Yglesias theorized, that as union donations fail to keep up with ever-increasing amounts of money from corporations and rich businessmen, the Democrats are forced to replace the union money with corporate dollars. And you can bet that money comes with strings attached.

Indiana Shoots Down Rape/Incest Abortion Exceptions

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 2:27 PM EDT

The Indiana House yesterday passed a bill, HB 1210, that would force women to carry pregnancies past 22 weeks to term, even if the father of the fetus is their rapist or family member. The only reason a woman could get an abortion after 22 weeks (and most medical experts don't consider a fetus viable until around 27 weeks) is if carrying the fetus to term would result in the woman's death or "substantial physical impairment." Even then, her doctor would be required by law to perform the abortion in a hospital with a prenatal unit, and in the way that "would result in the best opportunity for the fetus to survive."

The bill passed with overwhelming support, 72-23. State representative Gail Riecken, a Democrat, tried to amend the bill to include exceptions for rape or incest, but her amendment failed. Among the amendment's critics was Rep. Eric Turner (Republican), who wrote HB 1210. He argued that the amendment would provide a "loophole" to women who wanted abortions. They would, he suggested, lie about being raped. "I don't want to disparage in any way someone who's gone through the experience of a rape, or incest," Turner said, "but someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they've been raped or there's incest."

Turner's statement was quickly followed up by Rep. Linda Lawson (D), who worked as a sex crime investigator for six years. After being instructed to "take a minute" to "collect herself," Lawson fiercely rebutted Turner's claims. "I don't think anybody in this room has ever sat where I sat... They [women] don't make it up!" Video of Lawson and Turner below.

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GOP Presidential Frontrunner: Fred Karger?

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 2:09 PM EDT

Gay GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger has been heavily campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa this year, having been the first Republican to officially declare his candidacy. He's been working the youth vote, putting forward a proposal to lower the voting age and other ideas that might lure in young people to his campaign. The effort seems to be working: On Thursday night at St. Anselm College, Karger participated in a Republican presidential straw poll organized by the school's college Republicans. He is the only candidate to have actually addressed the students, and he ended up winning 79 out of the 322 votes cast, which made him the night's big winner, over Mitt Romney, who took second, and Donald Trump, who garnered but 26 votes. (The night's big loser: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who received a single vote.)

The win, however small, will no doubt help Karger's Federal Elections Commission complaint against Republicans in Iowa who refused to allow him to participate in an early presidential forum there last month. After a nice showing in the key primary state of New Hampshire, the GOP will have a hard time arguing to the FEC that Karger isn't a serious candidate.

On the Mall, Penis Trumps Tea-ness

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 1:38 PM EDT

On Thursday, the Tea Party Patriots held a "continuing revolution" rally on Capitol Hill. Originally, the rally was advertised to take place on the east side of the Capitol, which isn't the most desirable spot for a protest. Later, the activists ended up even farther down the Hill in a wooded spot near the Robert Taft memorial and away from most gawking tourists. At least one tea partier suspects that the location problem stemmed from the fact that the most desirable spot on the Hill—the west lawn, where tea partiers have held most of their big protests—has been occupied most of the week by a group of anti-circumcision activists. Those particular activists have been protesting on the Hill annually at this time for 16 years.

David Wilson, who runs Stop Infant Circumcision, says he applied for a permit before the tea partiers did, and as such, he was naturally entitled to the space. "I feel as though my purpose and cause is greater than their is," he told me. Wilson notes that at least 120 boys die every year from circumcision and "you don't hear a big outcry over this." That said, Wilson, who sports long dredlocks and a large Uncle Sam hat that would fit right in at a tea party rally, says that because he and his group will be protesting most of the week, he would have happily accommodated the tea partiers for a couple of hours Thursday if they'd just asked him.

Perhaps you can't blame the tea partiers for not wanting to have foreskin preservation propaganda cluttering up their C-SPAN broadcast. And while likely presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) may not have minded the presence of a few bloody fetus posters during her speech (there were some), it's hard to imagine she would have wanted to be filmed in front of posters of screaming babies emblazoned with the slogan "Don't Snip the Tip!". But Wilson thinks that he and the tea partiers would find some common ground. Perhaps the conservative activists might even help move his foreskin cause to the forefront. "I'd be interested to see what the tea party has to say about this. They believe in personal freedom."

Rick Scott Slashes Support for the Disabled

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 1:21 PM EDT

Continuing his assault on Florida's most vulnerable, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order on Thursday that immediately slashes money for the developmentally disabled. The cuts will reduce payments to group homes and social workers by 15 percent. The Orlando Sentinel reports

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered deep cuts Thursday to programs that serve tens of thousands of residents with Down syndrome,cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities…[which] providers say could put them out of business and threaten their clients' safety.


"lt's not like, 'Gee, does this mean I have to skip a vacation this year?'" said Amy Van Bergen, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. "Potentially, these cuts have life and death implications for these people."

 An estimated 30,000 Floridians with severe developmental disabilities receive services that help them live outside of nursinghomes—typically with family or in small group homes. Aides help them eat, bathe, take medication and otherwise care for themselves.


But Scott's executive order is only the first of many cuts that could hurt the disabled. With the governor's full support, the Florida statehouse is currently considering a bill that would privatize Medicaid—a proposal that would also turn health care for disabled beneficiaries in the program over to private managed care companies. 

The problem is that HMOs "do not have the expertise" in dealing with developmentally disabled patients, Debra Downs, executive director of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, warns in an interview. What's more, "when you put [these services] into the private sector, there's going to be some money off the top for administrative costs," she adds, warning that HMOs could end up spending money on bureaucracy rather than services.

So Florida's most vulnerable residents have gotten the short end of the stick as Florida trys to rein in its budget. And Republicans in Washington are following the exact same playbook.

Senate Dems to GOP: Drop the Riders

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 1:15 PM EDT

As lawmakers work to negotiate a grand bargain on the federal budget, top Senate Democrats hosted a conference call with reporters to insist that they won't let social issues derail a deal to keep the government—and the still-nascent economic recovery—going.

The watchword of the day is "rider," a term used to describe provisions tacked on to government funding bills that restrict how money can be spent. House Republicans wedged plenty of riders into their budget proposal, but some—including provisions to ban funding for Planned Parenthood and restrict the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases—are particularly galling to Democrats, who still control two-thirds of the government.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, also criticized the GOP's cuts to Title X funding, which supports contraception and other health services for low-income women, and cuts to the Head Start program, which funds education programs for low-income families. "This should be the kind of thing upon which reasonable people can agree—that this is not the right thing to do," Reid said. "It's certainly not something over which it's worth shutting down the government." Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) echoed Reid: "Please don’t let the ship of state crash over riders.... let's not shut down the government on a fight over some bumper sticker issue that may have been around for the last ten or twenty years."

Durbin acknowledged that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is stuck been a rock and a hard-charging, aggressive tea party. But Durbin said he also remains confident that the speaker understands the devastating implications of closing down the government. During the last shutdown, over $3 billion of exports sat idle in ports, according to Reid. "We're calling on speaker Boehner to sit down and in good faith work with us. We've agreed on the number," Durbin said, referring to the $73 billion in spending cuts for the 2011 budget negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden earlier this week. "Now it's a matter of putting together the cuts that will achieve our goals of reducing spending in a responsible way." If Boehner can do that, then he's sure to find friends on the other side of the aisle, Durbin promised.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also weighed in on Boehner's intra-party dilemma. "We're on the doorstep of a deal as long as the Speaker resists the tea party Republicans in the House," he said. Because Boehner has been boxed in by the tea party, Schumer added, the Speaker will need the support of Democrats, and must look to make cuts to mandatory rather than domestic discretionary spending. "We're going to insist that mandatory savings be part of any deal. Because otherwise the cuts become so deep on certain programs that they cut in the bone."

Meanwhile, Reid said that the Democrats have found an unlikely ally in their fight to keep the government open: the Republican-leaning US Chamber of Commerce. Reid said that Chamber president Tom Donohue told a gathering of over 100 Republicans yesterday that they would be making a huge mistake shutting down the government. And the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs of major U.S. corporations, warned that a government shutdown would kill the momentum the private sector has gained in recent months.

"You can't balance this budget... on the backs of people who had nothing to do with the debt," Reid said. "They had nothing to do with making the debt what it is. And they shouldn't be the only answer to it."