Mojo - April 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 28, 2011

Thu Apr. 28, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

As Sgt. Albert Smith pulls security, two young Afghan boys navigate their way around him in a village near Qalat, Afghanistan, April 26. Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul visited the village to discuss agricultural issues with the residents. Photo via US Army.

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Corn on "Hardball": Will the Birther Crowd Stop the Madness?

Wed Apr. 27, 2011 9:03 PM EDT

David Corn and Josh Marshall joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the White House's release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate and the political consequences for Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Franklin Graham, and the rest of the birther movement.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Should the FBI Redefine Rape?

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 5:11 PM EDT

House Republicans attracted a lot of outrage earlier this year when they attempted to redefine rape in a way that would limit exceptions to the ban on federal funding for abortions. The GOP originally proposed limiting the situations in which the government could help pay for abortions to those in which the pregnancy was the result of "forcible rape" or incest "if [the victim is] a minor."

Eventually, the party dropped that effort: its amended legislation returns to straightforward exceptions that allow the government to pay for abortions "if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest." But it's worth noting, as Ms. reminds us, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still operating under a "forcible rape" framework.

For 82 years, the bureau has been using this definition of rape for its Uniform Crime Report:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Included are rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape. Statutory offenses (no force used--victim under age of consent) are excluded.

The year 1929, as Ms. points out, was quite a while ago—before the Great Depression, before Mickey Mouse, and before the Empire State Building, to name a few. It was also before roofies had been invented and before date or partner rape were even concepts.

This dated language has led to a Feminist Majority Foundation campaign asking FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder to modernize the FBI's definition. The activists also note that the current definition "excludes victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape, and male rape," and that it "is often used by law enforcement to exclude rapes of women whose ability to give consent has been diminished by drugs or alcohol."

Obama's Missed Military Opportunity

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 2:00 PM EDT
CIA Director Leon Panetta, left, offers agency-donated gifts to the Marine Corps “Toys for Tots” campaign.

Facing a military budget battle, Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns, and a political clash over the country's global security strategy, Barack Obama needed a new defense secretary who could either win over Capitol Hill or cow it into cooperating. He needed new blood. Instead, he promoted the old guard, announcing today that Leon Panetta, the 72-year-old CIA director, would be nominated to replace Robert Gates later this year.

There's no question that Panetta's long career of public service—from running the Office of Management and Budget to working as Bill Clinton's chief of staff to his current contentious position—prepares him well to steer a large bureaucracy through political minefields. But with conservatives already painting him as a Left Coast Democratic stalwart, his good ideas are likely to meet stiff partisan resistance in Congress. And in picking a consummate political insider for the DOD post, Obama passed over two top-notch candidates, missing a chance to disarm conservatives with a defense-savvy Southern Democrat...or a bold, history-making woman.

Texas Birther Rep.: More Study Needed

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 10:30 AM EDT
"Were you born here?"

This morning, in an attempt to end, once-and-for-all, the right-wing conspiracy that he is not eligible for office, President Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii. "The President believed the distraction over his birth certificate wasn't good for the country," the White House said in a statement.

But those distractions won't be going away anytime soon. I just got off the phone with Texas GOP State Rep. Leo Berman, sponsor of his state's birther bill, and a vocal proponent of the idea that the President was not born in this country. Berman, who has explained previously that he gets much of his news via "YouTubes," was not aware of the White House's release when I called him up, but his initial reaction more or less set the tone: "I wonder why it took them almost two years to release that? That seems kind of strange."

I sent Berman the White House's statement and a copy of the certificate, and after a few minutes he called back ready to talk. "If this is the true birth certificate, I'm very happy to finally see it," he said. But today's news didn't answer his lingering doubts; if anything, it raised even more questions. Berman was comparing the White House release with another birth certificate he said was from Mombasa, Kenya. "There are two hospitals [in Honolulu] at the time and neither hospital will claim him," Berman said. "Today, if you have a hospital where the president was born they'd probably take the room where he was born and make a shrine out of it." Plus, the Kenyan certificate just seemed more compelling: "When I look at the one from Kenya, there is a British lord who is the clerk for registering all births in Kenya at that time." He added, "The one from Mombasa even has a footprint on it. Like a human footprint."

"Birther King" Andy Martin: Still More Questions About Obama's Past

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 10:23 AM EDT

Now that President Obama has taken the surprise step of confronting the birther conspiracy theory head on, the birthers will be satisfied, right? Well, not really.

In an interview with Mother Jones, Andy Martin, a Chicago-based activist and the self-proclaimed "King of the Birthers" says he considers the White House's release of Obama's long-form birth certificate a "tremendous triumph" for the birther movement. But he adds that other questions about Obama's background still remain to be answered. Now, he's demanding the release of Obama's college transcripts and admission documents, as well as an investigation into another conspiracy theory suggesting that a black nationalist Muslim lawyer paid for Obama's law school tuition.

"Well, I'll be damned…it looks OK!" Martin told Mother Jones by phone, as he perused the document for the first time. "I'm stunned…obviously the pressure got to be too much."

Martin credits himself for single-handedly launching the birther movement before Obama had even taken office; he even annouced his own presidential bid in December to push the issue. (Martin insists that he's never doubted that the president was born in Honolulu, but that officials' refusal to release the document cast a cloud of suspicion.) Rather than prove the birthers wrong, Martin insists the release of the birth certificate simply speaks to their political clout. 

"As his power waned, he was hectored and forced to respond," Martin says of Obama. According to Martin, White House officials said that it wasn't possible to release the birth certificate under any circumstances on Monday—the same that the copy of the document was issued. "How did it get released on Monday? Obviously they were lying." (A CNN reporter asked White House press secretary Jay Carney about Obama's birth certificate on Monday, but Carney simply dismissed the concerns without further comment.)

Martin, however, says that the birth certificate doesn't put to rest other questions about Obama's past and rise to power. Echoing Donald Trump's recent demands to see Obama's college grades, Martin said he wants to see the "admission files and the transcripts" of Obama’s college years. "The pressure for his college records is going to become relentless," he vows.

Martin says that he also has questions about Khalid Abdullah Tariq al-Mansour, whom fringe activists claim is a black Muslim nationalist who paid for Obama's law degree. Though he says that most birthers will be satisfied with the document released by the White House today, Martin points out there's another wing of the birther movement that still won’t believe that Obama's a natural-born citizen because he has a Kenyan father.

For his part, Martin doesn't plan to drop his own campaign to challenge Obama for president. "I’m running as the guy who now forced Obama" to release his birth certificate, Martin says triumphantly. Then he adds without elaboration: "Our god is stronger than Obama's god, whatever his god is."

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Obama to Birthers: Drop Dead

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 9:12 AM EDT

The White House released President Obama's long-form birth certificate this morning:

The President believed the distraction over his birth certificate wasn’t good for the country. It may have been good politics and good TV, but it was bad for the American people and distracting from the many challenges we face as a country. Therefore, the President directed his counsel to review the legal authority for seeking access to the long form certificate and to request on that basis that the Hawaii State Department of Health make an exception to release a copy of his long form birth certificate. They granted that exception in part because of the tremendous volume of requests they had been getting.

Courtesy of the White HouseCourtesy of the White House

Let us never speak of this episode ever again.

Will Mitch Daniels Break His "Truce"?

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

Election watchers looking for something to monitor this week might want to keep an eye on Indiana, where lawmakers are deciding the fate of a bill that would cut funding for Planned Parenthood in the state and dramatically limit abortion access. Mitch Daniels, the Hoosier state's governor and a potential GOP presidential contender, has called for a truce on social issues in favor of a focus on budget matters. How Daniels handles this truce-breaking legislation will be an important test of how seriously he takes his call for peace.

On Tuesday afternoon, Republicans in the Indiana House filed a motion to concur with the Senate's version of the bill, paving the way for a vote as early as Wednesday. Unlike the House measure, the Senate bill includes language that blocks Medicaid dollars from going to the state's 28 Planned Parenthood clinics, which currently receive $3 million in public funds for reproductive health programs. If the proposal becomes law, Indiana will be the first state in the country to use this tactic to target Planned Parenthood. The move comes amid Republican attempts to defund the organization at the federal level.

The measure has implications beyond one organization, however, because federal law generally prevents states from deciding which family planning services Medicaid patients can use. That means that Indiana could forfeit all $4 million it receives in federal family planning funding, Family and Social Services Administration Secretary Michael Gargano told the Associated Press. That would leave 22,000 low-income residents without access to family planning services according to Betty Cockrum, executive director of Planned Parenthood Indiana. The bill has been filed as an "emergency" measure, meaning its provisions go into effect immediately.

While the Planned Parenthood "cut" appears to save money, it could actually end up costing the state. Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration says that more than half the births in Indiana are paid for by Medicaid, and that percentage is almost certain to increase if thousands of women lose access to contraceptives.

Even if Daniels can prevail upon his allies in the legislature to remove the Planned Parenthood language, it's just one of a number of anti-abortion and reproductive rights measures in the bill. The proposal also includes a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, claiming a state interest in preventing pain to the fetus. Another provision requires that doctors tell women that abortion may cause breast cancer, infertility, or pain to the fetus—all medically dubious claims—and requires an 18-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. The bill also states that "human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm."

Daniels, an abortion opponent, has argued that the Republican Party should drop the culture wars for the time being in favor of focusing on the economy. While the provisions in this bill would seem to break that truce, most observers expect he'll approve it anyway. "The political climate in Indiana these days would suggest that he would sign it," Cockrum tells Mother Jones. She said her group is working with lawyers to determine its legal options if the bill becomes law.

At the very least, Daniels' critics are anticipating some fun watching how the likely 2012 contender will handle the situation. "Those of us who watch this stuff will enjoy seeing how much he squirms," says John Schorg, director of media relations for the Indiana House Democratic Caucus. "These are the kind of decisions that tend to be remembered when someone decides to run for president."

UPDATE 4/27, 6:02 EST: The House approved the bill by a vote of 66-32 on Wednesday evening. Now it goes to the governor's desk.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 27, 2011

Wed Apr. 27, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

Soldiers in the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division hone their combat skills at the Army's National Training Center in preparation for an upcoming deployment. Photo via US Army.

Andy Kroll on MSNBC: The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions

Tue Apr. 26, 2011 7:28 PM EDT

Andy Kroll appeared on MSNBC's The Ed Show to discuss his recent reporting on the network of right-wing think tanks dedicated to dismantling organized labor at the state level. 

Andy Kroll is a reporter at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Email him with tips and insights at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter here. Get Andy Kroll's RSS feed.