GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has made "life" a central tenet of his political platform—specifically, the lives of fetuses. But when it comes to the lives of women, Santorum doesn't seem nearly as worked up. In a campaign stop at a "crisis pregnancy center" in Iowa this week, Santorum sought to show off his anti-abortion credentials by decrying exceptions to abortion laws for the health of the mother as a "phony" excuse.

Santorum bashed fellow Republicans for not going far enough to eradicate abortion. Via Think Progress:

When I was leading the charge on partial birth abortion, several members came forward and said, "Why don’t we just ban all abortions?" Tom Daschle was one of them, if you remember. And Susan Collins, and others. They wanted a health exception, which of course is a phony exception which would make the ban ineffective.

This isn't new for Santorum, who a former aide once described as "a Catholic missionary who happens to be in the Senate." As Think Progress notes, during the partial-birth abortion debate in the Senate, he fought hard to keep the health exception out on the grounds that it was just an excuse concocted to skirt the law. I'm sure there are many women (and their doctors) who, while not big fans of abortion, would beg to differ on that.

How many times does it take to kill a federal rule before it's really dead? Apparently at least two if you are a conspiracy-minded Republican.

For the past three years, conservatives have been clinging to a notion launched by Rush Limbaugh back in 2008, which suggested that President Obama had nefarious plans to shut down talk radio by invoking something known as the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine is a long-dead but once controversial policy that was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure broadcasters presented balanced views in their coverage of controversial subjects.

While well intended, the Truman-era rule ultimately encouraged broadcasters to avoid touchy topics altogether, rather than seek out contrasting viewpoints. After criticism from broadcast journalists who saw the rule as a major violation of their free-speech rights, the FCC abolished it in 1987. Democrats attempted to revive the rule, but President George H.W. Bush threatened to veto the legislation (as Ronald Reagan had in 1987), and those efforts failed. Since then, the Fairness Doctrine has largely been relegated to textbooks on media law—that is, until it was resurrected as the latest conservative bugaboo.

Since 2008, conservative legal organizations around the country have dedicated whole panel discussions at their conventions to the nonexistent Fairness Doctrine, helping to keep alive the preposterous notion that Obama might somehow resurrect the old rule to "hush Rush." (You can watch one of the most absurd talks here.) There was never even the tiniest bit of evidence that Obama intended to revive the old rule, but Republicans have refused to let the issue go. Now that they control the House in Congress, Republicans intend to use their new power to make sure that the Fairness Doctrine is really, really, extra dead, just in case it should be revived like some sort of federal zombie by liberal Democrats.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), have asked the FCC to officially take the Fairness Doctrine off the books. And what do you know? The commission's Obama-appointed chairman, Julius Genachowski, has agreed. NewsMax doesn't say whether the FCC chair is a Rush fan, but Genachowski responded to Upton in a a letter noting that he had long opposed the Fairness Doctrine because it “holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas.”

The FCC chairman wrote:

“I fully support deleting the Fairness Doctrine and related provisions from the Code of Federal Regulations, so that there can be no mistake that what has been a dead letter is truly dead,” he wrote. “I look forward to effectuating this change when acting on the staff’s recommendations and anticipate that the process can be completed in the near future.”

Will erasing the Fairness Doctrine from the federal rule books finally put an end to the conspiracy theory? Well, if the president couldn't put an end to rumors that he was born in Kenya by releasing his birth certificate, it seems unlikely that just pretending like the Fairness Doctrine never existed will be enough to silence paranoid conservatives. But you never know.

Sgt. Eric Brondyke, left, and Sgt. Walkerson Bastia provide security at the Shah Joy Hospital as members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul survey the construction progress of a new hospital addition, June 4. Photo via US Army.

The latest news out of Newt Gingrich's faltering presidential campaign spells disaster for the former House speaker: Gingrich's campaign manager, spokesman, and other key aides have all resigned en masse, the Associated Press reports. That includes Dave Carney, Gingrich's top aide in New Hampshire, a critical state in presidential primary season, as well as paid staffers in Iowa and South Carolina.

The mass resignation comes as Gingrich faced mounting attacks from all sides for his recent vacation in the Greek Isles with wife Callista, a trip he embarked on only weeks after officially rolling out his presidential campaign. In addition, Gingrich has been dogged by his characterization of Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan as "right-wing social engineering," a claim he made on national TV, and by the revelation that he enjoyed a $500,000 line of credit at luxury jewelry company Tiffany.

According to Politico, the Gingrich staffers quit over what they called a "different vision" for the campaign, and said their resignation was "a team decision." Rick Tyler, Gingrich's long-time spokesman who resigned today, told the Huffington Post that "the expectation of what a candidate is was a little different, and the expectation of the time commitments."

Soon after the resignations were first reported, Gingrich's campaign blasted out an email to supporters titled "Newt is Committed to Running a Solutions-Orientated Campaign." In the email Gingrich writes, "I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring. The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles."

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has riled his partymates with his assertion that the planet is warming and humans are (at least somewhat) to blame. It's pretty much the only thing Mitt hasn't flip-flopped on so far. As I reported last month, though, the former Massachusetts governor is not the only 2012 candidate with a green "problem."

Now, rather than risk being labeled a heretic, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum wants to make it absolutely clear that he definitely does not have any green skeletons in his closet. In an appearance on the Rush Limbaugh's show, Santorum—noted climate scientist that he is—declared the idea of global warming "patently absurd." The exchange was both woefully ignorant of basic science and delved deep into the realm of conspiracy theory, with Santorum calling the scientific consensus a "beautifully concocted scheme" to institute global governance:

I believe the earth gets warmer, and I also believe the earth gets cooler, and I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man through the production of CO2 which is a trace gas in the atmosphere and the manmade part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all of the other factors, El Nino, La Nina, sunspots, you know, moisture in the air. There's a variety of factors that contribute to the earth warming and cooling, and to me this is an opportunity for the left to create -- it's a beautifully concocted scheme because they know that the earth is gonna cool and warm. It's been on a warming trend so they said, "Oh, let's take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it's getting warmer," just like they did in the seventies when it was getting cool, they needed the government to come in and regulate your life because it's getting cooler. It's just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I've never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to significantly reduce the number of inmates in its state prisons, where conditions are so horrendous that the violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In an article just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, physician researchers from the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, run by Brown University and Providence's Miriam Hospital and Brown University suggest a straightforward cure for what they call the "epidemic of mass incarceration" that has swept the country in recent decades: Stop using prisons and jails as holding facilities for people with mental illness and drug addiction—who account for a full half of today's prison population—and get them proper treatment instead.

Some 2.3 million Americans—1 in 100 adults—is now in prison at any given time, with an estimated 10 million cycling in and out of prisons and jails each year. The numbers have increased more than 600 percent in the past 40 years. According to the article:

Much of the increase in the prisoner census is a result of the "War on Drugs" and our country's failure to treat addiction and mental illness as medical conditions. The natural history of these diseases often leads to behaviors that result in incarceration. The medical profession has the chance both to advocate for changes in the criminal justice system to reduce the number of people behind bars who would be better served in community-based treatment and to capitalize on the tremendous public health opportunities for diagnosing and treating disease and for linking patients to care after release.

Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill over the past 50 years and severe punishment for drug users starting in the 1970s have shifted the burden of care for addiction and mental illness to jails and prisons. The largest facilities housing psychiatric patients in the United States are not hospitals but jails. More than half of inmates have symptoms of a psychiatric disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), and major depression and psychotic disorders are four to eight times as prevalent among inmates as in the general population — yet only 22% of state prisoners and 7% of jail inmates receive mental health treatment while incarcerated.

Instead, prisoners are subject to conditions—including solitary confinement—that exacerbate, rather than address, their mental health problems. This is because "correctional facilities are fundamentally designed to confine and punish, not to treat disease," the article continues. "The harsh and socially isolating conditions in jail or prison often exacerbate mental illness, especially when inmates are placed under solitary confinement, as is common in the 'super maximum' facilities that have proliferated extensively in recent years."

In a Washington Post story concerning the conservative blowback to Mitt Romney's climate change stance (that it's real and caused by humans), an unnamed Romney unleashes one of the most dubious comments you'll ever hear about the former Massachusetts governor:

"The fact that he doesn’t change his position...that’s the upside for us... He's not going to change his mind on these issues to put his finger in the wind for what scores points with these parts of the party."

Come again? We're talking about flip-flop king Mitt Romney, right? This statement is so off the mark and, frankly, wrong that it doesn't even qualify as spin, which at least has the thinnest tether to reality.

Let's put it this way: Romney has flip-flopped so many times that there's an entire website——devoted to rehashing his ever-shifting positions. For example, on abortion:

In 2002: "I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose."

In 2007: "Look, I was pro-choice. I am pro-life. You can go back to YouTube and look at what I said in 1994. I never said I was pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice. I changed my position. And I get tired of people that are holier-than-thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have."

Romney himself admits he changed his position on abortion, the most heated of social issues. But wait, there's more.

On the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision:

In 1994, running for US Senate: "We should sustain and support" the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

As Massachusetts governor: "Roe v. Wade has gone too far."

On his father, former Michigan governor George Romney:

In a December 2007: "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King."

Days later: "I did not see it with my own eyes but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."

On immigration reform and amnesty for illegal immigrants:

In 2006: "Those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application for citizenship, as they would from their home country."

In 2007: "I do not believe amnesty is the right course for the 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants who are living here. It didn't work in the 1980s; it's not going to work in the 2000s either.

On the Vietnam War:

In 1994: "I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam."

In 2008: "I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam."

Even Romney's former top aides and advisors have raised the issue of his mushy positions. As I reported in May, Bruce Keough, Romney's former New Hampshire campaign guru, pointed to the candidate's wishy-washy political stands as a reason for not joining Romney's 2012 effort. "I don't think the voters are looking for somebody who's going to be recasting himself," Keough said. referring to Romney. "They want somebody who's been true to a certain set of political ideals for a while."

And the list of flip-flops goes on and on. Now, this isn't to say a candidate's beliefs don't evolve over time, with experience and new information. That's human nature. But it is undeniable that Romney in particular has morphed his political positions since the 1990s to sway voters and win elections. Claiming, then, that Mitt "doesn’t change his position" is beyond ludicrous. You have to wonder: What kind of advisers is Romney surrounding himself with?

Mass. State Rep. Ryan Fattman

On Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announced that the Bay State will refuse to participate in the Obama administration's Secure Communities initiative, a controversial program that requires states and municipalities to tell the federal government about arrests of undocumented immigrants. Patrick cited concerns over racial profiling and suggested that the program would undermine existing law enforcement efforts and further discourage undocumented residents from reporting violent crimes. But the governor's decision didn't sit well with Massachusetts Republicans—notably 24-year-old State Rep. Ryan Fattman. Here's what he told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:

Asked if he would be concerned that a woman without legal immigration status was raped and beaten as she walked down the street might be afraid to report the crime to police, Mr. Fattman said he was not worried about those implications.

"My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward," Mr. Fattman said. "If you do it the right way, you don't have to be concerned about these things," he said referring to obtaining legal immigration status.

Fattman's comments earned him some sharp rebukes on the left, including from BlueMass and Right Wing Watch. There are already plenty of pernicious pressures working against women who have been raped—the prospect of being publicly shamed by French intellectuals and former game show hosts, for instance; the prospect of being subjected to a lecture on how they somehow brought it upon themselves. For undocumented residents, with the threat of deportation perpetually overhead, those pressures are even greater.

I called up Fattman on Thursday for an explanation.

Talk to a prominent social conservative these day and the odds are pretty good that he or she is a fan of David Barton. Perhaps more than any other person, the Texas-based amateur historian has provided grist for the idea of American Exceptionalism—the argument that America's unique success in the world is divinely caused and due to its committment to core Judeo-Christian principles. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, the tea party champion and likely 2012 presidential contender, invited him to teach members of Congress about the Constitution; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he learns something new every time he listens to Barton.

He's a pretty influential guy. So what, exactly, does he teach? On Wednesday, Right Wing Watch flagged a recent interview Barton gave with an evangelcial talk show, in which he argues that the Founding Fathers had explicitly rejected Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.* Yes, that Darwin. The one whose seminal work, On the Origin of Species, wasn't even published until 1859. Barton declared, "As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they'd already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you've got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!" Paine died in 1809, the same year Darwin was born. Here's the clip:

It's been said that James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were ahead of their times. But perhaps not that prescient.

In the same interview, Barton explains that one of the main reasons that the colonies wanted to break away from England was because it would then become easier to abolish slavery. Anybody who has studied the basics of the American Revolution knows that the issue of slavery was tabled in order to secure approval of the Declaration of Independence. (For the record, Britain abolished slavery in 1833—32 years before the United States.)

This is kind of nuts, but also illuminating. Barton has emerged as a force by bridging two sometimes disparate strains of conservatism—the Chamber of Commerce crowd with the Christian Coalition crowd. In his lectures, they become one: Jesus opposed the minimum wage; Jesus opposed the progressive income tax; etc. You can only imagine the fervor with which Jesus would have endorsed the Paul Ryan budget. When someone like Bachmann says, as she famously did earlier this year, that the Founding Fathers worked to abolish slavery, Barton is where it starts. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another potential GOP presidential candidate, says we need to return to our Biblical principles to escape from our current system of economic slavery (yes, he really said this), he's channeling Barton.

When it comes to the conservatives' alternative reality—from Jesus to the Founders to the HMS Beagle—Barton is the right's historian-in-chief.

*Update: A reader writes in to suggest that the headline for this post is less than accurate, considering Barton doesn't mention Darwin by name, and that there was a theory of evolution that existed at the time of the Founders, so it's not too far-fetched to think they would have been aware of that. Those are both fair points. But I think that's giving Barton too much credit. Barton is arguing against the teaching of today's scientifically accepted evolutionary theory by noting that, prior to the actual development of today's evolutionary theory, the Founders opposed evolution. He's conflating pre-Darwin and post-Darwin evolutionary theory in order to make a point about teaching Creationism in schools. My point isn't that he doesn't know the difference; it's that he doesn't mind blurring the difference.

The longer Herman Cain is on the campaign trail, the more bizarre and error-filled his pronouncements become. On the day he officially announced his candidacy in May, for instance, Cain made a huge blunder as he pounded home the importance of reading the US Constitution:

We don't need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America; we need to reread the Constitution, and enforce the Constitution... I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don't want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'" [emphasis mine]

That, of course, is the opening to the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Not an ideal roll-out speech.

This week, Cain, the former head of Godfather's Pizza, pledged that, if elected president, he would only sign small bills. Think really small. Like three pages or shorter. "Don't try to pass a 2,700 page bill—even they didn't read it!" he said, referring to the Democrats' health care bill. "You and I didn't have time to read it. We're too busy trying to live—send our kids to school. That's why I am only going to allow small bills—three pages. You'll have time to read that one over the dinner table."

But that's not as bizarre as Cain's latest zinger. In Iowa, as ThinkProgress reports, Cain suggested he would, as president, build a huge fence along the US-Mexico border as part of his plan to clamp down on illegal immigration. And not just any big fence; a fence on par with the Great Wall of China, the mother of all barriers. And in case that newly erected Great Wall of America somehow didn't keep out border-crossers, Cain's alligator-filled moat would do the trick. Yes, you read that correctly. Here's the video:

Transcript: "I just got back from China. Ever heard of the Great Wall of China? It looks pretty sturdy. And that sucker is real high. I think we can build one if we want to! We have put a man on the moon, we can build a fence! Now, my fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology...It will be a twenty foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top, and on this side of the fence, I’ll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat!"

Herman Cain may be climbing in the polls, but he's not doing himself any favors on the campaign trail with ideas like these. If anything, he seems to be actively undermining his gains in public approval. Alligator-filled moats? And keep in mind, the gaffes mentioned above happened in only the past month. The Iowa caucus is nearly seven months away. Who knows what rhetorical gems and perplexing proclamations he'll think of until then?