Mojo - October 2011

Congress Contemplates Brutal Anti-Abortion Law

| Wed Oct. 12, 2011 7:49 PM EDT

In what would be a major and potentially deadly change in American healthcare policy, The House of Representatives will take up H.R. 358 —The Protect Life Act—this week. The bill would permit federally funded hospitals to refuse abortion services even to women who would likely die without the procedure.

As the law currently stands, hospitals are required by EMTALA to provide emergency care to anyone who walks through their doors. If a hospital is unable or unwilling to perform a necessary procedure, it is obligated to stabilize the patient and then transfer the individual to a facility that can perform the procedure and agrees to do so. As a result of the EMTALA requirements, the 600 plus Catholic hospitals in the nation who are unwilling to perform abortions on religious grounds, even in life-threatening circumstances to the mother, are obligated to transfer that patient in need of such a procedure to a hospital that agrees to perform the required operation.

If The Protect Life Act were to pass, this would no longer be the case. Hospitals that do not care to perform abortions, for whatever reason and even when the procedure is required to save the life of the mother, would be legally permitted to simply do nothing.

While one might anticipate that hospitals refusing to perform abortions would transfer a patient in life-threatening circumstances to a facility willing to perform the abortion, I wouldn't be so sure.

In 2009, a Phoenix-based Catholic bishop excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital, for authorizing an abortion in the case of a woman who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension and was likely to die without the procedure. In stating his reasons for this extreme act, the Archdiocese issued a statement saying, in part:

An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means.

The direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic.

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Topeka Removes Ban on Domestic Battery

| Wed Oct. 12, 2011 2:08 PM EDT

Topeka City Council voted on Tuesday night to drop a ban on domestic violence within the city, in a bass-ackward attempt to force county law enforcement to deal with those cases. As I blogged last week, the city and the district attorney are in a spat about who should pay to prosecute those cases, and the result has left victims of domestic violence in the lurch.

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reports that the council voted 7 to 3 to repeal an ordinance banning domestic battery. Supporters argue that the move will force Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor to resume prosecuting those cases, which he stopped doing last month in protest of budget cuts:

The vote came after [Interim city manager Dan] Stanley recommended the governing body approve the repeal to make it clear that only the district attorney's office is legally empowered to prosecute domestic batteries committed in Topeka and can’t “dump” that responsibility on the city.
Stanley said the repeal would "remove all ambiguity from this question" while giving the city leverage as it negotiates with the county commission and district attorney's office to seek to ensure misdemeanor domestic batteries committed in Topeka are prosecuted in district court.

The city's assistant attorney says domestic violence is still a crime, since there's a state law banning it. But the move essentially ensures that no one is in charge of enforcing that law in the state capital. And, let me remind you again, that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Looks like they really know how to celebrate it in Kansas.

Get on the Occupy Wall Street Tourist Bus

| Wed Oct. 12, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
OWS as tourist attraction

Every good movement needs a bus. Rosa Parks had one. Ken Kesey had one. Even freegan climate activists who get around on French fry grease have one. So why not Occupy Wall Street? After all, a bus passes Zuccotti Park every minute or so. It's most often red, double-decker, and crammed with tourists, admittedly, but at least the seats are comfortable. Or so I was thinking on Sunday as I stood in line on Broadway behind a kid with a foam Statue of Liberty crown, waiting to get aboard.

I sat down in the back between a burly Australian and a skinny German. Neither had much to say about Occupy Wall Street. Two large women in front of me whom I'd figured for Americans were actually Canadian and didn't have any opinions either. So I moved to a front row and sat down next to someone who, it turned out, didn't speak English. But at least I was close to the tour guide, Thomas Kinzey, a man with wraparound sunglasses, a stubble, and a penchant for numbers. "Tower No. 4 will house the mausoleum, the chapel, the visitors center of the 9/11 memorial," he was saying. "The mausoleum will house the 14,000 body parts that remain unclaimed due to contaminated DNA."

4 Things You Need to Know About the Iran Bomb Plot

| Wed Oct. 12, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
US Attorney General Eric Holder

The assassination was never going to take place. On Tuesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller described Iranian American Mansour Arbabsiar's alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States as straight out of a "Hollywood script." In a sense he was right—because the plot was controlled from the beginning by the FBI. According to the criminal complaint, when Arbabsiar traveled to Mexico in May 2011, to allegedly find an assassin from the ranks of Mexican drug cartels, he ended up talking to a paid DEA* informant who dodged drug charges in exchange for cooperating with authorities. In keeping with previous sting cases, the FBI was careful to record statements from Arbabsiar dismissing the possibility of numerous civilian casualties, something that makes an entrapment defense all but impossible to mount.

The US thinks Iran is responsible. The criminal complaint states that Arbabsiar believed his cousin, Ali Gholam Shakuri, was a member of the al-Quds Force, an elite faction of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Under interrogation, Arbabsiar allegedly identified two men who were "known to the United States to be senior members of the Quds Force," one of whom allegedly met with Arbabsiar and Shakuri in Iran to discuss the operation. Despite the al-Quds Force's reputation for lethal effectiveness however, Arbabsiar and his cousin don't come off as any more competent than the average target of an FBI sting. They discuss the plot in ham-handed "code" in telephone conversations, and Shakuri allegedly wires $100,000 to an American bank controlled by the FBI. That's not exactly the kind of subtlety you expect from an "elite unit" made up of Iranian Revolutionary Guard's "most skilled warriors," a group so effective that attacks in Iraq were attributed to them on the basis of their lethality and sophistication. (Iran's government has denied involvement.)

So much for Miranda rights halting interrogation. Arbabsiar was arrested in late September, but he wasn't brought before a judge until Tuesday. That's because when he was arrested at the airport upon returning from another trip to Mexico, he "knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and his right to speedy presentment." Not only did he cooperate with interrogators, he flipped and implicated his cousin Shakuri by calling him and discussing the plot while the FBI was listening in. And all without waterboarding. 

So, about targeted killing… The New York Times' Charlie Savage recently reported on the contents of the legal memo authorizing the targeting of recently killed radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, which concluded that "Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not feasible to capture him, because intelligence agencies said he was taking part in the war between the United States and Al Qaeda and posed a significant threat to Americans, as well as because Yemeni authorities were unable or unwilling to stop him." Iran could make similar arguments about the Saudi ambassador if they felt so inclined, if they wanted to justify the plot, true or otherwise. All of which is to say that those rules may not be enough of a framework to prevent a future in which other countries that acquire drone technology decide to use them to eliminate their stated enemies as frequently as the US does.

*An earlier version of the piece identified the informant as an FBI source; the informant was with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 12, 2011

Wed Oct. 12, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

US Army Pfc. Richard Mills, Security Forces rifleman attached to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, secures his eyes and ears as Afghan National Army soldiers conduct a controlled detonation of a Taliban-planted Improvised Explosive Device found on a road in Shinkai, Afghanistan, Oct. 8, 2011. ANA soldiers detonated the IEDs after being trained by PRT Zabul on proper controlled detonation techniques. Private Mills is deployed from Charlie Company, 182nd Infantry Division, Massachusetts National Guard. (US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

Romney Dodges Questions About Bain Legacy at Debate

| Tue Oct. 11, 2011 10:10 PM EDT
GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

If nothing else, Mitt Romney came prepared to Tuesday's GOP presidential debate. While his top rival Rick Perry seemed only semi-alert (perhaps he needs more sleep?), Romney was more than up to the task of responding to a steady stream of jabs from the field's also-rans. He told Herman Cain that sometimes short and simple plans are "inadequate" when the Georgia businessman asked Romney to recite his economic plan from memory.* And when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman challenged Romney on his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital, stating (accurately) that Romney was not a job creator, he fought back. Hard.

Here's what Huntsman asked: "Some might see you because of your past employment with Bain Capital as more of a financial engineer, somebody who breaks down businesses, destroys jobs, as opposed to creating jobs and opportunity, leveraging up, spinning off, enriching shareholders. Since you were number 47 as governor of the state of Massachusetts—where we were number one for example—and the whole discussion around this campaign is going to be job creation, how can you win that debate given your background?" Romney had been asked a variation of the question at previous debates, but this time he came prepared with specifics:

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Herman Cain On Alan Greenspan: He's My Guy

| Tue Oct. 11, 2011 9:26 PM EDT
Alan Greenspan.

Toward the tail end of Tuesday night's WaPo-Bloomberg debate, the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty asked Herman Cain who he felt was the most successful Federal Reserve chairman. Cain briskly responded with "Alan Greenspan," saying that "the way he coordinated with all of the Federal Reserve banks" was admirable. Fellow candidate Ron Paul then (predictably) followed up with a blunt "Alan Greenspan was a disaster."

Cain's response warrants a double take: even Alan Greenspan publicly acknowledged that Alan Greenspan was an abject disaster. As David Corn reported three years ago, during a congressional hearing in October 2008, the Reagan-appointed, pseudo-Objectivist Fed chairman admitted that his libertarian worldview didn't exactly pan out:

With members of the House oversight and government reform committee blasting Greenspan for his past decisions that helped pave the way for the current financial crisis, he acknowledged that his libertarian view of markets and the financial world had not worked out so well. "You know," he told the legislators, "that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well." While Greenspan did defend his various decisions, he admitted that his faith in the ability of free and loosely-regulated markets to produce the best outcomes had been shaken: "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."... Greenspan, one of the more ideological Washington players of the past few decades, essentially said that Ayn Randism had let him—and the entire world—down. It was truly a God that failed.

Along with his self-admitted record of failure, Greenspan, in his 2004 memoir The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, seems to mainly reserve kind words for President Clinton (whom he described as having a "consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth"), while heavily bashing Republican leaders from Richard Nixon to both Bushes. Anyway, read David's whole piece.

The Jury's Still Out on Perry's Enterprise Fund

| Tue Oct. 11, 2011 8:58 PM EDT
Rick Perry.

At Tuesday night's debate, Gov. Rick Perry was asked about the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), one of his key job creation initiatives. Perry boasted about the 54,600 jobs the program supposedly created, and the $14 billion-plus in capital investment it has brought to Texas. (The fund works by giving companies taxpayer money in exchange for them agreeing to add jobs in Texas, usually by moving their operations there.)

Perry didn't really explain why some of the recipients of fat grants and huge tax breaks are some of his biggest donors, and it's still not clear how many jobs TEF really created. As I reported back in September:

In January 2010, Perry's office claimed that TEF had created 54,600 jobs since it began in 2003. But company-reported data shows that, by the end of 2009, fewer than 23,000 jobs could be attributed to TEF. And two-thirds of TEF-backed companies failed to meet their job targets. The program handed out nearly $440 million during that period. . . .

The program also suffers from a conspicuous lack of transparency, according to Andrew Wheat, the research director for [Texans for Public Justice]. Wheat says that his colleagues intended to use government data from 2010 to assess the program, but they were forced to rely on numbers from 2009. "We put in a request to get that data covering 2010," he said. "We're still waiting." . . .

Don Baylor, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says there is no way to verify Perry's claims more broadly. "It's quite simply not possible to know whether these companies would have come to Texas without the cash," Baylor says.

There's just no way of knowing whether all the money Perry spent on drawing companies to Texas actually created any jobs. So the jury should still be out on that Texas miracle.

Bachmann Revives Debt Ceiling "Blank Check" Lie

| Tue Oct. 11, 2011 8:26 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann.

In Tuesday night's Bloomberg/Washington Post Republican presidential primary debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) resurrected a lie peddled by Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor during the debate over increasing the debt ceiling: That increasing the borrowing limit would be the equivalent of handing President Obama a "blank check."

As David Corn pointed out back in July, this is just flat wrong:

[A] blank check enables future spending. Raising the debt ceiling is about permitting the US government to cover past spending—and the blank checks of the past. These particular blank checks were issued by the Republicans during the Bush years. They voted (with the help of some Democrats) for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without budgeting for them. They did the same with a Medicare prescription-drug benefit. They also green-lighted President Bush's tax cuts without accounting for the drop in revenue they would cause. Together these blank checks account for two-thirds of the deficit, if not more. (See this chart.) By claiming the debt ceiling is the problem, the Republicans are blaming the bank for the bank robber's action.'

Moreover, raising the debt ceiling does not hand Obama any more authority to spend. Congress controls spending—and the Republicans control the House and have filibuster power within the Senate. If Republicans want to clamp down on spending, they can endeavor to do so through the appropriations process. Holding the line on the debt ceiling will not turn off any spigot. The United States will continue to run up debt; the government just won't be able to pay its bills—which will likely lead to greater interest rates and, consequently, more debt.

None of this has prevented Republicans from deploying the blank-check accusation. Their heavy reliance on this rhetorical ammo suggests it's been poll-vetted and focus-group-tested. When the political battle at hand involves government accounting—a matter that most Americans are not that familiar with—a simple and easy-to-understand metaphor can be rather helpful. After all, how many independent voters want a president with a blank check?

Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Plan Raises Taxes on the Poor

| Tue Oct. 11, 2011 8:20 PM EDT
GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain.

If you watched Tuesday evenings' GOP presidential debate, you heard a lot about Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. For the unfamiliar, it's pretty straightforward: 9 percent corporate tax, 9 percent sales tax, and 9 percent income tax. Win-win-win! Or maybe not. Cain was asked at the debate to explain away the charge that his 9-9-9 plan would effectively raise taxes on low-income workers. (Among other things, Cain's plan would implement a sales tax on groceries, which only two states currently do.)

Cain rejected the notion, but the facts are pretty clearly not on his side. Don't take it from me, though. None other than Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says so. Here's how he explained it at the New York Times' "Economix" blog earlier this week: