Mojo - November 2011

The Graphic Anti-Abortion Film That's Rocking the Vote in Mississippi

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 4:05 PM EST
A still from "180," an anti-abortion film that compares reproductive rights to the Holocaust.

On Tuesday, Mississippi voters will weigh in on ballot question 26, aka the Personhood Amendment, which would change the state Constitution to say that fertilized human eggs are legal persons. The measure, if enacted, would make many kinds of birth control illegal (its supporters call the morning-after-pill "a human pesticide"), and ban abortion in all cases—even in instances of rape (supporters organized a "Conceived in Rape" tour earlier this year to promote the amendment). A Public Policy Polling survey released on Monday said the electorate is almost evenly split on the measure.

So how are supporters getting out the vote? By blasting out emails promoting a film that equates support for reproductive rights with support for the Holocaust. 180 is a documentary by Australian New Zealand filmmaker Ray Comfort, and features graphic images from concentration camps. Per a press release, Personhood USA has sent out a link to the film to 600,000 eligible voters in Mississippi. Here's the film:

The film, billed as "33 minutes that will rock your world!," attempts to make the case that abortion is similar to the Holocaust. Incidentally, this isn't the only movie being promoted by Personhood supporters ahead of the vote. Yes on 26, the main outfit supporting the Personhood Amendment, has also been promoting October Baby, which the Huntsville Times describes as "a coming-of-age love story that follows college freshman Hannah, who learns she’s not only adopted, but an abortion survivor."

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Report: World May Face New Nuclear Arms Race

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 4:03 PM EST
An ICBM loaded into a solo at the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Fear of new American military capabilities is spurring nuclear powers like Russia and China to modernize their atomic arsenals and evade disarmament, according to a new report from a US-British think tank.

Even though Barack Obama has pledged to work for global disarmament and the United States negotiated a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the world's nine global states still possess 22,400 warheads and are moving swiftly to "modernize" their stockpiles, according to the study "Beyond the United Kingdom: Trends in Other Nuclear States" (PDF), by researchers at the British-American Security Information Council. "There is little sign in any of these nuclear armed states that a future without nuclear weapons is seriously being contemplated," the authors conclude.

The report is part of a major push in Great Britain to reassess that country's nuclear weapons program, but it's chock full of data and analyses that show how the Nuclear Nine are expanding their capabilities, exploiting treaty loopholes, and heading for a possible 21st-century arms race.

Much of that effort is being spurred by US policy, the report notes: "[A]lthough the Obama administration deserves huge credit for kick-starting multilateral nuclear disarmament talks with Russia, it also appears true that the United States continues to view nuclear weapons as essential to national security and is planning, and spending, to ensure it has robust nuclear forces for many decades to come."

Architect of Arizona's Anti-Immigration Law May Lose His Seat

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 3:32 PM EST
Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R).

Republican Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of the state's draconian anti-immigrantion law, may lose his seat in tomorrow's recall election. According to a poll by a local ABC affiliate, Pearce is running neck-and-neck with his Republican challenger Jerry Lewis:

Lewis holds a 46-43 percent lead over Pearce in the historic recall contest, but the edge is within the poll’s margin of error.

"Statistically here, what we’ve got is a dead heat," said Jeremy Moreland, a Valley pollster who conducted the survey. "Both Lewis and Pearce are within the margin of error of one another."

Pearce has a considerable financial advantage. According to the ABC affiliate, Pearce "raised an eye-popping $230,000—including donations from more than 40 states—compared to Lewis’ $69,000." Yet despite that advantage, and the fact that his campaign managed to get a sham candidate, Olivia Cortes, on the ballot, Pearce may still lose.

Pearce's opponents challenged Cortes' candidacy in court and Maricopa County Judge Edward Burke wrote in his ruling that that Cortes was recruited by Pearce allies "to siphon Hispanic votes from Lewis to advance Pearce's recall-election bid." Nevertheless, Burke ruled that Cortes could stay on the ballot, because "he could find no wrongdoing by Cortes herself." According to the ABC-15 poll, Cortes is still polling at about 2.5 percent, which in an election this close could mean the difference between Pearce keeping or losing his seat. In one last desperate attempt to swing the election in Pearce's favor, his allies are behind a misleading robocall in an effort to manipulate voters into casting a ballot for Cortes. 

Pearce, who drafted the 2010 law after meeting with officials from the American Legislative Exchange Council and Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company, became state Senate president following Republican gains in the 2010 elections. But despite his rise in political stature, his anti-immigrant agenda met with more resistance than expected, and he was recently implicated by an investigation that showed him and other Arizona lawmakers illegally accepting Fiesta Bowl tickets. 

While Pearce's odd ability to "accidentally" associate with white supremacists didn't stop him from rising to state senate president in Arizona, his Republican opponent has taken a moderate stance on immigration, saying during their debate a few weeks ago that "we need to make sure we address this issue in a humane way." So it's not just that Pearce might lose. It's that the state's most anti-immigrant politician might be defeated by the kind of Republican moderate on immigration that, back in 2010, seemed almost extinct.

Poll: Mississippi Personhood Amendment May Pass

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 12:47 PM EST

Mississippi's "Personhood" amendment, which would redefine life as beginning at fertilization, may well pass when it goes to a vote on Tuesday. Public Policy Polling finds that 45 percent of voters in the state support the amendment, while 44 percent are opposed.

The poll found that men (48 percent), whites (54 percent), and Republicans (65 percent) show the strongest support for the proposal. The measure has received backing from Mississippi politicians on both sides of the aisle, including both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor. The state's current governor, Republican Haley Barbour, first expressed some apprehension about the measure, but then voted for it when he sent in his absentee ballot last week (he'll be out of town on Election Day).

This is by far the most extreme anti-abortion law under consideration in the US. It would not only ban all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, but would also outlaw many forms of birth control and in-vitro fertilization.

Les Riley, the director of Personhood Mississippi, says the measure's not just about redefining the very concept of when human life begins. He also hopes it may help convert more Mississippians to Christianity—even those who vote against it. Riley is certainly correct, however, in his statement that, if it's approved, this "will be the first time in history that a state has recognized the humanity of the unborn and their God-given right to life." When similar measure was on the ballot in Colorado for (for a second time) last year, voters rejected it by a 3 to 1 margin.

Supreme Court Declines to Halt Execution of Texas Inmate Duane Buck

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 12:29 PM EST

On Monday, the US Supreme Court rejected a writ of certiorari to reconsider the case of Texas death row inmate Duane Buck, meaning that unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles intervenes (it hasn't in the past) Buck's execution will continue as planned.

Buck was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend and a male acquaintance, but while he freely admits to his guilt, the point of contention is how his death sentence was obtained. The prosecutor in the case relied in part on the testimony of a defense-summoned psychologist who argued that Buck's race (he's black) made him more likely to commit violent acts in the future. Which is to say, he would be a threat if allowed to live in prison, or if he were ever given the chance of parole. Sen. John Cornyn (R), then Texas' attorney general, included Buck's in a list of cases that had been improperly decided—but Buck's case was the only one that didn't result in a re-trial. The Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction in October to give themselves time to decide whether to review the case.

Watchdog Group Asks IRS to Investigate Cain Aide's Charity

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 12:28 PM EST
Herman Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block.

On Monday, uber-attorney Gloria Allred announced that she is representing a fourth woman allegedly harassed by GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, thereby ensuring that controversy will continue to grab DC headlines for at least another week. But ultimately, it's items like this that could cause things to get real ugly, real fast for the Cain campaign:

Today, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a letter requesting that the Internal Revenue Service investigate a charity operated by Wisconsin political veteran Mark Block that spent over $40,000 of tax-exempt donations to pay for private jets, travel, and computers for Herman Cain’s presidential bid. CMD also requested an examination of other Mark Block-related groups sharing the same address or other commonalities. Mr. Cain, who has denied knowing who paid for his various travels, is not the target of these requests to the IRS.

CMD joins Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in raising official concerns about the role Block's non-profit, Prosperity USA, played in getting Cain's campaign off the ground. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel first reported, Prosperity USA appears to have advanced tens of thousands of dollars to the Cain campaign, footing the bill for trips to Vegas, flights, and iPads. But those debts do not show in Cain's Federal Elections Commission filings. As a non-profit, CMD is legally prohibited from making either direct or in-kind contributions to a campaign. As we noted previously, Block has a history of playing fast and loose with the tax code; he was suspended from working on elections in Wisconsin for three years in the early 2000s after turning a non-profit voter registration outfit into a campaign organ during a judicial election.

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Poll: Ohio Gov. John Kasich's Anti-Union Law Headed for Whopping Defeat

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 10:56 AM EST

On the eve of Ohio's ballot referendum on Tuesday, a new poll by Public Policy Polling suggests GOP Gov. John Kasich's anti-union law is set for a trouncing.

PPP found that 59 percent of voters supported repealing SB 5, as Kasich's law is known, while only 36 percent wanted to uphold it. That's bad news for Kasich allies, as it reinforces previous polls showing SB 5 heading for a resounding defeat. In fact, the 23-point gap in PPP's latest survey is identical to the result of a March PPP poll. "Voters were furious then and that anger has continued all the way to November," Tom Jensen, PPP's director, said in a statement.

Although Democrats voice near-unanimous support for repealing SB 5, that same cohesion isn't there among Ohio Republicans, PPP found. Sixty-six percent of Republicans polled said they'd vote to keep the law on the books, but 30 percent said they'd vote for repeal. And among independents, that crucial swath of voters in this swing state, the split was 54 percent to 39 percent in favor of repeal.

As I reported Sunday, the divide among Republicans over SB 5's fate was on display even in House Speaker John Boehner's deep red Congressional district, where a Democrat hasn't been elected to Congress since 1933. As AJ Smith, a city council member in Middletown, the second-largest city in Boehner's district, put it, "This is not about Democrats; this is not about Republicans. This is about right and wrong."

PPP's Jensen said the disgust with SB 5 illustrated Ohioans' broader dislike of Kasich, whose approval rating has slumped to 33 percent. "If Ohio voters could do it over again they'd reelect Ted Strickland by a 55-37 margin over Kasich," Jensen said, "and although they don't have an opportunity for a redo on the gubernatorial election, the likely results of the Senate Bill 5 referendum on Tuesday can be seen as a proxy for it."

For their part, unions and progressives have tried to tamp down expectations of a big, double-digit win Tuesday. As Greg Sargent reported last month, an internal labor memo warned against reading too much into polls on the SB 5 referendum, calling a slam-dunk win not even "remotely possible." The memo, circulated by the group Progress Ohio, noted that no poll up to that point had tested the actual ballot language for the SB 5 repeal. However, this latest PPP poll did just that. The result: 59 percent of those polled wanted SB 5 to go down.

White House: Intergalactic War With Aliens Is Totally Not Imminent

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 10:10 AM EST
The Obama administration insists that this won't be your dark reality any time soon.

News from the past week failed to bring much comfort: The economy is still growing too sluggishly, the Pakistanis are getting even more reckless with their nuclear arsenal, Greece is in turmoil, and true love is dying. But at least the White House can guarantee that we're safe from imminent war with bellicose Martians.

Well, for now, at least:

The White House says there is no evidence of life beyond Earth -- and no cover-up by the government -- but scientists are still searching...Phil Larson, who works on space policy and communications at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy [OSTP], also [notes] that "there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye."

No, this wasn't from a scene in Invasion of the Pod People; last week, Larson, a research assistant in the OSTP, responded to two open petitions to the president, one demanding that federal authorities "formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race" and one calling for "open Congressional hearings to allow the people to become aware of [government interactions with extraterrestrial beings] through those whose voices have been silenced by unconstitutional secrecy oaths."

This pair of "We the People" petitions were signed by thousands of concerned citizens—12,078 unique signatures for the former, 5,387 for the latter—deeply anxious over the prospect of something along the lines of this happening:

Under the White House's "We the People" guidelines, any petition that meets the signature threshold (then 5,000) within 30 days of submission "will be reviewed by the Administration and an official response will be issued." (The review process, though, can easily result in the non-response of a rejection, as seen with multiple petitions regarding drug laws.) In the White House's official response, titled "Searching for ET, But No Evidence Yet," Larson wrote:

The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race...However, that doesn't mean the subject of life outside our planet isn't being discussed or explored. In fact, there are a number of projects working toward the goal of understanding if life can or does exist off Earth...

Many scientists and mathematicians have looked with a statistical mindset at the question of whether life likely exists beyond Earth and have come to the conclusion that the odds are pretty high that somewhere among...the universe there is a planet other than ours that is home to life...[T]he odds of us making contact with any of them—especially any intelligent ones—are extremely small, given the distances involved. But that's all statistics and speculation.

The real mystery is why the White House would choose to acknowledge, let alone reply, to these particular petitions. The issue isn't that there are way more topical petitions out there, or even that there'd be zero political consequences to ignoring a petition about aliens; it's also that there is absolutely no way—short of having Jay Carney confirm the existence of secret intergalactic peace talks between Barack Obama and Mikhail Sergeyevich Alien-achev—to respond in a manner that would pacify the true believers. For instance, Paradigm Research Group (PRG), an advocacy group pushing for UFO-related "politics of disclosure," issued an update stating that the White House's response, authored by some "low level staffer," was insufficient and "unacceptable." (PRG is working to promote a follow-up petition and vows to keep "the Disclosure issue front and center within this attempt at participatory democracy...")

Considering Larson's ET-themed assignment, it's hard not to believe that the OSTP is hazing their research assistants with fool's errands. However, Larson's response could also be interpreted as the White House's snide, symbolic response to another recent online petition—the one requesting the Obama administration actually take these petitions seriously.

Another Dubious Execution Under Rick Perry?

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EST
2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry

Update: On Monday afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Skinner's execution to review how changes in the state law on DNA testing requests affect cases like his.

"Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it."

This was the statement of none other than George W. Bush, Texas governor. He said it in June 2000, about granting a last-minute reprieve to death row inmate Ricky McGinn, who was seeking DNA testing of forensic evidence he claimed might exonerate him. (It didn't, as it turned out, and McGinn was executed several months later.) Bush was running for president when he made his decision to delay the execution to allow for DNA testing.

Today, Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry faces an almost identical decision with the case of Hank Skinner—the main difference being a greater likelihood that Skinner might actually be innocent of the crime for which he has been sentenced to death. Skinner, who is scheduled for execution on November 9, was convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons. He insists he was passed out from intoxication at the time, and that the real perpetrator was probably Busby's uncle (who has since died). At the time of his trial, Skinner's lawyers chose not to have certain items tested, they said, because his DNA would likely be everywhere in the home he shared with the victim. But since 2000, Skinner has been arguing that there's a chance DNA evidence could exonerate him.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 7, 2011

Mon Nov. 7, 2011 5:57 AM EST

Private 1st Class Daniel Adjei, a truck driver assigned to A Co., 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, stares into the twilight at a UH-60 Blackhawk as it comes in for a landing at the landing zone on Camp Ramadi, Iraq, October 31, 2011. Rotary-wing aircraft land at Ramadi to drop off and pick up personnel and to refuel. Personnel at the Ramadi LZ test the fuel daily to ensure it is up to standard, and keep track of the amount issued to each aircraft. Adjei is from Chapel Hill, N.C. Photo by the US Army.