Mojo - January 2012

Komen Kills Grants for Planned Parenthood Breast Cancer Screenings

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 6:10 PM EST

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the ubiquitous charity dedicated to fighting breast cancer, is cancelling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of grants to Planned Parenthood that help pay for cancer screenings, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

Komen has been under pressure from anti-abortion groups to drop its funding for Planned Parenthood, which received $680,000 from the anti-cancer group in 2011. Most recently, abortion foes forced a Christian publisher to stop printing pink Komen bibles and pressured bookstores to take them off shelves. Groups have also called on supporters to boycott Komen entirely, and decried the group as a "lie from the pit of Hell." But Komen says the anti-abortion groups' activism didn't play a role in its decision, which it claims is the result of a new internal policy forbidding it from funding any organization that's currently under investigation in Congress. (Planned Parenthood is the target of a congressional investigation, but that probe is led by an anti-abortion lawmaker who has sought to end all federal support to the group.)

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Rep. Dan Burton's Legacy: Lots of Sick Kids

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 3:57 PM EST
Dan Burton is wrong about vaccines and autism.

So Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) is finally retiring, after two decades in Congress. He's got a notable record of craziness, having doggedly pursued President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal while knowing full well he'd had an affair himself and even fathered a child out of wedlock. He famously claimed to have shot up a "head-like object" (likely a melon or a pumpkin) to try to re-create the alleged "murder" of former Clinton deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, who committed suicide. But Burton doesn't get enough credit for what may be his lasting legacy: helping turn Americans away from life-saving childhood vaccines.

Burton has said he believes one of his grandchildren became autistic after receiving a childhood vaccination. As a result, he spent many years and lots of congressional resources trying to investigate the alleged link between the two. In 2000, he held a circus-like hearing in which he provided a very high profile platform for the now entirely disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield, who helped spawn the myth that vaccines cause autism. Wakefield has since lost his medical license for allegedly falsifying the medical histories of the children he claimed had gotten autism from vaccines, among other issues.

As Wakefield's now-discredited, fabricated data started to raise questions in the medical community, Burton defended him, saying in 2002: "Dr. Wakefield, like many scientists who blaze new trails, has been attacked by his own profession. He has been forced out of his position at Royal Free Hospital in England." In 2007, Burton argued that autistic children should be eligible to receive compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, even though there was no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism.

Burton's official endorsement of Wakefield's science has had a wide-ranging impact. He gave high-level approval to an utterly false theory that ended up persuading thousands of American parents not to immunize their kids, leading to a resurgence of a lot of preventable diseases. Whooping cough has surged nationally, largely because of vaccine refusal. In places like California, where lots of parents refused to immunize their kids, whooping cough became epidemic. In 2010, four babies needlessly died as a result. Measles outbreaks are also becoming more common.

So lest people get nostalgic for Burton's good ol' days of shooting up watermelons, keep in mind that his form of kookiness had some very deadly consequences.

State Senator's Comeback to Mandatory Ultrasound Bill: Mandatory Rectal Exams for Men Seeking Viagra

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 2:30 PM EST
Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell said her amendment was just about "basic fairness."

In a tongue-in-check effort to add "some gender equity" to a mandatory ultrasound bill proposed in Virginia, state Sen. Janet Howell proposed an amendment requiring men to undergo a rectal exam and cardiac stress test before getting prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

Well, apparently not in this case. Legislators rejected Howell's amendment Monday by a rather slim 21 to 19 margin. The original bill, which is expected to pass the full Senate on Tuesday, requires women to have an ultrasound and be offered an opportunity to view the image—despite the fact that a routine ultrasound is not considered medically necessary for a first-trimester abortion (PDF). Explaining her amendment on the Senate floor, Howell said, "It’s only fair, that if we’re going to subject women to unnecessary procedures, and we’re going to subject doctors to having to do things that they don’t think is medically advisory, well, Mr. President, I think we should just have a little gender equity here."

Many states have such so-called "informed consent" laws (PDF), which, as MoJo's Kate Sheppard has pointed out, are based on the premise that "women don't know what's in their uterus." While abortion foes argue that ultrasounds are necessary to ensure that women fully grasp the consequences of their decision to abort, there's no evidence to suggest that women don't understand that abortion ends a pregnancy. Indeed, the Texas Tribune/New York Times recently reported on the effect of Texas' similar new law, which was allowed to go into effect earlier this month even though its constitutionality is being challenged in court. The law has resulted in a "bureaucratic nightmare" but, according to both clinic directors and abortion opponents, it hasn't caused a single woman to change her mind about getting an abortion.

Intel Report Says Nonviolent Islamist Groups Could Hurt Al-Qaeda

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 12:28 PM EST
President Barack Obama chats with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The consensus of the US intelligence community is that Islamist political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood could act as a buffer against extremist groups like Al Qaeda, according to the prepared remarks of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Wednesday.

Clapper's testimony offered an unclassified summary of the 2012 Worldwide Threat Assessment, which compiles the perspectives of all the various intelligence agencies. In the section on the Arab Spring, Clapper says that intelligence officials believe that Al Qaeda's appeal will be diminished if the Arab world's fledgling democracies can deliver on key promises:

If, over the longer term, governments take real steps to address public demands for political participation and democratic institutions—and remain committed to CT efforts—we judge that core al-Qaeda and the global jihadist movement will experience a strategic setback. Al Qaeda probably will find it difficult to compete for local support with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that participate in the political process, provide social services, and advocate religious values. Nonviolent, pro-democracy demonstrations challenge al Qaeda's violent jihadist ideology and might yield increased political power for secular or moderate Islamist parties.

Clapper's testimony does warn, however, that "prolonged instability or unmet promises of reform" would create "conditions that al Qaeda would work to exploit." Islamist parties that have met success at the polls have yet to have their commitment to pluralistic democracy tested by an election loss. There are positive signs, particularly from Tunisia, but democracy is about more than elections—it's about individual rights and protections for everyone, not just those who come out on top when the ballots are counted. But since Al Qaeda's ideology is predicated on the notion that only violent conflict can bring meaningful political change, every functioning democracy in the Middle East helps disprove its thesis and diminsh its appeal. 

This conclusion is likely to be controversial among conservatives, many of whom view the Muslim Brotherhood as part of a worldwide Islamist conspiracy to establish a global caliphate, including here in the United States. 

Obama Says Drones Are on a "Very Tight Leash"

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 12:10 PM EST

During his Google+ hangout on Monday, President Barack Obama took a question from "Evan in Brooklyn" on the efficacy of US drone operations. The president promptly went to bat for his administration's ramped-up drone war.

Obama began by clarifying that the CIA and military are "not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside of Iraq" and drawing a distinction between surveillance drones and, say, Predator drones. Addressing the issue of collateral damage in countries like Pakistan, the president praised the precision of drone strikes, saying that such operations are kept on "a very tight leash." Obama also said that he wanted to "make sure that people understand...drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties" and that targets are carefully picked from "a list of active terrorists." (He dismissed the notion that he was conducting "a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly.")

This Google+ hangout marked the first time the president has spoken publicly about drone attacks on Pakistani soil. The CIA's (sort of) secret program in the Middle East and South Asia is something that the president and other US officials generally refrain from acknowledging publicly unless there's a high-priority kill or they're threatening to take out the Jonas Brothers

It's a bit hard to pin down the president's definition of a "huge number of civilian casualties." Estimates on the civilian body count from drone operations vary wildly: Taking just the targeted Pakistani tribal areas, some estimates give a 10 to 1 ratio of civilians killed for every one militant. Other estimates claim that civilians account for roughly 20 percent of the deaths. (The CIA has made the widely panned claim of zero civilian casualties.)

Tea Party Roundup: Birthers, Slaves and Super PACs

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 11:25 AM EST

The tea party movement has been keeping a pretty low profile lately, but that doesn't mean it has disappeared. Tea partiers are still fighting political battles at the local level and gearing up for the presidential election. Here's a brief roundup of recent tea party news you may have missed:

Rewriting US history to white-out slavery: Tennessee tea party activists have asked the state legislature to introduce a bill that would force the state to rewrite school textbooks to excise references to the Founding Fathers that might tarnish the image tea partiers would like to have of them. They don't want school kids to know the founders' uglier side, things like, for example, some of the founders owned slaves, had sex with them, and fathered children with them. In a press conference in mid-January, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the activists handed out materials that said:

Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”

Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.

“The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody — not all equally instantly — and it was their progress that we need to look at,” said Rounds, whose website identifies him as a Vietnam War veteran of the Air Force and FedEx retiree who became a lawyer in 1995.

Keeping the birther movement alive: Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips may be bankrupt and thousands of dollars in debt to conservative billionaire and Las Vegas hotel magnate Sheldon Adelson, but that hasn't stopped him from going to Florida this week on a Tea Party Express "get out the vote" tour before the GOP primary. Along with his speaking events on the campaign trail, Phillips is doing his part to defeat Obama by supporting a lawsuit filed in Georgia by birther queen Orly Taitz challenging Obama's qualifications to be on the ballot there. Conceding that similar suits in other states have been dismissed, Phillips remains hopeful that they are the key to defeating Obama in November. "These are must win states for Obama. If he were excluded from one or more of these states, it would become almost impossible for Obama to win reelection," writes Phillips. 

Still Raising Big Money: For all the talk of the tea party movement being "grassroots," they are certainly taking on some of the trappings of the establishment, namely by starting super-PACs. Two big tea party groups, Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, have both started super PACs that can accept unlimited contributions to use in independent expenditure campaigns during this year's election. FreedomWorks is hoping to raise $5 million to push its free-market agenda through "street-level politicking."

Of course, whether these two organizations really qualify as the tea party movement is an open question. Tea Party Express was started by GOP political consultants in California who were already been attacking Obama in 2008 with outside expenditures, and FreedomWorks is a spin-off of the oil-rich Koch brothers' Citizens for a Sound Economy, a corporate front group that helped the tobacco and other big industry fight regulation and taxes. They're not purely grassroots organizations.

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Your Daily Newt: Saddam Hussein's Hacker Army

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 6:00 AM EST
Saddam Hussein, computer hacker (artist's rendering)

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich was speaking candidly when he told a New York Times reporter in 1995, "I don't do foreign policy." But that didn't stop his mind from occasionally wandering over to the national security realm. In Gingrich's 1995 college course—funded mostly by donors to his political action committee—he used the work of his futurist mentors, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, as a starting point for discussing America's precarious place in the world. Specifically, Gingrich warned of a horror scenario in which Saddam Hussein trained a hacker army to cause civil unrest by issuing 500,000 American Express cards and then charging absurd fees:

There are implications of the emerging Third Wave information age for the world system and for national security. That's part of why I mentioned Toffler, Alvin and Heidi's book, War and Anti-War, because you've got to think about, you know, what would have happened if Saddam Hussein had hired 10 hackers at the beginning of 'Desert Shield' and had decided to electronically try to break down American system? Not killing people, not setting off bombs, but, for example, issuing 500,000 new American Express cards. Or simply charging absurd fees. Breaking down telephone systems. Sending signals to turn off Georgia power company's electric plant. I mean, how much damage could you do on the information side?

Which raises the question: If Saddam Hussein had tried to destroy the American economy by charging absurd fees on credit cards...would we have even noticed?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 31, 2012

Tue Jan. 31, 2012 5:57 AM EST

US Army Capt. Devin Ciminero, a Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team security force company commander with 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Rhode Island National Guard, scans his sector while providing security during a site assessment of the Dowry Rud Check Dam in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on January 21, 2012. DoD photo by Senior Airman Sean Martin, US Air Force. (Released)

PHOTOS: How Occupy Oakland Tried to Outmaneuver Police

| Mon Jan. 30, 2012 5:33 PM EST

Another weekend, another Occupy protest. Living in downtown Oakland, it has started to feel routine. But the January 28th protest was promising to be an escalation—with protesters planning to take over a vacant building, not just a park or plaza—and when I started hearing reports of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades, I gathered my camera gear and headed down to Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza.

Occupy protesters stand behind shields as they begin to march up Telegraph Avenue.

Right after a march started, just past 5 p.m., protesters at the front made an abrupt left at 16th street and started sprinting. A building they intended to occupy, the Traveler's Aid building, was just down the street. I hauled ass to get to the front, to get shots of them entering and taking over the building. A metal gate drawn across the front of the building thwarted the protesters. They pleaded with workers repairing windows, which had been broken earlier, to open the gate and let them take over the building. The workers wanted nothing to do with it. "Don't put us in the middle of this," one said. "We're just here doing our job."

An Occupy marcher uses an iPad to capture the scene of protesters marching through Oakland.

The protesters continued down to the end of San Pablo Avenue, at 16th. It was here that I first noticed the easy likelihood of police blocking both ends of the street, and kettling everyone in between. Protesters filled the canyon of 16th between San Pablo and Telegraph.
Occupy protesters carry a tent as they march through downtown Oakland.Occupy protesters carry a tent as they march through downtown Oakland.
The protest moved up San Pablo, a wide, open street, then turned down 20th towards Henry Kaiser park, which Occupy Oakland had briefly taken back in November after being ousted from Frank Ogawa Plaza. It was another prime situation in which to be kettled—narrow streets, with large condos on all sides. And this time it happened: A line of police moved in from Telegraph, not letting anyone in the crowd out. Another line moved in from the opposite direction. I got cut off from the main protest, along with a few Occupy medics. We made our way around to Telegraph, on the other side of the kettle. A block away, in the kettle, a flash grenade went off. Two girls on bikes pleaded with police to be let out. Then, a large group of protesters broke down a recently re-erected chainlink fence enclosing a vacant lot next to the park. Protesters flooded the lot, breaking free of the kettle. The march resumed up Telegraph Avenue.
After being blocked on all sides by the Oakland Police, protester break through a fence to escape and resume their march.
Police respond to protesters breaking out of the blockade.Police respond to protesters breaking out of the blockade.

At this point, it didn't seem like the march had any real direction, moving up Telegraph to 27th Street. Some protesters started to turn left, others kept going straight. Some called for people at the front to slow down, to keep everyone together. Others wanted to move ahead, to keep the police from blocking intersections. Meanwhile, the police formed a strong line right behind the protesters.
Occupy marchers walk up Telegraph.Occupy marchers walk up Telegraph.
Next to the Kentucky Fried Chicken at 28th and Telegraph, it seemed like the police were going to surround the group. Protesters were pushed into the KFC parking lot, and police lines cut them off from both sides. Some people started down 28th. I casually walked down the sidewalk, directly into the police line.
Occupy Oakland approaches 28th and Telegraph.Occupy Oakland approaches 28th and Telegraph.
Two police approached me and my brother, who also didn't feel like getting arrested. I told them I was a member of the media and showed my press passes. The cop in front of me was boiling with adrenaline. He grabbed the passes and barked, "Are these current?" He scanned them for a date. After a second, he let go and let us pass the police line. This turned out to be lucky for us, since just a few minutes later, the police would effectively kettle everyone at the downtown Oakland YMCA, arresting everyone who didn't manage to get away by scaling a fence into a nearby parking lot. The mass arrest included at least six journalists—including MoJo's Gavin Aronsen, who wrote about his interaction with the Oakland Police and trip to county jail here.

Occupy protesters, before finally getting kettled by the Oakland PoliceOccupy protesters, before finally getting kettled by the Oakland Police
 

Allen West to Obama, Reid, and Pelosi: "Get the Hell Out of the United States" (Video)

| Mon Jan. 30, 2012 4:14 PM EST

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), the firebrand tea party House freshman, told a crowd of Palm Beach Republicans on Saturday night that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz should leave the country. But West may be the one sent packing soon: His own fellow Republicans in Florida, possibly fed up with his fiery rhetoric, are close to redistricting him out of a job.

Holding forth at the GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner in Palm Beach's tony Kravis Center, the ex-lieutenant colonel who resigned his Army commission under less than honorable circumstances, gave the crowd a militarist stemwinder to remember. "This is a battlefield that we must stand upon," he said, referring to Florida's status as a contested electoral state:

And we need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee [Debbie Wasserman Schultz], we need to let them know Florida ain't on the table. Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America."

After a standing ovation, West added, "Yeah, I said 'hell'...I will not allow President Obama to take the United States of America and destroy it." Here's the video:

With his latest full frontal charge, West seems to have misidentified the enemy. In Tallahassee, the state's establishment Republicans are quietly working on a redistricting plan that would leave the tea party bomb-lobber without a constituency. When Floridians elected West to Congress in 2010, they also approved two ballot measures that ensured fair "compact" redrawing of political districts: Basically, the Republican-dominated Legislature would be able to redraw the political map, but they could no longer gerrymander districts that were 100 miles long and 1 mile wide. The state picked up two congressional seats in the latest census; in order to maximize benefit to the party, they'd have to sacrifice a few seats in Democratic strongholds—and that includes West's South Florida district.