Last April, Congress reached a détente on the budget by re-imposing a ban on using local funds to pay for abortions in Washington, DC. Since the capitol city is essentially a ward of the federal government, Congress gets to control what happens here—even when it's DC's own money. Now, an Arizona congressman wants to go a step farther in limiting abortion in the District by imposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Republican Trent Franks introduced his "District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" this week with the approval of anti-abortion groups. National Right to Life, which created the model legislation Franks' bill is based on, has called passing the DC ban one of its top priorities this year.

DC has long been a pawn in the congressional chess game over abortion rights. There was a ban on using local funds for abortions in place from 1988 through 1993 and 1995 through 2009. Then it was repealed again before coming back in 2011. DC women have been treated as "nothing more than a bargaining chip," Val Vilott, the board president of the DC Abortion Fund, a group that helps low-income women in the city pay for abortions, said Thursday at the annual NARAL Pro-Choice America dinner.

Franks' 20-week ban would represent a new level of congressional "oversight" on what happens in DC. "The politicians who say they want local control and smaller government exposed their hypocrisy," Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL, said of the Frank bill on Thursday night. 

A number of states have passed or attempted to pass 20-week abortion bans in the past few years. All these bills are based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation—an argument that is not supported by the bulk of the science on the subject to date. In states that have passed the law, it has created a signifcant barrier to women who need later-term abortions for a variety of reasons. But in those states, the bans came from the state's elected legislature, not from some guy from Arizona whom DC taxpayers have never voted into office.

The last time I covered televised campaign events, four years ago, there was plenty of action outside the frame, even if it was tightly controlled by spinsters. This year, there is not. As Patrick Bateman might say, there is an idea of a Republican Party, some kind of abstraction. The idea has its ciphers, and occasionally they gather together and talk at each other on a screen, and if you like the Republican idea, you have a choice to make between the ciphers. And that's all there is.

On the University of North Florida's campus, site of the state's final, pivotal, critical, do-or-die, nothing-will-ever-be-as-vital-as-the-next-two-hours-of-stage-acting GOP debate, there was little evidence of a pitched battle for the country's soul. The student union and the road that ringed it were dotted sparsely with signage from four groups. The most dominant group was UNF's "spring rush" committee. The second-most was CNN, the keeper of the debate, which had taken pains to brand the campus. Third was Ron Paul. Fourth was "WE BUY HOMES."

That was all. No protesters, no supportive crowds. Occupy Jacksonville was otherwise occupied, and the tea party was over. Finding no "color" to cover, scores of journalists, from The New Yorker to the Tampa Bay Times, checked in with CNN. We were not permitted in the ballroom where the GOP's four candidates and cherry-picked crowd gathered for the pageant. Instead we queued through a metal detector and were whisked to a top-floor "filing room" in the student union, a wifi cavern with tables full of plastic sandwiches and wall screens that would project the debate as it occurred elsewhere. We could have been watching TV at home, or shadows on a cave wall.

A polling station in the early primary state of Mars, circa 2132

On Thursday, Zeke Miller did the galaxy a public service and pulled up Newt Gingrich's 1981 bill to establish a system by which space colonies could be admitted to the Union as states. Today, he reports that not only was Gingrich's bill—which Newt cited again in his speech on Wednesday—kind of nutty, but it also would have violated international law had it passed (and had anyone tried to colonize the moon in the name of the US of A). That's because the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which the US has ratified, banned any nation from laying claim to a particular piece of the intergalactic pie (or cheese).

All well and damning. But that doesn't mean Newt's space dreams are ruined. The former speaker, who conceded this week that the statehood-in-space idea was "the weirdest thing I've ever done," has previously proposed a slightly different settlement path that would be totally legal. In his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity, Gingrich proposed creating a permanent international research base on the moon, not unlike those currently in existence on Antarctica. It would be open to the "Free World" and the "United Free World Alliance," and would be viewed as a path to global stability and world peace:

[We] should do something in concert with al the other free people of the world to show that our joint commitment to freedom rises above nationalism; we should do something which celebrates the power of high technology that will remind us and everyone else that the greatest single factor in the rising standard of living over the last millennium was not our politicians and academic intellectuals, but rather our inventors and business entrepreneurs; we should do something which holds out an improving future to the entire Third World so that everyone can realize that our path, rather than Castro's dictatorship, is the wave of the future; finally, we should do something which is peaceful and knowledge-oriented as a first step toward creating a Human Peace in the next millennium. The most appropriate single millennium project would be the opening in January 1, 2000 of a lunar research base for the whole free world.

Such a project, international in scope and governed in accordance with international space law as opposed to the Constitution, would be permitted by the Outer Space Treaty. Nothing about it would be all that different from the policy Gingrich proposed in Florida this week, except there would be no path to statehood—at least until President Gingrich pushes the "Everything on the Moon Belongs to America Treaty" through the United Nations.

The hospital of the future.

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.

You've probably heard about Newt Gingrich's (somewhat erratic) views on health care reform. And you're likely familiar with his climate change TV spot (which Gingrich recently dubbed the worst mistake of his political career) in which he sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi. But in his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity, Gingrich combined both his passion for public policy and his passion for living room furniture into one sweeping proposal—the creation of a new "health chair," an instrument that would do everything from monitoring recovery from major medical procedures, to churning out perfectly calibrated recipes from Weight Watchers:

A personalized health chair with a diagnostic program to measure and compare all your bodily signs against your own data base. The chair could be tied into a weight-watcher's computer-based recipe program which would then outline what you should eat given your weight, blood pressure, etc. The computer would be programmed to monitor your diet over time and change recipes to minimize boredom while achieving the desired nutritional effect. This system could be tied by cable or telephone to a hospital, where a computer could routinely monitor you while you are sitting in the chair. Thus, you could leave the hospital after surgery much earlier than we currently expect; you could measure your own well being and take corrective and preventative health care steps; and you could measure your diet and exercise patterns.

All from the comfort of your own living room!

Legendary public speaker Willard Mitt Romney.

"I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much," Mitt Romney said last week of his six-figure public speaking income. His foes seized on the gaffe as further evidence of Romney being out of touch with average Americans, but there's another reason for him to downplay the payments, which totaled to $374,000 for nine speeches in 2010—an average of $41,592 per appearance. (Newt Gingrich reported receiving a total of $21,625 in speaking fees and Rick Santorum reported none.) The high payments raise questions about what the groups who hired these pols might expect in return. Here's a rundown of speeches Romney and Gingrich have disclosed.

Mitt Romney

Quest Educational Foundation (Naples, Florida)
An educational nonprofit that offers tutoring and test-prep services, Quest also has a political side. Its website claims affiliations to libertarian groups such as the Cato Institute, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, and Ayn Rand Institute. Its chairman, C.E. Dekko Jr., is an executive with Group Dekko, a multinational manufacturing company that makes everything from truck parts to medical devices. Over the years he has donated $167,297 to political candidates and parties, almost all of it to Libertarians and Republicans.

Riverside Theatre (Vero Beach, Florida)
While traveling the country to hawk his book in 2010, Romney typically spoke to crowds for free. But he was so popular in conservative, affluent Vero Beach that the local theater decided to charge for tickets and give Romney a cut. Happy to play along, Mayor Kevin Sawnick gave Romney a key to the city.

Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, California)
About two weeks earlier, Romney had spoken to students at Emory University for free. But he was brought to Claremont McKenna through the university's Pacesetters Fellowship Program, which "attracts leaders in business, academia, and public affairs" by giving them money.

Get Motivated Seminars (via satellite from Boston)
The Weekly Standard calls Get Motivated "a quasi-Christian self-help operation" in which "the company makes money both from ticket sales and by letting pitchmen hawk personal improvement and get-rich-quick products during the interludes between the star speakers"—including the likes of Zig Ziglar, Brett Favre, and Sarah Palin.

HP Healthcare Services (Dallas)
This lucrative consulting arm of the HP computer empire, which offers "a comprehensive digital health solution" to hospitals and medical providers, may have been attracted to Romney for his role in creating state-run healthcare in Massachusetts.

Clark Consulting (Half Moon Bay, California)
This boutique consulting firm advises large financial institutions about life insurance programs—and fights on their behalf in Washington. Last year, Clark Consulting asked (PDF) financial regulators responsible for implementing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms (the "Volcker Rule"), to carve out an exemption for bank-owned life insurance arrangements. In October, the exemption was granted (PDF). Since 2002, the company's PAC has spent more than $470,000.

GoldenTree Asset Management (New York City)
This Wall Street investment firm manages $13.5 billion, much of it in hedge funds. Since 2008, founder Steven Tananbaum has donated $77,398 to candidates, committees, and PACs, mostly Republican.

International Franchise Association (Las Vegas)
"Mitt Romney’s broad experience in business, government and politics will provide critical insight for IFA members as we continue to position our companies for growth in a challenging financial climate," IFA Chairman Ken Walker said in announcing that Romney would keynote the IFA's 51st annual convention. The IFA promotes the global spread of chain stores like Burger King and Pizza Hut.

Barclays Bank (Washington, DC)
Barclays lobbyist Patrick J. Durkin is Romney's most active bundler on K Street, raising $245,825 on his behalf last quarter. The world's fifth-largest corporation by assets, London-based Barclays spent $2.8 million on DC lobbyists last year.

Newt Gingrich

John Locke Foundation (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Gingrich keynoted the foundation's 20th anniversary event, waxing poetic about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The board of the John Locke Foundation includes Art Pope, the wholesaling baron who has essentially purchased North Carolina's government.

American Family Association
$6,000 (estimate)
Gingrich's financial disclosures, which note three separate $2,000 payments, don't specify precisely how Gingrich earned the money from this anti-gay Christian group, but his tax return suggests that at least some portion was compensation for public speaking. The AFA, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a "hate group," was also behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prayer festival in Houston.

A pair of 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawks fly over Alaska on a training mission on January 13, 2012. (US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Sean Mitchell)

Mitt Romney.

Republicans hate Obamacare. Mitt Romney can't stop defending it.

Not directly of course. But in Thursday night's debate, just as in the one last week, Romney was confronted over his implementation of health care reform in Massachusetts that served in part as the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. When Rick Santorum accused the ex-governor of supporting a "top-down government-run health care system," Romney calmly explained that under his plan, Massachusetts residents were still purchasing private insurance. When Santorum reminded Romney that his plan compelled individuals without health insurance to buy it on "condition of breathing," Romney gave an eloquent, if conservative, defense of the individual mandate:

[F]or the 8 percent of people who didn't have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There's no government plan. And if you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

All of this can be said about Obamacare. It doesn't "take over" the health care system, it regulates a health insurance market in which private companies compete. Individuals are compelled to buy insurance because, if they don't, taxpayers ends up paying for their health care once they get sick. Romney simply can't explain why Romneycare isn't socialism without also explaining why Obamacare isn't socialism. He can't defend Romneycare's individual mandate as an issue of personal responsibility without also doing the same with the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

The strange part wasn't that Romney offered this defense—after all, he's done it before. It's that when he offered it, the Republican audience actually applauded (via BuzzFeed).

Now, the Affordable Care Act is anathema to the Republican base. Every Republican candidate for president has vowed to repeal it. Yet framed in conservative terms, and defended by the likely Republican nominee, a Republican audience applauded its key concepts. Not every Republican loved Romney's health care plan when it was implemented, but the perception of the Affordable Care Act as the twilight of freedom in America is largely a function of partisanship rather than ideology. 

The mandate may not survive the Supreme Court. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that more than half of Americans think the mandate is unconstitutional, and the court is not immune to public sentiment. Partisanship is a powerful force, one that not only gives the Supreme Court popular cover for repealing the Affordable Care Act by fiat, but also will likely lead to the Republicans nominating Obamacare's most eloquent defender.

President Obama....recklessly plotting to defriend Israel.

Late into Thursday night's Republican presidential debate at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, the conversation inevitably turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Occasional front-runner Mitt Romney took that as his cue to talk as little about the peace process as possible and play up President Barack Obama's supposed foreign policy weakness as much as possible.

"The Palestinians want to eliminate Israel," Romney said, painting things with a really, really, really broad brush. He went on to criticize President Obama for supposedly having said "nothing" during his September speech at the United Nations "about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip." Well, that is not true. (Romney also repeated his claim that the president has tossed Israel under the proverbial bus.)

Newt Gingrich wasn't far behind in attacking Obama, insisting that the Washington response to Palestinian "acts of war" was yet another contemptible example of the current administration's fecklessness abroad and at home. Here's video from the debate:

Let's get this out of the way quickly: Here's the president— delivering that speech to the UN General Assembly that Romney was talking about—addressing all those rockets "from the Gaza Strip":

America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable...[S]o we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel's citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map.  The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.

Now, check out then-Sen. Obama in July 2008, waxing personal about rockets being launched at Israeli civilians:

If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

There you have it: Barack Obama saying something about all those rockets.

Also, it should be fairly obvious by now that Barack Obama is not planning on defriending Israel. Despite talk of the "Jewish backlash" that supposedly resulted from Obama's mention of 1967 borders last year, the Obama administration has been rock-steady on military aid and sales, played it super-safe on the Palestinian bid for statehood, and expressed Washington's "ironclad" commitment to Israel's security time and time again.

Furthermore, if Israelis are supposed to be living in fear of President Obama not caring about existential threats coming their way, then, according to plenty of recent polling, somebody forgot to tell the Israelis.

Challenged on his investments in the government sponsored housing enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at Thursday's GOP presidential debate, Mitt Romney offered a seemingly bulletproof defense: He shouldn't be responsible for those investments, because he'd put his money in a blind trust. In other words, he had no idea which companies he was involved with. As he explained, "My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments they've made—we've learned about this as we made our financial disclosure—have been made in mutual funds and bonds. I don't own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds the investor has held through mutual funds."

It was a good comeback, and when Romney countered by pointing out that Newt Gingrich had himself invested in Fannie and Freddie, the former House speaker appeared to concede the point. But there's a problem: As the Boston Globe reported, Romney's investments in Fannie and Freddie weren't part of a blind trust:

On his financial disclosure statement filed last month, Romney reported owning between $250,001 and $500,000 in a mutual fund that invests in debt notes of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, among other government entities. Over the previous year, he had reported earning between $15,001 and $50,000 in interest from those investments.

And unlike most of Romney’s financial holdings, which are held in a blind trust that is overseen by a trustee and not known to Romney, this particular investment was among those that would have been known to Romney.

The investment was also not on Romney’s 2007 financial disclosure form. A Romney aide said the investments were made in the latter half of 2007, after he had filed the earlier disclosure form. That was around the time that the scale of the housing crisis was coming into focus.

An MS-13 gang member with the gang's full name tattooed on his back.

At Thursday's GOP presidential debate in Jacksonville, Newt Gingrich was asked early on about his position on illegal immigration. Although he defended his proposal that senior citizens and families who have been here for a long time should be allowed to stay, Gingrich took a harsh stand on everyone else. "Look, I think, first of all, we need to control the border, which—I would finish the border fence by 2014...We should also make deportation easier, so that when we deport people who shouldn't be here, MS-13, for example, it should be very quick."

MS-13, for the uninitiated, is a Central-American gang with a large presence in the United States. Newt has cited the group with regularity on the campaign trail. Conflating undocumented immigrants with violent criminal activity is hardly a new concept. But Newt's MS-13 line is missing one key fact—mass deportations are the reason the gang has grown like it has in the United States. Well-intentioned American policies created a cycle by which gang members would return to El Salvador and recruit new members, who in turn travel to the United States themselves. The Los Angeles Times examined the issue in a great 2005 investigation. Here's the thrust of it:

In the last 12 years, U.S. immigration authorities have logged more than 50,000 deportations of immigrants with criminal records to Central America, including untold numbers of gang members like Cruz-Mendoza.

But a deportation policy aimed in part at breaking up a Los Angeles street gang has backfired and helped spread it across Central America and back into other parts of the United States. Newly organized cells in El Salvador have returned to establish strongholds in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. Prisons in El Salvador have become nerve centers, authorities say, where deported leaders from Los Angeles communicate with gang cliques across the United States.

A gang that once numbered a few thousand and was involved in street violence and turf battles has morphed into an international network with as many as 50,000 members, the most hard-core engaging in extortion, immigrant smuggling and racketeering. In the last year, the federal government has brought racketeering cases against MS-13 members in Long Island, N.Y., and southern Maryland.