Today's a big day for the ladies, and not even a bunch of religious dudes with lobbying power on Capitol Hill can take that away. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that the Obama administration is keeping the rule in the Affordable Care Act that requires new health insurance plans to cover the cost of contraception for patients.

An August announcement about women's preventitive services covered in the Act caused certain religious groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to erupt in a tizzy, partially because the plan will cover birth control for practically all insured women. The Act contained a clause exempting some religious employers from providing contraceptive coverage if they morally objected to it, but that didn't go far enough for the USCCB. The bishops lobbied Capitol Hill to try and broaden the "conscience clause" so it would include religiously affiliated services that are not expressly limited to congregation members, like Catholic hospitals and religious schools.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney pictured with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2009.

On the campaign trial, Mitt Romney hammers home his marital history every chance he can get—he used his opening statement at Thursday's debate to tout the fact he's been married for 42 years, he lets his wife speak at campaign stops, and he's incorporated the endearingly awkward story of how they met into his stump speech. But his campaign surrogates draw the line when it comes to attacking Newt Gingrich's personal life.

After Romney's rally in North Charleston on Friday afternoon, I asked Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Romney supporter and one of the party's rising social conservative stars, whether voters should be concerned about recent comments made by Gingrich's second ex-wife, Marianne. "Look, as far as I'm concerned, Newt has answered that question," McDonnell said. "And that's an issue for him to address. What people care about right now: They care about getting people back to work, getting the greatest country on Earth out of debt, and having the kind of leadership in Washington we can be proud of. And that's really why we're here supporting Mitt Romney, but all those other questions Newt can handle on his own."

"All I'll say is that everybody that I know...has made some mistakes in their life."

But didn't McDonnell, who railed against "alternative lifestyle living arrangements" in his master's thesis, have any concerns about the reported open marriage? "That's not what people are talking about in the campaign," he said. "They're talking about how we're going to get people to get back to work. I think he handled it absolutely right. All I'll say is that everybody that I know...has made some mistakes in their life. That's up to an individual to deal with as they best see fit."

Romney let his supporters eat cake at a rally in North Charleston.: Photo by Tim MurphyRomney let his supporters eat cake at a rally in North Charleston. Photo by Tim MurphyMcDonnell might be staying on message for the time being, but you don't have too talk to many folks to realize that Newt's marital woes really are something people are indeed talking about. "It shows that he's untrustworthy," said Bill Hardy of Summerville. "It's unfortunate for him that it came out the way that it did [on national television]. But that actually drew me away from him. I can't really trust him. I mean, don't get me wrong, I think he's a very smart guy." Just not the kind you'd want in charge of the government.

The event itself was classic Mitt: The crowd was enthusiastic but not excessively so—certainly nothing like what you would see at a Gingrich event. Part of the blame might go on the band that opened for Romney, which warmed up the crowd with Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changing," neither of which could rightly be considered conservative anthems. There also wasn't that much of a crowd, considering this was the last day before the biggest primary to date. Romney's campaign is the only one I've seen that actually tosses bundles of t-shirts into the crowd before he speaks—not because he's such a celebrity that people are really craving them, but for the same reason minor league baseball teams do it: to keep people awake.

Romney hardly wavered from his usual routine (stump speech laced with obscure quotes from "America the Beautiful"), with a few exceptions. In what is believed to be a campaign first, he broke into song. At the start of his speech, Romney led the crowd in an off-off-key rendition of "Happy Birthday" in honor of Gov. Nikki Haley, who'd just turned 40, and invited supporters to stick around afterward for a celebratory treat. Perhaps it wasn't the smartest of props; just two weeks after hitting President Obama for "Marie Antoinette" economic policies, the GOP front-runner was quite literally letting them eat cake.

Mitt Romney at CPAC in Florida in 2011.

Mitt Romney has run two different campaigns when it comes to immigration. In South Carolina, he railed against comprehensive immigration reform, declaring that he has "one simple rule: no amnesty." He touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, a Republican anti-immigrant hardliner who helped write restrictive immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona and wants to abolish birthright citizenship.

Elsewhere, however, Romney struck a different tone. He told a Republican audience in Florida that he wasn't sure whether a legislative proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants in the United States to remain in the country constituted amnesty. "There are some who get involved in whether it is technically amnesty or not, and I’m not really trying to define what is technically amnesty, I'll let the lawyers do that." Romney's against "amnesty," he just isn't quite sure what it is.

I'm not talking about Romney's 2012 primary campaign. I'm talking about his 2008 campaign.

The above examples come straight from the 2008 McCain campaign's opposition research tome, unearthed by Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski, but Romney's basically running the same double game in South Carolina and Florida this year. Back then, he was in the midst of a delicate balancing act, trying to avoid excoriating President George W. Bush's immigration reform efforts while still hitting McCain, a key supporter of those efforts, from the right. This year he's trying to avoid alienating too many Latino voters, while still jabbing the relatively more moderate Newt Gingrich. As in 2008, Romney is using an endorsement from Kobach, formerly the head of the Kansas Republican Party and now Kansas Secretary of State, to prove his commitment to restrictive immigration policies. 

Bloomberg Businessweek's Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports:

In Florida, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is airing campaign commercials in Spanish telling Hispanics he's "one of us." In South Carolina, he is touting the endorsement of Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration activist who helped spearhead state laws that have sparked anger among Latinos.

What's remarkable is not just that Romney is enaging in virtually the same kind of doubletalk on immigration that he did in 2008—in the same states—it's that he thinks it's going to work. 

The idea seems to be that Romney can campaign one way in English in South Carolina, and then sound like an immigration moderate in Spanish while campaigning in Florida. Perhaps the assumption is that the presumed Spanish-speaking audience for Romney's Florida ads won't have access to his harsher remarks on immigration. 

That would be a deeply silly assumption. A recent study from Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that the Spanish-language media thrived even through the recession, with the Univision network growing its audience and Spanish-language newspapers losing less of their readerships than their English-language counterparts. Bottom line: Romney's Spanish language ads aren't going to blot out his record on immigration any more than Obama will be able to hide those one million deportations

There's another reason why Latino voters, particularly in Florida, aren't likely to be moved by Romney's ads. Rival Newt Gingrich, who has struck a more moderate tone than Romney on immigration, has started running Spanish-language radio ad  accusing Romney of being a "government liberal" and "anti-immigrant candidate." Gingrich's ad also reminds voters in Miami of the last time Romney was running for president, when he accidentally appropriated a pro-Castro slogan ("Fatherland or Death, we will prevail") at political rally. Awkward. 


Let's get one thing out of the way first: Here is the video of Herman Cain singing the Pokemon theme song on Friday afternoon at the College of Charleston, as part of the "Rock You Like a Herman Cain" rally with Stephen Colbert:

Speaking before a fully packed quad of students, faculty, and press, Cain was, for the most part, a harmonious prop to Colbert's larger point. Colbert used a friendly audience to launch an extended attack on what he considers to be a badly broken campaign finance system—staying in character, of course. The Comedy Central star offered a quick crash course on Citizens United, and then began to speak in sentences constructed entirely of political outfits: "We had finally arrived at the American crossroads to restore our future priorities, USA, and make us great again. Because freedom works." That would be American Crossroads (Karl Rove); Restore our Future (supporting Mitt Romney); Priorities USA (supporting Obama); Make us Great Again (supporting Rick Perry); and FreedomWorks (Dick Armey's advocacy outfit).

"I'm the Martin Luther King of corporate civil rights," he said at another point. "The Lockheed Martin Luther Burger King, if you will."

As Colbert put it, after outlining the process by which he had passed off the super-PAC he founded (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) to his good friend Jon Stewart, "If that is a joke, then they are saying our entire campaign finance system is a joke! And I don’t know about you, but I am being paid to be offended by that. We fought a civil war to ensure that all people are created equal. As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, 'Give me some money.' They don't teach that in school anymore; they replaced it with Gay Mexican History Month."

Kay Smith, an English professor at the college, had taken part of the afternoon off to watch, like many of her colleagues. "It seems to me that actually, Colbert was making a very real point about campaign finance that we need to think about," she says.

But what about Cain? Will Freeman, a senior at College of Charleston, couldn't quite make sense of the former pizza baron's appearance. "Being a former supporter of Herman Cain, I kind of found it strange that he's up there advancing serious issues in that kind of manner," he says. "It's confusing to me." Cain's speech was frequently interrupted by the audience, from random shouts of "Pokemon!" (throughout the speech), to laughter when he implored the crowd to take his advice and stay informed. (Colbert had given attendees a crash course on Cain's lack of foreign policy knowledge, noting in his monologue that they had agreed to disagree on the number of "bekis" in "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan").

Colbert is doing his part to educate viewers on the nature of the campaign finance system through mockery. But will it matter? Consider this: The biggest hit at Friday's Herman Cain–Stephen Colbert rally—other than Cain's rendition of the Pokemon theme song, that is—may have been the black hats, handed out by Americans Elect, with "Party Crasher" emblazoned on the front. It wasn't that C of C students are particularly infatuated with the idea of an Evan Bayh—Joe Lieberman presidential unity ticket; most of them just wanted a free hat. The same might be said for the "Rock You Like a Herman-Cain Rally." They came for a free comedy routine—the Citizens United critique just came with package.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has postponed Tuesday's scheduled procedural vote on the controversial Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Here's his statement:

In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act.

There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day's work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.

I admire the work that Chairman Leahy has put into this bill. I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans' intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet. We made good progress through the discussions we've held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) request to delay the vote and Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Tex.) decision to postpone work on SOPA, PIPA's counterpart in the House, surely contributed to Reid's decision. The calculated retreats of a number of both bills' original co-sponsors and the blackout on Wednesday mattered, too.

So what happens next? Reid will probably continue his doomed quest for a non-existent compromise between content providers (Hollywood) and the tech community (Silicon Valley). Remember, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)—an original co-sponsor of PIPA whose state hosts both communities—tried and failed to broker a compromise between the two groups in December. Nothing that's happened since would improve the odds of a deal.  

As last night's presidential debate showed, Republicans seem to understand that anti-SOPA/PIPA sentiment aligns rather handsomely with conservative values like free speech, fewer regulations, and less government. And the GOP knows full well that Hollywood—traditionally a core, generous constituency for Democrats—will be none too pleased with Reid's decision to bow before the might of web geekdom.

For Republicans, opposing SOPA is a win/win. The only question is why they didn't understand that earlier.

When Newt Gingrich's campaign saw this, they decided to cancel.

Newt Gingrich canceled his speech at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Charleston this morning because, an event spokesman told the crowd, of a "scheduling conflict." The conflict, as best as I could surmise, was that Gingrich had been scheduled to deliver a speech to South Carolina voters, and there weren't any; at the time his remarks were set to begin there were—generously—about two dozen attendees scattered in the bowl of the College of Charleston's basketball arena. There were nearly as many press, and it was difficult to determine which group was more bummed by the whole thing.

Gingrich may not have showed up, but there was still plenty to see at the SRLC. At the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) booth, volunteers handed out pamphlets from the California-based Ruth Institute entitled "77 Non-Religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage." As it turns out, some of these non-religious reasons are, in fact, religious. Non-religious reason number 73, for instance, warns that "religious organizations of all kinds, potentially including schools, adoption agencies, and marriage prep programs, may be subject to government regulation." Non-religious reason number 76 notes that "the government of Quebec insisted the Mennonites teach that homosexuality is normal to the handful of children in their country schools." Non-religious reason number 46 is actually non-religious, but equally absurd and isn't fixed by banning gay marriage: "Artificial reproductive technology violates the dignity of the child."

Most of the swag is a bit less heady, though. This is a representative example:

That's worth $7, although I wouldn't use it. This, on the other hand, is apparently worth a million dollars. In Guns We Trust?

Here's a painting of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford all hanging out together. What are they laughing at?

Insert Newt Gingrich-Tiffany's joke here:

A Tim Tebow football helmet signed by Rick Perry. OK, it's signed by Tebow; bidding opens at $995:

Brother, can you spare a dime for voter suppression? 

This joke would probably be a lot funnier to people who aren't supporting Newt Gingrich:

"It's Boehner Time" doesn't quite have the same ring to it:

Mitt Romney found himself defending his record on health care reform in Massachusetts during Thursday night's debate, as former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum hammered the GOP front-runner for putting in place a "government-run health care system that was the basis of "Obamacare."

It was an awkward moment for Romney, who just minutes earlier had promised to "stuff it down [President Barack Obama's] throat and point out it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong." "We'll make it work in the way that's designed to have health care act like a market, a consumer market," Romney said, "as opposed to have it run like Amtrak and the Post Office."  When pressed, Romney pointed out that Massachusetts residents were still purchasing private health insurance:

First of all, the system in my state is not a government-run system. Ninety-eight — 92 percent of the people had their own insurance before the system was put in place, and nothing changed for them. They still had the same private insurance. And the 8 percent of the uninsured, they bought private insurance, not government insurance. And the people in the state still favor the plan three to one.

Romney's right. Massachusetts doesn't have a "government-run" health insurance system. It has a government-regulated health insurance market in which individuals are compelled to buy their own insurance. That's exactly what the Affordable Care Act has, too. If Obamacare is socialism, then so is Romneycare. And if Romneycare is the distilled essence of free market capitalism, then Obamacare is, too. 

This was one of the many moments in last night's debate when rhetoric about "free market capitalism" clashed with what the Republicans on stage were actually saying. Santorum called for special tax breaks for manufacturers while attacking Obama for supposedly wanting to put more people on food stamps. Gingrich and Romney waxed rhapsodic about the New Deal—at least the part of it that provided veterans with government assistance in buying homes and finding jobs. These sorts of efforts are, for some reason, exempt from Republican dogma that government assistance of any kind turns people into state-dependent zombies, shuffling towards their next handout. 

To the Republican candidates, manipulating the tax code for the benefit of corporations is "free market capitalism." Manipulating it to provide everyone with health insurance coverage is "socialism," which is so precious to Republicans that they only want veterans to have it. Republican rhetoric aside, this election is not some sort of great philosophical battle between socialism and free market capitalism. It's about for whom, and to what extent, government rigs the game.

An artist's rendering of what life will be like in the future, when the air will be unbreathable and we will all be dating jellyfish.

Four years ago, a Colorado ballot referendum to define life as beginning at the point of fertilization lost by a margin of 3 to 1. Two years ago, it lost by 2 to 1. In 2011, an amendment on the ballot in Mississippi failed by 10 percent. To many of us, that might appear like variations of a blowout, but Gualberto Garcia Jones, a legal analyst for Personhood USA, sees progress. In just a short period of time, the personhood movement has gone from radical fringe to mainstream—at least within the conservative movement. And in Greenville on Wednesday, days before what is shaping up to be the decisive primary contest of the 2012 Republican presidential race, the candidates, sans Mitt Romney, participated in an hour-and-a-half long forum on how to eradicate abortion.

Personhood USA, the event's sponsor, may not have had any luck at the polls, but it's quickly brought major party backers into its fold. Every major candidate but Romney has signed onto the group's pledge to "oppose assisted suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research"; attack abortion rights "without exception and without compromise"; and, most importantly, "work to advance state and federal laws and amendments that recognize the unalienable right to life of all human beings as persons at every stage of development" and appoint judges who feel the same way. They've held tele-townhalls in Iowa and are planning another in-person forum in Florida.

When he talks about his group's rise, Garcia Jones makes an unexpected comparison.

One of the co-founders of Bain Capital, we've been told.: MittRomneys/FlickrOne of the co-founders of Bain Capital, we've been told. MittRomneys/FlickrAlex Bolton has a piece at The Hill that should come as a big shock to...virtually no one:

During the last three election cycles, Bain [Capital] employees have given Democratic candidates and party committees more than $1.2 million. The vast majority of that sum came from senior executives. Republican candidates and party committees raised over $480,000 from senior Bain executives during that time period.

Recipients include Democratic senators facing tough reelection races this year, such as Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Bill Nelson (Fla.)...President Obama received a sizable share as well. He has accepted more than $80,000 from Bain employees since the beginning of 2007. Bain Capital employees gave $27,500 to Obama during the first three quarters of 2011.

Yes, that's the same Bain Capital that Mitt Romney co-founded. And yes, some Republican congressional candidates in battleground states have—given the Bain-related hits Romney has faced lately from both liberals and fellow Republicans—already started to use this information as ammunition against their Democratic opponents.

This doesn't look terribly good from a PR standpoint for Democrats, but it's not that surprising. It's no secret that Barack Obama and many other Democratic politicians have received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from Bain employees. And considering the president's rather cozy relationship with big business and Wall Street, it seems only natural that his reelection campaign is awash with financial-sector cash.

Now that Bain executives have one of their own as the clear front-runner for a major party nomination, their political giving reflects that:

As of Dec. 21, fundraising reports show Bain employees gave $123,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2011...The Democratic fundraising advantage, however, was offset by at least $750,000 that Bain Capital employees gave to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super-PAC, in 2011.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Romney has bagged more campaign contributions from Bain Capital employees than any other federal candidate over the last five years. In the first three quarters of 2011 alone Romney hauled in nearly $85,000 from Bain executives and employees.

So, this story essentially just shows the folks at Bain Capital shelling out campaign donations in pragmatic and predictable ways. But it also lays out the key problem with the "corporate raider" attacks Democratic strategists have been itching to deploy against Romney in a general election fight. As Bolton notes, "Democrats could be forced to justify attacking Bain—which specializes in buying companies and boosting profitability, often by laying off workers—while accepting campaign funds from the same executives who made the cost-cutting decisions." There are major distinctions to be drawn between accepting campaign cash from a private equity firm and presiding over said firm as CEO. But if Democrats choose to commit to this line of attack, they might have to live with the impact being dulled, especially when the words "received twice as much money from Bain Capital" enter the debate.

On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with police in New Zealand, arrested the leaders of the popular file sharing service and scrubbed the site from the internet, alleging that it supports widespread copyright infringement. Coming just a day after the internet's campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the raid was perceived by many netizens as a declaration of war.

Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous, the shadowy hacker collective, announced #OpMegaUpload, a massive retaliation against government and entertainment industry websites. Just a few hours later, swarms of computers had brought down the homepages of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, Universal Music, the US Copyright Service, the US Department of Justice, and last, but not least, the FBI. The main Anonymous Twitter account claimed that it was "the largest attack ever by Anonymous" with more than 5,600 people involved.

As with past Anonymous actions, much of the organizing for the attacks occurred in chat rooms hosted on an arcane platform known as Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, which allows users to conceal their identities. On an IRC server for AnonOps, an Anonymous splinter group, some 1,700 people in an #OpMegaUpload chat room yesterday evening were coordinating "distributed denial of service" (DDoS, or "dosing") attacks, which direct a flood of traffic to a website and crash it by overwhelming its servers. The preferred tool for dosing is the whimsically named Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) and is relatively easy to use. Conversations in the chat room ranged from identifying new targets for the LOIC to words of precaution: