Mojo - January 2012

Chart of the Day: Global Abortion Rates

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 12:38 PM PST

To mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week, the Guttmacher Institute has released some insightful data visualizations on abortion rates around the world. Turns out, the countries with the more liberal abortion laws actually have fewer abortions:

 

Guttmacher reports that the rates were high—between 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age—in countries in Africa and Latin America, where most abortions are illegal. But the rate was much lower in Western Europe, where it's generally legal, averaging 12 per 1,000. The most likely reason for this, of course, is that countries that have legalized abortion are also more likely to have women who are A) more educated about and have access to various types of contraception and B) are empowered to use it. The takeaway is that draconian restrictions on abortion don't actually ensure that there are fewer abortions—just that the ones that do take place are less safe.

And while we're on the subject, read our 2004 piece on life before Roe, "The Way It Was."

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Josh Harkinson on Countdown: How to Repeal Citizens United

Mon Jan. 23, 2012 12:16 PM PST

Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson hit the streets last week to cover protests against Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics. On Countdown on Friday, he talked to Keith Olbermann about how Occupy activists are building a grassroots movement to repeal the ruling.

Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown Agree to Third-Party Ad Ban

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 10:06 AM PST
Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown have pledged to ban third-party ads from their Massachusetts Senate race.

On Monday morning, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and his likely Democratic opponent, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, agreed to a pledge banning third-party advertisements in the run-up to November's election. Groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Rethink PAC (attacking Brown) and Crossroads GPS (attacking Warren) had been waging a proxy war on the airwaves in Massachusetts since last fall, and with the inclusion of third-party ads, the race was expected to wind up in the $100 million range. Last week, Warren and Brown began hashing out a dark-money pledge (while hammering each other on the disagreements in public), and now, the Globe's Glen Johnson reports, they've reached a compromise.

The pledge for both candidates to denounce third-party ads run by supporters, ask TV stations not to air them (which TV stations don't have to do), and—if the problem persists—Brown proposed that the candidate who benefits from the ads donate 50-percent of the total cost of the ad buy to charity (501(c)(3) political groups, presumably, don't count).

Both sides obviously think they have something to gain from the agreement; Anti-Brown third-party groups have outspent the other side by a 3 to 1 margin so far, so you could see why he might want Warren's outside groups to call off the dogs. Warren, likewise, is sick of being tarred—simultaneously—as a Wall Street shill and a radical occupier, and has to think that, this being deep-blue Massachusetts, she can win the race on her own if she runs close to a competent campaign. Besides, she raised $5.7 million in the last three months; money's no issue.

Both campaigns are declaring victory, but will it really make a difference? In a statement, LCV Senior Vice President of Campaigns Navin Nayak said: "While we cannot take directions from any candidate on our independent activities, we are inclined to respect the People's Pledge agreed to by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown and we hope that Scott Brown will honor his end of the deal when Crossroads and the Koch Brothers inevitably break it."

Meanwhile, here's the statement American Crossroads president Steven Law just blasted out on the agreement: "Because the agreement allows union phone banks, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote drives—all union core specialties—Warren's latest agreement has loopholes the Teamsters could drive a truck through, the longshoremen could steer a ship through, the machinists could fly a plan through, and government unions could drive forklifts of paperwork through."

Occupy's Latest Target: Citizens United

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 9:25 AM PST
An anti-Citizens United protester at Bank of America.

From Tennessee to DC, New York City to Seattle, Saturday marked one of the biggest days of protest around the issue of money in politics and corporate power in America. Pegged to the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, there were more than 300 events, flying under the #J21 and "Occupy the Corporations" banners, at courthouses, banks, and corporate offices nationwide. The protesters have two main demands: get corporate money out of American politics and demolish the doctrine that corporations deserve the same free speech rights as real people—what's known as "corporate personhood."

Here's a video the group Public Citizen put together recapping the weekend's events:

The campaign to roll back Citizens United and end corporate personhood is slowly gaining traction around the country. The aims of the organizations involved—Public Citizen, Move to AmendPeople for the American Way, and others—range from demanding a constitutional amendment ending corporate personhood to giving Congress more power to regulate money in politics. So far, the city governments of Los Angeles, New York City, Boulder, Colo., Madison, Wis., and Missoula, Mont., have passed resolutions demanding a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood. Move to Amend wants anti-Citizens United measures on the ballot in 50 cities around the country.

There are also at least six proposed amendments targeting corporate personhood and Citizens United in the House and Senate, all introduced by liberal lawmakers.

For the anti-Citizens United effort, 2012 is a make-or-break year. Organizers say they hope to ride the wave of enthusiasm surrounding the Occupy movement, and to make corporate money in politics a hot-button issue in an election projected to be the most expensive in American history. Lawmakers and activists say they've settled on the constitutional amendment strategy, as opposed to new legislation, because there are no other options left. The Citizens United decision, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said last month, "has made it so we need a constitutional amendment. I don't see how we tackle this any other way."

Newt's Florida Suicide Strategy

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 4:30 AM PST

With three candidates each boasting one primary victory, Florida is partying like it's 2000: another pivotal ballot with presidential implications and the whole nation watching. The winner of next Tuesday's Sunshine State ballot has the clearest path to the Republican nomination. So if you're Newt Gingrich, high off your South Carolina comeback, how do you win with Republicans in a super-state where Mitt Romney's better-organized, better-funded, and (maybe) still ahead? One hail-mary idea is to connect Romney to the state's most famous GOP defector. Rick Tyler, the ex-Gingrich spokesman who now advises Newt's super PAC, Winning Our Future, plans to do just that.

On MSNBC Sunday morning, Tyler "laid out a simple plan for the week ahead: tie Romney to Charlie Crist, the one-time beloved Florida governor who lost both his popularity and chances of serving in the Senate seat when he chose to be the moderate alternative to Tea Partier-turned-senator Marco Rubio," as the Huffington Post summarized it . Tyler went on: "All we have to do is remind people that Mitt Romney is Charlie Crist. If you voted for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Mitt. If you didn't vote for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Newt."

On one level, it's a sound red-meat strategy: Romney's ground team in Florida includes a trio of political insiders who worked for Crist's unsuccessful independent Senate campaign in 2010. But while Gingrich might score some quick primary points by associating Romney with a moderate pol, it's likely to screw him in a general election. That's because in the past two years, Charlie Crist has returned from the dead to become one of the state's most popular politicians.

Back during the 2010 tea party revolution, Rubio crushed Crist in the GOP primary for Florida's open seat. Rubio's strategem was to paint Crist as a moderate Republican-in-name-only. In response, Crist fled the party and ran against Rubio in the general election as an independent, only to be crushed by 20 percent. But as they say in Florida, the rules are different here. Two years on, Rubio's ditched his tea party cred to vote regularly as a moderate; he's even cooperated with Sen. Bill Nelson, his senior colleague and a stolid Democrat, on a host of bills.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Citizens United!

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 4:00 AM PST

On Sunday, Citizens United turned two. In case you're not familiar with the birthday kid, it's the 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that corporations can pour unlimited money into groups supporting or opposing candidates. The result has been the rise of a parallel world of super-PACs and shadowy nonprofits dumping millions into the 2012 election, kind of like a giddy toddler dumping Cheerios all over the floor. But far less adorable. 

As Citizens United enters its Terrible Twos, we're throwing a birthday party with some selections from MoJo's ongoing dark-money coverage. Won't you join us? 

Directions to the bash: Want to party like a politically connected millionaire? Let this handy flowchart show you how to make Citizens United work for you.   

Who's invited? Check out our list of the 2012 race's 20 top donors (so far), as well as our exclusive list of the superrich donors who have pledged to contribute $1 millon to the Koch Brothers' efforts to defeat Barack Obama. And meet the mystery man behind Mitt Romney's super-PAC.

RSVP not required: There may be some unexpected guests—finding out who's pouring money into elections is now harder than ever.

Meet the proud papa: Read Stephanie Mencimer's profile of James Bopp, the mastermind behind the Citizens United case (who's got more tricks up his sleeve).

No cake for you: Wonder how Citizens United boosts the 1 percent and weakens the majority of Americans' political influence? MoJo editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery explain.

There will be fun and games…: Trying to find out who's behind 501(c)4s, supershadowy fundraising groups that don't have to say where they get their money, is kind of like playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donor.

…and a clown: Join comedian Stephen Colbert for a surreal civics lesson about how super-PACs totally don't collude with candidates (wink, wink). Plus: Some of his most bizarro political ads.

"And many more!": Not if anti-Citizens United reformers get their way. Read up on their plans to roll back the ruling.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 23, 2012

Mon Jan. 23, 2012 3:57 AM PST

Soldiers from the 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Brigade, lean against a mud wall during a break from combat operations in Kandahar province's southern Spin Boldak district. Photo by the US Army.

Newt Gingrich, Back From the Dead

| Sat Jan. 21, 2012 8:30 PM PST
Newt Gingrich won Saturday's South Carolina primary by 14 points.

Newt Gingrich completed one of the more dramatic turnarounds in modern GOP history on Saturday, erasing a double-digit deficit in the final week of the campaign to trounce Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican primary by 14 points. The major networks called the race immediately after polls closed at 7 p.m. By the time Gingrich finally made his appearance at a Columbia victory party two hours and countless Jock Jams tracks later, his supporters had been whooped into a frenzy. Gingrich was happy to egg the crowd on, promising supporters he'd run an "American campaign" to save America from a "Saul Alinsky radicalist."

"In the two debates that we had here, in Myrtle Beach and in Charleston, where people reacted so strongly to the news media, I think there was something very fundamental that I wish the powers that be in the news media would take seriously," Gingrich said. "The American people feel that they have…elites who have been trying for a half a century to force us to quit being American and become some other system. And people completely misunderstand what's going on: It's not that I had a good debate; it is that I articulate the deepest-felt values in the American people."

Saturday's result brings to an end a terrible week for Romney, who in just a few days has gone from looking like he'd be the first candidate ever to win the first three Republican nominating contests to having a 1-for-3 record. (Romney was originally thought to have won Iowa, but a more complete count eventually gave former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum the victory.) Now the race is headed into a state—Florida—that Gingrich has always considered a firewall. Pundits can quibble over the larger significance, but one thing's very clear: Gingrich won the South Carolina race in the last week. And he did it by effectively exploiting the medium that he promises (over and over and over and over) will carry him to victory in November—the debates. According to the Associated Press' exit poll, two thirds of South Carolina voters said they made up their minds after last week's two debates. Of that cohort, 50 percent went for Gingrich.

"He killed it in the debates; he knocked it into orbit on Monday," said Mackie Christenson, who flew down from Leesburg, Virginia, to volunteer for the campaign. And now that she's on board, she's seeing the campaign in a new light: "To me it's like Winston Churchill. They threw out Winston Churchill then they had a war they had to bring him back in. He's like a bull in a china shop. Sometimes you gotta break some cups and plates to make a difference."

"I don't like that he's payin' 15 percent and I'm payin' 28. It doesn't make sense to me."

Bill and Linda Norwood of Columbia speak in unison when I ask them who they voted for outside their polling place—"Newt"—and again when I ask when they made up their minds—"the debates." Another last-minute development also influenced their vote. "I don't like taxes," Bill said. "I don't like people who got all that money and won't tell you about it. I don't like that [Romney is] payin' 15 percent and I'm payin' 28. It doesn't make sense to me, so it was just a bunch of things." Gingrich, on the other hand, is a man who, "sometimes says things he shouldn't" but "doesn't need notes and stuff like that."

The debate bump had two parts. One was reactionary—voters felt that Gingrich had put Fox News' Juan Williams in his place for suggesting that Gingrich might have been racially insensitive when he called President Obama a "food stamp president." As one voter told me, "When I hear the Juans of the world, I get upset." The second is more, to use a word Gingrich is fast making his own, grandiose. For the last week, in hunting lodges and barbecue huts and even a decommissioned aircraft carrier, Gingrich hammered home a pledge he’s been making for months: If he's the nominee, he'll challenge Obama to a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates across the country.

It's a perfect proposition: If Obama accepts, Gingrich will wipe the floor with him; if he declines, he'll make the White House schedule his own and show up wherever the president campaigns to deliver a rebuttal four hours later. Noting that Obama recently traveled to Orlando to hold a town hall meeting—"I can't wait to see the picture of President Obama standing between Mickey Mouse and Goofy"—Gingrich told an audience in Walterboro on Thursday that he was getting ready to book his own ticket to Disney World. Romney banked his campaign on the idea that Republicans, more than anything, want a candidate who can beat Obama. He just didn't expect them to want to be able to watch it on TV, too.

Gingrich also benefited from Romney's failings—and those of his supporters. Burch Antley of Columbia made up his mind to vote for Gingrich "when Gov. Nikki Haley supported Mitt Romney." That's consistent with a Monmouth poll released last week that noted that 21 percent of South Carolinians said the endorsement of their state's Republican governor made them "less likely" to support Romney.

Now it's on to Florida, a state Gingrich has cultivated for months, but where he's still trailing by double digits according to the most recent polls and where it's expensive to campaign and advertise. (Romney starts off with a large organizational advantage there; even before the Gingrich surge in South Carolina, his campaign strategists were looking to Florida as the all-important showdown.) A repeat of Gingrich's South Carolina triumph will be complicated by the fact that due to early voting, Floridians have been casting absentee ballots for three weeks. In his victory speech on Saturday night, Gingrich acknowledged steep odds: "Anyone here, who knows anyone in Florida, please contact them at some point tomorrow." If it's any consolation for Gingrich, though, there's this: The next debate is on Monday.

This post has been updated.

Newt Gingrich Goes to War in South Carolina

| Sat Jan. 21, 2012 8:17 AM PST

There are several different ways of dealing with a heckler: One is to ignore it, another is issue a passive-aggressive "Thank God for the First Amendment" line; on Friday night, Newt Gingrich went with option number-three—what I guess you'd call the "Chris Christie."

No sooner had his speech aboard the USS Yorktown begun when an audience member shouted from the crowd: "Why won't you release your ethics report? When will you release your ethics report?" Turning to face his inquisitor, Gingrich returned fire: "I you would do a little research instead of shouting mindlessly, you'll discover that they're online at the Thomas system, and you can print them out and read it. It's about 900 pages, and when you get done reading it, let me know if you have any questions." Boom. When the heckling persisted, Newt droped a zinger. "I assume you're for the guy who won't release his income tax," he said, taking a shot at Mitt Romney.

The man continued shouting for a little while (countered by an "Off with his head!" chant from a woman right behind me, in reference to the heckler) and finally conceded defeat after a persistent "Go Newt, Go!" chant broke out. It was, in addition to being impolite, a pretty inartfully worded question, which Gingrich took advantage of to avoid the actual substance. There's a difference between the ethics reports that are public record at Thomas, and the sealed documents from the Gingrich ethics investigation that are currently not public record. Gingrich has been less than upfront on the latter, which is part of the reason Romney is now demanding he release them.

The exchange was noteworthy, though, for the tone. Gingrich didn't let the heckler off the hook; angry retorts are what propelled him to the top of the polls (the most recent one from Public Policy put him up nine points over Romney in South Carolina) and he believes this tone is going to keep him there, whether the victim is Juan Williams, John King, or an anonymous Romney supporter. "It's not so much what's wrong with the other candidates," said Burnie Acufff of Charleston, when I asked him why he's volunteering for Newt. "I feel that Newt has got the scar tissue and callouses to put up with Washington, DC." He won't sit back and take it, in other words.

On stage aboard the Yorktown, Gingrich did his best to present himself as a sober, seasoned, future commander in chief—serial abuse of Godwin's law notwithstanding. The rally took place aboard the Yorktown, a decommissioned aircraft carrier which has been converted into a floating museum in Charleston Harbor and—should the occasion arise—possesses enough WWII-era bombers and old anti-aircraft guns to keep the Nazis off the beaches of the low-country until reinforcements can arrive. Gingrich delivered his remarks in front of a 30-foot-long American flag and just out of camera shot from the hanging innards of a Navy chopper, an old QH-50 with a 72 hp Gyrodyne-Porsch reciprocating engine. He was introduced by retired Marine Gen. James Livingston (a Medal of Honor recipient), who had switched endorsements from Rick Perry to Gingrich earlier in the week, and gave a nod to the ship's history in the Pacific theater (making a quick "politically incorrect" joke about speaking Japanese). He began with a moment of silence for America and French soldiers who had recently been killed in Pakistan. 

Photo by Tim MurphyPhoto by Tim MurphyAnd, flanked by his wife, Callista, and a troop of Boy Scouts (here on a field trip) he'd invited to join him on stage, Newt made his final pitch to South Carolinians: "I want you to know that should I be honored and have the opportunity to serve as president, I will take to the White House, the memory of this evening on this ship, and the courage of the man who introduced me, and the patriotism of the people who came here, and the young people to whom we owe the presidency, and I will dedicate myself to do everything that I can to make sure that they grow up in a country worthy of their future." He left the stage to a chorus of "Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!" For a moment it felt like 1994 all over again.

Of course, this being South Carolina, some military imagery was more tasteful than others. Gingrich's first endorser at Friday night's speech decided to kick off his speech with a little bit of history: "Charleston has been the place of a lot of historic firings, like the firing of the first shot at Fort Sumter," said Bobby Harrell, the state's Republican speaker of the house. "Tomorrow, we will do another firing—when we fire Barack Obama from the White House!"

Florida Republicans' Plan to Block Out the Sunshine

| Sat Jan. 21, 2012 4:00 AM PST

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone: photoillustration by Adam WeinsteinAiming to make government privatization really private. Photoillustration by Adam Weinstein

In their longstanding fight to privatize the state's prison system—and a lot of other public services—Republican lawmakers in Florida are trying a new angle: doing it in secret.

Proposed Committee Bill 7170, introduced Tuesday in the GOP-dominated state legislature, aims to prevent "information relating to the outsourcing or privatization of an agency function" from being reported to the voting public "until after the contract for such functions is executed." In other words, taxpayers wouldn't get to know about government work turned over to a contractor until after the contract has been signed. The bill is expected to come to a floor vote later in the recently convened spring session; with Republicans holding supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature and Rick Scott sitting in the governor's office, it could become law by this summer.