Mojo - February 2012

Komen's Planned Parenthood Decision: It Sure Seems Like It's About Abortion

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 6:30 PM EST
Nancy Brinker, CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, at a 2008 event.

Nancy Brinker, the CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, appeared on MSNBC on Thursday afternoon to deny that Komen's decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood had anything to do with politics.

"I'm troubled that it's been labeled as political," Brinker told host Andrea Mitchell. "This is not a political decision."

In the appearance, Brinker gave a revised set of reasons for why they are stopping the grants for breast cancer screenings. Komen initially claimed that it was ending the grant because a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood launched by an anti-abortion lawmaker triggered a new internal rule against funding any program that is under investigation by federal, state, or local government. Now Brinker says the decision was less about the investigation and more about Komen's revised grant standards.

"Our issue is grant excellence. They do pass-through grants with their screening grants, they send people to other facilities," Brinker said. "We want to do more direct service grants." She made a similar claim in a call with reporters later on Wednesday, arguing that the grants have been terminated because Planned Parenthood doesn't generally provide mammograms directly. 

Brinker also denied that Karen Handel, Komen's top lobbyist and an anti-abortion Republican who was elected secretary of state in Georgia, had anything to do with the decision. She even denied that abortion had anything to do with the decision at all. But there are several reasons to believe that this may have more to do with abortion politics than the group wants to admit publicly:

  • Anti-abortion groups leading the campaign against Komen's Planned Parenthood funding may have been tipped off to the decision well before it was public.
  • The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reported that the decision was about abortion and that Handel was involved. The story has not been corrected or retracted.
  • Komen did not cancel a grant to Pennsylvania State University despite the university being the target of a federal investigation, which was the original reason Komen cited for ending the Planned Parenthood grant.
  • Anti-abortion groups are also declaring victory in their parallel attempts to pressure Komen on embryonic stem cell research, another hot-button issue. Anti-abortion groups have targeted Komen for providing funding to any medical institution that also conducts that type of research (even if Komen isn't directly funding it). A few weeks ago, Texas Right to Life flagged a Komen press release from late November explicitly stating that they don't support research that involves "destroying a human embryo" and have never funded that type of research. Both Life News and the National Catholic Register noted the Komen release on Wednesday evening, and Life News reported further that Komen appears to have also ended grants to institutions that conducts embryonic stem cell research. The link to the press release on the Komen site is dead now, and the press release is no longer posted in their media section. The organization did not respond immediately to a request for comment on whether they've changed their policy on this topic as well.

Meanwhile, Brinker's criticism of Planned Parenthood for acting as a referrer to other service providers is a bit of a red herring. It is true that women who come to Planned Parenthood for an initial screening may have to go elsewhere for additional care. But that's true for any woman who needs additional attention from a specialist for a mammogram, biopsy, or lumpectomy. It's often a health care provider like Planned Parenthood that detects cause for concern in the first place, which is why the National Cancer Institute states that screenings conducted by a health care provider "on a regular basis are the most effective ways to detect breast cancer early." If you have health insurance and a primary care physician or gynecologist, that is generally the person who will refer you for additional care if they find reason for concern after an initial screening. But if a woman doesn't have insurance or a regular doctor, clinics like Planned Parenthood are her point of entry. Just walking into a radiography clinic and asking for a mammogram usually isn't possible, and if it were, it would be both extremely expensive and ill-advised.

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Komen's $7.5 Million Grant to Penn State Appears to Violate New Policy

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 4:56 PM EST

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which recently announced that it is ending grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening because of a controversial investigation launched by an anti-abortion Republican congressman, currently funds cancer research at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to the tune of $7.5 million. Like Planned Parenthood, Penn State is currently the subject of a federal government investigation, and like the Planned Parenthood grant, the Penn State grant appears to violate a new internal rule at Komen that bans grants to organizations that are under investigation by federal, state, or local governments. But so far, only the Planned Parenthood grants appear to have been cancelled.

An internal Komen memo written by President Elizabeth Thompson and obtained by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic states that if "an applicant or its affiliates" is under investigation "for financial or administrative improprieties by local, state or federal authorities," then "the applicant will be ineligible to receive a grant." Penn State, the Pennsylvania university that the Hershey center is affiliated with, is currently under investigation by the federal government over the sexual assault scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been indicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. In 2008, the Komen foundation awarded a five-year, $7.5 million grant to the Hershey center to study treatments that could reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, university officials are required to "issue a timely warning if a reported crime represents a threat to the campus community." The Department of Education announced that it was investigating Penn State over possible Clery Act violations last November, and a Penn State spokesperson told Mother Jones that the investigation is ongoing. The Komen foundation has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Komen's founder, Nancy Brinker, is a former Bush administration official who has given almost $200,000 to Republican officials over the years, and Karen Handel, Komen's top lobbyist, is a pro-life Republican who was elected secretary of state in Georgia. Komen officials have insisted that Brinker and Handel's right-leaning politics weren't a factor in the decision to cut off funding, but Goldberg reported that the new grant standards were written as a pretext for denying funds to Planned Parenthood, and that the decision was "driven" by Handel.

Brinker, appearing on MSNBC Thursday afternoon, denied the decision had anything to do with politics.  "I'm troubled that it's been labeled as political. This is not a political decision," Brinker said.

The Real Reason Mitt Romney Is Accepting Donald Trump's Endorsement

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 2:21 PM EST
Mitt Romney (left) and Donald Trump

A day after Mitt Romney was slammed from all sides for declaring he's not "concerned with the very poor" (because they enjoy such a swell safety net), why would he accept an endorsement from celebrity-birther, .001-percenter Donald Trump and appear at the magnate's Las Vegas casino to do so?

The first words that come to mind are: too soon. Such a move will only reinforce the meta-narrative that Romney is far removed from the 99-percenters. It will also associate him with a fellow who was humiliated by Barack Obama last spring, when the president at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner eviscerated Trump with humor the same weekend he was secretly overseeing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Trump's unfavorable rating last spring—before his birther crusade crashed and burned—was 47 percent.

But Romney may not have had a choice. This morning, several media outfits—Politico, the New York Times, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—were reporting that Trump was going to endorse Newt Gingrich. This suggests "the Donald" was talking to both camps to boost his leverage as he was negotiating a deal. (Quelle surprise!)

Fallout Over Komen's Planned Parenthood Decision

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 12:06 PM EST

Susan B. Komen for the Cure's decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood that helped pay for breast cancer screenings has already drawn much criticism from outside the organization. But over at the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg talks to some Komen insiders who say that the move was controversial within the organization as well:

The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. Three sources told me that the organization's top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board's decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. Williams declined to comment when I reached her yesterday on whether she had resigned her position in protest, and she declined to speak about any other aspects of the controversy.
But John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen's senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen's Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. "Mollie is one of the most highly-respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn't continue under these conditions," Hammarley said. "The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very short-sighted to me."

Further, Goldberg writes, the new rule forbidding grants to any organization currently under investigation was designed specifically to ice Planned Parenthood out. Under the new rule, which Goldberg documents with an internal memo, any organization that is the subject of an investigation by any local, state or federal authority is deemed ineligible for grants. This, of course, creates an incentive for pretty much anyone to launch an investigation for the purpose of denying funds to groups they don't like very much.

This certainly seems to be the motivation for the investigation anti-abortion Rep. Cliff Stearns launched in September against Planned Parenthood. Democrats on his committee accused Stearn of abusing his chairmanship to further the "Republican vendetta" against the group. They noted that both the Health and Human Services Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood, and "have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation."

The act of launching an investigation, of course, has nothing to do with whether or not any actual wrongdoing occurred.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 2, 2012

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Members of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team walk to the next objective during a dismounted patrol to the Department of Public Works facility and a water distribution point in Kandahar province on January 28, 2012. This was a pre-final inspection to establish a punch-list inspection. The project is set to be complete in two weeks. The Kandahar PRT is a civilian-military organization whose mission is to improve security, governance and infrastructure capacity throughout Kandahar province. Photo by the US Army.

ACLU Wants Obama To Release Targeted Killing Records

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 4:12 PM EST
President Obama talks to national security officials Tom Donilon and Ben Rhodes as former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley looks on.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit Wednesday seeking not only the legal justification for America's targeted killing program, but the process by which US citizens suspected of terrorism are placed on its so-called "kill list." The ACLU is also seeking the evidence the US government used to determine that radical American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in September, was actually a terrorist.

Little is known about the process by which the US determines whether killing an American citizen suspected of terrorism abroad is justifed. Just last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS' 60 Minutes that the president himself signs off on targeted killings when aimed at American citizens. 

While the New York Times has also filed a FOIA lawsuit seeking the Office of Legal Counsel memo that lays out the legal justification for targeted killings of American citizens suspected of terrorism, the ACLU lawsuit goes farther in asking for specific evidence both related to Awlaki's death and details about how the US government decides it can kill one of its own citizens without a trial. While Awlaki was well known for spreading extremist ideas, concrete evidence of his operational involvement with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was never made public. 

Last time the ACLU sued over targeted killing of Americans a judge sided with the CIA, which argued that the government had not officially acknowledged the program's existence, despite the program being essentially the world's biggest open secret. On Monday Obama told a questioner during an online forum that the drone program was "on a very tight leash" and that his administration's exponential increase in the use of drone strikes did not amount to the US conducting "a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly." Between the president's remarks and Panetta's, perhaps this time around the government won't be able to use the excuse that it remains nominally classified.

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Susan G. Komen's Founder Is Major GOP Donor, Ex-Bush Ambassador

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 4:05 PM EST
Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker (pictured), the founder of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, is a major Republican donor.

Tuesday's news that Susan G. Komen for the Cure is ending funding it provided to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings has led to increased scrutiny of Komen's staff, which—as I reported previously—includes a federal lobbyist who pledged to defund Planned Parenthood while campaigning for governor of Georgia.

Komen's founder is pretty conservative, too. Komen CEO Nancy G. Brinker, who founded the foundation in memory of a sister who died from breast cancer, was the chief protocol officer for the United States from 2007 to 2009 under the George W. Bush administration, and before that served as his ambassador to Hungary.

Brinker is also a major Republican donor, and has given more than $175,000 to Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee since 1990, according to donor data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Her late husband, Norman Brinker, was the chairman of Brinker International Restaurants, which owns the chains Chili's, Maggiano's, and Macaroni Grill. Norman Brinker gave more than $440,000 to Republicans between 1990 and his death in 2009.

As RH Reality Check pointed out Wednesday, Komen's public affairs advisory board also includes a staunchly anti-abortion member:

Second, sitting on Komen's Advocacy Alliance Board is Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the virulently anti-choice and anti-science Susan B. Anthony List and of its Political Action Committee. Among other involvements, Abraham helps direct the Nuturing Network (sic), a global network of crisis pregnancy centers known for spreading ideology, misinformation and lies to women facing unintended pregnancy. Also on the board of Nuturing Network (sic) is Maureen Scalia, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

This is all to say that perhaps the Planned Parenthood decision isn't all that big of a surprise, given the politics of people involved with Komen. The flap might end up benefiting Planned Parenthood in the end, however. The group has raised more than $400,000 since the news broke, a spokesman said Wednesday afternoon.

Romney's Super-PAC Attack Machine, Brought to You by Big Finance

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 12:37 PM EST

Mitt Romney's thumping victory in Florida on Tuesday was due in part to the wave of negative ads barraging his opponent, Newt Gingrich, in the week before the primary. Sixty-eight percent of all Florida primary ads attacked Gingrich, and it was the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future leading the charge, spending $13.3 million to tear down Gingrich—more than all the other super-PACs combined.

Late Tuesday night, after Romney's win was in the bag, the public discovered the funders behind this anti-Newt assault. The key takeaway: FIRE.

FIRE is short for the "finance, insurance, and real estate" sector. According to a new disclosure filing with the Federal Election Commission, $11.7 million of the nearly $18 million raked in by Restore Our Future in the second half of 2011 came from the FIRE sector—financiers, investment bankers, Bain Capital directors, real estate developers, and more. That's 65 percent of all the money Restore Our Future raised. Put another way, 93 of the 199 donations to Restore Our Future came from members of the FIRE sector.

Who are these wealthy donors? They include hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Julian Robertson; Steven Roth, CEO of commercial real estate giant Vornado; GOP mega-donor and home-building magnate Bob Perry; and Kenneth Griffin, founder and CEO of the Citadel investment firm.

Even with the FIRE sector's backing, though, Restore Our Future's windfall and Romney's own haul of nearly $40 million in the second half of 2011 doesn't match President Obama's campaign war chest. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama and supporting super-PACs have raised $125 million for his re-election effort; for Romney, the figure is closer to $88 million.

Rove's Haul: $12 Million

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 11:46 AM EST
Former Bush Adviser Karl Rove.

American Crossroads, the Republican super-PAC started by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, pulled in close to $12 million dollars in donations in the second half of 2011, according to Federal Election Commission records filed Tuesday.

The largest donations came from titanium magnate Harold Simmons and his Contran Corporation, which together gave seven million dollars, or more than half of the total. Simmons personally gave American Crossroads $5 million, and Contran Corporation is listed as having given $2 million. Although Simmons has also given $2,500 to Mitt Romney (as well as various small contributions to not-Romneys Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty), until recently his biggest donations this primary season were to the pro-Rick Perry super-PAC Americans for Rick Perry (now Restoring Prosperity), to which Simmons gave $100,000 last June. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Simmons is far and away the biggest donor to super-PACs: He's given $5.6 million, fully two million more than his closest rival, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry.

Only one other donor topped a million dollars in the Crossroads filing: Indiana communications company Whiteco Industries. Other big donors include billionaire Sam Zell, whose mismanagement of the Tribune Company earned him the ire of journalists everwhere. Zell gave American Crossroads $500,000, as did former Interpublic Group head Philip Geier. Kenny Troutt, the CEO of a Texas-based financial firm Mt. Vernon Investments, gave another $500,000. All told, more than three-quarters of Rove's haul came from a small group of very wealthy people.

Your Daily Newt: Last of the Mohicans and the American Dream

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 11:38 AM EST
In Last of the Mohicans, British colonialists clash with anti-colonialists, and Daniel Day-Lewis fires two rifles at once.

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's 1995 college class at Reinhardt College in Georgia is noteworthy mostly for being the focal point of the ethics investigation that ultimately ended his reign as speaker of the House. The course, "Renewing American Civilization" was intended to train upwards of 200,000 conservative activists in advance of the 1996 election, but it also gave Gingrich a platform to say literally anything that was on his mind, for two hours at a time, once a week. Needless to say, he took full advantage—praising, at various points, Little House on the Prairie, the futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Boys Town, the Magnificent Seven, and one of his all-time favorite movies: Last of the Mohicans.

The screen adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper joint, Gingrich explained, captured the very essence of what it means to be an American:

One of my favorite movies is the Last of the Mohicans, which I recommend to all of you. It's a great film about the French and Indian war. Wonderful scene where the American who was the Deerslayer is standing there and the British officer says, "aren't you going to Fort William Henry?" And he says, "No, I'm going to Kentucky." And he says, "How can you go to Kentucky in the middle of a war?" And he says, "You face north, turn left, and walk. It's west of here." It's a very American response. And the officer says, "but you're a British subject and you have to come and fight." And he says, "No, I am an American."

Now, he ends up going to fight. Why? Because of the girl—which is also classically American. It's a very romantic country. It really, historically, is a very romantic country. You can't be American without having romance in your heart. I mean, if you grow up as a cynic, it's very hard to sustain the magic that's American. But part of the conclusion I reached, oh, maybe 22 years ago, reading Daniel Boorstin's work on the Americans, is that as important as the mountain man is—and you remember Jeremiah Johnson, which is a great film, and again, a very useful introduction to a real authentic American—there were very few mountain men. There were very few people who went out on their own in the woods.

We're obliged to point out that Russell Means, who played Chingachgook in Last of the Mohicans, also briefly ran for vice president in 1984 as Hustler publisher Larry Flynt's running mate. Four years later, he pursued the libertarian nomination for president and lost—to Ron Paul.