Mojo - February 2012

Document: What One Witness Would Have Said at GOP's "Sausage Fest" Birth Control Hearing

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 1:45 PM EST

When Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the House GOP's designated White House watchdog, held a hearing earlier this month on the Obama administration's requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers birth control, Democrats and women's groups complained that the first panel of witnesses to testify was composed entirely of men. My colleague Stephanie Mencimer dubbed it a "religious freedom sausage fest." A second, later panel featured two women, neither of whom supported the birth control rule. So it was no surprise that the general message of the hearing was that requiring employers to provide insurance plans that cover birth control infringed on religious freedom. (Following outcry from religious groups, the Obama administration modified the rule.)

Later, Democrats held their own, unofficial hearing featuring Sandra Fluke, who would have been their witness at the Issa hearing if he had permitted it. "My testimony would have been about women who have been affected by their policy, who have medical needs and have suffered dire consequences," Fluke told the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff. Last week, Mother Jones caught up with Yonit Lax, a medical student at George Washington University who the Democrats also considered as a potential witness. She agreed to provide her draft testimony, which you can read below. Here's a short intro she sent me:

Early last week, I had a conversation with the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They were looking for a medical student to testify at an upcoming hearing on contraception—would I be that student?

Ultimately, the Committee chose to invite a student at Georgetown Law Center as their witness—but neither of [us] was given a chance to address the Committee. Chairman Darrell Issa refused to seat Sandra Fluke because, in his view, the hearing was "not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration's actions." The hearing was quite clearly a reaction to the Obama Administration’s decision to require church-affiliated organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. Ms. Fluke would have been the only woman on the panel.

I suspect that, even if I had been invited, I would not have had the opportunity to address Congress. But if I had, here is what I would have said:

 

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Scott Walker's New Defense: Recalling Me Hurts Children and Old People

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 1:22 PM EST
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday morning, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker trotted out a new talking point as he defends himself from a well-organized recall campaign hoping to oust him from office. In a nutshell, Walker said: Think of the children! Think of the seniors!

Walker told MSNBC's Willie Geist that the recall effort is "a huge distraction" for himself and Wisconsin state lawmakers. Grassroots organizers turned in more than a million signatures in November to trigger the recall election, which is expected to take place this spring. "I mean, it's $9 million of taxpayers' money just to run this," he said. "Think about the number of kids we could help, think of the number of seniors we could help in our state with $9 million that we didn't have to waste on this—this frivolous recall election."

How ironic. In his first budget, Walker slashed public education funding by $800 million to $900 million. Walker and his administration have also sought to cut Medicaid funding, in effect booting more than 50,000 low-income families from the program, better known as BadgerCare Plus. The $9 million price tag for his recall election pales in comparison to the cost-cutting now pinching some of Wisconsin's students and some of its most vulnerable citizens.

Walker went on to say that he's encouraged by statewide polls showing in the lead over a handful of prospective Democratic challengers. A January poll by Marquette University showed Walker leading former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, a union favorite, 49 percent to 42 percent. Walker also led Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who narrowly lost in the 2010 gubernatorial race, 50 percent to 44 percent. That said, Walker remains a divisive figure in Wisconsin. The same Marquette poll said 46 percent of those polled supported Walker while 48 percent did not.

Wisconsin Democrats, meanwhile, have unveiled their first ad of the recall fight, linking Walker to President Richard Nixon. The ad takes aim at the secretive "John Doe" probe targeting former Walker aides and compares the investigation to the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation, the first for a sitting president. Here's the ad:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 27, 2012

Mon Feb. 27, 2012 11:46 AM EST

US Army Pvt. Alex Hernandez (front) and Spec. Justin Huser, both from Ghost Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany, fire their M240 machine gun during a Fire Team and Squad level Situational Training Exercise focused on reaction to contact, attack, and break contact in the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, on February 23, 2012. (US Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger/Released)

Should Wyoming Build an Aircraft Carrier? (Updated)

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 7:00 AM EST
The USS John C. Stennis, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, patrols the dangerous West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake.

Update: A little Internet scrutiny goes a long way, apparently: The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the aircraft provision has been scrapped. We take full credit. Details are here.

On Friday, the Wyoming House of Representatives advanced a bill to set up a task force to prepare for the total economic and political collapse of the United States. Per the bill, the panel would investigate things like food storage options and metals-based currencies, to be implemented in the event of a major catastrophe.

Then it goes three steps further. An amendment by GOP state Rep. Kermit Brown*, calls on the task force to examine "Conditions under which the state of Wyoming should implement a draft, raise a standing army, marine corps, navy and air force and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier." As the bill's GOP sponsor, state Rep. David Miller, explained to the Casper Star-Tribune, "Things happen quickly sometimes."

Buying an aircraft carrier is, as a rule, a great idea, but there are a few hiccups, not the least of which is that Wyoming is currently landlocked. Its largest body of water, Yellowstone Lake, is frozen from December through June and sits in the middle of a giant volcano that stands about as good a chance as anything else at triggering the aforementioned societal collapse. In that sense, Wyoming has a lot in common with another mineral-rich, landlocked, mountainous territory—Bolivia. Bolivians, who have a national holiday honoring the day in 1904 they lost their coastline to Chile, have made the best of their situation by maintaining a small flotilla on Lake Titicaca. No aircraft carrier, though.

Corn on "Hardball": Culture Wars Seize Political Spotlight

Fri Feb. 24, 2012 8:49 PM EST

David Corn and Jennifer Donahue joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the recent political spates over women's health rights and same-sex marriage. Despite predictions that the 2012 political season would be all about the economy, the discourse has returned to the familiar tropes of the culture wars.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Iran War Watch: New Senate Resolution a Step Toward War?

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 6:30 PM EST

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be regularly posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, and the rhetoric.

Last week, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced Senate Resolution 380, which emphatically rejects a containment policy towards Iran and promotes a more hardline stance on preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring "nuclear weapons capability." The proposal also encourages increased diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, and "urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability..." If adopted, the bill could make military conflict more likely.

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Texas Axes Health Programs for Women

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 6:08 PM EST

In the latest dispatch from the Republican war on Planned Parenthood, on Thursday the administration of Texas Gov. Rick Perry enacted a new rule banning state funds from going to any health center at all affiliated with anyone who offers abortions. The measure would effectively end the Women’s Health Program in the state, because federal law prohibits states from discriminating against specific providers in the allocation of Medicaid.

The Texas Tribune reports that the move bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other "affiliates of abortion providers" from taking part in the program:

The rule, signed by Commissioner Tom Suehs on Thursday, takes effect March 14. Unless some last-minute agreement is brokered, the program, which receives $9 in federal funds for every $1 in state funds, will be either phased out or cut off by the end of March. At least 130,000 poor Texas women will lose access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and contraception.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richard said Perry has again "chosen politics over the lives of Texas women." This isn't the first time the Perry administration has cut women's health programs; last year, the governor and legislature axed two-thirds of the budget for those programs, as NPR reported in September.

Palin to Staff: Delete Right-wing Pastor John Hagee

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 3:02 PM EST
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks to reporters during the 2008 campaign.

In internal emails with her communications staff, then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin tried to censor a press release put out by an independent organization linking her to controversial Texas pastor John Hagee, the influential Christian-Zionist leader whose statements on Catholicism and Hurricane Katrina caused Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to publicly repudiate him in 2008. The exchange comes as part of a new trove of emails released by the the Alaska Secretary of State in response to a public records request first filed by Mother Jones.

After Palin appeared at an event in March 2009 sponsored by Hagee's organization, Christians United for Israel, CUFI spokesman Ari Morgenstern sent the governor's office a draft of its press release trumpeting the event, a courtesy often provided to high-profile figures. Although William McAllister, Palin's communications director, initially wrote back saying there was no need for coordination, Palin herself jumped in and began to micro-manage. She suggested two more individuals whose names she'd like to see referenced in the press release (including an Anchorage rabbi), and added, "Let me know when they have done so."

An hour and a half later, she had apparently thought about it some more and come up with an additional request: "Eliminate reference to Hagee." But she wanted her role in this de-Hageee-ficiation kept a secret. "[Y]ou guys do that—don't tell them 'the Governor said...'"

The idea that Palin would want to purge the name of CUFI's founder from CUFI's own press release struck her staff as an odd request. "I'm not a fan of Hagee, but I don't know how to propose eliminating him without offering an explanation for the request," McAllister wrote back. "In presenting this to use, I think mostly they wanted to be sure the reference to you raised no objections." At that point, Palin decided to take the conversation off list, asking McAllister to call her.

Palin's reluctance to be associated with Hagee was a marked shift from her positions a few years earlier, and reflected her increasing discomfort with the media spotlight. Palin had expressed her admiration for Hagee previously. In a May 3, 2007, email, Palin had asked her scheduler if she had time to attend a Hagee event at the Juneau Christian Center. When she was informed she had the day off, she replied, "I should try to get back to juno for this one." At that event, she and Hagee were joined by country singer Randy Travis (who starred in the film adaptation of Hagee's end-times thriller, Jerusalem Countdown).

This time around, no scheduling conflict prevented Palin from attending CUFI's event. The draft press release noted that she had spoken at two separate functions supporting Israel the previous week in Juneau and Anchorage, which were attended by a few hundred people. But afterward, she preferred that the rest of the world not know that just one year after McCain was forced to renounce Hagee, she was still hobnobbing with the pastor's group.

Which Catholic Institutions Cover Birth Control?

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 2:36 PM EST

Amid all the news on contraception coverage and the bishops in the past few weeks, a number of outlets have flagged individual Catholic-affiliated institutions that already provide birth control coverage. Now the National Women's Law Center has put together a fairly comprehensive list detailing 34 universities and hospitals that over some form of coverage.

Schools like Sacred Heart University, in Connecticut, already cover "certain contraceptive and family planning services, even though not provided to treat an illness or injury." The University of Notre Dame in Indiana covers oral contraception if it's for the "correction of existing pathologies of the reproductive system," but not for preventing pregnancy. And others, like Loyola University in Chicago, allow employees to use their pre-tax Flexible Spending Account to pay for "birth control items."

As the NWLC points out, some of these schools are in states where coverage is already required by state law, while others have elected to do so even without a legal requirement. "The bottom line is a lot of Catholic institutions are already covering contraception," said Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the NWLC.

Here's the list:

Palin and Aides Felt Snubbed by McCain in Early 2008

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 1:31 PM EST

In 2008, months before John McCain would pick Sarah Palin to be his running mate, the Alaska governor and her crew felt snubbed by the Arizona senator, according to Palin emails recently released by Alaska in response to an open records request filed by Mother Jones, other news  organizations, and citizen activists.

A second batch of emails released this week by the state covers the last ten months of Palin's self-abbreviated tenure as governor. But the batch also includes emails left out of the first round of emails made public last year. Several of those emails—full of redactions—refer to efforts of the 2008 Republican presidential contenders to court Palin in advance of the Alaska caucuses, which were held on February 5 that year.

In an email sent that day to Sean Parnell, then the lieutenant governor, Palin noted,

Talked to Romney today! Thank you for hooking that up. Can't believe he took to the time. Talked to him about women in leadership. He said all the right things.

In a separate email to several of her aides and her husband Todd, Palin reported on her conversation with the former Massachusetts governor:

Romney called. Said good things just like Huck [as in Mike Huckabee, who was also running for the GOP presidential nomination].

In response one of the aides, Kris Perry, wrote back: "Did you ever hear from mccain?"

Palin had a one-word reply: "No."

Perry responded: "Well, I haven't been impressed and this is just icing on my cake."

Palin emailed back: "Yeah, it's good to know. He's probably written off AK anyway."

Alaska ended up not being kind to McCain. He placed fourth in the caucuses there, picking up just three delegates to Mitt Romney's 12, Huckabee's six, and Ron Paul's five. But when he needed a veep nominee half-a-year later, he didn't hold this against Palin. Nor did she maintain a grudge.