Mojo - February 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 20, 2012

Mon Feb. 20, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Pfc. Anna Ciamaichelo, I Battery, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, unloads the FIM-92 Stinger missile she is about to fire. The purpose of the Stinger live-fire exercise was to the prepare soldiers on how to engage hostile aircraft. US Army photo by Casey Slusser.

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Your Daily Newt: Among the Forest People

| Fri Feb. 17, 2012 8:35 PM EST
Former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich.

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 class at Reinhardt College focused largely on themes of personal responsibility, the unsurpassed awesomeness of the Founding Fathers, and futurism. But his two-hour-long lectures were prone to long digressions on all manner of subjects—which led to this epic musing on the lost tribes of the Amazon:

As late as 40 or 50 years ago, there were still fairly significant stretches of the planet that had hunting-gathering societies. There are a handful left today, but mostly as deliberately maintained museums. I mean, the people who survive in the Brazilian rain forests survive because we deliberately will them to survive, because the sheer reach of modern civilization is now so enormous that if we didn't discipline ourselves, we'd overrun the Bushman of the Kalahari. I mean, these are people who are—who will rapidly be absorbed into this. And you have to raise an ethical question at some point, is it really fair to the human being who happens to have been born randomly into this environment to not let them have a laptop, not give them a vaccination against polio, and not dramatically raise their lives? And yet the second you do, you blow apart this system.

I mean, it's all wonderful and it's all romantic in the 90-minute film, and then you start thinking about the 12-year-old who has a limp and they're not going to make it. And it's a wonderful book by Colin—let's see, "the mountain people" and "the forest people." I can't remember Colin's last name. It will come to me in a minute. Anyway—I haven't read it in almost 30 years, but it is a—it's very romantic, it's very wonderful. Look how natural they are, and then you realize the cost of being natural.

The solution, of course, is to give them all laptops.

Seriously, What Does Sheldon Adelson Want From Gingrich?

| Fri Feb. 17, 2012 6:25 PM EST
Sheldon Adelson: What's another $10 million among friends?

Ho hum. Another day, another $10 million donation from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to bail out Newt Gingrich. Aldelson and his wife, you'll recall, have already dropped $10 million on the pro-Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future. The latest anticipated infusion of cash could help Gingrich's campaign, which is nearly busted, stay in the game a bit longer. Yet assuming that the conventional wisdom that Newt is more likely to reanimate dinosaurs on the moon than win the nomination is true, why is Adelson still showing so much love for him?

A few theories:

1. It's all about Israel. Adelson is an ardent supporter of Israel, and more specifically, hawkish Israeli politicians such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson owns a pro-Netanyahu Israeli newspaper and has underwritten trips to Israel for members of Congress to drum up support for the country. Gingrich has told The Hill that Israel is Adelson's motivating concern: "Sheldon's primary driving source is the survival of the United States and Israel in the face of an Iranian nuclear weapon."

Gingrich and Adelson appear to see perfectly eye to eye on Israel. As MoJo's Adam Serwer notes, "Adelson's donation to Gingrich likely has something to do with their shared anti-Palestinian views, namely the notion that Palestinian national identity is 'invented.'" And Gingrich has said that his first executive order would be to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Adelson has been pushing for the embassy move for years; he first mentioned it to Gingrich when he was still House speaker.

Could the Blunt Amendment Allow Employers to Block HIV Screening?

| Fri Feb. 17, 2012 12:48 PM EST

The Weekly Standard's John McCormack insists that my piece a few days ago on Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) amendment, which would expand "conscience" exemptions in the Affordable Care Act, is inaccurate. He maintains that it would not allow health care providers or employers to deny certain services or treatments:

Can Democrats cite real examples of Christian businessmen denying AIDS treatment or screenings prior to Obamacare's passage? No, they can't. Because that never happened. (Though you can find countless examples of Christians setting up ministries specifically devoted to providing care to AIDS patients.) Furthermore, the conscience bill would not let employers decide by themselves to ban coverage of specific services. If an employer wanted to target AIDS victims who work for him, he would have to find an insurance company that specifically denied treatment for AIDS. Does such an insurance company exist in the United States of America?

McCormack writes that "the conscience bill would not let employers decide by themselves to ban coverage of specific services." Except, that's exactly what the bill says it would do. It states that "a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide [Essential Health Benefits or Preventive Services]" if it fails to cover the service or benefit because "providing coverage...of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan." Moreover, employers frequently set up their own insurance plans and then pay insurance companies to administer them—more than half of workers were covered by such plans, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. So employers wouldn't have to find an insurance company that denied treatment for services or benefits mandated under the Affordable Care Act. They could design their own. 

McCormack further expresses utter disbelief that an employer or an insurance company would deny treatment to someone who has HIV or AIDS. There is actually a long history of employment discrimination cases involving employers either using this pretense to fire employees whose health care costs are expected to skyrocket on the basis of having HIV/AIDS or insurance companies denying benefits, and they're hardly just a thing of the past. On the one hand, it's a sign of progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS that McCormack finds the idea of this unconscionable; on the other hand, there was an Academy Award winning film starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington on the subject, so it's the kind of history he should be aware of. 

New Report Slams Justice Department Transparency, Goes Easy on Obama

| Fri Feb. 17, 2012 11:01 AM EST
Shh! Top secret.

Each year, the National Security Archive at George Washington University announces its Rosemary Award, given to the government agency that is deemed the most abysmal at transparency and "open government performance"—think of it as the RAZZIE Awards, but for FOIA and NatSec nerds.

And the watchdog group's 2011 Rosemary goes to (drum roll, please...) the Department of Justice, narrowly beating out the Department of Homeland Security, two senior CIA officials, CENTCOM, and the US Agency for International Development.

The Archive's report lists the following indictments:

  • persisting recycled legal arguments for greater secrecy throughout Justice's litigation posture, including specious arguments before the Supreme Court in 2011 in direct contradiction to President Obama's "presumption of openness";

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 17, 2012

Fri Feb. 17, 2012 6:57 AM EST

US Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Price, a squad leader assigned to 3rd Platoon, Blackfoot Company conducts security checks near the village of Narizah located in the Tani district of Khost Province, Afghanistan, February 10, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

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Virginia Legislature Votes to Slash Abortion Funding for Low-Income Women

| Thu Feb. 16, 2012 8:02 PM EST

In Virginia, a low-income pregnant woman who wishes to abort because her fetus has a totally incapacitating deformity or mental disability may no longer be eligible for the aid she needs to do so. On Thursday the Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health approved House Bill 62, which would repeal the section of the state code that authorizes the Board of Health to fund abortions for pregnancies with certain complications.

The bill puts no restrictions on women who can afford to abort these types of pregnancies. That's why the Pro-Choice Coalition of Virginia (which includes NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the ACLU) has deemed the legislation discriminatory. "When a woman receives a catastrophic prenatal diagnosis, she should have the same options her wealthier counterparts enjoy to end the pregnancy safely and with dignity," the Coalition said in a press release sent out Thursday morning.

It's worth mentioning that the state shells over almost nothing for these types of abortions each year—in 2011, funding was approved for 10 abortions, costing the state a grand total of $2,784. Which makes the bill's passage that much more of a social, rather than a financial, issue.

HB 62 comes on the heels of two other Virginia bills aiming to limit abortions in the state. Just this week, the state's House passed a different bill redefining a "person" to include a zygote, which, as my colleague Kate Sheppard points out, could potentially make abortion and some forms of oral contraception illegal. And another Virginia bill would require all women to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion and be offered a chance to see the imaging, for apparently no other reason than the belief that women don't understand what's happening inside their bodies during pregnancies.

Undie Bomber Gets Life

| Thu Feb. 16, 2012 4:46 PM EST
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Judging by its lethality, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up a plane en route to Detroit on Christmas 2009, using a bomb hidden in his underpants, was a spectacular failure. The would-be terrorist burned himself horribly and was subdued by nearby passengers. 

Abdulmutallab received multiple life sentences for his crimes Thursday afternoon. When discussing terrorism however, there are ways to measure the success of an attack other than its deadliness—such as whether or not the attack is successful in, well, terrorizing people. In that sense, it's difficult to view Abdulmutallab's botched bombing as anything but an unqualified victory. Shortly after the attack, Republicans proclaimed the attack a "success" as part of a campaign to make the president look weak on national security. Some demanded that he be subjected to co-called enhanced interrogation techniques and placed in military detention. They insisted that by allowing federal agents rather than military officials to interrogate him, that America had made itself vulnerable to another attack—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) likened an FBI interrogation of Abdulmutallab to an interview with CNN's Larry King. 

The Abdulmutallab incident was just one of several that came during a spike of homegrown terrorist incidents in 2009, a trend that has subsided but also involved numbers so small that any decrease or increase was bound to look dramatic. Nevertheless, Abdulmutallab's impact has been substantial. While Republicans failed to overturn Obama's executive order banning torture, his arrest lead to a bipartisan effort in Congress to force federal agents to ask permission from the military to investigate terrorism cases where the suspect is believed to be a member of Al Qaeda. While the administration managed to force changes to last year's National Defense Authorization Act that make its provisions "mandating" the military detention of noncitizen terror suspects apprehended on US soil almost meaningless, there is now a presumption in the law that the military has a domestic role in counterterrorism. 

You'd think that someone who couldn't even blow himself up right would be a joke, a punchline. Instead, in accidentally setting himself on fire, Abdulmutallab managed to inspire a panic that culminated in the Congress altering the law. Imagine what could have happened if he had actually killed someone.

Rep. Darrell Issa's "Religious Freedom" Sausage Fest

| Thu Feb. 16, 2012 2:39 PM EST

There's something surreal about watching a congressional hearing in which a room full of men spend a morning publicly discussing birth control, menstrual pain, ovarian cancer, and migraine headaches. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convened just such a hearing on Thursday.

The hearing, entitled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama administration trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" was striking for its lack of female voices. Democrats on the committee had attempted to include at least one female viewpoint, that of Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown University, a Catholic university whose health plan doesn't cover contraception. But Issa deemed Fluke "not qualified" and plowed ahead despite the obvious flaw of holding a hearing on birth control coverage that doesn't include a single member of the population most likely to use it.

Democrat Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) protested the glaring omission in her opening statement: "What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel, and I don’t one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health care services, including family planning. Where are the women?"

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) expressed outrage over the nature of the hearing, which not only excluded women but also witnesses who didn't agree with the Catholic Church.  Aiming his criticism at Issa, he said,

I think everyone understands what is going on here today. The Chairman is promoting a conspiracy theory that the federal government is conducting a “war” against religion. He has stacked the hearing with witnesses who agree with his position. He has not invited the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities, Catholics United, or a host of other Catholic groups that praised the White House for making the accommodation they made last week. He has also refused to allow a minority witness to testify about the interests of women who want safe and affordable coverage for basic preventive health care, including contraception. In my opinion, this Committee commits a massive injustice by trying to pretend that the views of millions of women across this country are meaningless, or worthless, or irrelevant to this debate.

The rhetoric at the hearing got so one-sided that, at one point, the Democratic women on the committee actually left the room, with DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) denouncing Issa's hearing management as akin to that of "autocratic regimes."

The hearing dragged on, with Republicans providing plenty of fodder for future Democratic campaign ads blasting them for being anti-women, with Democrats responding with actual science on the many ways that birth control pills can save lives, not just prevent pregnancy. And on it went, in a proceeding that made it hard to believe it's 2012 and not 1912. After three hours of testimony and questions, the committee took a break, and then returned for a second panel of witnesses. That panel included two women. But of course, they were opposed to birth control requirements, too.

Occupy Wall Street's New Strategy: A Super-PAC?

| Thu Feb. 16, 2012 1:17 PM EST
Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street activists demonstrate and march against Trinity Church in the public areas of Duarte Square in Lower Manhattan.

Not long ago, John Paul Thornton, a 32-year-old mental health worker in Decatur, Alabama, was clicking around Facebook when he noticed someone had posted a video of satirist Stephen Colbert talking about his super-PAC, a long-running gag on the show. Thornton, an active member of the Occupy movement in his home state, thought to himself, "Wow, it would be really cool if Occupy had one of those."

So, last week, Thornton went ahead and filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to create...the Occupy Wall Street Political Action Committee. Unlike Colbert's Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, though, Thornton says in his first interview on the subject that OWS PAC is no joke.

Newly published FEC documents show Thornton requesting to establish his group as a super-PAC, the type of political outfit that can spend and raise unlimited money so long as they don't coordinate with candidates. The documents list Occupy Wall Street as a "connected organization," with a street address of "NONE AND EVERYWHERE" in the city of "ALL OF THEM." Thornton wasn't trying to be cheeky here, he says. Thornton says he plans to launch a website for the super-PAC soon. All he's waiting for is the FEC's blessing.

 

Thornton says he's no Occupy novice. He joined Occupy Huntsville, a 20-minute drive from his home in Decatur, three weeks after the occupation of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan began on September 17, and has been involved ever since. He's also been active opposing Alabama's draconian immigration measure, HB 56, which passed in June 2011. "My parents called me a serial dissenter," he says. "I was probably a discontent fetus."

Thornton admits that some members of the Occupy movement, which contends that the political system is broken and seeks to work outside of it, might not take kindly to OWS PAC. "I will admit it's not exactly keeping with strict Occupy ideals," he says. But Thornton doesn't subscribe to the movement's stay-out-of-politics philosophy. "The thinking is, if Occupy is going to evolve and to become an actual political player, it needs to participate in major political games."

Karanja Gacuca, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street, says it's not surprising that, as the Occupy movement moves forward, someone like Thornton would jump into the political arena. But that's not where OWS is headed. "Occupy Wall Street as a movement rejects the political system as a broken system that needs to be overhauled from the bottom up," Gacuca says. OWS PAC, he adds, is "an alternative action which if it were to be voted on at the general assembly would never pass. But individuals are individuals and we understand that people are going to use the Occupy name to do alternative actions."

Here's the full filing: