Mojo - March 2012

Milwaukee Mayor Jumps Into Wisconsin Recall Rumble

| Fri Mar. 30, 2012 3:40 PM PDT
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Scott Walker in Wisconsin's 2010 gubernatorial race by 125,000 votes, wants another shot at governor.

On Friday afternoon, Barrett announced he would seek the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin's recall race. Barrett faces former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a union favorite; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout; and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette. Barrett said in a statement that Gov. Walker has "divided our state like never before and presided over a Wisconsin economy that last year lost more jobs than any state in the country."

He continued: "He 'dropped the bomb,' as he said, and ended 50 years of labor peace and worker protections—something he never said he'd do during the 2010 campaign. I know, because I was there. As governor, I will fight to restore collective bargaining rights, because it's the right thing to do, and it's necessary to heal Wisconsin."

Recent polls show Barrett heading to victory in a hypothetical Democratic primary. A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed Barrett with 36 percent of support, Falk with 29 percent, Vinehout and LaFollette with 8 percent each. A late February survey by Public Policy Polling showed Barrett beating Falk 45 percent to 18 percent. (That was an improvement for Barrett: a January PPP survey put him ahead of Falk 46-27.) In that same February PPP survey, Barrett led Walker by three percentage points in a hypothetical general election, 49-46. A Marquette University Law School poll published last week showed Barrett trailing Walker 49-47.

Barrett's entry sets up a bruising fight for the Democratic nomination in the Walker recall rumble. There is no love lost between Barrett and Wisconsin's labor unions, a bastion of Democratic support, and in recent weeks, union officials have quietly sought to undermine Barrett's standing in Wisconsin and work against a possible recall candidacy. In an interview with Mother Jones, Falk questioned the wisdom of a late entry by Barrett into the recall fray. She said she hoped Barrett would support her recall candidacy just as she supported his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. "I think it's his turn to support me and I hope he does," Falk said.

While Falk boasts of her many union endorsements, Barrett is a fixture in Milwaukee and Wisconsin politics, and already counts former Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wisc.) as a high-profile supporter in the race. Barrett's candidacy will make it harder for Falk to win widespread support in Milwaukee, a Democratic hotbed, says Charles Franklin, a visiting political scientist at Marquette University. Yet Barrett, Franklin adds, bears the burden of having already lost a governor's race to Walker in 2010. (Barrett also lost in the 2002 gubernatorial primary.)

In a statement, Falk responded to Barrett's announcement by saying, "I welcome Tom to this important race."

This story has been updated.

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How Mitt Romney Funded an Effort to Divide Blacks and Gays

| Fri Mar. 30, 2012 12:39 PM PDT
Mitt Romney gave $10,000 to the National Organization for Marriage in 2008.

We've known that Mitt Romney helped bankroll California's anti-gay-marriage campaign in 2008. But on Friday, Huffington Post's Sam Stein presented new details—specifically that Romney's $10,000 donation (did he lose a bet?) to National Organization for Marriage, the nation's leading stop-gay-marriage outfit, came via his network of state PACs that we reported on last July:

Records filed by Romney's Free and Strong America PAC with the Federal Election Commission did not include details of that $10,000 donation. Nor did NOM's public 990 form. In fact, record of the payment was only uncovered Friday when the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign was sent a private IRS filing from NOM via a whistleblower. The Human Rights Campaign shared the filing with The Huffington Post.

Asked for comment, an aide to Romney said that the donation was made through the Alabama chapter of the Free and Strong America PAC. State records confirm this. However, the 990 NOM filed lists the donation as having come from PO Box 79226 in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Belmont, of course, is where Romney maintains his nominal address, in the basement of his son's house.

The NOM donation is particularly dicey given another recent development. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed reported on an internal NOM document detailing the group's aim to "drive a wedge between gays and blacks" in order to knock down gay marriage efforts. Those documents date back to 2008. Put another way, Romney donated $10,000 to an effort geared at "fanning the hostility" between gays and black voters.

Here's the full document, via HRC: 

NOMSched2008PDF

WATCH: What Trayvon's Shooter Says v. the Evidence

Fri Mar. 30, 2012 12:15 PM PDT

Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll appeared on Current TV's Countdown to discuss the latest developments in the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman claims that Martin attacked him, punched him in the face, and "repeatedly slammed his head into the sidewalk" before Zimmerman shot him. But police surveillance video of Zimmerman recorded the night of the shooting shows Zimmerman without any visible blood or wounds. Andy Kroll analyzes what this new evidence could mean for the outcome of the investigation.

 

Arizona Outdoes Everyone With New Anti-Abortion Bill

| Thu Mar. 29, 2012 1:37 PM PDT

Bills limiting the time period during which abortion is legal have proliferated in recent years as other states have followed Nebraska's lead and banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But a law under consideration in Arizona would roll back access to abortion even farther.

The Arizona bill, (HB 2036), passed in the state Senate on Thursday and will now go before the house. Like the proposals before it, Arizona's legislation is modeled on the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" designed by the National Right to Life Committee. And like the other bills, it states that abortion would be banned 20 weeks into a pregnancy. But reproductive rights advocates point out that Arizona's law would actually be more restrictive than others, as the bill states that the gestational age of the fetus should be "calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman."

Not to go all middle-school health on you, but that's not exactly the same as the actual date the egg and the sperm hooked up. Figuring out that exact point one became pregnant can be tricky. Most women ovulate about 14 or 15 days after their period starts, and women can usually get pregnant from sexual intercourse that occured anywhere between five days before ovulation and a day after it. Arizona's law would start the clock at a woman's last period—which means, in practice, that the law prohibits abortion later than 18 weeks after a woman actually becomes pregnant. (LMP is what most doctors use to estimate gestational age, but previous bills like this one have instead stated that the 20-weeks is based on the "postfertilization age" of the fetus.)

The American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project has called Arizona's proposed law the "most extreme bill of its kind," one that would be more restrictive than any others currently in force in the US. Although it includes exceptions if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the woman, there are no exceptions if, for instance, the fetus is found to have a life-threatening condition or other severe impairment. Banning abortions at the 18-week mark would also preclude women from obtaining information about the condition of the fetus, as many medical tests are either not performed or are not conclusive at that early date.

The bill doesn't stop there. Under this law, if a doctor performs an abortion after that 18-weeks, he or she can be charged with a crime, have his or her license revoked or suspended, and can be held liable for civil penalties if the father of the fetus decides to pursue legal action. The bill also requires a mandatory ultrasound for anyone seeking an abortion at any stage of pregnancy (hello, transvaginal probes) and mandates that a doctor offer to show a pregnant woman the ultrasound, describe it to her verbally and provide her with a photo of "the unborn child." It would also require a woman to wait 24 hours after the ultrasound before she can obtain an abortion. 

Reproductive rights advocates see this as yet another intrusion on the right to an abortion. "Politicians need to get out people's bedrooms and out of their doctor's office, and let women, families, and doctors make these important medical decisions," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project.

This article has been revised. 

Pentagon Director Had Family Money in Bomb-Detection Boondoggle

| Thu Mar. 29, 2012 11:58 AM PDT
DARPA Director Regina Dugan

The military's top-secret research agency threw millions of dollars at a bomb-detection system that worked no better than a coin toss, according to military sources. Sounds like your typical defense boondoggle...but as Wired's Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman reported this morning, there's an added layer of intrigue to this debacle at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA):

By itself, the washout wouldn't be terribly remarkable. Darpa's charter is to try out risky technologies, many of which don't pan out. It's that dedication to high-risk, high-reward projects that leads to breakthroughs like GPS and the internet. But these contracts were given to RedX Defense, a company partially owned by outgoing Darpa director Regina Dugan and led by Dugan's family. Agency bosses were repeatedly told that investing in RedX was a waste of time—and moved ahead with the contracts anyway. The bottom line, says a second source familiar with RedX's work: "The technology just didn't work."

RedX's bomb detectors are now in use by US forces across the world, including in Afghanistan. But according to insiders, the technology was only 47 percent reliable in detecting homemade bombs when it was tested by the DOD. "That's less than chance," a source told Wired. "You could flip a coin and do better." So how'd it get approved for use by the military? "No other program had this kind of pressure" to be approved at DARPA, the source told Shachtman and Ackerman. "Or even this much interest."

Dugan has since left the DOD to take a job at Google, but military investigators are looking at the eyebrow-raising relationship between Dugan and RedX. Shortly before leaving her post at DARPA, Dugan told a crowd that her agency was a bunch of nerds, and "nerds change the world," according to venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who was in the audience. "I often ask: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" she said. It's a question those investigators are likely asking now, too.

Iran War Watch: Azerbaijan Airbases and the Israeli Military

| Thu Mar. 29, 2012 10:33 AM PDT

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

Senior US intelligence officials say that the Israeli military has recently gained access to airbases in the Republic of Azerbaijan, an independent Turkic state on Iran's northern border.

Foreign Policy's Mark Perry, who broke the story, explains what it means for the Israeli-Iranian standoff:

[A]ccording to several high-level sources I've spoken with inside the U.S. government, Obama administration officials now believe that the "submerged" aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance—the security cooperation between the two countries—is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran...[F]our senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. "The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official told me in early February, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."

Senior U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Israel's military expansion into Azerbaijan complicates U.S. efforts to dampen Israeli-Iranian tensions, according to the sources. Military planners...must now plan not only for a war scenario that includes the Persian Gulf—but one that could include the Caucasus.

[...]

It is precisely what is not known about the relationship that keeps U.S. military planners up at night. One former CIA analyst doubted that Israel will launch an attack from Azerbaijan, describing it as "just too chancy, politically." However, he didn't rule out Israel's use of Azeri airfields to mount what he calls "follow-on or recovery operations." He then added: "Of course, if they do that, it widens the conflict, and complicates it. It's extremely dangerous."

In case you're curious, here's what an airbase in Azerbaijan looks like:

The Azerbaijani government flat-out denied the FP report on Thursday. Teymur Abdullayev, a spokesman for the country's defense ministry, called the allegations "absurd and groundless," and another senior official in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, vowed that "there will be no actions against Iran...from the territory of Azerbaijan."

Despite Baku's denials, this story will undoubtedly damage the already fraught relationship between Azerbaijan and its neighbor to the south. The Iranian government openly disapproves of Azerbaijan's friendly relations with Israel—the two countries' partnership includes over a billion dollars worth of arms shipments to Azerbaijan from the Jewish state—and Iranian authorities have repeatedly accused Azerbaijan of colluding with Israeli spies and assassins. Police in Azerbaijan this month arrested 22 terror suspects who were supposedly receiving marching orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Meanwhile, Anshel Pfeffer at Haaretz doesn't buy the speculation of an Israeli airstrike being launched out of an Azeri airbase:

[A] cursory glance at a map hardly bears it out. A range of American military experts claim that Azeri airfields would be invaluable for Israel as it would solve some of the fuel/range issues of a 2000+ km strike, they fail to address the problem of where the Israeli warplanes can fly to once they have refueled in Azerbaijan. There is no friendly route to fly back to Israel, except over Iranian or Turkish territory, hardly appealing alternatives once an attack has already been carried out and both countries will be on highest alert...Other uses proposed in the FP feature, using Azeri fields just in the case of emergency landings or using them to base search-and-rescue helicopters or reconnaissance drones, makes more sense.

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Obamacare's Day in Court: Good for Single Payer?

| Thu Mar. 29, 2012 8:49 AM PDT

This week, the oral arguments conducted before the Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul seemed to spell bad news for supporters of Obamacare. But there was a moment that could hearten those progressives yearning for a single-payer type of national health care system.

Conservatives have spent the last few years falsely characterizing the Affordable Care Act, which preserves the private insurance system, as a "government takeover of health care." Yet during oral arguments, a lead lawyer opposing Obamacare as unconstitutional suggested an actual government takeover of health care might be constitutional.

In an exchange between Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Michael Carvin—a lawyer representing the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which opposes Obamacare—Sotomayor got Carvin to concede that a single-payer system would be constitutional:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So the—I—I want to understand the choices you're saying Congress has. Congress can tax everybody and set up a public health care system.

MR. CARVIN: Yes.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: That would be okay?

MR. CARVIN: Yes. Tax power is–

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Okay.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had previously attempted to trap former Solicitor General Paul Clement into saying the same thing. "It seems to me you're saying the only way that could be done is if the government does it itself; it can't involve the private market, it can't involve the private insurers," Ginsburg said. "There has to be government takeover. We can't have the insurance industry in it. Is that your position?"

Clement, perhaps flashing forward to a future where he is arguing against the constitutionality of the health care system liberals would prefer to the private sector alternative they actually got passed, refused to be cornered. "No. I don't think it is, Justice Ginsburg. I think there are other options that are available."

Justice Anthony Kennedy wondered aloud whether the ability of the government to set up a single-payer system meant that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. "Let's assume that it could use the tax power to raise revenue and to just have a national health service, single payer," Kennedy said. "In one sense, it can be argued that this is what the government is doing; it ought to be honest about the power that it's using and use the correct power."

"On the other hand," he mused, "it means that since…Congress can do it anyway, we give a certain amount of latitude. I'm not sure which the way the argument goes." If the Affordable Care Act gets struck down in its entirety, however, single payer may be the only alternative left for liberals, as monumentally difficult as it would be to get it passed. And though some conservatives—as they assail Obama's health care reform—now concede such a plan would be constitutional, no doubt the right can be expected to argue the opposite should single-payer ever become a viable alternative to Obamacare.

The Road to 270 Electoral Votes Goes Through...Nebraska?

| Thu Mar. 29, 2012 8:00 AM PDT

On Wednesday, Public Policy Polling came out with a new survey of the Nebraska GOP primary race. That's not all that important—Rick Santorum will probably win the state, win slightly more delegates than Mitt Romney, and still not win the nomination. Not very many people live in Nebraska.

But there was one interesting element to the Democratic-leaning polling firm's Nebraska report: In the state's second congressional district, Obama trails Romney by just one point in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup:

Courtesy of Public Policy PollingCourtesy of Public Policy PollingNebraska, which allocates its electoral votes by congressional district rather than winner-take-all, went overwhelmingly to John McCain in 2008, but Obama was able to pad his landslide tally with a narrow win in Omaha.

The odds of Omaha delivering a decisive electoral vote to Obama this time around are pretty small, but via the good folks at 270towin.com, you can at least game a scenario—say, if Obama repeats John Kerry's 2004 map, then adds Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico to the mix while losing New Hampshire. And in that case, with Obamaha providing the winning margin, you might actually see some serious introspection from Republicans and Democrats alike on why we still rely on something as unwieldy and undemocratic as the electoral college in the first place.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 29, 2012

Thu Mar. 29, 2012 7:43 AM PDT

US Army Pvt. Ryan Slade (left) fires an M240 machine gun as Spc. Cody Branam fires his M4 carbine during a situational training exercise at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on March 22, 2012. Both soldiers are assigned to India Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. DoD photo by Gertrud Zach, US Army.

House GOP: Rape Prevention Measures an Unreasonable Luxury

| Thu Mar. 29, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
The Karnes County (Texas) ICE detention center, as imagined by Rep. Lamar Smith.

On Wednesday, as most of official Washington was fixing its gaze squarely on the Supreme Court, the House Committee on the Judiciary convened a hearing on another issue: the supposedly posh conditions at the Department of Homeland Security's immigrant detention centers. The hearing, dubbed "Holiday on ICE" by chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), focused on the idea that Obama administration rules intended to prevent sexual abuse and inhumane conditions at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities made detention too fancy. "War on Women," meet "War on Immigrant Women."

In 2008, the Washington Post published an in-depth investigation of inhumane conditions at ICE detention centers. As Bob Libal at Texas Prison Bid'ness points out, ICE was forced to cancel its contract with a detention center in Texas' Willacy County after it was "rocked by allegations of sexual assaults, immigrant smuggling, spoiled food, and protests." Those conditions, detailed in a 2011 Frontline report, were exacerbated by Obama administration policies exempting immigration detention centers from the Prison Rape Elimination Act. As far as accommodations go, Willacy was more Hostel than Holiday Inn.