Mojo - March 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 14, 2012

Wed Mar. 14, 2012 10:00 AM EDT

US Army soldiers from the One Station Unit Training (OSUT) low crawl while negotiating an obstacle course during their first week of Basic Training in Ft. Benning, Ga. March 9, 2012. OSUT is a training program in which recruits remain with the same unit for both Basic Combat Training (BCT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade.

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Mitt Romney Reviews the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota

| Wed Mar. 14, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

"The breadsticks are just the right width."

Last Thursday the internet was thrown into chaos by the discovery that 85-year-old North Dakota resident Marilyn Hagerty had written a 485-word review of the Olive Garden for her hometown paper, the Grand Forks Herald. "The place is impressive," Hagerty wrote. "It's fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway."

What the internet didn't know is that Marilyn Hagerty isn't the only senior citizen to write a review of the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Mother Jones has obtained an exclusive copy of an unpublished manuscript written by Willard Mitt Romney of Belmont, Massachusetts; Wolfeboro, New Hampshire; and La Jolla, California. A notoriously picky eater, Mr. Romney's culinary adventures have gripped the nation during his presidential campaign, as pundits have puzzled over his refusal to eat the skin on fried chicken, and his love–hate relationship with catfish.

We've reproduced the review in its entirety:

Olive Garden is Great

By Mitt Romney

Let me tell you, this place is great. Is this where you folks normally eat? Only when you're broke, that's right. Heh.

Ann and I sat in a booth near the kitchen. There was a fireplace, a real old-fashioned hearth, in the corner, and a nice vase on the ledge. I love décor; napkins are great. The ice water was just the right temperature.

At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken alfredo, and I was feeling a little rebellious so I ordered the chicken alfredo pizza. I love chicken—I love grilled chicken, I love broiled chicken, I love chicken scampi! Poultry is great. I told Ann, I said, "Did you know chickens came from dinosaurs?" And Ann just kind of shrugged. I said, "I'm being serious, Ann, not just a few of them, but olive them." Aha. Alright, okay.

The pizza comes with Italian cheeses, alfredo sauce, and scallions. I told our server—Maria, I think her name was—I said, "Margaret, hold the Italian cheeses, alfredo sauce, and scallions." Then I took my fork and removed the chicken from the pizza and discarded it, and then I cut the flatbread into manageable portions, and I trimmed the edges off the crust, and consumed them. Forks are my favorite utensil. I also like butter knives.

I've got to tell you, Ann and I went to a place in Tuscany last fall that was just like this. Well I shouldn't say it was exactly like this. That one was was on a veranda overlooking the Mediterranean and bordered on two sides by an actual olive garden. The servers were dressed in authentic Renaissance attire, and the food was prepared fresh by a 13th-generation Italian chef whose great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather sold olive oil to Michelangelo's grandson until they had a falling-out. I don't quite remember the full story; something about a goat. They had a fireplace too but this one was real, not electric, and burned only lumber that had been salvaged from Phoenician wrecks. The wood gave off a faint scent of mahogany mixed with sturgeon; I love logs. You should have seen the bill—we almost went baroque! Aha, okay, ahem.

I told Ann, I said, I don't usually eat fast food, but this is pretty good. Ann didn't think I should say that.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is a nationally recognized commentator on food and culture, and a Republican candidate for president. Follow him on Twitter @MittRomney.

Newt, We Hardly Knew Ye

| Tue Mar. 13, 2012 11:04 PM EDT
Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign is over, whether he admits it or not.

"I'm going to be the nominee." —Newt Gingrich, December 1, 2011.

With Rick Santorum's double win in the Deep South states of Alabama and Mississippi (Mitt Romney placed third in both), the upstart ex-senator from Pennsylvania has undeniably claimed the throne as the non–Romney in the race. As Romney's camp keeps pointing out, the math remains on Romney's side. But these triumphs for the anti-contraception candidate will ensure that the GOP slog continues on, with Santorum jabbing and Romney bleeding. They also show that Newt Gingrich's campaign is dead—whether Gingrich knows it or not. At his not-such-a-concession speech on Tuesday night, he said the nation needs "a visionary leader" (meaning him), bashed the media for perpetuating the Romney-is-inevitable line, and vowed "we will continue to run a people's campaign." (There was no shout-out to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is keeping his campaign alive by funneling millions to the pro-Gingrich super-PAC.)

But if he's not whistling a victory tune in Dixie, he won't be doing so anyplace else. He can stay in the race—and utter increasingly extreme remarks in a desperate attempt to gain attention—but it's not premature to mark the end of Gingrich 2012. The only remaining question is how long he'll fight on as a zombie. (Romney might even encourage Gingrich to stay in the contest to prevent Santorum from consolidating the anti-Romney vote.) So here's a not-that-gauzy look back at a campaign that failed to rescue the United States at its darkest hour:

  • May 16: After Newt Gingrich blasts Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget plan as "social engineering," news cameras catch an Iowa voter asking Newt, "Why don't you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?" Gingrich subsequently claims he didn't say what he had said on national television—and blames the media
  • May 18: As the candidate continues to take fire, spokesman Rick Tyler pens a poetic rant prophesying a Gingrich triumph. He includes the phrase "out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich."
  • June 9: Gingrich's campaign implodes for the first time as top aides, including Tyler, depart en masse. Among other complaints, staffers cite Gingrich's perplexing decision to take a week off in the middle of the campaign to go on a Greek cruise with his wife, Callista.
  • June 22: The Washington Post reports that Gingrich had a $500,000 to $1 million line of credit at Tiffany and Co.
  • November 9: Gingrich, for a brief moment, emerges as a serious contender for the nomination. When CNBC's John Harwood asks Gingrich about his pseudo-lobbying work on behalf of Freddie Mac, the former speaker has a nifty response: "I offered advice—my advice as an historian."
  • November 19: Gingrich tells members of the Occupy Wall Street movement to "go get a job, right after you take a bath."
  • November 23: Mother Jones reports exclusively that young Newt Gingrich looked a lot like Dwight Schrute. The similarities don't end there.
  • November 29: Newt releases a novel. It's kind of a whitewash.
  • December 2: The National Journal quotes one senior Republican as saying, "Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich."
  • December 4: As he's being buried by a deluge of negative campaign ads, Gingrich expresses his dismay that politics has gotten so nasty.
  • December 10: Gingrich says he stopped supporting an individual mandate for health insurance in 1993. Video promptly surfaces of Gingrich calling for an individual mandate for health insurance in 2005. (Mother Jones had reported three weeks earlier that in a 2007 column Gingrich called on Congress to impose an individual mandate.)
  • December 15: Gingrich endorses personhood for zygotes.
  • December 15: Alleging that federal courts have become "grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful" and "frankly, arrogant," Gingrich promises to wage an Andrew Jackson-style war against the judiciary branch if he's elected president. Four days later he suggests that if judges resist, he'll have them arrested.
  • January 6: Gingrich, reportedly worth $6.7 million, tells a voter in Laconia, New Hampshire, "I'm not rich."
  • January 22: In South Carolina, Gingrich goes to war against both food stamp recipients and Juan Williams of Fox News. He holds his final rally in the state aboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier.
  • January 23: In an effort to protect the United States from an onslaught of rolling R's, Gingrich (who publishes a Spanish-language website) promises to eliminate bilingual ballots—an apparent violation of the Voting Rights Acts. He attempts to court English-speaking Cuban-American voters by floating the idea of bombing Fidel Castro.
  • January 26: Newt promises to build a US colony on the moon if elected president, in apparent violation of international law.
  • February: Although he personally has never owned a gun and freaked out the one time he tried to shoot a pig, Gingrich mocks Obama by telling voters you can't fit a gun rack in a Chevy Volt. Video promptly surfaces of a Florida man fitting a gun rack in a Chevy Volt.
  • February 3: Gingrich blasts Washington elites who "live in high-rise apartment buildings writing for fancy newspapers in the middle of town after they ride the Metro." Footage promptly surfaces of Gingrich riding the Metro.
  • February 27: Gingrich tells supporters in Nashville that Andrew Jackson would have hated President Obama. We rate that statement mostly true.
  • February 28: Gingrich tells supporters in Chattanooga that Mitt Romney would have fired Christopher Columbus. We rate that statement true.
  • March 6: Gingrich tells voters he has a secret plan to win the war against $2.50/gallon gasoline. Gingrich mocks Obama for promoting algae as an alternative energy source. Video promptly surfaces of Newt Gingrich touting the benefits of algae as an alternative energy source.

What'd we miss? Leave your favorite memories in the comments.

Sorry, Mitt Romney Did Not Say He Wants to End Planned Parenthood

| Tue Mar. 13, 2012 8:23 PM EDT

Mitt Romney wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood! So went the spin being pushed out on Tuesday by President Obama's reelection campaign, which  blasted out an email directing reporters to a line in a speech Romney gave in Kirkwood Missouri: "Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that." The story went viral, lighting up Twitter and even sneaking its way onto CNN's election-night coverage. Coming at the end of a month spent talking about contraception and Komen, it was a fairly damning quote.

But that quote was missing some key context. Mitt Romney didn't say he wanted to get rid of Planned Parenthood, period. He included it in a list of items he wanted to defund at the federal level. Per KSDK St. Louis:

As for ways to reduce debt, he suggests a few cuts.

"The test is pretty simple. Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I'd eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities," he said.

Which isn't to say he's off the hook. Planned Parenthood provides critical services to millions of American women, and without federal funding, it'd be forced to scale back those operations considerably. As a public policy matter, Romney's decisions woud have tremendous consequences, and family planning funding has the benefit of being extremely cost-effective. But it's also, at this point, fairly standard Republican posturing—and consistent with what Romney has been saying for a while. Though not consistent, it's worth recalling, with what he was saying back in 1994, when he attended a Planned Parenthood  fundraiser with his wife, Ann, a PP donor.

Update: Per HuffPo's Sam Stein, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom clarifies that Romney was referring specifically to funding.

Report: Plan B Access Limited in Native Communities

| Tue Mar. 13, 2012 1:09 PM EDT

Compared to the rest of the United States, the rates of sexual violence among Native American women are nearly twice as high; one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, according to the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center. But in many Native communities, women have little to no access to emergency contraception, the group reports in a new paper advocating for greater access.

On many reservations, the only medical facilities are the Indian Health Service centers, which are a federally administered division of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center's research found that only 10 percent of the pharmacies in the IHS offered Plan B, or "the morning after pill"—the leading form of emergency contraception—over the counter. Forty percent only provide Plan B with a prescription, and the other half don't provide the pill at all. The federal government approved over-the-counter sales for women over the age of 18 in 2006, and for 17-year-olds in 2009, but access has lagged in the IHS.

Reservation communities are often rural and geographically isolated, and lack any private pharmacies that carry EC, said Charon Asetoyer, chief executive officer of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center in the introduction to the report. Often, the IHS service centers are closed on the weekends, and the women must wait hours or even days to see a doctor in order to obtain a prescription. This can mean the woman misses the 72-hour window during which EC is effective in preventing pregnancy. The alternative requires driving long distances to a nearby city, which can pile additional costs on top of a pill that already costs $50.

The report includes accounts of women from all over the country detailing their own experiences with the IHS health centers. They also spoke to pharmacists, who noted that there are many reasons that they don't carry EC:Tthe committees that decide what to stock have neglected to put the drug on approved lists; medical staff have decided that Plan B isn't necessary; decision-makers think the drug is too expensive; doctors haven't requested the drug. The IHS did not respond to a request for comment on the report before press time. Women in these communities should not be held to the religious, cultural, or personal beliefs of decision-makers, the report argues.

Asetoyer argues this not carrying and providing EC violates the sexual assault protocols recommended by the Department of Justice for women seeking medical attention following a rape, which include pregnancy risk evaluation and prevention measures. It also violates the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, said Asetoyer, which was put in place to ensure that federal laws are enforced on reservations, and the rights to self-determination protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Access to emergency contraception prevents Native women from having to deal with additional trauma of needing an abortion should she have a pregnancy resulting from rape, said Asetoyer. "Who wouldn't want to help a woman reduce that trauma?"

Alabama's Ten Commandments Judge is Back, Baby! (Maybe)

| Tue Mar. 13, 2012 10:19 AM EDT
Judge Roy Moore's "Rock," in 2005.

Since being thrown out of office in 2003 for refusing to take down a granite-monument to the Ten Commandments that he'd installed on the steps of the state supreme court, former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore has:

Now he wants his old job back. On Tuesday, Moore will vie with two other candidates for the Republican nomination for a spot on the Alabama supreme court. He will, the Mobile Press-Register reports, ride his horse to the polling station—a venture that's consistent with his theme of returning Alabama to the 19th century and comes just nine months after he broke several ribs in a riding accident (no word on whether it's the same horse).

The race has, understandably, not received as much attention as the GOP presidential primary at the top of the ballot, but judicial elections are serious business, and Moore's no ordinary candidate. His judicial philosophy of a Christian nation, divinely inspired, has endeared him to Teavangelicals and Tenth Amendment activists over the last few years—a not insignificant swath of the electorate in Alabama. (Tellingly, Moore's opponents have been reluctant to criticize Moore for his handling of the Ten Commandments incident on the campaign trail.)

So can he win? The Press-Regiser surveys the race and concludes that he stands a pretty good chance of making it the next round (if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the top two advance to a special runoff election), but probably no further:

A handful of political experts surveyed last week agreed that Moore's committed base of support could ensure that he makes a runoff. But consensus was that he remains too controversial to win. 

"I think the conventional wisdom is Roy has his 30 percent of the vote he’s going to get regardless of who his opponent is," said John Carroll, the dean of the Cumberland School of Law at Birmingham's Samford University. "I think it's much more likely he could push one of the other two out of a runoff. I view this (primary) as a way to sort that out between the other two, which I think is unfortunate, but that’s the way politics works in Alabama."

In a runoff, Carroll said he is confident that either incumbent Chuck Malone or Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick would defeat Moore head-to-head.

Either way, I'd suggest you take 20 minutes today to read Josh Green's definitive profile of a recently defrocked Judge Moore cruising the state with his Ten Commandments rock in 2005.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 13, 2012

| Tue Mar. 13, 2012 8:47 AM EDT

Participants in the Senior Airman Jason Cunningham Remembrance Ruck March trudge along the perimeter of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2012. Cunningham was a pararescueman who died in combat March 4, 2002, while saving 10 men's lives. The Air Force's Camp Cunningham at Bagram Airfield is named after him. The ruck march was one part of a three-part ceremony held in remembrance of the 10 year anniversary of his heroic sacrifice. (US Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)

Iran War Watch: Syria Proxy War?

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 3:45 PM EDT
A billboard with a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad, reading "Allah protects Syria," in Damascus.

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.

The Obama administration and key allies are further mapping out potential military options for intervention in Syria, in the event that diplomatic efforts fail to stem the carnage. In the past month, the United States has also been flying surveillance drones over the Middle Eastern nation, and has extensively reviewed the viability of different military alternatives—even as any large-scale US military operation seems increasingly unlikely.

The Washington Post reports:

[Options] include directly arming opposition forces, sending troops to guard a humanitarian corridor or "safe zone" for the rebels, or an air assault on Syrian air defenses, according to officials from the United States and other nations opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But the governments remain deeply divided over the scope of any intervention, how and when it would happen, and who would participate...There is [however] widespread agreement that the threat to regional and international stability increases with each day that passes, as more civilians are killed in ever-more brutal ways, with no progress toward a peaceful transition.

(For the record, regional players Turkey, Qatar, and Tunisia have all recently called for some form of military intervention in Syria.)

Watch: Occupiers Set Up Living Room in Bank of America

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 2:55 PM EDT

Occupiers have tried to squat in bank lobbies before, but never with as much style as this crew from Occupy Wall Street: 

Notice how the occupiers look like they are having fun, instead of foaming with anger? "That was completely conscious," says Nelini Stamp, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street whose mother lost her home to Bank of America in 2006. "This is not a shutdown. We want to make light of the situation but also carry the message that this is a serious thing."

The creators of the video are members of Occupy Wall Street's Fight BAC group (BAC stands for "Bank of America), which formed two months ago to highlight the bank's foreclosure practices and too-big-to-fail business model. They're coordinating March 15th protests against the BofA in Manhattan; Phoenix; Danbury, CT; and Sarasota, FL. Many of them come from the anti-foreclosure group Occupy Homes, which is holding a national week of action starting today. The #M15 events are online at FTheBanks.org ("F" stands for "Foreclose"—or "a different thing if you use your imagination," Stamp says).

And yeah, in case you were wondering, $230 billion is how much taxpayers spent bailing out Bank of America.

Billionaire Romney Donor: Super-Rich Have "Insufficient Influence" in Politics

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 11:30 AM EDT

It's rare that a mega-rich political donor returns a reporter's phone call, let alone opens up about his or her personal beliefs on elections, money in politics, and the fate of America. Yet in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Kenneth Griffin, the CEO of the powerful hedge fund Citadel and deep-pocketed bank-roller of Republican causes, does just that. The Tribune's 4,000-word interview with Griffin offers a glimpse into the mind of the modern political sugardaddy—and it's a revealing read.

Most eye-catching is Griffin's belief that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, wealthy donors don't have enough influence in politics today. Asked if the "ultra-wealthy" have too much sway, Griffin responds by saying these elites have "insufficient influence." He goes on:

Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet. And so I hope that other individuals who have really enjoyed growing up in a country that believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and economic freedom is part of the pursuit of happiness—(I hope they realize) they have a duty now to step up and protect that. Not for themselves, but for their kids and for their grandchildren and for the person down the street that they don't even know…

At this moment in time, these values are under attack. This belief that a larger government is what creates prosperity, that a larger government is what creates good (is wrong). We've seen that experiment. The Soviet Union collapsed. China has run away from its state-controlled system over the last 20 years and has pulled more people up from poverty by doing so than we've ever seen in the history of humanity. Why the U.S. is drifting toward a direction that has been the failed of experiment of the last century, I don't understand. I don't understand.

In a move that would give the wealthy oodles of influence, Griffin says donors like himself should not be bound by contribution limits, though he supports disclosing donations. (The existing limit is $2,500 to a candidate per election.) Griffin isn't the only marquee Republican to call for tearing down contribution limits: Mitt Romney has repeated the same idea this election cycle, saying big donors like Griffin and casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson shouldn't have to give to super-PACs, but should give straight to the campaigns they support. As it happens, Griffin has given six figures to a super-PAC supporting Romney's campaign.

There is much more to chew on in the Griffin interview, which is worth the read.