Mojo - April 2012

Scoop: White Kids Work For Obama

| Tue Apr. 10, 2012 4:01 PM EDT

On Monday, President Barack Obama's re-election team circulated this photo of volunteers and staffers at the campaign's Chicago headquarters:

This is not what a Young Republicans meetings looks like.: Obama for AmericaThis is not what a Young Republicans meeting looks like. Obama for America

All those people look really excited for the new M. Ward album! But this being the Internet and it being an election year, a seemingly innocuous picture of youthful volunteers turned into something else—evidence of President Obama's growing race problem. Wait, what?

Over at the Daily Beast, Mansfield Frazier writes that the candid photo of a bunch of college-aged kids looks like a "Photoshopped dirty trick." He explains:

The campaign is pushing back, saying the photo is much internet ado about nothing, but the image, first published by Buzzfeed and then picked up by the Drudge Report, is real and it is damning. Our first sitting president of color is so afraid of being labeled "president of the blacks" by his enemies that he goes in the other direction and earns a reputation for stiff-arming citizens of color.

"[I]t looks like a young Republican gathering," he writes, adding, "all of those selected could not have just happened to be white absent racism on someone's part."

First things first. This is what a Young Republicans gathering looks like:

This is what a Young Republicans meeting looks like.: TKTKTKThis is what a Young Republicans meeting looks like. Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News/ZumaPress.comNote the absence of artsy sweaters and flannel. 

As for the thesis of the piece, that the Obama campaign is deliberately "stiff-arming citizens of color" in order to make some larger point: Frazier offers no evidence to support this except to note that Cornel West is upset. Obama's approval-rating among African-Americans is still in the high '80s, and the campaign has made clear that massive participation by minorities and young people is key to his re-election effort. In this case Team Obama is clearly making an appeal to young voters—the picture might as well be captioned "phone-banking is fun!" (Without getting into a "guess the ethnicity" game with a low-res photo, it's also quite clearly more diverse than he posits.) Is there anything to suggest these kids are any different from the residents of Michigan Avenue in 2008?

The reality is that any bias in weeding out volunteers is likely more of a means-test: Volunteers for political campaigns are necessarily college-age kids with enough financial backing to allow them to work full- or part-time (and overtime, in some cases) without pay and with little if any opportunity for advancement. That gives well-off white kids a boost, I suppose.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Rick Santorum's Greatest Hits

| Tue Apr. 10, 2012 1:55 PM EDT

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum ended his presidential campaign on Tuesday at a press conference in—naturally—Gettysburg, effectively ending the Republican primary and cementing Mitt Romney's path to 1144 delegates. (You can see just how far behind Santorum was by checking out our primary predictor.) Citing his youngest daughter Bella's poor health and the realities of the race (recent polls had him trailing Romney in his home state of Pennsylvania), Santorum's brief remarks were more of a nostalgia trip than a plan of action for going forward. He pointedly did not endorse Romney.

Santrorum's campaign was a long-shot, and for a while it looked like the lack of media coverage was entirely justified. He hovered in the low single digits for most of 2011 before rising, over the course of just a few weeks, to a first place finish in the Iowa caucuses, and he did it all on a shoe-string budget that saw him travel from one campaign event to the next in a supporter's pickup truck. Santorum's unforecasted success, primarily in the Deep South and Sun Belt, served as a constant reminder of Romney's weakness among some of the GOP's core consituencies—Evangelicals and people who make less than $250,000 a year.

The former Pennsylvania senator's role going forward is unclear, but if history is any indication, his second-place primary finish would put him in good position for a second effort, November-permitting, in 2016. Here's a look at what you might have missed from the campaign that was:

What'd we miss? Leave your memories below.

Exclusive: McDonald's Says It Has Dumped ALEC

| Tue Apr. 10, 2012 1:41 PM EDT

This story has been updated.

Add another name to the list of corporations who've ditched the American Legislative Exchange Council: McDonald's.

The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. "While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012," Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald's spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn't mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company's decision to leave ALEC.

The Gates Foundation Is Done Funding ALEC

| Tue Apr. 10, 2012 9:47 AM EDT
Portland Action Lab

It's been a rough week or two for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-backed group that writes model legislation for state legislators on everything from voter ID to privatizing public schools to curbing workers' rights. Since the GOP's massive gains at the state level in the 2010 elections, liberal activists have sought to expose ALEC by publishing its model bills and listing its legislative and corporate members. The pressure is having an effect. Last week, Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi all announced they would cut ties with ALEC. On Monday, another big name ALEC funder joined the list of defectors: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation, which boasts an endowment of $33.5 billion, had given ALEC $375,000 in the past two years to provide "information to "ALEC-affiliated state legislators on teacher effectiveness and school finance," a spokesman told Roll Call. But no more. The spokesman, Chris Williams, said the Gates Foundation would finish its existing grant but discontinue future ALEC funding.

Here's more from Roll Call:

Last week, Kraft Foods Inc., Coca-Cola Co., and Intuit Inc. each said they would withdraw support. The announcements came after months of behind-the-scenes pressure from another liberal group, Color of Change, an African-American advocacy group.

Color of Change went public today with demands that AT&T Corp., one of ALEC's 21 corporate board members, also sever ties with the organization. Over the past year, the group has reached out to 15 consumer product companies that back ALEC, highlighting the organization’s connections to voter ID laws passed in at least a half-dozen states.

Civil rights activists say the laws disproportionately target minority, student and elderly voters, who tend to vote Democratic, and could bar up to 5 million voters from the polls this fall. In recent weeks, other liberal groups have joined the effort.

Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson said the group is using Internet appeals to pressure companies that have made explicit efforts to build a strong relationship with African-American customers.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement that "the dominoes are falling and the curtain is closing for ALEC. People power has worked and this is a major step in the right direction." An ALEC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 9, 2012

Mon Apr. 9, 2012 10:45 AM EDT

A UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter flys to Forward Operating Base Torkham, March 28, 2012, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

America's Most Anti-Gay Congresswoman Also a Birther

| Mon Apr. 9, 2012 9:46 AM EDT

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) won election to the House in 2010 in part by arguing that the longtime Democratic incumbent she was challenging was insufficiently anti-gay. (Never mind that her opponent, Ike Skelton, was the architect of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.) In Congress, she's distinguished herself mainly by comparing gay marriage to handing out drivers' licenses to third-graders (she's against it), and proposing to modify Don't Ask, Don't Tell by forcing gay soldiers to live in segregated barracks.

Now we know she's also a birther. At a townhall in her district on Thursday, Hartzler was asked for her thoughts on the President Obama's birth certificate, in light of Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio's investigation into the Commander-in-Chief's citizenship. Hertlzer's response:

I don't know, I haven't seen it. I'm just at the same place you are on that. You read this, you read that. But I don't understand why he didn't show that right away. I mean, if someone asked for my birth certificate, I'd get my baby book and hand it out and say 'Here it is,' so I don't know. 

I have doubts that it is really his real birth certificate, and I think a lot of Americans do, but they claim it is, so we are just going to go with that.

That's a real quote.

A little over a year ago, my colleague Adam Serwer unveiled what he called the "birther lexicon," which split the field of conspiracy theorizing about the president into seven distinct categories, such as "ironic birther" and "post-birther." I think Hartzler actually falls into an eighth, and previously unidentified category: slacker birther. As in, "someone who has serious concerns that the President worked with the state of Hawaii in a vast conspiracy to fabricate his birth certificate to hide the fact that he was not born in the United States, and is thus constitutionally unqualified to be President—but never took 10 seconds to Google the thing for herself (here's a quick link) and doesn't feel like doing anything about it." Say what you will about Joe Arpaio (really, go ahead) but when he thinks he's uncovered a massive conspiracy to defraud the public, he takes action.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Apr. 6, 2012 2:24 PM EDT

For the first installment of a new weekly feature, here's a quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money:

Dudes dominate super-PAC giving: No surprise here: Super-PAC contributions, like certain magazine award nominations, are dominated by men. The Houston Chronicle reported that women account for just 14 percent of super-PAC donors, citing it as an example of the "link between the underrepresentation of women in the political money chase and the underrepresentation of women in U.S. elected office."

Colbert wins award for dark-money mockery: On Wednesday's Colbert Report, Stephen announced that his show had won a Peabody award for it satirization of super-PACs. To poke fun at the runaway campaign spending following the Citizens United ruling, the Colbert Report founded its own super-PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, which ran bizarro political ads in early primary states. 

 

Romney hires GOP guru: As MoJo's Andy Kroll reported, Ed Gillespie, the man who created the powerhouse American Crossroads super-PAC with Karl Rove, has hopped aboard Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The move calls into question the supposed ban on coordination between super-PACs and candidates' campaign operations.

"Take the Money and Run for Office": Last week's episode of This American Life explored the world of campaign finance. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) discussed the campaign reform bill they championed, which the Supreme Court ultimately ruled unconstitutional. NPR's Planet Money blog published a companion piece charting the delicious ways politicians woo megadonors.

Congressional fundraisers: NPRAppetite for seduction: Congressional fundraisers, by meal NPR

 

Romney's radioactive supporter: Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who has pumped at least $700,000 into the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super-PAC, is pressuring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow him to dump radioactive materials including depleted uranium into his giant West Texas landfill. The "King of Superfund Sites" is hoping for Republican victories in November, having invested $16 million in the 2012 elections, including $12 million in American Crossroads.

Small banks launch super-PAC: Friends of Traditional Banking, a new super-PAC representing the interests of "traditional banks," says it plans to raise money through small contributions. "Everyone knows that traditional banks didn't cause the economic crisis, but that didn't stop Congress from heaping massive new regulations on them and their customers," the group, which like most banks opposes Dodd-Frank's "massive new regulations," said in a mission statement.

Mississippi Could Lose Its Only Abortion Clinic

| Fri Apr. 6, 2012 12:50 PM EDT
Is it a choice if your state doesn't have a single abortion clinic? Mississippi may soon find out.

Last year, Kansas narrowly avoided becoming the first "abortion-free" state. That title might soon go to Mississippi, thanks to a bill that would require clinic doctors to obtain official admitting privileges at a local hospital before they can perform abortions—a standard that many believe was custom-designed to foil the state's only abortion clinic.

Proponents of the bill, which was sent to the Governor's desk by the state Senate yesterday, claim they're just trying to protect women's health by ensuring that if a complication occurs after an abortion, doctors can admit the patient to a hospital. While all the physicians at the Jackson Women's Health Organization in Jackson, Miss. are certified OB-GYNs—another of the bill's requirements—only one of its doctors currently has admitting privileges to a nearby hospital. Instead, in the rare case of complications, the clinic has a patient-transfer agreement with a local hospital to ensure that women can be treated there.

Admitting privileges are usually only granted to in-state doctors who will provide the hospital with a certain number of patients per month. The clinic's owner, Diane Derzis, told the Associated Press that most of the clinic's doctors commute to Jackson from out of state because "they are routinely threatened and stalked for their work." And as Derzis explained to Jezebel, "We do not have enough problems to admit that many patients." Overall, Derzis isn't optimistic that any of the three hospitals in the area—two of which are religiously-affiliated—will grant the privileges to her staff and has promised to argue the law in court if her clinic can't secure them.

As MoJo's Kate Sheppard has reported, onerous clinic regulations like these, known by abortion-rights supporters as "targeted regulation of abortion providers" or "TRAP" laws, are a favorite new tactic of abortion foes. According to the Guttmacher Institute, at least eight other states require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. Mississippi would be the first state to impose an OB/GYN requirement on abortion providers.

While bills like these are usually submitted under the guise of patient safety concerns, many proponents make no bones about their true goal: to end access to legal abortion. That is certainly the case in Mississippi.

During the House floor debate last month, the bill's author state Rep. Sam Mims said, "If this bill causes less abortions to happen, I believe it's a positive result." In a statement applauding the proposal, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves went even farther, saying, "This is a strong bill that will effectively end abortion in Mississippi." Gov. Phil Bryant said he will sign it and vowed, "As governor, I will continue to work to make Mississippi abortion-free."

Of course, if the Jackson Women's Health Organization is forced to close, it won't mean the end of abortion in Mississippi. It will just make the procedure less accessible—and less safe—for some women. During final debate on the bill, members of the black caucus noted that while wealthy women will be able to access private or out-of-state abortions if the state's only public clinic is shuttered, many low-income women in Mississippi won't have that option. "People who have resources can do certain things," explained Sen. David Jordan. Felicia Brown-Williams, who works in public policy at Planned Parenthood Southeast, agrees. "This bill will create a climate where desperate women resort to desperate measures. Women's lives will be jeopardized, not protected."

When asked if women might turn to dangerous, back-alley abortions if the clinic closes, Sen. Dean Kirby, who voted for the bill, answered, confusingly, "That's what we're trying to stop here, the coat-hanger abortions. The purpose of this bill is to stop back-room abortions." Maybe he just needs a refresher on what illegal abortions are actually like.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 6, 2012

Fri Apr. 6, 2012 10:49 AM EDT

Soldiers assigned to the 53rd Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade, Fort Eustis, Va. prepare to return home from Kuwait upon completion of an eight-month deployment in support of Operation New Dawn where the battalion proved crucial to the successful transfer of equipment and supplies out of Iraq as part of the troop drawdown last December. Photo by Spc. Jhansene Lopez, 53rd Transportation Battalion.

Woman Picking Fruit in Stock Photo Endorses Al Franken

| Fri Apr. 6, 2012 10:24 AM EDT

As a political reporter, I spend most of my waking hours deleting emails from various campaigns asking for money. I know that sounds really glamorous, but after opening the nth email with an authentic-sounding subject line (a smattering, from Buzzfeed) only to find a stock-photo-laden pitch, it starts to wear on you.

That is what makes this pitch, from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and featuring a stock photo of a woman picking fruit at a supermarket, stand out:

Hello, I'm Woman Picking Out Fruit In Supermarket. And I'm writing to you today on behalf of Al Franken—a Senator who stands up for real people (including those of us who make a living posing for stock photos).

You've seen us shaking hands in business suits, posing together on college campuses, and laughing while we eat salads. You've seen us on billboards, in magazines, and on pretty much every political website. We are the people in stock photos.

I know the people in stock photos don't typically write emails, but Al isn’t your typical politician—he's a progressive fighter who puts people first. Will you stand with us by making a small contribution to his grassroots campaign right now?

There's a reason I'm standing with Al. You see, I'm not just Woman Picking Out Fruit In Supermarket. I am also an actual woman worried about the right-wing attacks on my access to health care.

And when Republicans tried to put my boss in charge of what health care treatments I can and can't get, Al stood up and fought back— just like he did when Republicans tried to destroy Planned Parenthood, and just like he has every time Republicans launch an attack on my rights.

Al's a Senator I can count on to stand up for all women—whether they're walking a golden retriever in the park, pointing at a chart in an important meeting, or simply staring into the camera.

Your contribution will help keep Al's campaign strong so he can keep fighting for us—click here to give today!

I hope I can count on you for a contribution. After all, the rights to stock photos aren't cheap. And neither is the actual grassroots organizing Al’s team does every day, fighting to keep progressive values -- and the middle class -- alive and well.

And whether you're a Tattooed Guitar Player, a Guy Wearing Hard Hat, or an Elderly Couple Sitting At Kitchen Table, there's no better way to show your support than by making a contribution today.

Thanks for standing with Al.

Sincerely,

Woman Picking Out Fruit In Supermarket

Co-Chair, People in Stock Photos for Franken (PSPF)

P.S. As someone who eagerly reads every email I get from Al, I have to be honest: I don't really understand why he's under the impression that adding an "extra ask" in the P.S. of every message is helpful. But I asked my friends Scientist Looking At Line Graph and Doctor With Stethoscope Hanging Around Her Neck, and they both agreed it works. So: Would you click here to make a contribution of $5, $10, or $25 today?

Since halting his work as a satirist to run for Senate, Franken's gone to great lengths to cultivate an image as a serious policy wonk. It's good to see that career change hasn't caused any lasting damage to his sense of humor.