Mojo - May 2012

American Airlines Boots Woman With Pro-Choice T-Shirt From Flight

| Wed May 23, 2012 10:09 AM EDT

Can an airline boot a passenger for wearing a T-shirt it deems "offensive"? That's apparently what happened to one woman wearing a pro-choice T-shirt on an American Airlines flight out of Washington this week, RH Reality Check reports.

The woman boarded her first flight just fine, wearing a T-shirt that read, "If I wanted the government in my womb, I'd fuck a senator." (The shirt was made in response to a sign that an Oklahoma lawmaker made earlier this year to protest a proposed law granting rights to fertilized eggs.) But as the woman was about to deboard to switch to her next flight, a flight attendant approached her and told her that she needed to talk to the captain because her T-shirt was "offensive." The woman, identified only by the initial "O," described the incident to RH Reality Check:

When I was leaving the plane the captain stepped off with me and told me I should not have been allowed to board the plane in DC and needed to change before boarding my next flight. This conversation led to me missing my connecting flight. I assumed that because I was held up by the captain, they would have called ahead to let the connecting flight know I was in route. Well, upon my hastened arrival at the gate of the connecting flight, it was discovered that they did indeed call ahead but not to hold the flight, only to tell them I needed to change my shirt. I was given a seat on the next flight and told to change shirts.

Her bags were checked through to her final destination, so she couldn't change shirts. She said she ended up covering it up with a shawl, and was able to get home on the later flight.

American Airlines media relations representative Tim Smith told Mother Jones via email that it was the language on the shirt, not the message, that prompted the response. "Let me strongly emphasize that the only reason she was asked to cover up her T-shirt was the appearance of the 'F-word' on the T-shirt," he wrote. He pointed to a line in the airline's "Conditions of Carriage" that notes that the airline can refuse to transport a passenger or can remove them from a flight at any point if they "Are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers."

"[O]ur crew has the final say on any type of garment that could make others uncomfortable," wrote Smith. "Among such issues, we routinely do not allow any garment of any type to display that word." In a follow-up email, he again stated that it was not the pro-choice message that prompted the incident, but the f-bomb.

The incident certainly raises questions about what an airline can deem offensive. Her shirt didn't present a security threat, nor would it make anyone physically uncomfortable. They just didn't like the word choice. I can think of a lot of T-shirts that make me uncomfortable (like this one or these). So what are the limits to what an airline can deem offensive? 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dem to Liberal Donors: Wake the F#!$ Up!

| Wed May 23, 2012 9:52 AM EDT

The politico in charge of helping Democrats keep control of the US Senate has a message for left-leaning donors: Wake up and open those checkbooks!

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, put Democrats' odds at even to retain the control of the Senate in this year's elections. But Cecil worries about the gap in spending between Democratic and Republican outside spending groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, the independent political juggernaut started by GOP gurus Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.

"Money" is what keeps Cecil up at night, he said. "Our allies need to wake up," he added. "Our allies need to understand that the majority in the Senate is in danger and that everything from jobs and the economy and women's health and Supreme Court justices, Wall Street reform—all the things that they have worked so hard for—will be for naught if we lose the Senate."

Here's more from HuffPost:

While Democratic Senate candidates have about $50 million more in the bank overall than their Republican counterparts, they have been outspent by a factor of nearly three to one—$29.1 million to $9.3 million—in the advertising wars, largely thanks to the outside groups and super PACs willing to spend unlimited amounts of money.

According to data provided by a Democratic source familiar with ad buys, the biggest spender on Senate races has been the US Chamber of Commerce, which has already pumped in more than $11 million for "issue" ads that benefit the GOP. After that come the Karl Rove-hatched groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, with at least $7 million. The group 60 Plus, billed as a conservative alternative to the AARP, has spent more than $4 million.

The biggest spender on the Democratic side, meanwhile, has been the League of Conservation Voters, shelling out some $2.7 million, according to the source. The still-growing Majority PAC, a super-PAC formed by Democratic operatives to sway Senate races, has been good for $1.7 million.

"They need to—and we all need to—step up and make sure that our candidates have the resources they need, that we can push back on these super-PACs, that we can make sure our side of the story is heard," Cecil said. "I am confident that if we can close the gap financially, we will hold the Senate. But it's also a big if."

In related news, Tom Donohue, the US Chamber of Commerce's president and CEO, told members of his organization that the group plans to get involved in as many as a dozen Senate races this year. Donohue wouldn't say exactly how much the Chamber would spend in the 2012 cycle—news reports have put it as high as $50 million—but, as Reuters reported, Donohue promised "it'll be a lot of money."

Tuesday's Winners: Rand Paul, 21-Year-Old Millionaires

| Wed May 23, 2012 9:00 AM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and US House candidate Thomas Massie.

As it became obvious on Tuesday evening that Thomas Massie was going to win the GOP primary in Kentucky's 4th congressional district, Trey Grayson hopped on Twitter to explain just why this story sounded so familiar: "Have to admit that I chuckled when someone called Massie's performance so far tonight a #Randslide. Pretty apt description. I should know!"

He should. Two years ago, the only thing standing between Grayson, the GOP's handpicked replacement for retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, and the Republican Senate nomination was a Bowling Green optometrist with no political experience. Grayson lost to Rand Paul by twenty points. On Tuesday, in the 4th district, it happened again. State Sen. Alecia Webb-Edgington had the support of retiring Rep. Geoff Davis and Bunning, who held the seat previously. County executive Thomas Massie, with Rand Paul's backing, won by 16 points. Randslide indeed.

(More evidence of Paul's coattails: Former spokesman Chris Hightower, last seen resigning from Paul's senate campaign after being outed as a Satanic death-metal drummer, won the GOP primary for a seat in the Kentucky state house on Tuesday.)

Massie had help, though. Liberty for All, a Texas-based super-PAC founded by John Ramsey, a 21-year-old Ron Paul-loving college kid (you can read my profile of Ramsey here) paid for a $550,000 advertising barrage over the final 10 days of the campaign. Funded, at least for now, with money Ramsey inherited from his late grandfather, Liberty for All wants to provide a party framework for "Freedom candidates"—that is, provide the kind of institutional support and training for Paul-ish candidates that establishment pols already get from party organs. Preston Bates, the group's executive director, estimated that they'd end up spending $700,000 on the Massie race if you factor in direct mail and man hours. That's a lot, especially when you consider that Webb-Edgington, the second-place finisher, had raised just $200,000 by May 2.

Whether or not Ramsey, Bates, et al. can take their project to scale remains to be seen, but the race offers a glimpse of the future landscape of campaign finance. As Grayson, now director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, put it: "Expect to see more Super PACs getting involved in Congressional & other 'smaller' races where six figure donations can tilt an election."

If presidential candidates can each have their own corresponding billionaires, why wouldn't House candidates have their own patrons too?

The Catholic Legal Assault on the Contraception Mandate

| Tue May 22, 2012 3:16 PM EDT

On Monday, 40 Catholic agencies and institutions across the country launched a veritable legal holy war against the Obama administration, filing coordinated lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services over the proposed contraception mandate in the new health care reform law. The effort is being spearheaded by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which has been clashing with the Obama administration for months over the mandate and other White House decisions that the bishops view as anti-Catholic.

The church certainly brings a lot of money and high-powered legal fire to the fight—the lawsuits were filed by the Jones Day law firm, where Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once worked. But the Catholics' legal arguments may not be terribly persuasive, in large part because it's hard for them to get around the fact that they are asking for the right to impose their religious beliefs on a lot of people who don't follow them.

Civil libertarians think the administration is on very solid footing in defending the mandate. "This lawsuit is outrageous," said Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement to Mother Jones. Under the current proposal, church-related institutions don't have to pay for birth control services. Apparently that isn't enough. The bishops want US government health care policy to reflect Catholic teachings, and they're looking to the courts to get what they want. The Obama administration should stand firm. Americans should not be denied birth control services just because one aggressive religious group is opposed to it."

This is the second time in recent months that Catholic institutions have been in court defending their right to deny people of all stripes access to contraception. The ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project recently won its lawsuit against HHS over a federal grant through which USCCB provided services to human trafficking victims. The bishops had refused to allow subcontractors to use the federal money to refer women for reproductive health services. In 2009, the ACLU filed suit arguing that under the contract the USCCB (and by extension, the federal government) was unconstitutionally foisting Catholic religious beliefs on the larger public. (The Obama administration last year refused to renew the contract, prompting even more outrage from USCCB, which accused the administration of operating an "ABC policy," or "Anyone But Catholics.")

The arguments over the anti-trafficking contract echo the ones the Catholic agencies are currently making in their legal campaign against the contraception mandate. Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, says that the Catholic groups are likely to lose their lawsuits over the contraception mandate as well. She explains:

The original rule was perfectly constitutional. In fact, more than half the states already require insurance plans to include contraception, several with very narrow exceptions and some with no exception at all. Many of these laws were passed with broad, bi-partisan support. And now, with the modifications proposed by the Administration, any lingering concerns about the rule's constitutionality should be put to rest. Institutions with religious objections won't be required to contribute to birth control coverage for their employees. And in fact, the high courts in California and New York have rejected claims that requiring birth control coverage violates the First Amendment.

Real religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control, based on our beliefs. It doesn't give one group the right to impose its beliefs on others, or to use religion as an excuse to discriminate by denying employees access to vital services. The fight they are waging isn't about religious liberty at all, but about whether a woman should have insurance coverage for birth control. When you stop and think about it, it's incredible that this is an issue in 2012. 

Congress Talk Pretty One Day

| Tue May 22, 2012 12:24 PM EDT
Congress lost theirs.

A recent study by the Sunlight Foundation found that Congress is a lot like Benjamin Button. But instead of reverse-aging, members of Congress are regressing in their ability to form complex sentences.

According to the analysis, members of the House and Senate currently speak at roughly a 10th grade level—almost a full grade lower than in 2005. Republicans come in at a 10.4 grade level average, while Democrats perform slightly better at a 10.8. (The study was based on algorithmic analysis—similar to methods used to chart Congressional buzzwords—of floor speeches delivered through April 25, 2012.)

Politico has a rundown:

The study also revealed that only 10 members of Congress have used at least 20 of Kaplan's 100 most common SAT words so far in the current session of Congress, while just 92 members have used at least 10 of those words...[T]he U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 level (an analysis by the University of Minnesota showed that President Barack Obama's State of the Union this year had an 8th grade comprehension level – the third lowest score of any SOTU address since 1934).

Here's are a couple of charts from the study:

Sunlight FoundationSunlight Foundation

On its surface, this will probably read like yet another cue to bash the stupidity of our much-derided Congress. But determining the substance or effectiveness of something based on its "grade level" isn't an exact science. People might want to keep this fact in mind: 

You could plausibly argue that our nation's rhetoric has been somewhat dumbed down over the past few years. But great politicians have always tried to speak in populist terms. It shouldn't shock anyone to learn that elected officials don't often channel Aaron Sorkin. If you want to mock the 112th Congress, you run the risk of looking silly if you chuckle at politicians' word choices or the length of their speeches.

Instead, simply highlight their ideas.

Romney Education Adviser and His Dropout Scandal

| Tue May 22, 2012 11:26 AM EDT
Mitt Romney.

With President Barack Obama on a tear in recent weeks to keep interest rates on college loans low—an issue that plays well with young voters—Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, on Tuesday unveiled his Education Policy Advisory Group. It features at least ten education experts who served during the George W. Bush administration, most notably Rod Paige, who was education secretary during Bush's first term. The short bio of Paige released by the Romney campaign states that he once was superintendent of Houston's schools. But it fails to mention that Paige, once he was in Bush's cabinet, became mired in an ugly scandal, when the news broke that the Houston school system, the seventh largest in the nation, had falsified its dropout stats during Paige's tenure.

As the Los Angeles Times put it:

A series of internal audits and external investigations that followed found that nearly all of the schools examined in Houston, with the nation's seventh-largest school district and where U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige had been superintendent, were vastly underreporting dropouts.

A New York Times editorial explained why this was particularly embarrassing for Bush and Paige:

As a presidential candidate and Texas governor, George Bush boasted that his state's school accountability system would be a model for the nation. A focus on basic skills and frequent testing had turned around an underperforming set of school systems in a state with a large poor, nonwhite population. In particular, he said, Houston was leading the way. When he was elected president, Mr. Bush selected Rod Paige, the Houston superintendent, as his education secretary.

It turns out the Houston schools have not lived up to their billing. Their amazingly low high school dropout rate was literally unbelievable—the educational equivalent of Enron's accounting results. The school district has found that more than half of the 5,500 students who left in the 2000-1 school year should have been declared dropouts but were not.

Dr. Paige, who has declined to comment on the Houston scandal, can remain silent no longer. He was brought to Washington to provide national educational leadership. With Houston facing a crisis of fiddled data, he owes it to the country to share his thoughts on how this happened and what it means.

Several years later, when 60 Minutes was reporting on the Houston dropout scandal, Paige still wouldn't explain his role: 

60 Minutes also tried to talk to Paige himself, but he declined. His spokesman said the dropout controversy broke after Paige left Houston to become education secretary....

Paige's spokesman suggested that 60 Minutes talk to Jay Greene, a leading expert on dropouts at the Manhattan Institute. Greene supports the kind of accountability reforms Paige enacted in Houston.

But this is what Greene said when asked what he thought about Houston's "official" dropout rates: "I find that very hard to believe. It is almost certainly not true. I think it's simply implausible. I think a reasonable guess is that almost half of Houston's students do not graduate from high school."

If Paige has ever publicly spoken candidly about what happened on his watch in Houston, I couldn't find it. Yet Romney has tapped him as a "special adviser" on education (a move that didn't happen during the GOP primaries, when Romney had to appeal to a base that included conservative voters skeptical of the Bush adminstration's No Child Left Behind legislation, which Paige helped develop). By selecting this former Bush official, Romney once again is rushing back to the future—and embracing a fellow who called for accountability for schools but ducked accountability for himself.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Iowa Republican Party Goes Birther

| Tue May 22, 2012 8:42 AM EDT
It's all fun and games until you're thrown off the ballot in Iowa.

As the old saying goes, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as the Republican Party of Iowa.

Via Felicia Sonmez, it looks like the Iowa GOP has gone birther. On Monday, Don Racheter, chairman of the Iowa GOP's 2012 platform committee, told Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson about the state party's new platform. Racheter said the document, which is still being drafted, was deliberately written to call into question President Barack Obama's eligibility for office by including a plank mandating that the commander-in-chief be a "natural born citizen":

There are many Republicans who feel that Barack Obama is not a 'natural born citizen' because his father was not an American when he was born and, therefore, feel that according to the Constitution he’s not qualified to be president, should not have been allowed to be elected by the Electoral College or even nominated by the Democratic Party in 2008, so this is an election year. It's a shot at him.

This comes just one week after Arizona Secretary of State—and Mitt Romney Arizona campaign co-chair—Ken Bennett announced that he might try to keep Obama off the ballot in November unless he can see an original copy of the President's birth certificate. Just when you think birtherism might fade away, it pops up, Jamie Moyer-style, with a surgically reconstructed elbow and a seemingly unending trove of heretofore-undisclosed evidence.

The rest of the Iowa GOP's platform is itself a somewhat spectacular document. The platform says much about the tone and tenor of the conservative grassroots five-and-a-half months out from election day. It advocates nullification of federal laws, the abolition of 10 cabinet-level departments (plus the TSA, FDA, ATF, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac), an end to birthright citizenship, and "the implementation of Lean Six Sigma" at all levels of government. It calls for the rejection of "UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child" (which social conservatives fear will curtail the perfectly justified practice of spanking), aims for the term "assault weapon" to be redefined as something other than a semi-automatic weapon, and asserts that "all individuals have the freedom to choose the quality of air in their home." The "so-called 'NAFTA Superhighway'"—which doesn't exist—should be scuttled. There are 14 different planks pertaining to the United Nations and the North American Union, most notably the pro-sustainability Agenda 21 pact, which the Iowa GOP considers "diabolical."

Update: The Iowa Democratic Party, which is apparently totally fine with having United Nations mullahs regulate your household air quality, wants Mitt Romney to condemn the platform:

This particular Republican conspiracy theory has been debunked time and time again and will have no bearing on the election, but it does present an opportunity for Mitt Romney to finally rise to the occasion and denounce the extreme voices in his party.

Corn on Hardball: What Was Cory Booker Thinking?

Tue May 22, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

David Corn joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Cory Booker's recent comments criticizing the Obama campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital.

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

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 21, 2012

Mon May 21, 2012 9:30 AM EDT

Children gather around as members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah pull security during a mission in Farah City, Farah province, Afghanistan, on May 12, 2012. PRT members met with locals to gather information and opinions about the living conditions in Farah City. Photo by the US Army.

Michele Bachmann Finally Picks Up a Delegate

| Mon May 21, 2012 9:03 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is no longer spending money on states that haven't yet held their nominating contests. He doesn't have the money, and he doesn't much see the point. But in places like Minnesota, where the state Republican convention is just now finishing up the delegate-selection process it started in March, Paul and his team have been hard at work. And their efforts are paying off. After his supporters effectively took control of the Nevada GOP earlier this month, he cleaned up again last weekend in the Land of Milk and Pawlenty:

"This is one of the greatest states that I have witnessed, where I have seen the transition, where the enthusiasm's there," the grinning Texas congressman told hundreds of exuberant activists Saturday at the state party's convention in St. Cloud, where he won 12 of 13 open delegate spots to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August...

Unlike four years ago, when Paul was forced to speak from the party's convention lawn because he would not pledge allegiance to the eventual presidential nominee, he got an open-armed embrace from the party this year. He was welcomed to the delegates' stage, held a fundraiser for the party and got a hero's welcome.

How successful was the Paul takeover? Out of courtesy, his supporters even managed to secure a delegate for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who dropped out of the race after the first nominating contest in Iowa.

Paul still isn't going to win the nomination, and he's indicated that he doesn't intend to raise hell at the GOP convention in Tampa. But the Minnesota victory reflects to some extent the political maturation of his followers. The knock on Paul disciples in 2008, as outlined in Brian Doherty's new Paul bio, was that they lacked discipline, preferring to make signs and fan videos rather than do the hard work of targeted voter outreach; this time around they've taken a more conventional approach, and they have real gains to show for it—in the form of viable congressional candidates like Thomas Massie in Kentucky and state and county party committees that are now controlled by Paul loyalists.