Mojo - June 2012

Corn on Hardball: The Fast and Furious Scandal Is Also...Fictional

Thu Jun. 28, 2012 12:41 PM EDT

A new Fortune investigation reveals that Fast and Furious never happened—US authorities never intentionally let guns fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The real scandal here is the invention of a scandal. David Corn, Mother Jones's Washington bureau chief, talks about how murky gun politics led us all to believe otherwise.

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10 Things You Get Now That Obamacare Survived

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 12:40 PM EDT

The US Supreme Court on Thursday largely upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of President Obama's first term in office. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative appointed by George W. Bush, joined with the high court's four liberals and penned the majority opinion. In their dissent, the court's four other conservative justices said they would have struck down the entire law.

So what does the court's ruling mean for regular Americans?

After the ACA's passage in 2010, Mother Jones' Nick Baumann listed 10 ways Obama's signature health care law will impact the healthy and sick, young and old, rich and poor. Here they are:

1) Insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime coverage limits on your insurance. Never again will you face the risk of getting really sick and then, a few months in, having your insurer tell you, "Sorry, you've 'run out' of coverage." Almost everyone I've met knows someone who had insurance but got really, really sick (or had a kid get really sick) and ran into a lifetime cap.

2) If you don't know someone who has run into a lifetime cap, you probably know someone who has run into an annual cap. The use of these will be sharply limited. (They'll be eliminated entirely in 2014.)

3) Insurers can no longer tell kids with preexisting conditions that they'll insure them "except for" the preexisting condition. That's called preexisting condition exclusion, and it's out the window.

4) A special, temporary program will help adults with preexisting conditions get coverage. It expires in 2014, when the health insurance exchanges—basically big "pools" of businesses and individuals—come on-line. That's when all insurers will have to cover everyone, preexisting condition or not.

5) Insurance companies can't drop you when you get sick, either—this plan means the end of "rescissions."

6) You can stay on your parents' insurance until you're 26.

7) Seniors get $250 towards closing the "doughnut hole" in their prescription drug coverage. Currently, prescription drug coverage ends once you've spent $2,700 on drugs and it doesn't kick in again until you've spent nearly $6,200. James Ridgeway wrote about the problems with the doughnut hole for Mother Jones in the September/October 2008 issue. Eventually, the health care reform bill will close the donut hole entirely. The AARP has more on immediate health care benefits for seniors. Next year (i.e., in nine months), 50 percent of the doughnut hole will be covered.

8) Medicare's preventive benefits now come with a free visit with your primary care doctor every year to plan out your prevention services. And there are no more co-pays for preventative services in Medicare.

9) This is a big one: Small businesses get big tax credits—up to 50 percent of premium costs—for offering health insurance to their workers.

10) Insurers with unusually high administrative costs have to offer rebates to their customers, and every insurance company has to reveal how much it spends on overhead.

UPDATE: Here's one more big benefit we've found out about since the ACA passed:

11) Free birth control and other preventative services for women, unless you work for a faith-based organization that opposes birth control.

Hungry for more? Read Adam Serwer's breakdown of what the Supreme Court's decision means and what comes next

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 28, 2012

Thu Jun. 28, 2012 11:30 AM EDT

Paratroopers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division fire at insurgent forces during a firefight on June 15 in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Poll: Obama Better Prepared Than Romney For Extraterrestrial Ass-Kicking

| Wed Jun. 27, 2012 11:59 AM EDT

If Battleship or Invasion of the Pod People suddenly became our political reality, Barack Obama would beat Mitt Romney in a landslide in the 2012 presidential election.

Politico has the, uh, story:

The majority of Americans, nearly 65 percent, say Obama is better suited than Romney to handle an alien invasion, according to a new National Geographic Channel poll, USA Today reports.

The poll also shows (for realz) that if space invaders attempted to annex Earth, 21 percent would favor sending in The Hulk to help repel the invasion, 12 percent would favor the Dark Knight, but only 8 percent would place that 3:00 a.m. phone call to Spider-Man.

Furthermore, separate internal polling of the Mother Jones DC office shows that American voters by a 2-1 margin believe that if Barack Obama had to deliver a rousing speech to fighter pilots on our shared humanity and the universal right to freedom from alien annihilation, it would look something like this:

Bad news for the Obama camp, though: The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy issued a statement last November that the US government has no proof that life exists beyond our planet and that a large-scale intergalactic war with Martians is not in fact imminent.

Romney Hasn't Been Consistent on "Amnesty" For Unauthorized Immigrants

| Wed Jun. 27, 2012 11:45 AM EDT
Mitt Romney speaking at a rally in Ohio in March 2012.

Mitt Romney really doesn't want to answer questions on immigration. Last week, he gave an entire speech on the subject without explaining how he would deal with the DREAM Act-eligible unauthorized immigrants who would be spared deportation by a recently announced Obama administration policy. When most of Arizona's harsh anti-illegal immigration law was blocked by the Supreme Court on Monday, a Romney surrogate refused to say what Romney thought of the ruling. Later, Romney himself said he wished the Supreme Court had given "more latitude to the states," which is to say he offered a bland, conservative-sounding phrase that isn't anything resembling a direct answer. 

Romney's evasiveness is getting absurd enough that the political press is moving from its practice of describing the GOP challenger as "cautious" to simply writing that he won't give a straight answer. Unfortunately, Romney seems to have hoodwinked some reporters into thinking he's been relatively consistent on the subject. Here's Dan Balz of the Washington Post:

Romney long has opposed a comprehensive immigration reform policy that would include a path to citizenship for the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States other than making them return to their native countries and get in line. During one debate, Romney famously described this policy as "self-deportation." He has been consistent on this through both of his campaigns for the White House.

That brings us to the past two weeks, when the former governor went fuzzy in public about immigration. It began when President Obama, in a move that was as political as it was substantive, issued an order that halted the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to this country as children if they met specific criteria.

Romney hasn't just been fuzzy for the past two weeks, nor has he been "consistent on this through both of his campaigns for the White House." While he was laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2005, Romney critized Republicans for not supporting George W. Bush's immigration reform proposal, which would have included a path to citizenship. In February, the National Review highlighted this excerpt from an interview Romney did with the Boston Globe in 2005:

I think an amnesty program is what — which is all the illegal immigrants who are here are now citizens, and walk up and get your citizenship. What the president has proposed, and what Senator McCain and Cornyn have proposed, are quite different than that. They require people signing up for a, well, registering and receiving a registration number. Then working here for six years and paying taxes — not taking benefits. . . . And then at the end of that period, registering to become a citizen. . . . And I think that those are reasonable proposals.

That sounds a lot like President Barack Obama's "Blueprint for Immigration Reform."

This is what Romney told a local paper, the Lowell Sun, in 2006:

I don't believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. With these 11 million people, let's have them registered, know who they are. Those who've been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn't be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.

On Meet the Press in 2007, Romney said:

My own view is consistent with what you saw in the Lowell Sun, that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country--the 12 million or so that are here illegally—should be able to stay sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to say here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally.

Romney is trying to have it both ways here, and later he does it again, taking the position that unauthorized immigrants should "go home" before getting on the path to citizenship. Romney's relative consistency this time around—at least until Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) started floating the idea of temporary legal status for potential DREAM Act beneficiaries—is an artifact of the near-extinction of the wing of the GOP that was moderate on immigration. The Republican Party of 2012 is dominated by immigration hardliners; in 2008, the moderates still held sway. Because Romney's main rival in the 2008 Republican Primary was Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was a relative moderate at the time, Romney moved to the right—even though he had previously supported both Bush and McCain's comprehensive immigration reform proposals. He did this again with Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primary. 

But has Romney been "consistent" on opposing a path to legalization or citizenship "through both of his campaigns for the White House?"

No. Not even close. 

New York Attorney General to US Chamber Affiliate: I'm Coming for You

| Wed Jun. 27, 2012 10:50 AM EDT
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (center).

Shadowy political outfits like Crossroads GPS and the US Chamber of Commerce—both nonprofits that don't have to disclose their donors—are increasingly dominating the airwaves and the campaign cash fight in the run-up to the 2012 election. In 2010, politically active nonprofits outspent super-PACs by a 3-to-2 margin. This time around, Crossroads GPS- and Chamber-like groups are even more important: Through late April, nearly 90 percent of TV advertising in the 2012 election came from such nonprofits.

Now, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is training his investigative firepower on one of the most powerful dark money players, the New York Times reports. On Tuesday Schneiderman sent subpoenas to officials with the National Chamber Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest-spending nonprofits in American elections. Schneiderman has asked for emails, bank records, and more concerning whether the National Chamber Foundation funneled $18 million to the US Chamber for politicking and lobbying purposes.

Here's more from the Times:

The investigation is also looking at connections between the chamber's foundation, the National Chamber Foundation, and another philanthropy, the Starr Foundation, which made large grants to the chamber foundation in 2003 and 2004. During the same period, the National Chamber Foundation lent the chamber $18 million, most of it for what was described as a capital campaign.

In a complaint filed last year with the attorney general, watchdog groups asserted that the loan had been used to finance lobbying for "tort reform" legislation in Congress and to run issue advertising in the 2004 presidential and Congressional campaigns, most of it against Democrats.

A spokeswoman for the chamber declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman.

Mr. Schneiderman's investigation is the first significant one in years into the rapidly growing use of tax-exempt groups to move money into politics. The biggest such groups, including Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which was founded by Karl Rove and other Republican strategists, are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars this year on issue advertisements against candidates to sway the outcome of the presidential and Congressional elections.

 

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Rand Paul Demands Fetal Personhood in Flood Insurance Bill

| Wed Jun. 27, 2012 10:41 AM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Fertilized eggs don't have much in common with flooded homes, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is holding up a flood insurance bill until the Senate votes to recognize the life begins at conception.

The reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires at the end of July and currently insures 5.6 million flood-prone properties, was expected to pass with little fuss. But then Paul signaled he wanted a vote on "when life begins."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did let an unrelated vote on the contraception coverage mandate occur during debate of the highway bill a few months ago, but he's drawing the line here. Via Politico:

"I think some of this stuff is just – I have been very patient working with my Republican colleagues in allowing relevant amendments on issues, and sometimes we even do non-relevant amendments,” Reid said. "But really, on flood insurance?"
"After all the work that’s been put on this bill, this is ridiculous that somebody says 'I'm not going to let this bill go forward unless I have a vote on when life begins," Reid continued. "I am not going to do that, and I think I speak for the majority of senators."

Paul tells TPM that he's "just trying to get a vote for the people who elected me."

I'm going to go out on a limb here, but granting citizenship to zygotes probably won't provide much comfort to the many people who rely on government flood insurance, particularly now that hurricane season is getting started.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 27, 2012

Wed Jun. 27, 2012 10:34 AM EDT

US Army Spc. Alicia Flores, currently deployed with 1st Medical Brigade based out of Fort Hood, Texas, made the commitment to reenlist while at an altitude of 12,500 feet in the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan on Jun 25, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

Who's Paying for $6 Million of New Anti-Obamacare Ads?

| Wed Jun. 27, 2012 10:00 AM EDT

Concerned Women for America, a conservative anti-feminist operation dedicated to "bring[ing] Biblical principals into all levels of public policy," announced late last week that it is spending $6 million to run ads that highlight "the consequences of President Obama's health care plan." But $6 million is an unusually large ad buy for the group, which hasn't explained (and doesn't have to disclose) where it got the money.

The ads claim that the bill is forcing doctors to drop many patients and that it will add billions of dollars to the deficit. Starting on June 20, the ads have been running in six key swing states: Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia, New Mexico and New Hampshire, and CWA claims that the ad is the first presidential ad to run in the general election in Minnesota. 

During a presidential election, it's not unusual for outside groups to run ads attacking either candidate, especially using money from donors whose names don't have to be disclosed, as is the case with the CWA ads. The media buy was sponsored by CWA's lobbying arm, the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, which is a nonprofit 501(c)4. Unlike CWA, the CWA Legislative Action Committee is allowed to get involved in politics.

The $6 million advertising blitz vastly exceeds the action committee's entire budget from the past several years. According to its most recent tax filings, filed in October last year, CWA's advocacy arm only brought in $2 million in 2010, and ended the year about $500,000 in the hole. The previous year, the group brought in less than a million dollars.

That makes a $6 million ad buy a pretty significant investment, and suggests that CWA has gotten a big donor to foot the bill during this year's campaign season. But CWA doesn't have to say who gave it all that money, and a spokeswoman from the group did not respond to emails requesting comment.

What's really curious about the CWA's ads, though, is the timing. They're airing just as the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling that could overturn the law at the heart of the commercials. CWA's move suggests that regardless of what the court does, health care is going to continue to be a major issue for the duration of the presidential campaign.

Conspiracy Watch: Did Obama Give American Islands to Russia?

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 2:18 PM EDT

One of the big takeaways from the first three-and-a-half years of the Obama administration is that some people are crazy. I don't mean to suggest that this is an entirely new phenomenon—in the 1990s, a sitting member of Congress tried to prove that President Clinton murdered Vince Foster by blowing up a pumpkin—but it certainly seems to have picked up steam. As proof, I present the latest conspiracy theory from the fever swamps: President Obama secretly gave away seven American Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea islands to Russia. Russia! He transmitted them to Vladimir!

The theory is being promoted by Texas House candidate Wes Riddle, who argued, in a Facebook note last week, that Obama's supposed Russian giveaway was grounds for impeachment:

The reasoning for President Obama’s impeachment begins with the fact that the State Department is giving away seven strategic, resource-laden Alaskan islands to Russia. These seven islands in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea include one the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The Russians will also receive tens of thousands of square miles of oil-rich seabeds surrounding the islands. The Department of Interior estimates billions of barrels of oil are at stake.

The State Department has undertaken the giveaway in the guise of a maritime boundary agreement between Alaska and Siberia. Our own federal government drew the line to put these seven Alaskan islands on the Russian side. But as an executive agreement, it could be reversed with the stroke of a pen by President Obama or Secretary Clinton. The agreement was negotiated in total secrecy, not allowing the state of Alaska to participate in the negotiations, and was the public was not given any opportunity to comment. All resolutions of opposition passed by the Alaska have been disregarded by the State Department.

Treason! But wait, maybe there's more to this story. Factcheck.org looked into this claim back in March and concluded that the the islands had actually been forked over by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, when he signed a treaty with Russia permanently establishing the maritime boundary. All of the islands are squarely on the other side, and most of them are pretty close to the mainland; it'd be like Spain claiming Nantucket. Also: Both of Alaska's senators voted for the treaty. (The call was coming from inside Alaska!) In other words, case closed.

Anyway, Riddle is hardly the first conservative activist to condemn the island giveaway. Noted conspiracy theorist Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit sounded the alarm back in February. And he, in turn, was only repeating an argument he'd read somewhere else. As Hoft wrote, in a moment of flickering genius that will live long in the history of the English language: "Former senatorial candidate Joe Miller broke this story at World Net Daily."