Mojo - June 2012

Should Not Disclosing Your HIV Status Be a Crime?

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

In 2007, Donald Bogardus contracted HIV from his long-term partner. When he later had unprotected sex with a man who didn't know Bogardus was HIV positive, he was charged under an Iowa law that criminalizes the transmission of HIV.

"I wanted to tell him," Bogardus told the Daily Iowan, "but when I went to say it, I clammed up…I was afraid he was going to blab it out to everybody."

Now Bogardus—a church-going, nursing-home worker with cerebral palsy and a pet goldfish named Survivor—faces 25 years in prison and lifelong sex offender status. For many opponents of criminal HIV transmission statutes, who argue that they are ineffective at preventing transmission and stigmatize the HIV-positive, he's become the poster boy for the laws' severity.

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Corn on MSNBC: Romney, Money, and His Business Cronies

Wed Jun. 20, 2012 8:20 PM EDT

David Corn joined Newsweek's Bob Shrum on Reverend Al Sharpton's "PoliticsNation" to discuss how Romney's old business cronies still exert a hefty influence on his economic policy—a policy that is undeniably in favor of those same richest Americans.

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

Rhode Island's Homeless Bill of Rights

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:21 PM EDT

In recent months, several penny-pinched municipalities have taken a stab at eradicating homelessness by making indigence illegal. Cities from Berkeley to Philadelphia to St. Louis have moved to criminalize "acts of living" like sitting, lying down, or asking for change on the corner. In the face of this nationwide crackdown on transients, Rhode Island has decided to take the high road. Its Assembly just passed the country's first Homeless Bill of Rights, which Governor Lincoln Chafee is expected to sign into law early next week, declaring an equal right to jobs, housing, services, and public space for all inhabitants, whether they have a home or not.

A recent report by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness blasted the national wave of out-of-sight-out-of-mind laws affecting many of the country's roughly 643,000 street folk: "Criminalization policies further marginalize men and women who are experiencing homelessness, fuel inflammatory attitudes, and may even unduly restrict constitutionally protected liberties."

GOP Rep. Joe Walsh: Obama Is Dumb And a "Tyrant" for Stopping Deportations

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:58 PM EDT
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a tea-party-backed freshman lawmaker, recently branded President Barack Obama "a tyrant" for announcing that the Department of Homeland Security would stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children. Then, doubling down on his criticism of the president, Walsh took back his use of the word "tyrant"—because, he said, Obama "really isn't smart enough to know what that means."

Walsh's remarks were captured by Credo Super-PAC, a political arm of the phone company Credo Mobile. The Huffington Post first reported Walsh's "tyrant" rant.

Here's the video and text of Walsh's comments, which he made last weekend at a town hall meeting in Elmhurst, Ill.:

"And again, fair is fair, you want a debate on the law, fine, have that debate. But right now it's a law on the books and you just told your law enforcement people don't enforce it. I was on one radio station and I said my god he's a tyrant. I don't know what else you call him. I don't want to give him that credit because I don't think he's smart enough. I think he's only doing this because he's campaigning, that's all the guy knows. So I don't want to call him a tyrant, because he really isn't smart enough to know what that means. But in one fell swoop he just made 800,000 illegal immigrants, let's call it legal, and gave them the ability to work here legally."

Walsh is one of ten tea-party-affiliated members of Congress that Credo Super-PAC has targeted in this election year. Credo volunteers are following and recording the remarks of the "Tea Party Ten" in their districts.

This isn't the first time Credo caught Walsh stuffing his foot into his mouth. Last month, Walsh was caught on camera saying that the Democratic Party wants Hispanics to be "dependent on government just like African Americans. Activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson," Walsh said, "would be out of work if [African Americans] weren't dependent on government."

Study: Media Used Conservative Memes To Cover Obamacare

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:48 PM EDT
Then-House Opposition Leader Rep. John Boehner holds a press conference in 2009 mocking the length of the Affordable Care Act.

The latest study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism found that, despite the conservative perception that the mainstream media has a liberal slant, coverage of the Affordable Care Act was dominated by rhetoric used by the law's opponents. According to Pew, "the concepts used by opponents were nearly twice as common as those used by supporters."

The report comes with a chart illustrating the discrepancy:

The Pew study found that, as with most public policy issues, matters of "strategy" dominated, making up 41 percent of coverage of the Affordable Care Act. "Descriptions of plans" and the "state of health care" combined took up only 31 percent. Yet the substantive message of the law's opponents clearly seeped through: Americans heard from the media that the law was bad.

Unsurprisingly, views on President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement have been mixed to negative. A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and GFK Roper Public Affairs found that only 33 percent of respondents supported the law, while 47 percent opposed it. Nevertheless, 77 percent believed Congress should get to work on a new health care law immediately if the current one is struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The consequences of a Supreme Court decision scrapping the law would be drastic for the people it is already helping—especially the quarter of Americans who continue to struggle with health care costs.

Pew describes the situation here as the White House having lost the "messaging war." It's also possible that most Americans don't like the Affordable Care Act, and that more favorable coverage wouldn't have convinced them otherwise. The phrase "messaging war," however, seems like a deeply shallow way of saying that most Americans, who are neither health care wonks nor constitutional scholars, believed what they were hearing from the media. Journalists are supposed to separate truth from falsehood, but instead spent the bulk of their resources speculating about "politics and strategy." This is the result.

The Best Protest Signs from Michigan's "Vaginagate" Scandal

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 2:41 PM EDT

On Monday night, more than 2,500 people joined eleven state legislators and playwright Eve Ensler for a special performance of Ensler's The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Michigan state capitol. It was a fitting culmination to "Vaginagate"—the scandal that's brought national attention to an anti-abortion bill passed by the Michigan House last week.

Here's the backstory: Last Wednesday, during debate on a slew of anti-abortion provisions, Democratic state Rep. Lisa Brown was reprimanded by the Republican Majority Floor Leader for violating the decorum of the House and banned from speaking the next day. Her offense? After saying that the legislation would go against her Jewish religious beliefs and that abortions should be allowed when required to save the life of the mother, Brown ended with, "Finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no.'"

Another Democrat, Rep. Barb Byrum, was also silenced when she proposed an amendment that would apply the same regulations required by the bill to vasectomies as well—which, as MoJo has reported, is a popular new tactic by cheeky state lawmakers who support abortion rights.

House GOP spokesman Ari Adler eventually claimed that the kerfuffle "has nothing to do with the word vagina." Instead, Brown was deemed out of order for implicitly comparing the legislation to rape by saying "no means no."

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3 Companies, 1 PO Box, and a $1 Million Super-PAC Gift

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 2:01 PM EDT

Pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future released its June monthly filing on Wednesday. The final tally: $4.96 million, including notable contributions from Texas fracking billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones ($100,000), multilevel marketing mogul Frank Vandersloot ($100,000), and conservative publisher Richard Scaife ($67,500).

But the largest chunk of donations came from what, at first glance, look like three separate companies: CRC Information Systems, Inc.; Fairbanks Properties, LLC; and Waterbury Properties, LLC. Although the latter two companies don't even have websites, they all ponied up nearly identical sums—$333,333, give or take a dollar—and listed the same address: PO Box 2608, Dayton, Ohio 45401.

It's not a coincidence. All three companies are controlled by one man: Texas millionaire Robert T. Brockman, CEO of Reynolds and Reynolds, a former printing company which now advertises itself as a "[p]rovider of automotive retailing solutions for car dealers and automakers." (He's listed as the CEO of CRC Information Systems, operating manager of Fairbanks Properties, and an operating officer at Waterbury Properties.) As the Sunlight Foundation notes, PO Box 2608 is also the same address for Brockman's charitable foundation. This isn't the first time Brockman appears to have given to a conservative super-PAC via a corporate back-channel—in 2011, Dealer Computer Services Inc., a subsidiary of Universal Computers, gave $50,000 to the pro-Rick Perry "Restoring Prosperity Fund."

Tom Schwartz, a spokesman for Reynolds and Reynolds—which is headquartered in Dayton—said that he could only confirm that CRC was a subsidiary company, and that he had never heard of Waterbury Properties LLC or Fairbanks Properties LLC "until I started getting calls today." "Mr. Brockman's a private investor and we're a private company," he said. "I did connect with him and he declined to comment beyond the donations themselves."

Brockman has given generously to Republican causes in the past, but never in the seven-figure range. (All told, he's given $281,127 to Perry's campaigns for Texas governor.) A 2006 article at Wards Auto presented Brockman as a secretive millionaire who keeps his considerable business network under wraps:

Meanwhile, Brockman quietly is amassing several companies that serve dealers. UCS is a private firm and information is difficult to come by, but Brockman reportedly has acquired four of the six key security companies that exhibited at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in February.

Employees may not even be aware of who owns their companies. They compete as if they have different owners. The secret got out only because the four each listed a UCS address in the NADA convention handbook.

In the wake of the Citizens United and Speech Now decisions that overhauled the campaign finance landscape, donors have tried to circumvent disclosure requirements by funneling donations through shell companies and effectively wiping their fingerprints off the check. But if that's what's happening here, Brockman doesn't seem to have tried too hard to cover his tracks. It's also unclear why he would split the donations up among three separate companies.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 20, 2012

Wed Jun. 20, 2012 11:09 AM EDT

An M1A1 Abrams tank with Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, patrols through the desert north of the Kajaki Dam on May 31. The Marines supported Operation Branding Iron. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Mark Stroud.

Floridians Really Like Rick Scott's Voter Purge...Sort of

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 9:59 AM EDT

Quinnipiac released a new poll on Wednesday about a wide range of Florida political issues. GOP Gov. Rick Scott is still very unpopular. Sens. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) are fairly popular. And most people think the economy is pretty bad. But I was struck by the very last question, which asked voters for their opinion on Scott's controversial voter-purge operation:

QuinnipiacQuinnipiac

The Tampa Bay Times frames this as majority support for Scott's purge. And maybe that really is the case, but that's definitely not what the poll shows. The problem is that the question doesn't accurately describe the program. It's not really a "some say this, others say that" situation; the consequences of Scott's purge are a matter of public record. Hundreds of eligible voters have already been informed by the state that they're not eligible to vote. The Department of Justice has concluded that the purge is illegal; the county supervisors tasked with carrying out the purge have complained to the state. Presumably, support for purging eligible voters is a bit lower than support for purging ineligible voters.

MoJo to UCLA: Release the Milken Documents!

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:30 AM EDT

Last August, the University of California-Los Angeles announced that it had accepted a $10 million gift from Lowell Milken, a key figure in the junk bonds and savings and loan scandals of the 1980s, to launch a "Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy." The University did not disclose that Milken, who is among the richest people in the world, has been banned for life from the securities industry. It also did not mention that Lowell's brother and business partner, Michael Milken, was jailed on multiple federal felony counts related to his work at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a now-defunct investment bank where Lowell also worked. Lowell was Michael's "closest confidant and adviser" at Drexel, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Like the University's press release, initial coverage of the Milken's donation from the Daily Bruinthe Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Daily News also neglected to mention his past. 

On August 18, the week after the donation was announced, I reported on Milken's history. The New York Times and other outlets picked up the story a few days later. When I first learned about the Milken gift, I asked a Mother Jones intern, Lauren Ellis, to file a document request with UCLA under the California Open Records Law. We asked for documents and emails related to the Milken deal and, crucially, the donor agreement between Milken and the university.

On October 5, UCLA finally responded, providing two letters from UCLA officials thanking Milken for his gift. The university refused to disclose the donor agreement or any other documents, arguing that it needed to protect "the personal privacy of its donors" and that releasing any documents beyond the two letters would "bring about a chilling effect on UCLA's Foundation, in that the personal privacy of its donors, prospective donors, and those who volunteer their time to the Foundation would no longer be protected." As Madeleine Buckingham, the CEO of Mother Jones, noted in a letter to UCLA last week, California courts have rejected both of these arguments for withholding information about donations to public universities. 

We believe that UCLA's decision to withhold the Milken documents represents a violation of California open records laws. You can read the letter (and our full argument) below: