Last week Barack Obama's reelection campaign released a tough anti-Mitt Romney ad featuring the GOP candidate singing an off-key version of "America the Beautiful" while graphics scrolled across the screen highlighting Romney's offshore accounts and Bain's record of outsourcing jobs. In response, the Romney camp, in keeping with its "rubber-glue" strategy of near-verbatim reversals of attacks the Obama campaign launches at its candidate, released a similar ad featuring Obama singing the Al Green song "Let's Stay Together," and accusing him of showering favors on his political allies.

On Monday, Romney's ad was taken down from YouTube due to a copyright infringement claim from BMG, which owns the rights to "Lets Stay Together." This seems like a straightforward instance of censorship, whatever BMG's politics. There's a doctrine in copyright law called "fair use," which allows limited use of copyrighted material for "purposes of illustration or comment" or "use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied." Whatever one thinks of Romney's political views, as Ars Technica's Timothy Lee writes, "The Romney ad seems like as clear-cut a case of fair use as can be imagined."

Obama's singing is a core part of the ad's message, and copyright law explicitly mentions commentary and criticism as justifications for fair use. And it's hard to imagine the ad harming the market for "Let's Stay Together.

"America the Beautiful" is in the public domain, so the Obama campaign doesn't have to worry about its ad being taken down. Meanwhile, Lee notes, according to the law, "YouTube is required to wait a minimum of 10 days before putting the video back up." It's hard to see the benefit in allowing companies to unilaterally decide political disputes this way, whatever their intentions.

As troubling as this incident is, the state of the law could be even worse in the future. A web uprising earlier this year stopped Congress from passing the Stop Internet Piracy Act, but if it had become law it would have allowed copyright owners to force entire websites to shut down based on unapproved uses of their material. This latest incident represents an unfortunate censoring of political speech and undercuts the notion that companies need even greater powers to control content posted on the Internet. 

Troops competiting in the 2012 US Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition compete in the 2-mile run event during the Army Physical Fitness Test at Fort McCoy, Wis. The APFT is the first event of a grueling weeklong competition that will determine which two Soldiers will represent the USAR at next level of competition. US. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell.

Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll

Responding to an accusation that she engaged in oral sex with a female staffer, Florida's conservative lieutenant governor Jennifer Carroll laughed it off this weekend, telling a TV news crew that "usually black women that look like me don't engage in relationships like that." The accusation was leveled recently by Carletha Cole, a former administrative aide in Carroll's office who was fired last year and is now being prosecuted for allegedly taping a conversation in the lieutenant governor's office illegally.

A polygraph examiner's letter provided to Mother Jones contains new details of the allegations. According to the letter, Cole claims that she walked into Carroll's office last year and found the lieutenant governor "sitting at the desk with her foot up on the cadenza [sic] and her skirt hiked up," with another female aide kneeling before her as if she "was about to or had performed oral sex on the Lieutenant Governor." The polygraph examiner says in the letter that Cole's test results showed she was telling the truth. Cole has since challenged Carroll to submit to a lie-detector test of her own.

Cole, 49, says she was fired for discovering the alleged sexual relationship between Carroll and the female aide. After she was fired, she gave a reporter a recording of Carroll's chief of staff trashing Florida governor Rick Scott. It remains unclear whether Cole is a whistleblower, a disgruntled employee, or both; she denies making the recording herself, for which she is being charged.

The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman and Mother Jones' David Corn join "Hardball" to discuss the increasingly negative attacks President Obama and Mitt Romney are throwing at each other ahead of the presidential election.

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

DC bureau chief David Corn, who has been closely following Romney's supposed departure from Bain Capital, discusses the mounting evidence that Romney did not actually leave Bain when he claims he to have. (See our timeline of Romney at Bain.) With Romney taking hits about investing in companies that outsourced jobs at Bain, Corn discusses what this means for the election on MSNBC's "Hardball."

The four big super-PACs devoted to defending President Obama and growing the Democratic ranks in Congress just announced an uptick in their fundraising haul for the 2012 elections. These groups raised more than $25 million in April, May, and June. That's more than previous quarters, but not close to enough to keep pace with outside GOP groups plotting to spending a projected $1 billion this election cycle.

  • Leading the way on the Democratic side was Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super-PAC, which banked $11.7 million in 2012's second quarter. Notable donors included real estate magnate Franklin Haney, who gave $1 million, and Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who chipped in another million. In a recent email, Bill Burton, a former Obama White House aide who co-founded Priorities, told me his super-PAC had $20 million "in the bank" and $20 million more in future commitments.
  • Majority PAC, a super-PAC committed to supporting Senate Democrats and Senate candidates such as Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren, pulled in $5.4 million in April, May, and June. That's three times what Majority PAC raised in the first quarter of 2012. The group will need every penny of it to counter the tens of millions already spent on Senate races by Crossroads GPS, the secretive nonprofit co-founded by GOP political gurus Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.
  • House Majority PAC, a super-PAC focusing on electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives, took in $4.3 million in the second quarter.
  • American Bridge 21st Century super-PAC and its affiliated nonprofit banked $4.1 million. American Bridge is a standalone opposition research outfit that digs up dirt on candidates and spits out memos, videos, and other damning nuggets to reporters. In May, George Soros pledged $1 million to American Bridge, which was founded by David Brock, the ex-conservative journalist who started the media watchdog Media Matters for America.

Los Angeles media mogul Haim Saban also gave $1 million to a joint fundraising effort benefiting Priorities USA Action, Majority PAC, and House Majority PAC, federal records show.

The $25 million raised by Democratic outside groups pales in comparison to what conservatives and Republicans have reeled in. In April, Steven Law, who heads the American Crossroads super-PAC, announced that Crossroads and its nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads GPS, had together raised nearly $100 million for the 2012 cycle. The Koch brothers' donor network is expected to pump $400 million into groups hammering Obama and Democrats.

The Democratic outside groups are well aware of what they're up against. "Together we're ensuring that Democrats will have the resources to level the playing field and fight back against the right's attacks in order to keep the White House, maintain a majority in the Senate, and take back the House," the Democratic groups said in a statement.

Cpl. Jacob Johnson, an anti-tank missileman with Combined Anti-Armor Team One, supervises his Marines fire a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command-link guided, or TOW, Missile System, as it's fired from an M-41 Saber weapon system during sustainment training at Udairi Range in Kuwait. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Petersheim.

This far, no farther.

Last Thursday, national abortion right groups finally filed their first major lawsuit against one of the controversial state-level abortion laws that limit abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The suit, filed on behalf of three doctors, argues that the 20-week ban Arizona passed in April curbs women's access to constitutionally protected abortions.

Arizona was the sixth state to pass a 20-week abortion ban on the (scientifically dubious) argument that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks of development. But Arizona's is the first 20-week ban that big national groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued to block. Bans in Nebraska, Idaho, Kansas, Indiana, and Oklahoma have already gone into effect, and Georgia and Louisiana approved their own bans in May and June, respectively. Arizona's ban makes for a a good first case, though, because it is even more extreme than other states' bans.

Although Arizona's law is called a 20-week ban, it actually cuts off access to abortions 18 weeks after conception. The 20-week period in Arizona's law is dated from the woman's last menstrual period (LMP). Other states have stated that the 20 weeks should be calculated based on the estimated time the woman has been pregnant. Most pregnant women became pregnant about two weeks after their last period. Although LMP is what doctors generally use to date a pregnancy, common medical procedure means something quite different when it gets tangled up in the legislative process. In practice, LMP means that women in Arizona will have two fewer weeks during which they can legally obtain an abortion. Those two weeks are crucial—the time between 18 and 20 weeks into a pregnancy is when doctors generally perform pre-natal tests that can detect fetal abnormalities and other complications. The suit argues that this type of 20-week ban is unconstitutional, as previous US Supreme Court rulings have said that abortion should be legal until the point at which the fetus is viable (i.e., can live outside the womb)—which is typically sometime around 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

The Arizona law only includes a very narrow exception to protect the health of pregnant women. A woman can only get an abortion after 18 weeks if it is to "avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Medical exceptions are generally more broad, giving doctors leeway to determine what is necessary to protect the life or health of their patient. "It's forcing women to wait until their pregnancy poses severe and possibly irreversible threats to their lives or health," says Janet Crepps, the CRR senior attorney who is handling the case. "It shows the legislature and governor's callous disregard for women's health. It's hypocritical because they have touted this bill as protecting women's health."

The rights groups are seeking an injunction blocking the law from going into effect on August 2. The outcome of the case will likely have ramifications in the other states that have passed similar measures. "I think its just an unbelievable display of hostility to women's lives, health, and to their individual circumstances," Crepps says. "People need to realize this is an all-out assault on women, and we need to step up where we can and fight back."

Media fact-checkers continue to take issue with the Obama campaign's claims that Mitt Romney was responsible for Bain Capital's outsourcing of American jobs, even though journalists (including Mother Jones' David Corn, Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and others) continue to uncover more information about Romney's role at Bain between 1999 and 2002. Here are five questions for Annenberg's and the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" that may help sort things out:

  1. Is it possible that even without day-to-day managerial control, Mitt Romney may bear some moral or personal responsibility for the actions of Bain Capital post-1999, given that no one is disputing that he benefited financially from its actions and that his name was on the door? Is that question even fact-checkable?
  2. Much of the debate over when Romney left Bain has been driven by the Obama campaign's claims that Bain invested in outsourcing US jobs while he was there. Fact-checkers have said it's unfair to tie Romney to outsourcing during the 1999-2002 period. How should voters account for the fact that, as Corn reported, Bain invested in Global-Tech Appliances, a Chinese company that depended on outsourcing, prior to February 1999?
  3. Even if the Obama campaign made inflated claims about Romney's post-1999 role at Bain, are Bain and Romney's categorical denials that Romney was not "involved in the operations of any Bain Capital Entity in any way" and Romney "has had absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities of the firm or with any of its portfolio companies since the day of his departure" justifiable? What is the definition of "operations" and "management activities"? Does it include signing documents? Are companies that Bain part-owned "Bain Capital Entities"? Are companies like LifeLike, whose board meetings Romney says he attended, Bain "portfolio companies"? If not, what is a "portfolio company"? Does serving as CEO/president/chairman of the Bain board count as a "management activity"? If not, why not?
  4. Does what we know about Romney's situation during the 1999-2002 period—that Jane Swift's Massachusetts governorship had not yet imploded, that Romney was also mulling a run for Utah governor, that contemporaneous accounts refer to him taking a "leave of absence," and that on Sunday one of his advisers referred to Romney's retirement as "retroactive"—indicate that Romney was maintaining some ties with Bain, if not active day-to-day management, in order to keep his options open if a political opportunity did not become available? Given those circumstances, would the company have made major decisions he strongly disagreed with?
  5. Most broadly: Given the available evidence, is it unfair to attribute any responsibility for Bain's post-1999 actions to Mitt Romney? Are such attacks completely out of bounds? Would it be correct to say that Romney's company—rather than Romney himself—outsourced jobs, given that he still owned it?

Correction: Due to a production error, a draft of this piece was published earlier. The text has been updated and corrected.

Since his first run for office in 1994, Mitt Romney has been dogged by charges that the private equity firm he founded profited from outsourcing and shuttered companies. But over the last two weeks, new documents emerged to call into question the GOP presidential candidate's narrative about his time at the company. At issue are two primary questions: Was Mitt Romney responsible for decisions made by Bain Capital between 1999 and 2002? And did the company's behavior in those years—building huge profits by squeezing companies dry—reflect Romney's broader mission at Bain? The answer to the first question depends on your definition of the term "managing director"; the answer to the second question is a subject of fierce debate. 

Here, as best as we can figure, is Romney's timeline at Bain:

Open-source timeline tool by Balance Media and WNYC/John KeefeTry it yourself here!