Mojo - August 2012

SF Public Transit Runs Ads Denouncing Anti-Muslim Blogger's Ad Campaign

| Mon Aug. 20, 2012 9:00 AM EDT

San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency, Muni, has been under fire for accepting ads referring to Arabs and Muslims as "savage" that were placed by anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller. The ads declare that "in any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man"—a paraphrase of an Ayn Rand quote—while also urging readers to "support Israel" and "defeat jihad." If Muni had rejected the ads, however, it likely would have violated Geller's First Amendment rights; when New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority tried to block Geller's ads last year, Geller sued, and in July judge later declared the agency's ad policy unconstitutional.

Though Muni may have to run the ads, it has taken the unusual step of posting its own ads denouncing Geller's campaign, ABC's San Francisco affiliate reports. Here's a screenshot: 

The arrow in the image points to Geller's ad, functioning as a kind of disclaimer. As I reported last week, Muni is also donating the money Geller paid for the ads to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Geller is apoplectic, and has referred to the disclaimers as "shariah-compliant," implying that Muni's response is a reflection of adherence to Islamic law rather than an attempt to tamp down a public relations debacle.

Geller has continued to insist that the Rand-inspired quote in her ads refers to particular acts taken by Palestinian groups during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the full context of Rand's quote undermines this explanation:

Further, why are the Arabs against Israel? (This is the main reason I support Israel.) The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it's the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don't want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don't wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I've contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.

So Rand wasn't merely referring to just to Muslims, to Palestinians, or even to terrorists. She was describing all Arabs as "savages." Geller, who named her blog "Atlas Shrugs" after Rand's novel, surely understood this context when she chose the quote.

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Romney's Health Care Plan Freaks Out Utah Republicans

| Mon Aug. 20, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Utah congressional candidate Mia Love

Few states can claim to be as uniformly conservative as Utah, where many Mormon residents consider Mitt Romney a native son. (Romney claimed a whopping 93 percent of the GOP primary vote here.) But even Utahns appear to be deeply worried about the impact of proposals by Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to make deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

Last Thursday night, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was in Salt Lake City to campaign for Mia Love, the African American mayor of Saratoga Springs and tea party darling who's trying to knock off the state's only Democratic House member, Jim Matheson. At an open-air amphitheater in West Valley City McCain and Love held a town hall meeting attended by about 250 people. There they were peppered with questions by people who identified themselves as loyal Republicans but were seriously concerned that the Romney-Ryan proposals would make life harder for them. Ironically, Love and McCain attempted to quell their supporters' concerns by offering up proposals that have already been implemented—by President Barack Obama.

One woman took issue with the Ryan-Romney Medicare plan, which would shift much of the cost of health care onto seniors by turning it into a voucher program. Ryan and Romney insist that none of those changes would affect anyone over 55. The woman told McCain that she was under 55, and that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was very concerned that she would not be able to get affordable insurance or Medicare under Romney's vision of the government health care plan.

Rep. Todd Akin: Wrong, But Not Alone

| Sun Aug. 19, 2012 8:21 PM EDT
Todd Akin, GOP candidate for US Senate from Missouri, during a victory speech after his primary win

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) opened up a can of controversy on Sunday when he claimed that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" are unlikely to become pregnant. (Akin was defending his belief that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest.) Then Akin, who is running against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill for Senate, issued the obligatory statement saying he simply misspoke and really feels very deeply for women who are raped.

But here's the thing: Akin didn't make this idea up. That women can't get pregnant when they're raped is a thing that some people actually believe. I stumbled across this several months ago while researching another story. It turns out to be an idea held and repeated by individuals who oppose abortion in any circumstance.

Read for yourself. John C. Willke, an anti-abortion doctor, writes on the website Christian Life Resources about how pregnancies resulting from rape are "extremely rare" because of hormones and stuff:

Finally, factor in what is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that's physical trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.

An abbreviated version of his column also appears on the Physicians for Life website. This website, purportedly created to help "troubled teens," also makes similar claims:

In cases of rape, the rate of pregnancy is actually very rare. This is due to several factors which may affect conception. The victim is in immense emotional shock and her body in turn is affected. Statistics show that the rate of miscarriage is higher in these circumstances. A major factor contributing to the rare occurrence of conception in cases of rape is psychological trauma. Stress has been known to alter bodily functions, the menstrual cycle included. And in order for a woman to conceive a complex blend of hormones must be formed. The production of these certain hormones is easily affected by emotions, in which of course the rape itself factors in greatly. Hence, the chances of actual conception—ovulation, fertilization, implantation—for the rape victim are considerably lowered.

In 1998, Fay Boozman, a Republican candidate for Senate in Arkansas, got in trouble for embracing this idea. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Boozman said the inability to get pregnant from rape stemmed from "God's little protective shield"—a report Boozman denied before saying that it was in fact an "adrenaline rush" that prevented conception from rape.

The you-can't-get-pregnant-from-rape falsehood is apparently something that enough people believe that Planned Parenthood includes it on its pregnancy FAQ page.

Akin may be wrong, but he's got company.

Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, and Redefining Rape

| Sun Aug. 19, 2012 5:21 PM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (left), now the GOP nominee for vice president, introduces his 2012 budget as Rep. Todd Akin (right) and other congressional Republicans look on.

On Sunday, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race, used an interview with a local television station to defend his belief that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape: He claimed that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" are unlikely to become pregnant. Akin said that the female body has "biological defenses" that prevent rape victims from getting pregnant. (That's not true.) The implication of his position is that if you were raped and became pregnant, you must have actually wanted it—it wasn't really rape.

This isn't the first time Akin has expressed fringe views about rape in the context of the abortion debate. Last year, Akin, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and most of the House GOP cosponsored a bill that would have narrowed the already-narrow exceptions to the laws banning federal funding for abortion—from all cases of rape to cases of "forcible rape."

After I reported on the "forcible rape" language in January 2011, a wave of outcry from abortion rights, progressive, and women's groups led the Republicans to remove it. But a few months later, in a congressional committee report, Republicans wrote that they believed the bill would continue to have the same effect despite the absence of the "forcible" language.

So why was the "forcible" language so important? Pro-life advocates believed they needed to include the word "forcible" in the law to preempt what National Right to Life Committee lobbyist Doug Johnson called a "brazen" effort by Planned Parenthood and other groups to obtain federal funding for abortions for any teenager by (falsely) claiming statutory rape. Abortion rights groups, Johnson warned, wanted to "federally fund the abortion of tens of thousands of healthy babies of healthy moms, based solely on the age of their mothers." Richard Doerflinger, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops'* top anti-abortion lobbyist, echoed Johnson in congressional testimony, arguing that the "forcible" language was "an effort on the part of the sponsors to prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for federally funded abortions for any teenager." Planned Parenthood flatly denied having a plan to open up such a loophole. 

The idea that women who are "legitimate" rape victims can't get pregnant has currency in some corners of the fringe right. Akin embraces it. Does he embrace the conspiracy theory about the need for the "forcible rape" language, too?

*The name of the organization has been corrected.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 17, 2012

Fri Aug. 17, 2012 2:17 PM EDT

US Army Cpl. Casey Leimbach and US Army Spc. Timothy Rigg, both combat infantrymen for 1st Platoon, Apache Company, Team Apache, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, Task Force 4-25, provide security during a patrol to Black Rock, Khowst province, Afghanistan, on July 31, 2012. Team Apache conducted the patrol to investigate a previous attack to Combat Outpost Bak. Photo by the US Army.

Americans Find Online Political Ads Really Creepy

| Fri Aug. 17, 2012 10:59 AM EDT

It's never been easier for political campaigns to stalk you online. Visit a campaign website and you'll invariably find yourself swamped in fundraising pitches and web videos after you leave; talk about politics in your Facebook profile and you might find a Barack Obama ad the next time you log in. Microsoft and Yahoo are selling users' personal data, and political campaigns are buying it so they can better track you on the web. As Pro Publica's Lois Beckett notes, the Obama campaign maintains the right to collect  "information about how you use the campaign website, such as what you click on and which pages you view; data about how you interact with campaign email messages; and personal information you submit as part of blog comments, interactive forums or contests and games on the campaign's websites." Equipped with an ever-expanding trove of personal information, political ad buyers are able to send voters increasingly targeted messages.

But how do voters feel about this? According to a new University of Pennsylvania study (pdf) that examined voter attitudes toward online micro-targeting, the answer is "pretty queasy." Here's the takeaway:

We conducted this survey to determine what Americans say. We found that the percentage who do not want "political advertising tailored to your interests" (86%) is far higher than the still- quite-high proportions of the population who reject "ads for products and services that are tailored to your interests" (61%), "news that is tailored to your interests" (56%), and "discounts that are tailored to your interests" (46%). Moreover, we found that the rejection of targeted political ads is unrelated to political-party affiliation or political orientation. It also cuts across gender and age, and it while does vary with race and ethnicity the numbers opposing tailored political advertising are high across the board.

Likewise, the study found that 64 percent of adults said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate they knew was tailoring ads based on personal information (as most serious campaigns do), and 77 percent of voters said that if they knew a website was giving data to political advertisers, they'd stop visting the site. As the authors explain, "It's hard to escape the conclusion that our survey is tapping into a deep discomfort over behavioral targeting and tailored advertising when it comes to politics."

Those numbers should give political campaigns pause. But I'd add a caveat: Just because voters say something will affect their decision doesn't mean it actually will. For instance, voters tell reporters and pollsters all the time that they're sick of political campaign ads, but campaigns still run them non-stop because they think they work.

"Part of it weighing the cross-benefit," says Joseph Turow, the study's lead author. "If I find out that the Obama campaign is tracking me—which they are—does that mean that I'm not gonna vote for Obama, I'm gonna vote Romney? It's a cost-benefit." The larger point, though, is that "people are annoyed and upset about this, and they feel that it shouldn't be part of the political system, and they feel that the people themselves should have control over the breadth and depth of what information they get from politicians."

As of now, there's no real push for new privacy standards for political campaigns. But Turow's study suggests one possible explanation: Voters don't realize the extent to which their identities are already being mined. Most of the policies the poll respondents identified as potential deal-breakers are already standard operating procedure.

Anyways, I've got a piece in the next issue of the magazine (for which I interviewed Turow) that touches on this issue of political privacy, in the context of the Obama campaign's data-mining and mico-targeting operations. You should subscribe.

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What the Right Gets Wrong About the FRC Shooting

| Fri Aug. 17, 2012 9:26 AM EDT
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council

Floyd Lee Corkins, a 28-year-old sometime gay rights volunteer from Herndon, VA who lives with his parents, walked into the Washington headquarters of the Family Research Council on Wednesday with a 9-millimeter handgun and a bag with 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches. According to the FBI, he told the FRC's security guard Leonardo Reno Johnson that he didn't like the organization's politics before opening fire, wounding Johnson in the arm before the guard could subdue him. Thanks to Johnson's bravery, there was no loss of life. 

On Thursday, Corkins was charged with a firearms violation and assault with intent to kill, but anti-marriage equality activists believe the responsibility for the incident goes beyond one man. Anti-gay rights groups quickly pointed to pro-LGBT rights groups as unindicted co-conspirators. The National Organization for Marriage's President Brian Brown said Wednesday that "Today's attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end," referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center's categorization of FRC as a "hate group." Brown noted that the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBT rights group, had "even specified that FRC hosts events in Washington, DC, where today's attack took place." To Brown, LGBT rights activists had all but drawn Corkins a map.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told reporters at a press conference yesterday that while "Floyd Corkins was responsible for the wounding of one of our colleagues and friends at the Family Research Council," the shooter  "was given a license to do that by a group such as the Southern Poverty Law Center who labeled us a hate group because we defend the family and stand for traditional orthodox Christianity." Harsh criticism, according to Perkins and Brown, had laid the stones on Corkins' path to violence. 

In light of the power Perkins and Brown ascribe to the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign, we should examine their own.

Spokespeople for the National Organization for Marriage, such as Rev. William Owens, who exaggerated his civil rights background to justify his opposition to same sex marriage, have compared homosexuality to bestiality and child abuse. NOM's man in Maryland, Bishop Harry Jackson, has compared gay rights groups to Nazis whose actions recall  "the times of Hitler." Most of NOM's more high-profile spokespersons are more careful with their words, but beyond rhetoric, NOM has argued that gay judges should be barred from ruling on LGBT rights issues and embraced junk science to argue that gays and lesbians make worse parents.

Still, Perkins' Family Research Council has practically cornered the market on anti-gay junk science. The Southern Poverty Law Center's classification of the FRC as a hate group stems from FRC's more than decade-long insistence that gay people are more likely to molest children. Spokespeople for the FRC have said that homosexual sex should be outlawed, and Perkins himself has said as recently as 2010 that "the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children." Research from non-ideological outfits is actually firm in concluding the opposite. Some of the FRC's more outrageous "studies," such as the 1999 paper claiming that "one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order," have been scrubbed from the group's website, but the FRC has not disavowed their contents.

Anti-gay rights organizations are not often the targets of this kind of violence. The incidence of violence against gays and lesbians in the United States is far higher. According to the FBI's hate crimes statistics, there were 247 incidents of aggravated assault and 495 incidents of simple assault against people on the basis of sexual orientation in 2010. The Bureau counts two incidents of bias-motivated murder/manslaughter in the same year. If labeling the FRC a hate group armed Corkins with a justification for violence, should we be holding groups like the Family Research Center and the National Organization for Marriage responsible for every homophobe who lashes out violently? After all, listening to what the FRC and NOM have to say about gays and lesbians, one might reasonably conclude non-heterosexuals are a public menace, if not a threat to the republic. 

The SPLC's decision to categorize the Family Research Council as a hate group, while subjective, nevertheless relies on FRC's record of purveying stereotypes, prejudice, and junk science as a justification for public policy that would deny gays and lesbians equal rights and criminalize their conduct. Accusing someone of purveying "hate" does not contain a justification for violence, explicit or implicit. It's a free country, and hating is one of the rights Americans have under the First Amendment. But if an organization were putting forth papers arguing that blacks, Latinos, or Jews were inherently prone to committing certain crimes and recommended laws specifically tailored to restricting their behavior, would we call them a hate group? At the very least, the SPLC has evidence for its decision beyond simply disliking FRC's politics. 

Given his group's years-long characterization of gays and lesbians as child-molesting sociopaths bent on abusing children, I doubt Perkins wants his silly standard for what constitutes a justification of violence to be applied to himself. Historically speaking however, the consensus that violence is not a legitimate tool for domestic politics in the United States has probably never been stronger, which is why LGBT rights groups immediately condemned the shooting incident and why the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage are so eager to drape the blame around the shoulders of their most vocal critics. For all their disagreements, both anti-and pro-LGBT rights groups are eager to defeat each other in the arena of the law and the court of public opinion. They have chosen the ballot, not the bullet, and Corkins is nothing more than a near-tragic exception to the rule.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Aug. 17, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

 

quote of the week

"Paul Ryan: Hustling for the 1 percent."
—Protest signs carried by AFL-CIO members outside a Las Vegas hotel where Romney's running mate attended a private "finance meeting" with Republican donors, including billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson has poured $36 million into conservative super-PACs and has said he'll spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama. An attendee told the New York Times that he "saw no dialogue between" Ryan and Adelson.

 

attack ad of the week

A new dark-money group called the Special Operations Opsec Education Fund has released a 22-minute Swiftboat-esque video, "Dishonorable Disclosures" that features former special forces officers who accuse Barack Obama of leaking state secrets for political gain. The group is run in part by members of tea party groups and focuses primarily on Obama's handling of the Osama bin Laden raid. It repeats the claim that Obama has been too boastful about the raid. "Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden," a sneering former Navy SEAL says in the video. "America did."

 

stat of the week

Two: The number of 501(c)(4) nonprofits that, combined, have spent more than all super-PACs combined. ProPublica reports that Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity have spent nearly $60 million on television ads, compared with $55.7 million spent by super-PACs, and $22.5 million spent by political parties.

 

race of the week

On Tuesday, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson won a hard-fought GOP Senate primary. The antitax super-PAC Club for Growth Action spent $1.7 million on ads in support of former Rep. Mark Neumann, who finished third. Including money targeting Democratic candidate Tammy Baldwin (like $850,000 from the US Chamber of Commerce), $4.5 million in outside money has been spent on the Wisconsin Senate race. Here's one of the ads Club for Growth ran against Thompson and challenger Eric Hovde:

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Can Harold Ickes Make It Rain for Obama?: The Democratic operative has cussed, clawed, and outsmarted his way through three dozen elections. His new fight: Stop Karl Rove and Co. from steamrolling the president.
The Reformers Strike Back!: The conservatives behind Citizens United have lost some key fights lately. But another battle over corporate money in politics looms.
Karl Rove's Dark Money Group Busted for Bogus Ad: Crossroads GPS says it proactively pulled the inaccurate ad. Well, not quite.

 

more must-reads

• Just four states and Washington, DC, are responsible for two-thirds of all super-PAC cash. MapLight
• Charles Koch explains why he "fights for economic freedom." Newsmax
• Gardener and pro-Obama super-PAC megadonor Amy Goldman talks politics. NPR
• A campaign finance reform group's infographic puts a superhero spin on super-PACs. Rootstrikers

VIDEO: Ohio GOP Senate Hopeful Josh Mandel Fakes a Southern Accent

| Thu Aug. 16, 2012 2:10 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Republican Josh Mandel, who's hoping to defeat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) this November, took the stage alongside Mitt Romney in the tiny village of Beallsville in the eastern Ohio coal belt. In a brief speech, Mandel blasted President Obama for having "waged war on coal" and for buddying up with "people in California and New York City who think coal is a four-letter word, who never stepped foot in Appalachia Ohio and don't understand coal."

Mandel's talking points weren't new. His delivery, however, certainly was. Backed by a phalanx of coal miners, Mandel soaked his speech with a distinct southern accent, a drawl never before heard from the candidate. Mandel, a former US Marine and now Ohio's state treasurer, is no southerner. He hails from the Cleveland area, in northern Ohio, where he still lives with his wife. He attended college at Ohio State University in Columbus and law school at Case Western in Cleveland. Neither qualify as southern cities—not even close.

As this video from the Ohio Democratic Party shows, Mandel has delivered almost identical remarks elsewhere on the campaign trail—with no trace of a southern accent:

Strange, right? Just to be sure, we dug up three more interviews with Mandel. Spoiler alert: No drawl.

June 2012 Interview with OhioCapitalBlog

March 2012 Interview with Toledo's WTVG

January 2012 Interview on Fox News' "Fox and Friends"

As PolitiFact Ohio's reigning "Pants on Fire" champion, having spouted more false statements than any other major Ohio pol, Mandel's campaign has faced plenty of criticism about running fast and loose with the facts. His newfound southern accent could be another headache for Mandel.

Paul Ryan: Frattiest Veep Candidate Ever

| Thu Aug. 16, 2012 5:01 AM EDT

Since 1900, nearly two-thirds of all US presidential cabinet members have been certified frat boys. (And since 1825, all but three presidents have been bros.) So it was always more likely than not that Mitt Romney would tap an ex-frat house dweller as his running mate.

But someone this FaF?

If you're looking to out-bro Republican vice presidential candidates of the past, you're looking at steep competition. For instance, George H. W. Bush was an active member of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Yale, a Bonesman, head of the CIA, a torpedo bomber pilot in the Navy, and then went on to vomit on a foreign head of government and blast Van Halen at a Vatican embassy in order to flush out Noriega. Dan Quayle is also a Deke, and his wealthy family has something of a rowdy streak. And Dick Cheney institutionalized hazing as Bush administration policy.

Still, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) gives them all a run for their money. Here's a look at the ways in which Paul Ryan is the single frattiest VP candidate in modern American history:

1. He pledged at Ohio's Miami University, freshman year, 1989: Let's start with obvious: Ryan is a brother at the 96-year-old Gamma Upsilon chapter of Delta Tau Delta—which makes him brothers with actor Will Ferrell, Dan Abrams, and Matthew McConaughey.

Brothers. US CongressBrothers. Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures (Old School) ; US CongressVia an old fraternity composite, here's a photo of a young (upperclassman) Paul Ryan looking like a young Dave Weigel:

Via Andrew KaVia Andrew Kaczynski

Ryan was a "Delt who [had a fondness for] turtlenecks," as CNN described his college years. "Pretty damn cool to say that a VP candidate was raging in the same fraternity house as me 20 years ago," tweeted one Miami undergrad.

In 2004, Ryan won Delta Tau Delta's coveted Alumni Achievement Award.

2. The congressman raked in the campaign cash from Fraternity and Sorority PAC: Between 2006 and 2010, FSPAC contributed nearly $25,000 to the Ryan campaign. In return, Ryan backed three pieces of legislation that would have created tax loopholes for the development and expansion of Greek housing at college campuses. For all that effort and cash, none of the three bills were signed into law. (FSPAC did not respond to requests for comment.)

You didn't build that. Digital Collections/FlickrYou didn't build that, bro. Digital Collections/Flickr3. Paul Ryan is in the pocket of Big Keg Stand: The Wisconsin Republican swims in beer money. Since 1998, Ryan has taken in $75,000 from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a trade group that reps over 3,000 American beer distributors (and has the licensed beverage industry's largest PAC). In that decade and a half, Ryan co-sponsored five pieces of (again, unsuccessful) legislation to slash taxes for brewers, distilleries, and consumers (national health epidemic and car crash/pedestrian injury/fist-fight/assault rate-spike be damned).

Something for which we must reduce the regulatory burden. WikipediaSomething on which the regulatory burden of government has weighed for far too long. Wikimedia Commons

4. This photo (which we've modified somewhat):

YEESSSS. Photo illustration by Dave Gilson ;  /FlickrYEESSSS. Photo illustration by Dave Gilson. Sources: Rep. Paul Ryan's office ; Laura Bittner/Flickr