Mojo - August 2012

Rep. Steve King: Minority Students "Feel Sorry for Themselves"

| Wed Aug. 22, 2012 7:00 AM EDT
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) came this close to following in his Missouri colleague Todd Akin's footsteps on Tuesday, when he told a local news reporter that he didn't know any women who had become pregnant from statutory rape or incest. (King's spokesman clarified that the congressman meant that he didn't personally know women who had gotten pregnant from rape, but understood, contra Akin, that it is biologically possible.)

But that doesn't mean he's off the hook. Facing his toughest-ever re-election fight against Democrat Christie Vilsack, King has only doubled down on the nativist rhetoric that's been his bread-and-butter in Washington. On Tuesday, trackers from the super-PAC run by the progressive phone service provider CREDO grabbed footage of King at a town hall meeting in Le Mars lamenting that minority students are falling for a communist victimization narrative promoted by student organizations. 

King, who recently sponsored a bill to make English the national language, launched into an extended rant on the perils of multiculturalism—which was only reinforced by a visit to Iowa State University, where he says he encountered 59 different student groups rooted in the idea. Merlin's pants! As he put it, "It started with Asians and it ended with Zeitgeist. So from A to Z. And most of them were victims groups, victimology, people that feel sorry for themselves. And they're out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group that feels sorry for themselves." 

Watch:

 

Obscure Italian communist*: check. Karl Marx: check. Saul Alinsky: check check check. King has for years faced only token opposition in his rural western Iowa district, but in 2012 he faces a Democrat with serious upset hopes in Vilsack, the wife of the former governor-turned-Agriculture-secretary. King, who has previously flirted with birtherism and lamented America's emphasis on diversity, is banking that come November, his nativist ravings will be an asset, not an albatross.

*Update: By obscure I just mean that Antonio Gramsci is not as well known among conservatives as Marx and Alinsky, who need no introduction.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Gun Enthusiasts Keep Starting Wildfires in Utah

| Wed Aug. 22, 2012 5:01 AM EDT
Utah wildfire in June.

The smoke in our bedroom was so strong I thought the house might be on fire. As it turned out, the house wasn't burning, but Utah was. Three new wildfires had started Saturday afternoon about 10 miles from the ski resort town of Park City, where my parents live and I've been staying for the past week. The fires torched more than 500 acres of land around the nearby Jordanelle Reservoir and some nearby Forest Service land, sending plumes of acrid smoke across the valley and eventually into my window. Campers in the Jordanelle state park had to be evacuated, as did vacation home residents and guests at the ritzy St. Regis Hotel in Deer Valley, the playground of the ultra-rich where Mitt Romney once had a house.

The cause of one of the fires is still being determined, but KSL News reported over the weekend that target shooters had been seen in the vicinity of one of them, and a target shooter admitted to starting another one of the fires. Guns may not kill people, as the argument goes, but apparently they do start wildfires.

Indeed, target shooters are becoming something of a scourge across the rain-starved West, and especially in Utah, where humans have caused more than 500 wildfires this summer. At least 22 of those have been set by people shooting targets, tin cans, and what-not off rocks in the scrub brush, where sparks from the bullets hitting rocks have collided with bone-dry brush and caused massive fires. One large fire blamed on target shooters squeezing off rounds near the town dump in Saratoga Springs, home of tea party congressional candidate Mia Love, caused close to 9,000 people to be evacuated and forced Love to miss an event with soon-to-be vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who'd been raising money on her behalf.

With the state in the midst of a serious drought, officials have been able to clamp down somewhat on other fire hazards this summer, namely fireworks, but they've had a hard time doing anything about the gun enthusiasts, of which there are many. The Daily Beast recently dubbed Utah the second most-armed state in the country (though state officials dispute this). Laws passed in 1999 and 2004 bar state and local officials from imposing any restrictions on firearms during an emergency unless approved by the state Legislature. Such laws have been gathering steam across the country after reports from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina that the local police had seized guns from residents during the state of emergency there. Virginia, for instance, just passed a version of the NRA-drafted bill that bans the state from prohibiting residents from carrying or transporting weapons in an emergency. More than 20 states have similar laws in place and the NRA is pushing for more.

Paul Ryan Cosponsored All the Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Bills

| Wed Aug. 22, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Over his career in the House, GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan has endorsed a number of measures that would limit or completely bar abortion in the United States. Although Ryan's anti-abortion credentials have gotten plenty of coverage since he was announced as Romney's veep choice, the full extent of the measures he's endorsed is breathtaking, and includes cosponsoring a measure that would allow hospitals to deny women access to an abortions even if their life is in immediate danger.

The House passed the Protect Life Act in October 2011, with Ryan as one of its 145 cosponsors. The measure would allow hospitals to refuse to "participate in" or "provide referrals" for abortions. Current law states that any hospital that receives government funds is required to provide emergency care for anyone. If a hospital is affiliated with a religious institution that refuses to provide abortion care under any circumstance, they're legally required to transfer the patient to a hospital that will. But the measure Ryan cosponsored would remove that obligation, leading opponents to criticize the bill for letting women "die on the floor."

Here's a rundown of other extreme anti-abortion measures Ryan cosponsored:

  • The Sanctity of Human Life Act: This bill would have written into law that zygotes are legal people from the moment of conception. Like other, similar bills, it grants fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans, and would make in vitro fertilization and some forms of contraception the legal equivalents of murder.
  • The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act: Ryan cosponsored this bill in 2006, 2007, and 2010. It would require doctors to provide medically dubious information to all women seeking an abortion after 20 weeks gestation. The bill includes specific language that the Department of Health and Human Services would need to include in a brochure that doctors would be required to give to women. The brochure includes language like "the process of being killed in an abortion will cause your unborn child pain." It would also require doctors to offer "anesthesia or other pain-reducing drug" for the fetus.
  • The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act: This bill, introduced in 2005, 2007, and 2011, federalizes state laws on parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. The bill requires doctors to notify the minor's parent or guardian in writing and wait 24 hours before providing an abortion.
  • The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act: This 2012 bill would ban abortions in the capital after 20 weeks gestation. It failed in the House on July 31.

In addition to cosponsoring these bills, Ryan has cast 59 votes on abortion issues, all of them anti-choice, according to a tally by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading pro-abortion-rights group.

Super-PAC Cash Still Favors GOP

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 4:13 PM EDT

Conservative super-PACs dominated their Democratic rivals in the latest round of fundraising, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission filed Monday.

Restore Our Future, a super-PAC supporting presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, brought in $7.5 million in July, finishing with an imposing $20.5 million in the bank. Top contributors include Texas homebuilder and super donor Bob Perry, who gave another $2 million.

Perry was already top donor to the group and the latest donation pushes his total to a whopping $8 million. Another major donor was the Renco Group, a family-owned investment company associated with billionaire investor Ira Rennert, which gave $1 million.

Conservative super-PAC American Crossroads brought in $7.1 million finishing the month with $29.5 million in the bank. Texas megadonor and billionaire Robert Rowling's TRT Holdings, a private holding company that includes Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym, gave $1 million. TRT also gave $1 million to American Crossroads in February. Rowling personally gave $1 million to the super-PAC in May and another $1 million in July.

GOP Money Machine Choking Off Support For Rep. Todd Akin

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 4:02 PM EDT
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).

State and national Republicans are pushing Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), whose "legitimate rape" remarks triggered a major backlash, to abandon his effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Akin, nevertheless, is vowing to stay in the race. The Republican money machine, however, is already choking off financial support for Akin's campaign.

Crossroads GPS, the biggest spending dark-money nonprofit in the 2012 elections, announced Monday it was pulling its ads from Missouri. On Tuesday, Crossroads' president Steven Law called on Akin to leave the race. "Rep. Akin faces a simple choice: Will he help Democrats hold the McCaskill seat and potentially the Senate majority by staying in the race, or will he help Republicans defeat Barack Obama's most reliable ally in the Senate by getting out?" he said in a statement emailed to reporters.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also said it would no longer spend $5 million on the Missouri senate race unless Akin dropped out. An NRSC spokesman called Akin's campaign "misguided" and said that Akin should "do the right thing" and drop out.

Despite Akin's refusal to quit, Republican politicos say he's doomed anyway if he doesn't have the GOP's biggest spenders fighting on his behalf. "He's not going to get grassroots support from individuals; I don't think he'll get organized support by the party or 501(c)(4)s and I don't know how you survive without that kind of support," Bradley Blakeman, a GOP strategist, told Politico.

Outside groups that disclose their spending, such as super-PACs, have spent $4.8 million so far on the Missouri Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, dark-money groups including Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have spent upwards of $15 million on the race, much of it assailing McCaskill and her record. Americans for Prosperity spokesman Levi Russell declined to comment on whether Akin should quit the race. Russell added that AFP isn't currently running ads in Missouri, and he wouldn't comment about future ad spending there.

As I reported in my recent profile of McCaskill, Republicans see the Missouri Senate race as one of their best chances to oust a sitting Democrat. The GOP's attacks against began McCaskill as early as July 2011 and haven't stopped—until now. But after investing millions of dollars into the race, Akin's gaffe casts a cloud of uncertainty over more spending going forward. "If he remains the nominee, there's no reason to throw good money after bad by trying to win this seat," Crossroads co-founder Karl Rove said Tuesday on Fox News. "This is one of those unfortunate things that's so bad, so deplorable, so out-of-touch that there's no way to recover, in my opinion, from it."

After Akin, GOP Makes Extreme Abortion Policy Official

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 2:46 PM EDT

In what will probably strike many people as a monumentally tone-deaf move, the GOP plans to include a plank in its 2012 platform calling for an amendment that would outlaw abortions under any circumstance. CNN reported on the draft language it obtained on Monday night, and the platform committee approved it on Tuesday:

"Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," the draft platform declares. "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."

This plank isn't new for the GOP; it was also part of the party's platform in 2008. But given the major flap this week over Missouri Republican Todd Akin's remark that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" can't get pregnant and therefore a rape exception isn't necessary, the release of the draft language arrives at a pretty bad time for the GOP. Scores of Republicans have condemned Akin's remarks. But by including it in the platform, the party is formally aligning behind a position that shows the same disregard for women who are the victims of rape that Akin got pilloried for vocalizing.

The human life amendment—which is in line with the "personhood" bills that have proliferated in the states in recent years—would extend legal rights to fetuses at any stage of development. Most of the measures creating a new constitutional amendment that anti-abortion lawmakers have tried (and failed) to pass in Congress over the years have explicitly defined life as beginning at the "moment of fertilization," meaning they would effectively make all abortions illegal. That includes pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, or if the life of the woman is at risk, since the amendment would make the fertilized egg and the woman equals in the eyes of the law. This type of amendment would also likely outlaw forms of contraception that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg.

The topic of personhood has been a sticky one for Mitt Romney, who has tried to have it both ways on the issue; he voiced his support for a human life amendment in 2007, but during a GOP presidential debate last September he said that such an amendment would create a "constitutional crisis." On the campaign trial, he tried to distance himself from the personhood crowd, but now that his party is once again incorporating the measure into its platform, it will be a tough subject for him to keep avoiding.

When it come to reproductive rights, the platform doesn't stop at fetal personhood. It also includes a shout-out to other efforts limiting women's abortion access around the country, according to CNN:

Republicans have also inserted a "salute" to states pushing "informed consent" laws—an apparent reference to ultrasound bills that have moved through some state legislatures—"mandatory waiting periods prior to an abortion, and health-protective clinic regulation."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Todd Akin Also Bad on Gay Rights

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 1:15 PM EDT

The Washington Blade highlights the fact that Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has crazy ideas about the gays as well as the female anatomy. Here's a quote from a speech the GOP congressman gave on the House floor in 2006:

"From a practical point of view, to preserve our civilization and society, it's important for us to preserve marriage," Akin said. "Anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived."

Of course, same-sex coupling has been around since Jesus and the dinosaurs walked hand-in-hand through the Holy Land, and humanity doesn't seem to have collapsed just yet.

The Blade reports that Akin has maintained a score of zero on the Human Rights Campaign's yearly congressional tally, and kept up a rigorous routine of attempting to block rights for LGBT community. He proposed an amendment in May that would undermine the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell by allowing individuals to object to serving alongside LGBT members. He also introduced a measure that would bar same-sex marriages from taking place on military bases and block military chaplains from officiating at those ceremonies. He has voted for a Federal Marriage Amendment that would enshrine marriage as between a man and a woman under the US Constitution. He also voted against hate crime and employment non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals.

Lefty Dark-Money Group Drops $500K Attacking The Koch Brothers

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 11:45 AM EDT
Charles (left) and David Koch.

The left's assault on Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists marshaling as much as $400 million for the 2012 elections to elect Republicans and defeat President Obama, just got ratcheted up. Patriot Majority, a liberal advocacy group comprised of a super-PAC and nonprofit outfit, announced it will spend $500,000 on two new national TV ads assailing the Kochs for trying to "buy this year's elections and advance their agenda." The ads, which will run on CNN and MSNBC, are the opening shots in a national campaign targeting the Kochs that will span multiple elections, according to the group.

Here's the 30-second ad:

Patriot Majority's nonprofit arm, which does not disclose its donors, bills the anti-Koch ads as part of its broader "Stop the Greed Agenda." The campaign will include national TV ads, online ads, and direct mail. Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority, says the campaign is aimed at counteracting the Kochs' free-market, limited-government advocacy. "The Koch brothers have been pursing this greed agenda for more than 20 years, and no one could succeed in stopping it in just a matter of months," he says. The campaign, he adds, "is a long-term project that will continue for as long as it takes to stop their agenda."

Varoga says his organization has conducted polling and focus groups around its Koch campaign. According to Varoga, what his group found was that many people hadn't heard of the Kochs, but that once informed of them and their preferred policies the reaction was sharply negative. "When citizens learn how much they're spending and what they support, they're appalled," he says.

Phillip Ellender, a Koch Industries spokesman, said in an statement that the Patriot Majority ads are dishonest and an "attempt to shut down free speech":

Rather than run on their record and engage in a principled discussion about the critical issues facing Americans today, the president's allies instead choose to attack and demonize private citizens and job creators who disagree with them on the direction this country is going. The ads are dishonest and at odds with some of this country's most cherished values—that Americans have a First Amendment right to challenge politicians and that voters make up their own minds about competing ideas. This attempt to shut down free speech should be troubling to all Americans. Koch has a long history of standing firm for the principles of economic freedom and we will continue to do so, in spite of the ongoing attacks.

The Kochs, with their exclusive donor retreats and pro-business ideology, have built one of the largest big-dollar donor networks in American politics. The $400 million to be reportedly deployed by the Koch network this election cycle will fund a web of nonprofit groups buying ads and mobilizing voters around the country. Americans for Prosperity, founded and partly funded by David Koch, plans to hammer Obama with $25 million in TV ads this fall calling for the president's removal while also registering voters in battleground states such as Florida.

As Mother Jones reported last year, the Kochs have made it their mission to boot Obama out of the White House in November, and have pledged to deploy the millions raised through their network as effectively as possible. "We've had a lot of tough battles," Charles Koch told attendees of a 2011 donor retreat. "We've lost a lot over the years, and we've won some recently...And I pledge to all of you who've stepped forward and are partnering with us that we are absolutely going to do our utmost to invest this money wisely and get the best possible payoff for you in the future of our country."

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

Tue Aug. 21, 2012 10:06 AM EDT

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, aboard a CH-47 traveling from Bagram to Kabul, Afghanistan, for meeting with ISAF, CENTCOM, State Dept. and Afghanistan military leadership, August 20, 2012. DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen.

The "Japanese Radical Cat" Who Spied on the Panthers for the FBI

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 5:01 AM EDT

Richard Aoki California WatchRichard Aoki at a 1968 Black Panthers rally California WatchThe Center for Investigative Reporting has a fascinating new story about Richard Aoki, a '60s Berkeley activist who joined the Black Panthers, helped arm the militant group, and became known as a fierce radical—all while working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This revelation has upended the reputation of the man Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale praised as "a Japanese radical cat." It also adds another chapter to the FBI's long history of using undercover informants to surveil extremists, both real and imagined.

An FBI agent first recruited Aoki in the late 1950s and asked him to gather information on various leftist groups. "The activities that he got involved in was because of us using him as an informant," his original FBI handler told reporter Seth Rosenfeld. Aoki went on to report on the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Young Socialist Alliance, and the Vietnam Day Committee before joining the Black Panthers in 1967.

He became the organization's most prominent nonblack member and was named "Field Marshall at large." Yet as informant "T-2," Aoki was secretly reporting on its activities. His career as an FBI asset is recorded in documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. Rosenfeld told me that the documents do not mention whether the Feds asked Aoki to join the Panthers.  

Aoki also helped arm the Panthers. None of Rosenfeld's FBI reports mention that Aoki gave weapons to the group, so it's not clear if he did so with the agency's knowlege or blessing. In his memoir, Seale recalled that he and fellow Panther Huey Newton had prodded Aoki to give them guns from his personal collection: "We told him that if he was a real revolutionary he better go on and give them up to us because we needed them now to begin educating the people to wage a revolutionary struggle. So he gave us an M-1 and a 9mm." Either way, Aoki later took credit for contributing to "the military slant to the organization's public image"—an image that, Rosenfeld writes, eventually "contributed to fatal confrontations between the Panthers and the police."