Mojo - 2013...nd-your-ground

Alabama Rep. McClurkin: Abortion Removes the "Largest Organ" in a Woman's Body

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 4:13 PM EST

Update, 9:15 p.m.: The Alabama House of Representatives passed the bill by a 73-23 vote. It now moves to the Senate.

The Alabama House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill that would place heavy restrictions on abortion in the state because, according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R), "when a physician removes a child from a woman, that's the largest organ in a body."

The bill would place a host of regulations on Alabama's five abortion clinics. The Montgomery Advertiser reports:

The legislation [...] would require physicians at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals; require clinics to follow ambulatory clinic building codes and make it a felony — punishable by up to 10 years in prison — for a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to dispense abortion-inducing medications.

The requirement that all doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital is the same rule that is currently threatening Mississippi's last abortion clinic. Hospitals are not required to grant doctors admitting privileges, so if local hospitals chose not to allow doctors to admit patients, abortion providers will not be able to comply with the law. That is exactly what has happened in Mississippi. (Currently, the clinic in Mississippi is open while it awaits a hearing with the state health department.)

"That's a big surgery. You don’t have any other organs in your body that are bigger than that," McClurkin told The Montgomery Advertiser. Nevermind that the liver, the second-largest organ after the skin, is about the size of a football and larger than a first- or second-trimester fetus: McClurkin's assertion that the fetus is an organ contradicts the idea of fetal personhood, a favorite Republican rationale for banning abortion. Organs are not people. That makes McClurkin's comment possibly the most creative excuse for throttling abortion clinics in a while.

"Her comments alone prove the intent of the bill," says Nikema Williams, a vice president at Planned Parenthood Southeast. Williams says the bill is  "designed to close down all of the abortion providers in the state of Alabama." The House of Representatives will vote on the bill Tuesday afternoon, Williams says.

 

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GOP Governor to Karl Rove: Take a Hike

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 1:53 PM EST
Karl Rove.

Karl Rove, the Republican political whiz, is still grappling with blowback from the unveiling of his latest venture, the Conservative Victory Fund. A combination super-PAC and dark-money nonprofit, the Fund will spend millions on advertising in contests where Republicans believe they only have a shot at winning the November general election if the right candidate emerges from the GOP primary. In other words, Rove wants to prevent future Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks.

The latest Republican to join the Rove haters is Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who over the weekend said he'd ripped Rove and the Conservative Victory Fund in a recent phone call with the strategist. "I basically told Karl Rove that what he was doing is counter-productive and he needs to stay out of it," Branstad told the Associated Press.

Rove and his new venture have driven a wedge between establishment Republicans and the ascendant conservative wing of the GOP. Matt Kibbe, the president of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, recently described the furor over the new Rove super-PAC as "a little bit like gang warfare." One tea party leader, Jenny Beth Martin, told the Hill she considered Rove's new outfit a direct challenge to the tea party, adding that hard-line conservatives like herself are "ready to rise to the challenge."

The 2014 primaries are more than a year away, but already the Conservative Victory Fund is eyeing races in Iowa, Georgia, and West Virginia. But Branstad, the Iowa governor, says Rove and his allies have their strategy all wrong. Branstad favors a more "diplomatic" approach (he declined to say what that entailed—a friendly game of Oujia, perhaps?) to ensuring that Republicans who win primary elections can also win in November. From the AP's story:

But the targeted effort conflicts with a more diplomatic approach favored by Branstad and other mainstream Republicans wary of offending important officeholders and factions. Branstad, who is influential as the five-term governor of a political swing state that hosts the first nominating contest of each presidential campaign, was especially inflamed by indications the Rove organization would target Iowa arch-conservative Rep. Steve King if he tried to run for the state's open Senate seat in 2014.

There is similar tension about Republican candidates in West Virginia, where the GOP hopes to pick up a seat long held by Democrats, and in Georgia, where Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss' retirement has set off an internal fight between hard-right conservatives and the GOP establishment.

Branstad, in an interview with the Associated Press, said Rove's plan to use fundraising and negative advertising against suspect Republicans was "a mistake."

"If some outside group that has no connection to Iowa attacks somebody from Iowa, that is not smart," Branstad said.

In the weeks after Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin announced his retirement, Branstad has used private breakfasts with King and his House colleague Tom Latham to discuss who would be the strongest contender for seat, which has been held by Democrats for more than 30 years.

The Rove v. Tea Party story, needless to say, has quite a ways to go.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 19, 2013

Tue Feb. 19, 2013 12:06 PM EST

Artillerymen with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team prepare to hook up an M119A2 105mm howitzer to a UH60 Black Hawk helicopter during air assault training Feb. 8, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

 

Georgia Man With IQ of 70 Granted Stay of Execution (UPDATED)

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 7:47 AM EST

Update, 4:18 p.m.: The Georgia supreme court has denied Warren Hill's motion for a stay of execution.

Update, 6:44 p.m.: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Warren Hill a stay of execution, according to his lawyers.

Update, 2/20/2012: Here's the order from the 11th Circuit. The Georgia court of appeals also issued a stay, due to complications surrounding the state's recent switch from a lethal-injection "cocktail" to a single drug.

Warren Hill has an IQ of 70 and placed in the third percentile on his middle-school standardized test. Doctors have found him to be "mildly mentally retarded." But even though the US Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that executing the mentally handicapped is unconstitutional, Hill will be put to death today, barring a late intervention by the courts.

In 1989, while serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend, Hill was given the death penalty for murdering his cellmate with a wooden board.  Georgia had outlawed the death penalty for the mentally handicapped by then, but the state mandated that defendants prove their handicap "beyond a reasonable doubt"—putting the burden of proof, in other words, on the disabled defendant.

Hill's appeal rests mostly on a single compelling point: The team of state doctors who originally concluded he qualified for capital punishment has completely reversed itself, citing their own inexperience (one of them had never evaluated a patient for mental retardation before) and advances in the field. As one member of the team, Dr. Thomas Sachy, put it in Hill's application for a sentence commutation:

The totality of evidence shows that far from "malingering a cognitive disorder," Mr. Hill has had a cognitive disorder with adaptive skill deficits since early childhood. He consistently tested in the 2-3 percentile in childhood achievement and intelligence testing, consistent with mild mental retardation. There was no dispute in 2000 among the clinicians who had evaluated Mr. Hill that he has an IQ of approximately 70. There is also evidence of significant deficits in such areas of his functioning as self-care, functional academics, interpersonal skills, and home living since prior to age 18.

Among the arguments in favor of qualifying Hill for the death penalty were a set of letters he had written from prison to his lawyer and family members, which seemed to demonstrate a higher level of mental competence than he'd shown in his examination. But doctors now believe those letters were written by someone else.

Georgia isn't the only state that has found its way around Atkins v. Virginia, the 2002 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally handicapped violates the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In August, Texas executed Marvin Wilson, who sucked his thumb into adulthood and couldn't tell the difference between left and right, on the basis of mental competence guidelines that were inspired by the John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men.

Hill's execution had originally been scheduled for last August but was stayed by the state Supreme Court—not because of his mental capacity, but because of questions about the lethal injection drug the state was using. It is now set for 7 p.m. tonight.

Can Police Be Trusted With Drones?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 7:02 AM EST
The Aeryon Scout unmanned drone.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern wants to buy a surveillance drone, or, as he prefers to call it, a "small Unmanned Aerial System." At a meeting before the county's Board of Supervisors last week, he claimed that he'd only use the drone for felony cases, not to spy on people or monitor political activists. But a few minutes later he'd seemed to change his mind, adding: "I don't want to lock myself into just felonies."

Catcalls and hisses erupted from a crowd of some 100 anti-drone activists. One man later called the proposal "an assault on my community."

Around the country, a small but growing number of localities are considering the use of domestic drones—aircraft that are smaller, lighter, and cheaper (though not much less controversial) than what the military uses in Afghanistan. Police departments could outfit drones with infrared sensors that see through walls, with facial recognition software, or with technology that intercepts calls and emails. Yet the the federal government doesn't do much to regulate how drones can use such technologies to collect information on private citizens.

Charts: The Staggering Cost of Death Row for California Taxpayers

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 7:02 AM EST

I recently came across an ambitious infographic created by the California Innocence Project following the failure of state Proposition 34, which, had it passed last November, would have abolished the death penalty in California. Voters weren't quite ready to go there—they rejected Prop. 34 by a 52-48 margin. Yet nearly 6 million Californians voted to do away with capital punishment, the administration of which has been fraught with problems, and which has huge budget implications in a state struggling mightily to fund essentials like public education.

The infographic is worth revisiting in light of California's policy on capital punishment remaining status quo. The Innocence Project, a program of California Western Law School that aims to identify wrongfully convicted prisoners and work toward their release, presents the facts here as they apply to California, whose death row population even dwarfs that of Texas. (Although Texas executes more people by far than any other state.) The numbers are stark, to say the least:

What sentencing people to death costs California taxpayers:

How much more it costs to keep someone on death row:

How much Californians pay per execution, and how long it takes:

The number of people California sentences to death:

The skewed racial makeup of the condemned:

The relative size of California's death row population:

The number of people wrongfully sentenced to death in California and elsewhere—that we know of…

…in many cases because of racism, incompetence, and/or official misconduct:

There's even more interesting stuff in the original infographic, which you can view or download from the California Innocence Project's website.

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Insist That People Coexisted With Dinosaurs…and Get an A in Science Class!

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 7:02 AM EST

A T-Rex, Oklahoma, and the unfortunate fate of Charles Darwin.

UPDATE: On February 19, HB1674 passed through the Oklahoma Common Education committee on a 9-8 vote. On March 14, the bill died in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, according to the National Center for Science Education.

In biology class, public school students can't generally argue that dinosaurs and people ran around Earth at the same time, at least not without risking a big fat F. But that could soon change for kids in Oklahoma: On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Common Education committee is expected to consider a House bill that would forbid teachers from penalizing students who turn in papers attempting to debunk almost universally accepted scientific theories such as biological evolution and anthropogenic (human-driven) climate change.

Gus Blackwell, the Republican state representative who introduced the bill, insists that his legislation has nothing to do with religion; it simply encourages scientific exploration. "I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks," says Blackwell, who previously spent 20 years working for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "A student has the freedom to write a paper that points out that highly complex life may not be explained by chance mutations."

These bills are "a kind of code for people who are opposed to teaching climate change and evolution."

Stated another way, students could make untestable, faith-based claims in science classes without fear of receiving a poor mark.

HB 1674 is the latest in an ongoing series of "academic freedom" bills aimed at watering down the teaching of science on highly charged topics. Instead of requiring that teachers and textbooks include creationism—see the bill proposed by Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin—HB 1674's crafters say it merely encourages teachers and students to question, as the bill puts it, the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that "cause controversy," including "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

Celebrating Our Metrosexual, Baby-Kissing, Gun-Toting Presidents

| Mon Feb. 18, 2013 7:11 AM EST

Happy Presidents' Day! Why not celebrate by browsing MoJo's archives of presidential-themed photos, music, and trivia? 


Q: Which president suffered from severe sleep apnea and was known for falling asleep in public?

A: Find out the answer when you take our quiz about our sickest* presidents. (*Sick as in ill, that is.)


Q: Which president owned Jesse James' original pistols?

A: See these 13 photos of presidents holding guns.


Q: Which less-than-cuddly president is thought to have invented the tradition of politicians kissing unsuspecting babies?

A: Read up on the history of presidential child-smooching.


Q: Which presidents were name checked in a song by They Might Be Giants?

A: Listen to the answer in this musical roundup of 44 songs for 44 presidents.


Q: Which president's tax returns revealed a $60 dividend from a frozen yogurt chain?

A: Search for frozen assets in this review of presidential tax forms.


Q: Which fashion-conscious future president was once called "Jane-Dandy" and "Oscar Wilde" by his colleagues?

A: Dig the most metrosexual presidents of all time.


Q: Which recent president has inspired thousands of Americans to name their baby girls after him?

A: Check out these charts on baby names honoring presidents (and Sarah Palin).


Bonus: See if you can make it through this video without experiencing motion sickness.

Mother Jones' David Corn Wins George Polk Award

| Mon Feb. 18, 2013 1:02 AM EST

How is MoJo Washington Bureau Chief David Corn like Edward R. Murrow, Carl Bernstein, David Halberstam, Gay Talese, Fred Friendly, I.F. Stone, and Walter Cronkite? So many ways really, but the most notable today is that they have all won a George Polk Award, one of the most prestigious honors in journalism. Corn is the winner in the political reporting category for the 47 percent story—his revelation of a video documenting Mitt Romney's remarks at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans were "dependent upon the government" and would never "take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

The Polk award, established in 1949 to honor a CBS correspondent murdered while covering the Greek Civil War, is given each year by Long Island University; this year's announcement commends Corn for the "years of high-impact journalism that helped lead him to the source of the recording," and for the "persistent digging and careful negotiation" that made the story possible. Other winners include the staff of Bloomberg News and the New York Times' David Barboza for uncovering corruption among China's elite; a team of McClatchy correspondents (including former MoJo contributor David Enders) covering the war in Syria; Sarah Stillman for her New Yorker piece on teen informants; Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch for a story on abuses in state clinics for the disabled; and the Frontline team behind the documentary "Money, Power, and Wall Street." For David and all of us at Mother Jones, it's a capstone for an amazing year and thrilling recognition for a project that has been widely credited with changing the course of the campaign.

Here's Why Obama Won't Say Whether He Can Kill You With a Drone: Because He Probably Can

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 5:38 PM EST

During a Google+ "Fireside Hangout" Thursday evening, President Barack Obama was asked if he believed he has the authority to authorize a drone strike against an American citizen on US soil.

He didn't exactly answer the question.

The Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko transcribed the whole exchange. Lee Doren, a conservative activist, asked the question; here's Obama's answer:

First of all, I think, there’s never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside the United States. The rules outside the United States are going to be different then the rules inside the United States. In part because our capacity to, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different then in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we've done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I am going to have to work with congress on is to make sure that whatever it is we’re providing congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are. And that is something that I take very seriously. I am not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.

Doren isn't the only one who wants an answer to this question. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has placed a hold on John Brennan, Obama's nominee for CIA director, "until [Brennan] answers the question of whether or not the President can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on U.S. soil." Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) posed that exact question to Brennan in a written questionnaire, but his answer was as opaque as Obama's. "This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so," Brennan wrote. 

So why didn't Obama just say, "no, the president cannot deploy drone strikes against US citizens on American soil"? Because the answer is probably "yes." That may not be as apocalyptically sinister as it sounds.

"Certainly, we routinely 'targeted' U.S. citizens during the Civil War," says Steve Vladeck, a law professor at American University's Washington College of Law. "Even if the targeting was with imprecise 19th-century artillery as opposed to 21st-century [unmanned arial vehicles]." If he had the technology, President Abraham Lincoln would most likely have been within his authority to send a drone to vaporize Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Drone strikes in the modern context, however, aren't being used against uniformed commanders of a traditional military force. Instead, we're talking about strikes that target individuals suspected of being part of terrorist organizations where "membership" is an inherently more nebulous concept. 

There are two government agencies known to conduct drone strikes, the CIA and the Department of Defense. CIA involvement in a domestic drone strike is probably off-limits, says Paul Pillar, a former CIA official who is now a professor at Georgetown University. The idea is really far-fetched anyway, Pillar argues. "I expect that if the CIA were to do anything like that within the U.S. it probably would violate some of the legal restrictions that are placed on all of the agency's activities as far as inside-U.S. operations are concerned," Pillar wrote in an email to Mother Jones. "Nothing like this is ever going to arise as far as drone strikes are concerned, so I don't see it as a live issue."

Since the CIA is probably out, that leaves the military. Congress has long held that the president has the authority to use the military domestically in some circumstances. The Posse Comitatus Act, passed after Reconstruction to limit the use of military force on US soil, states that the military can be used to enforce the law "in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress." The last time this happened was 1992 when, citing the Insurrection Act, President George H.W. Bush called out the National Guard to suppress the Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict.

According to US law, Congress can authorize the use of the military inside the US. The question is whether the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, counts as "express authorization" to carry out a targeted killing on US soil. The Obama administration stated in its white paper explaining its legal authority to kill US citizens abroad that capturing a suspected terrorist should be "infeasible" before a strike is authorized. But "the government's going to have a devil of a time proving that capture is infeasible for any individual found within the territorial United States," Vladeck says. And there's no reason to believe that local or state authorities, or if necessary the FBI, wouldn't be left to handle a situation involving suspected terrorists. (Local police dropped a bomb during an armed standoff with the radical group MOVE in Philadelphia in 1985, proving that civilian authorities can be just as lethal as the military.)

The law says military force can sometimes be used against people on American soil, such as if it were needed to fight an armed domestic insurgency. But we still don't know how broad the Obama administration thinks that authority is. Less than a week before President George W. Bush left office, the Justice Department withdrew a series of memos written by torture memo author John Yoo that envisioned near-dictatorial authority for the president, including the authority to deploy military force against terrorism suspects inside the US. Yoo had basically given Bush the executive branch equivalent of the Konami Code

The Bush Justice Department argued that Yoo's theories should no longer "be treated as authoritative for any purpose." The question is whether the Obama administration has envisioned similar authority for itself. The answer to that question lies in the classified documents explaining the Obama administration's legal rationale for the targeted killing program—documents that the Obama administration has so far refused to fully disclose to Congress, let alone release to the public.