Mojo - January 2013

Mississippi and the State of Abortion 40 Years After Roe

| Tue Jan. 22, 2013 1:54 PM EST

Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion throughout the United States. To mark the date, we've posted my dispatch from Jackson, Mississippi, where women may soon be unable to exercise the right Roe v. Wade guaranteed them, because the state is threatening to close its last abortion clinic.

Last April, Mississippi passed a new law requiring all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The two doctors that provide abortions at JWHO live out of state and don't have those admitting privileges, although the clinic already has a relationship with a local obstetrician who can admit women to the hospital in case of an emergency. When the law passed, the clinic knew it would not be able to comply. The local hospitals in this largely anti-abortion state refused to grant admitting privileges to abortion providers. A judge gave the clinic until mid-January to apply, but, as expected, no hospital would grant the privileges.

This was, I should note, the point of the law. Upon signing the legislation, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant called it "the first step in a movement, I believe, to do what we campaigned on—to say that we're going to try to end abortion in Mississippi."

Now Jackson Women's Health Organization could be closed very soon. Last week, the Health Department completed its inspection and determined the clinic is not complying with the new law. This was expected; the clinic's legal representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a motion asking the court to block enforcement of the law because it could not comply. The inspection begins the legal process to revoke the clinic's license, but actually doing so will take until the first week of March, according to the clinic's lawyers. The clinic is briefing the judge later this week, and expects that there will be a hearing or some sort of decision before March.

The goal in highlighting the Jackson Women's Health Organization is to illustrate the state of abortion care 40 years after Roe. Mississippi is the most extreme example of a state where lawmakers have introduced restriction after restriction in the past decades, pushing providers to the point where they have one clinic and zero in-state abortion providers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the state has the lowest abortion rate in the country.

Many people will say, "Oh yeah, well, it's Mississippi, what do you expect?" But there are other states that aren't too far away from this reality. Both North and South Dakota are also down to one clinic and zero in-state providers. The number of abortion providers in the country has declined 38 percent from its peak in 1982, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. Meanwhile, states have passed a record number of new abortion restrictions in the past two years: 92 new laws in 2011 and 43 in 2012. So although many women may have the right to access abortion, the actual opportunity to do so is becoming harder to come by.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Poll: Record High Support For Legal Abortion in the US

| Tue Jan. 22, 2013 1:39 PM EST

A record-high 70 percent of Americans now oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that affirmed a limited consitutional right to abortion, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. And for the first time since the Journal and NBC started asking this question in 2003, a majority of the country believes abortion should be legal in all or most cases:

A simple explanation:

The shift is mostly the result of more Democrats backing the decision—particularly Hispanics and African-Americans—and a slight uptick in support from Republicans.

But the poll showed a consistent tension in Americans' attitudes toward the decision. Almost seven in 10 respondents say there are at least some circumstances in which they don't support abortion.

The news of Roe's newfound support comes on a big day—the milestone abortion-rights ruling had its 40th anniversary on Tuesday. The decision last saw its highest levels of support during the early '90s—around the same time the Supreme Court issued the 1992 ruling Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed the constitutionality of certain restrictions on abortion access.

MoJo editor Mike Mechanic has a good round-up of handy infographics from the Guttmacher Institute. Here's one that demonstrates the challenges women still face in trying to gain access to safe, legal abortion in the US:

guttmacher infographic barriers abortion us

And here's one on how abortions in this country have become concentrated primarily among the poor:

guttmacher infographic abortion concentrated among poor women

For more, click here and here.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 22, 2013

Tue Jan. 22, 2013 12:44 PM EST

U.S. Army Soldier from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division pulls security next to a M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle during Decisive Action rotation 13-03 on Jan. 19, 2013 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric M. Garland II.

Obama's Second Inaugural Address: Watch Here

Mon Jan. 21, 2013 1:51 PM EST

President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address on Monday. You can watch it here:

Click here for analysis from David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief. The full text of the speech, as delivered, is below.

Yup, Ashley Judd Sounds Like She's Running for Something

| Sun Jan. 20, 2013 5:07 PM EST
Actress Ashley Judd and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

The surest sign yet that Ashley Judd might actually run for Senate? She's starting to talk like she might actually run for Senate. On Saturday, the actress and activist told guests at the Bluegrass Ball in Washington, DC that she was "certainly taking a close look" at challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2014. She didn't, however, answer a Politico reporter's question about gun control legislation—a subject that other red-state Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Montana Sen. Max Baucus have also avoided. So on Sunday, I put the question to her again at a brunch reception for EMILY's List, the organization dedicated to support pro-choice female Democratic candidates.

Judd didn't take the bait: "I really enjoyed—I was very proud of the Vice President's role on that," she said. "I liked the consultation and the full voice of people across the spectrum of opinions and ideology about it. I thought focusing in particular on video game creators was important. And I hope that there will be buy-in."

Thus concluded the Mother Jones Ashley Judd interview. Of course, the biggest hint that Judd is seriously considering a run might just be how she exited the brunch EMILY's List brunch—carpooling with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.):

2014 should be fun.

Vets, PTSD, and Kids: A Google+ Hangout with Mac McClelland and Military Moms [VIDEO]

Fri Jan. 18, 2013 6:13 PM EST

For her story on how PTSD affects the wives and children of returning vets, Mac McClelland spent countless hours with military moms Brannan Vines and Kateri Peterson. This morning, the three of them sat down again—online this time—to answer reader questions in a Google+ hangout. The complete conversation, hosted by our multimedia producer Brett Brownell, is below.

Read or listen to the magazine story read by Mac herself.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The 9/11 Trials Could Drag on for Years

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 4:37 PM EST
A detainee at Gitmo tosses a soccer ball.

The Defense Department on Friday refused prosecutors' request to drop conspiracy from the list of charges facing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendents, a decision that could drag the entire process out for years. 

Prosecutors at Guantanamo Bay wanted to drop the conspiracy charges because there's a good chance those charges will be thrown out if the 9/11 defendants are convicted and appeal. Last October, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former limo driver, who had been the first Gitmo detainee to be tried and convicted by military commission. The opinion, written by a conservative judge appointed by George W. Bush, strongly suggested that charging terror suspects with conspiracy in military commissions is unconstitutional if the conspiracy occurred before Congress made conspiracy a war crime. The Constitution forbids ex post facto (after the fact) prosecutions—that is, trying people for acts that were not crimes when they were committed. The laws governing military commissions trials were passed after the 9/11 attacks. "The Court of Appeals had it absolutely right that military commissions cannot try defendants for conduct that is not a war crime," says ACLU attorney Zachary Katznelson. 

The Department of Defense released a statement Thursday saying that "dismissal at this time would be premature, as the viability of conspiracy as a chargeable offense in trials by military commission is still pending appellate review." That's true, but if the appeals court decision survives, and the 9/11 defendants are convicted anyway, they could easily appeal the verdict, even possibly securing a new trial, explains Andrea Prasow, a former defense counsel for Hamdan now with Human Rights Watch. "That would mean many more years of litigation," she says. "The victims of 9/11 have already waited more than 11 years for justice—they shouldn't have to wait another decade to achieve some finality."

None of this would have been a problem if the alleged 9/11 conspirators had been tried in civilian court, where there's no dispute over the legitimacy of conspiracy charges in terrorism cases.

An Inauguration Highlight Made in China

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 1:29 PM EST

Inaugurations bring out the hokey in the nation's capital. Every day, the planners of the inauguration announce an official inauguration this or that: The official menu of the inauguration lunch, the official inauguration gifts of the American public to the president and vice president, and so on. There is much self-congratulatory celebration about US democracy, some justified, some perhaps a tad over-the-top. But one highlight of this days-long PrezFest is happening at night, just a few blocks from the Capitol steps where President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term on Monday. At the Newseum, the work of Ai Weiwei, the politically-minded Chinese artist (and dissident), is being projected onto the exterior of the museum, atop its permanent ten-story-high rendition of the First Amendment.

The art of Ai Weiwei, who helped design the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is currently being featured in a marvelous and provocative retrospective at the Hirshhorn museum on the National Mall. With his art—sculpture, photography, and other media—Ai Weiwei has operated as a sharp social and political critic, often examining the abuse of power in China and elsewhere. As a payback, he has been detained, roughed up, and placed under surveillance by Chinese authorities—which has motivated him to produce more compelling art. (The Chinese government prohibited him from attending the opening of this exhibit in Washington.) "I'm just an undercover artist in the disguise of a dissident," he says.

Well, this undercover artist, who maintains that artists ought to challenge "the will of the times," has a featured spot in the run-up to this celebration of the American political system.

 
 

Will Conservative Media Give the GOP Cover to Make A Deal on Immigration?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 1:00 PM EST

After non-white Americans voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the 2012 election, prominent conservative pundits like Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer began signalling a willingness to shift on immigration reform. At the time, Republicans were still sitting shiva for Mitt Romney's campaign, so it's possible all the talk of compromise was just post-election despair. But the right wing media's reaction to Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio's new immigration proposal—a plan that resembles the one put forth by the White House—suggests conservatives may really be changing their tune on immigration reform.

As Rubio elaborated on his pitch for immigration reform, which would include a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already in the US, to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly Wednesday, O'Reilly listened and said "that seems pretty fair." Likewise, when Rubio showed up on Laura Ingraham's show Wednesday, Ingraham sought to put distance between Rubio and the White House saying, that "Obama’s going to seek citizenship in one fast push," whereas Rubio's plan would be more "piecemeal." (Ingraham's wrong: How long any undocumented immigrant would have to wait for citizenship under either plan actually remains undetermined.) Meanwhile, Rubio, in both instances, said he didn't really know where the White House stood on the issue. Rubio also appeared on Sean Hannity's radio show Thursday, and Hannity called Rubio's immigration plan "the most thoughtful bill I have heard heretofore."

Here's why this is important: When George W. Bush sought to pass immigration reform, his plan was killed by the GOP base, who had been whipped up by conservative media and talk radio. Hannity himself was key to the effort. With some exceptions, conservative media seems more inclined to cover for Rubio this time around. That could all change pretty quickly, but given how much influence Fox News and talk radio have on the conservative base (remember when they convinced Republicans Mitt Romney was on the verge of a landslide victory?), how the right-wing media approach this issue could determine whether immigration reform actually has a chance of passing. For the moment, conservative pundits are playing up a distance between Rubio's proposal and the Democrats that doesn't really exist. That could make a potential compromise seem more palatable to the Republican base. "Why do I think regardless of what you propose that would solve the problem Democrats are going to demagogue it?" Hannity asked Rubio Thursday. "Well, that may be the case," Rubio replied solemnly.

Immigration reform advocates have noticed—and are elated by—conservative media's new tone on immigration. "It shows the power of the messenger," says Frank Sharry, who runs the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice. "It's going to be hard for the right-wing echo chamber to get whipped up the way they did in 2007."

Contra Hannity, Democrats have already signalled they're willing to work with Rubio. "I expect that the Judiciary Committee will devote most of our time this Spring working to pass comprehensive immigration reform," Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) said during an appearance at the Georgetown University Law Center Wednesday. "I have a lot of respect for Marco Rubio," Leahy added. "We disagree on some things, but we agree on others, but I found him to be very open in his views and I'll seek that."

Rubio told Ingraham yesterday that "I'll work with anybody" on immigration reform. That claim will be tested in the next few months.

Post-Election, The Obama Machine Goes to the Dark (Money) Side

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 12:37 PM EST
Jim Messina managed Obama's 2012 campaign and will now lead Organizing for Action, a post-election nonprofit backing Obama's second-term agenda.

Barack Obama's 2012 campaign was the most technologically advanced political operation in American history, a techie's wet dream. The campaign, led by Jim Messina, amassed and distilled vast quantities of voter data, built apps and networks to mobilize voters and enlist volunteers, and practically perfected the science of email fundraising. Post-election, Messina and his lieutenants weren't about to let their data files, email lists, algorithms, and grassroots machine simply gather dust. Instead, they will soon launch Organizing for Action, a standalone advocacy group created to bolster Obama as he pursues his second-term agenda. Messina wrote in an email to donors and staffers that the new group "will be a supporter-driven organization, as we've always been, staying true to our core principles: 'respect, empower, include.'"

But there's a rub: Organizing for Action will be formed under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, and will not be required to disclose its donors. (The Los Angeles Times first reported this.) For context, Karl Rove's dark-money juggernaut, Crossroads GPS, is a 501(c)(4), as is the Koch-backed national conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The decision to make Organizing for Action a dark-money nonprofit makes sense strategy-wise: as a nonprofit the new group can meet and coordinate with members of the Obama White House, which it couldn't do as a super-PAC. But the decision flies in the face of Obama and the Democrats' supposed commitment to transparency. 

Obama has pledged to make his administration the most transparent in history. His reelection campaign also took steps to be open to the public, including the admirable move of disclosing all its super-fundraisers, or "bundlers," each quarter, which it didn't have to do. (Mitt Romney's campaign did not name its bundlers.) But going the dark-money route leaves Organizing for America vulnerable to criticism. "It's the right vehicle from a legal perspective, but it is breathtakingly hypocritical," says Charles Spies, a Republican lawyer who ran the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future.

The new group will be used to mobilize Obama supporters around the key issues of Obama's second term in office. Those issues include battles over raising the debt ceiling, gun control, and immigration reform. Alums of Obama's 2008 campaign launched a similar post-election effort called Organizing for America, but it had little impact, especially on the defining policy fight of Obama's first term, health-care reform.

Organizing for Action, the post-2012 project, will accept individual and corporate contributions, according to the Associated Press, but not money from lobbyists or political action committees. (That said, Team Obama has found ways to sidestep earlier restrictions on interacting with lobbyists.) The new group, which will be separate from the Democratic National Committee, claims it will voluntarily disclose its donors even though it is not legally required to do so.

That's well and good—if it follows through with the disclosure pledge. But even then, Organizing for Action will be far less transparent than a super-PAC. Super-PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, but they must disclose all donations and all spending in a timely way. The type of nonprofit Organizing for Action wants to become is not required to disclose its spending in a timely way—it will detail its spending in IRS filings made available many months after the fact. And it's unclear how often the group will release the names of its donors. Monthly? Quarterly? Annually?

Organizing for Action could, if it wanted, go above and beyond what the law requires by disclosing its donors and spending in real time. For now, it remains to be seen whether the new group will live up to the president's transparency promises.