Mojo - January 2013

Happy Birthday to Roe v. Wade—What's Left of It

| Wed Jan. 16, 2013 4:06 AM PST

The Guttmacher Institute has released some handy infographics for the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which made abortion legal nationwide and sparked a relentless campaign by religious conservatives to chip away at a women's ability to obtain one. Consider, for example, Kate Sheppard's recent profile of Americans United for Life, the anti-abortion group perhaps most responsible for a barrage of new state laws that have thrown up fresh obstacles for women seeking an abortion. Next slide, please.

 

Mother Jones has been way out front on the story of how the pro-life crowd has circumvented Roe v. Wade with a state-by-state approach. Sarah Blustain delivered this award-winning profile of pro-life lawyer Harold Cassidy, who has successfully promoted state-level legislation by arguing, counterintuitively, that abortion violates women's rights. These interactive maps of state abortion restrictions were quickly made obsolete thanks to a torrent of new legislation in 2011 and 2012 in Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi, Arizona, and many other states. So over the top were some of the laws passed or proposed during those two years that Democratic legislators responded with farcical bills—like a proposal requiring rectal exams for men seeking Viagra prescriptions. But these laws are no joke. Women in at least a couple of states—Kansas and Mississippi—faced losing access to abortion services simply because nearly all of the providers have been run out of town. As it stands, if you don't live near a population center (see above), you'll have to hit the road to find a clinic.

 

The question of who pays—both for abortion and birth control—was a huge issue during this past election year. Because politicians have failed to stand up to the pro-life crusade, most women have to cover the procedure themselves. If you're poor, tough. As Guttmacher notes above, federal Medicaid funds can only be used for abortions resulting from rape and incest, or if having the baby is likely to endanger your health—only 17 states will step in to help women on Medicaid pay for abortions. Birth control is more widely covered, but that still doesn't mean it's cheap (see our birth control calculator) or easy to get. And judging from the nutty rhetoric of the GOP and its candidates during this past election cycle, they would probably prefer that women go back to this method—or Lysol perhaps?

 

It's no surprise that women who live in poverty, and who tend to be less educated, would have more than their share of unwanted pregnancies. Yet they are the ones most profoundly affected by this bevy of new abortion restrictions. So maybe you don't have the $500 it's going to cost because Medicaid in most states cover most abortions. Or maybe you are stuck in the sort of shit job where you can't get time off without getting fired. Maybe you don't have a car to drive 50 miles to the nearest clinic. Guttmacher notes above that 7 in 10 low-income abortion patients wanted to terminate their pregnancy earlier than they did, but one way or another couldn't afford it. This past February, Virginia legislators even passed a bill that would have eliminated funding for poor women to abort a fetus with a "gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency." (It made it through the Virginia House and a state Senate committee before stalling.)

So, uh, happy anniversary! And be sure and keep an especially close watch on these five states in 2013.

Click here to browse all of our coverage related to reproductive health.

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JPMorgan Chase Gambles Away $6B, Gets "Slap on the Wrist"

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 3:33 PM PST

Federal banking regulators have decided it's a bad thing that JPMorgan Chase lost $6 billion on a risky bet last year and failed to close money-laundering loopholes. But that's pretty much all they've decided.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve ordered the bank Monday to fix risk-management failures that led to the massive loss on a trade out of its London office in May 2012, as well as tighten up monitoring of cash transactions that may have allowed suspected terrorists and drug dealers to launder money. But there will be no fines or hard penalties levied for the bank's failures.

Military Suicides in 2012 Hit Yet Another Record High

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 10:15 AM PST

Surely, one of the more depressing ledes to run this week:

Suicides in the U.S. military surged to a record 349 last year, far exceeding American combat deaths in Afghanistan, and some private experts are predicting the dark trend will worsen this year.

The figures are tentative, pending the completion of full reports on each case later this year. The number of US military suicides surpassed the number of combat deaths for the third time in four years. (For 2012, the Associated Press recorded 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan.) The previous record high was 310 suicides in 2009, after the rate began a disturbing upward trend starting in 2006.

A breakdown of the suicides among active-duty troops last year by service:

  • Army: 182
  • Marine Corps: 48
  • Air Force: 59
  • Navy: 60

According to the numbers released by the Pentagon, the suicide rate among active-duty military is still below that of the civilian population.

Here's the AP rundown of the Pentagon's analysis of military suicides in 2011:

Each year the Pentagon performs an in-depth study of the circumstances of each suicide. The most recent year for which that analysis is available is 2011, and among the findings was that those who took their own lives tended to be white men under the age of 25, in the junior enlisted ranks, with less than a college education.

The analysis of 2011's 301 military suicides also found that the suicide rate for divorced service members was 55 percent higher than for those who were married. It determined that 60 percent of military suicides were committed with the use of firearms - and in most cases the guns were personal weapons, not military-issued.

In 2009, the Army began developing required surveys for all new and current soldiers. The goal of the survey was to determine causes of the uptick in military suicides, and to learn how best to prevent suicides. The panel that developed the survey also launched the largest study of its kind: a $50 million, five-year study run by Army and the National Institutes of Mental Health. Professors from Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Columbia also sat on the panel of experts. A whole host of other studies—both private and backed by the government—are examining causes and prevention for military suicides. For instance, late last year, the Department of Defense announced a three-year, $10 million study, conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina, that tests whether fatty acids in fish oils can help cure the anxiety suffered by combat veterans, thus hopefully reducing the rising suicide rate.

The Department of Defense's toll-free military crisis number is 800-273-8255.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 15, 2013

Tue Jan. 15, 2013 9:42 AM PST
Marines and their instructor brace against the blast of a door charge, January 10.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Long.

Gun Lovers Freaking Out Over Price Gouging

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 7:09 AM PST

Since the elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, gun sales have soared as elected officials around the country contemplate new restrictions on gun ownership. Paranoid gun owners have rushed to stock up on guns they think will be banned. They've spread (unfounded) rumors that Walmart, the nation's largest gun retailer, is going to stop selling ammo. All of the panic has prompted something of a run on gun supplies.

The frenzy has been lucrative for the people who make and sell small arms and ammo, but those poor schmucks who just need more shells for the assault weapons they already own are suddenly discovering the dark side of capitalism. In a strange bit of irony, gun owners who helped fuel the post-Newtown surge in sales are now shocked to discover that they're being overcharged. Gun blogs and message boards are full of posts like "i got price gouged," wherein Blue Cow at the Indiana Gun Owners forum writes:

i went to Lens ammo shop on Michigan street in South Bend today. Three days ago a brick of 22LR (500 rounds) of blazer was $20. Today I go to Lens after work and said I would like a brick of 22LR, he went and got it, rang me up and said "That will be $35." I said "What? It was $20 three days ago!!!" Len said "That was last weeks prices, everybody else is gouging so I should make a buck doing it to." 

A California gun owner kvetched at Calguns.net that price gouging for ammo should be illegal:

The day I received my CheaperThanDirt catalog I called to place an order. I was interested in the loose 1,000 round case of Eagle .223 for $399.95. The sales rep answers with a price of $999.95. I let her know I'm looking at the catalog with the price of $399.95. With a very snooty and unsympathetic voice, she refers me to the right margin of page 57 which says they can change the price based on "market." If a hardware store charges $100 for a sheet of plywood in advance of a storm, they can be fined and/or jailed. Why is there not something to stop price gouging on ammo?

The complaints about price gouging, though, aren't getting an especially sympathetic response, especially from other gun owners. Many seem to take a dim view of anyone who actually pays such inflated prices. One person responding to Blue Cow in Indiana retorted, "All the whining about prices is getting old." The California poster got several economics lectures about supply and demand. "This is the United States, not the old Soviet Union. Price controls do not belong here," one poster replied. 

The price-gouging may have an upside, though not for the gun lovers: It might help keep sales in check—at least temporarily—while Congress gets around to thinking about thinking about considering an assault-weapon ban.

Glenn Beck's Fake City Is a Sign of Tea Party Irrelevance

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 4:01 AM PST
Glenn Beck wants to build his own theme park: Independence, USA.

Glenn Beck may not be a Fox News contributor anymore, but he's not content to be just another talking head on the AM dial either.

Beck, whose anti-Obama rhetoric leading up to the 2008 election landed him a job on Fox, and whose tearful pleas to Americans helped invigorate the Tea Party, isn't stopping at punditry. As MoJo's Tim Murphy reported last Friday, it appears the new gold-standard of conservative punditry is building your very own city-theme park hybrid, where Americans can learn all the values that make this country great except, one imagines, the value of organic communities.

Beck's grand planned commmunity will be called Independence, USA (if it's ever built) which is not quite as catchy as Freedom, USA, or America, USA, but we won't dock points for lack of creativity just yet.

Honestly, while this may be even sillier than the Free State Project, which was pretty unbelievably silly, the fact is Glenn Beck is in the news again after a long dry spell. That we're talking about him at all may mean he's already won this small battle. Like Sarah Palin before him, Beck is doing whatever he can to remain relevant in a post-Tea Party political climate.

Indeed, it's not looking good for the tri-corner hat industry. According to Rasmussen, only 8 percent of voters self-identify as Tea Party members now, down from a high of 24 percent in April 2010. Meanwhile 49 percent of voters view the Tea Party unfavorably, compared to a 30 percent favorability rating. And this is from Rasmussen, a polling outfit not exactly harsh on conservatives.

That's why Beck's latest scheme may have more relvelance than its pure entertainment value: It's a sign that the Tea Party is beginning to fade and the pundits who used to sing its praises are showing just how desparate they've become. When even Ann Coulter is chastising her fellow commentators about the rules of defeat, you know something is seriously shaky inside the far-right GOP's house of cards.

Meanwhile, powerful financiers at the RNC are starting to worry about the direction the party has taken, and popular Republican governors like Chris Christie are speaking out about the absurd failings of leadership in the Republican-controlled House. Beck's Independence project may be a joke, but it's just one more sign that the far right is in big trouble.

For my part, I say we encourage Beck to build it (thus fulfilling his desire for freedom) and then let him secede from the Union (allowing him to scratch that independence itch.) I could think of a worse fate for America than a few of our louder and more ridiculous pundits going Galt.

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Fox News Is Having an Ongoing Freakout Over Jack Lew's Signature

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 3:39 PM PST

What ever could this mean???

You've probably heard by now that Jack Lew—the wonky White House chief of staff and President Obama's pick for next Treasury secretary—has quite the funky signature.

So strangely fascinating, so acrobatically whorling is his signature (pictured above), that it has taken on a life of its own since the announcement of Lew's nomination—after all, Treasury secretaries' signatures tend to end up on American currency: Lew's now-famous John Hancock has already inspired a meme, the Jack Lew Signature Generator, a billow of snarky Tweets, a camp of people maligning the signature as terrible, a competing camp praising the signature as awesome, this gorgeous Reddit thread, and this joke from the president.

It also inspired a mild-to-moderate freakout from the people over at Fox News.

First, there was this on Friday:

From the piece by reporter Cristina Corbin: "Dianne Peterson, a handwriting expert based in Tennessee, agreed that the squiggly autograph shows Lew cares little about others' opinion of him."

And then this happened the next day:

That was an edition of Fox & Friends last Saturday morning in which Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson, Alisyn Camerota, and Mike Jerrick spent an entire segment interviewing Michelle Dresbold, the Pittsburgh handwriting expert and author of the 2006 book Sex, Lies, and Handwriting. (Dresbold is also known for trying to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper and concluding that he was an abortionist from Rochester, N.Y. She also weighed in on Casey Anthony's handwriting.) Here's a snapshot of their odd discussion:

Dresbold: [Jack Lew's signature is] repetitive, and what that means is the person is compulsive, they can't stop, their hand keeps repeating and repeating. So when [Lew] thinks about something, he thinks about it over and over and over again, and can never let go.

Jerrick: But because his signature's loopy, doesn't mean he's particularly loopy, does it? I mean...

Dresbold: It might, but I don't think he is...The thing you also want to notice is you absolutely cannot read anything in it, not one letter. And when you cannot read a signature it means that person does not want to give you any information about their personal life at all.

Jerrick: You can really read a person's personality by a signature?

Dresbold: Oh, definitely...

(Well, actually, no, no you can't, but whatever.)

Fox & Friends on Monday brought on bloviating ignoramus and reality-TV star Donald Trump, who also started talking about Signaturegate, and how Lew's signature showed the future Treasury secretary to be "unbelievably secretive":

Trump was kind enough to clarify later in the day with a Tweet:

In the recent past, Fox has had larger freakouts over things like The Lorax, a dog in a Christmas card, and the rabid leftism of Muppets. So there you go.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 14, 2013

Mon Jan. 14, 2013 9:25 AM PST
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Reginald L. Cole, assigned to Police Advisory Team 5, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, conducts a dismounted patrol while leaving Afghan Uniformed Police station Kwaji Jamal in Now Zad district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena.

Gun Group: We're Giving Away a Free Assault Rifle for Freedom!

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 9:19 AM PST

Most dangerous thing in our inbox this morning: the above promo from the Second Amendment group Georgia Gun Owners, which is giving away a free AR-15 assault rifle to one lucky member on February 7. You get a carbine! You get a carbine! You get a carbine! The AR-15 was the weapon used by gunman Adam Lanza in last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was also among the firearms included in the 1994 assault weapons ban (and subsequently legalized when the ban expired nine years ago). Per a press release, the GGO "hopes to alert, activate and mobilize gun owners in every corner of the state to oppose the Feinstein Gun Ban and others being touted in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere across the country." (The entry form adds: "Void where prohibited.")

In compliance with federal law, the lucky winner will be subjected to a background check—although the federal background check database is woefully incomplete. But the larger context, as the New York Times reported on Friday, is that rumors of impending gun control legislation are really the best thing that's happened to the firearms industry in a long time. Dealers across the country are running out of arms and ammunition, and background checks for new gun purchases—which tracks closely to overall gun sales—increased 58.6 percent in December 2012 compared to December 2011. As a gun seller in Des Moines, Iowa, told the Times: "If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week."

Half of Republicans in Congress Are Apparently Cool With America Defaulting

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 8:09 AM PST
House GOP Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

Fuming over a fiscal cliff deal devoid of big spending cuts, the Republican Party is cranking up the crazy talk by pledging anew to hold America hostage in the brewing fight over raising the nation's debt ceiling.

Politico quotes GOP leaders in Congress as saying that "more than half" of Republicans in Congress are willing to let America default "unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes." Still more Republicans are itching to shut down the federal government, a la Clinton and Gingrich in 1995-96, unless the president bows to their demands: Deep spending cuts to domestic programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, but none to military spending.

What's most jarring about the GOP's willingness to default or grind the government to a halt is how brazenly political the party's reasons are for doing it, per Politico:

House Speaker John Boehner "may need a shutdown just to get it out of [House Republicans'] system," said a top GOP leadership adviser. "We might need to do that for member-management purposes—so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting."

A default—or even a down-to-the-wire debt ceiling drama (see: 2011) that ends with a deal—has real economic consequences for working Americans. It could jack up interest rates on student loans, car loans, home loans, and credit card debt. It would increase borrowing costs for the government itself. And Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said that a default could torpedo the US economy's slow yet steady recovery

But in the minds of Congressional Republicans, those facts don't appear to outweigh the need to rebuke Obama. Nor does House Speaker John Boehner's desire to avoid a government default, according to Politico:

Boehner assumes he can ultimately talk members out of default, but he is so wounded and weakened from last month’s tax-hike battle that the speaker might very well be wrong. Obama assumes Republicans would never be so foolish as to put the economy at risk to win a spending fight. Conservatives say he’s definitely wrong on that score. They say he’s the foolish and reckless one for piling up $6 trillion in debt on his watch.

The coming spending fights make the Christmastime tax increase battle seem like child’s play. While everyone knew the tax drama would end with the rich paying more taxes, no one can telegraph how the coming spending fights will unfold. And the economic stakes are more dire.

"For too long, the pitch was, we'll deal with it next time," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). He said GOP lawmakers are prepared to shut things down or even default if Obama doesn’t bend on spending. "No one wants to default, but we are not going to continue to give the president a limitless credit card."

The administration, meanwhile, says it will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, and will not use gimmicks like a trillion-dollar coin to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government operating. So on one side Republicans stand ready to do real damage to the country to make a point and keep the voters back home happy; on the other side is the Obama White House, refusing to even negotiate a deal in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Buckle up, folks: It's going to be a turbulent month or two here in Washington.