Mojo - January 2013

Republicans Urge Party to Become More Open, Ignore Major Newspapers

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 11:53 AM EST
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Ted Cruz had some advice for House Republicans on Saturday: "Stop reading the New York Times."

Cruz, a freshman Republican senator from Texas, was at speaking at the National Review Institute Summit in Washington, a gathering hosted by a magazine that has dubbed him, at various points, the "Michael Phelps" of public speaking and "the next great conservative hope." For three days, Republican heavyweights, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, gathered to ruminate on what had gone wrong in November—and what the party can do to right the ship.

At times, the assembled conservative elites tried introspection. The New Republic's Alec MacGillis rounded up 10 such moments from the summit, including notable revelations suchs as "the financial collapse was kind of a big deal," "the voter-fraud bogeyman was a distraction," and "[l]iving without health insurance is a bummer." These are all true. There was even some self-flagellation: Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman turned MSNBC host, eviscerated GOPers for shunning empiciricism during the campaign and for embracing Wall Street. Scarborough wondered why not a single Republican presidential candidate came out in favor of "breaking up the banks." (For more on the intraparty wrestling match, see Slate's Dave Weigel.)

But calls for reform were often countered by a renewed quest for purity. There was Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular on Fox News, who called the idea of female soldiers serving in combat "literally nuts" (editor's note: not literally) and, channeling William F. Buckley, urged Republian senators to stand atop* the wall of history, shouting "Stop!" John Podhoretz of Commentary magazine spent time rehashing his grievances about Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke. The American Enterprise Institute's Michael Barone—speaking at an all-white panel called "Do Demographics Doom the Right?"—referred to the peculiar new breed of pro-Obama single women as "the Lena Dunham generation," a nod to the Girls creator who famously invented contraception.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an architect of the campaign against the Affordable Care Act and Obama's EPA, echoed Cruz's call to unsubscribe from the nation's top newspaper. Rep. Tom Cotton, a rising star from Arkansas, didn't urge attendees to unsubscribe from the Times, but perhaps only because he didn't need to, having previously called for its reporters to be thrown in prison. (Cotton also suggested his party didn't need to change its approach on gay rights, because the string of marriage equality successes in November were probably fleeting.)

Kristol and Podhoretz's comments, as well as Scarborough's tough critique, came at a panel called "What is wrong with the Right?" Thoughtful as the speakers were, the question seemed to answer itself. The five panelists (moderator Reihan Salam not included) were all white males—as was everyone who asked a question.

Then there was Cruz, who hammered Mitt Romney for his 47 percent remarks while asserting, as he has done regularly since the election, that the GOP needs to be "the party of the 47 percent"—not by embracing a new set of policies, but by changing its rhetoric. Even as the movement's elders wrestled openly with where the Republican party is headed, they offered a strikingly familiar road map.

So they beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into their gaffes.

*Update: I'm informed the word I was looking for here was "athwart."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 29, 2013

Tue Jan. 29, 2013 11:21 AM EST

U.S. Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tank provides suppressive fire against simulated insurgents during day 18 of the Integrated Training Exercise 13-1 at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, Calif., Jan 22, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephany Richards.

Boy Scouts May Allow Gay Members…Sort Of

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 8:17 PM EST

The Boy Scouts of America announced today that it will consider allowing troops to decide whether to admit gay members, an unprecedented move that comes after months of online protests, lost funders, and scouts renouncing their memberships. But even if the organization rules next week to drop their long-standing ban on gay scoutmasters and scouts, chartered organizations would still be allowed to discriminate if they choose to. As BSA director of public relations Deron Smith explained in a statement, "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents."

Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), says that the announcement is "a big accomplishment," as it's "the first time the Boy Scouts have said it is publicly considering changing the ban." But lifting the ban without prohibiting troops from discriminating might not go far enough, he adds. "We're not going to rest until every gay young adult out there is able to safely participate."

Nonetheless, since the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its ban on gay members last summer, the organization has seen at least four big funders pull or postpone their funding. Thousands of scouts have spoken out against the policy, and more than 1.2 million Americans have signed petitions against it, according to Scouts for Equality.

The Boy Scouts was also losing local leaders because of the policy. Just last week, Pack 442 in Cloverly, Maryland, was pressured by its regional council to take down an anti-discrimination statement or risk losing its charter. Theresa Phillips, the pack's committee chair, told Mother Jones that after they were forced to take the statement down, she asked for her name to be removed from the charter. Her husband, a den leader, had renounced his Eagle Scout award months before. "My family loved participating in scouting, and I look forward to the day when we might once again be able to take part," Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mom who was forced to stop leading her son's troop because she is gay, told GLAAD. Kate Brown, a former den leader in the Washington, DC, area, says that she took her two sons out of the program after she saw what happened to Tyrrell.

Advocates are optimistic that if the Boy Scouts' national leadership lifts the ban, troops like Brown's, Tyrrell's, and Phillips' will allow gay members and their families to openly participate. But just how many gay-friendly troops might emerge if the ban is rolled back? According to CNN, 70 percent of Scout troops are affiliated with a church or religious group, and the Catholic and Mormon churches are some of the Scouts' biggest backers. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Americans are against having openly gay adults serve as Boy Scout leaders. The conservative Family Research Council is encouraging scouts to "stand strong," asserting that rolling back the anti-gay policy "would be devastating to an organization that has prided itself on the development of character in boys."

Correction: An earlier version of this post used the terms "troops" and "packs" interchangeably. Packs are only used to describe units of the Cub Scouts, BSA's program for boys ages 7 to 10.

Sex Ed Program Provokes Fight Over Planned Parenthood in North Dakota

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 5:53 PM EST

Last year, a pair of researchers at North Dakota State University won a federal grant to conduct and evaluate a sex education program for at-risk teenagers with Planned Parenthood. But now the school is backing out of the grant, and critics say that political pressure from anti-abortion lawmakers is to blame.

NDSU professors Brandy Randall and Molly Secor-Turner won the three-year, $1.2 million competitive grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. The goal of the program—which NDSU announced in a press release last September—was to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in teens who are homeless, in foster care, or in the juvenile justice system. The school signed an agreement with Planned Parenthood in November to provide the services, which were expected to reach as many as 430 teens between the ages of 14 and 19. Planned Parenthood's office in Fargo would run the program, and the NDSU professors would evaluate its results. They had already started recruiting participants, and the program was slated to begin at the end of this month.

But in early January, anti-abortion activists in the state started complaining about the grant. "When I see something that says this is Planned Parenthoodthey’re not even a part of the state of North Dakota. They don't serve anyone in North Dakota, and they shouldn't be a part of North Dakota. They're not a part of how we do business in this state," said Rep. Bette Grande on a local radio show decrying the partnership: "It is an overt abortion industry that we don't want to be a part of." On Jan. 15, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said on a conservative talk radio show that the school had decided to block the funds, citing a "legal hang-up" that prevents the school from working with Planned Parenthood. 

As the local newspaper Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reports, NDSU now says that it is "freezing" the grant while it figures out if it violates a 1979 state law that bars state dollars, or federal dollars coming through the state, from being used "as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion." North Dakota Catholic Conference praised NDSU for making "the right decision," and it got glowing reviews in the anti-abortion outlet Life Site News.

The school's claims about legal concerns are specious, at best, say its critics. The 1979 law that the school cites deals with the actual provision of family planning care, like prescribing birth control or other medical services, which this grant is explicitly not designed to provide. It's an educational program. Moreover, Planned Parenthood doesn't even provide abortions or any medical services at all in North Dakota; its only office is in Fargo, and that office has advocacy, outreach, and education programs. Nor does the program have anything to do with what's being taught in public schools, as some anti-choice lawmakers have implied. It's outside of school, it's voluntary, and participating teenagers have to have the consent of their parent or guardian.

The decision to block the grant has also angered professors at NDSU, who see the move as politically-motivated interference with faculty research. Thomas Stone Carlson, president of the Faculty Senate, issued a public response to President Bresciani on Jan. 17:

We are aware that you have received significant pressure from legislators (Betty Grande and Jim Kasper in particular) who have political agendas that oppose the work of Planned Parenthood. The announcement of your decision to freeze this funding on a conservative talk show and the quick response of several conservative groups thanking legislators for this important victory against Planned Parenthood, makes it difficult to see your decision as anything other than bowing to political pressure.

"The university president lacks the courage and willingness to protect and defend academic integrity that he should have as university president," Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, told Mother Jones. "[Bresciani] is caving to some ideologically motivated legislators because he is worried about state funding for the university."

"To turn away the grant on an ideological basis really just defies logic, particularly in North Dakota, where there is so little available to at-risk youth," she continued. "This is really a program that is a wonderful lifeline for kids that don't have other options."

Sen. Ron Johnson: We're Living in Atlas Shrugged

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 3:45 PM EST
Sen. Ron Johnson (right) poses in front of a statue of Atlas.

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican best known for sparring with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at last week's Benghazi hearings, says the United States is currently living out the plot of the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. In an interview with the Rand-inspired Atlas Society, Johnson said he "absolutely" sees parallels between the American economy today and the novel in which government regulations drive prominent businessmen to retreat into a secluded gulch in protest. 

As Johnson explains in the interview, his affinity for Rand has literally been set in stone—the former PACUR* CEO helped a friend install a statute of Atlas in Oshkosh, Wis. "There was a big old statue on the side of the road for sale, and it was Atlas," Johnson says. "It had the world, it was obviously the Atlas Shrugged symbol, and he was thinking about buying it and I said, absolutely, I'll pay for half of it." Then they set it up outside his friend's construction business. (Update: this business.)

Watch:

"It's a real concern," Johnson said, when asked if he saw examples of the private sector "shrugging"—that is, wilting under the pressure of government regulations. "As I talk to business owners that maybe started their businesses in the '70s and '80s, they tell me, with today's level of taxation and regulation, there's no way I can start my business today."

Johnson isn't the only Wisconsin Republican to lavish praise on Rand. Rep. Paul Ryan once called her "required reading" (also at a speech at the Atlas Society) before later backtracking.

*This post originally misstated the name of Johnson's company.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 28, 2013

Mon Jan. 28, 2013 12:35 PM EST

Troopers for D Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment prepare for a Decisive Action force on force engagement during a situational training exercise with the rotational training unit located at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin. Calif. Photo by Capt. Chad Cooper, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Public Affairs Officer.

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Retiring Senator: Congress Doesn't Work Because We Fundraise Way Too Much

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 10:48 AM EST
Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

After 40 years in Congress, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a graying liberal lion, is calling it quits. He announced over the weekend that he won't seek reelection in 2016.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Harkin was asked whether US Senate was "not as fun for him as it used to be." No, it's not, Harkin offered, and he pointed to, of all things, the spiraling cost of elections as a major reason why:

It's not as much fun in that we're so consumed with other things. Here's what I mean: we used to have a Senate Dining Room that was only for senators. We'd go down there and sit around there, and Joe Biden and Fritz Hollings and Dale Bumpers and Ted Stevens and Strom Thurmond and a bunch of us—Democrats and Republicans. We'd have lunch and joke and tell stories, a great camaraderie. That dining room doesn't exist any longer because people quit going there. Why did they quit going? Well, we're not there on Monday, and we're not there on Friday. Tuesday we have our party caucuses. That leaves Wednesday and Thursday—and guess what people are doing then? They're out raising money.

The time is so consumed with raising money now, these campaigns, that you don't have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time. So in that way, fun, I don't know, there needs to be more time for senators to establish personal relationships than what we are able to do at this point in time.

The emphasis is mine. Those of us who follow political money read reports and op-eds, listen to speeches and panels and testimonies, and often the criticism is that big money in elections "drowns out" the voices of everyday Americans. But rarely do we hear about the impact of all that money on members of Congress themselves and how they do their jobs (or don't). Only when lawmakers like Sen. Harkin, with an eye on the exit, pipe up do we get that insider's view of what's gained—and lost—in today's cash-soaked politics. To be clear, the disgusting amount of time lawmakers spend raising money doesn't just stymie real friendships and make the Senate less fun; when few senators get along, it makes the Senate less functional.

Harkin is not the only senator to point this out. Last year another liberal stalwart, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), memorably told Alex Blumberg of NPR's Planet Money that Americans "would be shocked—not surprised, but shocked—if they knew how much time a United States senator spends raising money." He added, "And how much time we spend talking about raising money, and thinking about raising money, and planning to raise money."

And how much time are talking about here? It varies from lawmaker to lawmaker, but here's a PowerPoint slide prepared by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that outlined the "model daily schedule" for incoming freshmen Democrats (the presentation was first obtained by the Huffington Post):

"Call time" means fundraising time: hours spent on the phone calling up current and potential donors and asking for campaign cash. The DCCC tells its freshmen to spend more time calling donors than they spend on anything else. Ezra Klein called it "the most depressing graphic for members of Congress." I'm sure Tom Harkin would agree.

The Senate Immigration Plan Isn't Terrible—It's Just Unworkable

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 10:23 AM EST
Protesters rally against Arizona's SB 1070 law in Chicago in 2010.

The bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" released their framework for comprehensive immigration reform today. As expected, the plan includes increased enforcement and a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already in the United States. It also contains several tripwires that, if triggered, could destroy the entire effort. The Gang of Eight includes Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Citizenship

The plan includes a path to citizenship, which excludes those with criminal backgrounds and those who have committed crimes since entering the United States. Undocumented immigrants would have to register with the government and go through a background check, and would be allowed to stay under "probationary legal status," after which they would have to "go to the back of the line" before eventually qualifying for citizenship. They will not be eligible for federal benefits during their probationary legal status.

Interestingly, the plan makes the path to citizenship easier for two groups of immigrants: those eligible for the DREAM Act (young people brought to the US as children who are prepared to go to college or join the military) and agricultural workers. A cynical person might point out that in doing so, the plan goes out of its way to help the most sympathetic immigrants, and those most essential to powerful business interests. Or, as the plan puts it, workers who "who commit to the long term stability of our nation's agricultural industries." The plan also states that immigrants who have "received a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university" will automatically get a green card, but doesn't state whether that applies even if the individual is undocumented.

Enforcement

The framework makes reform contingent on things that can't happen until the immigration system is reformed. While perhaps politically necessary, the plan throws more personnel and flying robots at the border, despite the fact that the US already spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other aspects of federal criminal law enforcement combined. The plan implies that undocumented immigrants can only be legalized after a commission "comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border" certify that the measures have worked, which puts final legalization of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants in the hands of Republican officials like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who don't want it to happen.

Beyond that, however, the fact is that enforcement can only do so much to deter illegal immigration, because those seeking a better life will brave ever more dangerous obstacles to get here. What's needed is an immigration system that allows enough people in to work so that people think they have a decent enough chance to get here that risking their life to do so isn't worth it. The framework is incredibly vague on this point, hinting at a guest worker program but never using the phrase, and simply stating that the plan will "provide businesses with the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner when Americans are unavailable or unwilling to fill those jobs." This, not more drones at the border, is arguably the most important aspect of deterring illegal immigration, and the plan gives it short shrift.

Bottom Line

The Gang of Eight's framework isn't all terrible—it's just unworkable. It places conditions it's unlikely to meet, and then further compounds the problem by putting a veto in the hands of people who are likely to oppose the plan even if those conditions were met. Immigration reform advocates will be wary of the employment verification requirements (particularly given the error-prone nature of the current system), while the immigration restrictionist right will be completely opposed to any plan that offers undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship rather than "self-deportation."

Politically, the immediate question is whether the presence of senators like Rubio and Flake can limit the backlash on the right, since any immigration reform bill still has to get through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But even if the entire plan were written, passed, and signed by the president tomorrow, much of it—legalization in particular—could be prevented from ever happening.

UPDATE 1:05 PM EST: The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports that the Democrats inolved in the plan see the Southwestern commission's recommendations will be "non-binding," which means they won't have a veto over the process. Rubio's office however, has told Sargent that "all of the enforcement mechanisms must be in place and operational before a pathway to citizenship is made accessible to undocumented immigrants. " The question remains then, is how the bill determines the security requirements have been met so that the legalization process can occur.

This article has been revised. 

New Arizona Bill Wants Hospitals Policing Immigration

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 10:22 AM EST
The state that brought you SB 1070, perhaps the harshest immigration law in the nation, is at it again with a bill that could bring illegal immigrant-hunting into new territory: hospitals.

Proposed last week by Republican state Rep. Steve Smith, HB 2293 would require hospital workers to verify the immigration status of uninsured people seeking care. They'd have to make note of any undocumented patient, and then call the police.

Speaking outside the Arizona capitol on Thursday, Rep. Smith called it simply "a data-collection bill" to figure out how much Arizona is spending on illegal immigrant care, promising that no one would be denied treatment or deported once their status is disclosed.

Neither of these guarantees is mentioned anywhere in the bill, but co-sponsor Rep. Carl Seel told Arizona's KPHO that hospitals wouldn't deny treatment, since "we're a benevolent nation."

If enacted, the bill could scare immigrants away from getting medical attention. Nationwide, the undocumented are already far less likely to seek health care. Advocates say the low rate is partially explained by a fear that they'll be reported to authorities. This law would do little to lighten such distrust: It doesn't explain what police should or can do with the data flowing in from hospitals. When he was asked whether law enforcement would show up to hospitals when notified, Smith's response was: "We have no clue."

Ostensibly, doctors wouldn't have to juggle providing care and phoning the cops; the bill makes it clear that other hospital employees should handle the bill's requirements. Still, the state's hospitals are pushing back. Pete Wertheim, a spokesman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, says that with more than 3 million patients each year, the rules would be impossible to implement with current budgets and staffing. He also points out that if the law deterred immigrants with communicable diseases—think tuberculosis—from seeking treatment, it could endanger everyone in the state.

The bill is still in early stages, and hasn't yet made it to committee. And if precedent is any indicator, it's not likely to pass: Rep. Smith has introduced similar bills before, with little success. Laws he proposed last year that would have implemented immigration checks at schools and hospitals both failed in the Senate.

What the Senate Filibuster Deal Does—and Doesn't Do

| Sat Jan. 26, 2013 12:33 AM EST
From left: Mitchell McConnell, Jimmy Stewart filibustering in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and Harry Reid.

After more than a week of negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cut a deal for the  filibuster reform package that sailed through the Senate on Thursday. Unfortunately for fans of real filibuster reform, who expected Reid to win at least some GOP concessions—like a proposal by Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) that would force the minority party to muster at least 41 votes to continue a filibuster, rather than force the majority to find 60 to end it—the final package looked strangely like the minority-friendly one proposed last month by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

The first part of the Reid-McConnell deal, Senate Resolution 15, creates a temporary "standing order" that will expire with the end of the current Congress in 2015. The second part, Senate Resolution 16, is a permanant change. Here's a breakdown on what it accomplishes—and doesn't.