Mojo - February 2013

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape: The Most Horrible Hashtag of the Week Thus Far, Explained

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 2:08 PM PST

There's this new hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape that's now on its second day of trending on Twitter: A really, really great expression of our shared humanity, and of the possibilities of feel-good, thoughtful conservative satire... this is not:

For the uninitiated, this isn't an example of right-wingers deciding out-of-the-blue to be insensitive to rape victims. They have their reason, and his name is Joe Salazar, a first-term Democratic state representative in Colorado. On Friday, Salazar spoke on the state House floor in support of House Bill 13-1226, which would eliminate "the authority of a concealed handgun permit holder to possess a concealed handgun on the campus of an institution of high education." In other words, the bill would ban concealed firearms on college campuses in Colorado. Opponents of the proposed legislation maintain that banning concealed carry on campuses would make it harder for students to protect themselves against mass shooters and rapists on school grounds.

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SCOTUS to Consider Challenge to Campaign Donation Limits

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 1:15 PM PST

This morning, the Supreme Court agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (PDF), a case challenging the nearly 40-year-old cap on aggregate contributions to federal candidates, parties, and political action committees (PACs) as a violation of donors' right to free speech.

Thanks to the court's Citizens United decision in January 2010, donors can already give unlimited funds to super-PACs and 501(c)(4) groups, which are ostensibly prohibited from coordinating directly with the candidates they support. However, under federal law, donors are limited to giving no more than a total of $46,200 to federal candidates and $70,800 to parties and PACs during any two-year election cycle. Overturning those limits would not affect how much a donor could give an individual candidate (currently $2,600 per year), but a donor would potentially be able to cut a single multimillion-dollar check to a joint fundraising committee set up to distribute funds to multiple House and Senate candidates and state party committees. That committee could technically funnel the entire donation to a single candidate through a series of transfers.

When the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that restricting outside spending violated the First Amendment, it overturned 100 years of legal precedents. If it takes a similar track in McCutcheon, laws limiting campaign contributions that date back to 1974—and affirmed by the court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo—would be overturned.

"If the Supreme Court reverses its past ruling in Buckley, the Court would do extraordinary damage to the nation's ability to prevent the corruption of federal officeholders and government decisions," Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, said in a statement. "It would also represent the first time in history that the Court declared a federal contribution limit unconstitutional." Democracy 21 has been involved in the McCutcheon case since it was dismissed by a DC district court and subsequently appealed; the group is preparing an amicus brief defending the constitutionality of the current donation limits.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, told Politico that the outside spending groups that arose from Citizens United made aggregate limits less important but wrote that the "broader significance" of the McCutcheon case is that it could make future constitutional challenges against contribution limits much harder to defeat.

Yet the current justices have shown that they are sympathetic to some limits on campaign fundraising. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote in Citizens United, argued in 2003 that donor caps on loosely regulated "soft money" were constitutional "under Buckley's anticorruption rationale."

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

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 1:13 PM PST

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.

 

GOP Governor to Karl Rove: Take a Hike

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 10:53 AM PST
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 9:06 AM PST

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 4:47 AM PST

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.

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Can Police Be Trusted With Drones?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 4:02 AM PST
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 4:02 AM PST

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.

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

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 4:02 AM PST

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 4:11 AM PST

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.