Mojo - March 2013

Arkansas Gov. and Legislature Locked in Fight Over Abortion Bans

| Tue Mar. 5, 2013 12:02 PM EST
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D).

In Arkansas, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is finding himself at odds with an extreme anti-abortion legislature, vetoing one bill that would ban abortion at 12 weeks and another bill that bans them after 20 weeks. The Republican-controlled legislature overrode his veto on the 20-week ban last week, and will attempt to do so on the 12-week ban as well.

Beebe vetoed the 12-week ban, called Senate Bill 134, on Monday. The bill is "blatantly unconstitutional," Beebe said in a statement:

In short, because it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. When I was sworn in as Governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously.

Last week, Beebe vetoed House Bill 1037, a measure banning abortions after 20 weeks. But the legislature had enough votes to override his veto, making Arkansas the ninth state to impose this type of ban in the past three years. These bans contradict the Supreme Court's previous ruling that abortion should be legal up until the point that the fetus is viable—which is usually 24 weeks or later. (The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed suit against one of those laws in Arizona.)

But Arkansas' latest bill goes ever farther, and if the legislature overrides Beebe's veto, it will be the strictest ban in the country. "Lawmakers in Arkansas are placing women's lives on the line by passing the most severe ban on access to safe, legal medical care this country has seen in recent years," Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a press release. "Nobody can predict what kinds of decisions a woman may have to make during a pregnancy, and it is outrageous for politicians to attempt to interfere in this serious and personal decision that a woman has to make with her family and her doctor."

Beebe isn't stridently pro-choice; NARAL Pro-Choice America says he has a "mixed" record. The main argument he gave for vetoing the 12-week ban is that it will cost the state a lot of money to defend the inevitable legal challenges. "The adoption of blatantly unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State," he said, noting that a 1999 case against a previous state abortion law cost the government $147,000 in legal fees. "Lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws also result in the losing party—in this case, the State—being ordered to pay the costs and attorneys' fees incurred by the litigants who successfully challenge the law. Those costs and fees can be significant."

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Rick Scott May Want Obamacare, But the Florida Legislature Doesn't

| Tue Mar. 5, 2013 11:56 AM EST
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) talking up education spending at the University of Florida.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, one of the nation's most unpopular governor's, thanks to his embrace of tea party economics, has been trying hard to overhaul his image in an effort to save his reelection bid next year. He's suddenly embraced government spending and expressed a new-found love of all the teachers he laid off in his first year in office. But Republicans in the state legislature apparently aren't keen on seeing Scott reelected. They're refusing to go along with one of his biggest policy reversals—his embrace of Obamacare. That is going to make it difficult for Scott to complete his metamorphosis into a compassionate conservative.

Elected as a fierce opponent of Obamacare, Scott last month made a complete turnaround and announced that he supported Florida's participation in the part of Obamacare that expands Medicaid, the government health insurance for the poor, to people making up to 138 percent of the poverty line. That move would extend health care to about 1 million Florida residents. The change of heart wasn't for humanitarian reasons. Not only might Scott need some of those uninsured people to vote for him, but he made the announcement on Medicaid just hours after the US Department of Health and Human Services said it would allow Florida to shunt most of its Medicaid recipients into private managed care plans. That change will divert millions of dollars for care of the poor into the hands of big insurance companies, many of which can be expected to ante up to support Scott's reelection bid.

It's a win-win move for Scott. But there's just one problem: The Florida legislature, which has to sign off on the Medicaid expansion, wants nothing to do with Obamacare. Tea party Republicans, who dominate the statehouse, voted on Monday to reject the Medicaid expansion because they are still paranoid that the federal government won't pay for it as required in the law.

The Associated Press reports:

House Speaker Will Weatherford said the battle in Washington over automatic budget cuts and taxes proves it would be risky to rely on federal aid.

"I think there's a lot of uncertainty that is coming from the federal government, and to rely on them to expand the Medicaid program with that uncertainty is a very dangerous path," said Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel.

The chairman of the House committee overseeing the bill insisted that Republicans should come up with another way to insure the million people who would miss out on coverage. He didn't have any idea what that might be, however.

After the vote, state Democrats hissed that Scott was incapable of leading his own party. And not even all the Florida GOP thought rejecting the Medicaid expansion was a good idea. Again, from AP:

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said his office receives many calls from single mothers and others who can't see a doctor because they don't qualify for Medicaid under the existing criteria, which are among the most stringent in the country.

"By voting to turn back these dollars, this committee has, in essence, told millions of Floridians that they are not worthy of having access to primary health care services," he said.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 5, 2013

Tue Mar. 5, 2013 10:37 AM EST

U.S. Marines assigned to Mobile Strike Force Team, II Marine Headquarters Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, conduct live-fire training on Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 2, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena.

 

Dem Bill Would Ban "Saturday Night Specials"

| Tue Mar. 5, 2013 10:08 AM EST

On Tuesday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced a ban on "Saturday Night Specials," which are really cheap, crappy handguns traced to a whole lot of crimes.

As Congress considers gun control measures in the wake of the bloody Newtown massacre, the national focus on urban violence has sharpened as well. Gutierrez' congressional district includes Chicago, one of the most violent cities in the country. Saturday Night Specials, or "junk guns," which are small and easily concealable, and made with inexpensive, shoddy materials, are disproportionately associated with in the violence in low-income urban neighborhoods. Of the top ten most-traced crime guns by the ATF from 2000, half were junk guns.

"This is an issue that has been important to me for many years," Gutierrez said at a press conference on Monday. "Removing this dangerous subset of handguns from streets of Chicago and communities across the country will save lives."

At least eight states already have laws regulating junk guns, and there is evidence that laws banning the sale of such guns can reduce gun deaths. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that Maryland’s junk gun ban reduced firearm homicides in the state by almost 9 percent between 1990 and 1998, and saved an average of 40 lives a year.

In 2003, the NAACP sued 45 gun manufacturers for targeting minority neighborhoods with these kinds of guns, alleging that the "negligent marketing" of Saturday Night Specials in black and Hispanic neighborhoods encouraged violence in those areas.

But it's not so simple. Some say the ban itself would disadvantage poor minority communities. A 1983 National Institute of Justice study found that "[t]he people most likely to be deterred from acquiring a handgun by exceptionally high prices or by the non-availability of certain kinds of handguns are not felons intent on arming themselves for criminal purposes (who can, if all else fails, steal the handgun they want), but rather poor people who have decided they need a gun to protect themselves against the felons but who find that the cheapest gun in the market costs more than they can afford to pay."

At the same time, junk guns are so badly made and inaccurate that some experts consider them inappropriate for self defense.

The proposed ban on the easily-concealed handguns comes just as an appeals court ruled that Illinois has to permit concealed carry in the state. "I think that this legislation is especially timely," Gutierrez said, as "state legislators are grappling with sensible safeguards and restrictions for a conceal and carry law."

Yes, Potential Senate Candidate Ashley Judd Has Gotten Naked on Screen. So Have These Political Figures.

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 3:47 PM EST

Late Sunday evening, the Daily Caller's entertainment editor Taylor Bigler posted a short item on actress, activist, potential US Senate candidate, and rape survivor Ashley Judd. The post notes that Judd, who seems to be laying the groundwork for a 2014 challenge to Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, has appeared in a bunch of movies naked, half-naked, or partially naked. The Caller piece cites her performances in films like Norma Jean and Marilyn and Eye of the Beholder, and is based on data from MrSkin.com, an online database of nude and sex scenes celebs have done on-screen. MrSkin.com—which I will decline to link to in this post—gives Judd four stars and ranks her as "Hall of Fame Nudity!"

(Click here to read my podcast partner Alyssa Rosenberg's rage-filled rebuttal to Bigler's post.)

Judd has discussed her nude scenes candidly before. She turned down an audition for the female lead in a 1992 Christian Slater film because the audition demanded a topless screen test. "My mother worked too hard for me to take off my clothes in my first movie," she told People magazine. And in this interview with Delaware County Magazine, Judd opened up about stripping down for the sex scene in Double Jeopardy, one of the films referenced in the Daily Caller story.

"But will Judd be the first potential senator who has — literally — nothing left to show us?" Bigler wrote, with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek.

Actually, no.

There was a time not too long ago that Scott Brown was a Republican senator from Massachusetts. Here's a photo of him:

scott brown naked cosmo nude
Brown was awarded Cosmo's distinction of "America's Sexiest Man," and appeared in this June 1982 spread. Via Cosmopolitan.com

Here are some other successful American politicians who were elected and appointed despite having borne their flesh for all the world and internet to see:

Arnold Schwarzenegger:

This doesn't even begin to touch the work he did during his earlier bodybuilder days. Despite the above clip—and some serious groping allegations—Arnold was elected as the governor who oversaw the world's ninth largest economy.

Clint Eastwood:

clint eastwood doug mcclure
Via TCM.com

The icon was a one-term mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in the late '80s, and decades later introduced Mitt Romney at the 2012 Republican National Convention (here's how that turned out).

Jesse Ventura:

jesse ventura wrestling
Close enough. Via WWE

His enthusiastically shirtless and sweaty pro-wrestling did not stop him from getting elected governor of Minnesota.

Kal Penn:

Penn has acted in nudity-riddled set pieces and cheap, extremely awkward sex scenes (like in National Lampoon's Van Wilder, pictured above). And though he has never been elected to public office, he has served multiple stints as associate director for the Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration.

Mitt Romney's "Twisted" Defense of His 47 Percent Rant

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 1:05 PM EST

Mitt Romney, it seems, will forever be explaining the 47 percent video—partly because he cannot admit he believed what he said.

In an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News that aired on Sunday, Romney was once again asked about the video Mother Jones revealed last September. Here's the exchange:

Wallace: George Will said you've got a problem when voters don't like you. You've got a real problem when voters think you don't like them.

Romney: Yes, it was a very unfortunate statement that I made. It's not what I meant. I didn't express myself as I wished I would have. You know, when you speak in private, you don't spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted and—and it could come out wrong and be used. But, you know, I did. And it was very harmful. What I said is not what I believe. Obviously, my whole campaign—my whole life has been devoted to helping people, all of the people. I care about all the people of the country. But that hurt. There's no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.

You might recall that when the video was first posted Romney's campaign issued a statement claiming he wanted "to help all Americans" and that he was "concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government." This was no denial—and no complaint that he had been taken out of context. Later that same day, Romney himself dismissed the video as "a snippet" (which it wasn't). Asked about the private remarks at a press conference, he said, "Well, um, it's not elegantly stated, let's put it that way. I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I'm sure I can state state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did…But it's a message which I'm going to carry and continue to carry." This was widely regarded as a doubling down. Two weeks later—following his successful first debate against President Barack Obama—Romney, during an interview with Sean Hannity, had another spin on his 47 percent tirade:

Well, clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of question and answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case I said something that's just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe however that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent and that has been demonstrated throughout my life. This whole campaign is about the 100 percent. When I become president it'll be about helping the 100 percent.

So now he was accepting and acknowledging he had been "completely wrong," though insisting he had misspoke.

Yet with Wallace, Romney was playing the victim, claiming his "unfortunate" comments had been "twisted and distorted"—and done so because he had dared to speak candidly in private.

All of Romney's defenses—whether or not he was admitting wrong—are undone by his own words. Let's go to a transcript. Here's the full exchange, which began with a question from a donor who had paid at least $50,000 to attend the behind-closed-doors fundraiser:

Audience member: For the last three years, all everybody's been told is, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you." How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you've got to take care of yourself?

Romney: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not, what it looks like. I mean, when you ask those people…we do all these polls—I find it amazing—we poll all these people, see where you stand on the polls, but 45 percent of the people will go with a Republican.

The key to understanding Romney's remarks fully is the question. The query was predicated on the assumption embraced by many conservatives that a good number of Americans are lazy no-goodniks who don't fend for themselves. As you know, Romney, who once was a metrics-driven businessman, then delivered a coherent response in which he turned the underlying assumption into a specific fact: 47 percent—those people who receive any government benefits—do not "take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Here was a politician giving a direct answer to a specific question. What was twisted?

In his interview with Wallace, Romney claimed, "What I said is not what I believe." Yet that is not how he first responded to the clip.

Romney's 47 percent comment was no slip or an accidental misstatement. After the election was over, a fellow reporter told me that she had recently attended a dinner with several top GOP fundraisers. A key topic at the table that night was Romney's comment that he had lost because Obama had doled out "gifts" to African Americans, Latinos, and young voters. That statement was seen by many as a bookend to the 47 percent remark, and the conversation naturally moved to the video. Several of the GOP funders mentioned that they each had heard Romney make similar 47 percent-ish comments in private during the campaign.

The response captured by my source at the Boca Raton fundraiser was not an outlier moment for Romney. Romney's words were not subsequently distorted. And his ever-shifting and hollow explanations will mark him as a person who cannot take full responsibility for one of the most consequential statements he ever uttered.

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N.H. Republican Lawmakers Allege Missing Constitutional Amendment Was Purposely Deleted in 1871

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 12:48 PM EST
We're pretty sure HB 638 is the plot of the next "National Treasure" movie.

For 142 years, the federal government has kept a secret: A little-known constitutional amendment, designed to prevent people with "titles of nobility" from holding public office, was ratified in 1819 before being deleted from the document as part of a conspiracy by power-hungry lawyers and bankers. But the original 13th Amendment is technically still on the books; we just don't know it.

At least, that's the allegation being made by three New Hampshire Republican legislators. Last week, state Reps. Stella Tremblay, Al Baldasaro, and Lars Christiansen introduced HB 638, requiring the state to recognize the original, hidden 13th Amendment amendment.

Here's the relevant text:

III. The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, otherwise known as the Act of 1871, created a corporation in the District of Columbia called the United States of America. The act revoked prior legislation relative to the district's municipal charter and, most egregiously, led to adoption of a fraudulent constitution in which the original Thirteenth Amendment was omitted.

IV. Today, what appears to the public as the United States Constitution is not the complete document, as it was never lawfully amended to remove the Thirteenth Amendment. Instead, the document presented as the United States Constitution is merely a mission statement for the corporation unlawfully established in the Act of 1871.

V. The purpose of this act is to recognize that the original Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits titles of nobility, is properly included in the United States Constitution and is the law of the land. The act is also intended to end the infiltration of the Bar Association and the judicial branch into the executive and legislative branches of government and the unlawful usurpation of the people’s right, guaranteed by the New Hampshire constitution, to elect county attorneys who are not members of the bar. This unlawful usurpation gives the judicial branch control over all government and the people in the grand juries. As long as the original Thirteenth Amendment is concealed from the people, there shall never be justice or a legitimate constitutional form of government.

And here's the shocking truth: Tremblay, Baldasaro, and Christiansen don't have their facts straight.

The amendment in question, known as the Titles of Nobility Amendment, did come quite close to passing—at least at first. With Americans wary of the threat posed by Great Britain and Napoleonic France, the proposal was approved by both branches of Congress and 12 states, only to be put on ice during the War of 1812. By the war's end, the momentum had been lost, and the addition of new states to the union made the threshold for passage that much higher. It was never ratified.

Notwithstanding that detail, the idea of a stealth constitutional amendment has gained traction on the far right. It began in the early 1990s, when a publication called AntiShyster (which is what it sounds like) alleged that the original 13th Amendment was, in fact, on the books, and that it barred lawyers from holding office. As this 1999 article in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal documented, the "thirteenther" conspiracy has since been embraced by anti-government extremists who have alleged that the secret amendment gives them cover to kill police officers.

This isn't the first time the missing amendment has been raised as a political cudgel. In 2010, the Republican Party of Iowa called for "the reintroduction and ratification of the original 13th Amendment, not the 13th amendment in today's Constitution."

The missing constitutional amendment might not make for very good legislation, but perhaps it's not as terrible of a concept as it sounds. Here's an idea: National Treasure III.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 4, 2013

Mon Mar. 4, 2013 11:19 AM EST

Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team form an LGOP, or little group of paratroopers, on the drop zone before moving to a rally point following a jump Feb. 25, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

 

On Election Night 2012, Obama Began Plotting Democrats' 2014 Takeover of Congress

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 11:06 AM EST
President Obama with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In the past 80 years, only one president, Bill Clinton, has led his party to gain seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm election of his second term. President Obama wants to be the second. And he's flexing as much political muscle as he can to put the Democrats back in control of the House of Representatives after the 2014 elections so that he can enact his ambitious agenda on gun control, immigration, and climate change.

According to the Washington Post, Obama's mission to win back the majority for House Democrats began on the very night he was reelected, early last November. After delivering his victory speech, in which he spoke of "the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward," Obama called up House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and told them of his plans to help win back the House in 2014. "The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives," Israel told the Post. "To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now."

The Democrats need to win 17 House seats in 2014 to win back the majority. To achieve that, Obama plans to raise big money—he'll attend eight DCCC fundraisers this year, as opposed to the two attended in 2009 in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. Obama's former campaign infrastructure, now flying under the banner of Organizing for Action and operating as a nonprofit, will also join the 2014 fight. Israel, the DCCC chairman, has met with Jim Messina, the head of OFA who also ran Obama's reelection campaign, to discuss 2014 plans.

Here's more from the Post on Obama's overtly political approach to enacting his second-term agenda:

In some ways, Obama is flipping the traditional script for ­second-term presidents.

Most have about two years to secure a domestic agenda before lame-duck status sets in. But Obama is laying out an argument for a new Congress that, if successful, could give him his last two years in office to cement his legacy.

The GOP resistance to his agenda is helping give Obama the political framework for the midterm congressional campaign—if not short-term legislative victories.

"I think six months from now, if Republican recalcitrance continues, it will become by definition a 2014 strategy," said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist. "At some point over the next three to six months, when most of these issues will get resolved or they won't, then the Republicans will face a 2014 problem."

Some Obama allies say the president views OFA as a way of marshaling—and extending beyond the traditional two years of a second term—his political power. The organization went largely dormant after his 2008 victory, mobilized only during late-inning pushes to secure health-care and Wall Street legislation.

Obama, though, has a mountain to climb to reach the 65 percent approval rating enjoyed by Clinton in the run-up to the 1998 midterm elections. Gallup pegs Obama's approval rating at 51 percent. And it's only going to get harder for the president, with more dysfunction, brinksmanship, and acrimony between him and House Republicans as we hurtle toward Election Day 2014. Of course GOPers recognize that, the moment Obama secured his own political future, he began plotting their defeat. But, practically, that means any chance of a "grand bargain" or a compromise on a big piece of legislation is fading fast.

The 2014 elections are well underway. We're in for 20 ugly months of partisan warfare here in Washington.

The Great American Inequality Video

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 9:56 AM EST

When you get down to it, the debate over the sequester—the automatic budget cuts that kicked in on Friday—is really about the future of the middle class. Democrats want to close tax loopholes for the wealthy to preserve education and social programs for the rest of us. Republicans call this socialism, and flatly refuse to consider any option other than cutting bigger holes in the social safety net.

As these opposing views come to a head, a new video based on Mother Jones' well-known income inequality charts has been making the rounds. Even if you've already seen the originals, it may put Washington's latest squabbles in a different light:

UPDATE, Thursday, February 28 (Brett Brownell): Following the video's viral spread this week, Mother Jones reached out to its mysterious creator, YouTube user "Politizane." "Z," as he signed his messages, told us that he is a freelance filmmaker "living and working in a red state (Texas)" who is staying anonymous in order avoid losing clients or jobs due to "a vague political affiliation."

At first he saved the original "Ariely chart" to his phone, and from time to time would "try to wrap [his] head around it." The chart, created by Mother Jones and based on polling data by Dan Ariely and Michael L. Norton, showed Americans' mistaken expectations of wealth distribution. Eventually Z decided to visualize the disparity in his own way by tinkering with After Effects software over a period of a few days. He also says he vetted the math/curve-fitting among some "geeky friends."

"Wealth Inequality in America" is his only politically minded video so far. "These issues are simply things I think (and perhaps angst) about in my spare time," Z says."The really incredible thing for me is the simple fact that people are now talking about these issues…So it's pretty neat to open some eyes and get people thinking."