Mojo - March 2013

Google Hangout: Keeping Choice Alive at the State Level

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 3:21 PM EDT

Earlier today we hosted a live discussion with some of the people working on the front lines to "keep choice alive" at the state level. Viewers submitted questions here and tweeted them to us @MotherJones using the hashtag #KeepingChoiceAlive. Watch the discussion and read more below:

Recently, the Arkansas Legislature passed the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation. The legislation would ban abortion at 12 weeks if implemented, leading Gov. Mike Beebe to label it "blatantly unconstitutional." Meanwhile, in Mississippi, advocates of "personhood" for zygotes are attempting to ban all abortions by giving fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans, while the state's last-remaining abortion clinic struggles to stay open. It's been 40 years since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, yet reproductive rights are being significantly restricted in numerous states across the country.

Joining us to discuss these topics and more were:

  • Dr. Willie Parker: Parker is an ob-gyn currently providing services in Chicago, Montgomery, Alabama, and the last remaining abortion care clinic in Mississippi. He serves on the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). More information on Parker can be found here.
  • Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh: As director of field operations for the National Clinic Access Project with the Feminist Majority Foundation for nearly 20 years, Kohsin-Kintigh worked with communities around the nation to protect women’s clinics through grassroots organizing, assisting with security assessments on clinics, and providing doctors and clinic staff with personal security trainings. Currently, director of programs at the ACLU of Mississippi, she is working with the last abortion clinic on repeated legislative attacks, and coordinated efforts to defeat the state’s personhood amendment in 2011. Nancy continues her grassroots activism and community organizing.
  • Michelle Movahed: Movahed is a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel in the federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi's targeted regulations aimed at shuttering the state’s last abortion clinic. Since joining the Center in 2007, she has worked on a number of other critical cases, including serving as lead counsel in a recent victory challenging an Oklahoma law restricting doctors from offering medication as a surgical alternative to abortion and treating ectopic pregnancy. Before joining the Center, Michelle clerked for the Honorable James Orenstein, a US magistrate judge in the eastern district of New York. She earned a J.D. magna cum laude from the Fordham University School of Law, where she was a Stein Scholar in public interest law & ethics and a Crowley Scholar in international human rights.
  • Kate Sheppard: Sheppard is a Mother Jones staff reporter and author of "Inside Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic."
  • Brett Brownell: Brownell is Mother Jones' multimedia producer and host of the Google+ Hangout discussion.

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At CPAC 2013, FreedomWorks Is Nowhere to Be Found

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 2:26 PM EDT
FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe speaking at CPAC 2012.

As it does every year, the conservative movement has turned out en masse for the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, an annual Washington confab. Everyone's here: activists, operatives, Rand Paulites, politicians, Mitt Romney, think tank wonks, big-wig donors, fundraisers courting the big-wig donors, and so on. But there's one big name glaringly absent from the CPAC schedule: FreedomWorks.

FreedomWorks, in case you slept through the summer of 2010, is the liberty-loving, ostensibly grassroots outfit that fueled the tea party movement and helped elect a class of uncompromising, hard-line conservative politicians such as Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). FreedomWorks has been a fixture at past CPACs: the group sponsored panel discussions and happy hours and film screenings, its staffers weighed in on "new media activism" and a constitutional amendment curbing government spending. In 2012, Kibbe spoke at CPAC's main stage.

Yet FreedomWorks is nowhere to be found at CPAC 2013, housed this year at the spacious Gaylord Convention Center at Maryland's National Harbor. No staffers are scheduled to speak. No events bear FreedomWorks' name as sponsor. FreedomWorks doesn't even have a booth in the vast exhibition hall here (nearly everyone else does, from the NRA and Citizens United to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and the author of the book WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again). FreedomWorks' lively Twitter account is silent on the matter of the conservative movement's biggest event.

CPAC 2013 comes at a rough moment for FreedomWorks. As Mother Jones has reported, FreedomWorks' board of directors is divided over the direction of the organization, a conflict that burst into public view after ex-chairman Dick Armey resigned from the group last year. Several board members support Kibbe and vice president Adam Brandon, while others were Armey loyalists who believe that Kibbe used FreedomWorks resources for his own personal gain. For months, private investigators have been interviewing FreedomWorks employees and digging through the group's financial records at the behest of board members C. Boyden Gray and James Burnley. That investigation is ongoing, creating a tense atmosphere in the FreedomWorks offices. And the group's headaches got worse when my colleague David Corn revealed that FreedomWorks staffers had made a video depicting an intern wearing a fake panda suit pretending to give oral sex to someone posing as Hillary Clinton.

That turmoil may explain the group's absence at CPAC. I sent an email to Jackie Bodnar, FreedomWorks' spokeswoman, asking why FreedomWorks was MIA. She has yet to write back.

Court Says Obama Can't Talk About Drones and Still Call Them Secret

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 12:17 PM EDT
Obama discussing drones in his 2013 Googe+ Fireside Hangout.

If you want to keep something a secret, you probably shouldn't brag about it. 

That may seem obvious. But the Obama administration's habit of singing the virtues of its supposedly secret targeted killing program is the reason a panel of three federal judges on the DC Circuit ruled against the government on Friday, finding that the CIA cannot continue to claim it has not acknowledged its involvement in the use of drones in targeted killings. Quoting newly minted CIA Director John Brennan, former CIA Director Leon Panetta, and President Barack Obama himself, Judge Merrick Garland wrote that "it is neither logical nor plausible" for the CIA to say it would reveal anything not already public to admit that the Agency "at least has an intelligence interest" in such strikes. "The defendant is, after all, the Central Intelligence Agency," the judges added. Friday's ruling reverses a previous one from 2011 in which a lower court ruled in favor of the government.

Since 2010, the ACLU has been seeking information from the CIA on when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the US ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings. The CIA had argued that "no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA possesses records regarding drone strikes or whether or not the CIA is involved in drone strikes or has an interest in drone strikes." According to the CIA's argument, just because high ranking officials can't stop talking about how targeted killing is effective, only kills bad guys, and always complies with the law doesn't mean it's not a secret.

This doesn't mean the CIA will be releasing the documents. The Agency will have to explain and list which documents it has, and either release them or find another reason to argue why they can't be released—and there are national security exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act the Agency could use to avoid having to hand them over. "It's only a small step forward but an important one," says Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU attorney who argued the case. "It will also make it more difficult for government officials to deflect questions about the program."

VIDEO: At CPAC, Wayne LaPierre Channels Red Dawn

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 12:11 PM EDT

Wayne LaPierre was a hit at CPAC. The National Rifle Association's executive vice president, who in the three months since the Sandy Hook massacre has fiercely opposed any form of gun control legislation, whipped the audience of conservative activists into a frenzy on Friday with a speech that took aim at Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester (or at least the prospect of releasing people from ICE detention centers).

But LaPierre saved the most firepower for President Obama's proposal to expand background checks to include all private gun sales. The push to close the so-called "gun show loophole," in LaPierre's view, is nothing more than a "placebo" that would do nothing to stop gun violence. (Never mind that placebos are actually quite effective.) He alleged that improved record-keeping would leave the United States vulnerable to foreign countries like China and Mexico (video above):

It's gonna be people like you and me. That's who they're tracking. That's who they're after. The names of good, decent people, all across this country, who happen to own a firearm, to go into a federal database with universal registration of every lawful gun-owner in America. That's their answer to criminal violence? Criminalize 100 million law-abiding gun owners in a private transfer? Build a list of all the good people? As if that would somehow make us safe from violent criminals and homicidal maniacs? That's their answer? Are they insane?

What's the point of registering lawful gun-owners anyway—so newspapers can print those names and addresses for gangs and criminals to access? You know that's happened before! So the list can be hacked by foreign enemies like the Chinese, who recently hacked Pentagon computers? So the list can be handed over to the Mexican government that, oh by the way, they've already requested that list from our government? In the end there are only two reasons for the government to create that list of registered gun owners: to tax them, or to take them.

We shouldn't track firearms sales because if we do, Chinese hackers will find out where all the guns are, and then...what, exactly? Go door-to-door  in Northern Idaho to confiscate them? LaPierre, as is his wont, didn't get into specifics. The paranoia speaks for itself.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin Is Still Wrong About the New Black Panther Party

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 12:05 PM EDT

Long before Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin fabricated the existence of a real-time video feed of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, deliberately misled her readers in her coverage of Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, and compared Jewish Democrats supporting Chuck Hagel to Jewish leaders who failed to prevent the Holocaust, she wrote that the Obama White House had conspired to shield the New Black Panther Party, a buffoonish black separatist group, from being brought up on voter intimidation charges during the 2008 election.

Titled "Friends in High Places," Rubin's June 2010 expose in the Weekly Standard alleged that the "Obama Justice Department went to bat for the New Black Panther party—and then covered it up." Rubin's reporting on the New Black Panther voter intimidation case has now been eviscerated by not one but two internal investigations of the Justice Department's civil rights division, though Rubin has gone out of her way to avoid recognizing this. 

Rubin's claim rested on the fact that, shortly after Obama took office, interim leaders of the civil rights division dropped some of the charges in a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party. The idea that the first black president of the United States and his black attorney general were going out of their way to protect an anti-white black fringe group fulfilled two right-wing fantasies—Obama as closet radical and his administration as an elaborate scheme of racial revenge against whites. The head of the civil rights division under Bush had broken civil service laws by seeking to purge liberals from the division and then lying to Congress about it, and, to conservatives like Rubin, the New Black Panther case was proof that the Obama Justice Department was no less politicized.

The problem, however, is that right-wing narrative is bogus. In 2011, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) found "no evidence that the decision to dismiss the case against three of the four defendants was predicated on political considerations." The interim heads of the civil rights division had dropped some of the charges against the NBPP not because they'd been pushed to by the AG or the White House, but rather because they had discovered the conservative-leaning attorneys who filed the case had left out key—and possibly exculpatory—information. The OPR report also found, contrary to Rubin's reporting and to right-wing allegations, that political higher-ups at the Justice Department had sought to prevent the New Black Panther Party case from being dismissed outright.

A second report on the topic, from the Justice Department Inspector General's office, was released Tuesday. Like the OPR report before it, the IG report found that the decision to narrow the case was "based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case." Perhaps more importantly, the IG report found no evidence that the division "improperly favored or disfavored any particular group of voters."

Rubin has not acknowledged that her writing on the New Black Panther Party has been discredited by the two reports. Instead, she has taken Tuesday's IG report as a vindication, declaring that "things were much worse than most imagined":

The IG declined to find a racial or political motive for dismissing the New Black Panther case, but found actions surrounding that action "risked undermining confidence in the non-ideological enforcement of the voting rights laws." In other words, it sure looked partisan.

The appearance of partisanship, in Rubin's telling, is "much worse" than the Obama administration being racist. Rubin hasn't moved the goalposts, she's flung them into another dimension. Yet Rubin's elaborate pratfall is not yet complete: When the original OPR report, which came to the same  conclusion as the IG report regarding the New Black Panther case, was released in March 2011, Rubin called it "unprofessional" and "biased." Holding two wildly divergent opinions on the same set of facts is something of a Rubin speciality.

Climate Denier at CPAC: Trust Me, I'm an Astronaut

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 11:05 AM EDT
In 2012, scientist Peter Gleick leaked confidential documents from the climate-denying Heartland Institute. At CPAC, Heartland fights back with cotton t-shirts.

Walter Cunningham—a former Apollo astronaut and Marine fighter pilot who now gives talks about climate change for the conservative Heartland Institute—can only find one piece of evidence to support the view, held by 97 percent of climate scientists, that the Earth is getting warmer. He moves to the next slide on his Powerpoint presentation at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the audience of about three dozen or so activists bursts into laughter.

It's a chart tracking the shrinking size of undergarments, from last century's long johns, to the 21st century's thongs.

Climate scientists, Cunningham suggests, are simply conflating correlation and causation—something he helpfully illustrates by charting rising global temperatures and the number of pirates worldwide. (They track pretty closely!) But his fellow panelists at Friday's breakout session, "The Right Climate Stuff," don't even go that far; Thomas Wysmuller, whose credentials include a degree in meteorology and a five-year internship at NASA, talks up icy winter temperatures in Moscow and Siberia as evidence the Earth isn't warming at all. Harold Doiron, a former rocket scientist who by his own admission has "only been a serious student of global warming for maybe two years," suggests we're making a big fuss about nothing.

"If sea level's rising, it's not a global problem," Doiron says. "It's not happening in the Rocky Mountains." (Sorry, Tuvalu.) Besides, he says, even if carbon dioxide were a problem, it's simply not in the United States' best interests to take action unilaterally—not when China is refusing to get on board. The reports that China is actually moving ahead with a carbon tax haven't made it to National Harbor, Maryland. Maybe they use Google Reader.

That none of the panelists critiquing climate science have any professional training in climate science isn't lost on the group. But lack of qualifications is itself a qualification at CPAC. Recommending another book that purports to debunk climate science, Doiror talks up the author thusly: "John is not a climatologist...He works in the semi-conductor industry." Doiron's own conclusions on the shortcoming of climate science rely on, in his words, "proven data analysis processes used in astronaut safety-critical situations."

Afterwards, I caught up with Cunningham, who was autographing his 17-page pamphlet, "Facts vs. Faith." Why, I asked, did he think so few climate scientists were willing to come on board with his arguments? He rejected the premise. "I don't think there's few climate scientists," Cunningham said. "I think only a few climate scientists have bought into this nonsense."

But on one thing, everyone seems to agree. "This is a controversy that should not be resolved in the court of public opinion or the political arena," Cunningham told his audience. Instead, it should be resolved in the scientific community. Wise words—although perhaps there's a better messenger than a retired astronaut at a political confab.

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The Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of Firearm Safety

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
The biometric handgun used by James Bond in Skyfall.

Yesterday in San Francisco, a group of leading Silicon Valley tech investors announced a partnership with the families of Sandy Hook victims that will seek to raise $15 million in seed funding for 15 to 20 start-up companies dedicated to preventing gun violence. "A year from now we will be able to point to the Googles, the Facebooks, and the Twitters of gun safety," said Ron Conway, a billionaire angel investor who made big early bets on those companies. "This is a huge area for genuine innovation."

With several Newtown families standing by, the tech investors announced the partnership, the Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative, on the three-month anniversary of the massacre. "In the instance of our shooting, it was the mother's guns that were used," said Nicole Hockley, whose first-grader was killed. "Had she had biometrics on the gun, or a different sort of safe technology protecting the guns, then he would not have had access to them in the first place."

10 Crazy Gun Laws Introduced Since Newtown

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

In the wake of the Newtown massacre in December, lawmakers in nearly every state in the nation have introduced gun legislation, either to strengthen gun controls or push back against them. There has also been a flurry of activity in local jurisdictions. Some of the proposals fall into the category of reasonable policy ideas, while others just seem to fire wildly, in both political directions. Here are 10 of them:

Glocks and gimlets: Allowing guns in bars has become something of a trend lately. A bill introduced in South Carolina would legalize concealed carry in bars and void the current law punishing the same with a fine of up to $2,000 or three years in jail. Gun owners would be required to remain sober, but the prospect of patrons packing heat in places where alcohol and attitudes mix remains worrisome, especially as self-defense laws grow increasingly lax. Another bill awaiting approval from the state Senate in Georgia would allow guns in bars and churches.

K-12 teachers packing heat: Never mind that recently armed guards in schools have forgotten their guns in restrooms and fired them by mistake: Lawmakers in at least six states have pushed bills since Newtown to allow K-12 teachers to carry guns. A few school districts around the country already allow teachers to carry them; in early March, South Dakota became the first state to sign into law a bill explicitly giving all its teachers the right to do so.

Scott Prouty, the 47 Percent Video Source, Opens a Legal-Assistance Fund

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 7:54 PM EDT

Scott Prouty, the onetime bartender who made the video of Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks, has launched a fund to raise money to cover legal costs and possibly the cost of going to law school. After revealing himself on MSNBC's The Ed Show on Wednesday night, Prouty immediately became a subject of intense media attention. He was besieged with interview requests. And while his hourlong interview with Schultz was under way, he says, strangers showed up at his Florida home and he soon became a target for hate-tweets and dirt-digging from right-wingers still angry about his role in exposing Romney's dismissive attitude toward half the country.

As this furor was happening—and supporters and fans of Prouty were asking how they could help him—Prouty set up an online "47 Percent Legal Assistance Fund." (And he assumed control of the @scottprouty Twitter handle that a supporter created for him on Wednesday evening. He had previously been tweeting as @AnneOnymous670.)

After taping an interview with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Thursday night, Prouty discussed with me his reasons for establishing this fund:

After going public, I've received a flood of physical and legal threats in emails and tweets. People have found my address and have shown up at my door. It's possible I may have to move. And I've had to contact several lawyers and have incurred legal expenses. I might incur more going forward. I always knew that if I talked about this, I could become a target, and I don't want to be melodramatic, but some of the threats I've received do cause me to be concerned for my safety and that of my loved ones.

I appreciate all the support I've received from the beginning—and especially now. Many people have asked how they could help. This is one way. I've also said in interviews that if they would like to show their support they can send donations to the SPCA and the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. These are both groups that I care about.

I'm hoping that I don't need to spend a lot of money on lawyers and security. If people are generous and there are any funds left over after these costs are covered, I would use the remaining money to pay for going back to school. I've been bartending for eight years and I'd like to move forward with a job that lets me help others. If I end up not using these funds for education, I will donate them to the SPCA and IGLHR.

During his media interviews the past two days, Prouty has not mentioned this fund, and so far only a handful of persons have located the website and contributed.

On the site, Prouty notes, "It's always been my dream to attend law school. I'd like to be a socially responsible lawyer who can help the 47 percent navigate our legal system. Thank you for your donations!"

WATCH: Feinstein Smacks Down Cruz Over Gun Ban: "I Am Not a 6th-Grader"

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 4:37 PM EDT

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the so-called assault weapons ban on a party-line vote, paving the way for the full chamber to vote on the measure as early as next week. But not before Sen. Ted Cruz, the freshman Republican from Texas, aimed to give Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the five-term Democrat from California, a lesson about the Bill of Rights. He suggested that it was a slippery slope from banning bazookas to banning books. Feinstein was not impressed. Watch:

Here's the text of some of Feinstein's remarks:

Let me just make a couple points in response. One: I'm not a sixth-grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in and I saw people shot. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I've seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered. Look, there were other weapons. I'm not a lawyer, but in 20 years I've been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. This doesn't mean that weapons of war—and the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here—and so I, you know, it's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know that I've been here for a long time. I've passed on a number of bills. I've studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated... Incidentally, this does not prohibit—you use the word "prohibit"—it exempts two thousand two hundred and seventy one weapons. Isn't that enough for the people of the United States? Do they need a bazooka?