Mojo - July 2013

North Carolina Senate Passes Abortion Bill on the Sly

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 7:34 PM EDT

North Carolina's Senate advanced a bill on Wednesday that threatens to shut down a number of the state's abortion providers. The measure was tacked onto an unrelated bill aimed at banning Sharia law in the state.

The Washington Post reports:

The chamber voted 29-12 in favor of the legislation Wednesday — one day after it was added to an unrelated measure — as protesters reportedly shouted “shame” at GOP lawmakers. The abortion measures would require abortion providers to meet particular licensing standards that the vast majority of the state’s providers don’t currently meet.
Republicans have big majorities in the North Carolina House and Senate, along with a GOP governor — Pat McCrory. But McCrory hasn’t indicated whether he would sign the bill, and on Wednesday he criticized the legislative maneuvering used to pass it.

McCrory said in a statement that the process for passing bills "must be appropriate and thorough." The bill "popped up," as Charlotte News & Observer put it, in a committee vote on Tuesday evening. It passed the full Senate on Wednesday before either the public or medical professionals could comment on its content.

The bill includes provisions that would force abortion clinics to meet the same building requirements as hospitals, and imposes restrictions on medication abortions, among other things.

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Hemp Flag to Fly Over Nation's Capitol on July 4

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 5:43 PM EDT

A hemp flag will fly above the Capitol on our nation's birthday this year to celebrate a recent legislative victory for the cannabis lobby.

Growing hemp is illegal under federal law. Even in the 11 states where cannabis cultivation is technically allowed under state law, federal law trumps that unless the feds grant farmers specific permission. In June, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced an amendment to the farm bill in the House that would allow colleges and universities in states that permit cultivation of the plant to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. The amendment passed by a vote of 225 to 200. The farm bill it was attached to failed in late June, but Polis' request to commemorate the amendment's success by flying a hemp flag on July 4 had already been submitted. On Wednesday, the Capitol's flag office granted the request.

"Last month, I was proud to hold an American flag made of hemp on the floor of the House of Representatives as I joined my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in favor of a commonsense amendment to the farm bill," Polis said in a statement Wednesday.  Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) cosponsored the amendment.

Hemp is a type of cannabis plant and a cousin of marijuana. It is used to make a range of products, from paper and cloth to biofuel and auto parts. Polis, whose home state allows hemp cultivation, wants to see the plant made legal throughout the US. In the statement Wednesday, he touted "the important role [hemp] can play in America's economic future." As Pierce Willans of Policy Mic explains:

The US is the world's number one consumer of hemp, with total sales reaching $500 million dollars in 2012. Unfortunately, that money is benefiting Canadian, rather than American farmers. 90% of the hemp consumed in the United States is produced in Canada, where it has been legal since 1998… [M]any farmers would love to see hemp made legal here, so that money could be used to boost the U.S. economy, rather than Canada's.

Colorado wasn't the only state pushing for hemp legalization through the farm bill. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also advocated for an amendment to the Senate version of the bill that would have removed hemp from the federal government's list of controlled substances. Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the amendment.

The lawmakers argue that hemp is unfairly stigmatized; the plant is different from weed in that it contains negligible amounts of the mind-altering compound THC. "Hemp is not marijuana," said Polis, "and at the very least, we should allow our universities—the greatest in the world—to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity." (Polis has also introduced legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide.)

Besides, nothing could be more patriotic. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. And the first American flag was made of hemp. The hemp flag flying over the Capitol on Thursday will be the first since the government began outlawing the plant in the 1930s.

Egypt in Turmoil: Images From Morsi's Final 48 Hours in Power

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 5:12 PM EDT
Anti-Morsi protesters chant slogans during an opposition rally in front of Al-Qoba presidential palace in Cairo.

At 3 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, some 48 hours after the Egyptian military's deadline for "the people's action and demands" to receive a response "from all parties," Egyptian troops deployed across Cairo and President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power. A year after his democratic election—and two and a half years after a historic uprising brought down longtime leader Hosni Mubarak—Egypt has again plunged into uncertainty. In a televised announcement, General Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian defense minister, explained that the constitution would be suspended and the head of the Constitutional Court would become acting president until elections can be organized. "The armed forces will always be out of politics," he asserted.

In the days preceding Morsi's removal, throngs of Egyptians took to the streets in protest of the president. The military placed a travel ban on Morsi and leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and sent tanks and troops into Cairo, where Morsi supporters had taken to the streets, many armed with homemade shields and clubs. Here is a look at the last 48 hours of the Morsi regime:

Credit Image: ©​ Amru Salahuddien/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

An Egyptian family takes part in a rally in front of Al-Qoba presidential palace in Cairo. Now-deposed, Morsi said late Tuesday that there will be no alternative for "constitutional legitimacy." 

Credit Image: © Li Muzi/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

Opponents of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi gather in Tahrir Square.

 

(Credit Image: © Li Muzi/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com)

A man holds a picture of Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sissi near Cairo's Tahrir Square.

 

Credit Image: © Amru Salahuddien/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

An Egyptian woman waves the Egyptian flag and chanting anti-Morsi slogans during an opposition rally in front of Al-Qoba presidential palace in Cairo. 

 

Credit Image: © Ahmed Asad/APA Images/ZUMAPRESS.co

Egyptian police special forces sit on their armored vehicle, protecting a bridge between Tahrir Square and Cairo University, where Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered. Egypt's leading democracy advocate, Mohamed El Baradei, and top Muslim and Coptic Christian clerics met Wednesday with the army chief to discuss a political road map for Egypt only hours before a military ultimatum to the Islamist president was set to expire.

 

Credit Image: ©​ Ahmed Asad/ZumaPress

Egyptian protesters take part in a protest against President Morsi, in Tahrir Square. 

 

Credit Image: © Ahmed Asad/ZumaPress

Morsi supporters shout slogans during a protest to show support to him in front of Cairo University.​ 

 

Credit Image: © Denis Vyshinsky/ITAR-TASS/ZUMAPRESS.com

Morsi supporters wear helmets and hold makeshift shields and batons. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi belongs, tweeted that a "full military coup" was under way. As the army deadline passed, cheers echoed in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands of protesters had gathered. 

 

Credit Image: © Shawkan/NurPhoto/ZUMAPRESS.com

A demonstrator holds a flag while protesting in Tahrir Square against Morsi's rule. Morsi said a 48-hour ultimatum set by the army "may cause confusion" and vowed to stick to his own plans to resolve the political crisis. The army warned it will intervene if the government and its opponents fail to heed "the will of the people." 

 

Credit Image: © Shawkan/NurPhoto/ZUMAPRESS.com

Morsi opponents celebrate as they gather at Tahrir Square. The head of Egypt's armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, issued a declaration on Wednesday suspending the constitution and appointing the head of the Constitutional Court as interim head of state, effectively declaring the removal of Morsi.

Department of Homeland Security Report Suggested Arming Border Patrol Drones

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 1:10 PM EDT

According to a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) suggested arming its fleet of drones with "non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOIs," or targets of interest, along the nation's borders. Currently, none of the agency's 10 domestic drones is weaponized; the recently passed Senate immigration bill, which would require a minimum of four additional drones, stipulates that those be unarmed as well.

The report doesn't exactly rise to the level of proposing drone strikes against Arab Americans "sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Michigan," as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) postulated during his 13-hour drone filibuster in March. But it's sure to fuel the concerns not only of border residents and immigration reform groups but of privacy watchdogs and anti-government protesters paranoid about domestic surveillance.

Jennifer Lynch, an EFF attorney, told the Atlantic Wire, "This is the first I've seen any mention of any plans [from a federal agency] to weaponize any drones that fly domestically." However, local law enforcement agencies have been considering arming drones with the same weapons used in riot control—rubber bullets, tear gas, bean bag rounds. The CBP report didn't specify the weapons it has in mind.

The EFF also obtained flight records for CBP drones. The records reveal that the agency used drones not only on the border, but also to conduct law enforcement operations in conjunction with other federal and state agencies. The purpose of those operations ranged from investigating fishing violations to recording "surveillance imagery" for the FBI.

Here's the DHS report:

Republican Super-PAC Revs Up for House Immigration Battle

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 10:43 AM EDT

As the immigration reform battle moves to the House of Representatives, a Republican super-PAC backing comprehensive reform is gearing up for a bruiser of a fight.

In an interview, Charlie Spies, who co-founded the Republicans for Immigration Reform super-PAC with former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, said his group is focused on two sets of House Republicans: those who are on the fence about reform, and those who support a comprehensive immigration reform bill like the one passed by 68 senators—including 14 Republicans—last week. Republicans for Immigration Reform, Spies says, plans to target constituents who support reform in select Congressional districts and channel that support into the offices of their member of Congress. The point is to amplify grassroots support for comprehensive reform, giving cover to lawmakers who support reform and nudging those on the fence to get onboard with a comprehensive bill.

At the same time Gutierrez will continue a media blitz that's seen him on most major TV networks and quoted in national newspapers chiding his fellow Republicans for not embracing reform. "We'll be very actively engaged both from sort of a top-down and bottom-up approach of showing support for reform to Republican members," Spies says.

It's a strategy, he adds, taken from the playbook of the activists on the other side of the debate. Throughout the immigration reform fight, hardline anti-immigration groups have consistently picked out reform opponents and urged them to call and email their lawmakers to reject a comprehensive immigration bill.

On the fundraising side of things, Spies says Republicans for Immigration Reform has so far generated plenty of excitement—but little so far in the way of big checks. Many donors are still burned out from the 2012 election cycle. Or they're waiting for the 2014 cycle to begin in earnest before they starting cutting checks again. "People are holding off," Spies says. "They're saying 'we'll send in money later this year.' And so in terms of getting checks in the door, it's been slow. In terms of level of enthusiasm, it's been strong."

As the New York Times reports, a number of big-money players are plunging into the immigration fray to help get a bill passed. Those groups include the American Action Network, a dark-money nonprofit based in Washington; Americans for a Conservative Direction, another nonprofit run by GOP fundraiser extraordinaire Haley Barbour with ties to Mark Zuckerberg and Joe Green's FWD.us group; and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Here's more from the Times:

But many of the most powerful and well-financed forces in the party are moving to provide cover for the Florida senator and Republicans like him who are pushing to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Their message: if we ever want to take back the White House, we have to stop devouring our own.

As the party assesses its chances for the 2016 presidential campaign, many Republican strategists believe that they need as robust a primary field as possible, with more than just one or two viable potential contenders.

A messy fight over a subject as touchy as illegal immigration is a prospect many Republican leaders are eager to avoid, especially since three of their best hopes for 2016 are closely tied to the debate: Mr. Rubio, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who is expected to play a vital role once the House starts debating the issue next week.

All these efforts lead up to a critical meeting on July 10. That's when, in the basement of the Capitol, House Republicans will meet to begin deciding what to do with the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate. The super-PACs and nonprofits wading into the fray are betting that their ads and lobbying will embolden pro-reform Republicans for what's sure to be a bitter fight ahead.

Obama Administration Won't Comment on Ecuador Bugging Claim

| Wed Jul. 3, 2013 9:51 AM EDT

Update: Ecuador claims that the bug came from the Surveillance Group Limited, one of the largest private surveillance companies in the United Kingdom. Ecuador is asking the UK for help on further investigations. The company has denied the claim.

Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patiño has claimed that a hidden microphone was recently found in the country's embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taking refuge. Patiño has yet to provide further details about the alleged bugging, but the AFP reports that he plans to publicly point the finger at the country he believes was involved on Wednesday. Obama administration officials tell Mother Jones they will not comment on Patiño's allegations or say whether the United States was involved in any bugging of the embassy. And a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorean Embassy in London says, "At the moment, there's nobody saying anything more." 

The allegations come at a tense moment, as the international intrigue involving Edward Snowden and Assange, who is assisting the former former National Security Agency contractor in his quest for asylum, increases. Recent reports based on documents leaked by Snowden reveal that the United States has bugged European Union diplomats in the United States and spied on members of the G20 summit in London.

In a statement (in Spanish) posted on the web site of Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Patiño said: "We regret to say that this is another testament of the loss of ethics at the international level." He added, "We are infiltrated from all sides." 

The device was allegedly found in the office of ambassador Juan Falconi Puig during a routine sweep, according to AFP and the Australian newspaper the Age. Many sensitive discussions have taken place in the office, including conversations between Patiño and Assange. 

The allegations come as former Snowden seeks asylum in Ecuador—a request that the country says it will not consider unless Snowden manages to reach Ecuadorean territory. Ecuador also continues to shield Assange from extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault investigation. Last night WikiLeaks tweeted a comment on the alleged bugging and the news that a flight from Moscow carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was diverted to Austria after several European countries refused to allow the jet cross their airspace, believing that Snowden might be on board: 

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, says she has "no comment" on the incident. But she notes that the issue of who supposedly planted the bug "is a question for Ecuador." Asked if the US had any role in the bugging, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment. 

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Gabby Giffords Kicks Off Her 7-State Background Checks Tour by Firing a Handgun

| Tue Jul. 2, 2013 10:08 AM EDT

On Monday, former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords began her seven-day, seven-state "Rights and Responsibilities Tour" at a firing range in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was the first time Giffords has fired a gun since sustaining a gunshot wound to the head during a January 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona. (The shooting rampage, which occurred at a "Congress on Your Corner" event held in front of a Safeway, left six attendees dead and another thirteen wounded). Here's footage of Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly at the firing range (via ABC News):

Giffords and Kelly's "Rights and Responsibilites Tour"—which includes stops in Alaska, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio—is part of an effort to revive and rally support for gun background checks legislation, which collapsed in the Senate in April. The opening event in Vegas fits with Giffords and Kelly's insistence that, while pushing for stricter gun measures, the two are proud gun owners and staunch supporters of the Second Amendment. "I'm a patriot who believes in [the] 2nd Amendment," Giffords writes in a USA Today op-ed this week. "My 7-state tour will promote common-sense action."

The 10 Most Absurd Things Texas Republicans Said About Abortion This Year

| Tue Jul. 2, 2013 6:44 AM EDT

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D).

On Monday, the Texas legislature reconvened for a special session for the purposes of passing a strict anti-abortion law that would shut all but five clinics in the state and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Democrats successfully ran out the clock on the legislation in late June, an effort that was capped by state Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster, but this time around the bill will almost certainly pass. (Move to Texas!) Debate on the bill begins Tuesday, and it's likely to feature no shortage of overheated statements about Davis, her supporters, and abortion rights. If the last two months of rhetoric from GOP lawmakers and activists is any indication, we just have one bit of advice: Don't make "Holocaust" your drinking word. Here's just a small sampling of some of the eyebrow-raising remarks thrown around during the last round of legislative debate:

State Sen. Dan Patrick (R): Defending his party's chaotic effort to force through a vote as the session was ending, the founder of the state's tea party caucus told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on his radio show that lawmakers had an obligation to ignore proper Senate rules and procedure if it meant saving fetuses: "I spoke to my colleagues and said, when Jesus criticized the Pharisees, he criticized them because their laws and their rules were more important than actually taking care of people. And in my view, stopping a debate to save thousands of lives, well, saving the thousands of lives is more important than our tradition of, well, you should never stop someone."

State Rep. Bill Zedler (R): On Twitter, referring to reproductive rights activists: "We had terrorists in the Texas State Senate opposing SB 5."

Gov. Rick Perry: Speaking to a national right-to-life conference on Friday, Perry lamented that Davis, who was raised by a single mother and had her first child at 19, hadn't drawn the proper lessons from her own life: "It is just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: After initially telling reporters the bill had passed, Dewhurst later offered up an excuse for why it had failed: "An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies." Following that, he threatened to arrest reporters for interfering with the Democratic process: "If I find, as I've been told, examples of the media waving and trying to inflame the crowd, incite them in the direction of a riot, I'm going to take action against them. We have reports that members of the media on the floor, on the floor of the Senate, were looking up at the people in the gallery, waving their hands, trying to motivate them to yell more. If I find examples of that, proof certain on our video. I'm going to address this firmly."

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R): Laubenberg, the bill's sponsor, suggested during the floor debate that there was no need to include an exception for victims of rape, because rape kits are themselves a form of abortion: "In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out. The woman had five months to make that decision, at this point we are looking at a baby that is very far along in its development."

State Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R): On June 23, as reproductive rights activists were protesting in the capitol, he tweeted:

State Rep. Wayne Christian (R): Stating the obvious in an interview with the Texas Tribune this spring: "Of course it's a war on birth control, abortion, everything—that's what family planning is supposed to be about." 

State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R): Posted, and then deleted, this Facebook note: "This is a tough fight—the Gallery is full of orange shirts—very few blue—orange are the ones I call Pro-death. I am Pro-life—so they must be Pro-death. A human is a human prior to birth just as it is human after it is born. We have killed 50 million babies after Roe v Wade. Hitler killed 6 million people." So at least she's not a Holocaust denier.

Cathie Adams, Texas Eagle forum president: Continuing with the Hitler theme, Adams took to Twitter to vent about "feminazis" and "stinky stalking feminists" swarming the capitol.

Donny Ferguson, aide to US Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "Wendy Davis's pink shoes offer good protection from biohazards and contaminated sharps found in the unregulated abortion shops she defends."

And here's one bonus from the last time Texas lawmakers took on abortion access, chronicled by Texas Monthly's Mimi Swartz:

State Rep. Sid Miller (R): Responding to a question from a female lawmaker as to what his 2011 sonogram bill would actually entail: "Actually, I have never had a sonogram done on me, so I'm not familiar with the exact procedure—on the medical procedure, how that proceeds." Details!

What's Behind the BART Strike?

| Mon Jul. 1, 2013 8:17 PM EDT

BART employees protesting in downtown Oakland during negotiations last week.

UPDATE 1, 10/18/13: After marathon negotiations following a sixty-day break, the two unions representing BART employees announced they would strike again at midnight Thursday night. Leading up to the strike, union negotiators and federal mediators had told reporters they were inching closer to an agreement on the major issues of pensions and health care costs, but couldn't reach an accord. The unions suggested letting a neutral arbitrator have the final say on the remaining issue—rules determining when employees could collect overtime pay—but BART management refused, prompting a federal mediator to announce the end of negotiations. No word yet as to how long the trains will be out of service.


Here's a closer look at what unionized workers from the nation's fifth largest rail transit system are demanding and why you should care:

Who's on strike?

Workers for Bay Area Rapid Transit, more commonly known by its acronym BART. After contracts with the agency's two largest unions, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, expired and renewal talks broke down, the unions announced they would strike. This morning, instead of reporting for work, BART employees picketed the rail system's stations. It's BART's first strike since a six-day protest in 1997.

After Serenading a Dictator, Jennifer Lopez Won't Say If She'll Keep the Fee

| Mon Jul. 1, 2013 3:12 PM EDT

Gigli is no longer the most horrible thing J-Lo has ever done in her two-decade career.

Pop singer and actress Jennifer Lopez caused a stir over the weekend when news broke that she was appearing at the lavish birthday bash of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the 56-year-old president—and human-rights-quashing, personality-cult-driven dictator—of Turkmenistan. The party was thrown at a Caspian Sea resort in the oil-rich Central Asian country on Saturday night. Lopez is reportedly the first big-time Western celebrity to visit Turkmenistan, and she performed at the event, singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" before a gathering of business executives and government officials.

She of course was paid for the performance, but her publicist, Shoshanna Stone of Edge Publicity, declined to divulge much she pocketed for serenading Berdymukhamedov. With human rights activists decrying her appearance at the party and many people calling for Lopez to return the cash or donate it to an outfit that opposes repression in Turkmenistan, Stone would not say whether J-Lo—who is worth a quarter of a billion dollars—is considering such a move.

Here is video of the gig. There are some amazing fireworks at the end.

The event was hosted by the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), a state-owned Chinese oil and gas company based in Dongcheng District in Beijing that has seen its fair share of accidents and controversies. (CNPC did not respond to Mother Jones' multiple requests for comment.)