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For Planned Parenthood, Justice Seldom Gets More Poetic

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency

“A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

That nugget of wisdom dates from the 1800s, i.e., decades before anyone ever heard of the Internet — much less Fox “News.”

If a lie traveled that fast in the 19th century, you can only imagine its speed in the 21st, when media and the World Wide Web have given it wings. Indeed, in 2016, the lie is so broadly and brazenly told as to cower truth itself and to render impotent and faintly ridiculous the little voice insisting, against all evidence, that facts matter.

It seems increasingly obvious that to many of us, they simply don’t. Not anymore. We find ourselves embarked upon a post-empirical era in which the very idea that facts are knowable and concrete has become quaint. These days, facts are whatever the politics of the moment needs them to be.

We’ve seen this over and over in recent years. We’ve seen it in the controversy over Barack Obama’s birthplace, in the accusations that Sept. 11 was an inside job, in the charge that weapons of mass destruction were in fact discovered in Iraq, and in the claims that there is no scientific consensus about global warming.

Lunatic assertions that fly in the face of the known are now the norm in American political discourse. So last week’s news out of Houston came as a welcome jolt.

It seems Planned Parenthood was exonerated by a grand jury after an investigation into spurious charges the reproductive healthcare provider was selling baby parts for profit. Simultaneously, two so-called “citizen journalists” who orchestrated the hoax — David Daleiden, 27, and Sandra Merritt, 62 — were indicted.

It was a moment of sweet vindication for Planned Parenthood, following months of vilification and investigation. This all sprang from a series of videos secretly recorded by Daleiden’s anti-abortion group, “The Center For Medical Progress” during conversations with officials of various Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Released last year, the videos purported to show the officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue with people they believed to be medical researchers. As Planned Parenthood first protested, an investigation by FactCheck.org later indicated, and a grand jury now affirms, the videos were deceptively edited. Tissue from aborted fetuses has been used in biomedical research since the 1930s to study everything from polio to Parkinson’s, and while the law prohibits its sale, the patient is allowed to donate it, and Planned Parenthood is allowed to recoup reasonable costs for preparation and transportation to supply it to scientists.

This is what the Planned Parenthood representatives were talking about. This is what the videos were edited to hide.

One is reminded of how, back in 2010, another activist used another deceptively-edited video to suggest that a speech by a black federal employee named Shirley Sherrod was proof of anti-white hatred. It turned out Sherrod’s speech actually made precisely the opposite point; she spoke of the need to overcome such hatred.

That video, like these, suggests that what we’re dealing with here is not “citizen journalists” — whatever that idiotic term even means — but activist zealots out to advance their agenda and embarrass their opponents by any means necessary, without regard to simple decency or plain old truth. Increasingly, that is the way of things.

So it’s welcome news that the two CPM hoaxers find themselves facing felony charges for allegedly using falsified driver’s licenses to identify themselves to Planned Parenthood. We are told that that constitutes fraud. In other words, Daleiden and Merritt were ensnared by the trap they set. Justice seldom gets more poetic.

Yes, lies have always moved faster than truth. But it feels good to see truth pull even every now and then.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: David Daleiden, American Life League via Flickr.

Anti-Abortion Activists Get Caught In Their Own Sting

When anti-abortion activists began a fraudulent “sting” operation against Planned Parenthood, they surely had no idea that it would lead to this: criminal indictments against their own plotters. This is one of the best instances of retributive justice to hit the political scene in decades.

The anti-abortion crowd who carried out this campaign certainly deserve what they got. They set out to use lies, deception and, it turns out, allegedly illegal acts not just to embarrass Planned Parenthood but also to cripple it — to turn the organization, which is one of the nation’s leading providers of women’s reproductive health services, into such a pariah that its funding would dry up. Instead, the schemers have been exposed as the liars and frauds that they are.

Their deception was in keeping with the long and tawdry history of the anti-abortion crusade, which has used falsehoods and misinformation to try to prevent women from having access to safe and legal abortions. Activists have claimed that abortion is linked to breast cancer. (It isn’t.) They have insisted that abortion leads to long-term mental anguish. (There are no data to support that claim.) And some have even said that there is no reason to include exceptions for rape and incest in any abortion restrictions, since rape cannot lead to pregnancy. (That’s just nonsense.)

This particular episode of right-wing overreach hit the airwaves last year, when an anti-abortion activist named David Daleiden, director of the so-called Center for Medical Progress, released videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal tissue retrieved from abortions, which is illegal. He claimed the videos showed “a criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts.”

But, like other so-called stings by ultraconservative “citizen-journalists,” this operation did not depend on fairness, accuracy or transparency. Instead, the videos were heavily edited and sometimes doctored to give the appearance of wrongdoing.

Of course, that didn’t stop conservative politicians from pouncing on the opportunity to show their support for Daleiden’s efforts. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, dove headfirst into the miasma of Daleiden’s lies, suggesting during a September debate that she had seen video footage of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”

No such video exists, and PolitiFact later ruled Fiorina’s dramatic tale “mostly false.”

Some Republican hard-liners in Congress, including presidential contender Ted Cruz, insisted that their party should shut down the government rather than assent to a budget that included funding for Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, several investigations were launched into Planned Parenthood’s alleged perfidy. Multiple states, from Kansas to Georgia to Massachusetts, conducted probes, as did three congressional committees. None — not one — of the investigations turned up any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

Indeed, Harris County (Houston), Texas, also convened a grand jury to investigate Planned Parenthood. But in a stunning irony, the grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood and instead returned criminal indictments against Daleiden on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and on a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs. A second anti-abortion activist, Sandra S. Merritt, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record. (Both felony charges involve making fake driver’s licenses to fool Planned Parenthood employees about their actual identities.)

If supporters of Daleiden and Merritt try to persuade you this is some partisan smear, know that the Harris County prosecutor who convened the grand jury is a Republican, Devon Anderson, who has described herself as “pro-life.” “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” she told reporters.

Not that the anti-abortionists are giving up. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that their separate investigations would continue. They are as relentless as their partisan colleagues in Congress have been in investigating Benghazi — and similarly unsuccessful.

But finding evidence of genuine criminal wrongdoing was never the goal of these investigations. Instead, ultraconservatives who crusade against reproductive rights are animated by a desire to turn back the clock to a time when women had little control over their own bodies. Their critics have dubbed this a “war on women” for good reason.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Protesters stand on a sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Iowa: Hardly Anybody Votes, But Everybody Worries

In politics, it is the small things that count. In Iowa politics, it is the tiny things that count.

For all the hoopla, media attention and money lavished on the Iowa caucuses, hardly anybody bothers to vote in them.

TV reporters know that the one question they don’t want to ask a voter in a live interview is: “Did you vote in the last caucus?”

The answer is usually an embarrassed no, quickly followed by a pledge to vote this time, which happens to be Monday.

The embarrassment is genuine; the pledge to vote Monday is not.

Unless you have been on submarine duty beneath the polar ice cap this past month, you know that caucuses are different from primaries. Caucus voters all have to gather together at 7 p.m. and then go through 90 minutes of palaver before choosing their candidate.

The process can be so arduous that in 2008, when Hillary Clinton’s national headquarters chose the slogan “Stand Up for Hillary,” the Iowa staff went crazy. “We had old ladies who couldn’t stand up for 20 minutes, let alone 90,” a Clinton aide told me. “They thought ‘Stand Up for Hillary’ meant they would really have to stand up that long!”

(The senior voters were assured that chairs would be found and that they could stand up while sitting down.)

But most people still won’t show up for the caucuses. In 2012, the turnout rate in the Republican caucus was 19.76 percent. In other words, 4 out of 5 people in Iowa who were eligible to vote in the caucuses didn’t bother to.

A study by Thomas E. Patterson of the Harvard Kennedy School pointed out that in 2008, only a small percentage of voters determined the outcome of the caucus.

“The Democratic winner, Barack Obama, received the votes of just 4 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters. Mike Huckabee, the Republican victor, attracted the support of a mere 2 percent of Iowa adults,” Patterson wrote.

Dennis J. Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University and the Harkin Institute Flansburg Fellow, wrote in July 2015: “For all the attention lavished upon Iowa by presidential candidates, political activists around the country, and national and foreign news organizations, does the precinct-caucus turnout deserve such attention?”

It does, Goldford concluded, merely because it goes first in the election process. “In any sequential nomination process, any state going first will carry special weight simply because it is first, whatever other factors may add in importance,” Goldford wrote.

Which is a very scholarly way of saying: “If you’re first, it matters. If you’re 25th, you’re Nebraska.”

And the national press does not flock to Nebraska the way it flocks to Iowa. (Just two national reporters in Nebraska at the same time would probably constitute a flock.)

Iowa has 99 counties divided into about 1,700 precincts, but it is a rural state in which a majority of cities and towns have fewer than 500 residents.

Turnout in some precincts is so low that a single family can determine the outcome. It is rare, but not unheard of, for only one voter to show up at caucus. (The parties try to eliminate so-called “ghost precincts,” in which nobody shows up.)

In more populous precincts, the campaigns often will hold potluck suppers before the caucus hour. This is not just to show friendliness, but to make sure potential voters are gathered in one spot, where they then can be corralled, stuffed into cars and vans and taken to their voting sites.

Identifying who is likely to vote for your candidate and getting those people to do so is the famous “ground game” that is organized by a campaign’s “field operation.”

In 2008, Barack Obama not only beat Hillary Clinton with a more compelling message (hope and change) but with a superior field operation.

Is Bernie Sanders poised to pull off the same kind of upset over Clinton come Monday?

According to The New York Times, Sanders’ “campaign has quietly assembled an extensive ground game here, with 100 paid staff members and with trained volunteer leaders for each of the state’s 1,681 caucus precincts.

“The field team is meant to be the engine for a Sanders upset in the caucuses on Feb. 1 — the vehicle to turn out the tens of thousands of grass-roots supporters who show up for Mr. Sanders’s rallies, even if they no longer earn him headlines.”

But I talked to a senior Clinton aide Tuesday, who said: “It is unclear whether Sanders actually has a field operation in Iowa that can produce anything like what Obama did. I don’t believe so. Our people on the ground are not seeing evidence of it.”

What they are seeing is Sanders’ campaign telling its Iowa college volunteers to vote at home if they live in Iowa rather than at college, where their votes could be wasted due to Iowa’s complicated voting rules.

“You don’t want to be doing that in the last week, however,” the Clinton aide said. “To win this time, a campaign is going to need a meticulous field operation. And I’m not sure they have that.”

But how about if things go very, very wrong for Clinton and she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, which follows eight days later? Can she still win the nomination?

“I believe so,” the aide said. “I’m never completely relaxed. But we are extremely well-organized. And I believe so.”

Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, United States, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

Track Palin, Sarah’s Latest Political Opportunity

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency

The police report paints a confusing and chaotic picture.

Apparently, the young man and his girlfriend got into an argument over her ex-boyfriend. At some point, things became physical. When police arrived, they say they found the young man outside his parent’s home, where he lives. He was belligerent, evasive and stank of alcohol. He had a bruised eye, which he attributed to his girlfriend throwing an elbow.

According to the police report, the girlfriend was found upstairs in the house, hiding under a bed, crying. She also had an eye injury from where she said her boyfriend had punched her with a closed fist. She also said he kicked her and threatened to kill himself with an AR-15 rifle. “Do you think I won’t do it?” he cried. The young man was arrested.

And it was all Barack Obama’s fault.

That, at least, is what 26-year-old Track Palin’s mother, Sarah, suggested to the audience at a Donald Trump rally in Tulsa last week, the day after Track, a combat veteran, was taken into custody.

“My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different. They come back hardened. They come back wondering if there is that respect for what their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military have given so sacrificially to this country, and that starts at the top.

“It is,” she continued, “a shame that our military personnel even have to question, have to wonder if they’re respected anymore. It starts from the top…comes from our own president where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we go through? Do you know what we’re trying to do to secure America and to secure the freedoms that have been bequeathed us?'”

Vote Trump, she said, so that, “America’s finest will have that commander in chief who will respect them and honor them.”

Someone asked on Twitter whether this meant President Obama is also responsible for daughter Bristol’s two unwed pregnancies. Probably shouldn’t give Sarah any ideas.

To be fair: The scandal over the failure of Obama’s Department of Veterans Affairs to provide timely medical care for American service personnel is a disgrace; any flak the administration takes for it is richly deserved. That said, it takes a leap worthy of Jesse Owens to suggest this is why Track Palin got arrested.

His mother’s clumsy attempt to shift blame for what he allegedly did speaks volumes about the devolution of conservatism in the last two decades. Like them or not, agree with them or don’t, conservatives used to espouse clear and consistent values, one of which was an impatience with the so-called culture of victimization. But in recent years, who has cried “victim” more than they? To hear them tell it, they are a people perennially under siege from a “War on Christmas,” a “War on Whites,” a “War on Males,” political correctness, same-sex marriage and, of course, that old standby, liberal media bias.

Now here is one of conservatism’s biggest stars claiming her son is a victim after he allegedly beat up his girlfriend in a drunken rage. What used to be a consistent principle has shrunk into the kind of situational morality conservatives once abhorred, a “say anything-ism” in which the only consistent ideal is that you never pass up any opportunity to damage the president.

Palin’s willingness to use her own son in that cause is repellent. One reads little actual concern for him — or his girlfriend — in her remarks. And that is sad. What kind of mother looks at her son’s domestic-violence arrest and thinks, political opportunity?

Track Palin is obviously a troubled young man. One hopes he gets the help he needs.

His mom could use some, too.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks after endorsing U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for President at a rally at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich