2011 - %3, February

Corn on The Last Word: The Right on Egypt

Fri Feb. 4, 2011 9:27 AM PST

David Corn and Media Matters' David Brock were on The Last Word last night, trying to make some sense of the right's conspiracy theories about the unrest in Egypt:

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Clarence Thomas' Wife Cashes In as Tea Party Lobbyist

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 8:42 AM PST

Like former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and California political strategist Sal Russo, Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is cashing in on her tea party cred. Ginni Thomas, as she's known, has started an outfit called Liberty Consulting, Politico reports, devoted to political strategizing (which in Washington can mean just about anything) and also tea party-tinged lobbying that, according to her website, draws on Thomas' "experience and connections" on the Hill. "Ginni plans to leverage her 30 years of experience as a Washington 'insider,'" reads her website, "to assist non-establishment 'outsiders' who share her belief in our core founding principles and values."

In a recent email she sent to chiefs of staff on the Hill, Thomas branded herself a "self-appointed ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement." Her new shop is just getting started, but already Thomas says she's met with almost half of the 99 freshman Republicans on Capitol Hill. That lobbying, combined with Thomas' previous role as a tea party activist dedicated to defeating Democrats in the 2010 midterms, has irked good government groups who claim she's politicizing the Supreme Court. "It raises additional questions about whether Justice Thomas can be unbiased and appear to be unbiased" in cases where his wife's political advocacy has had an impact, like the challenge to the health care reform law or limits on corporate campaign spending, a lawyer for the group Common Cause told Politico.

Then again, Thomas doesn't look to have made that big a splash in Congress:

Even among congressional Republicans, with whom Thomas boasts she has close ties, the reaction to the entreaties from her new firm, Liberty Consulting, ranged from puzzlement to annoyance, with a senior House Republican aide who provided Thomas's e-mail to POLITICO blasting her for trying to "cash in" on her ties to the tea party movement.

Freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.)—who courted tea party activists and who was endorsed by Liberty Central, the tea party nonprofit group she headed until December—was unaware of Thomas’s new effort.

"This is the spouse of Justice Thomas?" he said, when asked by POLITICO on Tuesday about her outreach. "No, I've never met her. It's not something I've heard about. And I hang out with a lot of freshman," he said.

David Stockman and the New Conservative "Religion"

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 7:00 AM PST

Photo Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryPhoto Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryWhen conservative politicians want to take a rain check on criticizing a member of their own party, they like to invoke Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thall shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

This is, of course, frequently ignored. But it's not the only commandment that's subject to selective enforcement—that whole bit about "false idols," for instance. For the better part of three decades, conservative policy-makers have revered a president who never really existed: a tax-cutting, deficit-fighting, savior who starved the beast of big government. Today's budget hawks alternatively cite Reagan as evidence that deficits don't matter, and then again as evidence that they do.

But don't take it from me; take it from the architect of the Reagan tax cuts himself: former budget director David Stockman (top, left). "[T]he simplistic and reckless idea that the way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes anytime, anywhere, for any reason, became embedded [in the GOP]," Stockman told MoJo's David Corn. "It has become a religion, it has become a catechism. It's become a mindless incantation."

So where did Republicans go wrong—and how can they make things right? Stockman's prescription for fixing the economy might come as a bit of a shock, not the least of all to Congressional Republicans. Check out David's interview with Stockman from our March/April issue.

And while you're at it, here's a bonus long-read for your lunch break: Bill Greider's 1981 portrait of the budget director as a young man, in The Atlantic. I was going to describe it as a "fascinating look at the work of a budget director," and realized that makes it sound incredibly boring, which it's not; really, what's remarkable is Stockman's candor even then. As he told Greider, "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers."

Reagan's Toll on the Middle Class

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 6:12 AM PST

In the lead-up to what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday on Sunday, conservatives have been trotting out all manner of panegyrics to their patron saint and his creed of trickle-down economics. For 90 percent of the people in this country, here's what should matter:

Source: Economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez as cited by PolitifactSource: Economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez as cited by Politifact

Eco-News Roundup: Friday February 4

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 5:00 AM PST

Posts on health and the environment from our other blogs

Waiting Room: If health reform is repealed, next big change likely won't be until 2024.

Death and Taxes: Industrial-size pot farms face taxation and severe crackdowns simultaneously.

Weekday Update: The most recent news on tear-gassed crowds and beaten protesters in Egypt is here.

Backing Down: GOP abandons a bill discriminating between "rape" and "forcible rape."

Clearing the Air: Newt Gingrich's verbal assault on the EPA isn't so popular.

Word War: Florida judge's striking of health care reform used White House rhetoric.

Worry Warts?: Should we worry that a Fla. judge has ruled health reform unconstitutional?

Big Shot: A House Republican shuts down gun safety hearings due to possible juror prejudice in the Tucson case.

Gas Law Passed: Malawi just made farting in public illegal.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 4, 2011

Fri Feb. 4, 2011 3:30 AM PST

A Chinook helicopter passes over an International Security Assistance Forces convoy in order to drop soldiers off outside Combat Outpost Johnston Jan. 31, in the Arghandab District. Soldiers are frequently transported by air throughout the battle space in order to fill the slots of other soldiers going on leave. Photo via US Army

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Hey Look, It's a New Homepage!

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 2:00 AM PST

Well, hello. If you’ve been here before, you've probably noticed that things look different. That’s right, we’ve redesigned the homepage—part of an incremental makeover of the site. 

We did this for a couple of reasons. First, change is good. Second, there were some parts of the old design that didn’t suit the rapid-fire pace at which our content rolls out these days.

Traffic has doubled over the last year. Our reporters in D.C. and on the West Coast are cranking out more stories than ever. Our new commenting system has pulled many more of you into the conversation, as has the vibrant community of our Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr friends.

This design is less blocky, more open, and brings more of our freshest content to the top of the page. It also showcases the voices (and mugs) of the team of amazing staff writers and editors we've built over the past few years. If you click on any of their pictures, you’ll get to our new author pages. Bookmark your favorites.

Great photojournalism is one of MoJo’s hallmarks. Now, instead of burying our photo essays at the bottom of the page, we prominently feature two of them each day. Go to our photojournalism page to see lots more.

Love yourself some David Corn? Our DC bureau chief now has his own corner of the home page, complete with his latest TV appearances.

We have one of the best journalism internship programs in the country, so why not show off what these guys can do? Ditto for our far-flung network of famous and talented alumni. We point you to some of their best work.

And finally, there’s you. We've created a "Feedback" block to feature your tweets and comments. Don’t forget to send your scoops to our tipline. And it’s now even easier to subscribe to our magazine and our free newsletters—and become part of the community of supporters that keeps us going.

Pulling this off took a lot of work from everyone at this nonprofit shop. We're so proud of what they've accomplished. Which doesn't mean we're not open to constructive criticism; tell us what you think, because making a good website is a two-way street. Consider yourself consulted

 

Feds vs Oakland on Pot Farms, Round 2

| Thu Feb. 3, 2011 2:43 PM PST

In the most strongly worded warning to date, a federal attorney has threatened to crack down on industrial-scale pot farms should Oakland move ahead with a plan to permit and tax them.

The Justice Department "is carefully considering civil and criminal legal remedies regarding those who seek to set up industrial marijuana growing warehouses in Oakland pursuant to licenses issued by the city," US Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California warned in a letter sent to Oakland's city attorney on Tuesday. 

Since last year, when Oakland garnered national attention for its scheme to become the first city in the country to tax and regulate medical marijuana growers, it has repeatedly delayed the proposed law over legal concerns.

It's still too early to say that the pot farm plan has completely gone to pot. Oakland City Council Member Desley Brooks, who makes a cameo in my recent feature on "hempreneurs," has written a new draft of the Oakland ordinance that she thinks will pass muster. From today's Oakland Tribune

The new draft has specific language establishing a "closed-loop" relationship between cultivators and distributors—which would keep the marijuana only in the hands of patients—as well as making the patient relationships more explicit, which Brooks said address some concerns under state law.

The Super Bowl's Homeless Problem

| Thu Feb. 3, 2011 1:23 PM PST

On Sunday, James Jones, who spent much of the first 14 years of his life living in homeless shelters, will play in the Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers' wide receiver has done a lot to raise the profile of homelessness through public appearances and his Love Jones 4 Kids Foundation, which helps homeless kids stay in school. But if you're expecting his made-for-Hollywood saga to provoke any national soul searching amidst all of the halftime hoopla this weekend, you're probably going to be disappointed. If anything, the big game at Cowboys Stadium in the Dallas-Forth Worth area is shaping up to be a textbook example of how the poor get the shaft.

In December, the Dallas City Council outlawed panhandling in the city's most prominent tourist areas, including several zones where big Super Bowl events are planned. For several weeks, the the city has been removing homeless people from the areas as it spruces them up for football fans. Anyone who sticks around to ask for handouts from all the high rollers and corporate junketers who'll be passing through could be fined up to $500.

"There's a certain sense of irony that you displace your own poor to welcome those who grew up in poverty"

"There's a certain sense of irony that you displace your own poor to welcome those who grew up in poverty," says Neil Donovan, the Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "It would be nice if we could make the city as welcome and accommodating to the persistently poor as we do for the wealthy."

As far as the wisdom of giving to panhandlers goes, Donovan says he's "probably one of the most conflicted people you will ever meet." But he staunchly opposes the criminalization of panhandling, calling the decision to give someone else money "something very sacred and personal." He sees panhandling bans as symptomatic of "a movement towards compassion fatigue."

Donovan hasn't asked Jones to speak out against the panhandling ban; he doesn't think that NFL pros are obliged to make the game stand for anything more than football. (An email that I sent to Jones' foundation hadn't been returned as of Thursday morning). But, Donovan added, "it would be highly helpful and very symbolic if something like that were to happen."

Tahrir Square Witness: The Final Crush Is Coming

| Thu Feb. 3, 2011 1:22 PM PST

This post also appears as Update 134 in our Egypt explainer:

I just spoke with Khaled Abou El Naga, an Egyptian filmmaker who lives in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Khaled has participated in the protests since they began on January 25 in Tahrir Square. Just back from the square, a feverish Khaled fears the worst is yet to come. "This regime is trying to hijack the country by spreading chaos, and terror, and lies," he says. And he thinks that Mubarak and his army of thugs are preparing "for a total crush" of the protestors still in the square. "The plot is very clear. They will have messages that things will be under control, we will investigate who started the violence—they know who started the violence!"

Pro-Mubarak thugs have been streaming into Tahrir Square since yesterday, attacking protestors from its main entrances. They've also been targeting the press, taking out video cameras and chasing away reporters. Some even climbed to the tops of buildings overlooking the square, armed with sniper rifles. "With snipers, you just find people dead," Khaled says. "You don’t hear anything. That's what happened."

Khaled believes that the police have been given orders to sow chaos by driving into neighborhoods, firing guns in the air, and looting stores. "The police have become a tool to terrorize Egyptians," he says. He says that he has seen ambulances, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, bringing tear gas into the square. Doctors haven't been able to get into the square; one of Khaled's own friends, a doctor, was accused by thugs of being a CIA agent when he tried to approach Tahrir Square.

Egyptian state television, meanwhile, has continued to maintain that the anti-government protestors were responsible for the violence. "State television has agitated people more and more," Khaled says. "They kept saying these are looters who went into Tahrir Square, they're trying to break stability in Egypt, and they said that they started the violence. All of these are lies that agitated people."

But Khaled fears that many Egyptians are buying the spin of Mubarak, Vice President Omar Suleiman, and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq: that order and calm will soon be restored by the government. "People think, 'oh see the government finally is trying to do something about it and take control.'" he says. "Well at the same time, the violence is still there, the circling of Tahrir Square [by pro-Mubarak forces] is still there—the plot is right there….Unfortunately, a lot of Egyptians are confused now. They think maybe we should just wait until he leaves in September. He will never leave."

The regime's plan, as Khaled sees it: disseminate misinformation, violently disrupt the protests, and then purge. "I'm telling you," he says, "with all the singals I'm reading from the state's people, they are preparing for a complete crush of Tahrir Square."