2011 - %3, March

Rove's Crossroads GPS: 0 for 3 on Facts

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 2:17 PM EDT

Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-connected dark-money outfit that works to elect Republicans, is not too strong in the fact-checking department. As I reported this morning, the group has kicked off a transparency initiative targeting the Obama administration—which is a bit hypocritical, given Crossroads GPS' refusal to disclose its funders. As part of this project, it has touted the "breaking news" scoop that Elizabeth Warren, the White House aide overseeing the start-up of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had dinner with the American Prospect’s Bob Kuttner, DailyKos.com's Markos Moulitsas, and me.

A government official dining with journalists and pundits is hardly stop-the-presses material. But, as I noted, Crossroads GPS was wrong: I have never dined with Warren (though I'd be delighted to do so). A Crossroads GPS spokesman told me that my (non-existent) dinner with Warren was listed on her official schedule, which Crossroads GPS has posted on a new web site for this transparency project.

Now that I've checked the documents, I've found that my original story was not as accurate as it could have been, for Crossroads GPS was more wrong than I had assumed.

The site does list Warren's calendars for the last three months of 2010. I appear on her October 19, 2010, log at 5:45 PM: "Interview with David Corn." Yes, I've been caught practicing journalism. That interview was for an article that appeared 10 days later and that noted I had interviewed her. Journalist interviews Warren on the record: no scoop here. Plus, her calendar listed her dinner date for that night; it was Mitchell Kapor, an information technology pioneer. That would have been a fun dinner to attend.

As for Moulitsas and Kuttner, the calendars note that Warren had two phone calls scheduled with Kuttner and one breakfast scheduled with Moulitsas. No dinners with any of us. Zero for three.

And there's more on the hypocrisy front. My original piece neglected to cite a Politico article from last October reporting that when Rove began his American Crossroads effort, the GOP operatives developing the organization claimed they relished transparency and would disclose their donors. But when it became tough to raise money, Rove and his pals specifically created Crossroads GPS so they could accept secret contributions. Politico noted, "With the Crossroads fundraising team, led by Rove, emphasizing to prospective donors the ability to give to Crossroads GPS anonymously, fundraising took off."

Crossroads GPS was designed as an end-run around transparency. Now it's claiming to be a champion of openness. Maybe if Rove invites me to dinner, we can discuss what's wrong with this picture.

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The New Media Rules

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 1:59 PM EDT

ThinkProgress has a post up today that shows Newt Gingrich unequivocally supporting a no-fly zone over Libya two weeks ago and then equally unequivocally opposing it today. The only thing that's changed in the meantime is that two weeks ago President Obama opposed a no-fly zone and today he supports it. So Gingrich is consistently taking the anti-Obama position, whatever that happens to be.

Well, whatever. With Obama being a socialist tyrant out to destroy America and all, anti-Obamaism is pretty much the state religion of Republicans these days. But I always kind of wonder what these guys are thinking when they do such an obvious and public U-turn. Do they think no one is going to catch them? Or do they not really care because they don't think the public really cares?

I think it used to be the former, but has lately become mostly the latter. Back in the day, I remember a lot of people saying that it was getting harder for politicians to shade their positions — either over time or for different audiences — because everything was now on video and the internet made it so easy to catch inconsistencies. But that's turned out not to really be true. Unless you're in the middle of a high-profile political campaign, it turns out you just need to be really brazen about your flip-flops. Sure, sites like ThinkProgress or Politifact will catch you, and the first few times that happens maybe you're a little worried about what's going to happen. But then it dawns on you: nothing is going to happen. Your base doesn't read ThinkProgress. The media doesn't really care and is happy to accept whatever obvious nonsense you offer up in explanation. The morning chat shows will continue to book you. It just doesn't matter.

And that's got to be pretty damn liberating. You can literally say anything you want! And no one cares! That's quite a discovery.

The Latest From Karl Rove

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 1:38 PM EDT

David Corn reports that Karl Rove, that well-known champion of openness in government, has started up a new project called Wikicountability.org, which plans to collect documents about the Obama administration obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and offer them for crowd-sourcing in one, easy-to-access place. David is unimpressed:

This Crossroads GPS project, though, is built upon a profound incongruity. The conservative organization is championing accountability and openness, yet it does not disclose the well-heeled funders and special interests underwriting its own efforts to shape the political system....NBC News reported that a "substantial portion of Crossroads GPS' money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls." Crossroads GPS is the poster-nonprofit for secret campaign mega-money....But now this secretive organization is deploying the issue of open-government to assail the Obama administration, which has a better record on openness issues than previous administrations.

I don't really see this. Rove runs a private group that's not required to release information about itself. The federal government is a public institution that is supposed to release information about itself. Even if Crossroads GPS were required to divulge its major donors (a good idea, I think), it would still be able to keep the vast majority of its inner workings confidential, and rightly so. It's just not comparable to a government agency that works for the public.

So I guess I'd absolve Rove of any serious hypocrisy here. So far, though, his new project does seem to be trafficking in both idiocy and inaccuracy, which is a little harder to defend. David has more about this at the link. Still, if Rove wants to keep an eagle eye on the Obama administration in order to gain partisan advantage, I can't complain. Who's going to keep a better watch on possible government corruption than political opponents, after all? It's the idiocy and inaccuracy, which I have no doubt are going to continue, that are harder to take.

Haley Barbour's Bodyguard Boondoggle

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 1:11 PM EDT

Mississippi's roads are some of the most dangerous in the nation. According to the head of Mississippi's Department of Public Safety, that's the case because the state Highway Patrol is so short staffed and underfunded—in 2010, the patrol filled only 527 of 650 possible positions—in responding to crashes and injuries that "people's lives are at risk."

But the grim finances of Mississippi's Department of Public Safety roads haven't stopped Governor Haley Barbour from using state-funded highway patrollers as bodyguards on his many trips around the country and the world. While it's not uncommon for governors to use state troopers as bodyguards, it's Barbour's all-too-frequent jet-setting that's unusual. In 2010, Barbour, who's eyeing a presidential run in 2012, was traveling at least 175 days of the year, jetting to Israel; Park City, Utah; Washington, DC; Napa, California; and a dozen other cities, according to records obtained by the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger (PDF). From January 2010 to January 2011, the amount Barbour's bodyguards billed back to the Department of Public Safety—and ultimately Mississippi taxpayers—was $121,457 for hotels, food, and travel costs.

Barbour's extensive use of taxpayer-funded bodyguards comes as his state struggles to adequately fund critical public services used by most Mississippians. For instance, the Barbour administration and Mississippi's state legislature have underfunded the state's public schools by $520 million since 2004, when Barbour became governor; Barbour's 2012 budget recommendation (PDF) would reduce K-12 funding by 4.5 percent and higher ed funding by 3 percent. Other agencies, including the departments of Human Services and Mental Health, could be forced to cut back on child welfare and mental treatment services if the Barbour administration doesn't beef up its budget recommendations.

Barbour's jet-setting, and the taxpayer-borne costs that come with it, have lawmakers fuming. "He shouldn't be traveling 175 days a year—that's beyond the pale," says Cecil Brown, a Democratic legislator in Mississippi. "This is a guy spending his time fundraising for Republicans and running for president, and we don't think that's good public policy."

Nukes vs. Coal

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 12:49 PM EDT

A couple of days ago George Monbiot wrote that the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant had changed his mind about nuclear energy:

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation....Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

There really is something to this. Then again, it's still early days, and today we got the news that drinking water in Tokyo is unsafe for infants:

Officials warned residents not to eat the vegetables produced in several prefectures near the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility and recommended that infants not ingest tap water in Tokyo. Tokyo officials said they would distribute three 550-milliliter bottles of water to every household in the capital where an infant was living — some 80,000 households in all.

It's true, as Seth Godin dramatizes in the illustration on the right, that oil and coal kill a whole lot more people than nuclear ever has. At the same time, radiation in our drinking water is just a helluva lot scarier than particulates in our air or periodic cave-ins at coal mines. That may be unfair, but I'm not sure what to do about it. If the situation in Japan doesn't get any worse, Godin's chart will remain accurate. But more than likely, nuke plants still won't be able to get financing.

Reporting Healthcare Wrong

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 11:58 AM EDT

CNN reports on the public's view of healthcare reform one year after passage:

CNN Poll: Time doesn't change views on health care law

Thirty-seven percent of Americans support the measure, with 59 percent opposed. That's basically unchanged from last March, when 39 percent supported the law and 59 percent opposed the measure.

I know I'm a partisan hack who wants to put the best lefty spin on healthcare stories, but this is just plain wrong. Dave Weigel looks at the internals, which show that of the 59% who "oppose" ACA, 13% wish that it went further, and rewrites CNN's headline:

Poll: One Year On, Most Favor Health Care Law or Wish It Was More Liberal

Overall, [46] percent of people oppose the law because it's "too liberal," but 13 percent oppose it because it's "not liberal enough." So 50 percent of voters are either fine with the law or want a more liberal bill, to [46] percent who want it gone because it's too socialistic.

The CNN story does acknowledge this in a weird, roundabout way a few paragraphs down, but an awful lot of people don't read more than a few paragraphs and are going to come away with the impression that 59% of the population think national healthcare reform is a bad idea. And that's wrong: only about 46% do. Half of Americans want either ACA or something more.

My take on this is that healthcare pollsters simply need to do away with their obsession with "favor" and "oppose." You just can't report poll results on ACA this way. You should report them in the very first paragraph as split between people who think ACA went too far, is about right, or doesn't go far enough. Or something similar. It's really the only way to fairly report this stuff.

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Joe Miller Returns!

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 11:53 AM EDT
Joe Miller, who lost a three-way Senate race in Alaska last year, is back in the news.

Remember Joe Miller? He's the bearded Alaskan lawyer and tea party favorite who surprised the country by beating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary last year, despite having once been suspended from a government job for ethics violations and having his private bodyguards handcuff a reporter who was trying to ask Miller questions at a public event during the campaign. Miller ultimately lost the election to Murkowski, who ran a write-in campaign to defeat him in the general election. But like so many one-hit wonders in conservative politics, Miller is seizing on his 15 minutes of fame and has resurfaced recently after signing on with a speakers' bureau to start giving paid speeches. Rather than returning to his law practice, he'll be joining B-listers like Joe the Plumber and Arizona's "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio on the tea party lecture circuit in such glamorous locales as Flint Hills, Kansas and northern Idaho.

But that's just the beginning of Miller's new career in politics. He has also been named the new chairman of the Sparks, Nevada-based Western Representation PAC, the political action committee that recently sponsored an aggressive advertising campaign supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). The PAC also supported Miller's campaign in Alaska and spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures backing failed Nevada Senate candidate and tea party darling Sharron Angle.

"I am thrilled to be joining the Western Representation PAC," Miller said Wednesday. "Despite being formed fairly recently, the PAC was able to gain strong support and make an important impact during the 2010 election cycle. We plan to build on that great start and bring the voice of ‘We the People’ to bear even more as we move towards 2012."

Anti-Sharia Activists Raise Alarm Over...Contract Law?

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:33 AM EDT

Yesterday, the St. Petersburg Times reported on a new civil case in Tampa, Florida that's become a cause célèbre on the right:

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen is being attacked by conservative bloggers after he ruled in a lawsuit March 3 that, to resolve one crucial issue in the case, he will consult a different source.

"This case," the judge wrote, "will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."

According to some conservatives, this is a troubling sign that the American legal system is under attack from Sharia law (one activist called it a sign of a new "Islamic Tsunami"). Adam Serwer examines the evidence and says that, actually, this is really, really normal:

The judge however, isn't invoking Islamic law because he simply felt like it, he's doing so because this is essentially a contract dispute in which the agreement was drawn up according to sharia...

Where there's a conflict between civil law and the terms of a contract, civil law holds sway. You could not, for example, sell yourself into slavery or force your spouse to sign a contract where they would be subject to abuse. So the notion that the presence of Islamic law in civil arbitration will inevitably lead to sharia replacing the Constitution is nonsense. This kind of case is a sign of America's growing Muslim population, which for many of those complaining is probably the real source of worry.

Right. The argument you tend to hear from conservatives concerns impending implementation of radical forms of Sharia. That is, if we don't act now, at some indeterminate point in the future the bad kind of Sharia—stoning, for instance—will take hold in the United States and we'll be powerless to stop it. Sounds scary. But stories like this one out of Florida, and the ensuing freakout, reveal that to be somewhat disingenuous. Anti-sharia activists think that any sort of Islamic law is a threat to be taken seriously, even if it's something so mundane as a contract dispute between the Islamic Education Center of Tampa and two aggrieved former trustees—and even if it's not much different from Jewish or Christian codes.

It's Official! Gay Republican Running for President

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:30 AM EDT

Retired California political consultant Fred Karger will be in DC today to file his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission officially declaring his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. It will make him the first openly gay Republican ever to run for president as well as the first GOP candidate to declare officially that he is running for the 2012 race. Karger has already made many swings through Iowa and New Hampshire, laying the groundwork for his campaign in those key primary states. He's run TV ads and met with dozens of young Republican activists to rally the troops. Today's FEC filing simply makes his candidacy official. It also, no doubt, will make it harder for Republicans to keep him out of candidate forums and debates during the campaign, which some have been trying to do

While Karger met this week with officials at the RNC, including chairman Reince Priebus, in what he called a warm meeting, other members of the GOP establishment have not been so welcoming of his historic candidacy. As we reported earlier this month, RNC members in Iowa and a key organizer with Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition have not only threatened to keep Karger out of the race but also intentionally shut him out of a March 7 presidential forum in Des Moines organized by Reed's group. Karger responded by filing a complaint against RNC member and Iowa Faith and Freedom organizer Steve Scheffler as well as his organization for violating federal election laws by discriminating against Karger because he's gay. Karger's official candidate status now will only help his complaint.

Still, it's likely that he faces an uphill battle getting into future debates, even with the friendly reception at the RNC in DC this week. That's because the RNC has appointed Indiana campaign finance lawyer and right-wing stalwart James Bopp to oversee the 18 debates expected to take place during the campaign. Bopp represents many anti-gay marriage organizations that have been battling in court to protect their donors and supporters from state disclosure laws. Many of those lawsuits have been inspired by Karger himself, who was instrumental in organizing boycotts of the major donors to California's Prop. 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. Bopp has argued in court that the Prop. 8 donors were harassed and subjected to potential violence because of their outing and is fighting to eliminate many of the laws that made Karger's boycott possible. Bopp has actually subpoenaed Karger in one of those cases in California, and has been defending the group Protect Marriage from a state ethics complaint Karger filed against the group in Maine.

Karger has said he plans to ask the RNC to remove Bopp because of the obvious conflict, but the odds are slim that the RNC will jettison one of their own just to placate a gay candidate when the party's platform basically demonizes him as an abomination to God. Still, the fight will definitely make for some good political theater and help highlight the party's hypocrisy on gay rights. After all, the RNC itself was run for a couple of years during the Bush administration by Ken Mehlman, who finally confirmed the not very well kept secret that he is gay. Perhaps Karger should recruit him to run his campaign.

Public Opinion on Nuclear Goes Critical

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:05 AM EDT

It's probably not too surprising, given the constant attention it's been getting in the press recently, but the Japanese nuclear crisis has turned more Americans off to nuclear power. Two new polls released Tuesday found that 58 percent of those polled said they are now less supportive of expanding nuclear power here in the US.

The poll, conducted by ORC International on behalf of the Civil Society Institute (CSI), found that two-thirds of respondents said they would protest the construction of a new nuclear reactor within 50 miles of their homes. Fifty-three percent said they support "a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction in the United States" and would prefer energy efficiency and renewables. (It's worth noting, though, that among those that already supported of nuclear power, 24 percent now said they are actually more supportive now.) The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press also released a new poll on Tuesday that found nuclear support had taken a nose-dive.

As for funding these new nuclear plants, 73 percent in the CSI poll said they don't think taxpayers should "take on the risk for the construction of new nuclear power reactors" with federal loan guarantees. The Obama administration has made expanding the loan guarantees a major part of its energy agenda, but there have been plenty of concerns about forcing taxpayers to foot the bill if something goes wrong.

When Gallup last polled Americans on nuclear power in 2009, it found support at a new high—59 percent of the public favored it. It had been years since a nuclear accident was all over the news. But as I noted last week, the last major nuclear power accident in the US was enough to turn Americans off from it for a generation. I ventured then that this latest situation in Japan may have a similar effect. Given that the latest polls were conducted in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, it's unclear what their conclusions mean for the future of nuclear power. What will be interesting is the longer-term influence on public opinion once Japan's nuclear emergency fades from the news.