Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 7, 2014

Wed May 7, 2014 9:46 AM EDT

Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, run to security positions after offloading from a CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopter during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2014. The company's mission was to disrupt Taliban forces in Larr Village and establish a presence in the area. Five days prior to the helicopter-borne mission, the company confiscated two rocket-propelled grenades in the vicinity of the village. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan/Released)

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Thom Tillis Wins North Carolina Senate Primary

| Tue May 6, 2014 9:03 PM EDT
North Carolina state speaker of the house Thom Tillis.

Bullet: dodged. North Carolina speaker of the house Thom Tillis cruised to victory in Tuesday's North Carolina Republican Senate primary, setting up a general election showdown with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) this fall. Democrats had held on to hopes that Tillis, who was endorsed at the last minute by Mitt Romney, would fall short of the 40-percent threshold needed to win the race outright and head into a runoff with Greg Brannon, a far-out tea party doctor backed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

In another election year, Tillis would have been branded the conservative crusader. As the leader of an unpopular state legislature that shifted hard to the right in 2013, Tillis sparked a protest movement and national outrage over his steep budget cuts to social services and harsh restrictions on abortions. In 2011, he told a crowd he planned to "divide and conquer" people who received government assistance and subject them to drug tests. The state's voter ID law, passed with Tillis' support, is among the nation's strictest. The legislature even banned state scientists from calculating sea level rise—just in case.

But Tillis struggled for months to win over the Republican base. At one point, tea party activists leaked audio of an angry Tillis chewing out conservative activists for having the gall to suggest that he was not wearing his "big boy pants." But while North Carolina conservatives seemed to be clamoring for a better choice, they never settled on an alternative. When Reps. Renee Ellmers and Virginia Foxx decided to sit it out, the best they could come up with was Brannon, an OB-GYN who runs a chain of crisis pregnancy centers in the state and picked up the endorsement, in October, of Paul.

But Brannon was a singularly flawed candidate (even the insurgent-friendly Senate Conservatives Fund sat this one out), which might explain why Paul never came to visit until this Monday. He endorsed the right of a state to nullify federal laws he doesn't agree with and spoke at a rally co-sponsored by a pro-secession organization, the League of the South. He called food stamps "slavery" and pledged to get rid of the Department of Agriculture. He dabbled in 9/11 trutherism. He floated a novel theory that Planned Parenthood is trying to kill newborns. He dismissed public education as a Marxist plot that "does nothing but dehumanize" kids. When a Huffington Post headline featured a "GOP Candidate:" story anytime in the last seven months, there was a fifty-percent chance that candidate was Brannon.

So it's not surprising that he lost and Tillis won. What's surprising is that anyone—especially an aspiring presidential candidate with dreams of making nice with big-time donors—thought fit to elevate Brannon in the first place.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 6, 2014

Tue May 6, 2014 9:15 AM EDT

Weighed down by heavy equipment, cadets must perform several tasks in a pool being churned by artificial wave makers amid simulated battlefield chaos. Artificial fog, rain, and deafening noise are pumped in, darkness is punctuated only by strobe lights. Since its inception, every graduating cadet has met and mastered the Survival Gate # 4 challenge. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Fincham)

13 Conservatives Who Think Benghazi Is Obama's Watergate

| Tue May 6, 2014 5:00 AM EDT
President Richard Nixon

Last week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about Benghazi, and House Speaker John Boehner created a select committee to mount yet another investigation of the 2012 attack on the US facility in Libya. It's the latest effort by House Republicans to squeeze a scandal out of the tragedy. While the GOP's relentless Benghazi crusade continues, there has been an outpouring of rhetorical excesses, with some conservatives going as far as likening the Obama administration's response to the attack to the Nixon administration's Watergate scandal.

Appearing Sunday on CNN, Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who joined with Bob Woodward to break the Watergate story, said there's no comparison: "This is not Watergate, or anything resembling Watergate. Watergate was a massive criminal conspiracy led by a criminal president of the United States for almost the whole of his administration. We're talking total apples and oranges here." He added, "This is about an ideological scorched-earth politics that prevails in Washington."​

Frank Rich at New York magazine wrote last year that Republicans are pushing the Watergate analogy because they believe Benghazi could be a "gateway both to the president's impeachment and to a GOP victory over Hillary in 2016." But they're running into a problem, Rich noted, namely that "no one to the left of Sean Hannity seriously believes that the Obama White House was trying to cover up a terrorist attack." The Huffington Post observes that Benghazi is hardly the first Obama administration affair that has driven Republicans to reference Watergate. They've wielded this analogy to decry Fast and Furious, the Solyndra controversy, the so-called IRS scandal, and the Department of Homeland Security's handling of Freedom of Information Act requests. And Republicans have dredged up the Watergate metaphor repeatedly since 2012. 

Here are 13 conservatives who have compared Benghazi to Watergate, in chronological order: 

1. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.): "I think this is an issue—Benghazi-gate is the right term for this. This is very, very serious, probably more serious than Watergate." —Fox News, October 1, 2012​

2. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.):

3. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh: "What we're watching here today is the equivalent of Woodward and Bernstein helping Nixon cover up Watergate. The mainstream media is Woodward and Bernstein. Watergate is Benghazi.​The Rush Limbaugh Show, October 24, 2012 

4. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "You know what, somebody the other day said to me that this is as bad as Watergate. Well, nobody died in Watergate. But this is either a massive cover-up or an incompetence that is not acceptable service to the American people." —CBS's Face the Nation, October 28, 2012​

5. Fox News contributor Bill O'Reilly: "Richard Nixon denied he had anything to do with a low-level political break-in. If the press had not been aggressive, Nixon would have gotten away with it. And certainly the break-in at the Watergate Hotel was not nearly as important as failing to define a terrorist attack that killed four Americans. President Obama…should have given us the facts weeks ago. He chose not to." Fox News, November 15, 2012​

6. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "I believe that it's a lot bigger than Watergate, and if you link Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you're going to get in the zone where Benghazi is." —The Washington Times, December 12, 2012​

7. Former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee: "This is not minor. It wasn't minor when Richard Nixon lied to the American people and worked with those in his administration to cover up what really happened in Watergate. But, I remind you—as bad as Watergate was, because it broke the trust between the president and the people, no one died. This is more serious because four Americans did in fact die." —The Mike Huckabee Show, May 6, 2013

8. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): "I want to keep pushing because the bond that has been broken between those who serve us in harm's way and the government they serve is huge—and to me every bit as damaging as Watergate." The Mike Huckabee Show, May 6, 2013

9. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas):

10. Former Nixon adviser Pat Buchanan: "The break in at Watergate was a stupid burglary, political burglary, nobody got killed. This is a horrible atrocity. Killing an American ambassador; killing another diplomat; two Navy SEALs; destroying and burning that compound. Driving us out of a part of a country we have liberated. But you are right, the real thing here is the cover-up." —Fox News, May 9, 2013​

11. Rep. Louie Gohmert, (R-Texas): "This administration is engaged in a Watergate-style cover-up, and once we get to the bottom, people in this administration need to know once they've been part of doing this kind of cover-up, they just need to know that people went to prison for participating in the cover-up." —WND Radio, August 3, 2013​

12. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.): "I will say this to my dying day, I know people don’t realize it now, but that's going to go down in history as the greatest cover-up. And I'm talking about compared to the Pentagon Papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, and the rest of them. This was a cover-up in order for people right before the election to think that there was no longer a problem with terrorism in the Middle East." —KFAQ, February 3, 2014

13. Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer: "[The email is] to me the equivalent of what was discovered with the Nixon tapes." —Fox News, May 1, 2014

Watch John Oliver Take on the Death Penalty on "Last Week Tonight"

| Mon May 5, 2014 4:13 PM EDT

On Sunday's episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver weighed in on the recent botched execution in Oklahoma, the president's response to it, and the death penalty in general. "The death penalty is like the McRib," Oliver says. "When you can't have it, it's so tantalizing. But as soon as they bring it back, you think, 'This is ethically wrong. Should this be allowed in a civilized society?'"

Here's more from Oliver:

It costs up to 10 times more to give someone the death penalty than life in prison. So what a death sentence is really saying is, "Hey! This is America! And the way we treat the most despicable members of our society is by spending the entire budget of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on them." So what we know now is the death penalty is expensive, potentially kills innocent people, and doesn't deter crime. And here is where it gets hard—harder than is potentially appropriate for a comedy show late on a Sunday night. But if we are going to answer difficult and profound questions...the toughest one is probably if someone is guilty of committing a horrible crime, and the family of the victim want the perpetrator executed, do we want to live in the kind of country that gives that to them? I would say no. You might, very reasonably, say yes...But it's a question that is going to need an answer.

The whole segment is very good. Check out the 12-minute clip:

GOP Super-Donor on Politicians: "Most of These People...They're Unemployable"

| Mon May 5, 2014 2:41 PM EDT
GOP donor John Jordan, shaking a bottle of wine at a scantily clad woman in his parody video "Blurred Vines."

Meet John Jordan. As National Journal's Shane Goldmacher writes, Jordan runs his own vineyard, flies his own planes, cuts his own pop-song music video parodies (here he is with some barely clothed women in "Blurred Vines")—oh, and he's a huge donor to Republican candidates and committees. He raised and donated seven figures for Karl Rove's Crossroads organization in the 2012 cycle. Last year, he went solo, pumping $1.4 million into his own super-PAC, the deceptively named Americans for Progressive Action, in an effort to elect Republican Gabriel Gomez in a Massachusetts special US Senate election. (Gomez lost by 10 points.)

Goldmacher visited Jordan at this 1,450-acre vineyard in northern California and came back with no shortage of juicy quotes and flamboyant details. For all his political giving, it turns out, Jordan doesn't really like politicians:

"I'm not trying to spoon with them," he says. "I don't care. In fact, I try to avoid—I go out of my way to avoid meeting candidates and politicians." Why? "All too often, these people are so disappointing that it's depressing. Most of these people you meet, they're unemployable... It's just easier not to know."

Ouch.

Jordan dishes on Rove and his Crossroads operation, which spent $325 million during the 2012 election season with little success:

"With Crossroads all you got was, Karl Rove would come and do his little rain dance," Jordan says. He didn't complain aloud so much as stew. "You write them the check and they have their investors' conference calls, which are"—Jordan pauses here for a full five seconds, before deciding what to say next—"something else. You learn nothing. They explain nothing. They don't disclose anything even to their big donors." (Crossroads communications director Paul Lindsay responded via email, "We appreciated Mr. Jordan's support in 2012 and his frequent input since then." Rove declined to comment.)

Jordan's thoughts on his super-PAC's $1.4 million flop in 2013 offer a telling glimpse into the world of mega-donors, the type of people who can drop six or seven figures almost on a whim:

Jordan had blown through more than $1.4 million in two weeks on a losing effort—and he loved every second of it. "I never had any illusions about the probability of success. At the same time, somebody has to try, and you never know. You lose 100 percent of the shots you don't take, so why not do it?" he says. "And I've always thought it would be fun to do, and I had a great time doing it, frankly." Now, Jordan says that the Gomez race was just the beginning—a $1.4 million "potential iceberg tip" of future political efforts.

Who might Jordan support in 2016? He tells Goldmacher he hasn't decided. But he was impressed during a recent visit by the subject of Mother Jones' newest cover story, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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Fundraiser for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to Feature GOP House, Senate, and Party Bigwigs

| Mon May 5, 2014 9:41 AM EDT
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party, says she's not interested in running for national office, even as she's name-dropped by pundits and party luminaries as a potential 2016 candidate for vice president or even president. Here's another strong indication of her party-wide appeal: Every major Republican leader on Capitol Hill, from House Speaker John Boehner to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, is featured on the guest list for a May 21 fundraiser for Martinez in a tony neighborhood just outside Washington, DC.

According to an invitation obtained by Mother Jones, other "honored guests" slated to attend Martinez's event in Chevy Chase, Maryland, include: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, House budget committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Jerry Moran, and National Republican Congressional Committee chair Rep. Greg Walden. A handful of US senators (John McCain, Jeff Flake), ex-governors, lobbyists, and DC-area consultants are also set to attend.

The fundraiser will be held at the $2.2 million home of Susan Neely, the president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, the soft-drink industry lobby. The host committee includes the American Beverage Association, DC mega-fundraiser Fred Malek, former Gov. Tom Ridge, and a slew of DC-area consultants and donors.

Days after Martinez's fundraiser, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to join her in New Mexico to raise cash for her reelection campaign. When it comes to the money chase, Martinez is trouncing the five Democrats vying for the chance to defeat her in November: As of mid-April, her campaign had $4.2 million in the bank, while the best-funded of her potential challengers, Alan Webber, had only $440,000 on hand.

Read the invitation to Martinez's May 21 fundraiser:

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 5, 2014

Mon May 5, 2014 8:57 AM EDT

Cpl. Daniel Hopping, assaultman, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and a native of Rogers, Arkansas, shields himself from dust being kicked up from a CH-53E Super Sea Stallion lifting off during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2014. The company's mission was to disrupt Taliban forces in Larr Village and establish a presence in the area. Five days prior to the helicopter-borne mission, the company confiscated two rocket-propelled grenades in the vicinity of the village. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan/Released)

April Had the Lowest Jobless Rate Since Obama Took Office

| Fri May 2, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

The economy added 288,000 jobs in April, according to new data released Friday by the Labor Department. The unemployment rate plummeted from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent—which is the lowest jobless rate since President Barack Obama took office at the start of the great recession.

Economists had forecasted April jobs gains of 218,000 and an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

The number of unemployed people dropped by 733,000 people, and the total number of Americans who are either unemployed, have given up looking for work, or are working part-time because they can't find full-time work fell from 12.7 percent to 12.3 percent last month. The jobs report brought more good news. Employment gains for February and March were revised upwards by a total of 36,000. Part of the healthy gain was due to warmer weather, which boosted seasonal employment.  

Now for the not-so-good news. Another reason the unemployment rate fell is because April saw a decline in the workforce participation rate, which is the number of Americans who are working or looking for work. That number fell by 806,000 last month. The decrease in the labor force was partly due to the fact that Republicans refused to renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Jobless Americans are required to prove they are actively searching for work in order to continue receiving unemployment insurance; once there's less of a motivation to search, many give up looking.

The construction and retail sectors saw the largest increase in employment, with jobs gains of 32,000 and 35,000, respectively. Professional and business services added 75,000 jobs. And the economy took on a total of 15,000 government jobs.

Good or bad, you can take most of this information with a grain of salt, if you want. As Neil Irwin explained Thursday in the New York Times, businesses, journalists, and stock traders place way too much weight on the monthly jobs numbers, given the "statistical noise" in each report. In order to determine how many people are employed in the US, for example, the Labor Department conducts a huge monthly survey of 144,000 employers who employ about a third of all non-farm workers. Sampling errors are inherent in these surveys, Irwin explains, because the results are not representative of all the nation's employers. And each monthly jobs report is released before all the survey data is in, so researchers have to fill in gaps with estimates that may later end up being wrong. "Even when the economy is moving in a clear direction," Irwin writes, "the noise in month-to-month changes can be big enough to obscure any trend."

If you want longer-term trends that you can bank on, here are a few. We've had roughly zero net job growth over the past seven years, because gains in employment have been offset by population growth. The unemployment rate is still above the historical average for this stage of an economic recovery, Annie Lowrey noted in the New York Times Friday. And the black unemployment rate is stuck at more than double the white jobless rate.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 2, 2014

Fri May 2, 2014 9:08 AM EDT

Lance Cpl. Ethan C. Hogeland, native of Fayetteville, N.C., and amphibious assault vehicle crewman with 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., watches the sunrise on the flight deck in preparation for manning the rails as the USS New York (LPD 21) sails into South Florida for Fleet Week Port Everglades 2014, April 28. Approximately 120 Marines from 2nd AAV Bn., 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 269, Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., are participating in the 24th Annual Fleet Week in Port Everglades; South Florida's annual celebration of maritime forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders/Released)