Mojo - December 2007

Mitt Romney, You're No Jack Kennedy

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:32 PM EST

George Packer on why Mitt Romney's upcoming "Mormon speech" should not be compared to JFK's famous 1960 "Catholic speech":

Romney's intention is the exact opposite of Kennedy's. He's caught in a trap of his own and his party's making. Romney can't raise the shield of secularism, as Kennedy did, because he is seeking the nomination of a sectarian party that's built on a religious test. He can't stand on any principle at all, secular or religious; instead, he has to win over the Christianists, who make up a large part of the Republican base, even though he belongs to a faith that most of them consider un-Christian. His eternal truth will be: "Hey, we're not that different." He parades his large and perfect family, he reminds us of his spotless personal life, he is dismissive of the possibility of appointing a Muslim Cabinet member, all to immunize himself against the religious bigotry of the voters he's wooing. He's going to do the same thing on Thursday. So no more comparisons with Kennedy, please.

Read the rest here.

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Government Can't Get Its Story Straight On Iran NIE

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:23 PM EST

George Bush, yesterday:

DAVID GREGORY: When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

THE PRESIDENT: ...I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze...it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley claimed much the same thing on Monday:

[W]hen the President was told that we had some additional information, he was basically told: stand down; needs to be evaluated; we'll come to you and tell you what we think it means. So this was basically -- as we said, this is information that came in the last few months, and the intelligence community spent a lot time to get on top of it.

As implausible as this seems, the Los Angeles Times reports that, according to "U.S. intelligence officials," Bush was telling the truth:

Can Fringe Anti-Mormon Fundamentalists Bring Down Romney?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 5:57 PM EST

Don't ask me why, but I'm on the email list of several extreme Christian fundamentalist groups. And lately I've received a couple of warnings from them: watch out for Mitt Romney. He's a Mormon.

On Thursday, Romney is scheduled to give (finally) what's being called his "Mormon Speech." Romney recently said, "I can tell you I'm not going to be talking so much about my faith as I am talking about the religious heritage of our country and the role in which it played in the founding of the nation and the role which I think religion should generally play today in our society."

No one really wants to hear Romney expound on the history of religion in the United States. The issue is whether he can persuade conservative conventional Christians that he, as a Mormon, is as good a Christian as they (and Mike Huckabee) are. Why is he delivering such a speech just weeks before the Iowa caucus? Obviously he and his advisers have decided he has no choice, especially with Huckabee, the former Baptist minister, surging in the polls in the Hawkeye State.

There are Christians who consider Mormonism a heretical cult, but there's no telling if the fundamentalists who are gunning for Romney will have any influence on GOP Iowa caucus-goers, a relatively small slice of Iowans dominated by social conservatives.

One outfit called Godvoters.org has put out an email decrying Romney.

Video of The View: "I Don't Think Anything Predated Christians"

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 4:43 PM EST

I don't want to make this "Poke Fun at Christians Who Say Silly Things" day at MoJoBlog (see here), but I just can't believe this went over the national airwaves.

"I don't think anything predated Christians... Jesus came first." Really, Sherri Shepherd? I ask this because you seem like a devout Christian woman: Have you read the Bible? Because there's this part called the Old Testament. Much, dare I say all, of it predates the part with the Christians.

They should have to issue a correction on tomorrow's show, just like a newspaper.

(H/T Ygelsias)

San Francisco GOP Dukes It Out With Paulites

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 3:40 PM EST

The San Francisco Republican Alliance (yes, there are Republicans here) fended off a throng of Ron Paul supporters that threatened to overwhelm its annual pre-election banquet last night at Fisherman's Wharf. The dinner was to be followed by a straw poll, but Alliance leader Gail Neira canceled it after the Paulites showed up in droves. Paul supporters are known for swarming and being locked out of online straw polls, but this may be the first time they've shut down a poll in the meatspace. The pandemonium that ensured, captured on video below, looks like a scene from a Democratic tea party in 1969:

Though Paul supporters may not always be polite (or racially sensitive), they're clearly shaking up the GOP with the kind of energy bordering on fanaticism that is normally associated with the acolytes of left-wing revolutionarios. Among their latest exploits: a Ron-Paul-branded version of Google (RonPoogle), a Bands4RonPaul Myspace page devoted to Paul fight songs (there are 16), and efforts to conscript 40,000 donors to build a nuclear version of the Ron Paul Money Bomb by agreeing to generate $1,000,000 a week. Wonkette calls them Paultards, but I prefer the term embraced by the Weekly Standard: Ronulans.

Huckabee: God Responsible for My Rise in Polls

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 1:59 PM EST

There is so much about Christian evangelicals that coastal liberals don't understand. Like how a man of obvious intelligence can attribute his rise in the polls to mass prayer and God's will.

Huckabee backtracked slightly after this appearance, adding, "I'm saying that when people pray, things happen.... I'm not saying that God wants me to be elected."

Huckabee, who is taking first and second in national polls of the Republican race nowadays, told GQ recently that it isn't fair that he gets so much scrutiny for his faith while the other candidates don't. He can't make those complaints with a straight face if he's going to go around saying stuff like this.

America needs to decide if they are ready for a president who literally sees God in the details. Doesn't the idea of getting God to do what you want through prayer contradict the very idea of being a governor or president? Because you wouldn't need to pass and sign laws to get things done if God can really create new realities if you ask for them.

And speaking of, I'm willing to be bet an awful lot of people (more than those who are praying for Huckabee's rise) have been praying for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Weird how that hasn't happened.

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Bank Execs Try to Explain Gotcha Credit-Card Rate Hikes

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:59 PM EST
card_monster300.jpg

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) chaired an investigations subcommittee hearing on credit cards and the mysteries of how banks determine cardholders' interest rates—and raise them dramatically without warning. In particular, the hearing focused on banks' use of "universal default," by which your card's interest rate gets hiked up because you missed a payment to another creditor—not the card's issuer. Or, as the consumer-rights blog The Consumerist puts it, "the most evil and hated practice where a credit card company boosts your rates because you didn't pay a late fee owed to the library." Oh, and those new rates apply retroactively to all existing items on your bill. This is one of dozens of sneaky credit-card tricks banks spring on plastic-carrying customers. Levin called three unhappy cardholders to testify, followed by three bank executives. The Consumerist liveblogged all three hours of the fun. A couple of choice moments:

Rudy Finally Steps Down as Head of Consulting Firm with Shady Ties

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:14 PM EST

The full client list of Giuliani Partners has never been revealed, but intrepid reporters have done an awful lot to expose its nefarious dealings (see here, here, here, here, and here). Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani finally stepped down as the head of the company, ending about a million and one conflicts of interest.

Conservatives Call for Habeas

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 11:27 AM EST

Ah, a bipartisan issue.

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in two cases related to habeas corpus, Boumediene v. Bush and al Odah v. United States. Their quick hour through oral arguments will test the validity of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which essentially strips federal foreign detainees at Guantanamo of their right to be heard in court. (Check out today's top story about a group of Algerians who were set to be freed from a Bosnian prison six years ago, only to end up at Gitmo, where they've been, without trial and awaiting this ruling, ever since.)

The Supremes will likely read dozens of amicus briefs in the case, many of which fall nowhere along party lines, like this one signed by a bevy of policy leaders and diplomats, and this one signed by 20 former federal judges. Both bipartisan briefs urge the Court to strike down the provision of the Act that eliminates the detainees' rights.

No telling how this one will turn out. The Supreme Court originally denied the detainees' petition for certiorari (essentially an appeal) in April, and, then did an about-face, reversing that decision in June.

Congress to Force Middle Class to Finance Hedge Fund Managers' Tax Break

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 10:40 AM EST

amtchart.jpg If Congress adjourns this month without fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), 23 million Americans will see their tax bills increase next year by about $2,000. The AMT was originally designed to snare a few super rich tax cheats but it now threatens to affect millions of upper-middle class Americans. Congress is now scrambling to come up with $50 billion to make sure this doesn't happen.

Bush administration officials have claimed the AMT increase was "unanticipated" and as such, they've been urging Congress to fix it with deficit spending rather than by raising taxes on, say, hedge fund managers. But that's incredibly disingenuous. The AMT "crisis" stems almost entirely from Bush's 2001 tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, the administration and its congressional allies were explicitly counting on the extra AMT revenue to mask the impact of the tax cuts. Iowa senator Charles Grassley acknowledged back then that Bush's tax cuts would double the number of middle-class people stung by the AMT.

Were it not for those early tax cuts, fixing the AMT would cost a fraction of what it's going to cost today, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (see the chart.) Given Wall Street's major lobbying campaign against taxing hedge fund managers, it likely that Congress is going to punt this bill on to our grandchildren.