Mojo - March 2010

Tea Partiers' Showdown in the Nevada Desert

| Sat Mar. 27, 2010 10:52 AM EDT

Tea Partiers from across the West have descended in their Winnebagos and pickups on tiny Searchlight, Nevada, former gold-mining capital of Clark County, and, more importantly, hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They're here for the Tea Party Express' "Showdown in Searchlight," a conservative mega-rally (Sarah Palin is the featured speaker) in the Mojave that boosters have rebranded the "Conservative Woodstock." Burning Man might be more like it. The timing is impeccable: One week after the biggest progressive victory in two generations, conservatives are quite literally wandering in the desert.

I realized how packed the event would get when I drove into town to the welcome of a chorus of No Vacancies (all the RV parks and motels in the area have been booked up for weeks). Luckily the owner of the property where the event is being held has opened up his land to anyone wanting to spend the night. Hundreds took him up on the offer (myself included). It wasn't quite a field of dreams, but it's kind of surreal to pull off a lonely highway, down an unmarked road (I missed the turnoff three times), and find an encampment of hundreds of Tea Partiers. At least a hundred RVs were there when I arrived late last night, with just as many other vehicles, and a smattering of campaign buses thrown in for good measure. For a conservative Woodstock, I can't report much loud partying, though: "Downtown" Searchlight was largely Tea Party-free Friday night, and if there were any bonfires or karaoke contests, they were over by the time I got there. Fox News showed up at 7 this morning, just as I left for coffee.

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House OKs a "Black" Jobs Bill

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 7:48 PM EDT

On Wednesday, the Congressional Black Caucus scored a big victory in its ongoing mission to formulate a jobs creation package that actually targets the chronically unemployed (which, as we've reported recently, largely means black people). The Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act passed a House vote, and though the bill does not include the full $1.3 billion for youth summer jobs that the CBC wants, it does make a "down payment" of $600 million that would create approximately 300,000 new jobs. The bill also promises to provide $5.1 billion in disaster relief to communities through FEMA to address the lingering impact of Katrina and other natural disasters—which, again, usually leave larger impacts on poorer (and minority) victims. Now, the bill joins several other small-business and jobs measures that are likely to pass in the Senate.

The CBC chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), defended the push for new legislation in a press release. "When you take a look at the numbers, it’s clear why this funding is so critical," she wrote;

The youth unemployment rate currently stands at more than 23 percent. Many low-income and minority youth populations face even greater challenges. African-American youth unemployment rates are now estimated to be as high as 42 percent. So we need targeted assistance to help put our young people to work, and to teach them an array of valuable job skills that they can use throughout life.

At the beginning of this month, the CBC launched a five-week campaign to gather policy solutions for and from the chronically unemployed. It is now accepting emailed suggestions at congressionalblackcaucus@mail.house.gov. I've already submitted mine.

Iraq Vote's Real Winner: Chaos

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 5:53 PM EDT

After a tense few weeks of ballot-counting and political posturing, the results of Iraq's parliamentary elections were released Friday, and the country's political future looks as murky as ever, with no party coming close to a majority of the body's 325 seats. And with the status of US troops hanging in the balance, it looks as if an Iran-friendly firebrand cleric—and antagonizer of America—will play the role of kingmaker.

A few minor players got boosted to the big leagues in the Iraqi vote, held March 7. The biggest winner was the secular Shiite party of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose faction gained 91 seats. That was just two more than the number retained by current Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki and his Shiite Dawa party, which means Maliki's likely to lose his job. (As our own Kevin Drum pointed out yesterday, his coalition had already been preparing to throw him under the bus.) He's not giving up without a fight, though, announcing his intentions to pull a Norm Coleman. "No way we will accept the results," he told the New York Times. "These are preliminary results. We will challenge the results through the law and courts."

Besides the electorate's apparent rebuke to Maliki, a number of interesting story lines arose out of the election—whose turnout of about 60 percent is the highest ever recorded in post-Saddam balloting:

Will DADT Tweaks Kill Morale?

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 4:00 PM EDT

Will Defense Secretary Robert Gates' latest overhaul of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the US' policy on gays in the military, kill soldiers' morale? A day after Gates announced the new changes to DADT, the right is crying foul, saying the new regulations will "more confusion and fear among military members" and undercut morale in the armed services. Gates announced yesterday new guidelines that essentially make it more far more difficult to kick out of the military a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman who doesn't publicly admit they're gay. Gates' latest announcement is a "major step toward the end of the law," said a spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Today, multiple conservative and Christian groups decried Gates' decision, warning of the damage it will inflict on servicemembers and claiming it'll weaken the military. "Members of the military already fear punishment for agreeing with the federal law that homosexuals in the military 'would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion,'" said Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for American, a conservative Christian group that blasted Gates' decision. CWA's president, Wendy Wright, also chimed in, this time playing the national security card. "Our military should have one objective: to keep America safe," she said. "The job of the military—and the ability to do that job—is too important to be subject to the demands of a special interest group."

Of course, groups in favor of repealing DADT deny these assertions altogether, saying the safety of American troops will only be improved by ridding the armed services of the Clinton-era policy. Comments like those made by CWA and its ilk, then, are most likely so much sound and fury before DADT is thrown out into the dustbin of history.

Oath Keepers Ally Defends Vandalism

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 2:16 PM EDT

Oath Keepers sympathizer and influential Tea Party blogger Mike Vanderboegh has spent the week in an all-out offensive to defend his demand that followers vandalize the offices of Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats following the passage of this week's historic healthcare legislation. "Break their windows, Break them NOW," he told readers last Friday.

Vanderboegh's website, Sipsey Street Irregulars, has an impressive following and is known to some as the epicenter of the Three Percenter movement. So it wasn't surprising when so-called patriot Americans nationwide obeyed the call to arms and started crushing windows with rocks, sling shots, and baseball bats.

Predictably, Vanderboegh caught some flack for his comments. Democratic Party officials in New York, where much of the damage occurred, have demanded his arrest but Vanderboegh says he hasn't yet been questioned by local or national authorities.

But for people critical of the Three Percenter leader, his statements this week have only made Vanderboegh less sympathetic. Appearing on Alan Colmes' radio show last weekend, he defended this unorthodox opposition to health care reform by saying he was "trying to save the lives of Nancy Pelosi, and every one of these people who do not understand the unintended consequences of their actions."

Slouching Towards Foreclosure Help

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 1:10 PM EDT

Talk about timing. A day after Congress excoriated the Obama administration's multibillion-dollar foreclosure rescue, and after many months' worth of criticism and hand-wringing, the administration rolled out today a revamped plan to help beleaguered homeowners and try to slow the pace of foreclosures, after a record-breaking 2.8 million were filed last year.

It's a multi-pronged plan, and here are the details:

If you're out of work...then this plan could help you. Specifically, servicers are required to lower payments for unemployed borrowers to 31 percent or less of your income, which is likely comprised of unemployment payments. So your payments would drop to about a third of your monthly unemployment cash. That period of lower payments can last from three to six months, during which time the hope is that the unemployed can find work. If you do, then you're also eligible for a modification under Obama's flagship modification program, the Home Affordable Modification Program. If you don't find work, then you could, under the administration's plans, try to short-sell or try a deed-in-lieu with your bank, both as a means to avoid foreclosure. This part of the program is slated to be up and running within a few months.

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Another Embassy Guard Scandal?

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 11:42 AM EDT

Surely last September's scandal involving the bacchanalian hijinks of ArmorGroup’s vodka-butt-shot-taking guards taught the State Department—and specifically its diplomatic security division—a major lesson about the perils of loose oversight, right? Perhaps not, according to a recent review of Triple Canopy’s $438 million contract to guard the US embassy in Baghdad conducted by the State Department’s Inspector General.

No, Triple Canopy personnel were not spending their off duty hours gallivanting around with coconut bikinis covering their privates and subjecting each other to lewd hazing rituals. But the IG’s report [PDF], dated March 10 and first obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, does raise the question of whether anyone might have been the wiser if they had been. Among other areas where oversight was MIA, the IG’s office reported that the "Embassy is not properly overseeing" Camp Olympia, where Triple Canopy’s guards reside.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 26, 2010

Fri Mar. 26, 2010 9:40 AM EDT

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As seen through a night-vision device, US Army soldiers prepare for a training mission as part of exercise Emerald Warrior near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on March 15, 2010. Photo via the US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster.

Chamber of Commerce President Hearts Michael Moore's "Capitalism"

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 8:30 AM EDT

Kara Ceriello, the president of the Wallingford Chamber of Commerce, loves capitalism. Michael Moore's "Capitalism," that is. On Sunday, the leader of the 100-year-old group, which is based in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, is holding a "Capitalism" watch party. All of Wallingford's 120 Chamber members are invited.

"We had done this before with 'Sicko,'" explains Ceriello, who owns the "lefty" gift shop Not a Number Gifts. "And we watched all the presidential debates, which was realy fun because we had a lot of Nerf guns and people could shoot at the screen when John McCain was on."

You might say that the Wallingford Chamber and that other, slightly larger chamber of commerce based in Washington, DC, aren't on the best of terms.  Last week at the Wallingford Chamber's meeting, Ceriello was approached by a business owner who wanted to make sure the two groups were completely seperate. Another member who runs a retirement home handed her a letter signed by 100 of his residents expressing concern about the US Chamber's move to block rape victims' lawsuits. Ceriello had to explain that her chamber isn't a member of the US Chamber. It's not even a member of the Greater Seattle Chamber, precisely because that group is a member of the US Chamber. But she promised to present the signatures to its CEO, and to tell him: "This is why we and so many smaller chambers here in Seattle are not members of your organization."

Ceriello expects a lot of Chamber members to show up at the "Capitalism" screening, which is part of a nationwide series of watch parties organized by Moveon.org. After all, her members probably have more in common with Moore's view of the world than US Chamber president Tom Donohue's.  "The US Chamber has become a Wal-Mart," she says. "They care about their bottom line of dollars, meaning, with the Chamber, their bigger members. I really don't think they consider that much the smaller businesses."

Corn on "Countdown": What Does David Frum's Sacking Say About the GOP?

Fri Mar. 26, 2010 4:08 AM EDT

David Corn joined guest host Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss David Frum's abrupt departure from the American Enterprise Institute and what it says about the right-wing media and it's relationship with the Republican party.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.