Mojo - April 2010

Dear Rachel Maddow: Enough About Scott Brown

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 3:45 PM EDT

For much of the last week, revered liberal dork Rachel Maddow has been blasting Massachusetts senator Scott Brown for sending out fundraising e-mails suggesting she could run against him in 2012. Since—according to Maddow, who would presumably know—the MSNBC anchor is not going to run against Brown, this makes Brown a "liar." To a certain extent, Maddow has a point: Brown is, of course, deliberately spreading an untruth in the hopes of boosting his fundraising totals. But the notion that a politician might sensationalize his opposition for his own gain is hardly much of a scoop, and while it reflects poorly on Brown, it doesn't make him history's greatest monster, either.

But there’s a bigger reason why Maddow should cool it with the criticism: she'd actually make a pretty compelling candidate. For a state that’s so heavily Democratic in its local and federal officers, Massachusetts has a remarkably thin bench of political talent. Barney Frank isn't running. John Kerry's already has a job. Boston Mayor Tom Menino would never run. And incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick, facing a tough re-election bid, isn't really in a position to think two years ahead. If the 2012 Democratic primary were held today, it would likely pit Rep. Michael Capuano (whose brand of antagonistic populism is so underwhelming he once lost to Martha Coakley) against Rep. Stephen Lynch (pro-life, pro-Iraq war, and "foragainst" Health Care). Either one would probably be an improvement over Brown, but given how rarely these seats become available, it's a bit of a wasted opportunity for progressives.

Maddow shouldn’t call Scott Brown a liar. She should take him up on the offer! She’s wonkish, affable, articulate, and, as we’ve seen, unafraid of a challenge. From a substantive standpoint, few commentators spend as much time harping on the shortcomings of Senate procedure as Maddow does (she once conducted an interview with "the Bill" from Schoolhouse Rock). Who better to come in and fix it? At the very least, she'd give complacent Bay State Dems something to be excited about. If Stuart Smalley could do it...

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Freedom Alliance's Charity Rating Falls After CREW Complaint

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 2:57 PM EDT

In the days since Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed complaints regarding Sean Hannity's charity work, Charity Navigator downgraded its rating of Freedom Alliance from four stars to two stars.

CREW's complaint to the Federal Trade Commisssion alleges the Fox News star has falsely claimed that all proceeds from his Freedom Concerts go directly to a program run by Freedom Alliance—Oliver North's non-profit—that helps veterans' kids attend college. In reality, it's not clear exactly how much money finds its way to scholarships. CREW also challenged the Freedom Alliance's tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, arguing that the group is engaging in partisan political activities that should disqualify it from this status..

Charity Navigator provides independent analysis of a charity's financial health, looking at "how responsibly it functions day to day as well as how well positioned it is to sustain its programs over time." Here’s CREW’s latest post on their complaint against Hannity and the Freedom Alliance.

Guardians of the Free Republics: An Astroturf Militia (VIDEO)

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 2:36 PM EDT

Federal authorities are giving the hairy eyeball to a new "patriot" group, the Associated Press reports. The Guardians of the Free Republics—which has been praised by online supporters of Ron Paul—allegedly sent cryptic letters to most of the nation's governors with an ultimatum: Leave office now, or you'll be taken out of office. That, combined with the group's birther tendencies and other mad rhetoric—its website claims "immunity from public scrutiny, discretion, regulation or trespass. Trespassers beware," and its goals include "arrest and shackling of the District Court of the District of Columbia"- were enough to get the FBI involved.

Inspired by this news, fear and loathing run thick in the blogosphere today: Could this be the violent offshoot of angry white guyism, of Tea Parties and Oath Keepers, we always suspected lurking around the corner? With its amalgam of threats, Biblical hyperbole, and secretive initiations of Project Mayhem-like "posses" around the nation, could these be the slimy, ochre monsters that mobilize the country's patriot-subversives and drag us down the slippery slope to libertarian perdition?

Sorry to disappoint. What the AP didn't tell you is: The Guardians of the Free Republics appears to be little more than a website registered to a Silicon Valley conspiracy theorist. It's amazing what a simple "Whois" Internet domain search will turn up. A full report and video follow the jump.

Doctor: Obama Voters Piss Off

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 12:29 PM EDT

A Florida doctor has fired the latest shot across the bow in the battle over implementing President Obama's health care bill. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Dr. Jack Cassell, a urologist with an office near Orlando, made his disgust perfectly clear over "Obamacare," as its opponents deride it, by taping a sign to his front door that read:

"If you voted for Obama...seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your health care begin right now."

Cassell said that he wasn't necessarily rejecting care for patients, but merely voicing his opinion on Obama's health care overhaul. "I'm not turning anybody away—that would be unethical," Cassell, a Republican, told the Sentinel. "But if they read the sign and turn the other way, so be it."

Medical ethics experts interviewed by the Sentinel said that while Cassell wasn't blatantly discriminating against patients—political leanings aren't legally protected when it comes to discrimination law—the doctor was "trying to hold onto the nub of his ethical obligation," said the expert, William Allen, a University of Florida professor of bioethics. Cassell also papered his waiting room with GOP-produced fliers on the health care bill, the Sentinel reported, and featured a sign near those documents that said, "This is what the morons in Washington have done to your health care. Take one, read it, and vote out anyone who voted for it."

Cassell's office, it turns out, is located in the district of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), the tenacious, outspoken lawmaker who once said the GOP's health care mantra was "If you get sick, America...die quickly." An outspoken urologist with a grudge against Democrats and Obamacare should give Grayson, known for his office's entertaining mailers and occasionally outrageous remarks, plenty of material to work with.

Mark Penn's Realism on 2010 and Jobs

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 11:26 AM EDT

I ran into Mark Penn, the Democratic pollster and consultant (best known perhaps for not doing a swell job on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign), this brilliant spring morning in downtown DC. He's mainly handling corporate clients these days, not politicians. I had just posted yet another column noting that the Republicans appear to have a tremendous advantage in the coming congressional elections. So I asked if he is "pessimistic" about the Dems' prospects. "Realistic," he shot back, adding that the recent polls (see here and here) show the Democrats are facing a mess of trouble. The polls suggest that Americans, at this moment, have more confidence in how GOPers will deal with the economy. The elections "will be all about jobs," Penn said, echoing what just about every other member of the politerati says. (Sometimes conventional wisdom is correct.) And Penn noted that the jobs report released this morning—showing that 162,000 jobs were created last month—could help the Democrats. But that report also said that unemployment remained at the very high level of 9.7 percent. Doesn't that muddy the picture? I asked. After all, Republicans immediately released press releases claiming that the Democrats haven't done anything to lower unemployment. Any good news at all will bolster the Democrats, Penn replied, especially given how "the press covers this guy." He nodded in the direction of the White House. In politics, old resentments die hard.

Bill O'Reilly Defends Al Franken?

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 10:21 AM EDT

Yes, you read that right. Bill O'Reilly, the bloviating face of Fox News, actually came to the (somewhat) defense of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) the other night on his wildly popular show. O'Reilly was speaking with Jason Mattera, editor of Human Rights, about the latter's recent ambush of Franken (a classic O'Reilly tactic, of course) in an airport and interrogating him on the recently passed health care bill, without ever letting a dismayed Franken actually respond. Shockingly, O'Reilly scolded Mattera, who, as evidence of his intellectual rigor, previously claimed the left's notion of freedom consists of "smoking cocaine," for the Franken stunt: "The mistake you made," O'Reilly intoned, "was you were disrespectful for him—to him, when you called him 'Sen. Smalley,' and you gave him a reason to blow you off."

Here's the video of the exchange, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

OK, so O'Reilly was just giving Mattera some helpful hints, in father-like way, on how best to be a pesky right-wing journalist. Still, maybe Bill's warming to that loveable senator from Minnesota after all.

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The Idaho GOP's Pro-Militia Candidate

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

Idaho veterinarian, elk rancher, and political hopeful Rex Rammell first attracted national attention last year when he joked about buying "Obama tags" to hunt the president. Now the conservative activist is running to be the GOP's candidate for governor of Idaho. His platform? Revving up right-wing militias so they are "prepared" to deal with the growing threats to freedom posed by a federal government bent on "socializing" the country.

On ABC's "Nightline" on Tuesday, Rammell explained why it's reasonable for those unhappy with the Obama administration to threaten violence:

“I don't think anyone would argue that America is getting more and more enemies all of the time—both foreign and domestic," said Rammell. "I think the way politics is going in the United States and the Tea Party movement—the whole atmosphere promotes people wanting to get prepared. And I think that is what this is about...

"It's because of the current administration's politics—the more they force upon the states, the more noise there is," Rammell said. "The more concern people have, the less freedom there is. Lots of Idahoans believe the health care bill is very intrusive on our individual rights. ... We are not going to allow them to come into the state and make what we believe are unconstitutional mandates. Even if they can get them passed in D.C., we are not going to all that to happen. These guys want to show a little force behind the scene... I don't have a problem with that."

Show a little force? Was Rammell calling for right-wing militias to try to intimidate the federal government days after the feds cracked down on the Hutaree Christian militia for plotting to kill police officers? Idaho has certainly spawned it own share of militia groups and sympathesizers. Groups like Northern Idaho's Lightfoot Militia claim to have more than a 100 members, though they insist they aren't looking for a "showdown" with the government and consult with local officials to make sure they're above board. But the increasingly hysterical tone of anti-government rhetoric and growing concern about extremism have drawn increasing scrutiny to such heavily armed extracurricular activities.

Rammell himself is a fundamentalist Mormon who has long stood on the fringe of Idaho's right-wing political scene. He began his political crusade as a property rights activis when the state refuse to license his elk ranch due to inadequate fencing. And he first got a taste of the spotlight in 2006, when over a hundred elk escaped from his ranch, prompting the governor to order a large-scale hunt.

Since then, he has espoused a series of extreme views. "All of the evil empires that have ever existed have dictated what their youth would learn and by whom," Rammell thunders on his campaign website, slamming the federal government's role in the education system. A climate change denialist, he argues that those who advocate addressing human-generated global warming are godless fearmongers: "The catastrophic consequences predicted by the doomsayers are evidence of their lack of faith in a Supreme Being who holds the creation and the future of the world in His hands." He has also called upon the Almighty to help save the Constitution during the Obama years: "We are in America's second Revolutionary War to save our freedom, which we paid for with blood. We need God's help and I'm not ashamed to ask for it," he proclaimed in January, around the same time that he held a series of male-only Mormon campaign events.

Rammell's extreme views haven’t always endeared him to his fellow Republicans. He ran for Senate as an independent in 2008 and only managed to get 5.4 percent of the vote. Since he launched his primary campaign for the governor's seat, the state GOP hasn't rushed to embrace him. And after he refused to apologize for his joke about hunting Obama last year, he came under heavy criticism from state and national Republican leaders, as well as the Mormon church. 

The incumbent governor, Republican Butch Otter, is projected to win another term. But Rammell's entry into the race could still have an impact. Otter has been challenged repeatedly by the right wing of the state party—in addition to Rammell, he has three other challengers in the GOP primary. In response, he has moved to burnish his own conservative credentials—for instance, by making Idaho the first state to sue the federal government over the health care bill. In a crowded primary contest, Rammell's militia hawkery could gain traction with the Tea Party crowd—and push the Idaho Republican Party even farther to the right. "At one time, that wing represented a minority of the state's dominant party," a columnist from the local Lewiston Morning Tribune wrote last year. Now, he noted, "Idaho Republicanism is becoming little different from Rammellism."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 2, 2010

Fri Apr. 2, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

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Afghan Army soldiers patrol near the village of Kusheh, Afghanistan, on March 24, 2010. The Afghan soldiers have been partnering with US Army Soldiers to help bring stability to part of Khost province. Photo via the US Army photo by Spc. Spencer Case.

Corn on Countdown: Making the Census Count

Fri Apr. 2, 2010 12:43 AM EDT

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss the importance and quirks of the national census.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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

Bill O'Reilly Performs a Mitzvah

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 7:47 PM EDT

Bill O'Reilly is a mensch. A politically obtuse, verbally abusive, filthy rich one, but a mensch nonetheless.

That's no April Fool's Day joke. O'Reilly really is, today, a standup guy.

The conservative pundit put a little more daylight between himself and the Glenn Beck-loving, conspiracy-theorizing right wing Thursday with a touching personal gesture: He offered to help the father of a Marine killed in Iraq after he lost a lawsuit to the neoluddite child-hating Westboro Baptist Church of Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. After Albert Snyder lost his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in a vehicle accident in Anbar province, he was shocked to find Matt's military funeral mobbed by Phelps' crew of sign-carrying flat-earthers, whose shtick involves loudly thanking God for smiting gay-loving, libertine America and its sworn defenders. Snyder did what most grieving parents would have done: he sued the church. "They wanted their message heard, and they didn't care who they stepped over," Mr. Snyder testified. "My son should have been buried with dignity, not with a bunch of clowns outside." The court awarded him $11 million dollars.