Mojo - May 2010

Corn on "Hardball": Does Obama Use Republicans as Props?

Wed May. 26, 2010 3:42 PM PDT

David Corn and Ernest Istook joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Obama's contentious relationship with Senate Republicans.

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

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Meet Rand Paul's New Campaign Manager

| Wed May. 26, 2010 3:11 PM PDT

Kentucky's GOP senate candidate Rand Paul has reshuffled his campaign team in the wake of last week's Civil Rights Act imbroglio. Former campaign manager David Adams has been replaced in that role by Jesse Benton, who also served as spokesman in 2008 for Paul's father, then GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. I had occasion to interact with Benton that year for a feature I wrote on Paul's campaign and followers. Though "interact" is probably too expansive a term. Benton steadfastly refused to comment (with one small exception) or make Paul available, even though my feature was far from hostile to Paul. His reasoning was that somebody in the campaign had dealt with Mother Jones in the past and had decided we weren't to be trusted.

Benton's approach struck me as odd, given that Paul portrayed himself as a different kind of politician, someone who wasn't stage managed or afraid of telling voters what he really believed. And Benton's policy wasn't reserved for Mother Jones. When I wrote a profile of Paul for Duke Magazine, the alumni magazine of Paul's alma mater, Benton also denied me access.

Benton's restrictive approach makes sense, of course, in the context of Rand Paul's missteps on the Rachael Maddow show last week. My bet is that Rand Paul will now do his best to steer clear of reporters who are likely to pose uncomfortable questions.

Nevada's Rand Paul Primary Redux?

| Wed May. 26, 2010 12:50 PM PDT

Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite in Nevada's three-way Republican primary, is mounting an anti-establishment, Rand Paul-esque charge in her state's June 8 primary vote. Between late April and mid-May, Angle surged in the polls, from 13 percentage points to 25, according to R2000/Daily Kos and Las Vegas Review-Journal polling data. Meanwhile, the front-runner and GOP choice in that primary, former state GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden, dropped from 38 points to 30, and the third main candidate, Danny Tarkanian, dipped from 28 points to 22.

A former Nevada assemblywoman, Angle has seized on a handful of mistakes by Lowden, whose comfortable lead in the primary has all but eroded. Adopting the wildcard, Tea Party mantle, Angle is now bashing Lowden's fiscal record, claiming her opponent raised taxes and supported state spending hikes. Angle also unleashed the ultimate of political insults in the hard-hit Silver State, claiming Lowden—gasp!—"backed Harry Reid for years."

Whether Angle can overcome Lowden in the final days before the primary—Angle's raised a mere $945,000 for her campaign, less than half of Lowden's war chest—depends on how much she can paint Lowden as another political insider wedded to an incredibly unpopular Republican Party. Here's Angle's most recent ad attempting to do just that:

Contracting Commission to DOJ: Stop Stonewalling

| Wed May. 26, 2010 12:18 PM PDT

During a hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting earlier this week, Chris Shays got so exercised over the Justice Department's intransigence that he may have momentarily forgotten that the panel he co-chairs doesn't have subpoena power. He threatened to use it anyway to compel the agency to deliver up information that Shays, a former GOP congressman from Connecticut, says it has been stonewalling on for months.

Starting in December, the commission has repeatedly sought data from Justice on contracting corruption-related cases and prosecutions. That information—bringing together data from a collection of federal agencies and divisions—is contained in a database administered by an interagency law enforcement unit known as the International Contract Corruption Task Force.

Tea Party, Union Back Holy Water Teachers

| Wed May. 26, 2010 11:55 AM PDT

From butterfly ballots to fish stomping to (literally) insane drivers, South Florida is the weird news nexus of the universe. It's also a place where big deals are conducted out of the sandy sunshine, in back rooms, by politicos and union reps. And that appears to be the case with Djuna Robinson and Leslie Rainer, two evangelical teachers in Broward County who stand accused of sprinkling "holy water" on an "atheist" colleague in the middle of her crowded classroom at Blanche Ely High School—my old high school.

Robinson and Rainer were removed from their jobs after their doused accuser, Schandra Tompkinsel Rodriguez, filed a school-board complaint against them. But they've launched a PR counter-offensive, alleging that the charges against them are "an attack on Christianity." Their side is anchored by a controversial firebrand (and GOP-connected) minister in the school's neighborhood, who demonizes gays and Muslims with gusto. Now, they're getting some new allies from opposite ends of the spectrum: the county's Tea Party and teacher's union. The latter endorsement seemed to make sense...until I spoke today with the union's spokesman, discovered one of the accused is a union steward, and started to wonder what's going on in those South Florida shadows.

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Red Cross: We Help the Taliban

| Wed May. 26, 2010 10:09 AM PDT

Doctors can operate without borders, but can they work without regard for strategic consequences? The International Committee of the Red Cross says "Yes." The ICRC is defending itself this morning after the Telegraph of London reported that the group trains Taliban guerrillas in first aid and provides them with basic medical equipment. The Red Cross is claiming it's neutral, saying its highest value is the prevention of unnecessary death on all sides of a conflict. But is it ethical to put US, UK, and Afghan troops on a par with the Taliban? And even if so, is the Red Cross' "neutrality" simply enabling future violence?

Predators vs. Aliens: Arizona Wants More Drones

| Wed May. 26, 2010 9:56 AM PDT

As TPM reports, Arizona governor Jan Brewer has asked President Obama to help step up border security by dispatching unmanned aerial vehicles to her state. "I would also ask you," she writes, "as overseas operations in Iraq and Afghanistan permit, to consider wider deployment of UAVs along our nation's southern border. I am aware of how effective these assets have become in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, and it seems UAVs operations would be ideal for border security and counter-drug missions." For those who support Arizona's new anti-immgrant law and want to seal the border, her request may make it sound like the feds have been saving their best surveillance toys for the battlefield. And for opponents of beefing up the border, it may sound like Brewer has a creepy vision of turning the US-Mexico border into something like the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, with death-dealing drones circling overhead.  

Yet the reality is that the drones are already there. Customs and Border Protection has a small but growing fleet of UAVs that it's been flying along the borders since the mid-2000s. It currently has six Predators (unarmed)—five of which operate from Arizona. One even crashed there in 2006. CBP credits its drones with helping bust 15,000 lbs of pot and 4,000 illegal immigrants. (And the agency hasn't been the only one watching the line from above—in 2003, the American Border Patrol, an Arizona Minutemen-type group, tested its own small surveillance UAV, the Border Hawk.)

Whether the federal UAVs are doing a good job or whether more are needed is subject to debate. But if you want to get on the government's case for not flying Predators in domestic airspace or for considering the idea in the first place, too late—that drone has flown.

BP Oil Spill: Why Size Matters

| Wed May. 26, 2010 8:10 AM PDT

Initially it seemed that arguing over how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico thanks to the BP disaster was mostly an academic exercise. BP said about 5,000 barrels a day; others put the figure at perhaps ten times that much. But the critical issue was how to stop the damn leak, whatever the amount.

Yet the size of the leak, it turns out, may matter a lot. Reuters reports:

Just how many barrels of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon spill is a billion dollar question with implications that go beyond the environment. It could also help determine how much BP and others end up paying for the disaster.

A clause buried deep in the U.S. Clean Water Act may expose BP and others to civil fines that aren't limited to any finite cap -- unlike a $75 million limit on compensation for economic damages. The Act allows the government to seek civil penalties in court for every drop of oil that spills into U.S. navigable waters, including the area of BP's leaking well.

As a result, the U.S. government could seek to fine BP or others up to $4,300 for every barrel leaked into the U.S. Gulf, according to legal experts and official documents.

Do the math. At $4,300 a barrel, the difference between 5,000 barrels a day and, say, 20,000 could be $64 million per day in civil fines. And such a fine would be on top of any liability payments. So BP does have a rather direct interest in how the spill is measured. Which also means it has an interest in what information—such as video feeds of the leak—is released.

After the Reuters report came out, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) emailed it to reporters with a succinct explanation: "here's one of the big reasons why Sen. Nelson and others push so hard to get the video of the leaking oil from BP." Indeed.

More on Rand Paul

| Wed May. 26, 2010 7:47 AM PDT

Ezra Klein asks whether Kentucky senate candidate Rand Paul believes the federal government can set a minimum wage. True/Slant's Conor Friedersdorf doesn't think that's an important question:

There is just no possible way that the federal minimum wage is going to be repealed, and even if it were, states are perfectly capable of setting their own minimum wage laws, as many do.

Friedersdorf seems to be suggesting that if a political change is unlikely, a politician's position on that change is irrelevant. That is unconvincing. It isn't easy to predict which previously off-limits political issues might suddenly be in play in the future. And in the meantime, voters are trying to make a decision about which candidate most closely mirrors their values. After party identification, candidates' issue positions are the best representation of that. 

(Mistermix at Balloon Juice makes a similar argument.)