Mojo - May 2010

VIDEO: Jesus Hates Socialism, Obama

| Fri May 14, 2010 1:06 PM EDT

Meet the new religious right, same as the old religious right. Kinda sorta. Coral Ridge Ministries, a longtime player in the mission to Christianize (or, as they might put it, re-Christianize) America, is beating a new political drum. Its message is custom-tailored not to the Gospels, but to the alleged political mood of the US in these times. The argument: Socialism is ungodly. Barack Hussein Obama is a socialist. In fact, all Democrats are socialists. And Democrats run the government. Ergo, our government is ungodly.

So what do you do when you're in possession of this ultimate truth and want to share it? Make a star-studded "documentary" titled "SOCIALISM: A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER...A Biblical Response." And this video's headliners are clearly the best judges of capitalism's holiness; it stars: Michelle Bachmann! Steve Forbes! David Horowitz! Chuck Colson! Some blonde lady from Concerned Women for America! The founder of WorldNetDaily! Some dude who defected from the Chinese national basketball team! Plus, a quick-cut montage combining a bunch of angry rioting brown people, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Barack Hussein Obama!

Have a gander:

While that may not sound like a new meme to regular MoJo readers—or students of US Christian politics—its stridency and bald illogic (Jesus? A fan of wealth and an enemy of taxation? Have you not read Mark or Luke?) are new hat for the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based Coral Ridge Ministries (CRM)—which was set up in the '70s by a granddaddy of the religious right and a fairly rigorous Presbyterian theologian, Dr. D. James Kennedy. (Full disclosure: Until his recent death, Kennedy was a pastor and friend to my wife's family, all of whose members struggled in some way to square his friendship and Gospel message with his vengeful, firebrand political proselytzing.)

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Who Really Took Down Bob Bennett?

| Fri May 14, 2010 11:48 AM EDT

Last Saturday, three-term Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost his party's nomination for the Senate seat he currently occupies—coming in third at the state GOP convention. I told you not to cry for him—party activists going after members of Congress they aren't happy with is totally rational. (On Tuesday, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) became the second incumbent to lose his party's nomination this cycle.)

Now Newsweek's McKay Coppins is saying that if Utah ends up electing a Democrat, you can "thank the Tea Party." People should be careful about giving all the credit for Bennett's defeat to grassroots Tea Partiers. It's true that in the end, conservative activists and Tea Partiers voted Bennett out at the convention. But it's unlikely that things would have even gotten to that point without the intervention of two big outside groups—the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. David Frum explained their role last month:

Bennett is caught in a range war between two such conservative allies: the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Founded more than a decade ago, the Club for Growth has raised and spent millions of dollars to support tax-cutting Republican opponents of incumbents. In the past few cycles, this strategy has led to a sequence of disasters. Club-backed challenges to moderate Republican incumbents like Michigan Congressman Joe Schwarz in 2006 and Maryland's Wayne Gilchrest in 2008 tipped both seats to Democrats. The threat of a Club-backed primary pushed Arlen Specter to change parties in 2009, (briefly) handing Barack Obama his 60th Senate vote.

This unsatisfying record opened space for a competitor: FreedomWorks, an activist organization run by former House majority leader Dick Armey and generously funded by the billionaire Koch family of Wichita, Kans. FreedomWorks thrust itself to the fore of the Tea Party last year, providing the sometimes stumbling movement with professional skills. In the process, FreedomWorks gained some clout and challenged the Club for Growth to put some numbers on the board.

The Bennett race provided the perfect opportunity. Utah is supersafe Republican territory; the party faces no danger of losing the seat. And so, without endorsing any particular contender, the Club began running television ads attacking Bennett last fall. It slammed Bennett for his 2008 vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and his co-sponsorship of the Healthy Americans Act, which would require Americans to buy insurance. In February, FreedomWorks jumped into the campaign against Bennett too, in part to forestall the rival Club from hogging the spotlight and snaring all the dollars.

None of this is to say that grassroots opposition didn't matter. But big spending on television ads makes a difference in political campaigns. The people writing Bennett's political obituaries should acknowledge the role that big outside groups played in his defeat.

Chatting With Karzai's Cabinet

| Fri May 14, 2010 11:25 AM EDT

The State Department press aide hinted at some kind of bureaucratic snafu. The invites had only gone out at the last minute. As a result, David Samuels (author of this epic piece on Balkan jewel thieves and a Mother Jones contributor) and I found ourselves the lone journos at a media roundtable featuring a handful of members of the Afghan cabinet who'd accompanied President Hamid Karzai on his visit to Washington this week. Among them were General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the country's dour and barrel-chested defense minister; Wahidullah Shahrani, the youthful looking Minister of Mines; and Omar Zakhilwal, the Minister of Finance.

The event started late and ended abruptly a short time later, with the Afghan officials ushered out of the room by their handlers and shepherded on to their next appointments. And strictly speaking the roundtable portion never actually took place. But for about 15 or minutes or so I was able to chat with officials including Minister of Interior Haneef Atmar and Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, the former Afghan communications minister and currently a top security advisor to Karzai.

I already highlighted Atmar's comments on private security companies, but he was also eager to discuss the strides that have been made in combating corruption—successes, he griped, that have not received "the kind of attention that they should." Over the past year, he said, more than 200 police officers have been prosecuted on corruption-related charges. And he noted there has been a major crackdown on illegal roadblocks set up by police to "toll" (i.e., extort) passerby. "Our main roads and highways are much more conducive to travel." He also pointed to the ministry's fledgling Major Crimes Task Force, set up in partnership with the FBI to pursue high-level corruption cases. "It is a success story in terms of building an organizational framework to address the problem. It has yet to produce the desired result. It's a very, very young organization." 

The Brains Behind Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban

| Fri May 14, 2010 11:08 AM EDT

Like Kris Kobach, the architect of the state’s immigration law, the man behind Arizona’s anti-ethnic studies law is also running for office this year—and he’s already touting the legislation in his campaign. Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, is battling an ally of Maricopa County’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the Republican primary for Attorney General, Talking Points Memo’s Justin Elliott explains. The new law prohibits classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” Championing his legislative victory, Horne is now trying to gin up fears of a Hispanic “revolt.” Elliott reports:

The ethnic studies law is Horne's answer to Thomas' immigration record. Horne's campaign website currently includes headlines like "Tom Horne Championed Bill to Ban Ethnic Studies" and "Alarming Video Shows a L.A. Teacher Calling for Mexican Revolt in the U.S." above a picture of Hispanic protesters of the law dressed in quasi-paramilitary garb and bearing pictures of Cesar Chavez.

Horne isn’t the first to take up ethnic studies as a political crusade. The battle over ethnic studies originated on college campuses decades ago when minority student groups began pressing for classes that covered underrepresented viewpoints. As recently as 2007, Columbia University students (and one professor) staged a hunger strike to protest a Dead White Male-centric curriculum and push for an expansion of ethnic studies. On the other side, conservatives like David Horowitz have crusaded against ethnic studies for being a socially divisive product of liberal groupthink on college campuses.

But Arizona’s new law has taken what was once an academic debate to a new level of vitriolic fear-mongering. Horne says that he wrote the law specifically to target a grade-school program in Tucson that he says is teaching Hispanics to resent whites through "ethnic chauvinism." Horne’s law makes no pretense of engaging in an honest pedagogical discussion—rather he skips straight to the inflammatory charge that such learning could encourage students to revolt against US government, effectively legitimizing fears of a Mexican “reconquista.” Where students of ethnic studies were once merely criticized as enemies of the Western canon, they're now being villified as enemies of Arizona state.

GOP Going Soft on Kagan?

| Fri May 14, 2010 9:20 AM EDT

At this point in The Kagan Narrative, it appears the Senate Republicans aren't craving a true battle. The numbers, of course, aren't on their side. The Dems have a solid majority and only need one GOPer to join them to make it filibuster-proof. Several moderates already have signaled that Kagan is fine by them. CNN reports:

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan received critical cover from moderate Republicans on Thursday on two issues likely to dominate her upcoming confirmation hearings: gays in the military and judicial experience.

One of those mod-Repubs is Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, a kind of home state for former Harvard Law dean Elena Kagan. He said:

It was very clear to me, after we spoke about it at length, that she is supportive of the men and women who are fighting to protect us and very supportive of the military as a whole. I do not feel that her judicial philosophy will hurt the men and women who are serving.

The other is Maine-mod Sen. Susan Collins, and she said,

she doesn't have any concerns about Kagan's experience. She also said she didn't see any "extraordinary circumstances" that could lead her to join a potential filibuster against Kagan.

With no bombshell—real or contrived—yet discovered in Kagan's memos and past statements (no utterances about "wise Jewish women"), Senate Republicans don't have much in the way of ammo. But the prospect of losing has not always prevented Republicans from attacking a nominee—especially when a dust-up might excite parts of its base. There's probably another reason why they're not ginning up a real fight: the economy. With unemployment likely to stay near 10 percent from now until Election Day in November and with plenty of indicators that there's a strong anti-incumbent wave heading toward Congress, the Republicans seem content to stand back and let political nature take its course. There's no need for them to whip up what could be a distracting culture clash over Kagan—and Supreme Court nomination fights tend to involve cultural issues, not economic ones. The GOP these days is playing more to its Tea Party base than to its religious-right pals. After all, a social conservative crusade mounted by the Republicans against Kagan might remind a bunch of voters why they don't like GOPers. So why should Republicans try to start a fire, when there's one already heading toward the Democrats? 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 14, 2010

Fri May 14, 2010 7:47 AM EDT

 

Sgt. David M. Pooler scans the area across the Kunar River as he provides security in the Noorgal district in Afghanistan's Konar province, May 1, 2010. This was part of a community development council meeting. Pooler is assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503 Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173 Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

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Afghan Minister: "Zero Tolerance" for Security Firm Shootings

| Fri May 14, 2010 5:15 AM EDT

Shortly before departing Kabul to accompany President Hamid Karzai on a state visit to Washington, Interior Minister Haneef Atmar delivered a message to the country's myriad private security operations: You can't get away with murder. Anymore, at least.

Following recent incidents in which two civilians were gunned down, Atmar banned a pair of security companies—Compass and Watan Risk Management—from providing their services on the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway, where the shootings occurred. Additionally, the alleged perpetrators were arrested and are facing prosecution.

In the past, undisciplined and reckless guards, many of them locals drawn from the ranks of militias or moonlighting members of the national police force, have been known to fire wildly and indiscriminately, sometimes wounding or killing civilians; Compass guards were previously blamed for the death of a Canadian soldier. But, when these episodes occur, there has often been little in the way of consequences. As a result, outrage has mounted among Afghans who believe the country's many security firms—some of them glorified militias—operate with impunity. Military officials have expressed concern about the irresponsible actions of security contractors as well, since their conduct directly undermines the principles of counterinsurgency, which calls for protecting the populace even at the expense of protecting the troops.

According to Atmar, times are changing. "The level of tolerance of misconduct when it comes to these organizations is zero," he told me on Thursday, at a State Department event attended by a handful of Afghan cabinet members. "They have had all the time to develop their capacities to professionally provide a service. Now if they fail to do that very, very serious legal action will be taken."

Is China's Kid Policy So Wrong?

| Thu May 13, 2010 5:40 PM EDT

In a word: Yes. From feminist Courtney E. Martin to a reader of the ongoing population forum:

Kristi writes "So, aside from China's widespread human rights violations and the lack of freedom of expression, just in regards to this particular policy, what are people really so against?" A one-child policy enforced from on high is not only "an infringement on human rights," as Aditi Raychoudhury rightly put it, but a slippery slope. You start telling people how many children they can have, and you don't have to cover much ideological, not to mention legislative or judicial ground, before you're telling them how or when to have that one child. Plus, children don't, despite the lingering stork theories, manifest immaculately. They come from women's bodies, and women deserve ultimate control over those bodies. Controlling reproduction becomes controlling women's bodies becomes a total compromise of the reproductive justice that feminists have been fighting so long to achieve (unfinished business, to be sure). Plus, Kristi, do you really believe that femicide and the other not-so-small side effects of policies like these wouldn't happen outside of China? According to April 2009 findings, there is now a gap of 32 million more males than females under the age of 20 in China. Not. Okay.

Why do you think population is such a radioactive topic? Mix it up with Courtney and the rest of us today and Friday at the MoJo Population Forum, here.

Walmart Pledges $2 Billion to Feed Its Own Image

| Thu May 13, 2010 2:40 PM EDT

So Walmart Stores announced yesterday that it would give $2 billion worth of food and grants to America's food banks. Great, huh? The needy get fed—and Walmart gets a ton of positive press. Two billion is no chump change. Okay, true, it's less than one-half of 1 percent of Wal-Mart's sales—a staggering $405 billion for fiscal 2010. But still.

Giving to help the hungry is a smart marketing strategy for Walmart. Low-income people are among the retail king's biggest customers, after all, and feeding people during hard times is a fantastic image-booster. But as with Walmart's embracing of compact fluorescent light bulbs—part of a major push to green its image (and sell a shitload of product)—there's something duplicitous in all of this. I use that word because even as Walmart burnishes its image by unloading food it doesn't want (see below), it is contributing to hunger on the other end—and leaving taxpayers to bail out its undercompensated employees.

Fiore Cartoon: The Invisible Hand Strikes Back

Thu May 13, 2010 2:22 PM EDT

What happens to laissez–faire types when massive government intervention saves an entire continent from spiraling into economic catastrophe? Well, that invisible hand they're always preaching about gets a little bit nasty.

This cartoon requires Macromedia's Flash Player. If you don't see the cartoon above, download the player here.

Mark Fiore is an editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a web site featuring his work.