Mojo - June 2010

The Manchurian Tea Party Candidates

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 5:39 PM EDT

Ah, Florida! Where recounts don't count; where even school boards are corrupt; where holy water is a weapon; where kids of pols are all black sheep or dark horses. It's a political playground down there, but beyond the loud bullies, this playground's got a fair share of quiet, devious, nerdy geniuses.

Which makes the latest allegations by Florida GOP chairman and state Sen. John Thrasher slightly plausible. His charge: Lefties have pulled an "Alvin Greene" in the Sunshine State. According to the estimable St. Pete Times:

Republicans see a conspiracy theory: a number of the tea party candidates are former Democrats, some appear financially strapped to pay the $1,800 filing and others are filing to run in districts far away from their listed address. A number of the seats are also targeted by Democrats for takeover.

"The recent flurry of last minute filings by so–called 'tea party candidates' looks awfully suspicious," said GOP Chairman John Thrasher in a statement. "While a few tea-party candidates across the state do have ties to the tea party movement, in the majority of instances, it appears that the Democrats have coordinated a dishonest attempt to hide phony candidates behind the name "tea party" and to confuse voters who may be supportive of the tea party movement, effectively stealing votes from true conservative candidates and injuring the grassroots tea party movement as a whole."

Apparently, all this is being coordinated by one Fred O'Neal, an Orlando attorney (and registered Democrat) who last year created the "Tea Party of Florida" as an actual political party, much to the dismay of some more ardent patriot activists. There are whispered rumors of a link between O'Neal and firebrand Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, he of Rachel Maddow fame. One thing's for sure, they share a burning hatred of old-line Republicans, as this letter from O'Neal to a GOP candidate attests:

Republican politicians, in my experience, tend to vote the way their "masters" tell them to vote, rather than in the best interest of the people...

If you think "trickle down economics" and representing special interests is best for the country, then you have a right to say so and you have a right to run for office in a political party which generally agrees with your philosophy.

I, on the other hand, disagree. I think the American people have been "trickled on" enough.

Whew! It's hard to say what the impact of O'Neal's recruited Tea Party candidates will be. But this has always been the big risk underlying the Republican Party's delicate courtship of the angry patriot movement: Grassroots libertarians by nature aren't big joiners, so it's hard to claim their support without driving them out of your camp.

The state Democratic Party, of course, poo-poos any allegations that these Tea Partiers are their plants. "Despite their beliefs, the black helicopters are not coming to get John Thrasher," party spokesman Eric Jotkoff told the Times. "Maybe they should spend more time cleaning up their party."

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Prop 8 Update: Marriage Is Not About Procreation

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 5:00 PM EDT

I read the entire 164-page transcript of this week's closing arguments for the Prop. 8 trial, which will determine whether gays can marry in California. Here's everything you need to know:

On Wednesday, Charles Cooper (the attorney defending the state's ban on gay marriages) continued to fling fallacious appeals to tradition, including his signature "marriage is solely for procreation" schtick. Judge Vaughn Walker didn't buy it. Ted Olson, "the godfather of the conservative legal movement" (see also: the attorney fighting against Prop. 8), skillfully refuted it.

Olson hit the discriminative nail right on its bigoted head when he said "people passed Proposition 8 because they don't—they think gays are unusual." Cooper disputed this claim by saying voters believe that "society would come to an end" if gays married since "the central purpose of marriage in virtually all societies and at all times has been to channel potentially procreative sexual relationships into enduring stable unions to increase the likelihood that any offspring will be raised by the man and woman who brought them into the world."

Yes, Cooper really did say that in one breath. And he said it with all the logical holes you see here, since state laws generally don't bar straight couples from marrying if they don't want children or can't conceive, which Judge Walker noted. Walker also pointed out that the state generally doesn't care whether a child is conceived in wedlock, by accident, or through a one-night stand, whether via in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or some other way. The state only cares that a child is taken care of once born, which adoption by gay married couples would help to do. How did Cooper fare after that, you ask? Spoiler alert: Not well.

NATO's Contract Fraud A-Team

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 12:53 PM EDT

According to the Wall Street Journal, military commanders in Afghanistan have arrived at the conclusion that allowing billions of dollars to flow to local and international contractors with the scantest of oversight is kind of a big problem. They "now believe," the Journal reports, that "the massive infusions of cash are helping engender a culture of corruption that has undermined Afghan support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and the NATO forces that back it." You think?

The US-led coalition is in the process of putting together a contract corruption-fighting unit dubbed Task Force 2010. It's a catchy enough name. But I might have gone with something different. "2010" gets you wondering why there's no Task Force 2009, or 2008, or 2007...really, why 9 years have passed without a similar unit being stood up. The Journal reports:

Up until now, much of the limited scrutiny that contractors have endured has focused on private security firms, some of which have allegedly paid off the Taliban to avoid attacks.

Officers directly involved with the new task force stressed that it plans to look beyond security firms and examine the full array of contracts, which range from delivering fuel and food to NATO forces to using coalition money to build health clinics and schools in remote villages.

Of particular concern is the frequent use of multiple sub-contracts on many contracts. U.S. officials already investigating corruption in Afghanistan say they have found evidence of companies, in particular construction firms, using a string of sub-contractors to shift cash to shell companies. The money then disappears, usually into foreign bank accounts.

A number of the primary contractors have ties to top Afghan officials or people with powerful political connections, officials say.

Task Force 2010 will look "at who are not only the subcontractors, but the subcontractors to the subcontractors—literally, where is the money going, and is it all above-board?" said Gen. David Petraeus, who commands U.S. Forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, Tuesday at a Congressional hearing on the war in Afghanistan.

Al Franken Takes On The Supreme Court

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 12:14 PM EDT

One of the great mysteries of modern politics today is how the state of Minnesota could have produced both Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) and Democrat Sen. Al Franken. While Bachmann this week was accusing the Obama administration of "fleecing" BP, urging its execs not to be "chumps," and suggesting that a $20 billion escrow fund for oil spill victims was a form of "wealth redistribution," Franken Thursday night was wowing an audience of lawyers with a remarkably pointed critique of the Roberts court and its efforts to enhance the power of already powerful corporations. The contrast couldn't be more different.

Speaking at the American Constitution Society's annual convention in DC, Franken offered up his unique blend of political criticism and comic delivery in a speech that sounded an awful lot like a rallying cry for Congress to push back against the Supreme Court's pro-business decisionmaking. He honed in on the conservative Federalist Society and bashed the Roberts court for its overreach in cases like Citizens United, where the court answered questions it wasn't even asked. "I mean, I don't speak Latin. But unless stare decisis means 'overturn stuff,' then maybe it's time for conservatives to stop calling other people 'dangerous radicals,'" he said.

Conservatives, Franken said, have "distorted our constitutional discourse to make it sound like the Court's rulings don't matter to ordinary people, but only to the undeserving riff-raff at the margins of society. So unless you want to get a late-term abortion, burn a flag in the town square, or get federal funding for your pornographic artwork, you really don't need to worry about what the Supreme Court is up to." Much of Franken's speech concerned the real people whose lives are indeed affected by the court's decisions, including Jaime Leigh Jones, the KBR employee who was allegedly gang-raped by her co-workers in Iraq and whose case Franken has championed.

One of the themes of Franken's speech was the way conservative legal activists have changed the way they talk about the law to disguise what their real agenda is. "Do they want to undercut abortion and immigration and Miranda rights? Sure. But those are just cherries on the sundae. What conservative legal activists are really interested in is this question: What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation's right to profit? And their preferred answer is: None of them. Zero."

I could go on about all the interesting things he had to say, but print doesn't really do Franken justice. ACS has just posted the video of his speech, and you can watch the whole thing. It's worth a look. (UPDATE: ACS seems to be having a problem with the video, but you can find the audio on their site here.)

Alvin Greene is Here to Stay

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 11:25 AM EDT

The South Carolina Democratic Party voted overwhelming to uphold Alvin Greene's victory over Vic Rawl last week. Members of the state party's executive committee rejected an appeal by Rawl to hold a new Senate primary contest. State and party officials have now rejected three of the four challenges to Greene: Earlier this week, South Carolina Attorney General, Republican Henry McMaster, declined to investigate the election results, citing an absence of any evidence of "criminal wrongdoing." Similarly, the state's election commission has also declined to investigate. And so far, none of the conspiracy theories surrounding Greene's win have yielded any hard proof. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

A few anxious South Carolina Democrats—concerned about Greene's rather, erh, unpolished candidacy—are already groping for a Plan B. Some allies of former congressional candidate Linda Ketner, a Charleston businesswoman, are now urging her to run as an independent in the race, starting to collect the 10,000 signatures needed to get her on the ballot. "Long shot?," wrote one confidante in an email to former Ketner staffers. "Yes. Have crazier things happened in SC? Yes. Can you help?"

Meanwhile, Greene shows no signs of slowing his quote-tastic media roll-out. Earlier this week, he told a Time reporter that he was "the best person to be Time magazine's Man of the Year." And a few South Carolinians who actually voted for Greene are coming out of the woodwork to explain their reasoning. Here's one self-denigrating woman admits that it was because his name reminded her of soul legend Al Green.

Top 10 Candidate Gaffes of 2010

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 11:07 AM EDT

In honor of Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP, the smart analysts at MSNBC"s "First Read" have put out a list of the top 10 candidate gaffes of 2010. Though the elections are still months away, the list is full of doozies. One can only imagine what will be added in the weeks to come. And the winners are....

1. Gordon Brown's "bigoted woman": This gaffe took place across the Atlantic Ocean, but it impacted Britain's election this year and ensured that Gordon Brown and the Labour Party would be voted out of power. http://bit.ly/dvkqPQ

2. Martha Coakley's Schilling-is-a-Yankee fan: This statement in a radio interview showed that she was out of touch with Massachusetts voters. No Boston Red Sox fan would mistakenly say that Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan. This gaffe turned out to be the final nail in Coakley's coffin. http://bit.ly/5wSX3v

3. Sue Lowden and Barter-gate/Chicken-gate: This gaffe by Lowden -- touting that bartering for health care, like paying doctors with chickens, could benefit the health system -- contributed to her June 8 defeat in the Nevada Senate GOP primary, a contest in which she was once the front-runner. It also inspired videos like the one linked here. http://bit.ly/c3Ny8l

4. Vaughn Ward's Puerto Rico is a country: Ward once was a front-runner, too -- in an Idaho GOP congressional primary. But after a few gaffes -- like calling Puerto Rico a country when it's a territory -- he ended up losing this primary. http://bit.ly/bRaek3

5. Arlen Specter and the College Republicans: Specter mistakenly saying that he was endorsed by the College Republicans, instead of the College Democrats, highlighted his biggest weakness in the Democratic Senate primary he lost: He was a long-time Republican before switching parties. http://bit.ly/9yV2C3

6. Carly Fiorina's hairy situation: California’s GOP Senate nominee became the latest victim of the open mic, when she was caught dissing the hairstyle of fall opponent, Barbara Boxer. ("God, what is that hair? Soooo yesterday.") http://bit.ly/aBdedx

7. J.D. Hayworth's 'history' lesson: At a town hall, Hayworth served up this whopper: "As I recall, in MY history, Germany declared war on the United States not vice versa." In fact, as was pointed out to him by a questioner (who Hayworth didn't believe), the U.S. DID declare war on Germany on April 4, 1917. http://bit.ly/d9rQDP and http://bit.ly/aiHgia

8. Jim Gibbons -- the mistress and the airplane: ‘What's it to you? … You're full of s---': It was painful to watch as Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons tried to deny, deny, deny that there was a woman with him on a plane back from DC that was actually his mistress. Gibbons apologized but lost his reelection bid badly in the primary. In fairness, though this gaffe was hardly the only thing that did him in. http://bit.ly/9E1Rcw

9. Jerry Brown and Nazi propaganda: We've said it before, and we'll say it again, the first to bring up Nazis in politics, loses the argument. In a conversation with a reporter while out for a morning jog, longtime pol Jerry Brown, running as the Democratic nominee for governor in California, likened his fall opponent Meg Whitman and her big spending habits to Nazi propagandists. http://bit.ly/d48B2C

10. Bob Etheridge gets too close for comfort: It's never a good idea to grab, slap, pull, manhandle, or "hug, as in wrestling," another person -- no matter how annoying they are -- and especially if it's on camera (!!!). This might not have any effect on his re-election bid, but it provided a lesson politicians should already know: When the camera is on, it can be uploaded and sent around the world in minutes. http://bit.ly/deS68w and http://bit.ly/d7ayfu

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Enviros Push for "BP 10" to Dump the Campaign Cash

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 10:00 AM EDT

Friends of the Earth has launched a new campaign to get the recipients of the most cash from BP to give the money to Gulf restoration projects through the Gulf Coast Fund. The "BP Ten"—the five senators and five House members who have gotten the most cash from the oil giant for the 2008 and 2010 election cycles—have received nearly $114,000.

BP has donated $3.5 million candidates for federal office in the last two decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That's from both the company's political action committee and employees. President Obama was actually the top recipient of money from the company, at $77,051, but their campaign is focused on sitting members of Congress.

Here are the top recipients of BP money for the past four years:

Senate

John McCain (R-AZ, $36,649 from BP and $2,428,287 from Big Oil since 2006)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA, $16,200 from BP and $329,100 from Big Oil since 2006)
Mark Begich (D-AK, $8,550 from BP and $85,958 from Big Oil since 2006)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK, $8,500 from BP and $223,326 from Big Oil since 2006)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY, $8,500 from BP and $408,400 from Big Oil since 2006)

House

John Culberson (R-TX, $10,200 from BP and $187,350 from Big Oil since 2006)
Ron Paul (R-TX, $7,300 from BP and $134,132 from Big Oil since 2006)
Charles Rangel (D-NY, $6,500 from BP and $40,600 from Big Oil since 2006)
Steny Hoyer (D-MD, $6,000 from BP and $91,800 from Big Oil since 2006)
Don Young (R-AK, $5,500 from BP and $45,500 from Big Oil since 2006)

Warlord or "Risk-Taking Entrepreneur"?

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

A Western official knowledgeable about Afghanistan's private security scene pointed me to this letter to the editor from the Afghan ambassador to the US, Said Jawad, that ran in the New York Times earlier this week. Jawad is responding to a recent Dexter Filkins piece about Matiullah Khan, a provincial powerbroker in Oruzgan. Khan, once a highway patrol commander, heads a paramilitary force said to be 2,000 men strong, which protects NATO convoys on a particularly dangerous stretch of road between Tirin Kowt and Kandahar. His men also take part in operations with US Special Forces soldiers. It's very lucrative work. He brings in an estimated $2.5 million per month.

The gist of Filkins' story—which is well worth reading in its entirety—is that while Matiullah's services may be helpful in the short-term, empowering him and other local strongmen (there are many) come at the cost of NATO's long-term objectives. For instance, as Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pointed out this week, building up a capable national army and police force is made even more difficult by the fact that local security operations, which pay better, are recruiting directly from the ranks of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. There's also the fact that Matiullah may be engaging in criminal activity on the side, conniving "with both drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents"—reports of which military commanders apparently ignore in order to justify relying on his services.

The questions Filkins raises in his story are legitimate and troubling, but his characterization of Matiullah rankled the Afghan ambassador. Jawad writes that the story "left the impression that an effective founder of a private security firm is somehow a 'semiofficial warlord,' undermining government institutions in Oruzgan Province."

The Taliban regularly attack supply caravans. NATO cannot secure the safety of its own transports, and because the Afghan Army is deployed in the battle with the Taliban, adequate police officers cannot protect remote highways. Yet risk-taking entrepreneurs like Matiullah Kahn have filled this security vacuum.

First, I'd say Jawad's impression was precisely the one that Filkins was trying to leave. Second, I actually think Filkins was being somewhat charitable when he referred to Matiullah as a "semi-official warlord." If there's even such thing as an "official" warlord, Matiullah is a member of the club. Also, Matiullah doesn't run a "firm" per se. It's basically a militia, which goes by the name Kandak Amniante Oruzgan (or Highway Police Oruzgan). What Jawad conspicously fails to mention is that Matiullah's operation is considered illegal by the government he represents, which requires security outfits, local and international alike, to be licensed through the Ministry of Interior.

In the past, the ministry has even offered Matiullah a license and a government contract, according to Hanif Atmar, who served as Afghanistan's Interior minister until earlier this month, when he was forced to resign by Afghan president Hamid Karzai. But Matiullah has refused to come under government control—which doesn't bode well for any potential efforts in the future to integrate his militia into the Afghan security forces, let alone disband his private army. (And let's not forget that in November Karzai vowed to phase out all private security operations within two years. Good luck.) "Parallel structures of government create problems for the rule of law," Atmar told the Times.

Creating a stable society and a strong central government are, above all else, the Afghan president's main objectives. So why would Karzai's man in Washington go out of his way to defend a warlord—or entrepreneur, or whatever you want to call him—who is confounding these goals?

Dawn Johnsen Speaks!

| Fri Jun. 18, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

In her first public speech since President Obama nominated her to head up the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel--and Republican opposition prompted her to withdraw 18 months later--Dawn Johnsen came out swinging. Sort of. While she didn't specifically bash the Republicans who held up her nomination, Johnsen told attendees of the American Constitution Society convention Thursday night, "I do feel that the nearly unprecedented delay of my nomination was wrong." She called on Obama to fill the vacant post at OLC, a job that has not been occupied by a confirmed candidate for six long years. 

Johnsen, who had been an outspoken critic of the Bush-era OLC because of its now-discredited legal memos supporting torture, said that the worst part of being in nominee purgatory was the "forced silence" imposed on her. A prolific writer and blogger, Johnsen said that one of the greatest costs of her nomination was being unable to speak publicly in any form, "not even any boring law review articles that nobody ever reads." There was one upside to the nomination process, though. While the scrutiny of every word she'd ever written for 25 years was a bit oppressive, Johnsen said found the public review of her career somewhat satisfying because she realized how lucky she had been. "I've had countless opportunities to work with committed lawyers on issues on which we care deeply. In the end, none of us can hope for more," she said.

She said she had no regrets about having spoken out publicly about issues ranging from abortion to torture, noting that when she and her friends were in law school, "the one thing you didn't want people to say at your funeral is that she went to her grave with her options open." Johnsen said that standing on principle had helped, not hurt her career, and she urged the law students in attendance not to shy away from doing the same for fear it would hurt their career prospects. "We are counting on you to stand on principle and to speak out loudly and with conviction. Our bright future depends on it," Johnsen said.

UPDATE: ACS just posted the video of Johnsen's speech. You can watch it here.

 

Gibbs Calls for Barton's Head

| Thu Jun. 17, 2010 6:51 PM EDT

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs thinks Joe Barton (R-Texas) should lose his position as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee for his BP brown-nosing earlier today (which he later apologized for … sort of).

Gibbs even took the issue to Twitter:

Who would the GOP put in charge of overseeing the energy industry & Big Oil if they won control of Congress? Yup, u guessed it – JOE BARTON

Here's what Gibbs said about it at today's press conference, via The Daily Caller:

Prior to Barton’s apology, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that the Texas Republican should lose his status as ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee because of his apology to BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward.
"Republicans are going to have to ask themselves whether Representative Barton should be the ranking member on a committee that is doing what it is doing," Gibbs said.
"It’s a fairly pointed comment about the notion of whether BP is going to be responsible for the damage it has caused," Gibbs said. "Is somebody who’s going to oversee — as we look into what the company is doing, to begin by apologizing to the company, I think is an interesting way to start." Asked whether he was calling on Barton to resign his ranking member seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gibbs said, "I will let Republicans make that decision."

Actually, Gibbs is a little off. We can at least rest securely in the knowledge that, even if Barton isn't forced out over this incident and even if the Republicans retake the House in the near future, the Texas Republican would be precluded from retaking the chairmanship of the committee by term limits. At least that's one thing to be thankful for.