Mojo - July 2010

Darrell Issa: Annoyer-in-Chief?

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 12:12 PM PDT

Every Congress seems to produce a designated pest, adept at drawing attention to nuisance issues (and his nuisance self) while making trouble for the other party when it controls the White House. Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, played that role during the Bush administration, while Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, did it before him in the Clinton years.

That's how Mark Leibovich launches into the meat of his New York Times profile of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who's filling the role of designated congressional annoyance for the current administration. Leibovich hits several of the high notes that make Issa a particularly interesting character: his troubled past, his car alarm fortune ("step away from the car" is a recording of his voice). He even digs up a new anecdote about Rahm Emanuel flipping Issa the bird in the House gym (a story Emanuel denies). But if you're looking for more Issa trivia, check out my September 2009 profile of the congressman. Did you know that members of the Jewish Defense League were accused of plotting to pipe-bomb Issa's district office in 2001? Or that Issa nearly ran for California governor himself after backing the recall campaign against Gray Davis? Now you do. Read up, and get ready for an interesting few years should the Republicans regain Congress (and hand Issa subpoena power). 

 

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Dept. of Amusing Campaign Tactics: Strickland-Kasich Edition

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 10:46 AM PDT

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland really wants you to know what a regular Ohio guy he is. When Ohioans go to the polls, Strickland wants them to remember that he's like them—and that the fellow who's running against him, John Kasich, is just a big-city banker. It's a plausible strategy. Kasich once worked for Lehman Brothers (the horror!). Kasich's spokesman even helped Strickland's campaign narrative along by mocking the fact that the governor grew up "in a chicken shack." Now the Strickland campaign is doubling down on the down-homeyness by playing up the guitar stylings of Frances Strickland, Ted's wife. Witness:

Frances also played guitar on the campaign trail when Strickland ran for his first term in 2006. You can bet the Strickland campaign is going to continue to try to emphasize these sorts of "identity" stories in the weeks and months to come.

John Zogby Isn't Jealous of Nate Silver

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 10:12 AM PDT

As you may have heard, Nate Silver's political statistics/projection blog FiveThirtyEight will be moving to the New York Times. This is a huge win for Silver— and for people who haven't been exposed to his intricate work with polling data—but veteran pollster John Zogby is not pleased. Not. One. Bit. He even said so, in an op-ed at the Huffington Post. Samples from Zogby's cantankerous rant below:

"You are hot right now—using an aggregate of other people's work, you got 49 of 50 states right in 2008. I know how it is to feel exhilarated. I get the states right a lot too. But remember that you are one election away from being a mere mortal like the rest of us."

"Those of us doing this work for decades understand that so much happens in the closing weeks, days, and hours of a campaign. As many as 4% to 10% of likely voters tell us they make up their minds the day of the election. Some of my colleagues suggest that you are being disingenuous when you knowingly use this data; others say you have a personal axe to grind. But repeating these errors over and over will not make them true."

"You are a statistician—a very good one—but you are not a pollster. You should conduct some polls and learn that the rest of us good pollsters survey people, not statistics. The numbers tell the story; preconceived ideologies and fuzzy-math statistical models do not."

Nate Silver, never one to shy away from engaging with critics and commenters, responded last night. Here's some of what he said. The entire response is here.

"Mr. Zogby, I think you may be mistaking me for my Wikipedia page. I don't really spend a lot of time touting my accomplishments or resting on my laurels—there are no marketing materials of any kind on this site... So when we get something right, we usually just move on with our lives rather than brag about it."

"Along those lines, I think you need to examine the thought process behind your interactive (Internet) polling, which any objective attempt at analysis will demonstrate has achieved vastly inferior results, beyond any shadow of a doubt."

"I knowingly am a bit conceited about is the only thing that I have complete control over: the amount of effort that I put into FiveThirtyEight and my other projects. I work my butt off—80-100 hour weeks have been the norm for about two years here."

Arizona Police Prep for Immigration Crackdown

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 8:24 AM PDT

The Obama administration finally filed its long-anticipated lawsuit against Arizona’s harsh immigration law on Tuesday. But the suit won’t stop the law from going into effect as scheduled on July 29, and Arizona officials are already preparing for the crackdown. Last week, the state released the guidelines—including a 90-minute DVD—that will be used to train 15,000 law enforcement officers to enforce the law.

The video repeatedly emphasizes that racial profiling is against the law and should not be used to determine whether someone is an illegal immigrant. But the state also says that police officers can use dress, the ability to speak English, and presence in a place where “unlawfully present aliens are known to congregate looking for work” as acceptable grounds for reasonable suspicion. (Under the law, police must have another grounds for stopping someone first—e.g., if they suspect the person has violated a state or local ordinance—before they can inquire about immigration status.)

Pro-immigration activists, however, contest that such guidelines still effectively legitimize racial profiling. "I don't believe the police will approach white people and ask them for their papers because of the way they're dressed,” one Latino activist told Gannett News Service. And even state officials admit in the DVD that they’re not sure how all the parts of the law are supposed to be enforced. “[T]he law allows any legal resident of Arizona to sue if a local agency has a ‘policy’ against enforcing federal immigration laws, but the video warns that no one knows what that means,” writes the Los Angeles Times. “The provision puts police in an awkward situation, [a state official] says in the video, because they will be accused of racial profiling for enforcing the law and risk a lawsuit if they don't.”

2010 Hopefuls: Me? Politician? Never!

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 8:20 AM PDT

The first thing you notice when you see the names Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is the title: "Rep." Namely, member of the US House of Representatives, a chamber that's one-half of a Congress deeply unpopular among most Americans right now. Ellsworth and Blount and just about every other incumbent running for office in 2010 understand that "Washington" and "career politician" are labels to be avoided at all costs. But you'd think, in a campaign advertisement, guys like Ellsworth and Blunt would at least acknowledge the fact that their current employer is the House of Representatives, right?

Wrong. In two new ads, one from Ellsworth and one from Blunt who're both angling for the US Senate this fall, neither congressman so much as mentions his current job here in Washington. As he walks through a decrepit warehouse, Ellsworth says in his ad, "One thing that 25 years as a sheriff teaches you is zero tolerance for bull. There's too much at stake. But out in Washington it's like they live and breathe the stuff." A two-term congressman and Blue Dog Democrat, Ellsworth goes on to rail against lobbyists and special interests in the 30-second ad, and typically paints himself as an outsider aiming to breathe fresh air into the corrupt Senate:

Likewise, Missouri congressman Roy Blunt avoids mentioning his current job, and instead stresses his previous roles as a teacher and president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. "Irresponsible spending and crippling debt are killing jobs today, and our children's future tomorrow," he says in the ad. Yet Blunt's omission is even more glaring than Ellsworth's. Blunt, after all, has full Washington resume: A House member since 1997, he's former Majority Whip and Majority Leader, and right now he's the second-highest GOPer on the House energy and commerce committee. Here it is:

Ellsworth and Blunt's ads are notable for their complete omission of the two congressman's jobs, but not at all surprising. Upwards of 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing. Another glaring example is Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose campaign has done a stellar job of airbrushing out Rory's ties to his largely unpopular father (at least outside Democratic circles.)

The lesson here is this: Any candidate who touts his Washington credentials on the campaign trail is committing political seppuku and sealing his or her own demise. Watch for plenty more ads like these in the weeks and months to come, as the wave of occupational amnesia spreads to more incumbents fighting for survival.

Two for One: Gitmo Won't Close, But Illinois Supermax Will Open

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 7:33 AM PDT

Obama's oath to close the military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay within a year of his election was more than a campaign promise or a post-inauguration executive order; for many people, it signified a return to some semblance of the rule of law after eight years of a rogue administration. But the 44th president had barely taken office when the opposition—and the backpedaling—began. In January 2010, the White House announced that it would miss its original deadline for closing Guantanamo. At the same time, however, the administration presented a plan to buy and refit a state prison in rural Illinois, which it promised would serve as the future home for remaining residents of Gitmo.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 7, 2010

Wed Jul. 7, 2010 2:00 AM PDT

 

US Soldiers and Airmen, as well as soldiers from five NATO nations, parachute from a C-130J Hercules aircraft over the Alzey drop zone in southwestern Germany, on June 15, 2010. Photo via the US Air Force by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller.

Beck U. Courses: Your Ideas

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 5:44 PM PDT

My, oh my. From Keith Olbermann's Countdown sendup to your comments and tweets, it seems plenty of folks have gone abuzz over Glenn Beck's foray into academe. When he announced—just before the 4th of July holiday—that he'd offer "Beck University" classes online for his angry horde faithful viewers, MoJo drew up a short list of course offerings we hoped to see. And since then, you've added ever more.

Based upon our cullings from the MJ comment section and tweets with the hashtag #BeckUCourses, we've compiled just a few of your crowdsourced course descriptions, with links to the creative readers wherever possible. Below that, check out a live tweet feed of the ideas that just...keep...coming...

Keep an eye out for our next hashtag fandango—what will it be? Post-election job titles for Michael Steele? New policy suggestions from Sharron Angle? The possibilities are—well, if not limitless, a lot of fun, anyway!

  • HITLR 101: Intro to Modern American Politics—@LeahLibresco
  • Art Appreciation with Thomas Kinkade—@S_Shapiro
  • Art 200: Drawing Devil Horns on Obama—@CPUihlein
  • Philosophy 303: Transcending Jus Ad Bellum & Jus In Bello and Just Waging War—@mgdemocracy
  • The Social and Cultural Roots of Founding Fathers Fetishism—@krwilmott
  • Gender Studies 201: Male Tears for Money and Power—@WilliamHarryman
  • Foreign Language Requirement: Tongues (Conversation Class)—@onomatomaniac
  • The Teleology of 911 as Political Weapon: Harnessing the Ineluctable Truthiness—@JoshHarkinson
  • Semiotics 101: Decoding the Hidden Socialist Messages in Household Objects—@sflorini (also known as "Reds Under Beds"—@RedScareBot)
  • Pinko Floyd: Neo-Communist Utopias and Progressive Rock—@thatdanstewart
  • Holocaustic: Appropriating World-Historical Tragedy for Public Speaking Points—@adamweinsteinmj
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Panels:The Semiotics of Sarah Palin—@joshharkinson
  • From Benedict Arnold to Barack Obama: Hitler's influence on US History—@whatscottreads
  • EDU 551 Rewriting Curriculum and Textbooks Using the Texas Model—Joe Pribyl
  • Keynes 101: The Problem with Bisexual Economists—Anonymous
  • OB/GYN Seminar: Miscarriage Management: Mocking Women on Air—bg
  • Latin 1: How to Give Your Fake University a Real Latin Motto—Anonymous

 

Shocker: Tea Party, GOP Beliefs Identical

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 12:18 PM PDT

From Gallup comes the latest bit of news suggesting the tea party isn't as revolutionary as its members like to think: When asked what they considered "extremely serious threats" to the country's future wellbeing, tea partiers cited the exact same things as run-of-the-mill Republicans. Shocker, right? Both groups overwhelmingly pointed to federal debt (61 percent of tea partiers, 55 percent of GOPers), Big Government (49 percent, 43 percent), health care costs (41 percent, 37 percent), and "terrorism" (51 percent, 51 percent) as the biggest threats to American prosperity. And in the category of unimportant threats, both groups dismiss the environment/global warming and discrimination against minorities. Here's a good breakdown from Gallup:

So what's the takeaway here? That media coverage of the tea party is overblown? That they're not such a novel group after all? That's the message gleaned by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

The Tea Party movement gets a disproportionate share of media attention because of all the funny costumes, Hitler references, and fantasizing about armed revolution. But it's hard to see what's distinctive about the Tea Partiers' actual political views and priorities.

Which isn't to say the tea party should be written off as entirely a wing of the GOP. The more libertarian strains of the tea party don't always align with the GOP party line, especially on an issue like the US' military presence abroad. (Rand Paul, running for US Senate in Kentucky, has suggested scaling back US military bases in Europe, for instance—an idea that's anathema to the GOP rank and file.)

But on the whole Sargent's right. In the past year, tea party coverage has focused more on the outlandishness of the burgeoning group than the (lack of) rigor or originality of its ideas. So, are we about to see a decrease in tea party coverage? Don't bet on it.

The Myth of the Midterm Insurgent

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 10:26 AM PDT

The Associated Press reports today on Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), yet another incumbent candidate once thought a shoo-in but who is now facing a tough reelection bid in November. The liberal, anti-war Feingold will likely square off against businessman Ron Johnson, the presumed GOP candidate, in what's shaping up to be a brutal midterm election for the Democrats. On the whole, the AP's take on the brewing battle up in Wisconsin—according to several polls, Feingold, a four-term senator, leads Johnson by a mere one or two percentage points—is standard stuff.

What's most intriguing about Wisconsin’s Senate race—and what the AP fails to dig into—is Johnson's background and wealth. Johnson made his fortune through his company making plastic packaging materials, and it's becoming clear he plans to use that wealth to defeat Feingold. The GOPer has already spent $1 million on ads, and could spend up to $15 million to beat Feingold. If he does, Johnson will join a veritable bloc of candidates in battleground states like Florida and California who've staked out a paradoxical, almost hypocritical position in the midterm elections: the super wealthy who claim to be political insurgents and who, in some cases, ally with the influential tea party masses. They're candidates who somehow think voters won't notice or care that they’re spending millions this election season, cutting ads and jetting around their states, while claiming to relate to and connect with normal Americans at a time of record unemployment and economic hardship in the US.