Mojo - July 2010

Karl Rove's Harry Reid Lies

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 3:07 PM EDT

There's a new TV attack ad on the airwaves in Nevada ripping Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for, well, just about everything he's done in the past two years. The 30-second spot essentially blames Reid for Nevada's nation-leading jobless rate, for bringing to Nevada the second-fewest stimulus dollars of all 50 states, and, of course, for all the usual GOP-tagged crimes and misdemeanors—"bailouts," "deficits," and "Obamacare." The ad was paid for by a group named American Crossroads, a deep-pocketed conservative 527 group backed by Karl Rove.

There's just one problem with the Rove group's Reid attack ad: It's basically one huge distortion. On "Face to Face with Jon Ralston," a TV show focusing on Nevada politics, host Ralston eviscerated the ad: "The factual stretches and gross distortions here are egregious," he said. All in all, Ralston considering the ad so untrue that, when it came time to grade it, he gave it a "D."

Factcheck.org, a non-partisan media watchdog publication, similarly dissected American Crossroads' ad and highlighted on inaccuracy after another. For instance, the claim that Nevada ranks second-to-last in stimulus money received, Factcheck found, is based on a February 23 Las Vegas Review-Journal story published mere days after President Obama signed the stimulus bill. The Review-Journal's calculations about stimulus funds going to different states isn't based on actual payments at all, but rather early projections about where the money might go. ProPublica says Nevada ranks 43rd out of 50 for money received, but judging Reid's job at bringing home stimulus money is more complex than that:

[B]laming Reid for Nevada’s share of the stimulus funding is difficult to do. A lot of the money is driven by formulas, such as additional funds for food stamps and Medicaid. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited in the ad, Nevada "extends medical assistance to the smallest proportion of needy people of any state in the country." Other stimulus spending was decided by competitive bidding, such as the Race to the Top education funds.

The ad also says Nevada's unemployment rate is "well over 20 percent." Well, that's just not true at all. The statistics used in the ad come from unnamed experts in a May 21 Review-Journal who had given a rough estimate as to the state's jobless rate including those who're underemployed and no longer looking for work, known as "discouraged workers," Factcheck found. It takes five seconds and two clicks of your mouse to see that the Silver State's jobless rate is 14.2 percent. Now, that's still the highest rate in the US, and it qualifies for a full-blown economic crisis. So why lie in a campaign ad and make it look worse than it is?

All in all, the ad is embarrassing for how severely it distorts reality. But then again, the ad was put out by a group headed by a political operative, Karl Rove, who skewed the truth to sell an entire country an entire country on going to war in Iraq. Should we be at all surprised?

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Nonprofit to Colorado GOPer: Give Us Our Money Back, You Plagiarizer

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 2:55 PM EDT

It's been a pleasant news cycle for John Hickenlooper. The Denver Mayor is the Dems' candidate for Governor of Colorado, and his main opponent, GOPer Scott McInnis, has been accused of plagiarizing a whole bunch of stuff. Now the non-profit foundation that paid McInnis wants its $300,000 back, and the Colorado Statesman reports the foundation may get its wish:

"I have said since this matter was brought to my attention that the articles provided as part of the Hasan Family Foundation fellowship were faulty," McInnis said in response to the foundation’s demand. "I explained how this problem arose, and I accepted responsibility.

"I apologized to the Hasans for this mistake, and I expressed my determination to make it right with my dear friends. I will be in contact with the Hasan family to make full payment arrangements. I agree with the Foundation that this brings this matter to a close, and I look forward to continuing to speak on the campaign trail about the critical issues facing all of Colorado, including jobs and economic recovery."

McInnis' "explanation" of "how this problem arose" consists of blaming it all on his research assistant, Rolly Fischer, who says McInnis is lying. Fischer told a local news station that he "never knew about the foundation or any foundation Scott was associated with" and "had this sophomoric assumption that he wanted [the articles Fischer had gathered] for his own inventory."

If I worked for the Hasans, I'd be happy to be getting my money back (which is essentially an admission of wrongdoing), but I'd still be annoyed. Even if McInnis' story is accurate, and Fischer is lying, McInnis still apparently failed to do all the work he was paid $300,000 to do. Now McInnis is back on the trail and "ready to fight." Is he going to get someone else to do that for him, too? 

Reid's Surging Where It Counts: Independents

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 1:46 PM EDT

Out in Nevada, the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle slugfest will almost surely be decided by the state's growing bloc of centrist, undecided voters. They're the ones possibly pissed at Reid for helping to pass a massive health insurance reform bill, but also put off by Angle's right-wing extremism and propensity for rhetorical gaffes (rape and incest victims should just make "a lemon situation into lemonade," the unemployed are "spoiled", etc.) In Reid's case, those independents are crucial to his success. "That’s who’s driving his negatives, the people who voted for him six years ago and now say he's too much a part of the Washington establishment," says University of Nevada-Reno political scientist Eric Herzik. "If he can woo them back, he wins."

According to a new poll, Reid's beginning to do just that. His support among independents has climbed from 24 percent to 38 percent, Public Policy Polling reported today. And when stacked next to his tea party-endorsed candidate, Reid's standing among independents looks even rosier, the PPP poll found:

Where Lowden had led Reid 62-27 with independents, Angle has only a 51-41 advantage. Where [Sue] Lowden had held Reid to a 75-17 lead with Democratic voters, Angle's nomination has allowed him to expand that to 85-10.

If Reid can keep clawing back more support from independents—especially those who've voted for him before—by highlighting Angle's extreme positions and touting the bacon he's brought back to Nevada, then you'll see that independent support continue climbing. And come November, that independent backing could be the difference between a narrow victory or an embarrassing loss for Harry Reid.

Not Everyone Wants Out of Gitmo

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 1:25 PM EDT

When you create a prison camp that exists outside the realm of normal law, weird things happen. Many of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay want to get home to their families (or their Al Qaeda buddies, in some cases). But around 50 of them are probably going to live out the rest of their natural lives in detention without ever facing trial. And some of them, it turns out, are going to be sent home against their will:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the US Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji's appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

All six of the Algerians in Gitmo don't want to be sent back, but the Naji decision and another similar ruling make it almost certain that they will be.

In a separate case, Abd-al-Nisr Mohammed Khantumani, a Syrian brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, was released to the island nation of Cape Verde (pictured above) recently. 

Now that Khantumani and Naji have been released, 178 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 95 whom President Obama's detainee task force determined should be released.

Manchin Mans Up

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 12:38 PM EDT

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, the most popular politician (and Democrat) in the state, is running for Senate, he announced Tuesday. He hopes to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd. Manchin is popular enough that he has a decent shot at winning the seat, even in a Republican year. West Virginia Republicans were able to add a provision to the special election law that would allow current officeholders—like Rep. Shelly Moore-Capito, the GOP's top candidate—to run for their current office and the Senate seat simultaneously. Capito is the most prominent Republican in West Virginia, but even she trails Manchin in the polls—by fourteen points, according to Republican-leaning Rasmussen

Outcasts in Washington, BP Turns to ... Indiana?

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 12:19 PM EDT

BP's donations to federal candidates have stopped in the three months since the Deepwater Horizon disaster began. But that doesn't mean the oil giant has stopped all political activity. BP's political action committee spent nothing on federal candidates in June, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics. But the company's PAC gave $27,300 to candidates for state office–and that's not including the free tickets to see Britney Spears or the Sacramento Kings.

All 80 recipients in June were from Indiana; in May the company gave $8,250 in contributions to 10 state-level candidates in California. The company has clearly been spending less on candidates, but it's not hard up for cash. In June the PAC reported $19,800 in income and had $299,500 in cash on hand at the end of the month.

BP PAC's scaled back investment in federal candidates is perhaps unsurprising. No one–not even the lawmakers who have defended BP in hearings—wants to be caught taking money from the company right now. House Energy Committee member Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) was the only federal candidate offered money from the PAC in May, and he pledged to not accept BP's check. "They're certainly been a lot of political push back," said Michael Beckel, a former Mother Jones editorial fellow who reports on money in politics for CRP. "We've seen Democrats and Republicans pledge to refuse contributions, pledge to return contributions, or donate the money to charity to get rid of taint that might be associated with taking money from BP right now."

BP's PAC has donated more than $79,000 to federal candidates since January 2009, but that was before this oil disaster got in the way of their blatant attempts to influence federal policy.

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Hamas Gets A- Rating from BBB

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 10:58 AM EDT

On Monday, after ABC aired a story about a new investigation into Glenn Beck's favorite gold company, Goldline International, for fleecing its customers, the company responded by posting a long letter to ABC on its website defending its corporate practices. To prove that it is not a scummy company preying on people's economic fears, Goldline repeatedly touts its A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau in Los Angeles. It writes, "Goldline has an A+ rating from perhaps the most trusted consumer organization, the Better Business Bureau. In contrast, there are several precious metals companies throughout the United States, including competitors in New York and California, which have F ratings."

As we've noted here before, the BBB rating doesn't mean much. But just to drive that point home, the author of the website BBBRoundup went a step further to illustrate just how easy it is for an entity to earn the BBB's seal of approval. He registered the terrorist group Hamas with the LA BBB, paying the $425 for it to become an "accredited business" with the venerable consumer bureau. The BBB's Hamas listing states that the business is devoted to "providing educational services to troubled youth," and that it has received an "excellent rating" from the BBB. And just to show what kind of companies earn an "F" from the BBB, the site also compared the BBB rankings of a fake company it paid to accredit, Moores Sushi, with the coffee chain Starbucks. The BBB gave the fake sushi supplier that forked over some cash an "A-" rating, while Starbucks, which is not a BBB member, got an F.

BBBroundup concludes:

"What’s clear as day is that the BBB does absolutely zero due diligence on the companies they grade. They mislead the consumer into believing some businesses are great when they in fact might not even exist, and that other businesses are frauds when they in fact are excellent businesses with a great track record of outstanding products, services and customer relationships. The sad part in all this is that the consumer is being ill served, and small businesses are being driven out of business (with the corresponding loss of jobs) in these perilous times, just so the BBB can line its pockets with ill gotten gains."

Apparently the BBB rating wasn't enough to spare Goldline a congressional investigation. Tuesday morning, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) announced that Congress is formally opening an investigation into Goldline and other "shady" gold dealers, with hearings likely to come at the end of the summer.

Marco Rubio: Out Of Work? Tough Luck

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 10:21 AM EDT

Marco Rubio, the Florida GOP's candidate for US Senate, loves to burnish his conservative chops. At least eight of his recently released "Marco’s 12 Simple Ways To Grow Our Economy" call for—big surprise—slashing taxes, like extending the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, cutting corporate taxes, ending the death tax, and so on. But what about helping out the unemployed? That's not in Rubio's 12 economic ideas, and on Monday, the candidate waved off the idea of extending emergency jobless benefits—a position he's standing by even with a sky-high 11.4 percent jobless rate in Florida and when a vast majority of Americans support more jobless support.

In Tampa on Monday, Rubio said the only way Congress should approve more help to millions of unemployed Americans is if lawmakers make cuts to offsets the cost of more benefits, the Miami Herald reported. "At some point," Rubio said, "someone has to draw a line in the sand and say we are serious about not growing debt." 

The former Florida House speaker's commitment to chipping away at the federal deficit is, to some extent, admirable. In the long term, the federal debt, if untamed, is a worrisome issue. But Floridians will elect a new US senator in November. So how smart of a political move is it for Rubio to dismiss our jobs crisis when more than 200,000 Floridians have already lost their benefits, and when 62 percent of Americans in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll said Congress should extend benefits to the unemployed?

How Contractors are Like Crack: Part 2 of WaPo's National Security Blockbuster

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 6:46 AM EDT

The next installment in the Washington Post's blockbuster series dropped this morning, this one focused on the national security establishment's unprecedented reliance on contractors. Like Monday's installment, on the unwieldy sprawl of the nation's intelligence bureaucracy, today's article suggests the government has created a beast it cannot fully control. But the government has grown so dependent on contractors that cutting off or even drastically curbing their use is hardly an option. It's kinda like a drug addiction, where you use more and more until you find you can't stop. Indeed, the widespread use of contractors, the Post reports, begs the question of "whether the government is still in control of its most sensitive activities."

Here are some of the key revelations:

Under federal regulations, contractors are prohibited from performing what are known as inherently governmental functions (see Spencer Ackerman's Danger Room post for intel officials' totally lame pushback on this subject):

"But they do, all the time and in every intelligence and counterterrorism agency…"

The main argument for relying on contractors is that though their rates are higher, they ultimately cost the government less than full-time employees with health insurance, 401Ks, and other benefits. That notion, the Post reports, has been thoroughly "repudiated" over the past 9 years:

Hiring contractors was supposed to save the government money. But that has not turned out to be the case. A 2008 study published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that contractors made up 29 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies but cost the equivalent of 49 percent of their personnel budgets. Gates said that federal workers cost the government 25 percent less than contractors.

Sharron Angle's Racist Tea Partier Problem

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Since tea party leader Mark Williams' racist rejoinder to the NAACP ignited into a national scandal, other members of the movement have been clamoring to disown Williams and disavow his inflammatory remarks. But as tea partiers have distanced themselves from the conservative talk show host and political operative, will tea party darling Sharron Angle, whose campaign has very close ties to Williams, follow suit?

Williams and the group he's affiliated with, the Tea Party Express, have almost single-handedly made Angle into a contender. Earlier this month, Angle described Williams, who stepped down this weekend as chairman of the outfit, as "instrumental" to her success. So does she still consider him a key to victory? So far, she's not saying.

Instead, Angle's campaign issued a statement to CNN that managed to avoid mentioning Williams' name directly and spin the controversy into a chance to bash her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Mrs. Angle readily condemns the use of the type of inflammatory language used on somebody's private blog just like she condemned the language used by Majority Leader Harry Reid when he referenced our President as being a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one'," Angle's spokesman Jerry Stacy said, referring to Reid's racially tone-deaf comments that appeared in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's book Game Change. "This type of language is not supported by the many hard-working patriots behind the growing tea party movement which labors to sustain a grassroots movement to elect candidates who will protect the Constitution, and the smokescreens coming from Harry Reid's surrogates will not lessen the passion of the tea party movement."

Following a resolution by the NAACP calling on tea partiers to purge racist elements from their movement, Williams, responded by penning a satirical letter that described slavery as "a great gig," claimed the NAACP makes "more money off of race than any slave trader, ever," and referred to NAACP president Ben Jealous as "Tom's Nephew." The comments forced Williams to step down from the chairmanship of the Express. In response, tea party groups have been fending off accusations of racism and cutting their ties to the Express, a national tea party group that backs conservative candidates around the country. This past weekend, the Tea Party Federation, a coalition of conservative groups, booted Williams and the Express from their network.