Mojo - August 2010

Barring Citizenship To Children

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 1:31 PM EDT

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) jumped on the GOP's anti-immigrant bandwagon and called for a hearing to repeal a portion of the 14th Amendment, The Hill reports. The part of the 1868 amendment McConnell and a slew of other conservatives—Senate Minority Whip John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Ariz.), Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), and the 93 House co-sponsors of a bill to end birthright citizenship—want to examine grants US citizenship to any children born in the US, even if their parents are undocumented immigrants. Jezebel reports on the sexist, xenophobic rhetoric spouted by Graham and his ilk to defend changing this immigration policy. But in the midst of this latest incarnation of anti-immigrant sentiment, let's take a look at a small rundown via SEIU of some prominent US citizens who happen to be the children of undocumented immigrants and who incidentally wouldn’t be citizens if McConnell, Kyl, and other politicians have their way.

NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez "was born in California to parents who entered the U.S. illegally in 1957, working as field hands and eventually acquiring permanent residence," according to the Center on Immigration Studies. A flight engineer on the Space Shuttle Discovery, Hernandez's work in the early '90s led to the development of the first digital mammography imaging system, a tool used to detect breast cancer.

In 2007, Pete Domenici, the former Republican Senator of New Mexico, took to the Senate floor to recall the day in 1943 when his mother was arrested by US agents for being an undocumented immigrant. “By evening, my poor mother was released because she had a good lawyer. A lot of people don't have that, and we know what happens to them under our laws.”  From the New York Times

Mr. Domenici said he decided to tell his story when the hostile rhetoric about illegal immigrants started to boil. He said he wanted to remind his fellow Republicans that the sons and daughters of this century's illegal immigrants could end up in the Senate one day, too. "I wasn't trying to impress anybody," he said of his story. "I think it just puts a little heart and a little soul into this."

Domenici went on to serve as senator for 36 years.

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Can Anwar al-Awlaki Sue to Get Off Obama's Hit List?

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 1:12 PM EDT

[Update, August 4: The Treasury Department plans to grant the ACLU and CCR the license they need to sue on Anwar al-Awlaki's behalf, Politico's Josh Gerstein reports. The rights organizations hadn't received anything by midday, they told Mother Jones on Wednesday. | Update 2, 5:21 p.m. August 4: The rights groups have their license, according to a statement they just released.]

Can accused terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki take the US government to court to prevent the Obama administration from assassinating him? He's a US citizen, so theoretically he can sue to protect his constitutional rights. But up until now an obscure anti-terror law has prevented al-Awlaki from obtaining American representation—even though two human rights group are prepared to to sue on his behalf to stop the government from killing him.

In February, Dennis Blair, then the nation's top intelligence official (he resigned in May), admitted that the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) maintains a list of US citizens it is trying to capture or kill. So far, only one person has been identified as potentially on the capture/kill list: al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who reportedly had ties to both the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber. Al-Awlaki is believed to be at large in Yemen, where he could potentially be killed by a US strike any day.

But like some other Islamic radicals, al-Awlaki has spent time in the US. He was born in New Mexico, attended Colorado State, and spent years leading Islamic congregations in Colorado and Virginia. And despite the government's accusations, al-Awlaki's father, Nasser, has proclaimed his son's innocence to CNN, saying his son is an "all-American boy" who has been "wrongly accused." Al-Awlaki is "not Osama bin Laden," his father says, arguing that the government wants "to make something out of him that he's not." On February 2, CNN reported that Nasser al-Awlaki had written to President Barack Obama urging the White House to reconsider its alleged plans to assassinate his son. "I plead again to you that you respect the American law," he wrote. "If Anwar ever did anything wrong he should be prosecuted according to the principles of American law." 

That's presumably why Nasser al-Awlaki retained Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to file suit on his son's behalf.

But just ten days after the groups agreed to work with Nasser al-Awlaki, the Treasury Department put Anwar al-Awlaki on a list of "specially designated global terrorists," which made it a crime to represent him without a special license from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). Unable to proceed with the case, the rights groups put in an urgent request (PDF) for a license, but all they've heard back from the Treasury is that their application was received. The ACLU and CCR were in "third or fourth gear several weeks ago," moving towards suing on Awlaki's behalf, Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director, told reporters Tuesday on a conference call. But in the wake of the Treasury's designation, they're back in "neutral," he said. So today the groups sued to force the Treasury grant a license. Now, in effect, the two groups are suing the government for permission to sue the government.

When Teachers Cheat

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 11:53 AM EDT

More than 100 Atlanta educators may be sanctioned for suspiciously erasing wrong answers on elementary school students' standardized tests and replacing them with correct responses, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

An official inquiry into the alleged cheating began last year following a six-month Atlanta-Journal Constitution investigation of possible cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, the standardized test used to determine whether schools are meeting national and state education standards. According to the AJC's analysis of sweeping test score gains between 2008 and 2009, which showed some of the lowest performers mysteriously become some of the highest, the odds of making leaps in proficiency like those seen at some Atlanta schools were less than one in a billion.

In a report released Monday, investigators wrote that widespread cheating seemed to be limited to 12 schools—far fewer than the nearly 50 initially flagged by state officials as suspicious. But more than a third of the educators deemed at fault are principals and other school administrators, indicating the possibility of inter-school collusion in the cheating scam. The report cited no evidence that either Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall, who has been aggressive in her efforts to hold teachers accountable for students' standardized test scores, or other top education officials played any role in the the scheme.

"We know that student achievement and measurable outcomes are critical," said Gary Price, the investigatory panel’s chairman. "But that has to be balanced by positive and ethical behavior."

Though Atlanta may be sanctioned for failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress—a measure used to determine if states are meeting standards set by Bush’s No Child Left Behind law—and federal funding may be withheld as a result, these cheating adults could get off scott-free, in spite of the investigators' reccomendations. In a 5-4 decision made late Monday night, the Atlanta Board of Education voted to formally decline the findings of the investigation it ordered. The report is now being sent to state education officials, who may still levy penalties against the teachers who have been implicated in the cheating scandal.

Goldman Sachs' Citizens United Vow

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

Corporations have begun stepping off the sidelines to dump cash into campaign ads, courtesy of the new election spending rules under Citizens United. But there are also signs that some of the biggest potential spenders have decided to pass on the opportunity to join the campaign finance free-for-all. Goldman Sachs has taken the unusual step of pledging not to spend any money on the kinds of campaign ad spending that's now allowed under the controversial Supreme Court ruling. From the New York Times:

The investment bank quietly revised its statement on political activities on its Web site last week…“Goldman Sachs also does not spend corporate funds directly on electioneering communications,” the firm said in its statement. Those communications are generally interpreted to mean advertisements on radio and television broadcasts in the run-up to an election.

The decision came after weeks of talks with the New York City public advocate, Bill de Blasio, who has lobbied for greater transparency from companies seeking to sway the outcome of elections...

“This could be one of those moments that determines whether we are going to have a political system literally dominated by corporate money, or some ability by the people at the grass roots to determine the outcome of elections,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Goldman Sachs can still spend money in other ways to influence elections and legislation. But it's still a surprising move, given that the pressure to curb Citizens United election spending is mostly coming from good-government watchdogs and progressive groups like MoveOn, which just called for its supporters to boycott Target in light of the retailer's campaign backing for a right-wing GOP candidate in Minnesota.

Which GOP Will Reclaim Michigan?

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:24 AM EDT

Today, the citizens of hard-hit Michigan—13.2 percent jobless rate, recurring budget crises, educated young people fleeing the state—hit the polls for the state's gubernatorial primaries. The race to replace largely unpopular Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, who's term limited, is closest on the Republican side, with the top three GOP candidates separated by only a few percentage points in the polls. That's the primary you'll want to watch: With an anti-incumbent mood sweeping the country, and an anti-Granholm sentiment as well, whoever wins the GOP's highly competitive nomination today will likely claim the governor's seat in November.

Running neck-and-neck in the Republican primary are wealthy businessman Rick Snyder (26), Attorney General Mike Cox (24), Rep. Pete Hoekstra (23 percent support), and Oakland County sheriff Mike Bouchard (10). Like the Jeff Greenes and Linda McMahons of 2010, Snyder, 51, has drawn on his considerable wealth to spend millions on campaign ads, boosting his stature from relative unknown to frontrunner in the polls. The rest of the GOP crowd are longtime state pols, guys with name recognition who've been around Michigan politics for years.

Activists Try to Get Kagan Disbarred

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 10:06 AM EDT

Just as the full Senate this week starts debate over the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, a group of conservative activists is planning to ask that same court to disbar her. Larry Klayman, the famous Clinton tormentor and founder of Judicial Watch, told WorldNet Daily recently that he believes Kagan's work behind the scenes during the Clinton administration on the partial-birth abortion ban constitutes a "conspiracy to defraud the Supreme Court" and that he intends to ask the court to revoke her license to practice law.

Klayman's disbarment campaign is just the latest call from the right demanding a full investigation into Kagan's work on the partial-birth abortion ban during her years working in the Clinton White House. The controversy began during her confirmation hearings last month when Shannen Coffin posted a story on the National Review's website arguing that Kagan had been willing "to manipulate medical science to fit the Democratic Party’s political agenda on the hot-button issue of abortion."

Coffin, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney’s general counsel, defended the partial-birth abortion ban that passed in 2003 as deputy attorney general during the Bush administration. Citing documents released by the Clinton Library, Coffin claimed that when Kagan was working in the Clinton administration's domestic policy shop, she persuaded the American College of Ob/Gyns to alter the language it used in a statement on the merits of the partial-birth abortion procedure to support the political fight against the ban. Apparently, in an early statement on the procedure, ACOG had said that most of the time, the partial-birth abortion wasn’t essential to preserving the health of a woman. The statement didn’t include any qualifying language suggesting that there may be times when the procedure may be medically necessary.

Coffin quoted Kagan’s memo in which she wrote that ACOG’s original statement on partial-birth abortion "would be a disaster," presumably referring to the impact the medical opinion might have on any attempts to strike down a ban. Coffin then accused Kagan of having meddled with the ACOG expert statement, suggesting that memos in the archives show Kagan encouraging the group to amend its official position in a way that would most benefit opponents of any partial-birth ban. Coffin claimed the ACOG language made it extremely difficult for his office to defend the ban that did finally pass Congress, largely because the courts repeatedly deferred to the medical expertise of ACOG.

Kagan's responses to questions about ACOG during the confirmation hearings apparently didn't satisfy anti-abortion groups, who were remarkably quiet during the hearings. But now they're making one last desperate push to derail her confirmation. Americans United for Life has asked for a full Senate investigation into whether Kagan screwed up American abortion policy and law for more than a decade as a result of her work in the Clinton White House. The group's 50+ page report on the ACOG controversy is also the basis for Klayman's disbarment complaint.

The abortion issues don't seem to have had much of an impact on the vote tally so far in the Senate. Kagan is likely to be confirmed. Whether she could be disbarred is another matter. But the funny thing about the Supreme Court is that there's no requirement that justices even be lawyers, much less bar members. Even if by some miracle Klayman managed to get Kagan disbarred, it wouldn't necessarily get her off the bench.

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VIDEO: Even Fox Laughs At Sharron Angle

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 9:48 AM EDT

You know the right is souring on Sharron Angle, the Nevada conservative aiming to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, when even a Fox News interviewer can't help but laugh at the bizarre things that come out of Angle's mouth.

Fox News' Carl Cameron interviewed Angle yesterday as part of the Fox's political primary coverage, and Cameron asked Angle about her, um, media strategy. A quick refresher: Angle is the candidate who has consistently run away from reporters, ducked the media's questions, called one reporter an "idiot," and even left a pregnant reporter, microphone in hand, in the dust of her white Jeep as it sped away from a recent campaign event. When Fox's Cameron questioned Angle about her media run-ins and her relationship with reporters, her answer was so bizarre and amateurish that it left Cameron speechless and laughing. Here's the exchange, with the video included afterward:

Angle: "We needed to have the press be our friend."

Cameron: "Wait a minute. Hold on a second. To be your friend...?"

Angle: "Well, truly..."

Cameron: "That sounds naive."

Angle: "Well, no. We wanted them to ask the questions we want to answer so that they report the news the way we want it to be reported."

Cameron: [laughs]

2010's Most Important Senate Race?

| Tue Aug. 3, 2010 9:25 AM EDT

What's the most important senate race this cycle?

Over at Politics Daily, MoJo's David Corn says it's the Rand Paul-Jack Conway faceoff in Kentucky:

As reported by Details magazine, Paul, while campaigning recently in Kentucky's coal country, maintained that there should be no federal regulation of the mining industry: "If you don't live here, it's none of your business." Asked about the Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia, where an explosion killed 29 miners last April, Paul said,

Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are? The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.

I'm not an expert. Don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. Ponder the implications of this. So members of Congress who are not oil industry engineers should not regulate deep off-shore drilling? Actually, by Paul's logic, legislators should not impose any health, safety, or environmental standards on any industry. And the answer to such tragedies as mining disasters is . . . well, nothing. The workers in unsafe facilities can simply quit their jobs—that is, unless they've already been blown apart due to bad company practices. Paul wants to become a senator so he can do nothing.

David's argument hints at what's most interesting about Rand Paul: he's a hardcore economic libertarian. If Paul gets elected, he won't just be the most radical anti-regulation Republican in the Senate. He could also be a sign of things to come. If Paul can win, Republicans might be more comfortable nominating candidates like him in other races. One hardcore economic libertarian in the Senate won't make much of a difference. But what about two or three—or ten? two or three or ten could shift economic policy decidedly rightward. Anyway, read the whole thing

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 3, 2010

Tue Aug. 3, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

An official starts the timer and calls the finish line to synch their watches as competitors for the 2010 Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition sprint out to start the 10-kilometer ruck march before dawn on Fort McCoy, Wis., on July 28. Photo via the US Army.

Can Money Really Buy That Senate Seat?

| Mon Aug. 2, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

In an election year marked by the rise of the self-funded candidate, here's a memo to the politicos out there: Splashing your own cash to win over voters is, according to a new study, a potentially dumb investment. Quite dumb, in fact. The National Institute on Money in State Politics studied more than 6,000 state races in which various candidates or their immediate families spent a whopping $700.6 million to boost their own campaigns. But did that spending translate into success? Not really: A measly 11 percent of those self-funded candidates won.

That low rate is a good thing, right? Well, kind of. Here's Sam Pizzigati from the Working Group on Extreme Inequality:

So can we breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that the rich can’t buy their way into political power? We might want to put a hold on that sigh. Money still matters.

Those candidates whose campaigns spend the most turn out to win the most, the National Institute study also found, by a wide margin. Candidates who collected and spent more campaign cash than their rivals, says the study, won 87 percent of their races.

There's a key distinction here. Modest levels of self-funding—donating a few hundred or thousand dollars to your campaign—doesn't look like it makes much of a difference, especially in smaller state races where budgets are puny compared to, say, the millions spent running for the US House or Senate.

But then you have self-funded candidates—who, ironically, are self-styled as "populists" and "outsiders"—like Florida Senate candidate Jeff Greene, Connecticut Senate hopeful Linda McMahon, and California gubernatorial frontrunner Meg Whitman, who together have spent well over $100 million on their campaigns. That kind of cash, the study shows, brings a major chance of success, given that kind of candidate's near-limitless ability to cut ads, publish campaign lit, travel throughout their states, and so on. After all, look at those three candidates' poll numbers, which continue to climb and climb.

The state representative, in other words, who chips in part of his paycheck to hand out lawn signs might be wasting his money. But the real-estate mogul who spends more on his campaign than most people earn in their lifetime shouldn't have a problem buying a seat in the US Senate.