Mojo - August 2010

Cred Trumps Cash In Florida Senate Primary

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 8:02 PM PDT

In Florida's bruising Democratic senatorial primary, party credentials ultimately trumped big money. On Tuesday night, Rep. Kendrick Meek claimed the Democratic Party's nomination to the Senate, handily defeating his opponent, billionaire real estate developer and political dark horse Jeff Greene.

With nearly 40 percent of precincts reporting, Meek led Greene by 23 points. Despite being outspent by a five-to-one margin, Meek's support from party luminaries like President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton helped pave the way to victory. Meek was also helped by what state officials predict will be a dismal voter turnout, likely no more than 20 percent, the St. Petersburg Times reports. With rain and thunderstorms keeping all but the most avid voters at home, that means moderates who would've picked Greene didn't hit the polls, while committed and active Democrats, who mostly backed Meek, did.

Meek now faces Florida governor Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent, and conservative darling Marco Rubio in November's general election. It's a race Meek begins at a disadvantage: A hypothetical poll by Public Policy Polling for the three-way race shows Rubio leading with 40 percent, Crist with 32 percent, and Meek in third with 17 percent.

Greene's defeat tosses cold water on the 2010 election season's anti-incumbent theme, as well as the rise and success of wealthy, self-funded candidates. (See: Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.) In Greene's case, his lavish spending on his campaign boosted his name recognition from practically zero to relatively well known. But that wasn't necessarily a good thing. For instance, when on Monday I asked Hugo Vasquez, a parking lot attendant in Fort Lauderdale, about the primaries, Greene's was the only name he knew, from the commercials and the Internet and the newspaper stories. But Vasquez added, "He's the guy with the yacht, who went to Cuba, yes? He said he went to visit the Jewish community, but c'mon—who believes that?"

In a way, the Meek-Greene race featured two campaigns with opposite trajectories. While Greene's campaign quickly gained steam, with ads for the candidate appearing both in Florida and outside the state and the national media latching onto his colorful past, recurring controversies ultimately sunk his run for office. In the past week or so, his chances at winning had all but disappeared. Meek, on the other hand, was criticized for his campaign's slow start. But he built momentum through the primary campaign, secured crucial endorsements, and cruised to an easy victory on Tuesday.

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Score One for the Terrorists

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 10:38 AM PDT

International aid continues to pour into Pakistan in the wake of devastating floods that have killed some 2,000 people so far. And early fears that Islamist charities are leading the aid effort are being realized. ABC news correspondent Jim Sciutto reports from a camp near the city of Nowshera:

Doctors in white coats tested children’s temperatures and blood pressures, looking for the signs of water-borne diseases, from acute diarrhea to potentially deadly cholera. Their mothers sat nearby, batting away the flies. Volunteers doled out food and water. The camp was indistinguishable from several now operating across Pakistan, except for its sponsor: this one is run and funded by the charity arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.

Pakistani officials insist that the aid effort won't be hijacked by extremists. But that seems to be exactly what's happening—and it's hard to dismiss the terrorists' aid camps when they seem to be operating so effectively. Sciutto's reporting should help dispel any notion that the extremist aid infrastructure is unable or unprepared to tackle a humanitarian effort of this magnitude. This particular camp’s well-oiled efficiency casts serious doubt on government claims, and provides some damning evidence that the battle for Pakistani hearts and minds rages on in the wake of the disaster.

Rick Perry: Not "Man Enough" to Be Governor?

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 8:57 AM PDT

There's nothing like questioning a candidate's manhood to score political points. A new ad from a Democratic anti-Perry group calls the Republican Texas Governor out for not being man enough to face his opponent in an open debate—despite repeated invitations from the Democratic contender Bill White—or meet with newspaper editorial boards. Paid for by Back to Basics PAC, which has run several anti-Perry ads, the ad features a photo of Perry with the word "coward" in giant letters emblazoned across it. "Tell Rick Perry to stop cowering and face Texans like a man," the ad says at the bottom.

The full-page ad, which ran in Texas newspapers today, is a blatant effort to drain some of the cowboy swagger from a governor who's bragged about carrying a gun on the job. But with Perry currently leading White by 8 points in the latest polls, I'm not sure a machismo contest will really do the trick.

Tea Partiers Try K Street Fundraising Tactic

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 8:13 AM PDT

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the nation's largest tea party umbrella organizations, prides itself on its "leaderless" organizational structure, low overhead, and grassroots integrity. These things have distinguished the group from say, ordinary Republican political machines. But as the group matures, it's looking more and more like those top-heavy, insider and fundraiser-driven political organizations its members claim to despise.

Earlier this month, TPP sent out an appeal to its members offering them a chance to join "The 300," an exclusive group of donors who would help underwrite the group's big rallies planned for DC, Sacramento and St. Louis on Sept. 12. Joining "The 300" confers many benefits on its members—namely front row seats to the events (an enticing offering to aging tea party members who aren't used to being on their feet for hours at a time), a chance to schmooze with celebs and other rally headliners, and of course, their names in big letters on banners at the events. All this can be had for the low, low price of $1,000. The leaders of the leaderless organization emphasize that this won't be a club for the riff-raff; membership will be strictly limited. They write:

There are only 300 slots available for each group. After those spots are filled, we will be grateful to accept your donation, and it will be put to good use, but you will not receive the benefits listed above. So time is of the essence. Join now!

Thousand-dollar donations to join exclusive networking groups sound a lot more K Street than tea party, but then again, tea partying isn't cheap.  There are all those Porta-Potties to rent, first aid tents to staff, security to hire and permits to be procured. Somebody has to pay for it all. TPP isn't the only conservative grassroots group discovering the hard way that exercising free speech isn't always free.

Earlier this month, Unite in Action, the coalition of "patriot groups" behind another big convention and march planned in DC on Sept. 11, sent out a desperate appeal for cash, saying it needed to raise $40,000 in the next few days to underwrite the event. Unlike TPP, though, Unite in Action was only asking for five bucks a person. Organizers Lynn Roberts and Stephani Scruggs wrote:

We come to you now asking for your urgently needed help. We had two major corporations lined up to underwrite our event. At the last moment, they backed out, because they were "AFRAID OF WHAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WOULD DO TO THEM" if they openly supported this movement! God help us, the USA is now governed by fear. WE MUST STOP THIS!

So, all we are asking is five for freedom, just $5 to help us get tools in the hands of the people. ..."Give freely today, for liberty tomorrow."

The money needed to host all these big demonstrations and rallies doesn't always sit well with tea party activists on the ground, many of whom would rather see the funds go towards electing local conservative candidates. As Butch Porter, chairman of the American Conservative Party and a tea party activist in Northern Virginia, told me recently, "We had 1.7 million people here [in DC] on 9/12 2009, and what did that accomplish?"

GOP Spanking Caucus Fights UN Treaty

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 5:24 AM PDT

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was first issued in 1989 as a landmark human rights document defining basic rights for children under the age of 18. It's so uncontroversial that every member of the UN has signed it. Every member, that is, but the U.S. and Somalia, and the only reason Somalia never signed it is that it hasn't had a functioning government capable of signing. But even that wretched country last year announced plans to ratify the treaty. So that leaves the U.S. as the only civilized country in the world that won't ratify an international document pledging to create a legal culture that acts in the best interest of the child (rather than, say, treats them like chattel). During the 2008 campaign, President Obama observed, "It's embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land." His administration has attempted to revive efforts to get the damn thing ratified after more than 20 years of political wrangling.

But it doesn't look like the treaty is going to get anywhere on Obama's watch, either, despite having renowned children's rights lawyer Hillary Clinton running the State Department. Religious conservatives, especially in the homeschooling movement, are raising a stink about the treaty and trying to get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would make it virtually impossible for the US to ever ratify it. Their main objections? Under the treaty, "parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children," the government couldn't sentence teenagers to life in prison, kids could get sex-ed and birth control if they wanted it, and--gasp!--children would be able to choose their own religion, according to a fact sheet published by ParentalRights.org, an outfit headed up by Michael Farris, the homeschooling movement's legal mastermind. The group is dedicated to winning passage of the parental rights amendment.

On Sunday, WorldNet Daily reported on the latest fury over the UN treaty and a renewed interest among conservatives in fighting it. WND noted that 31 Republicans in the Senate have expressed opposition to ratification in a move that seems directly related to the rise of the tea party movement. Farris told WND, "The whole notion that government wants to invade our lives in every sphere has awakened the American public, and frankly has aroused a sleeping giant."

Alaska Primary: Don't Forget the Dems

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 5:00 AM PDT

The Republican Senate primary in Alaska today may turn out to be more competitive than most observers, and incumbent Lisa Murkowski, expected. But even if she escapes unscathed, Murkowski will face yet another challenge in a few months, with Scott McAdams likely to be the Democrat on the ballot come November.

McAdams is the mayor of Sitka, an island off the southeastern leg of Alaska, which at just 8,600 people qualifies as the fifth-largest municipality in the state. Those residents are spread over 600 square miles, with just 14 miles of roads.

Some might be weary of smalltown Alaska mayors at this point, but McAdams says it's also the "most progressive town in Alaska...a blue island in a red sea." Sarah Palin didn't win there in the governor's race, and the McCain-Palin presidential ticket didn't win there, either. McAdams is expected to come out ahead in a three-way race for the Democratic primary tomorrow, in a race that has drawn very little national attention so far. He faces Frank Vondersaar and Jacob Seth Kern in today's primary.

McAdams, a 39-year-old whose day job is director of community schools in Sitka, announced his candidacy in June, after some initial hesitation. What pushed him "over the edge" to running, he said, was Murkowski's objection to a bill to raise the liability cap on oil spills in the wake of the Gulf disaster. "I was outraged," he tells Mother Jones, recalling the Exxon Valdez disaster in his home state, which happened when he was a senior in high school. McAdams chokes up as he talks about the residents of his area "who still have not been made whole" now 21 years later. "To say that $75 million is enough to cover the claims, cover the cost of lives that cannot be valued or monetized is outrageous."

The destruction those two disasters brought to the fishing, tourism, and maritime culture of both regions is something, he says, that didn't seem to phase Murkowski's support for the oil and gas industry. He plans to make energy issues central to his campaign. He points to Murkowski's solid backing by dirty energy interests as evidence that she's no longer working for the people of Alaska.

Of course, Murkowski plays an interesting role in the Senate these days, especially hailing from one of the country's most resource-rich states. She's the top-ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and as such has played a major role in energy legislation over the past years. She's also one of the few Republicans who has acknowledged that climate change threatens her state, but has arguably done more than any other Senator to undermine action on the issue since Obama took office. She's so-far shown no sign of stopping her crusade against EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.

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Treasury's Blogger Meeting

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 3:13 AM PDT

Last week, I attended a meeting at the Treasury with senior administration officials.

The ground rules prohibited direct quotes or identifying the senior administration officials in question. But I can tell you who else was there: Politico's Mike Allen, Huffington Post's Shahien Nasiripour and Richard (RJ) Eskow, the American Prospect's Tim Fernholz, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, Reuters' Felix Salmon, and the Atlantic's Derek Thompson. ThinkProgress' Matt Yglesias was supposed to be there but a Secret Service snafu left him stuck outside for the duration. 

Does That Nomination Have a Price Tag? [VIDEO]

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Mother Jones' Andy Kroll breaks down the Democratic senatorial and GOP gubernatorial primaries and helps viewers understand Florida voters:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 24, 2010

Tue Aug. 24, 2010 2:00 AM PDT

 

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan—US Army Pfc. Aaron R. Will of Tampa, Fla., a gunner with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bulldog, reloads his automatic grenade launcher during an insurgent attack against his unit's convoy near the village of Tarale in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province, on July 15. Photo via the US Army by Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte.

Making Newsroom Diversity a Priority

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 1:24 PM PDT

The AP recently announced the new position of "Race/Ethnicity/Demographics editor," filled by Sonya Ross. In her new position, Ross will "work with AP journalists around the country to produce coverage that captures the changing facets of race and ethnicity in the United States." Ross was formerly an urban affairs reporter for the AP's Washington bureau.

The AP's move to create a position specifically to address ethnicity is a forward-thinking one, and one designed to counteract the overwhelming whiteness of newsrooms. The US population is now more than 20% non-white, but minorities only make up 13% of newsroom staff. As a 2009 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) survey showed, there are 458 newspapers in the US that don't have a single full-time minority employee. Not one. Even the hallowed Washington Post is having a hard time keeping up with demographic changes. The ASNE study reported that although minorities make up 24% of the WaPo's staff, they also make up 43% of the paper's audience. "You can't cover your community unless you look like your community," Bobbi Bowman, a former WaPo reporter told the paper. "If you have a community of basketball players, it's difficult for a newsroom of opera lovers to cover them."