One of the stranger elements of the rise of the tea party movement has been its odd mix of politics and money-making schemes. Take the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella group that claims to represent more than 15 million activists nationwide. Last week, TPP launched a series of TV ads in Kentucky encouraging voters to put "Tea Party Patriots" signs in their yards before the election. The ads are part of a new push by the TPP to get tea partiers to the polls in November. The group hopes to install 1 million TPP signs on lawns across the country before the election in an effort to "increase the visibility of the tea party movement," according to a press release.

The timing and placement of the ads and the campaign kickoff is interesting, though, given that Kentucky is also home to Rand Paul, one of the tea party's biggest stars. Paul is running for the senate as a Republican. TPP is a nonprofit, and as such, it can't endorse candidates specifically, but it can put generic tea party signs on lawns across the state that might be interpreted as supporting Paul. Sally Oljar, a Tea Party Patriots national coordinator in Seattle, insists that the campaign wasn't done with Paul in mind. "Our goal is of course to leave no stone unturned in our get out the vote campaign," she says, but notes that it was "not our inention to affect Paul's campaign." Oljar says that the idea for the campaign came from the yard sign company itself and that TPP "decided this would be a good way to raise our profile."

The sign-maker in question is the Spalding Group, a Kentucky-based firm that bills itself as "the Republican source for web, print and design," and boasts that it has supplied signs and other paraphenalia (all of it made-in-America) to the past six Republican presidential campaigns. The company was founded by Ted Jackson, a former Reagan administration official who has been involved in Republican politics for 25 years. Spalding hosts TPP's online store, where tea party activists can load up on various "Don't tread on me" t-shirts and other TPP merchandise, including yard signs, which run for $8.95 a piece (and include a bumper sticker and political button with each purchase). Spalding paid for the TV ads TPP ran in Kentucky.

The TPP yard-sign marketing effort isn't the first time that Jackson has run a "million" campaign for a candidate or group. In 2008, he gave away a million "NOBAMA" bumper stickers as part of a plug for Spalding's online store for John McCain in response to the liberal group's pro-Obama bumper sticker giveaway. In 2005, Spalding gave away 1 million bumper stickers for its anti-gay marriage client Alliance for Marriage. Explaining the giveaway, Jackson said at the time, "It is difficult to create a grass-roots movement without materials that allow people to publicly identify with the issue," a comment that sounds pretty much like what he says about his company's work with TPP.

As for whether the yard sign effort is a sneaky way to campaign for Rand Paul, Jackson says the reason his firm launched the tea party ads in Kentucky was a simple one: "That's where we are." Of course, he recognizes the potential boost the tea party signs might offer to Paul. "I think if somebody’s putting a tea party sign in their yard that’s very likely a vote for Rand Paul," he says. Jackson's firm actually worked for Paul's opponent, Jackson's "good friend" Trey Grayson in the GOP primary. But now that Paul is the Repubilcan nominee, Jackson plans to vote for him. Meanwhile, he says, the TPP ads, which only ran for a few days last week, were so successful that his company is planning to expand them to other markets in Florida, Ohio, and California.

Jackson isn't just helping TPP out of the goodness of his heart (which he acknowledges). He would like the TPP store to corner the market on tea party gear, which is now sold in a host of different places. He thinks tea party activists need a central shopping site online. It's a potentially lucrative business. If the company's television advertising succeeds in getting tea partiers to buy a million signs, that translates into $8 or $9 million in business for his company and a nice chunk of change for the Tea Party Patriots, which receives some of the proceeds. (Neither Jackson nor Oljar would divulge what the TPP percentage is on the store sales, but Jackson says "it's significant.") The potential fundaising doesn't quite put TPP in the league of FreedomWorks, the group led by former House Minority Leader Dick Armey and funded by corporate donations, but it's not bad for a barely year-old group that claims to be a grassroots organization. And who knows? All those yard signs might just help get Rand Paul elected to the U.S. Senate.

You can watch the ads here:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, visits a successful road construction project in the Badakshan province, Regional Command North, Sept. 30. Petraeus also attended a shura with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. Photo by U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell

Adam Serwer flags a trend from the latest Gallup poll that should give Democrats pause. While Democrats has retained support from blacks, support among Latinos has collapsed:

Serwer rightly flags the declining support as a sign that Republicans managed to win the immigration debate: they've criticized and obstructed Democratic attempts to pass an immigration overhaul, then turned around to blame Obama for failing to take action. Conservatives also have used Arizona's immigration law as a sign that Republicans are willing to take action. According to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, an anti-immigration group, political candidates in at least 12 states have promised to introduce state laws similar to Arizona's. Even if Latino voters don't approve of such measures, the GOP efforts also have succeeded in highlighting the Democrats' seeming inaction on the issue.

Ahmed Chalabi is at it again. In a discussion on the future of Iraq with Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn at last week's Washington Ideas Forum, the Iraqi with nine thousand lives insisted that the issue of weapons of mass destruction was only "marginal" in the lead up to the Iraq War. The short conversation failed to explore the former provisional president of Iraq's impressive knack for dishonest saber-rattling and naked opportunism.

A prominent dissident voice since the early 90s, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress fed the Bush adminstration bogus evidence on Saddam Hussein's non-existent WMD program that was used by the White House to justify the invasion. Flash forward to the present: Chalabi has assumed a prominent place in the administration of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, leading continuing efforts to weed out members of Saddam's Sunni Baathist party. Meanwhile, the National Iraqi Alliance—of which Chalabi's INC is a part—finished third in the March elections.

"The issue was never weapons of mass destruction," he insisted. "It was the repression of Saddam against the Iraqi people, and the threat that Saddam constituted against the Iraqi people." Chalabi maintains that he and the INC didn't provide misleading evidence on WMDs, but merely introduced the Bush administration to those who provided it.

The story of the 2010 midterm elections is increasingly one of what are called "independent expenditure" campaigns, the secretive organizations that have unleashed a torrent of cash into the political bloodstream thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in January. As the Washington Post reported today, outside interest groups are spending five times as much cash—$80 million—in the 2010 elections as they did four years ago. Most of that money is coming from conservative groups, by a seven-to-one margin. What's more, the source of that money is more unclear than ever, as corporations and labor unions and deep-pocketed ideologues are now able spend freely without having to out themselves.

Today, Peter Stone, a veteran campaign finance reporter with the Center for Public Integrity and Mother Jones contributor, takes an expansive look at 2010 campaign fundraising and the shadowy orgs and operatives behind it. That includes Karl Rove's American Crossroads outfit, one of the biggest players in the midterms so far that's hoping to spend over $50 million to influence voters. But American Crossroads is just one right-leaning player in a field of many, Stone writes:

These independent GOP allies represent the leading edge of the new world of campaign finance, 2010 edition. Sensing a possible takeover on Capitol Hill, they have aggressively tapped a network of angry corporate and conservative donors, a task made easier by the Supreme Court’s famously controversial January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That decision overturned decades of campaign finance law and gave the green light to corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on ads and other campaign activities that can urge voters to directly oppose or support individual candidates. Some companies in sectors hit hard by new regulations—including financial, energy and health care interests—are grabbing for their checkbooks, and they are actively seeking the anonymity provided by new and older independent groups in the post-Citizens United world.

The tens of millions being plowed into these groups are also partly attributable to another phenomenon: management and fundraising problems at the Republican National Committee under Chairman Michael Steele. Those woes have given major donors and fundraisers heartburn and prompted many to put their political and financial chips elsewhere.

And now Democratic constituencies are responding. Jittery about a potential avalanche of corporate money flowing to GOP allies, several unions, led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union, have begun plotting a counter-strategy—hiking their budgets, polishing their famous “ground game” tactics, and expanding cooperative efforts of their own to avoid a debacle in November.

Notwithstanding labor’s defensive efforts, based on budget and spending projections from many big groups on both sides it’s expected that GOP-allied entities are likely to outspend their Democratic foes by a three to two margin and perhaps even two to one.

There's far more here from Stone—on the left's answer to Rove and Co., how unions are seizing on the Citizens United decision, and whether Congress can do anything to stop this spending spree. You can find the full story here. A month away from Election Day, it's well worth your time.

You used to be able to play as "the Taliban" in the ultra-realistic modern warfare video game Medal of Honor. As you might expect, the prospect of ten- and twelve-year-old American boys killing virtual Marines while pretending to be virtual Taliban bothered some folks. (If you've ever played these games online, you'd know that parents don't adhere to the ratings system.) So now Electronic Arts, the game's publisher, is making a change:

To be sensitive to families and friends of fallen soldiers, the game will be changed so that the "Opposing Force" or "OpFor" — not "Taliban" — will be in the multiplayer mode, says the game's executive producer Greg Goodrich. "Medal of Honor is a big thank-you letter to the troops, and if this one word caused some troops to not be able to receive that ... let's change it and hopefully people will get that."

As far as I can tell, this is a pretty minor change. The "OpFor" characters in the game will still presumably look like (and carry the weapons of) Taliban fighters. I have a vet friend who plays these sorts of games all the time. He certainly doesn't seem to be bothered by the Taliban concept. But I understand how some people might be. As the New York Times' Seth Schiesel pointed out when this issue first arose, the Nazis have been playable characters in World War 2-era games for years. The vast majority of gamers are able to separate video games from reality. Being randomly assigned to be a "Nazi" in a multiplayer video game doesn't make you a Hitler fan anymore than playing as an Elite in Halo makes you an alien (or a human-hater).

All this is to say that I doubt most of the people who actually play Medal of Honor will care about the Taliban issue. But video games are mass media now. Publishers, like moviemakers, have obligations to a broader group than just the folks who play their game. I think those are the folks whom this is directed at. And that's fine. Some gamers will cry censorship, but ultimately this is a minor change. If it makes some people feel better, it's probably for the best. Those ten- and twelve-year-olds will probably just refer to "OpFor" as the Taliban, anyway.

U.S. Army Sgt. Adam M. Hawes, of Pittsburgh, Pa., a squad leader with the military police platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, Task Force Spartan, launches a Raven remotely piloted aircraft at Combat Outpost Garcia here Oct. 2. Hawes was one of several Soldiers taking part in a certification class for the Raven and Puma RPAs. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Albert L. Kelley, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

From an excerpt of Ari Berman's new book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics:

The White House doesn't want its activists to disrupt the backroom deals its aides cut with lobbyists and legislators, nor does it want them putting too much pressure on obstructionist Democrats, lest it alienate key swing votes in Congress. When ran ads targeting conservative Democrats who were blocking healthcare reform, Rahm Emanuel memorably called the ads "fucking retarded." And, indeed, the White House has expended considerable political capital denouncing the "professional left" and defending apostate Democrats like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas from insurgent primary challengers, which has further undermined Obama's reformist brand.

"I'm not looking to pick another fight with Rahm Emanuel, but the contempt with which he held the progressive wing of the party was devastating and incredibly demoralizing," [former Democratic Party chief Howard] Dean says. "That's basically saying to your own people, You got us here, now F-you."

Emanuel received a standing ovation in the East Room from the White House staff on Friday morning when President Barack Obama officially announced his departure.

Rahm and Rupert

Did Rahm Emanuel and Rupert Murdoch huddle together at the Obama White House?

On the day that Emanuel is departing the West Wing to run for mayor of Chicago, the Sunlight Foundation is releasing a list of the visitors he had at the White House. The usual suspects on this roster: Chicago power players (Sam Zell, Leo Melamed), lots of members of Congress, Hollywood celebs (Kevin Costner, Judd Apatow), a bunch of journalists (Jonathan Alter, Karen Tumulty, Noam Schieber, Fred Hiatt, Ryan Lizza, Ron Fournier, Candy Crowley, Tom Friedman, Susan Page, David Ignatius, David Wessel, Mark Halperin, Katty Kay), and one possible surprise guest. The foundation's blog reports:

One meeting that appears in the White House visitor logs that may seem unexpected is a June 9, 2010 meeting with one Keith R. Murdoch. Does the “R” stand for Rupert? In his book The Promise Jonathan Alter revealed that Emanuel kept a back channel open to NewsCorp owner Rupert Murdoch, who’s real name is Keith Rupert Murdoch. I have not yet confirmed whether this is actually Rupert Murdoch, but I will let you know when I do.

Perhaps Emanuel showed Murdoch a copy of Obama's birth certificate.

Last week, Mother Jones ran a story about the campaign manager for Christine O'Donnell's unsuccessful 2008 Senate campaign in Delaware, noting that this aide, Jon Moseley, once wrote an article claiming that Obama is a secret Muslim. The article reported that tea partier O'Donnell's current Senate campaign has made payments to Moseley. After the story was published, Moseley sent Mother Jones an angry email insisting that he was not involved in her 2010 Senate bid and that the payment in the Federal Election Commission records this year was for money O'Donnell owed him from the 2008 effort. He wrote, "I have no relationship with Christine O'Donnell's current Senate campaign... I have not communicated in any way with Christine O'Donnell or her campaign since June 2008, except concerning her campaign paying off expense reimbursements from 2008, which they ultimately did."

But days later, a Virginia tea party group sent out an email alerting members to a bus trip being organized to transport volunteers to Delaware to campaign for O'Donnell in mid-October. Who should be organizing the trip but Moseley himself.

Moseley, a longtime conservative policy advocate, has set up a website to "support Christine." He claims it is an "independent expenditure" effort that is "not affiliated" with her campaign—which means it's not covered by the campaign contribution and spending limits that apply to the actual O'Donnell campaign. Independent expenditure campaigns are common, with unions, business groups, and ideological outfits routinely mounting them to support or block candidates by airing ads or running get-out-the-vote projects. All this is legal, as long as these groups do not coordinate their activities with candidates and their campaigns. (For example, a labor union could not ask a candidate where it would be best for it to focus a get-out-the-vote push.) 

Moseley's effort appears geared toward shipping out-of-state volunteers to Delaware. For $55, Virginia residents can hop aboard a bus in Springfield and head to Delaware for the day to knock on doors and hand out flyers for O'Donnell. Another bus will be coming from York, Pennsylvania. But the group's website describes the project in a way that makes it seem as if it's being coordinated with O'Donnell's campaign, which would be a violation of federal election laws.

On the bus sign-up website, Moseley writes that after the buses meet people arriving by car at a mall in Delaware:

we will go where we are needed to campaign.

We will do whatever Christine's campaign needs us to do. [emphasis added] Are you physically limited? Activities MIGHT include walking neighborhoods to pass out literature, yard signs, bumper stickers, etc. You might also stand still handing out literature at a grocery store or high traffic location if you are physically limited. We also hope to attend a rally with the candidate.

THIS IS AN INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE and not affiliatied [sic] with any campaign. Led by Jonathon Moseley, formerly Christine O'Donnell's 2008 campaign manager, but who is not currently associated with the Christine O'Donnell campaign. This bus trip is not associated with any organization. Organizers are using their own private time -- any other employment or associations are coincidental and not related. This project will * NOT * donate any money to any candidate or campaign, except possibly to BUY for our own use literature, yard signs, or bumper stickers to be distributed by our participants at cost.

The line about doing "whatever Christine's campaign needs" suggests that Moseley knows what the campaign wants. And how could he without communicating with the campaign? Perhaps this is a case of loose rhetoric. But it could be enough to draw the interest of the Federal Elections Commission. Neither Moseley nor O'Donnell's campaign returned calls for comment.

On the website, Moseley also provides some information about himself. He claims to have been instrumental in the "swiftboating" of Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. His brother-in-law apparently owns the publishing house that released Jerome Corsi's book Unfit for Command, which was part of the smear campaign that attacked Kerry's military record in Vietnam. Moseley claims to have helped get the the book published by working with Ohio talk show host Paul Schiffer, who took credit for helping bring together Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Earlier this year, Moseley worked on Schiffer's failed congressional campaign.

Moseley's current work for O'Donnell doesn't seem as sophisticated (or elaborate) as the Swift Boat campaign, which was conducted by an independent expenditure group looking to boost George W. Bush's reelection chances. It's focused on a campaign basic: finding out-of-state tea partiers willing to put boots on the ground for O'Donnell, turning her Senate bid into a national cause.