Mojo - November 2010

The Unbearable Unbearableness of Rand Paul

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 7:18 AM EST

Rand PaulSen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.) | Flickr/Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons).

Renowned philosopher and sometime savior of all mankind Jesus Christ said the poor will always be with us. But in the tea party libertarian fantasyland Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.) inhabits, there are no poor people. There are no rich people either:

We're all interconnected. There are no rich, there are no middle class, there are no poor. We're all interconnected in the economy.

Wait, what?

We're all interconnected. There are no rich, there are no middle class, there are no poor. We're all interconnected in the economy.

Oh, now I get it! In the Randian paradise, no one suffers in the streets. The difference between someone with an apartment on Park Avenue and a house in Easthampton, and a tire salesman in Lexington doesn't matter. The guys living on their 500-foot yachts are in the same boat as folks who, well, aren't in the same boat.

Seriously, if Paul really thinks there are no rich or poor, just the "interconnected," his assets may as well be divided up among us interconnected people. Actually, forget that Senate salary, too. He won't miss being rich, because he's not really rich at all, he's just like everybody else. 

I asked Dean Baker, an economist at the lefty Center for Economic and Policy Research, what he thought of Paul's comments. They're "close to just idiocy," Baker says. "He seems to be saying it doesn't really matter who gets the money, since we're all interconnected. But how many people would be willing to see their neighbour get everything they had? And if it's all the same, then why why not give money to the poor or the middle class?"

Paul also said this:

We all either work for rich people, or we sell stuff to rich people. So just punishing rich people is as bad for the economy as punishing anyone.

There's a third option, of course, that goes unmentioned: some of "us" are rich people. TPM commenter ct also had a good response to this:

Yes, after all nobody ever mowed lawns lawns of middle class people all summer. As we all know middle class people never hire anyone.

Likewise, nobody ever got paid because a middle class person hired a plumber, or a poor person shopped at a grocery store. People only work for, and sell stuff to, rich people.

Baker says he thinks Paul is "going to be a good source of amusement for the next six years." But I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. 

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George W. Bush's Omission Points

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 7:00 AM EST

Like Blair, like Bush.

When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair released his memoirs two months ago, I noted that the long volume detailed many of the meetings he had with then-President George W. Bush during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq—but he neglected to mention a key (and controversial) January 31, 2003, talk they held in the Oval Office. According to a memo written by a Blair aide documenting the meeting, Bush and Blair in that session each said they doubted any weapons of mass destruction would soon be discovered by the UN inspectors then searching for such arms in Iraq. Without any WMDs, it could be harder to win support for the war. But Bush had an idea—or two.

The memo—portions of which were published in the New York Times and in Philippe Sands' Lawless World —noted that Bush raised the notion of provoking a confrontation with Saddam Hussein. "The US was thinking," the memo said, "of flying US reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach" of UN resolutions. A retaliatory attack would then be fully justified; the war could begin. In other words, Bush raised the prospect of staging a phony event to justify a military attack on Iraq. Bush also discussed producing some "defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's WMD." The two men also agreed that it was unlikely that "internecine warfare" would break out between "different religious and ethnic groups" after an invasion of Iraq.

Now, Bush, too, is keeping the cover-up alive. In his new book, Decision Points, Bush does write about this particular meeting. He notes that he and Blair discussed squeezing another resolution out of the UN Security Council that would declare that Iraq had failed to meet its disarmament obligations under a previous resolution—in effect, handing Washington and London a go-to-war-free card. Blair felt it was politically necessary for him to obtain such a resolution in the face of the widespread British opposition to an invasion of Iraq. Bush writes, "I dreaded the thought of plunging back into the UN." After all, both Dick Cheney and Colin Powell opposed an effort to obtain a new resolution. "But if Tony wanted a second resolution," Bush recalls, "we would try."

This anecdote depicts Bush as a loyal pal to Blair, no cowboy but a partner sensitive to the needs of his most important ally. But Bush says nothing about his proposal to provoke the war through fraud. (The memo, by the way, does not record Blair objecting to this potential subterfuge.)

In his book, Bush asks the reader to consider his account an honest rendering of the difficult moments and decisions he encountered as president. He makes the case repeatedly for the war in Iraq. He does so with a certain disingenuosness, saying that "America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD." That's misleading spin, because the Bush administration's own post-invasion investigation found that at the time of Bush's assault on Iraq, there had been no active WMD programs and that Iraq had not pursued the development or production of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons for years. Its WMD program was totally kaput. Bush, though, is still maintaining that Saddam posed a WMD threat.

It's one thing to misinterpret facts; it's another to pretend they don't exist. The memo detailing Bush's idea to con the world into war does exist. (I've read the entire document.) But that reality is not part of Bush's story. This not only demonstrates that Bush's account is neither candid nor accurate. It raises the question: what else is missing?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 12, 2010

Fri Nov. 12, 2010 6:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Hatcher (right), security force squad leader for the Nuristan Provincial Reconstruction Team from Frederick, Md., leads a column to the village of Kautiak Oct. 30. The PRT often visits local villagers to see how their government is helping them improve their lives after more than three decades of war. Photo by U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen, Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs.

Hispanic Republican Group Slams GOP's "Extreme" Congressmen

| Thu Nov. 11, 2010 3:29 PM EST

Somos Republicans—a fledging Hispanic GOP group—is protesting the likely appointment of Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) to leadership positions in the next Congress, criticizing them for promoting anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant positions. The group submitted "a letter of concern" on Tuesday to incoming House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor detailing their gripes with Smith, the likely chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and King, who's poised to lead the subcommittee on immigration:

Congressmen Smith and King have repeatedly engaged in rhetoric that is aimed negatively toward Hispanics.  Steve King has used defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics, which is found in numerous congressional records.  We believe Steve King’s behavior is not appropriate for a high-level elected Republican who might be in charge of a committee that handles immigration rules.  Steve King and Lamar Smith have adopted extreme positions on birthright citizenship, and promise legislation that would undermine the 14th amendment of the constitution, which both swore an oath to uphold…

Representatives Smith and King have engaged in an ill-advised platform and rhetoric that has…caused an exodus of Hispanic voters to the Democratic Party.  We ask that you review Mr. King’s and Mr. Smith’s congressional statements desiring to “pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution's birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants,” or what Steve King has made reference to “anchor babies.”  We find both this rhetoric and this un-constitutional conduct reprehensible, insulting and a poor reflection upon Republicans because we don’t want our Party to be viewed as the Party of changing the United States Constitution.

Somos Republicans adds that such anti-immigration extremism has helped drive Hispanics away from the GOP and would be a major political liability for the party in 2012:

[T]his insensitive and constant assailment on our Hispanic Community may push Hispanics further into the Independent, Libertarian or Democrat Party….It is our sincere belief that if representatives Smith and King were to become the Chairs of the House Judiciary and Subcommittee on Immigration, and if they indeed continue such insensitive rhetoric towards Hispanics, the conditions for a Republican presidential candidate to garner the necessary Electoral College Delegates to win the 2012 presidency will not be possible.

Both King and Smith have made it clear that they will push for a major immigration crackdown in the next Congress, as I explained this week. King has already vowed, for instance, to put forward a bill to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from becoming US citizens—a fringe idea that has gained renewed traction with the GOP's leap to the right on immigration.

Somos Republicans is now trying to push back against the GOP's reactionary turn. The group formed in Arizona after the passage of the state's infamous immigration law in April and chapters have since opened in Texas, California, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, says founder Dee Dee Blase. "We've grown exponentially because of these [Arizona-like] laws. It's really causing us to mobilize and wake up, we're upset with these kinds of anti-immigrant rhetoric politicians." On its website, the organization describes itself as supporting "Right to Life, Free Market Capitalism, Low Taxes, Small Government, Second Amendment, Traditional Marriage, and a Humane Immigration Reform that fits our Free Market economy and labor."

Allen West Won't Tap Right-Wing Radio Host

| Thu Nov. 11, 2010 2:26 PM EST

On Monday, demagogic, Islam-hating Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.) caused his first congressional controversy. Today, he announced his first flip-flop.

The firebrand tea partying West, who as an Army officer confessed to abusing detainees and won a conservative South Florida district last week, today reneged on a Monday promise to appoint right-wing radio host Joyce Kaufman as his congressional chief of staff. Kaufman is a fellow demagogue who spends her air time railing against Muslims, touting an "infidel" ballcap she wears, advocating the hanging of illegal immigrants, and saying Jews who vote for Barack Obama "don't embrace being Jews anymore." West's office made the announcement this morning in a statement:

It is with deep regret that this Congressional office and the people of CD 22 will not have Joyce Kaufman as my Chief of Staff.  Joyce is a good friend, and will remain loyal to South Floridians and to me. I will always seek Joyce's counsel for being a good Representative of this Congressional District.

West's rhetoric tracks Kaufman's pretty closely, and they were thick as thieves on the campaign trail. But a counsel for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said yesterday that Kaufman's appointment could be "problematic." It appears Republican House leaders may have stepped in, prevailing on West to turn down the crazy and pick a chief of staff who (unlike Kaufman) might actually have a modicum of experience with legislative affairs, media messaging, and constitutent services.

West's already-troubled tenure poses a direct challenge to Republican leadership that's not going away anytime soon: While it's in their political interest to keep loose-talking neophytes like him away from the limelight, where they might turn off mainstream voters, they can't deny that his brand of anger brings in the campaign cash. He was tops among all congressional challengers in donations this year, in no small part because of endorsements from the likes of Sarah Palin and small contributions from angry tea partiers and right-wing vets across the country. He has a chance to become the Michele Bachmann of the South, but only if he manages to avoid alienating his constituents with bad governance and worse sound bites.

Harris vs. Cooley: The Last 2010 Election Battle?

| Thu Nov. 11, 2010 1:56 PM EST

The midterm elections were last Tuesday. But in California, the high-stakes battle to control the state attorney general's office rages on.

The race between Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley*, a Republican, and San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, a Democrat, is one of the only statewide races in the country that remains undecided. It's a contest that matters nationally. In October, the Sacramento Bee's Dan Morain reported that the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that works to elect GOP state legislators, attorneys general, and other state officials, had jumped into the Cooley-Harris fight. The Harris campaign criticized the RSLC's intervention, pointing out that it received over a million dollars from tobacco companies and its chairman, Ed Gillespie, had co-founded the shadowy outside spending group American Crossroads with Karl Rove. But the RSLC's $1 million ad buy in favor of Cooley, in the closing weeks of the campaign, may well have had the desired affect: Harris and Cooley are neck-and-neck with lots of votes still left to count. (State officials have to finish the count by November 30.)

There's much at stake in the Cooley-Harris battle, which explains why Gillespie's operation would target the race. Should Cooley win, he would immediately become a top-tier GOP candidate for higher office—senator or governor. Harris, who has both Jamaican and Indian ancestors, would be the first California AG of either ethnicity, the first woman elected to the office, and the first Indian American state attorney general in the nation. She, too, could eventually run for Senate or the governorship—if she wins. The outcome will also effect the struggle over Proposition 8, the California ban on gay marriage. Harris has vowed that she will not defend the measure in court.

Perhaps most important, state AGs play a key role in reining in corporate excesses. Some former state AGs, like Dick Blumenthal in Connecticut or Andrew Cuomo in New York (now Sen.-elect Blumenthal and Gov.-elect Cuomo, respectively), earned themselves the enmity of corporate America—and the thanks of voters—for their aggressive pursuit of tobacco companies and Wall Street, respectively. California is much bigger than New York or Connecticut, and the AG there can have a greater impact on national issues than Cuomo or Blumenthal have had as AGs. Consequently, the tobacco, insurance, and gambling interests that fund the RSLC have good cause to make sure Harris isn't elected. 

Attorney general contests often don't receive much attention from the media and voters. But the ongoing Cooley-Harris face-off is a race that warrants national notice. If folks like Gillespie and Rove are involved, that's reason enough to pay close attention.

*This originally said "Chris Cooley." That's wrong. Steve Cooley is the Los Angeles district attorney. Chris Cooley is a tight end for the National Football League's Washington Redskins. Sorry.

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The Deficit Commission's Health Care "Plan"

| Thu Nov. 11, 2010 12:46 PM EST

My colleague Kevin Drum says the best way to judge the deficit commission co-chairs' preliminary plan [PDF] is to look at how much of it is focused on lowering health care costs. "Any serious long-term deficit plan will spend about 1% of its time on the discretionary budget, 1% on Social Security, and 98% on healthcare," Kevin argues. The co-chairs, Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator, and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, definitely don't do that. Instead, as Kevin writes, they "turn suddenly vague and cramped when it gets to Medicare." There's a good reason for that: Most of the health care savings that could have been used to reduce the deficit have already been used to pay for various provisions of the Democrats' health care reform bill, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Because Democrats were determined to make ACA reduce the deficit, almost every cost-saving measure that was considered politically viable—and a few that weren't—was included in the bill. Some of those cuts proved damaging to Dems. Many Republicans campaigned against the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to Medicare that helped pay for the ACA. (The Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS ran ads slamming Dems for slashing Medicare.) Even after those cuts were made, the Dems still needed to find more money. Remember the tanning tax? The 1099 reporting requirements? Those were acts of desperation. 

The Left's American Crossroads?

| Thu Nov. 11, 2010 10:45 AM EST

Barely a week after Democrats' trouncing in the 2010 midterms, due in part to a massive influx of shadowy political spending, the left is gearing up to fight fire with fire. David Brock, the former investigative journalist who founded the watchdog Media Matters for America, is trying to form a 527 political advocacy group, according to Greg Sargent at the Washington Post. In theory, the group would be akin to Karl Rove's American Crossroads outfit, but with a liberal bent.

The revelations about Brock's potential 527 come days after a top White House adviser, David Axelrod, opened the door for lefty groups to push back against the wave of secretive GOP cash. In an interview with Politico, Axelrod wouldn't rule out the need for Democratic outside groups in 2012 to push back against conservative forces like American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, the US Chamber of Commerce, and many more. While outside groups of all ideologies spent more than $400 million in the 2010 midterms, the White House anticipates the Chamber and its right-leaning ilk spending upwards of $500 million on their own to defeat President Obama.

Here's more from Greg Sargent:

Brock's move represents the first clear sign that lefty Beltway power players will heed the White House's call to arms. It also indicates that they've decided the quasi-collapse of the campaign finance system has left them with no choice but to gear up in order to counter the massive spending of outfits like the U.S Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's groups.

"David is on the road right now talking to donors and strategists who would be interested in this," the source tells me, adding that Brock intends to create a 527, which has partial donor disclosure rules. "He's out pitching it right now."

"There's a general sense that in 2010 nothing was done and it cost Democrats," the source continues. "People realize, including in the White House, that something needs to be done in 2012 or progressives will suffer at the ballot box again."

Sargent's scoop arrives mere days before some 150 Democratic donors and party strategists convene in Washington for a conference hosted by the Democracy Alliance to analyze what went wrong in the 2010 midterms and settle on a plan for success in 2012—a process that will no doubt involve figuring out how to counter the influence of the GOP's outside spending groups. One of the pressing questions facing Democrats is: Do you work through existing organizations—labor unions, environmental groups, etc.—to push back? Or do Democrats need to start their own outside groups, a la David Brock?

That tension was apparent when I interviewed Rob McKay, chair of the Democracy Alliance (and a Mother Jones board member), this week. "We have a lot of existing groups who do disclose, and that is a meaningful distinction," McKay told me. "But look: The Chamber and Crossroads and all them are going to be coming full bore. So I think you will see donors engaged, and I'm not going to sit here and say we won't need to create some new groups." He added, "It's not that I dont want to see a meaningful legislative response to Citizens United, but I'm also not going to unilaterally disarm."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 11, 2010

Thu Nov. 11, 2010 6:30 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Wilfred Gingras, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Cesaitis, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, familiarize themselves with the area during a quality assurance, quality control patrol near the city of Qalat, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, Nov. 1. PRT Zabul is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout the province. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

Cat Food For You, Tax Cuts for Me

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 6:20 PM EST

Proposals by the deficit Commission leaders Wednesday provide detail to what Washington has been gossiping about for months. Not whether Obama will cut entitlements, but where and how.

For months, the Obama administration has been hinting it will support cuts in Social Security and Medicare as part of a program to reduce the deficit, meantime leaving most of the Bush tax cuts in place. That's been the deal since last spring. Sunday on 60 Minutes, the President was somewhat more explicit. We are "still confronted with the fact that the vast majority of the federal budget are things that people really think are important, like Social Security and Medicare and defense. And so, you then have to start making some tough decisions about how do we pay for those things that we think are important? … I mean, we're gonna have to, you know, tackle some big issues like entitlements that, you know, when you listen to the Tea Party or you listen to Republican candidates they promise we're not gonna touch."

Wednesday the commission leaders—Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson—provided the President with the details he needs. The Washington Post reports, "Leaders of President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission are proposing to reduce the annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security. The proposal would also set a tough target for curbing the growth of Medicare. And it recommends looking at eliminating popular tax breaks, such as mortgage interest deduction."