Mojo - November 2010

Cat Food For You, Tax Cuts for Me

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 3:20 PM PST

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."

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Jon Stewart vs. Rachel Maddow: It's On

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 9:25 AM PST

On Monday, I suggested that Jon Stewart should go on Rachel Maddow's show so that they can hash out the ongoing argument over Stewart's "sanity" rally. Like Bill MaherTa-Nehisi Coates, and just about everyone at MSNBC, I thought at the rally Stewart was a bit too quick to suggest that the left and the right in America are equally reasonable and "sane," and too quick to imply that MSNBC folks like Maddow are basically doing the same thing as, say, Glenn Beck. On Monday night, Stewart used the top of his show to push back at his critics:

Here's the key bit:

Contrary to what people may believe, I do think the rally was about something, just not necessarily what they wanted it to be about, or what they think it was about. If we were inartful in that message, we were inartful. I disagree with their classification of it, but I'm sure we'll all have a chance to clarify on each other's programs for the next ten years.

Ah, foresight. Stewart will make his first appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Thursday. I imagine that they'll talk about the rally—and the notion of "sanity." I'm looking forward to watching. 

Can Rubio Republicans Save the GOP?

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 8:39 AM PST

Latino voters dashed Republican hopes for a full takeover of Congress last week by swinging for Democratic senators in Nevada, California, and other key states. But the Wall Street Journal's John Fund thinks that there's still hope for the Republican Party to win back Latinos, pointing out that there will be a record number of Hispanic Republicans in the next Congress:

Two are from Texas and defeated Democratic incumbents - Bill Flores of Bryan and Quico Conseco from San Antonio. Jaime Herrera was elected to an open seat in Washington state. Raul Labrador defeated a Democratic incumbent in Idaho. David Rivera won an open House seat in Florida, just as Marco Rubio won that state's vacant U.S. Senate seat. In addition, Republicans elected two Hispanic governors -- prosecutor Susan Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval, a judge, in Nevada.

In fact, the national GOP made a concerted effort to diversify its ranks and recruit minority candidates who were still hardline conservatives. Some of the Latino Republicans who won—including Martinez, Sandoval, and Rubio—ran openly as immigration hawks, managing to win Hispanic votes even as they voiced vocal support for the Arizona law and tougher border security. Fund adds that Texas Gov. Rick Perry managed to win 38 percent of the Latino vote this year even as he hewed to a similar line, while Rubio netted 40 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote. Meanwhile, more moderate types like Labrador—a former immigration attorney—could help the GOP's Latino outreach.

But though the next Congress will bring greater diversity to the GOP's ranks, there's little sign that the party will stem its divisive, inflammatory attacks on immigrants and immigration. Incoming House leaders Steve King and Lamar Smith have put an immigration crackdown at the top of their agenda for the House Judiciary Committee, as I explain in my latest story. King is especially infamous for using noxious rhetoric to describe immigrants and will have a bigger bully pulpit than ever in the next Congress. If John Boehner lets them have their way, the Republican Party may only continue to alienate the Hispanic voters—unless, perhaps, some of its newly anointed Hispanic lawmakers decide to stand up their own party.

Actually Amusing: Five Years of [VIDEO]

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 8:33 AM PST

As we noted last week, is celebrating its fifth anniversary. This is pretty clever:

The GOP's Earmark War

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 8:20 AM PST

Now that the Republicans have won a majority in the House, it looks like their first fight will be against…Republicans? The Hill reports that Oklahoma's arch-conservative senator, Jim Inhofe (who received a perfect score from the American Conservative Union in 2009), intends to fight Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) proposed ban on earmarks. DeMint's ban, Inhofe argues, unconstitutionally cedes congressional spending power exclusively to the executive branch.

Odds are, Inhofe admits, that DeMint's moratorium will pass. But he's determined to go down swinging, and call out DeMint and others for earmark hypocrisy. He told The Hill:

I know politically it’s the dumbest thing for me to say I’m for earmarks, but it would cede authority to President Obama. But McCain and DeMint are not being honest about how they define them. I’ve been ranked as the most conservative member of the Senate, so this is coming from a conservative.

I have quotes, and I’ll use them on the floor to make sure McCain and DeMint can’t wiggle out of how they define earmarks. This is an Obama-DeMint-McCain effort… I’ll lose on this, but I want to be on the record.

Also on the record: the statement released on Tuesday by Jim DeMint publicly announcing his plan to suspend earmarks, co-signed by ten Republicans including tea party-backed Marco Rubio and Rand Paul (who's wasted no time playing both sides on the issue), Texas' John Cornyn, and Inhofe's fellow Oklahoman Tom Coburn. Inhofe says the tea party-backed senate newbies have been misled. "These [earmarks] have been demagogued for two years now," he said. "It’s been presented in such a way that this is somehow conservative." Luckily for Inhofe, he has some powerful friends on his side. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also rejects an earmark ban, citing the same argument as Inhofe: that it wouldn’t address the problem of congressional spending sprees, and would hand spending authority over to President Obama. DeMint is, effectively, picking a fight with his boss.

Meanwhile, over in the House, Speaker-in-waiting Boehner has pledged to suspend all earmarks, positioning the issue as a key plank in the GOP's agenda for the 112th congress. It's not clear, though, that all House Republicans are on board.

On something as central to the conservative dogma as government spending, the brewing debate in the Republican caucus is curious. It rips a gaping hole in the portrait of party unity that last Tuesday's midterm rout seemed to paint. The lesson here: if you're going to be the Party of No Earmarks, make sure everyone's on board.

Joe Miller's Spell-Check Lawsuit

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 7:40 AM PST

Joe Miller, Alaska's GOP candidate for US Senate and a tea party darling, is taking his election battle to the courts. On Tuesday, Miller, who trails write-in candidate and incumbent Lisa Murkowski, filed a suit in federal court asking a judge to bar Alaska election officials from counting any votes for Murkowski that don't spell her name correctly. Miller's suit claims the only acceptable write-in names are "Lisa Murkowski" or "Murkowski," and any write-in vote even slightly different should be discounted. In response to the suit, a Murkowski campaign manager told the Daily Press that the Miller campaign was "trying to discount as many votes as possible from Alaskans."

What remains to be seen is if Miller's suit is too little, too late. Alaska elections chief Gail Fenumiai says she's planning to begin counting the 92,000 write-in ballots cast in last Tuesday's Senate election, featuring Miller, Murkowski, and Democrat Scott McAdams, suggesting she won't wait for Miller's suit to play out. So far, Miller trails Murkowski by more than 10,000 votes, according to the Anchorage Daily News; McAdams is a distant third. 

The fate of Miller's suit, and thus that of his candidacy, hinges on what's called "voter intent." That means accepting minor misspellings of a write-in candidate's name, provided it's plainly clear which write-in candidate that voter intended to support. Here's from more the Daily News on this brewing legal battle:

Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees Alaska elections, has indicated that he will accept minor misspellings of Murkowski's name as long as the "voter intent" is clear. "The courts have been very clear for the last 25 years that voter intent is important," Campbell said in an interview this week with KENI radio host Mike Porcaro. "You do not want to disenfranchise voters over a technicality."

But Van Flein, Miller's lawyer, is arguing that nothing in state law allows for that kind of discretion. "The statute does not allow for the election board to weigh 'voter intent,' 'voter feelings,' or 'voter hopes,' " Van Flein wrote in a letter to Fenumiai.

Here's what the law says:

"A vote for a write-in candidate, other than a write-in vote for governor and lieutenant governor, shall be counted if the oval is filled in for that candidate and if the name, as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy, of the candidate or the last name of the candidate is written in the space provided."

Miller's lawsuit argues the state waited until this week—"the eleventh hour"—to release a written policy saying it would weigh voter intent in the counting process.

Consider Miller's suit a Hail Mary pass to salvage his campaign, a highly unlikely one at that. If Alaska election officials do follow the "voter intent" idea, and Miller's suit fails, we could see a winner announced in Juneau, where votes are currently being tallied, in the next day or two.

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Closing the Achievement Gap: Race Still Matters

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 4:06 AM PST

istockphoto.comistockphoto.comMore bad news for folks, who think that Obama's election landed us in a post-racial America. A new report (PDF) looking at math and reading proficiency among young black males in urban public schools concludes they're doing even worse than is generally known, and poverty alone doesn't explain it.

Race still matters. Case in point: African American boys who are not poor get the same test scores as white boys who live in poverty.

Most K-12 data is usually broken up by race or ethnicity, but not gender. What this sharpened interpretation reveals is that young black males face more obstacles to graduating from high school than any other subgroup, from living in a household without a male guardian, to more frequent encounters with overzealous cops, to higher dropout rates and more suspensions.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 10, 2010

Wed Nov. 10, 2010 3:30 AM PST

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Fehr, right, from the Iowa National Guard's 734th Agri-Business Development Team (ADT), speaks with Afghan children and their grandfather Oct. 24, 2010, during a veterinary outreach sustainment program in Marawara District, Kunar province, Afghanistan. Local veterinarians treated nearly 200 goats, sheep and cattle. The Iowa ADT provided financial support, quality control and security during the event. DoD photo by Capt. Peter Shinn, U.S. Air Force

Corn on "Hardball": Bush Still Spinning Lies on WMDs

Tue Nov. 9, 2010 4:18 PM PST

David Corn and Tom DeFrank joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss George W. Bush's recent sit-downs with Matt Lauer and Oprah Winfrey and his persistent lies about Saddam Hussein's ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

DOJ: No Charges for 2005 Destruction of Interrogation Tapes

| Tue Nov. 9, 2010 12:50 PM PST

The Justice Department just announced that prosecutor John Durham won't bring any charges for the 2005 destruction of 92 videotapes allegedly showing the torture of terrorist suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. More here.