Mojo - February 2011

The Week in Sharia: Texas Has Its Sputnik Moment (Updated)

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 3:30 PM EST

Now with 100-percent more maps:

  • The big news out of Egypt (also, Earth) this week was the departure of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, prompting furious speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood would take over the country and impose strict Islamic law. That's no sure thing. But if they can't have Egypt, the Brothers at least have a pretty good consolation prize: According to Red State, "there are Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, apologists, and fundamentalists sponsoring and speaking" at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference. Also speaking at CPAC? Anti-Sharia activist Pamela Geller, who says that criticism of her is basically "the second wave of the 9/11 attacks."  Awwwwwkward.
     
  • Georgia state rep. Mike Jacobs told reporters that he couldn't think of any instances of Sharia being forced on the good people of his state—but just to be sure, he introduced the "American Laws for Georgia Courts Act" earlier this week to block foreign or religious laws from being cited in state courts. A total of 16 states have passed or introduced anti-Sharia legislation since last February.
     
  • Speaking of which: I made a map.
     
  • Good news, Mansfield, Texas: Your school district won a $1.3 million federal grant to introduce students to a "critical" foreign language and culture, a development that's sure to boost cognitive skills, intellectual curiosity, and future employment prospects. Bad news, Mansfield, Texas: Because that language was Arabic, a bunch of parents warned that their children would be indoctrinated with Islamic principles, and now the district has put the program on ice indefinitely. If you're wondering, yes, this is what losing the future looks like.
     
  • Minus-10 gold stars for Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, who informed her viewers that the school intended to make Arabic mandatory for kindergartners. Crazy! Also, false. The Arabic-language classes are electives, and only for seventh- and eighth-graders; fifth- and sixth-graders would get 20 minutes of Arabic "language and culture" per day as part of their social studies classes; kindergartners would, presumably, continue to eat paste. This is all spelled out not only in the clarification issued by the school, but in the informational sheet (pdf) which it had released prior to the controversy, and in the grant proposal (pdf) itself. I found all of that on Google in, like, 12 seconds.

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Mitt Romney and the Tea Party: It's Complicated

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 3:06 PM EST

Does Mitt Romney think tea partiers are nuts? It seems like a reasonable question to ask the potential presidential contender. While most of the other candidates hoping to run for the White House in 2012 have gone out of their way to prove their tea party bona fides, Romney has kept his distance, perhaps for good reason. Lots of tea partiers won't forgive him for paving the way for the Obama health care reform plan with RomneyCare, as it's dubbed, when he was governor of Massachusetts. But Romney's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday was extremely well-received by an audience that included a healthy number of self-declared tea partiers. Indeed, he offered a lot a tea partier could love: talk of job creation, American exceptionalism, and a plug for the Constitution. He also has business credentials to die for, his health care record not withstanding.

But at least one tea party activist who's been in contact with Romney's campaign says that he has been reluctant to take one important move that would solidify his standing with the grassroots conservative movement: signing its "Contract from America."

Last year, Ryan Hecker from the Houston Tea Party Society helped create a crowdsourced agenda that tea partiers wanted to see enacted in Washington. It emphasized limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual liberty, and asked signers to pledge to support a balance budget, tax reform, repeal of ObamaCare, a ban on earmarks, and to oppose cap and trade, among other things. The earmark ban scared off a fair number of candidates and members of Congress. But as Hecker says, "There's nothing in there that a guy who doesn't write legislation couldn't support." One of the first signers was Newt Gingrich. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was also an early endorser. But when Hecker, who appeared on a CPAC panel right before Romney took the stage, asked Romney to sign the contract, he "took a pass," says Hecker, without explaining exactly why.

Hecker thinks Romney is an impressive candidate, who heroically turned around the Salt Lake Olympics, and is a "great businessman." But Romney's failure to sign the contract, says Hecker, hurts his standing with tea partiers, who are going to be critical to the 2012 election and who could potentially help Romney compensate for his problems with evangelicals who refuse to support his campaign. (They don't like his Mormonism and still believe that he's secretly pro-choice.) "I think it's important that he sign the Contract with America," Hecker says. "He needs to show that he's listening to the tea party and that he's going to be a leader who represents true conservatives."

NYC Mosque Foe Pam Geller On Egypt: Bad for Freedom

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 1:45 PM EST

The news of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation today has barely made a ripple here at CPAC, the three-day gathering of conservative activists, politicians, and other luminaries. But around midday I caught up with Pamela Geller, who made a name for herself as the driving force behind the battle against the Park 51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, which critics dubbed the "Ground Zero mosque." I asked Geller what she thought about Mubarak's resignation and the fate of Egypt's leadership. Her take was nothing short of apocalyptic, predicting "the rise of Islamic supremacism and the imposition of the Sharia" throughout the Middle East.

"We are witnessing a complete seismic shift in the direction of the world away from freedom," Geller said. When I asked her about Glenn Beck's theory that "uber-leftists" and Islamic extremists could be plotting to from a new Islamic caliphate, she told me that those "are justifiable fears. An earthquake has occurred in the Middle East." She added, "These are catastrophic events over which we have no control."

Geller said she was "thoroughly embarrassed and disgusted" that the US "would abandon an ally," a reference to the Obama administration's recent statements calling for a peaceful change in leadership in Egypt, which had been under Mubarak's autocratic rule for nearly 30 years. Asked about who she thought would step up to lead in Egypt, Geller said, "We do know that evil loves a vacuum, and the only organization that is poised to seize control in a vacuum would be the Muslim Brotherhood." She went on, "They will be the ones that seize power."

Middle East experts don't view the Brotherhood as the virulent force of evil that Geller and the far right do. As Bob Dreyfuss noted in his Mother Jones story today, the Brotherhood would win only around 10 or 20 percent of the vote in a open Egyptian election. That's not to the say the Brotherhood should be dismissed, but experts say they're not quite the pillar of evil Geller, Beck, and others have made them about to be.

Geller ended our conversation about the future of Egypt on a typically ominous note. I mentioned the far right's fear that Islamic radicalism could spread to other Middle Eastern countries after Mubarak's departure, and Geller agreed. "It is spreading. It's already spreading," she said. "And it's very dangerous."

Conservative Political Action Conference: Live Coverage

Fri Feb. 11, 2011 1:00 PM EST

Conservatives are flocking to Washington this week to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. Mother Jones reporters Suzy Khimm and Stephanie Mencimer are on the scene, and tracking the action on Twitter:

Map: Has Your State Banned Sharia?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 11:40 AM EST

Earlier this week, a Georgia legislator introduced the "American Laws for Georgia Courts Act," a bill designed to block the implementation of Islamic law in state courts. As state rep. Mike Jacobs told the Fulton County Daily Report, he couldn't think of any specific instance of Sharia law affecting Georgia's justice system, but the government needed to take action. It's a familiar pattern: While actual Islamic law is virtually non-existent in the United States, efforts to combat the scourge of Islamic law are becoming increasingly common.

Just how common? According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states have introduced legislation to prevent courts from using foreign or religious law in their decisions. But that's just in the last two months; if you include last year's efforts—including Arizona's inspired attempt to ban karma—it goes all the way up to 16. Anyway, I made a map. Full details below; we'll update this as the dominoes fall:

 

Passed: Both Tennessee and Louisiana passed variations of the American Public Policy Alliance's "American Law for American Courts" legislation in 2010.

Working on it: Alaska; Arkansas; Arizona; Georgia; Indiana; Kansas; Nebraska; Oklahoma; South Carolina; South Dakota; Texas; Wyoming.

Tried but Failed: Florida; Mississippi; Utah.

GOP Budget Slashers Under Attack From...Schoolteachers?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 11:29 AM EST

The fierce battle over federal spending playing out on Capitol Hill right now is dividing not only Democrats and Republicans but factions within the GOP itself. But one vocal House Republican says the real threat to the party comes not from within, or from folks across the aisle, but from—gasp!—teachers and their unions.

On the second morning of CPAC, the annual gathering of the conservative movement, Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) told a packed ballroom that Republicans are under siege for their efforts to slash $100 billion or more from their federal budget in their first year in office. (The $100 billion number was part of the GOP's 2010 midterm campaigning.) An animated Schweikert went on, "I'm already starting to see my personal Facebook page, my personal email accounts, being attacked by every schoolteacher union group, by groups that live on government money."

What CPAC attendees need to do, the Arizona congressman continued, is fight back against the menace of teachers' unions by "filling up your Twitter account, your Facebook account, your friends' emails with defending us" to "explain that $100 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket when next year's shortfall is one and a half trillion."

Here's Schweikert's comments:

How many of you have a Twitter account? How many of you have a Facebook account? How many of you have friends?

Look, look. A lot of you gave money and time and bled to get this Congress back. But the war is going to explode this weekend when the bad guys start to see what reality is in the numbers. I'm already staring to see my personal Facebook page, my personal email accounts, being attacked by every schoolteacher union group, by groups that live on government money. If you aren't filling up your Twitter account, your Facebook account, your friends' emails with defending us, and explain that 100 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket when next year's shortfall is one and a half trillion, we're gonna get run over. We're gonna lose the messaging game...

Whether you like it or not, you're the army. We gotta go to battle.

Schweikert's comments wouldn't be the first time the right targeted teachers' unions. Who can forget conservative radio host Neal Boortz's comment from 2007 that teachers' unions are "destroying a generation" and are "much more dangerous than al Qaeda"? Fox's Sean Hannity chimed in, too: "They are ruining our school system." Great stuff.

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Who Is Omar Suleiman?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 11:10 AM EST

Omar Suleiman, the recently appointed Vice President of Egypt, may soon become the most powerful man in that country. Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, appeared set to step down on Thursday night. (He didn't, but he still could. UPDATE: Friday, 11:15 a.m. EST: Suleiman just appeared on Egyptian television to announce Mubarak had stepped down. Power will be vested in a supreme military council; it's unclear who will actually be in charge.) Weeks of protests, riots, and violence have shaken the Mubarak regime's grip on power. There's no guarantee that the end of Mubarak's reign would mean democracy or even civilian rule for the largest Arab country. Opposition leader (and Nobel laureate) Mohamed ElBaradei has said, "there is no credibility in either Mubarak or Suleiman or anybody who is associated with that regime." But soon, Suleiman could be running the show, no matter what ElBaradei thinks. So who is this guy?

He's a spy: Prior to becoming Mubarak's official No. 2, Suleiman, was for nearly two decades, the head of Egypt's intelligence service, the famed (and feared) Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID). 

He's a torturer: As the New Yorker's Jane Mayer noted in her book The Dark Side (read it!), Suleiman managed the Egyptian end of Clinton- and Bush-era "extraordinary renditions," in which people whom the US suspected of torture were flown to Egypt ("rendered") and tortured. (Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane and Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine also feature material on Suleiman's role in torture.) As noted in Mother Jones' Egypt explainer, Mayer quoted Edward Walker, the former US ambassador to Egypt, who described Suleiman as "not squeamish." MoJo's Jim Ridgeway has more on Suleiman's role in torture.

House GOPer: America Now a "Second-Class State"

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 10:38 AM EST

The concept of American exceptionalism is gospel in the Republican Party. Republicans in Washington consistently proclaim the US the "greatest nation in the world." Late last month, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ripped President Barack Obama for failing to mention American exceptionalism in his recent State of the Union address. The president, Boehner vented, "refused to talk about American exceptionalism. We are different than the rest of the world...[Democrats] reject that notion."

At least one freshman House Republican apparently missed the American exceptionalism memo. At a meet-and-greet here on the second day of CPAC, Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) veered wildly off the GOP script, referring to the US as "a second-class state." Nugent was one of nearly a dozen freshman congressmen who showed up at the event, where attendees downed mimosas and glad-handed with the GOP's new members as well as Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), who introduced each of the members. The freshmen each gave a brief statement, and while Nugent's hit on the usual themes—paying off our debt, reducing the deficit, embracing free enterprise—the "second-class state" remark was a bit startling, and met with silence.

Here's what Nugent's said:

Washington has gone tone deaf in the last administration. They didn't listen to any of us...

I was comfortable in retirement. The reason I ran is because I currently have three sons serving this great nation. What I saw in their future is not an exceptional America. What's happened in the last four years has drug this country down and put it into a second-class state.

Will Palin Announce Presidential Bid at Tea Party Conference?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 9:41 AM EST

The Tea Party Patriots, arguably the nation's largest tea party umbrella group, is holding a "policy summit" in Phoenix at the end of the month to help educate tea partiers on various issues. Headlining the event will be potential GOP presidential contenders Herman Cain and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart, talking heads Dick Morris and John Fund, and other conservative luminaries and elected officials. But lately the group has been floating rumors that Sarah Palin may show up at the confab to make an important announcement: that she's running for president.

Earlier this month, TPP started circulating emails with a prominent endorsement for their event from Palin, who says in the promo material that the summit "offers a terrific opportunity for true American Patriots to hear from experts on issues like lowering taxes, balancing the budget and repealing Obamacare." Then on Thursday, Everett Wilkinson, a TPP coordinator in Florida, wrote on his site Tea Party Wire, "I just heard a rumor that Sarah Palin is going to make a surprise visit and announcement" at the conference. He included a link to the registration page for the summit, and also circulated emails with the rumor to tea party activists.

Is this a "real" rumor—or just a crass marketing ploy designed to entice tea partiers to the $75 per-person gathering? It would not be the first time that a tea party group tried to capitalize on Palin's name recognition to boost attendance at a conference. Last year, Tea Party Nation, a Nashville-based group headed by Judson Philips, created a convention almost exclusively promoted around a speech by Palin, for which TPN paid her $100,000.

A spokesman for Tea Party Patriots says the group is not paying any of the speakers at its event (and that it didn't pay Palin for her endorsement of the summit). But the Internet rumor smacks of traffic-driving scheme, an attempt to generate interest and potentially donations for the summit, or at least traffic for Wilkinson's Tea Party Wire site. TPP is trying to raise a boatload of money to pull off the event, and there are signs that it's not meeting its targets.

On its website, TPP indicates that it's trying to generate more than $800,000 in sponsorships for the event. The primary summit sponsorship comes with a price tag of $250,000—an amount they're not likely to squeeze out of a bunch of rural tea party activists. Booths in the exhibit hall run as high as $4,000. The group has been advertising heavily on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity's radio shows, and sources say that TPP has not raised enough money to fly many of its own regional and state coordinators to Phoenix for the summit as promised.

TPP wouldn't be the first group to try to hold a national tea party convention and flop. Tea Party Nation attempted to hold another convention in Las Vegas this past summer. It was postponed at the last minute, rescheduled for a few months later, and canceled again. Tea partiers, it seems, have had their fill of conventions, a phenomenon that makes the rumors about a Palin cameo highly suspicious. The Tea Party Nation's Nashville event appears only to have succeeded with the help of Palin. Without her, the Tea Party Patriots may find themselves in the same boat as Phillips' group.

UPDATE: Randy Lewis, a spokesman for TPP says, "Palin was approached for availability for the weekend of our conference and we were told that she was unable to consider due to a previous commitment. She is not attending."

Hacked Emails Detail Plan to Entrap, Discredit Opponents of US Chamber

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 8:15 AM EST

[Editors note: Read Josh Harkinson's latest on ChamberLeaks here.]

On Monday, Anonymous posted 40,000 emails hacked from the account of Aaron Barr, a computer security expert who'd tried to infiltrate the well-known hactivist group and sell his findings to the FBI. Now Barr has a lot of explaining to do. It looks like his DC-based security firm, HBGary Federal, has been working in connection with the US Chamber of Commerce to sabotage the business group's political opponents. Lee Fang of ThinkProgress explains:

According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Hunton And Williams' attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms — HB Gary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win [described as "CtW" below], the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com.

One document from Team Thermis proposes an entrapment project:

Given the massive amount of material posted from Barr's account, there could be much more here.  I'm looking into whether other media organizations that have investigated the Chamber, such as Mother Jones, have been targeted by Barr. Check back later today for updates.