Mojo - February 2011

Obama Enters the Chamber

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 10:58 AM EST

Big business, we hear you.

That's one of the messages the White House has been trying to send since last November's election. December's business-friendly tax package and the hirings of ex-JP Morgan exec Bill Daley and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt probably helped. But President Obama hopes to really kick the pro-business messaging into high gear Monday morning in a post-election hand-holding session with US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.

Unfortunately, it's unclear whether Donohue and the chamber actually speak for the community they claim to represent: over half of the Chamber's funding comes from just 16 contributors. And as Mother Jones reported last November, almost 94% of the Chamber's budget came from fewer than 1,500 of its 50-100,000 members—a number that continues to shrink. This year, over 50 local chambers cut ties with or distanced themselves from the national body, many over its lobbying against health care reform. Donohue, meanwhile, has made no secret of the chamber's habit of handing its lobbying agenda over to its highest donors, granting large corporations like BP and Goldman Sachs "all the deniability they need." But now, even big-name companies like Apple, General Electric, and Nike, are turning their backs on the chamber over its anti-environment views.

The chamber is also contending with allegations that it used over $18 million from the AIG-affiliated Starr Foundation for political advocacy instead of the charitable uses for which it was intended. And speaking of political advocacy, the chamber spent $32 million on misleading political ads on behalf of Republican candidates in last year's elections. Many of these ads also drove off local members.

On Monday, the Agenda Project, a a New York‐based public policy center, put out a video slamming Obama for the meeting (it's embedded below). "Two weeks ago [in his State of the Union speech] the President promised that he would work to rebuild people's faith in government—meeting with the biggest lobbyists in the country is hardly a step in the right direction," said Agenda Project Founder Erica Payne. "The President is well aware that the Chamber is in actuality just a high priced lobbyist for a small number of corporations. I hardly think the President will restore our faith in government by fawning over the banks at the center of the financial crisis, oil companies like BP who destroyed the Gulf and insurance companies who secretly funneled $10 million through the Chamber to fight insurance reform," Payne said.

What's the Chamber to do? Unyoking itself from big business runs the risk of alienating the big corporate contributors that bankroll its activities. It's the moment of truth for the lobby: does it recommit itself to the mission of its local chapters, or continue down the road of self-imposed marginalization by continuing to do the bidding of the most notorious members of corporate America?

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 7, 2011

Mon Feb. 7, 2011 6:30 AM EST

U.S. Army soldiers in four-wheel vehicles wait as bundles of fuel are air delivered by a C-17 Globemaster III to Forward Operating Base Waza K'wah in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Jan. 30, 2011. The soldiers are assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team. Courtesy photo

The Iowa Gay Marriage Video: What the Blogs Missed

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 11:09 PM EST

Gay marriage in Iowa made national headlines again this week, after the state's House of Representatives voted 62-37 in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it. The vote angered the marriage equality movement, but from it a star was born: Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student and son of a lesbian couple, spoke at the capitol building the day before and his speech has since gone viral.

But many of the blogs that reposted the video of Wahls have neglected the broader context of his speech. Here's a look at what the house's vote means for Iowa and the rest of the nation.

Corn on "Hardball": How Important Are Jobs For Obama's Reelection

Fri Feb. 4, 2011 8:29 PM EST

David Corn and Todd Harris joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the recent drop in the unemployment rate and how it plays for Obama's reelection chances.

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

The Week in Sharia: How the West Was Lost

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 8:00 PM EST

Image: Wikimedia CommonsImage: Wikimedia CommonsAnd what a week it was:

  • Arkansas has fallen. A bill introduced late last month by state senator Cecile Bledsoe to ban the use of foreign or religious law has apparently stalled in the legislature. Bledsoe told Arkansas News that her bill isn't meant to target Islamic law, but rather all foreign law. This is a pretty standard defense and sounds very innocuous, so it's worth explaining why it's false: Bledsoe didn't write the bill from scratch; as Little Rock's KUAR reported, she had help from a group called the American Public Policy Alliance, an organization with a stated mission to "protect American citizens' constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law." (Here's Bledsoe's bill, and for comparison, here's the APPA's sample legislation).

    As Oklahoma's famous case demonstrates, you can't just explicitly single out a particular kind of religious law, and so the Public Policy Alliance doesn't. But the only threat they talk about on their website is Islamic law. Meanwhile, David Yerushalmi, the New York City attorney who APPA hired to draft the sample language, is the head of an organization that proposes to ban Muslims from entering the United States, deport all Muslim non-citizens, and make it a felony to promote Islam. In other words, this is absolutely about Sharia. Just so we're clear. (Neither Bledsoe nor the APPA has responded to multiple requests for comment).

  • On that note, South Dakota legislators are weighing their own similarly vague constitutional amendment to ban judges from considering "the law of any foreign nation, or any foreign religious or moral code." Because this is South Dakota, two of the bill's five sponsors also co-sponsored legislation this week to make gun ownership mandatory for every adult.
  • A 63-year-old Vietnam vet was arrested last weekend after threatening to blow up a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan. Roger Stockham, 63, has been charged with threatening to commit an act of terrorism, and possessing contraband fireworks. That's where they get you.
  • The Onion reports that terrorists are now deploying "patriotic, peaceful, decoy Muslims" to throw us off their scent—which, come to think of it, is pretty what Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney has been saying all along.
  • And finally, Glenn Beck examined the evidence and reported what the media simply refuses to acknowledge: Bill Ayers and the Muslim Brotherhood are in league. Not to nitpick, but how can the Mediterranean simultaneously be "on fire" and in the middle of a "snowball." Shouldn't the latter metaphor extinguish the former? Or has the Muslim Brotherhood rediscovered the lost secret formula for Greek fire?

 

Black Children Are Not Hawaiian Monk Seals!

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 8:00 PM EST

Oh, when will the race-baiting end? Back in October, I wrote about conspiracy theorists who believe that legalized abortion is a genocidal scheme to wipe out black people. "Black Children Are An Endangered Species," proclaimed billboards in Georgia (and now Los Angeles!). Even Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum recently joined the chorus by saying Obama should oppose abortion because he’s black.

On Wednesday, Arizona state representative Steve Montenegro took the theory further. Right Wing Watch reports that the GOP congressman, who supported Arizona's ban on ethnic (read: Mexican American) studies, is now sponsoring two bills that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion based on the race or gender of the fetus. The bills would require women to sign documents saying they’re not terminating due to race or gender, and would allow a prospective father, if married to the woman who gets an abortion, to sue the doctor on behalf of the fetus. If the mother isn’t 18 yet, the maternal grandparents could sue. (Similar bills have been attempted in Georgia, Mississippi, Idaho, and Oklahoma.)

Preventing race- and gender-based abortion seems like a no-brainer, right? But how real a problem is it?

There hasn't been much research on this. In one 2008 study, researchers at Columbia University using 2000 US Census data found that second and third births in Chinese, Korean and Indian families living in the US were skewed toward boys. If the first child was a girl, the researchers reported, the second child was more likely to be a boy. If the couple had two girls, the third child was even more likely to be a boy. In white families, the researchers found only a small variance from the expected gender ratios.

The Columbia study stops short of attributing these variations to abortion. Couples doing IVF, for instance, can select the sex of an embryo prior to implanting it. In any case, the number of Asian girls born in the US is on the rise, and Asian American women make up a relatively small proportion (less than 9 percent) of women having abortions in the US. What's more, the Arizona Capitol Times points out that 92 percent of abortions in Arizona occurred before 13 weeks of pregnancy, whereas women can't generally learn the gender of a fetus until week 17.

Not that Montenegro would care. His agenda seems to be more in line with anti-choice rhetoric than any real concern about Asian fetuses. He told Capitol Media Services, for instance, that he had information "that there are targeted communities that the abortion industry targets," and that more females are aborted than males. 

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Anti-Abortion Group to Host Event Near Site of Tiller's Murder

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 5:17 PM EST

An anti-abortion rights group leading the effort to prevent Dr. Mila Means from offering abortion services at her Wichita office are planning an event at a public school tonight—right across the street from where Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in his church in May 2009.

Anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder murdered Tiller while Tiller was serving as an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church, an assassination that came after years of escalating protests aimed at the doctor. Tiller was the last doctor in town performing abortions, but Dr. Mila Means has been training so she can begin offering abortion services at her practice. A judge, however, has blocked her from proceeding at the behest of the landlord that owns Means' office building. The landlord argues that protestors and demonstrators will create a "nuisance" at the office complex—and this will violate Means' lease. Anti-choice groups have pledged to hold daily protests at Means' office, if she begins offering abortions there.

On Friday night, one of these outfits, Kansans for Life, is hosting a prayer meeting at the Coleman Middle School as part of its campaign against Means. An email sent to supporters this week under the subject line "WARNING" exclaims that Means is attempting to open a new "killing center" and calls on residents to stop it. From the email:

So, when grave evil threatens our community, what should we do? Pray! We NEED God’s protection and guidance. Without it, our city will be plagued by those preying on women and killing children, once again.

That the event is being held in a public school so near the site of Tiller's murder has inflamed some in a community still scarred by the event. Kari Ann Rinker, the state coordinator for the National Organization of Women and the parent of a 6th-grader at the school, argues that the school district should have given the request to use the space from Kansans for Life more consideration before approving it—and allowed the community to weigh in.

Susan Arensman, a spokesperson for the school, says the school facilities are available for community members to rent, and the group went through the usual steps to reserve the space for the evening. "They filed out all the paper work, went through the proper procedures," Arensman notes.

But Rinker maintains that the school should have turned down the request to rent the space, given the nature of the event and its proximity to the church where Tiller was slain. "This community is in denial, embracing those that should not be embraced," says Rinker.

Corn on The Last Word: The Right on Egypt

Fri Feb. 4, 2011 12:27 PM EST

David Corn and Media Matters' David Brock were on The Last Word last night, trying to make some sense of the right's conspiracy theories about the unrest in Egypt:

Clarence Thomas' Wife Cashes In as Tea Party Lobbyist

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 11:42 AM EST

Like former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and California political strategist Sal Russo, Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is cashing in on her tea party cred. Ginni Thomas, as she's known, has started an outfit called Liberty Consulting, Politico reports, devoted to political strategizing (which in Washington can mean just about anything) and also tea party-tinged lobbying that, according to her website, draws on Thomas' "experience and connections" on the Hill. "Ginni plans to leverage her 30 years of experience as a Washington 'insider,'" reads her website, "to assist non-establishment 'outsiders' who share her belief in our core founding principles and values."

In a recent email she sent to chiefs of staff on the Hill, Thomas branded herself a "self-appointed ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement." Her new shop is just getting started, but already Thomas says she's met with almost half of the 99 freshman Republicans on Capitol Hill. That lobbying, combined with Thomas' previous role as a tea party activist dedicated to defeating Democrats in the 2010 midterms, has irked good government groups who claim she's politicizing the Supreme Court. "It raises additional questions about whether Justice Thomas can be unbiased and appear to be unbiased" in cases where his wife's political advocacy has had an impact, like the challenge to the health care reform law or limits on corporate campaign spending, a lawyer for the group Common Cause told Politico.

Then again, Thomas doesn't look to have made that big a splash in Congress:

Even among congressional Republicans, with whom Thomas boasts she has close ties, the reaction to the entreaties from her new firm, Liberty Consulting, ranged from puzzlement to annoyance, with a senior House Republican aide who provided Thomas's e-mail to POLITICO blasting her for trying to "cash in" on her ties to the tea party movement.

Freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.)—who courted tea party activists and who was endorsed by Liberty Central, the tea party nonprofit group she headed until December—was unaware of Thomas’s new effort.

"This is the spouse of Justice Thomas?" he said, when asked by POLITICO on Tuesday about her outreach. "No, I've never met her. It's not something I've heard about. And I hang out with a lot of freshman," he said.

David Stockman and the New Conservative "Religion"

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 10:00 AM EST

Photo Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryPhoto Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryWhen conservative politicians want to take a rain check on criticizing a member of their own party, they like to invoke Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thall shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

This is, of course, frequently ignored. But it's not the only commandment that's subject to selective enforcement—that whole bit about "false idols," for instance. For the better part of three decades, conservative policy-makers have revered a president who never really existed: a tax-cutting, deficit-fighting, savior who starved the beast of big government. Today's budget hawks alternatively cite Reagan as evidence that deficits don't matter, and then again as evidence that they do.

But don't take it from me; take it from the architect of the Reagan tax cuts himself: former budget director David Stockman (top, left). "[T]he simplistic and reckless idea that the way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes anytime, anywhere, for any reason, became embedded [in the GOP]," Stockman told MoJo's David Corn. "It has become a religion, it has become a catechism. It's become a mindless incantation."

So where did Republicans go wrong—and how can they make things right? Stockman's prescription for fixing the economy might come as a bit of a shock, not the least of all to Congressional Republicans. Check out David's interview with Stockman from our March/April issue.

And while you're at it, here's a bonus long-read for your lunch break: Bill Greider's 1981 portrait of the budget director as a young man, in The Atlantic. I was going to describe it as a "fascinating look at the work of a budget director," and realized that makes it sound incredibly boring, which it's not; really, what's remarkable is Stockman's candor even then. As he told Greider, "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers."