Mojo - March 2011

Huckabee: Obama Was Raised in Kenya (Updated)

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 2:46 PM EST

Well, that didn't take long. Just one week after calling the birther conspiracy theory "nonsense," probable GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee raised concerns of his own about the president's upbringing, in an interview with a conservative New York talk show host. In an appearance Monday on the Steve Malzberg show, the Fox News personality and former Arkansas governor appeared to sympathize with his host's questions about President Obama's citizenship, and then floated a theory of his own: Obama was raised in Kenya. Per Media Matters:

"I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American."

But don't worry, he's not a birther:

"The only reason I'm not as confident that there's something about the birth certificate, Steve, is because I know the Clintons [inaudible] and believe me, they have lots of investigators out on him, and I'm convinced if there was anything that they could have found on that, they would have found it, and I promise they would have used it."

Huckabee went on to explain how Obama's Kenyan upbringing imbued him with an anti-British worldview radically different than most Americans. (You know, like the guys who wrote this anti-British screed.) Media Matters has the full audio here.

Just to be clear: Obama was not raised in Kenya. So what exactly does he think the President is hiding? I contacted Huckabee through his PAC for a response; we'll let you know if we hear back.

Huckabee's assertion about Obama's childhood haunts is decidely fringey, but his comments about the President's attitude toward the British  should sound familiar. He's parroting the argument made in Forbes last fall by Dinesh D'Souza: that Obama's decision-making is informed by a distinct "Kenyan, anti-colonialist" worldview. The piece earned praise from one of Huckabee's likely primary challengers, Newt Gingrich, who announced the formation a presidential exploratory committee this week.

Update: Huckabee spokesman Hogan Gidley tells Ben Smith "The governor meant to say the President grew up in Indonesia." But it's worth noting Huckabee did more than just misidentify Obama's childhood residence; he misidentified everything about Obama's childhood. As Huckabee explained: "[Obama's] perspective...growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather." Whether it was Kenya or Indonesia, Obama didn't grow up with his Kenyan father or his Kenyan grandfather. Huckabee's not a birther, but he's either playing fast and loose with the facts or he doesn't really know them.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Barbour on Gingrich: "I'm Crazy About Him"

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 1:19 PM EST

Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich has decided to form a presidential exploratory committee this week, taking his first official step toward running for president. ABC News broke this news on Tuesday morning, following months of speculation about Gingrich's intentions. Though he's toyed with running for president for decades, Gingrich has never actually followed through.

The move will make Gingrich the highest-profile Republican to announce his intention to challenge Obama. But it's unclear how he'll fare in the Republican field, drawing only 12 percent support among Iowa Republicans and 6 percent in New Hampshire, as Talking Points Memo notes. But the Georgia Republican elicited unabashed praise from at least one fellow Southern legislator: Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.). "I'm crazy about him," Barbour told reporters, exiting a congressional hearing on health care on Tuesday. 

Barbour held back, though, from making any prognostications about the Republican primary. When asked about how Gingrich stacked up against the other likely 2012 candidates, the governor replied: "Depends on who runs."

Speculation has also swirled about a potential presidential bid by Barbour himself. But in recent months, Barbour's racially insensitive remarks about civil rights and the Ku Klux Klan seemed to downgrade his chances of a run. That being said, an endorsement from Barbour could be a factor in a candidate's ability to solidify Southern support, so expect Barbour to remain in the spotlight as the Republican contest limps forward.

Hypocrisy Alert: Charles Koch Blasts "Crony Capitalism"

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 1:04 PM EST
A scene from the massive labor protests in Madison, Wisc., on Saturday, February 26. Flickr/eaghra

Charles G. Koch, the right-wing titan of industry, is a very tight-lipped guy, just like his billionaire brother David Koch. But today Charles Koch has gone public with a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Why Koch Industries Is Speaking Out." In it, Koch decries the years of "overspending" that have "brought us face-to-face with an economic crisis." He blames this crisis on both Democrats and Republicans who've "done a poor job managing our finances." Koch explains how he, his family, and his multi-billion-dollar company, Koch Industries, have tried to support politicians like Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker who are "working to solve these problems."

But here's where it gets interesting. Koch goes on to rail against businesses who "have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment" like government subsidies and regulations. For starters, Koch Industries has benefited plenty from government subsidies in the past. As the New York Observer reported, Koch companies have received subsidies from the Venezuelan government as part of a deal to sell Venezuelan-made fertilizer in the US; used US land subsidies for its Matador Cattle Company; and profited from private logging of US forests that wouldn't have been possible if the US Forestry Service hadn't built new roads with taxpayer money to un-logged lands, among other examples. (For much more on the Kochs' use of subsidies, check out this ThinkProgress post.)

And while Charles Koch criticizes "crony capitalism," his company is one of the biggest players in the nation when it comes to lobbying and political donations. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Koch Industries has spent more than $40 million lobbying the federal government in the past three years alone. Koch Industries, company executives, and the company's political action committee have doled out $11 million since 1989 to federal candidates, political parties, and political committees; Charles and David Koch and their wives contributed $2.8 million of that, a mere $1,500 of which went to Democrats, according to the Public Campaign Action Fund (PCAF). Much of that spending has gone toward fighting new regulations of the oil and gas industry, which would hurt Koch Industries' profits. Not surprisingly, then, lawmakers on the influential House energy and commerce committee have pocketed $630,950 in Koch-connected donations.

Koch's concerns about the fiscal health of the US, as voiced in his op-ed, are not unfounded. But his criticism of lobbying and "crony capitalism" flies in the face of his own actions and those of companies, critics say. "Koch Industries is the perfect example of absolutely everything Charles claims to hate about our current political system," David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund, said in a statement. "The hypocrisy is palpable."

Memo to Americans United for Life: Our Questions Still Stand

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 12:26 PM EST

Last Friday, as Nick Baumann and I completed our reporting on the anti-abortion group behind a nationwide push to broaden justifiable homicide laws to cover killings in the defense of fetuses, I contacted the organization, Americans United for Life, to request an interview. Specifically, I asked to speak with Denise Burke, AUL's vice president for legal affairs and the author of the model legislation, the Pregnant Woman’s Protection Act, that the group has pressed state lawmakers to introduce. An AUL spokeswoman told me that Burke was travelling, and asked me to submit my questions in writing. So I did. AUL never responded. Instead, the group waited until after the story was published to blast Mother Jones on its website for "dishonest" and "intentionally distorted" reporting, complaining that the "anti-life media once again got their facts wrong."

As we reported, AUL-inspired legislation has recently sparked controversy in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, with critics claiming that the measures are so expansive that they could potentially invite—if not legalize—the killing of abortion doctors. We write:

That these measures have emerged simultaneously in a handful of states is no coincidence. It's part of a campaign orchestrated by a Washington-based anti-abortion group, which has lobbied state lawmakers to introduce legislation that it calls the "Pregnant Woman's Protection Act" [PDF]. Over the past two years, the group, Americans United for Life, has succeeded in passing versions of this bill in Missouri and Oklahoma. But there's a big difference between those bills and the measures floated recently in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.

While the Oklahoma and Missouri laws specifically cover pregnant women, the latest measures are far more sweeping and would apply to third parties. The bills are so loosely worded, abortion-rights advocates say, that a pregnant woman could seek out an abortion and a boyfriend, husband—or, in some cases, just about anyone—could be justified in using deadly force to stop it.

It's not just anti-abortion groups that think these bills are bad news. Omaha's deputy chief of police recently testified that Nebraska's LB 232 "could be used to incite violence against abortion providers." And a spokesman for South Dakota's Republican governor—a staunch abortion foe—called the version of the bill introduced in that state "a very bad idea."

Gay GOP Presidential Contender Shut Out of First Iowa Debate

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 11:56 AM EST

Former Christian Coalition whiz-kid Ralph Reed's new Faith and Freedom Coalition will be hosting the first major event of the GOP 2012 presidential race next week in Iowa. Pretty much anyone who's expressed even a remote interest in running has been invited to attend: John Thune, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, even pot-promoter and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson have all received invites, even though there's almost no chance any of them will win the GOP nomination, much less make it to the White House. (Thune, in fact, has announced that he isn't running.) Which is why Fred Karger is so miffed.

The first openly gay Republican to make a run for the White House, Karger has already started a presidential exploratory committee, hired staff in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he's been running TV ads, and has been profiled in major media outlets for launching his serious campaign. But none of those things, apparently, was enough to convince conservative Christian activist Steve Scheffler, the organizer of the Iowa event, to invite Karger to the presidential forum. Karger's pretty sure that it's because he's gay. Last week, Karger asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate Scheffler and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition for violating federal election laws.

In his complaint to the FEC, Karger argues that the Iowa forum, if considered a debate, has used arbitrary criteria for deciding on whom could participate, in violation of explicit rules. If the FEC decides that the event—designed in more of a meet and greet format—isn't a debate, then Karger says it still violates the ban on corporate contributions because the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition would be breaching its nonprofit tax status by endorsing some candidates over others (namely Karger). Because the Iowa forum will be held on March 7, Karger has asked the FEC for an expedited ruling.

Karger and Scheffler have some history. Back in May, Scheffler, one of Iowa's two members of the Republican National Committee, sent Karger an email saying:

You don't care about transparency—you and the radical homosexual community want to harass supporters of REAL marriage. I am the Republican National Committeeman for Iowa. As a private citizen and knowing literally thousands of caucus goers, I will work overtime to help ensure that your political aspirations are aborted right here in Iowa. Have you studied our past caucuses—you have NO chance here in Iowa!”

When the Des Moines Register asked Scheffler about his email, he was unapologetic, responding, "I'm going to call a spade a spade." So perhaps it's no surprise that Scheffler declined to invite Karger to participate. Karger has been relentlessly lobbying for weeks for an invite, even petitioning Ralph Reed himself when the two were in Washington attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in January. But Karger's appeals were for naught, which might be all the better for his campaign: Getting shut out of the forum has given him a good reason to hold press conferences and publicize his campaign while highlighting the pettiness of the GOP foot soldiers. He's created a website called www.LetFredIn.com to generate an onslaught of petitions to Scheffler to persuade him to change his mind.

It is possible. Scheffler has also in the past dissed potential presidential candidate and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for his comments suggesting that the GOP ought to declare a truce in the culture wars and that he would support pro-choice Republicans for office. Last year, Scheffler informed Barbour he was "toast" in Iowa should he decide to run in 2012. But Scheffler apparently decided to plug his nose and invite Barbour to the March forum anyway. If he can survive an hour in the same space as Barbour, Scheffler could probably bring himself to shake hands with a gay Republican.

WeGrow's "Joint Venture" Goes Up In Smoke

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 6:00 AM EST

Dhar Mann and Derek Peterson, the "ganjapreneurs" I recently profiled, are breaking up, and boy, it's an ugly divorce. A few months ago, the duo behind weGrow, a high-profile Oakland hydroponics store, was dreaming of venture capital, IPOs, and their own reality TV show. Now they've split amid accusations of unpaid debts and financial shenangians.

"This was a fucking hydroponzi scheme, for a lack of a better term," Peterson told me yesterday, "and it shouldn't be. It's got so many legs. We can make legitimate money here." He accuses Mann of misleading him about weGrow's financials, refusing to reimburse him $50,000, and failing to pay vendors and employees. Last week, Peterson and his wife filed lawsuits against Mann. A spokesman for Mann said that Peterson is trumping up the allegations in retaliation for Mann's recent decision to wind down their partnership. Mann told me that he plans to sue Peterson to recoup weGrow shares and more than $75,000 in unpaid bills.

Founded by Mann early last year, weGrow was the country's first "out of the closet" hydroponics store, unashamed to openly advertise that it sold products for pot growers. Mann, the Lamborghini-driving scion of a well-connected Oakland taxi dynasty, and Peterson, a Morgan Stanley investment banker, brought financial know-how and political clout (and a lot of swagger) to a business plan that would have created the country's first publicly traded, vertically integrated marijuana company.

Now it's all falling apart. The original Oakland weGrow store closed last week, though Mann says it's becoming a distribution center for the store's franchises, the first of which recently opened in Sacramento. Peterson says that he still plans to take his own company, GrowOp, public later this year and may create his own chain of hydroponics stores to compete with weGrow.

Mann and Peterson's flameout seems to have more in common with infighting at a tech startup than the schism between La Familia and Los Zetas. In an effort to capitalize on California's $14 billion-a-year marijuana boom, they may have bitten off more than they could chew. "They are cocky and pushing too hard too fast," as a financial consultant for marijuana companies presciently told me. Ultimately, their meltdown is another interesting case of growing pains for the medical marijuana industry as it moves from the underworld into the slippery embrace of Wall Street. 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 1, 2011

Tue Mar. 1, 2011 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Sgt. Jeffrey Letizia leads his team to the last building to be cleared during an operation intended to uncover improvised explosive device materials and increase the security of the local populace in Paktya province, Feb. 20. Photo by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nicholas Rasmussen, Task Force Lethal