Mojo - March 2011

Corn on "Hardball": Huckabee's Birther Lies

Wed Mar. 2, 2011 7:00 PM EST

David Corn and Joan Walsh joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Mike Huckabee's recent boneheaded birther remarks and the racist undercurrent to the birther movement.

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

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Are GOPers Playing Politics With Military Gear?

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 6:31 PM EST

[UPDATE: Today, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank follows up on this story and updates my numbers: Turns out Rep. Bill Young hasn't gotten $26,350 in contributions from the builders of the Humvee. He's gotten $80,000.]

You probably don't know C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. But the folks who make Humvees sure do: Since 2003, AM General has given Young at least $26,350 through its political action committee and 11 of its top executives. Their CFO and his wife have poured more than 10 grand into Young's reelection coffers. Last year, the automaker's PAC also gave $5,000 to Young's GOP colleague on the panel, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.

Why's that interesting? From today's Defense News:

Members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee have refused to allow the Pentagon to shift $1.2 billion because the U.S. Army wants to stop buying Humvees...the Army planned to stop buying Humvees in 2011, but the lack of an appropriations bill means there are hundreds of millions of dollars still slated to buy them.

The biggest single chunk of reprogrammed funds - $864 million - would be moved from Humvee purchases and used to buy gear to protect forward operating bases...The gear would fill a request from Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for fixed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told House appropriators during a March 2 hearing.

It makes sense that the Army is ready to do away with Humvees: They're about as safe, efficient, and useful in the war zone as a civilian Hummer is on the streets of Lower Manhattan. IEDs do nasty things to Humvees, and so they've been passed by for other, heavier vehicles in the field. And since the majority of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan are vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks on their bases, the military would like to take its Humvee money and beef up base defenses.

Perfectly understandable! So why the holdup? Ask Rep. Young. He "said the panel is worried about the cost that would be incurred should the Army decide to restart the Humvee program down the road," Defense News reported. So, a GOP congressman won't kill an obsolete defense program to free up money for immediate lifesaving gear, because there's a chance that obsolete program might make a comeback. (Maybe we should start stockpiling slings and arrows, too. You know, just in case.) That's one explanation. Another is that Young and other Republicans on the subcommittee want to do right by the Humvee's manufacturer, AM General. Either way, Defense Secretary Bob Gates is not pleased:

Gates said the House Appropriations defense subcommittee is the lone holdout among the four defense oversight committees that must approve reprogramming.

"[O]ur troops need this force protection equipment and they need it now," the secretary said. "Every day that goes by is one more day they will do without. Every day that goes by without this equipment, the lives of our troops are at greater risk."

The Pentagon wants to get this equipment on contract immediately so the systems can be delivered to Afghanistan before fighting intensifies in the spring.

"We should not put American lives at risk to protect specific programs or contractors," Gates said.

We should always be skeptical when the US military establishment inserts itself into the US political process. But in this case, a little military assertiveness isn't necessarily a bad thing. Republicans enjoy a reputation for hawkishness, and as a result they often have fewer qualms about messing with military budgets than Democrats, who fear appearing "weak on defense." Last year, for instance, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) held White House nominations hostage to steer an Air Force tanker contract to a foreign plane maker with a plant in his district. Last month, the Air Force struck back. And it appears that the DOD will again assert itself against Young's GOP-led panel. Whether that will be any consolation to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan remains to be seen.

Why is Huckabee Talking to Bryan Fischer?

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 4:43 PM EST

Yesterday, we flagged an interview in which possible GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee alleged that President Obama developed an anti-colonialist worldview because he was raised by his father and grandfather in Kenya. Huckabee later clarified that he misspoke—he meant to say that Obama was raised by his father and grandfather in Indonesia. Which is also incorrect. Today he doubled down in an interview with the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, explaining that while his words have been distorted, he really does believe that the Mau Mau Revolution has deeply influenced Obama's thinking.

Adam Serwer says Huckabee threw conservatives under the bus, but maybe the larger concern isn't what Huckabee said but who he said it to. Why is Mike Huckabee appearing on Bryan Fischer's radio show? Let's review the record: Fischer has previously argued that gay sex is "domestic terrorism," that Native American societies were a "slop bucket" that deserved to be wiped out by Christians, that the President is a "fascist dictator," that Muslims should be banned from serving in the military, that gays literally caused the holocaust, and that grizzly bears should be slaughted to appease an angry God.

There's no evidence that Huckabee agrees with any of that, but Fischer's radical views aren't exactly unknown—and it's not the first time Huckabee's been on the show. We've contacted Huckabee's PAC for a response; we'll let you know if we hear back.

Colbert: "Why Not Make it Official? Let the Rich Start Their Own Country."

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 2:30 PM EST

Our new issue's cover package on the new plutocracy has gotten a record response—more than two million people have looked at the income inequality charts that accompanied Kevin Drum's piece. Among them, it turns out, was Stephen Colbert, who built a segment around the package in Tuesday's show and offered a simple, brilliant solution. Over to you, Stephen.

Missouri Jumps on the Anti-Sharia Bandwagon

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 1:28 PM EST

Courtesy of Rep. Paul CurtmanCourtesy of Rep. Paul CurtmanTime to update the map. On Tuesday, Missouri became the 16th state (by our count) to consider a ban on the enforcement of Islamic Sharia law in state courts. The proposed law is nearly identical to the sample legislation drafted by David Yerushalmi, the Arizona-based attorney whose racist views and militant attitude toward Muslims I reported on yesterday. Via PoliticMo, here's the bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Paul Curtman:

"I don't have the specifics with me right now but if you go to—the web address kind of escapes my mind right now. Any Google search on international law used in the state courts in the U.S. is going to turn up some cases for you."

Later Tuesday afternoon, Tilley sent out a statement citing a single case in New Jersey. There, a Muslim man apparently sexually assaulted his wife. The judge did not cite Sharia law, instead citing first amendment religious concerns in his ruling, which was overturned by a higher court.

Who brings supporting evidence to a press conference, anyway? It's worth emphasizing that the New Jersey case, which is cited over and over and over as evidence of creeping Sharia in the United States, not only ignored existing state law, but also totally misinterpreted Islamic law. As Sharia expert Abed Awad told Justin Elliott, " Islamic law...prohibits spousal abuse, including nonconsensual sexual relations."

British Court to Anti-Gay Couple: No Foster Kids

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 12:30 PM EST

Recently, a British royal court denied foster care rights to a married couple because they disapprove of homosexuality. Owen and Eunice Johns, who are Pentecostal Christians, fostered children in the 1990s without trouble. But things changed after the passage of a sexual orientation non-discrimination provision in Great Britian's Equality Act 2006: When the Johns applied in 2007, a social worker barred them because they wanted the right to teach kids that a gay lifestyle is immoral. So, they filed a legal challenge based on religious discrimination.

The Equality Act extension also prevented Christian adoption agencies from turning away gay couples in the United Kingdom, which allows civil unions but not same-sex marriage. Pope Benedict urged British Catholics last year to resist the legislation with "missionary zeal" to defend religious freedom, but nearly all of the UK's Catholic adoption agencies chose to close their doors or break ties with the church to comply with the change in law. In the eyes of the church, Monday's ruling is a fresh attack on its beliefs.

But if a similar law existed in the US, it may have helped protect gay foster kids like Kenneth Jones. Passed around in a system that condones foster parents' anti-gay views, Jones routinely endured harassment at home because of his sexual orientation. (And when it comes to gay people adopting and providing foster care, American law is in a state of flux: Mississippi and Utah prevent same-sex couples from adopting, whereas state circuit courts in Arkansas and Florida recently declared similar bans unconstitutional.)

For now, religious conservatives in the US are still delaying same-sex marriage rights by claiming that gays are inadequate parents. Needless to say, those claims aren't backed up by any significant science. But that probably won't stop likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum from arguing against gay marriage and adoption, nor Newt Gingrich from pointing to the British court's ruling as further evidence that "gay and secular fascism" is on the march.

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Sen. Barrosso's Climate Plan: Don't Prevent, Don't Adapt

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 12:10 PM EST

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) is continuing his quest to expunge climate change from all aspects of federal rule-making and planning—including the work federal agencies are undertaking to prepare for climatic shifts. As Energy & Environment Daily reported Tuesday, Barrasso sent a seven-page letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley asking for a detailed analysis of proposals for climate adaptation.

His letter targets the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, an interagency effort that the Obama administration created to make recommendations about how to prepare for climate change. The task force released its list of suggested actions last October. Barrasso's letter accused the administration of using the task force's report to "implement job killing cap and trade policies through backdoor rules and regulations."

But as E&E points out:

The report, which was released on Oct. 5, 2010, does not deal with greenhouse gas mitigation either through cap and trade or by any other means. Instead, it recommends that federal agencies consider future climate change in their decisionmaking on everything from managing the nation's highways to providing aid to developing nations. It calls on agencies to develop adaptation plans and share information with states, tribes and local governments.

Barrasso argues in the letter that these efforts would "kill jobs, weaken our energy security and decrease economic growth." Barrasso is also the sponsor of a bill that would block the EPA from enforcing any existing federal laws to deal with climate change—by far the most expansive of a slew of bills designed to handicap the agency.

The combination of this most recent letter and the EPA bill make it clear that Barrasso's plan is block efforts to slow climate change as well as efforts to prepare for it. That sure sounds like a good security and economic plan.

PA Gov. Axes Health Care for Poor, Lets Big Business Off Easy

| Wed Mar. 2, 2011 11:39 AM EST

Republicans in Washington have begun hatching plans to undermine Medicaid, as I reported today. And on the state level, legislators squeezed by budget crunches are already taking a hatchet to health care for the poor. In Pennsylvania, newly elected GOP Gov. Tom Corbett has shut down a state-subsidized program providing health care for more than 41,000 working poor "in one of the largest disenrollments in recent memory," according to The New York Times. Though the economic downturn has created skyrocketing demand for the health-care program, adultBasic, Corbett took an axe to the program, The New York Times explains:

Mr. Corbett, a Republican elected in November, has said the program he inherited is not sustainable with Pennsylvania facing a $4 billion budget shortfall… Former Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, started Pennsylvania’s adultBasic program in 2001 to cover those who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance…

The program’s revenue streams have never met more than a fraction of its demand, which has soared in the economic downturn. When the program closed, 505,000 people were on its waiting list, nearly seven times as many as in early 2007.

Other governors have made similar cuts to benefits and coverage for the poor in both red and blue states, with Arizona's Jan Brewer and Washington's Christine Gregoire throwing thousands off the rolls. Corbett is also taking aim at local school districts, who are expected to face state budget cuts of 20 percent.

But though Corbett has taken the hatchet to social services for children and the poor, he's unwilling to make big business pay the same price. To help ease the brunt of drastic budget cuts on needy residents, Democratic legislators in Pennsylvania have proposed a tax on natural gas companies that would yield an estimated $245 million in revenue in its first year. Corbett, however, has flat-out rejected the natural gas tax, having campaigned on a vow not to increase taxes. So when Corbett releases his budget next week, others will have to feel the pain. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 2, 2011

Wed Mar. 2, 2011 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Streeter of Newton Iowa, and Soldier with Troop B, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Redhorse, scans a nearby hilltop during a search of the Qual-e Jala village, here Feb. 21. Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ashlee Lolkus, Task Force Red Bulls Public Affairs

Wisconsin Democrats Demand Probe of Gov. Walker

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 3:17 PM EST
Flickr/WisPolitics.com

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin will file a formal ethics complaint this week against Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker based on comments he made in a conversation with a prankster posing as right-wing billionaire David Koch, a party spokesman tells Mother Jones.

The spokesman, Graeme Zielinski, says party officials will request a probe into statements Walker made to the fake Koch, who was really gonzo journalist and Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy, concerning support for Wisconsin Republican lawmakers believed to be vulnerable due to their support of Walker's bill. Here's the part of Walker's call Democrats are zeroing in on:

Walker: "After this in some of the coming days and weeks ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are going to need, they don’t need initially ads for them, but they’re going to need a message out. Reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy, a good thing to do for the state. So to the extent that message is out over and over again is certainly a good thing."

Ian Murphy (posing as Koch): "Right, right. We'll back you any way we can."

The Wisconsin Democratic Party isn't the first group to cry foul over these remarks. Last week, a left-leaning campaign watchdog group, the Public Campaign Action Fund, said it was looking into whether Walker violated ethics or campaign finance laws in Wisconsin. "In a call with who he thought to be billionaire political donor David Koch, Gov. Walker may have broken campaign finance and ethics laws," David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund, said in a statement. "If he did, he should resign."

When the recording of Murphy's 20-minute prank call with Walker came out last Wednesday, it immediately went viral—news networks and Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" played clips—and breathed new life into the pro-labor protests in Madison. Walker told the prankster that "we thought about that" when Murphy mentioned planting "troublemakers" in the crowd, and also bragged that he had a baseball bat in his office—a "slugger"—with his name on it. A spokesman for the governor confirmed the authenticity of the tape, saying Walker's conversation with Murphy "shows that the Governor says the same thing in private as he does in public."

As it happens, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed organization, began running ads last week in Wisconsin in support of Walker's budget bill. The ad says, "Governor Walker has the courage to do what's right for Wisconsin. Stand With Walker." Here's the ad:

The ad is part of Americans for Prosperity's "Stand with Walker" campaign, which includes a petition drive in support of Walker's bill and an AFP "fact sheet" on the issue.

As I reported a few weeks ago, Walker has himself directly benefited from the Koch brothers' largesse. In 2010, Koch Industries' political action committee donated $43,000 to Walker's gubernatorial campaign, making the PAC one of the future governor's top donors.

Zielinski, with the state Democratic Party, says more details about the party's complaint will come out later this week.