Mojo - March 2011

The GOP's Pathetic Attack on Elizabeth Warren

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 3:12 PM PDT

Republicans in Congress love to attack Elizabeth Warren, the White House aide overseeing the start-up of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). At a March 16 hearing, House GOPers used Warren as a "punching bag," as one columnist put it, questioning her authority as the CFPB's for-the-time-being leader and predicting the bureau's imminent demise. None of those criticisms, however, compares to the pathetic accusation leveled by Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in a letter (PDF) sent to Warren on Wednesday.

Bachus and Moore Capito accuse Warren of misleading Congress about the CFPB's role in the negotiations over a proposed settlement for the mortgage servicing industry. The settlement—which has been savaged by Republicans, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, and other conservatives—will likely demand that servicers fix their dysfunctional operations so that homeowners aren't ripped off and improperly foreclosed on, an all-too-common occurrence. Warren told Congress that the CFPB offered advice on what the settlement should contain. But in their letter, Bachus and Moore Capito say Warren's agency "did more than provide advice: it recommended the goals and provided a detailed framework for the structure of the settlement." It's a clear insinuation: you lied to us.

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This Week in Zany Florida Republicans

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 1:32 PM PDT

Not to pick on the Sunshine State, where I was reared and the 2000 election was sorta decided, but it's always been the crazy-news nexus of the universe...and that was before last year's elections, which handed legislative supermajorities and every state cabinet office over to the GOP—including the governorship, to tea party-friendly (and common-sense-challenged) Gov. Rick Scott. In recent weeks, we've detailed the hilarity that ensues when tea partiers decide to dismantle the protections of government that had been assembled by Democrats and Republicans alike in this, the fourth-largest state in the union. Included in the fun:

But wait! There's more! Here's a roundup of the latest Tallahassee terror from just the past three days. If we have time, this will probably become a regular feature. There should be no shortage of down-South silliness, at least until the 2012 elections.

Kansas, Idaho Advance "Pain-Capable" Fetus Bills

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 1:13 PM PDT

Kansas and Idaho are the latest states to take up bills that would reduce the window of time in which women can obtain an abortion. Last month, we reported that Minnesota lawmakers had introduced a bill that would limit abortions to 20 weeks after conception, based on the (not-scientifically-sound) claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point. That bill was approved in committee, the Minnesota Independent reports, and is expected to advance.

This week, the Kansas legislature passed a similar bill that would ban abortion at 22 weeks, on the same premise that the fetus can feel pain at that point. The law creates an exemption if the abortion is needed to save the life of the mother or if there will be "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman"—but explicitly states that the mental or emotional health of the woman doesn't count. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Sam Brownback, a staunch anti-abortion Republican. As the Kansas City Star reports, the state legislature there has repeatedly passed bills that would have made obtaining an abortion in the state much more difficult, but the previous Democratic governor vetoed them. Kansas lawmakers also approved a bill that will require teenagers seeking an abortion to get written consent from both parents before they can do so, as Robin Marty reports at RH Reality Check.

Idaho lawmakers also advanced a bill on Wednesday that sets the "fetal pain" ban at 20 weeks. It was passed out of committee in the state House and will now go to a full vote; it already passed the state Senate. The bills are all similar to one passed in Nebraska last year.

Supreme Court Rules Against Exonerated Death Row Prisoner Who Sued Prosecutors

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 12:33 PM PDT

Last October, Mother Jones published a long piece about the case of John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated--based on evidence that had been purposefully withheld by prosecutors in the office of New Orleans DA Harry Connick Sr.  A Louisiana jury found the DA's office culpable for Thompson's ordeal (which included coming within weeks of execution before the exculpatory evidence was revealed), and awarded him $14 million in compensatory damages.

The state appealed the jury's verdict all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which yesterday ruled against Thompson and stripped him of his award. As reported by the Washington Post:

Conservative justices prevailed in the 5 to 4 ruling, which shielded the district attorney’s office from liability for not turning over evidence that showed John Thompson’s innocence.

Justice Clarence Thomas said Thompson could not show a pattern of “deliberate indifference” on the part of former district attorney Harry Connick Sr. in training his staff to turn over evidence to the defense team.

It was the first decision of the court term that split the justices into ideological camps, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disagreement by reading a summary of her dissent from the bench.

“I would uphold the jury’s verdict awarding damages to Thompson for the gross, deliberately indifferent and long-continuing violation of his fair trial right,” she said, adding that she was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

She said the actions of prosecutors under the control of Connick, who left office in 2003 and is the father of the famous singer of the same name, “dishonored” the obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the accused established in Brady v. Maryland nearly 50 years ago.

Ginsburg also wrote that "Connick’s deliberately indifferent attitude created a tinderbox in which Brady violations were nigh inevitable.” As we wrote in October, many other convictions secured by the office have also been overturned, all due to suppression of evidence. “They all try to portray it as rogue prosecutor; a fluke,”  said New Orleans Defense Attorney Nick Trenticosta, but “Harry Connick used to give awards to prosecutors for successfully convicting people.”

Connick, Trenticosta said, created a culture where convictions were won “at any cost.” The office's zeal for sending people to death row was such that a New Orleans prosecutor kept on his desk a model electric chair holding photos of five condemned men--John Thompson among them. Trenticosta has called the prosectors’ actions “calculated measures to take people’s lives away.” 

Who Paid for This Documentary Calling Public Schools Evil? (Video)

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 10:58 AM PDT

Evolution? Prayer in schools? Drops in the bucket, according to the new 90-minute "documentary" flick, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America. (Check out the trailer below!) The film takes viewers on a trip across the US in a big ol' yellow school bus to learn about the state of education, as presented by producer Colin Gunn, who won an award at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival for something titled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. What Gunn and his family find in IndoctriNation, according to the movie's website, "is a masterful design that sought to replace God's recipe for training up the next generation with a humanistic, man-centered program that fragmented the family and undermined the influence of the Church and its Great Commission."

Tea Party Express Jumps Into Wisconsin Judicial Race

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 8:49 AM PDT

In recent years, judicial elections have been among some of the nastiest in the country. But next week's election for a seat on the Wisconsin state supreme court might go down in history as one of the worst. The election comes smack in the middle of Wisconsin's epic fight between the GOP-controlled legislature and governor's office and the state's public employee unions. The political warfare that wracked the state capital for weeks over Gov. Scott Walker's bill to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights has moved to the courts, where opponents of the law have filed a host of lawsuits to prevent its implementation. The fate of Walker's bill will eventually be decided by a slim margin on the state's highest court, making the stakes in the race extremely high. As a result, out-of-state interest groups have been pouring money into the judicial campaign. This week, the Tea Party Express upped the ante by pledging to raise tens of thousands of dollars to re-elect Justice David Prosser, an incumbent judge who liberals have said will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for Walker.

Tea Party Express is the California-based political action committee created by a group of GOP political consultants, which helped elect Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). It also backed Alaska's Joe Miller in his surprise upset of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary last year, demonstrating the PAC's political savvy and fundraising prowess. Tea Party Express is the largest and most active PAC associated with the tea party movement. On Tuesday it was sending out appeals to supporters seeking to raise $15,000 in 18 hours to launch a new wave of TV ads in Wisconsin. Sal Russo, the PAC's founder, wrote in an email that because the group has created a state PAC for this particular campaign, "there are NO contribution limits, and corporate contributions ARE accepted."

Both candidates in the race have taken public money for the election so are not eligible to accept private contributions. That's why the campaign is being waged almost entirely by third partys like Tea Party Express, which will be able to have an outsized impact on the race. Tea Party Express, of course, isn't the only outside group getting involved in the judicial campaign. The Club for Growth has pledged $300,000 to supoprt Prosser, and liberal and union activists have created their own outside spending operation, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, that has said it will spend $3 million to defeat Prosser. Prosser, a Republican who makes up part of a 4-3 conservative majority on the court, served in the state assembly with Walker and voted with him 95 percent of the time, according to liberal activists working to unseat him. Liberal activists have run ads against him that say "Prosser is Walker," turning the race into a referendum on the GOP agenda.

Unions and liberals are backing state Justice Department attorney JoAnne Kloppenburg. Tea Party Express' new ads suggest that Kloppenburg is a four-time loser, having failed to land other judicial plum spots she's aspired to. But the campaign is likely to get even nastier in the last few days. The liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee has already aired ads indicating that 30 years ago Prosser, then a district attorney, failed to prosecute an alleged pedophile priest who went on to molest many more kids. As the campaign comes down to the wire and more outside corporate money pours in, the attacks are only likely to escalate. Whether Tea Party Express can work its magic to save Prosser from the extremely angry and motivated union voters remains to be seen.

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Best Lawmaker Voicemail Ever

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 7:43 AM PDT

I have a story up today on the new push by conservative lawmakers to challenge the Federal Reserve by promoting the use of gold and silver currency at the state level. So far, Utah is the lone state to pass such legislation (as of last week, gold and silver coins are now legal tender in the Beehive State), but more than a dozen states have considered "hard money" proposals since the start of 2009.

Georgia Republican Rep. Bobby Franklin, who sponsored a bill that's currently before his state legislature mandating the use of gold and silver for paying state taxes, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for the article. That might be because, as his secretary told me, "he's a little media-shy." Or it might be because of a story my colleague Jen Phillips wrote two weeks ago, about a bill Franklin sponsored that would potentially proscribe prescribe the death penalty for women who have miscarriages. Or maybe the two are related.

But I've buried the lede. This is what you get when you call his home phone number:

This is State Represenative Bobby Franklin. Thank you for calling to give me encouragement about my sponsorship of House Bill 1, recognizing that pre-natal murder is murder. I'm not able to take that encouragement right now, so at the tone please leave your name, number, and a message.

Emphasis mine. For the record, we weren't calling to offer encouragement.

Ex-Bachmann Chief of Staff, Campaign Manager Back Tim Pawlenty

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 7:31 AM PDT
Flickr/theqspeaks

With Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) likely to announce her presidential candidacy this spring for the 2012 presidential campaign, the great state of Minnesota will have two politicos, Bachmann and former governor Tim Pawlenty, angling for the White House. As Congress' tea party leader, Bachmann has an impressive, especially in hard-line conservative circles, which could give Pawlenty nightmares in the GOP primaries. But in a surprise move, a trio of ex-Bachmann staffers have come out in support of Pawlenty, including her former chief of staff and an ex-campaign manager.

As the Minnesota Independent reported, Gina Countryman, Bachmann's former congressional campaign manager, has come out strongly in favor in Pawlenty, using her Twitter feed to drum up support for "T-Paw 2012." Pawlenty recently announced he was creating a presidential exploratory committee, the first official step toward launching a full-fledged presidential bid.

Then there's Ron Carey, Bachmann's one-time chief of staff, who recently told Fox News he's backing Pawlenty because, well, Bachmann's just not electable. "Electability is a very, very high attribute you have to have this year to win," he said. "I don’t want to have an emotionally filled endeavor only to get 35 percent [of the vote] in November [2012]." And Bachmann's former liaison to constituents, Tim Gould, hosted a fundraiser in 2010 for Pawlenty's political action committee, Freedom First PAC, a strong hint that he's backing T-Paw, too. (Though, to be fair, that fundraiser was before Bachmann hinted she might run in 2012.)

While Bachmann has yet to officially declare her candidacy, a source in the Minnesota congresswoman's camp told CNN last week she plans to create an exploratory committee by "early summer." However, to make sure Bachmann gets a spot in Republican presidential debates, she might enter the race even earlier. The source told CNN, "If you [debate sponsors] come to us and say, 'To be in our debates, you have to have an exploratory committee,' then we'll say, 'Okay, fine...I'll go file the forms.'"

FBI Oversight Hearing: Live Coverage

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 7:29 AM PDT

FBI director Robert Mueller is testifying before the Senate's judiciary committee today as part of what is likely to be the final FBI oversight hearing of his 10-year-term, which expires September 4. I'm covering the action on Twitter.

I'm especially interested to see if anyone asks Mueller about Gulet Mohamed, the Virginia teen who was detained in Kuwait, allegedly at the behest of the US, earlier this year. Mohamed says he was beaten and was asked questions that could only have come from US law enforcement, and that FBI agents interrogated him repeatedly without his lawyer, even after he asked for one. You can follow the action here:

UPDATE: No one asked about Mohamed.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March, 30 2011

Wed Mar. 30, 2011 2:30 AM PDT

Soldiers from Combined Team Zabul, ISAF Regional Command (South), sling-load a container of components for a cell phone tower, Friday, March 25, 2011, at Forward Operating Base Lagman in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Jerry Wilson