Mojo - March 2011

Is This 95-Year-Old WWII Vet an Anchor Baby? (Video)

| Fri Mar. 25, 2011 2:55 AM EDT

If this won't make a birther's head explode, nothing will.

Meet Leeland Davidson, 95, of Centralia, Washington. He was a cracker-jack sailor for Uncle Sam's Navy in the big one, Double-You Double-You Eye-Eye. He's made his home in the Pacific Northwest forever. He's on Social Security. And he recently looked into getting an "enhanced driver's license" so he could trek over the border to visit a Canadian cousin, who's the same age, according to KOMO-TV and Yahoo.

Davidson didn't get the license. Because he's not a US citizen. And the old man's been told that if he presses the point, he could be deported...to Canada.

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Bachmann's First 2012 Hire: An Iowa Birther

| Fri Mar. 25, 2011 2:01 AM EDT

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has previously said that if she ran for president, the "first thing" she'd do at the first debate would be to present her birth certificate. Not that she would have much of a choice, if the state lawmaker she's expected to hire to manage her operations in Iowa has his way. Bachmann, who has all-but announced she's running, is reportedly planning to bring on Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson—the author of a recent birther bill—as her political director in the presidential bellwether state.

Introduced in early March, Sorenson's bill, SB 368, would require "birth certificates to be filed with affidavits of candidacy for presidential and vice presidential candidates." The legislation, which died in committee, was one of more than a dozen similar pieces of legislation that have been filed since the start of 2009, arising from the conservative conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore not eligible for office. (The President was born in Hawaii and has released a birth certificate, which you can view here). Sorenson has not commented publicly about the legislation and could not be reached for comment.

But that's not the only conspiratorial view Sorenson shares with his would-be boss. He's also sponsored SF 347, a bill that would designate silver and gold as legal tender in the state of Iowa. The bill, which asserts that Iowa's economic downturn has been "caused in large part" by the use of federal reserve notes as currency instead of precious metals, would more or less return the state to a gold and silver standard. Taxes, for instance, would be calculated in silver and gold coins, rather than standard US dollars. In 2009, Bachmann introduced a bill to prohibit the United States from switching to a global currency, which she fears is imminent.

For Bachmannn, who once declared, "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back," it's a good fit. Sorenson is equally combative. As the Iowa Independent notes, Sorenson has previously stated that he was sent to Des Moines by his constituents to "burn this place down. They want me to do battle. And I understand that."

A Word on Libya

| Thu Mar. 24, 2011 4:19 PM EDT
A BGM-109 Tomahawk

The world is exploding. TomDispatch can't cover it all. Still, a comment is in order on our Libyan intervention. As a start, it could be the first intervention that actually escalated before it even began. It went from no-fly-zone to no-fly-no-drive-zone before a US cruise missile was launched or a French jet took off. Within two days, it seemed to be escalating even further into a half-baked, regime-change(ish)-style operation. (As of Wednesday, 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles had already been sent Libya-wards, most of them from American vessels, at more than $1 million a pop.) To make the intervention even stranger, it was initially opposed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, and counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan, as well as many conservatives. Instead, the (not very) liberal warhawks of the administration—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Council senior aide Samatha Powers, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice—were evidently in the lead on this one (along with various neocons in full hue and cry).

Meet the Ex-KKK Grand Dragon Running for Mayor in Fla.

| Thu Mar. 24, 2011 11:42 AM EDT

As a general rule, nothing that happens in Florida should ever come as a surprise; you should just assume, for instance, that Sunshine State Republicans are freaking out about government-run septic tanks, and that, until proven otherwise, somewhere in Sarasota a police officer is declaring himself a sovereign nation. But ok, this isn't exactly ordinary:

70-year-old John Paul Rogers wants to become the next mayor of Lake Wales, but critics say he could have a tough time bringing the town together because he's a former member of Ku Klux Klan.

Rogers, who is currently a commissioner, spoke with 10 News Tuesday afternoon and says, "I'm not running for the Klan for Grand Dragon." That's because Rogers has already had that title.

"Critics say" Rogers' long association with a racist hate group that has a history of violence reflects poorly on his character and suggests that he might be something less than a stellar ambassador for Lake Wales. But Rogers (above left, in gold), a city commissioner and a Democrat, insists that this is all just a big misunderstanding because really, the United Klans of America wasn't just about race—where'd anyone get that idea? Asked at a recent forum if he'd denounce his past views, "Rogers responded that if being against communism, against drugs, and in favor of states' rights was wrong, then he was wrong." (Here's a photo, via the Lakeland Ledger, of Rogers with his drug-fighting action figure).

Rogers, who dismisses the criticism as "muckraking and character assassination," says that he resigned from the Klan decades ago, thereby making his service a non-issue. But Tampa's WTSP says that he was basically forced out, on account of the fact that the Klan had just lost a $7 million civil suit for their role in the murder of a 19-year-old black man in Mobile, Alabama. Then again, that's muckraking so maybe it doesn't count.

Tennessee Scraps Sharia References From Anti-Sharia Bill

| Thu Mar. 24, 2011 10:05 AM EDT

A few weeks back we told you about an extreme new bill proposed in Tennessee that defined Islamic law as prima facie treasonous, and made "material support" for Sharia punishable by 15 years in prison. That's a pretty harsh sentence for a constitutionally protected freedom, to be sure, but that was kind of the point. The bill, drafted by an Arizona-based attorney who'd once called for all Muslim non-citizens to be deported, went beyond warnings about some future invasion of Islamic extremists, and instead took on a core tenet of the religion itself.

In this case, at least, massive public pressure seems to have had an effect. After meeting with Muslim leaders, the bill's co-sponsor, Republican State Sen. Bill Ketron, submitted new language that sort of addresses the problem. From The Tennessean:

The new version removes language that described Shariah—the Islamic legal codes that cover everything from the rules of warfare to prayer and diet—as advocating violence and a threat to the United States and Tennessee constitutions. The change makes clear that peaceful religious practices would not be considered a violation, the bill's sponsors said in a statement.

The Council on American–Islamic Relations had promised to file a lawsuit to block the implementation if the bill became law, but now that the overt religious references have been removed, that becomes a lot less likely. Basically, the bill has been converted into a fairly straightforward law concerning material support for terrorism. Of course, the federal government already has a material support for terrorism law—and a quite expansive one at that—so it's not entirely clear why Tennessee needs its own. Stay tuned next week when the Tennessee state legislature authorizes a no-fly zone over Libya.

GOP Deficit Reduction Plan: Cut Food Stamps

| Thu Mar. 24, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

Republicans are ramping up their push to reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor. The Republican Study Committee, the House GOP's conservative caucus, is lobbying party leaders to include big cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other welfare programs for the poor. The proposal could "save as much as $1.4 trillion over a decade," the Hill reports:

The RSC bill would set back overall welfare spending for most poverty programs to 2007 levels, plus inflation. The proposal includes food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid, but does not include unemployment insurance or Social Security disability payments. 

The proposal also includes welfare reform that would make food stamps contingent on even tougher work requirements:

Currently, adults without dependents working less than 80 hours per month are limited to three months of food stamps in any three-year period. The bill would require heads of families to work 120 hours per month to receive benefits, among other changes.

Never mind that the country remains stuck in a recession and that finding work is still a struggle for millions of Americans, despite a superficial decline in the unemployment rate. Having vowed against any tax increases, Republicans must look elsewhere for money if they want to fulfill their promise to reduce the deficit. How about reducing corporate welfare by lowering subsidies for agribusiness? Nah. It's easier to go after poor constituents who don't fund your campaigns and aren't likely to vote for you anyway.

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Bachmann in 2012: "I'm In," Will Soon Form an Exploratory Committee

| Thu Mar. 24, 2011 9:52 AM EDT
Flickr/theqspeaks

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the tea party darling with a seemingly endless supply of colorful quotes (health care reform, she once said, was like "reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom"), is looking more and more like a 2012 presidential candidate. She's paid multiple visits to Iowa, courting the state's conservative kingmakers. And she's earned the praise of fellow GOP hopefuls like former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who announced this week he was taking the first official step toward entering the race by forming a presidential exploratory committee.

The latest Bachmann news suggests more than ever that she's planning a 2012 bid. Asked about her 2012 plans in an interview with ABC News, she responded, "I'm in." In the race? "I'm in for 2012 in that I want to be a part of the conversation in making sure that President Obama only serves one term, not two," she explained.

But if Bachmann sounded like she was hedging her bets with ABC, a new revelation, reported by CNN, makes it look like a Bachmann candidacy is a foregone conclusion:

CNN has exclusively learned that Rep. Michele Bachmann will form a presidential exploratory committee. The Minnesota Republican plans to file papers for the committee in early June, with an announcement likely around that same time.

But a source close to the congresswoman said that Bachmann could form the exploratory committee even earlier than June so that she could participate in early Republican presidential debates.

"She's been telling everyone early summer," the source told CNN regarding Bachmann's planned June filing and announcement. But the source said that nothing is static.

"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.'"

Could Bachmann be the candidate to energize an otherwise unexciting Republican field in 2012? She would bring to the race a massive amount of support from the far right and the tea party, but she's almost as polarizing as Sarah Palin, once approvingly called the "second most hated Republican woman" by Fox News host Sean Hannity. That will play well in the Republican primaries, where hardline conservatives like Mike Huckabee tend to have more success, but in a general election, it's difficult to see Bachmann mounting anything like a serious challenge to President Obama.

Indeed, you have to imagine that Democrats are giddy at the prospect of a Bachmann 2012 candidacy. This is, after all, the lawmaker who thought the Revolutionary-era battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts; who believes in intelligent design and says evolution has never been proven; and who wants to privatize social security. Somewhere, probably Chicago, David Axelrod is smiling.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 24, 2011

Thu Mar. 24, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 11th Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division, assault an objective during a live fire exercise at Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center, Feb. 24, 2011. Soldiers assigned to Troop A, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, conducted collective training at GWTC to enhance Iraqi soldiers’ light infantry skills during Tadreeb al Shamil, Arabic for All Inclusive Training. U.S. forces in northern Iraq led individual and collective infantry training for Iraqi soldiers and units from squad to battalion-level tasks during the 25-day Iraqi military training program at GWTC. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Angel Washington, 4th AAB PAO, 1st Cav. Div., USD-N)

Rove's Crossroads GPS: 0 for 3 on Facts

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 1:17 PM EDT

Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-connected dark-money outfit that works to elect Republicans, is not too strong in the fact-checking department. As I reported this morning, the group has kicked off a transparency initiative targeting the Obama administration—which is a bit hypocritical, given Crossroads GPS' refusal to disclose its funders. As part of this project, it has touted the "breaking news" scoop that Elizabeth Warren, the White House aide overseeing the start-up of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had dinner with the American Prospect’s Bob Kuttner, DailyKos.com's Markos Moulitsas, and me.

A government official dining with journalists and pundits is hardly stop-the-presses material. But, as I noted, Crossroads GPS was wrong: I have never dined with Warren (though I'd be delighted to do so). A Crossroads GPS spokesman told me that my (non-existent) dinner with Warren was listed on her official schedule, which Crossroads GPS has posted on a new web site for this transparency project.

Now that I've checked the documents, I've found that my original story was not as accurate as it could have been, for Crossroads GPS was more wrong than I had assumed.

The site does list Warren's calendars for the last three months of 2010. I appear on her October 19, 2010, log at 5:45 PM: "Interview with David Corn." Yes, I've been caught practicing journalism. That interview was for an article that appeared 10 days later and that noted I had interviewed her. Journalist interviews Warren on the record: no scoop here. Plus, her calendar listed her dinner date for that night; it was Mitchell Kapor, an information technology pioneer. That would have been a fun dinner to attend.

As for Moulitsas and Kuttner, the calendars note that Warren had two phone calls scheduled with Kuttner and one breakfast scheduled with Moulitsas. No dinners with any of us. Zero for three.

And there's more on the hypocrisy front. My original piece neglected to cite a Politico article from last October reporting that when Rove began his American Crossroads effort, the GOP operatives developing the organization claimed they relished transparency and would disclose their donors. But when it became tough to raise money, Rove and his pals specifically created Crossroads GPS so they could accept secret contributions. Politico noted, "With the Crossroads fundraising team, led by Rove, emphasizing to prospective donors the ability to give to Crossroads GPS anonymously, fundraising took off."

Crossroads GPS was designed as an end-run around transparency. Now it's claiming to be a champion of openness. Maybe if Rove invites me to dinner, we can discuss what's wrong with this picture.

Haley Barbour's Bodyguard Boondoggle

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 12:11 PM EDT

Mississippi's roads are some of the most dangerous in the nation. According to the head of Mississippi's Department of Public Safety, that's the case because the state Highway Patrol is so short staffed and underfunded—in 2010, the patrol filled only 527 of 650 possible positions—in responding to crashes and injuries that "people's lives are at risk."

But the grim finances of Mississippi's Department of Public Safety roads haven't stopped Governor Haley Barbour from using state-funded highway patrollers as bodyguards on his many trips around the country and the world. While it's not uncommon for governors to use state troopers as bodyguards, it's Barbour's all-too-frequent jet-setting that's unusual. In 2010, Barbour, who's eyeing a presidential run in 2012, was traveling at least 175 days of the year, jetting to Israel; Park City, Utah; Washington, DC; Napa, California; and a dozen other cities, according to records obtained by the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger (PDF). From January 2010 to January 2011, the amount Barbour's bodyguards billed back to the Department of Public Safety—and ultimately Mississippi taxpayers—was $121,457 for hotels, food, and travel costs.

Barbour's extensive use of taxpayer-funded bodyguards comes as his state struggles to adequately fund critical public services used by most Mississippians. For instance, the Barbour administration and Mississippi's state legislature have underfunded the state's public schools by $520 million since 2004, when Barbour became governor; Barbour's 2012 budget recommendation (PDF) would reduce K-12 funding by 4.5 percent and higher ed funding by 3 percent. Other agencies, including the departments of Human Services and Mental Health, could be forced to cut back on child welfare and mental treatment services if the Barbour administration doesn't beef up its budget recommendations.

Barbour's jet-setting, and the taxpayer-borne costs that come with it, have lawmakers fuming. "He shouldn't be traveling 175 days a year—that's beyond the pale," says Cecil Brown, a Democratic legislator in Mississippi. "This is a guy spending his time fundraising for Republicans and running for president, and we don't think that's good public policy."