Mojo - March 2011

Joe Miller Returns!

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 11:53 AM EDT
Joe Miller, who lost a three-way Senate race in Alaska last year, is back in the news.

Remember Joe Miller? He's the bearded Alaskan lawyer and tea party favorite who surprised the country by beating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary last year, despite having once been suspended from a government job for ethics violations and having his private bodyguards handcuff a reporter who was trying to ask Miller questions at a public event during the campaign. Miller ultimately lost the election to Murkowski, who ran a write-in campaign to defeat him in the general election. But like so many one-hit wonders in conservative politics, Miller is seizing on his 15 minutes of fame and has resurfaced recently after signing on with a speakers' bureau to start giving paid speeches. Rather than returning to his law practice, he'll be joining B-listers like Joe the Plumber and Arizona's "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio on the tea party lecture circuit in such glamorous locales as Flint Hills, Kansas and northern Idaho.

But that's just the beginning of Miller's new career in politics. He has also been named the new chairman of the Sparks, Nevada-based Western Representation PAC, the political action committee that recently sponsored an aggressive advertising campaign supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). The PAC also supported Miller's campaign in Alaska and spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures backing failed Nevada Senate candidate and tea party darling Sharron Angle.

"I am thrilled to be joining the Western Representation PAC," Miller said Wednesday. "Despite being formed fairly recently, the PAC was able to gain strong support and make an important impact during the 2010 election cycle. We plan to build on that great start and bring the voice of ‘We the People’ to bear even more as we move towards 2012."

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Anti-Sharia Activists Raise Alarm Over...Contract Law?

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:33 AM EDT

Yesterday, the St. Petersburg Times reported on a new civil case in Tampa, Florida that's become a cause célèbre on the right:

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen is being attacked by conservative bloggers after he ruled in a lawsuit March 3 that, to resolve one crucial issue in the case, he will consult a different source.

"This case," the judge wrote, "will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."

According to some conservatives, this is a troubling sign that the American legal system is under attack from Sharia law (one activist called it a sign of a new "Islamic Tsunami"). Adam Serwer examines the evidence and says that, actually, this is really, really normal:

The judge however, isn't invoking Islamic law because he simply felt like it, he's doing so because this is essentially a contract dispute in which the agreement was drawn up according to sharia...

Where there's a conflict between civil law and the terms of a contract, civil law holds sway. You could not, for example, sell yourself into slavery or force your spouse to sign a contract where they would be subject to abuse. So the notion that the presence of Islamic law in civil arbitration will inevitably lead to sharia replacing the Constitution is nonsense. This kind of case is a sign of America's growing Muslim population, which for many of those complaining is probably the real source of worry.

Right. The argument you tend to hear from conservatives concerns impending implementation of radical forms of Sharia. That is, if we don't act now, at some indeterminate point in the future the bad kind of Sharia—stoning, for instance—will take hold in the United States and we'll be powerless to stop it. Sounds scary. But stories like this one out of Florida, and the ensuing freakout, reveal that to be somewhat disingenuous. Anti-sharia activists think that any sort of Islamic law is a threat to be taken seriously, even if it's something so mundane as a contract dispute between the Islamic Education Center of Tampa and two aggrieved former trustees—and even if it's not much different from Jewish or Christian codes.

It's Official! Gay Republican Running for President

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:30 AM EDT

Retired California political consultant Fred Karger will be in DC today to file his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission officially declaring his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. It will make him the first openly gay Republican ever to run for president as well as the first GOP candidate to declare officially that he is running for the 2012 race. Karger has already made many swings through Iowa and New Hampshire, laying the groundwork for his campaign in those key primary states. He's run TV ads and met with dozens of young Republican activists to rally the troops. Today's FEC filing simply makes his candidacy official. It also, no doubt, will make it harder for Republicans to keep him out of candidate forums and debates during the campaign, which some have been trying to do

While Karger met this week with officials at the RNC, including chairman Reince Priebus, in what he called a warm meeting, other members of the GOP establishment have not been so welcoming of his historic candidacy. As we reported earlier this month, RNC members in Iowa and a key organizer with Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition have not only threatened to keep Karger out of the race but also intentionally shut him out of a March 7 presidential forum in Des Moines organized by Reed's group. Karger responded by filing a complaint against RNC member and Iowa Faith and Freedom organizer Steve Scheffler as well as his organization for violating federal election laws by discriminating against Karger because he's gay. Karger's official candidate status now will only help his complaint.

Still, it's likely that he faces an uphill battle getting into future debates, even with the friendly reception at the RNC in DC this week. That's because the RNC has appointed Indiana campaign finance lawyer and right-wing stalwart James Bopp to oversee the 18 debates expected to take place during the campaign. Bopp represents many anti-gay marriage organizations that have been battling in court to protect their donors and supporters from state disclosure laws. Many of those lawsuits have been inspired by Karger himself, who was instrumental in organizing boycotts of the major donors to California's Prop. 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. Bopp has argued in court that the Prop. 8 donors were harassed and subjected to potential violence because of their outing and is fighting to eliminate many of the laws that made Karger's boycott possible. Bopp has actually subpoenaed Karger in one of those cases in California, and has been defending the group Protect Marriage from a state ethics complaint Karger filed against the group in Maine.

Karger has said he plans to ask the RNC to remove Bopp because of the obvious conflict, but the odds are slim that the RNC will jettison one of their own just to placate a gay candidate when the party's platform basically demonizes him as an abomination to God. Still, the fight will definitely make for some good political theater and help highlight the party's hypocrisy on gay rights. After all, the RNC itself was run for a couple of years during the Bush administration by Ken Mehlman, who finally confirmed the not very well kept secret that he is gay. Perhaps Karger should recruit him to run his campaign.

Would You Like E-Coli on That Burger, Mr. President?

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:01 AM EDT

The consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch has launched an ad campaign attacking Republican budget cuts to food safety and water protection. The House GOP budget slashes $88 million from the USDA's meat safety inspections and $241 million from the food safety budget of the Food and Drug Administration, as I previously reported. Food & Water Watch's cartoon-style ad shows House Speaker John Boehner offering President Obama a hamburger tainted with E. Coli, rat hair, ground glass, spoiled lettuce and tomatoes. When Obama refuses, Boehner takes a big bite out of the burger:

The ad will run in Boehner's Ohio congressional district and serve as part of Food & Water Watch's "public safety alert" about the GOP's proposed cuts. "At least 14 Americans died and many thousands became ill from tainted spinach, peppers, peanut butter and eggs in recent years," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a press statement on Wednesday. "Now, Washington is seeking to slash the budget for our food and water protections, which will put more people at risk."

The group also points out that the House has proposed slashing nearly $2 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency's funds for water infrastructure—money critical to keeping drinking water clean and sewage-free. The group adds that funds for the program are also "drastically reduced" under Obama's own 2012 budget, and the group calls on the president to step up his own efforts as well. "President Obama should not let House Republicans gut these protections, and should step up to make sure the budget bolsters our ability to provide Americans with a safe supply of food and water," Hauter said. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 23, 2011

Wed Mar. 23, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

Cavalry Scout Club cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York train with Austrian cadets and Soldiers during an excercise in Austria. Photo via US Army.

Corn on MSNBC: Scott Brown Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

Wed Mar. 23, 2011 4:00 AM EDT

David Corn joined Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's The Last Word to discuss the House Republicans' bill that would force the IRS to conduct abortion audits and how some prominent Republicans like Scott Brown and Lisa Murkowski are pushing back.

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

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Sheppard on "Hardball": Determining America's Nuclear Safety

Tue Mar. 22, 2011 7:12 PM EDT

Kate Sheppard and Johanna Neumann joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the danger Americans face from our aging fleet of nuclear plants.

Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. For more of her stories, click here. She Tweets here. Get Kate Sheppard's RSS feed.

Pawlenty's Pastor: An Evangelical Powerbroker

| Tue Mar. 22, 2011 12:59 PM EDT

As you've probably heard, former GOP Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty launched his presidential exploratory committee yesterday, with a characteristically flashy announcement video. To date, much of his national political exposure has focused more on his regular-guy credentials—he likes to fish and play hockey, and fancies himself as a "Sam's Club Republican" (as opposed to the country club sort). What tends to get overlooked, but probably shouldn't, is his faith. Here's Rose French:

"Pawlenty appeals to a younger evangelical, one who cares about issues beyond abortion and same-sex marriage like...the environment,'' Lindsey said. "He's seen as a fresher face. He's not a brash or harsh evangelical. He seems to embody this...authentic Christian faith. Evangelicals, if anything, have become well-trained on picking up on religious phonies."

To wit: Pawlenty's pastor at Minnesota's Wooddale Church is Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Anderson's no lefty—he's an author of the Manhattan Declaration, which called on Christian pastors to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage—but he's also pushed for amnesty for undocumented residents and supported greenhouse gas restrictions.

Going forward, this could be an asset for Pawlenty—the ability to speak sincerely to the party's conservative Christian base, without compromising his ordinary-guy image by coming off as a culture warrior. Leave that to Rick Santorum.

Will Republicans' Budget-Cutting Mania Hurt Them In 2012?

| Tue Mar. 22, 2011 11:00 AM EDT

The budget debate is far from over, but the Democratic Party is already trying to use the GOP's most drastic proposals as a political bludgeon. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an ad campaign on Tuesday against a handful of vulnerable House Republicans, tying them to the party's hatchet-wielding budget chair, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). Politico has the details:

The DCCC will target 10 Republican lawmakers - including eight freshmen - with newspaper ads, e-mails and automated and live phone calls, tying them to the House Budget chief's pledge to overhaul Social Security and Medicare. "Cutting retirement benefits but protecting big oil?" one newspaper ad reads. "Paul Gosar and his leaders want to CUT your hard-earned Social Security and Medicare benefits rather than cutting big tax breaks for big oil." 

Ryan has proposed some of the party's most aggressive cuts to discretionary spending and entitlement programs. The "roadmap" he unveiled last year would privatize Medicare by turning it into a voucher system and partially privatize Social Security, and he's expected to push for similar proposals early next month when the House GOP unveils its 2012 budget. Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have already vowed not to touch Social Security, and they're hoping that voters will be equally incensed about the GOP's proposals. 

The DCCC has also launched a website, www.stopbenefitcuts.com, to support their new campaign, Politico notes. The sites warns of "dangerous cuts or privatization" to Social Security and Medicare, exhorting visitors to sign a pledge that reads, "I WILL FIGHT ALL EFFORTS TO IMPOSE DANGEROUS CUTS ON SENIORS." 

Interestingly, the Democrats make no mention of Medicaid, which Ryan and his fellow Republicans have also vowed to overhaul through cuts and privatization. This will make it all the easier for the GOP to gut health care for the poor, as I've reported previously. For both Democrats and Republicans, it seems, seniors are a much more powerful voting block, leaving poor constituents all the more vulnerable to cuts.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 22, 2011

Tue Mar. 22, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

The sun sets behind U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jamie R. Johnson, a platoon sergeant from Bayonet Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, in Afghanistan's Kunar Province March 17. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD