Mojo - April 2011

Yet Another "Classic Breitbarting"

| Fri Apr. 29, 2011 3:36 PM EDT

On Monday, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site posted "exclusive, explosive" video of what it described as "Thuggery 101"—a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a union official advocating "violence and industrial sabotage" to a classroom of college students. This led to instant hyperventilation about "taxpayer-funded courses in union violence". Now, like many a sensational video linked to Breitbart, this latest scoop has disintegrated in the bright light of day. Crooks and Liars has the definitive takedown, which shows how the supposedly inflammatory soundbites posted on Big Government were intentionally edited to strip them of their context and twist their intended meanings. In other words, yet another "classic Breitbarting."

On the positive side, the original video did not get much traction beyond right-wing sites, which may suggest that the rest of the media has wised up to the Breitbart/James O'Keefe M.O. Or maybe it was just too distracted by the birthers to be bothered.

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Dems Launch Outside Spending Groups to Counter Rove, Kochs

| Fri Apr. 29, 2011 10:26 AM EDT

A pair of Democratic strategists have launched what they're billing as the left's answer to the flood of outside spending by Karl Rove's Crossroads groups and the Koch brothers' money machine. The group Priorities USA, run by former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, opened for business today, as did as the outfit's affiliated political action committee, Priorities USA Action. Sweeney described the groups in a statement as "an effort to level the playing field. Americans deserve an honest debate about job creation, the economy, national security, and education. That debate will never happen if only right wing extremists are engaged on the battlefield."

Burton and Sweeney join Media Matters founder David Brock and his team at American Bridge 21st Century, another liberal independent expenditure group, in building up the left's firepower in the outside spending wars. The need for such a response was painfully clear after the GOP's trouncing in the 2010 midterms, a landslide made possible by the efforts of American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, and others like them, including American Action Network and Americans for Job Security. Democrats quickly realized they'd have to fight fire with fire to be competitive in 2012, given that right-leaning groups including the Chamber of Commerce are expected to raise more than $500 million to help elect Republican candidates in 2012. The Koch brothers alone are planning to raise $88 million.

Brock's group, whose donors include a bevy of deep-pocketed supporters, is in the process of hiring staffers and raising cash to build up the group's war chest. Susan McCue, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, will serve on the group's board of directors, as will former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Former Reid staffer Rodell Mollineau will also work for the group.

Diving headlong into the shadow spending wars, as I reported back in November, puts the left in something of a bind. It's Democrats, after all, who loudly decried the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to huge amounts of outside spending, and who demanded new safeguards to staunch the flow of shadow cash pouring into American elections. Now they find themselves with a foot in both camps: Still demanding new campaign finance regulations and mimicking the GOP's tactics from 2010. As one prominent Democratic donor told me in November, "The Chamber and Crossroads and all them are going to be coming in full bore. So I think you will see donors engaged, and I'm not going to sit here and say we won't need to create some new groups...It's not that I don't want to see a meaningful legislative response to Citizens United, but I'm also not going to unilaterally disarm."

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, responded to Priorities USA's unveiling today with a sharply worded statement bashing Obama for his "brazen hypocrisy" which "shows how cynical this President can be when it comes to perpetuating his own power." He added, "This move may cause the biggest ordeal for the so-called 'good government' groups who publicly called for IRS and FEC investigations of conservative groups last year. To maintain their own 'nonpartisan' tax exempt status, will these groups call for investigations of the new non-disclosing liberal efforts?"

One watchdog group, however, said today there was nothing hypocritical about Priorities USA's plans. "There will be those who call the establishment of Priorities USA hypocritical," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund. "They are either trying to score political points against President Obama or are unfortunately out of touch with what it takes to make political change in this country. In order to change the rules of the game, we need to engage in the rules as they are, not as we wish they were. To act otherwise after Citizens United is to take a knife to a gunfight."

Donald Trump's F-Bomb Attack

| Fri Apr. 29, 2011 8:59 AM EDT

So this is how Donald Trump pivots from his birther message, now that President Obama has vanquished that hideous meme: He unleashes the f-bomb.

In a Thursday night speech in Las Vegas, Trump railed against lawmakers that he described as "blood suckers," bouncing from subjects like gas prices, Iraq, and foreign trade. "We have weak, pathetic leadership," Trump said of the Obama administration. "Our leaders are stupid, they are stupid people."

But that paled in comparison to his expletive-laden zingers on foreign policy and trade. Speaking about America's military presence abroad, he said:

We build a school, we build a road, they blow up the school, we build another school, we build another road they blow them up, we build again, in the meantime we can't get a fucking school in Brooklyn.

Then, on the issue of oil prices and OPEC, the coalition with control on much of the world's oil supply, he quipped:

We have nobody in Washington that sits back and said, you're not going to raise that fucking price.

And despite the fact that some of his clothing is made in China, Trump bashed the Middle Kingdom. If elected president, what would his message for China be?

"Listen you motherfuckers, we're going to tax you 25 percent!" 

Ah, that'll do wonders for America's image abroad. Here's the video:

The GOP's B-List 2012 Debate

| Fri Apr. 29, 2011 8:06 AM EDT

The first Republican primary debate is scheduled for next Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina, and none of the cool kids are going to be there. Newt Gingrich says he's not ready, and if Newt's not going, Mitt Romney isn't, either. Mike Huckabee might not even run; Haley Barbour isn't running; Mitch Daniels needs more time; Jon Huntsman is still in China. The only serious contender who has pledged to attend the debate so far is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who, Politico reports, is now trying to get his fellow heavyweights on board through passive-aggressive statements:

"My Presidential exploratory committee will file the necessary papers and fees with the South Carolina Secretary of State next Tuesday because it's important that Republicans show up now, talk about their records, and begin the debate on how best we can defeat this President," Pawlenty said, not mentioning any rivals by name.

But Pawlenty won't be the only GOP candidate on the stage in Greenville. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) says he'll be there. Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain might be there, too. Same goes for former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer. (Things aren't looking good for Fred Karger, though.) That's not a very glamorous ensemble. But it could make for an interseting night.

Those candidates represent three distinct, occasionally disagreeable aspects of the Republican party. Roemer is a former Democrat who has based his candidacy in large part on the need to end subsidies for the energy industry—including not just ethanol, but oil and gas too. Cain has used his platform to push the most extreme anti-Islam message of any of the candidates, at times going so far as to promise not to hire any Muslims in his administration. You know where Paul stands—anti-war, anti-Fed, pro-pot, pro-gold.

None of them will win the Republican nomination, but they stand a very good chance of saying something that will force Pawlenty to take a stand on something he'd rather avoid. What does he think about billion-dollar handouts to oil companies? How far is he willing to take his new anti-Sharia schtick? If nothing else, we'll be spared the usual monotony—some awkward one-liners, a few canned barbs, and a whole lot of forced references to Ronald Reagan.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 29, 2011

Fri Apr. 29, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel W. Temples, a platoon sergeant assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Storm, navigates the swamp-like farmland after air assaulting into Baraki Barak District, Afghanistan, April 17. Photo via US Army.

Right-Wing Pundit: Petraeus Is a Slave to Shariah

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 4:12 PM EDT

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Gen. David Petraeus' upcoming job move from Kabul to the CIA: his cult of personality; his overselling of progress in Afghanistan; his escalation of the air war and violent conventional tactics; the idea that intelligence policy might become more militarized, and the military might become spookier. But here's a novel criticism of the golden general from right-wing Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, he of the "ground zero mosque" freakout, the military logo freakout, and the Islamic law freakout: He's a mind slave to Shariah law! ThinkProgress reports on Gaffney's response in a recent Q&A at Liberty University:

Let me just mention several different ways in which this kind of influence operation is being run against those sorts of target sets...I'm sure most of you witnessed General David Petraeus, the much admired military leader, responding to the Quran burning down in Florida by Pastor Terry Jones. Saying that the holy Quran – repeatedly – the holy Quran must not be desecrated, and in other ways, suggesting that what we are doing here is a kind of submission to this program, lest we give offense, which is a blasphemy and a capital crime under Sharia.

Man, is that a high bar for true-blue Americanness. Petraeus must be asking himself: How many Afghan villages does a guy have to flatten to prove he's no fan of Islamic jurisprudence?

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One Step Forward, One Step Back for DADT Repeal

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 3:06 PM EDT
Flickr Commons/A. Blight

At bases around the world, the military has already begun training service members to tolerate gay and lesbian colleagues' displays of affection, and to lay off the "gay bar" jokes...and yet this week, it still barred a standout former Army cadet from rejoining the ranks, because her lesbianism breaks the existing rules. The developments show how current and aspiring LGBT service members can continue to expect uneven treatment until Pentagon leaders dot the i's and cross the t's on a policy change that's already sailed through Congress.

How Do Americans Really Feel About RyanCare?

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 10:20 AM EDT

How do Americans feel about Paul Ryan’s drastic plan to overhaul Medicare? Both parties have touted separate polls with distinctly contradictory findings. But a closer look at the different surveys seems to suggest that Americans are more likely to support Ryan’s overall budget plan when it’s described in broad strokes—but they’re far less likely to support it when presented with the specific details.

A new Gallup/USA Today poll found that voters were split when asked whether they preferred Obama’s deficit reduction plan—focusing on tax increases for the rich—over the Ryan plan to revamp Medicare and Medicaid. The poll found that 44 percent supported Obama’s plan, while 43 percent backed the Republican alternative. 

But a separate poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found support for the Ryan plan dropped sharply when survey-takers explained the specific outlines of the Republican Medicare proposal. As Kaiser Health News reports, the Kaiser poll "found just 30 percent of seniors supported the idea of restructuring Medicare into a system where seniors are given government subsidies to shop for private coverage. In contrast, 62 percent of seniors said they wanted Medicare to be left alone with the program continuing to guarantee the same benefits to all enrollees."

Democrats are banking that the Ryan plan will be politically toxic for the GOP. But these two polls suggest that won't necessarily be the case: the GOP's plan could still have widespread appeal unless Democrats manage to communicate exactly how the specifics of RyanCare would impact ordinary Americans. The Dems faced the same dilemma when it came to federal health reform: Americans tend to feel positive about many of the specific benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but the Republicans have continued to succeed in making them feel queasy about the law overall. So Democrats shouldn’t simply assume that Americans will recoil at RyanCare at first blush.

VIDEO: White House Correspondents Gone Wild

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

It's often easy to dump on White House reporters. They frequently get attacked for hyping trivial stories or for being both prisoners and promoters of the conventional wisdom. They're routinely assailed for not asking the right questions (as in the questions their critics would like to pose the president and his aides). But it's a tough beat—try squeezing unpackaged news out of the White House—and most of them do work long and hard to penetrate (or explain) the surface story.

An especially difficult task for them occurs during one of my favorite moments of White House journalism: the pre-presidential stand-up. This happens when the president holds a press conference or issues a statement in person. In the moments before the commander in chief takes to the podium, the network correspondents do live intros, talking to their anchors in the studios, and telling the audience what to look for in the coming remarks. These journos are usually standing next to one another—and each speaking loudly. Their reports meld into an aural amalgamation of media analysis. For each of them, the challenge is to keep focus, stare straight into the camera, say something intelligent, and, above all else, not listen to the cacophony he or she is helping to create—and not to be distracted by the other reporters in the room chuckling about this cluster-report.

Here's an example from yesterday's surprise visit by Obama to the White House briefing room to discuss his long-form birth certificates. The four stars of this video are Chuck Todd of NBC News and MSNBC, Wendell Goler of Fox News, Bill Plante of CBS News, and Jake Tapper of ABC News.

 

Tennessee GOP Rep. to Teacher: "Stupidity Can Get You Killed"

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 9:58 AM EDT

We've done a fair bit of reporting now on the push, in Tennessee and other states, to essentially criminalize certain aspects of the Islamic faith. Two dozen states have now considered proposals to block judges from forcing Islamic Sharia law on God-fearing citizens, but no proposal is more extreme than Tennessee's. As originally written, the bill classified Islamic law as treasonous, and made material support for Islam (a loosely defined phrasing that could have potentially applied to charitable donations to mosques) a felony.

It's since been modified, and its supporters say it doesn't specifically target Islam. Well, except for the parts that do target Islam. Last week, the Tennessean published a few excerpts from a fascinating exchange between Aaron Nuell, a teacher in Murfreesboro, and GOP State Rep. Rick Womick, an avid supporter of the legislation. In an email to Nuell, Womick consistently refers to Muslims as "them," and openly wonders whether Muslims who opposed the legislation are genuinely opposed to terrorism. I contacted Nuell to see if he could send the full correspondence and he obliged. (Read it below the fold.)