Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest tea party umbrella groups in the country, has proven once again that there's no issue too piddly for it to go to court over, at least when it comes to protecting its "brand." The group has waged legal battles against tea party Internet radio hosts, activists selling tea party T-shirts, and even a lone rural conservative who had the nerve to put the words "tea party" and "patriots" on his website. It's recently been battling in a Georgia court over a sparsely populated Gooogle group.

The case got it start in 2009 in a dispute with former board member and current Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer. TPP kicked Kremer off its board after she defied orders and went on a bus tour with Tea Party Express, TPP's rival. Then, TPP went to court and won a restraining order barring Kremer from using the Tea Party Patriots name, trademark, domain name, and especially its most valuable asset—its email list. She counter-sued for slander and also opposed TPP's trademark application, on the grounds that she put the term into circulation months before TPP was incorporated.

The case has dragged on now for nearly two years. In early May, TPP was back in court claiming Kremer had violated the original restraining order. A Georgia judge agreed and found her in contempt of court for failing to turn over control of a Tea Party Patriots Google group, as well as apparently for suggesting in public that she was one of TPP's original founders without noting that she's no longer affiliated with the group. A May 18 order (PDF) requires Kremer to relinquish control of the Google group to TPP posthaste and to correct the record about her affiliation. (See Kremer do just that with Stephen Colbert here.)

The fact that TPP is spending its members' donated money fighting over control of a listserv doesn't reflect well on the group. After all, the Google group activity has dwindled to a handful of kooky contributors who spend their time arguing about whether Obama's birth certificate is really real and which Marxist Communist policies Obama is pushing at the moment. It's hardly property worth fighting for. Ultimately, TPP's litigiousness seems more designed to bankrupt Kremer than to wrest control over its crumbling grassroots empire.

Democrats have put Republicans on the defensive by hammering them Medicare, and on Tuesday scored a major win with Democrat Kathy Hochul's victory in New York's special congressional election—a race that became a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial proposal. The win is likely to make Medicare even more central to the Democratic message in the 2012 elections.

As such, it's clear that the Dems have ruled out any steep cuts to Medicare as part of a bigger deal over the budget and deficit. But top Democrats are still promising to strike a deal with Republicans that includes major spending reductions, even though there are increasingly fewer places where they could realistically extract the money.

Vice President Joe Biden is leading a bipartisan deficit reduction group on Capitol Hill that is pledging to make $1 trillion in cuts, Bloomberg reports. But where will the money come from? Medicare is unlikely to be part of the equation, and Senate Dems previously vowed against touching Social Security. Likewise, Bloomberg reports, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) reaffirmed the GOP's position on Tuesday that "tax increases cannot pass the House."

What's left? Among other things, reductions in discretionary spending—i.e. funding for federal programs and agencies that Congress must approve each year—as well as other mandatory spending programs for low-income Americans, including Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare. In my latest story, I explain how the House GOP is moving full steam ahead to lay down the goalposts for these cuts. If Congress and the White House manage to move toward any kind of budget deal, these kind of reductions could be inevitable.

On Tuesday, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain dropped by Glenn Beck's radio program to argue that his previous promise to not appoint any Muslims to his Cabinet had been "misconstrued." As he put it: "I did not say that I would not have them in my cabinet. If you look at my career, I have hired good people regardless of race, religion, sex gender, orientation, and this kind of thing."

Cain's position now is that only radical Muslims would be prohibited from serving in his administration. That sounds reasonable. Except he told Laura Ingraham in April that he's never met a Muslim who didn't fit his definition of a radical—and in the same interview, alleged that Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.), who's Muslim, has pledged his loyalty to Allah, not the Constitution. But even if Cain's original statement, and subsequent defenses of it, were misconstrued, he still hasn't adequately explained the rest of what he told Think Progress back in April.

When asked for examples of the "creeping attempt...to gradually ease" Islamic sharia law into the American judicial system he explained:

One judge did it up in New Jersey, and ruled in a case. Then last week we heard about a judge down in was it Texas? It might have been Texas where a judge said there was a dispute in a mosque and he was gonna consider 'eclesiastical' law in his deliberations, because of a dispute that was going on inside a mosque. This is the United States of America. Just because it's going on inside a mosque doesnt mean you execute the laws based on what's going on in the [mosque]."

Cain is right: This is the United States of America. But everything else here is inaccurate. In the civil case in question—which was in Florida, not Texas—the judge (a Republican) ruled that he was going to use "ecclesiastical" law because both parties had agreed, per their mutually agreed-upon contract, to settle their dispute through ecclesiastical Islamic law, in the form of a Muslim arbitrator. That's totally normal; Christians and Jews also take advantage of independent arbitrators to settle disputes. If the government were to ban the use of such forums, it would mark a dramatic encroachment on the First Amendment's freedom of religion—I'm fairly certain that Herman Cain doesn't want to run for President on the platform of restricting Christians' free exercise rights. The actual trial, the judge noted, would be conducted according to Florida civil law; he was simply assessing whether the arbitration process had been handled properly.

Anyone can make a gaffe, which is how Cain is spinning his "no Muslims" comment. But the more serious problem isn't that Cain misspoke; it's that he has taken an extreme, unconstitutional position based on a conspiracy theory that could have been debunked in 30 seconds.

You won't find more of a spectacle on Capitol Hill than what happened in a House hearing Tuesday featuring consumer watchdog Elizabeth Warren, the White House aide building the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

At the hearing, House Republicans, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) in particular, accused Warren of lying to Congress about her role in the settlement negotiations between mortgage servicing companies and state attorneys general. Warren has repeatedly described her role as an advisory one: "We gave advice when asked." House GOPers, however, continue to claim that she has unduly influenced the settlement talks, and then lied to Congress about the extent of her role in previous testimony.

Then the hearing got really ugly. At around 2:15 p.m., Warren said her time was up and she had to go, based on what McHenry's staff had told her staff. McHenry said that wasn't the case, and then accused Warren of lying again, this time about the hearing schedule.

Here's the exchange:

It's worth noting that Patrick McHenry questioning someone else's integrity is as hypocritical as it gets. This is, after all, the guy who created a phony realty company before his initial run for Congress so that he could later say he was the "one small businessman in the race," as the Washington Monthly reported.

Now McHenry's facing some blowback for his specious attacks on Warren. Just take a look at his official Facebook page. You'll find comment after comment demanding McHenry apologize and ripping him for calling Warren a liar. Here are just a few:

"Mr. McHenry, you should be ashamed for your behavior. You are a disgrace to NC, the House of Representatives, and human kind in general."

"Just because you don't agree with someone politically, does not allow you to treat them disrespect. Ms. Warren carried herself with dignity and showed you respect. You, on the other hand, treated her with hostility and disrespect."

"Your treatment of an incredibly smart and strong woman was reprehensible. Ms. Warren represents the interests and people of this country better than you do. I despise that I had to "like" your page so I could tell you off. I'll be happy to financially contribute to your opponent this cycle."

"This is your 'macaca' moment, Congressman. Enjoy!"

The folks at WorldNet Daily take their birther conspiracies very seriously. The right-wing publication has been the leading purveyor of rumors that President Obama is not a natural born American citizen, and thus, ineligible to serve as president. Its publisher, Joseph Farah, has paid for billboards blaring, "Where's the birth certificate?" and recently his outfit published Jerome Corsi's book of the same name. Corsi, though, had the misfortune of publishing the book at just about the exact moment Obama decided to release his "long form" birth certificate, settling once again and for all time the issue of where he was born.

Last week, Esquire magazine posted a little satire piece suggesting that in response to Obama's birth certificate production, Farah was recalling Where's the Birth Certificate?, pulping all 200,000 copies and offering refunds to anyone who'd bought the book. Esquire editor Mark Warren wrote:

A source at WND, who requested that his name be withheld, said that Farah was "rip-shit" when, on April 27, President Obama took the extraordinary step of personally releasing his "long-form" birth certificate, thus resolving the matter of Obama's legitimacy for "anybody with a brain."

"He called up Corsi and really tore him a new one," says the source. "I mean, we'll do anything to hurt Obama, and erase his memory, but we don't want to look like fucking idiots, you know? Look, at the end of the day, bullshit is bullshit."

Apparently lots of people believed that Farah could be so sensible and called up WND and asked for their money back. Farah was not amused. For the past few days, he has been blasting out emails suggesting that he might sue Esquire for libel. Of course, he hasn't just gone ahead and sued the publication. That would deprive him of a tremendous opportunity to fundraise off the whole episode. In an email Wednesday entitled, "To Sue or Not to Sue?" Farah writes:

I believe Warren, Esquire and the Hearst Corporation may have committed something other than satire. I think they committed libel.

And that's why I have decided to pursue every possible legal recourse for justice in this matter – not so much out of a personal sense of vengeance, but because my profession needs a good kick in the rear end.

I'm sick and tired of spoiled little twits like Warren, perched in their comfortable offices in New York, firing salvoes on tireless, hard-working, committed journalists like Jerome Corsi and the rest of my team at WND without any accountability to standards of professionalism.

Farah also manages to find another conspiracy in the Esquire satire: the possibility that the White House put Warren up to the spoof. Farah notes:

Who is Mark Warren? He's Harry Reid's collaborator. In other words, he's a liberal Democratic hack, not a newsman. Who else is he? His professional bio posted at Esquire says he has worked there since 1988. That's 23 years in the insular world of a New York girlie mag. And he is in charge of Esquire's political coverage. He's also an acolyte of Dennis Kucinich and Christopher Hitchens. Maybe you wonder where a guy like this cut his journalistic teeth? Actually, he has no journalistic teeth. He worked in local Democratic Party political campaigns and staff positions until plucked out of obscurity by Esquire in 1988.

And some actually scoffed when I suggested the distinct possibility that the White House may have been behind this dirty trick!

Naturally, he finishes his rant with an appeal for financial contributions to wage his legal war on Warren, Esquire and its parent corporation, Hearst. You can make a donation through the same WND "superstore" that still sells Corsi's book. 

Coming soon to a theater near you (if you happen to live in a key GOP primary state) is The Undefeated, a glowing documentary on Sarah Palin that chronicles her years as governor of Alaska. The filmmaker behind the pro-Palin film is Stephen Bannon, a former banker at Goldman Sachs and a Navy officer, who self-financed the $1 million project. The roll-out for Bannon's film has a distinctly political flavor—and, by the looks of it, is a potential springboard for a Palin 2012 presidential run: After its late June debut in Iowa, home to the curtain-raising presidential caucuses, The Undefeated will screen in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—all battleground states in the presidential primary season.

Bannon didn't come up with the idea on his own. In fact, it was Palin herself, along with aide Rebecca Mansour, who contacted the ex-banker and asked him to make a series of shorter videos praising Palin's record, as RealClearPolitics reported. If she ever hoped to run for president, Palin needed something to patch up her image after resigning as Alaska governor with 18 months left in her term.

And boy did Bannon deliver. RCP's Scott Conroy, who screened a rough cut of the film, described it as "a two-hour-long, sweeping epic" that "is poised to serve as a galvanizing prelude to Palin's prospective presidential campaign." Here's more from RCP:

Divided into three acts, the film makes the case that despite the now cliched label, Palin was indeed a maverick who confronted the powerful forces lined up against her to achieve wide-ranging success in a short period of time. The second part of the film's message is just as clear, if more subjective: that Sarah Palin is the only conservative leader who can both build on the legacy of the Reagan Revolution and bring the ideals of the tea party movement to the Oval Office.

Rife with religious metaphor and unmistakable allusions to Palin as a Joan of Arc-like figure, "The Undefeated" echoes Palin's "Going Rogue" in its tidy division of the world between the heroes who are on her side and the villains who seek to thwart her at every turn.

To convey Bannon's view of the pathology behind Palin-hatred, the film begins with a fast-paced sequence of clips showing some of the prominent celebrities who have used sexist, derogatory and generally vicious language to describe her.

Rosie O'Donnell, Matt Damon, Bill Maher, David Letterman, and Howard Stern all have brief cameos before comedian Louis C.K. goes off on a particularly ugly anti-Palin riff.

You could think of Bannon's piece of political hagiography as a trial balloon for Palin. If the film catches fire in key primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, that could be the nudge Palin needs to enter the 2012 presidential race. She is, after all, a favorite of social conservatives, and while the current crop of GOP hopefuls includes red-meat right wingers like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, none have Palin's pull.

Yet Palin's standing among independents and moderate Republicans is hardly inspiring, which is likely one reason she hasn't made up her mind about 2012. And should Bannon's Palin paean tank, then that might be a sign the country isn't ready for a Palin presidential bid, and that she should sit this one out.

Either way, the reaction to, and media coverage of, The Undefeated will be interesting to watch. Palin's name has slipped out of the news more than usual lately, but you can bet that will change as the buzz around this film starts to build.

I received this email today:

My name is Captain Dan Nardiello of the US Marine corps (special) stationed in Pakistan, I found some money after the death of OBL I need someone to help me move it to a safer place, please have it in mind that there is no danger involved. You may contact me on usmc.12@blumail.org so that I can provide you with details.

That Capt. Nardiello sure is a lucky fellow. It turns out that the same thing happened when he was on patrol in Iraq. Two weeks ago, he sent out this email

I am Capt Dan Nardiello with the United States Marine Corps here in Iraq,I need your assistance in moving a huge amount of money I found while on patrol out of the country (Iraq). Please do respond only to my private email usmc12@blumail.org indicating your willingness to assist me.

How dumb do those Nigerian scammers think folks are? Then again, maybe it's the Pakistani ISI that's behind this one.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Silvernale yells commands to his troops during air assault training in Alaskaís Chugach Mountain Range on May 12, 2011. Silvernale is assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment. DoD photo by Senior Airman Christopher Gross, U.S. Air Force.

Welcome to Medicarepalooza! The political brawl surrounding the entitlement program will come to a new head this week, as Republicans face a series of tough challenges to Paul Ryan's proposal to "end Medicare as we know it," as the Democrats are fond of saying.

The Senate is likely to hold a vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget in the upcoming days. The measure is all but assured to fail, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has insisted on the symbolic vote to hold the GOP accountable for the plan, which the GOP-controlled House passed in April. All Senate Democrats are expected to vote against it, but a small handful of Republicans could defect as well, primarily because of the Ryan plan's Medicare overhaul.

Up to five Senate Republicans could end up voting against the Ryan plan this week, according to Politico's latest count. The Senate GOP's tiny moderate wing would account for most of the defections. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) have pledged to vote against the budget, citing concerns with the Medicare proposal. Similarly, both Olympia Snowe* (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (I-Alaska.) are both "leaning no" on the budget. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), another more moderate GOPer, is "leaning yes" but hasn't fully committed yet.

Finally, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has put himself on the opposite end of the spectrum, vowing to vote against the budget for failing to go far enough. Paul has demanded that any proposal conform to his balanced budget amendment and has also insisted on major cuts to Social Security, which the Ryan budget doesn't touch.

The Republican defections are likely to embolden Democrats, some of whom are already predicting that Medicare will be the defining issue of the 2012 elections. Both parties will also be anxiously awaiting the results of Tuesday's special congressional election in upstate New York's 26th district. The race has boiled down to a referendum on the Ryan Medicare plan, and the Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, is currently leading by 4 to 6 points. If the Democrats manage to recapture the seat—previously held by disgraced GOPer Chris Lee—they'll be feeling especially bullish about their ability to use Medicare as a political cudgel in 2012.

*Update: Snowe told a local paper on Tuesday that she would vote no on the Ryan budget. She explains: "I am going to vote no on the budget because I have deep and abiding concerns about the approach on Medicare, which is essentially to privatize it."

The GOP presidential field looks like it's starting to gel, but, via Byron York, Rep. Peter King (R–N.Y.) says we might see one more familiar face:

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose presidential campaign fizzled in 2008, is leaning toward another race for the White House, according to a close associate. New York Republican Rep. Peter King, who has known Giuliani for more than 40 years, says the former mayor "is very close to saying he's going to run."

"If he were to make the decision today, he would run," says King.

Giuliani wouldn't be the most perplexing name floated for the GOP presidential nomination. That honor belongs to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who you'll probably have to Wikipedia, or perhaps King himself, who told supporters he would consider running if he thought it would be good for the Nassau County Republican Party.

But I'd be pretty skeptical of the latest Rudy rumor (there have been rumblings for a while), for the very simple reason that there doesn't seem to be any conceivable way Giuliani, thrice-married and previously supportive of abortion and gay rights, would win the Republican nomination. If anything, his odds in 2012 might be even worse than his chances in 2008, when he flopped fantastically. Since then, he's launched a second career consulting for South American police forces and lobbied for an Iranian dissident group that's considered a terrorist group by the State Department (which at least one law professor has suggested would count as material support for terrorism). Meanwhile, his signature issue—his handling of 9/11—almost certainly lost any vestigal relevance when Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last month. Oh, and then there's this guy.

Kind of an uphill struggle, in other words.