Mojo - May 2011

Biden's Dude Problem

| Tue May 24, 2011 9:07 AM EDT

Women's groups have a bone to pick with Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has convened a series of closed-door meetings with various advisers and members of Congress to tackle budget negotiations with Congress. Despite the fact that women will be disproportionately affected by many of the decisions thanks to their over-representation in big-ticket programs for the elderly such as Medicare and Social Security, Biden has not included a single woman in his meetings. The "gang of men," as the National Council of Women's Organizations have dubbed it, includes: Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), U.S. Senators John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). The gang is negotiating with Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, budget director Jack Lew, and economic adviser Gene Sperling.

The oversight is pretty striking. Biden typically had a good record on women's issues while he was in the Senate, having drafted the landmark Violence Against Women Act in 1994, among other things. But he seems to have forgotten that there are girls in Congress and the administration who know something about the federal budget and economics. (See: Karen Kornbluh, for instance.) The women's groups are calling on Biden to include more female voices in the negotiations so that they are fairly represented.

And for good reason: Social Security, one of the main potential drivers of the budget deficit over the long haul, is a critical safety net for elderly women, who are also heavy users of the other budget-buster, Medicare. For women over 65, Social Security accounts for more than three-fifths of their income, according to a new study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. For older men, by comparison, Social Security accounts for only half of their income. Social Security keeps half of all women over 75 above the poverty line. Given those figures, any cuts to the program are likely to have a significant impact on women. Unfortunately, the only people in the room talking about it right now are a bunch of dudes.  

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Even Texans Don't Support a Rick Perry Presidential Campaign

| Tue May 24, 2011 8:47 AM EDT

After Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee decided against entering the 2012 presidential race, some Republicans continue to hope that another big-name contender—Jeb Bush? New Jersey governor Chris Christie?—will enter the race and liven up a GOP field short on serious challengers. One name often tossed out is Texas governor Rick Perry, a red-meat social conservative beloved by the tea party with national star power.

But there's one problem: Republicans in Perry's home state wouldn't even vote for him if he ran for president. That's the big takeaway from a new poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, which found that only 4 percent of Texas GOPers would vote for Perry if he ran. "This is a major question for a guy who's getting national buzz," said pollster Daron Shaw. "He hasn't convinced Texans that he's a presidential frontrunner."

The favorite among Texas Republicans, the poll found, is Sarah Palin, who hasn't announced whether she's running or not in 2012. Newt Gingrich finishes a close second, with 11 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Mike Huckabee take third with 10 percent. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) each claimed 7 percent.

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

Tue May 24, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

U.S. Army Soldiers consolidate rounds and watch for enemy activity following a machine-gun and small arms attack on their position near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, May 18, 2011. DOD photo by Karen Parrish

Did the DEA Knowingly Keep a Terrorist On Its Payroll?

| Mon May 23, 2011 2:00 PM EDT

Today, a court in Chicago will hear the opening arguments in the trial of Tahawwu Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian doctor charged with providing material support to the terrorists who planned and executed the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 166 people, including six Americans. The prosecution's star witness: Pakistani-American businessman and former DEA informant David Headley, Rana's childhood friend and alleged accomplice in the attacks. The prosecution has accused Rana of allowing Headley to use his immigration consulting firm as a cover overseas.

Both men were arrested in October of 2009 in connection with the Mumbai attack. Last year, Headley pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to bomb targets in Mumbai, providing material support to the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in the Mumbai attacks. In his confession, he painted a blistering picture of the role of Pakistani's intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), in helping Lashkar-e-Taiba carry out the attacks. Rana's defense team is expected to argue that the conniving, charismatic Headley misled their client about the true, murderous intent of the Mumbai operation.

ProPublica's Sebastian Rotella reports that both sides will undoubtedly explore the numerous alleged ties between the ISI and Lashkar—which should make Pakistani security officials very nervous. Last month, federal prosecutors indicted an ISI officer known only as Major Iqbal for the murders of the six Americans in Mumbai (whose deaths form the basis for the US trial). But there's another security bureaucracy that could get some unwanted attention during the Rana trial, one that's much closer to home: the DEA. From Rotella:

After a 1997 arrest for heroin smuggling, Headley became a prized DEA informant who targeted Pakistani traffickers. Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, the DEA directed him to collect intelligence on terrorists as well as drugs. In December 2001, the U.S. government ended his probation three years early and rushed him to Pakistan, where he began training in Lashkar terror camps weeks later, according to court documents, officials and his associates.

Some federal officials say he remained an informant at least three more years, but the DEA disagrees.

"David Headley was sent to Pakistan for approximately three weeks to further a drug investigation in 1998," said a DEA official familiar with his work as an informant. The DEA official declined to comment on Headley's mission in late 2001 but said: "He was deactivated in early 2002."

That assertion only deepens the contradictions and mysteries about Headley's missions overseas. Between 2001 and 2008, federal authorities were warned six times by his wives and associates that he was involved in terrorism. None of the resulting inquiries yielded anything. The FBI and CIA say he never worked for them.

Headley's long, duplicitous history of playing one side against the other should have raised serious flags for his handlers at the DEA. Ugly revelations about the DEA's involvement with Headley could raise some damaging questions about the feds' use of informants.

Focus on the Family Head: "We've Probably Lost" on Gay Marriage

| Mon May 23, 2011 9:08 AM EDT

Last week, a Gallup poll showed that a majority of Americans support gay marriage. It was the third such survey this spring, and if you add in the number of Americans who support civil unions, public support for same-sex relationships has become the dominant position. Anti-gay marriage activists, though, aren't going down quietly; in Minnesota, a bill to put an anti-gay marriage referendum on the 2012 ballot recently passed the House, and conservatives in Iowa (with an assist from Newt Gingrich) successfully ousted three state supreme court judges who had ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. But this is a far cry from the days of, oh, 2004, when a flurry of anti-gay marriage propositions at the state level helped propel President George W. Bush to a second term.

So how far has the pendulum swung? Even Jim Daly, president of the right-wing group Focus on the Family, seems to be waving the white flag. Here's what he told the evangelical World magazine in its June issue:

We're winning the younger generation on abortion, at least in theory. What about same-sex marriage? We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.

Daly has taken a more conciliatory approach to to traditional hot-button issues than his predecessor at Focus, James Dobson, so perhaps it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to see him speak so candidly. (For more on the shift to a kinder, gentler, skinny jeans-ier Focus on the Family, check out Stephanie Mencimer's piece on the group's hipster makeover.) But it can't help the anti-gay religious right to have such a prominent social conservative say that the crusade against gay marriage has essentially been lost and that it's time to accept that reality and move on.

This isn't a permanent cease-fire; Daly merely thinks that Christians need to get their own marriages in order before lecturing from the moral high ground: "What if the Christian divorce rate goes from 40 percent to 10 percent or 5 percent, and the world's goes from 50 percent to 80 percent? Now we're back to the early centuries. They're looking at us and thinking, 'We want more of what they've got.'" As he puts it, "we should start with how to get dads reconnected to the family and committed to their marriages."

Come to think of it, isn't that what an organization called "Focus on the Family" should have been doing all along?

Jon Huntsman: George W. Bush's Choice for 2012?

| Mon May 23, 2011 5:21 AM EDT

For the GOP's 2012 presidential contenders, there's one family whose approval the candidates will be fighting for more than any other: the Bush family. An endorsement by George H.W. Bush or Jeb or George W. will go a long way toward winning over Republican voters—and perhaps more importantly, deep-pocketed Republican donors—in the fiercely competitive primary season and ultimately locking up the GOP nomination.

It's too early now to say who's winning over the Bushes. George H.W. has agreed to meet with several presidential hopefuls, including Tim Pawlenty, who dropped in at Bush the senior's office in Houston. But Time's Mark Halperin sees Jon Huntsman, Obama's former ambassador to China, as a likely candidate to win over "BushWorld." That observation looks especially true in light of Indiana governor and Bush favorite Mitch Daniels' exit from the race:

The members of BushWorld (the family's political and policy advisers, its bundlers—and 41, 43, and would-be 45 themselves) still don't have a candidates in the Republicans' 2012 presidential race. These are not a group of disinterested observers. Some are with Mitt Romney. Many are pressing Mitch Daniels to run. But most of them are searching for an answer to the question "Who can be nominated and beat Barack Obama?"

If Daniels doesn't run (and even if he does...), Huntsman might end up being the consensus BushWorld candidate. Within the Republican Party, that remains the largest source of nomination throw-weight out there. Huntsman is playing an aggressive inside game, mirroring his long weekend in New England with many public events. Over the next few weeks, he will go from coast-to-coast doing more prospecting for campaign cash. And BushWorld is watching closely. The semiotics and symbolism of giving Huntsman a Kennebunkport audience are not lost on the very sophisticated Bushes.

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

Mon May 23, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

U.S. Army Capt. Edwin Churchill calls for indirect fire following an enemy attack on his company’s position near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, May 18, 2011. DOD photo by Karen Parrish

Which Politicians are Waiting for the Rapture?

| Fri May 20, 2011 5:25 PM EDT

In just a few short hours, you should know for sure whether or not you've ascended into Heaven, or been left behind (San Francisco, that means you!) to fend for yourselves as the armies of darkness descend upon the Earth in advance of the Tribulation. Politics can seem downright trivial as you nail down the last-minute details—purchasing an insurance policy for your not-so-rapture-ready pomeranian, for instance.

But for a large percentage of the American population, the Rapture's no laughing matter. According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 41 percent of American believe Jesus will return by 2050. The belief that the Rapture is not only coming, but coming soon has a very real, if subtle impact on the American political scene—through foreign policy, economics, and social issues like gay marriage. Is your favorite politician bracing for Armageddon? Here's a very incomplete guide:

Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor has been bullish in her support for Israel—she kept an Israeli flag in her Juneau office, and as a vice presidential candidate said that Americans should never-second guess that nation's policies. In 2009, she told Barbara Walters that "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." Those ideas didn't come from an international relations textbook; as a Liberty University researcher told the Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg, it seemed to mirror her own eschatological views:

"I've read that Palin has been part of an apparently unique movement I've heard of -- that her pastor, when she was in the Assembly of God, believed based on some personal revelation he claims to have gotten from God, that the Jews would move to Alaska during the Tribulation. But nevertheless, my understanding from what I've seen is that she holds fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs, and one of those beliefs is the regathering of the Jews in Israel."

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.): If Bartlett is left behind, he'll at least be well prepared. Earlier this year, the Maryland congressman and Seventh Day Adventist starred in the survivalist documentary, Urban Danger, in which he teaches viewers how to build a root cellar and can vegetables. Although the documentary never explicitly suggests what kind of catastrophe might require an underground shelter and stockpiles of food, interviewees suggest that it could be Biblical in nature. As the narrator puts it, "A storm is coming, relentless in its fury." Writing for the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Spectrum, Alexander Carpenter called Bartlett's views, "faith-based apocalypticism" that are common among "fringe movements in the denomination."

Dick Armey: In 2006, the former Republican House Majority Leader, and founder of the powerful astroturf group FreedomWorks (which stirred up outrage over health care reform), told the BBC the Rapture was imminent: "We talk about the End Times, the day of Tribulation. Yes there seems to be, if you believe in Bible prophecy, there seems to be a great deal of the circumstances that was prophesised present at this time, and a lot of people believe that this is the time for that prophecy. They also believe that a free and a, what shall I say, well, Israel will be a consequence after those days of Tribulation, but that the whole world goes through a difficult time during those days of Tribulation."

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.): She's warned against the implementation of "One World" currency, advocated for a more pious military, and spread fears about the true motives of the smooth-talking leader who considers himself a citizen of the world—all of which feature prominently in Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series (although LaHaye has said that Obama is not the Anti-christ). So perhaps it's no surprise that Bachmann credits her start in conservative politics with a meeting with LaHaye's wife, Beverly. Bachmann has championed apocalyptic causes in the most literal sense, warning that if the United States fails to properly support Israel, a "curse" will be placed on the land. She has also been a regular guest on Jan Markell's "pro-Israel, prophecy-oriented" Olive Tree Ministries radio program.

Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher hasn't talked much about the Rapture specifically; that's what supporters are for. LaHaye was an advisor to his 2008 campaign. Also an advisor? Janet Porter, an Evangelical activist who has argued that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson might be the Anti-christ, and calls for Christians to take over the government and media to prepare the Earth for the second-coming. Huckabee has also praised the Rev. John Hagee, the influential San Antonio mega-church pastor who mixes End Times eschatology with foreign policy through his organization, Christians United for Israel. (Hagee has called for the United States to "consider" military strikes against Iran).

Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Va.): Inspired by the Book of Revelations, Cole led the fight in the Virginia House of Delegates last February to ban employers or insurance companies from implanting micro-chips in people against their will. As Cole told the Washington Post: "My understanding—I'm not a theologian—but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark." We're not theologians either, but this is what's known in the industry as Too Good to Fact-Check (TGTFC). And for the record: planting micro-chips in people's bodies against their will is definitely poor form, if not actually the work of the Devil.

Bachmann's Anti-Gay Ally: Obama's Not a Christian

| Fri May 20, 2011 11:14 AM EDT

On Wednesday, we told you about the unlikely alliance between Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a possible GOP presidential candidate, and Bradlee Dean, a head-banging, tatooed, death* heavy metal drummer. (The relationship becomes a lot less confusing when you consider that Dean belives that gays are, by defintion, "criminals," and should be prohibited from holding government jobs; that the average gay man will molest 117 people before "they're found out"; and that he runs a ministry called You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, which travels to public schools to encourage students to find Christ).

Today Dean outdid himself. With the Minnesota legislature in the middle of a heated debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state—the opponents of which, Dean has pilloried on his radio show—the House Republican Caucus invited the controversial hair-metal evangelist to deliver the opening prayer for Friday's session.

How did it go? Well, the grand finale consisted of Dean alleging that the President of the United States is not a Christian. Via the St. Cloud Times:

I end with this. I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this Chamber and it's not about the Baptists and it's not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans. Or the Presbyterians the evangelicals or any other denomination but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus. As every President up until 2008 has acknowledged. And we pray it. In Jesus' name.

That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: Dean recently explained on his radio show that there's no real difference between Obama and Osama bin Laden, and that the President's policies—like those of his predecessors—are part of a plot to bring about the New World Order.

Dean's remarks didn't go over well: legislators had to summon the House chaplain to deliver a new prayer, and Democratic Rep. Terry Morrow immediately took to the floor to denounce the whole affair. From the Minnesota Independent:

"Today hope was crushed by the words of a single speaker," he said. "Mr. Speaker, I do trust and hope that we understand the gravity and the severity of the prayer that has been given to the people within this chamber and out."

"I'm shaking right now because I'm mad," he concluded. "This cannot happen again."

Wow. According to WCCO's Patrick Kessler, Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Republican, has since publicly apologized, saying "I denounce him, his actions and his words." (The caucus did not vet Dean's remarks).

Update: The Independent has the video and a follow-up interview with Zellers. Yes, Dean really wore a track suit:

*Thanks to the readers who pointed out that Dean's music is better classified as heavy metal, or even "rap-core." We regret the error.

Ex-Obama Aides' Super PAC Blasts Mitt's Mushy Positions

| Fri May 20, 2011 10:10 AM EDT

With nearly a year-and-a-half to go before election day, Priorities USA, the new presidential "super PAC" founded by two ex-Obama aides, is out with its first advertisement of the nascent 2012 presidential campaign. The ad targets Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of flip-flopping on the issue of health care on the eve of his visit to South Carolina this weekend.

The ad opens with fellow 2012 contender Newt Gingrich's recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan that would, among other things, eviscerate Medicare. (On NBC's Meet the Press, Gingrich called Ryan's plan "right-wing social engineering"—a description that Gingrich quickly retracted in the face of massive criticism from conservatives.) Then the ad highlights Romney's support for Ryan's plan, which is followed by an image of Romney during his recent health care speech in Michigan, in which he defended his universal reform plan in Massachusetts—a plan that is anathema to GOPers like Paul Ryan. The ad concludes by asking, "With Mitt Romney, you have to wonder: which page is he on today?"

Here's the ad in full, with a script afterward:

The script:

Newt Gingrich says the Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare is too "radical." Governor Haley thinks the plan is courageous, and Gingrich shouldn't be cutting conservatives off at the knees. Mitt Romney says he's "on the same page" as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare. But with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder: which page is he on today? Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement."

Bill Burton, a former press secretary in the Obama White House who co-founded Priorities USA, declined to put a price on the ad buy, but described it in an email as a "statewide, election-year level buy over the course of his short trip." He added, "If you are watching the news this weekend in South Carolina, you will see this ad."

Priorities USA is hardly the first group to hit Romney for his mushy position on health care. Indeed, as Mother Jones reported, Romney's 2008 New Hampshire campaign director, Bruce Keough, ruled out working for Romney in 2012 because of the former governor's wishy-washy political identity. Romney, Keough told me, "manages to say things that cause people to think, 'Wait a second: I thought I knew him, and now I'm not so sure.' I think he can be successful. But I don't think he will be successful if he runs his campaign like he did in 2008."

In the months to come, expect plenty more ads like this one hitting Romney for his changing positions, especially when it comes to health care.