Mojo - May 2011

John Boehner's Pathetic 10-Page Jobs Plan

| Fri May 27, 2011 8:48 AM EDT

On Thursday, House Republicans finally unveiled their grand plan for tackling America's jobs crisis and creating jobs for the unemployed. It clocks in at a mere 10 pages, in large type, chock full of slick images. What's missing is, well, any legitimate solutions to lowering the nation's 8.6 percent jobless rate. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote, "It looks like the staffer in charge forgot the assignment was due on Thursday rather than Friday, and so cranked the font up to 24 and began dumping clip art to pad out the plan."

The criticism is well deserved. Reading the "House Republican Plan for America's Job Creators" (PDF), released by the House GOP leadership, is an exercise in wonderment: you wonder what the GOPers actually propose. Several of the "Republican Solutions" are a bit vague. "After a systematic review of our visa system, the Congress should undertake prudent reforms," reads one "solution." Another "solution": "We will work to control the federal deficit to assure investors and entrepreneurs that our nation’s elected leaders are finally getting serious about paying off the debt over time." Details? Apparently, the GOP view was, why bother?

The GOP plan boiled down to its essence is rather retro: Roll back regulation, lower taxes, pass free trade agreements, shrink the US debt, and boost energy production. In other words,  the GOP's overall agenda for the past three decades. There's nothing in this plan that is specific regarding the current jobs crisis, nothing to address such key issues as long-term unemployment, skyrocketing youth unemployment, the war on unemployment benefits in the states (PDF), the use and efficacy of job retraining for laid-off workers, or the polarization of the American work force. It's empty rhetoric, recycled talking points, and campaign slogans.

Klein zeroed in on the fundamental flaw:

[T]he document doesn't admit the existence of a particular unemployment crisis that might require a tailored response. The only problem it admits is, well, Democrats. "For the past four years, Democrats in Washington have enacted policies that undermine these basic concepts which have historically placed America at the forefront of the global marketplace," the document explains on its first page. "As a result, most Americans know someone who has recently lost a job, and small businesses and entrepreneurs lack the confidence needed to invest in our economy. Not since the Great Depression has our nation’s unemployment rate been this high this long."

You don't have to admire the Democratic policy agenda to wonder if someone in Speaker Boehner's office shouldn't have raised his hand and pointed out that George W. Bush was president four years ago and he was a Republican, and perhaps there should be a pro forma mention of Wall Street and the financial crisis somewhere in this narrative. Sadly, the most significant employment crisis in generations has stopped generating new thinking and has become simply another opportunity to bash the other party while pushing your perennial agenda. That's a shame, because with 15 million unemployed and the recovery sputtering slight, we really do need new thinking and a sense of urgency on behalf of both the unemployed and the economy. In fact, we need it now more than ever.

That new thinking isn't coming from the Republican Party. But the Democrats now have a chance to make hay out of the GOP jobs plan, like they did with Rep. Paul Ryan's attack on Medicare. With the economy the most pressing issue for American voters, this this puny plan provides more political ammo for the Ds. Yet if they attack the GOPers on jobs, they'll have to be able to present a strong case that they can do better, and the last election shows how much of a challenge that can be.

Here's the complete GOP plan:

HRP_JOBS

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A New Birther Conspiracy Theory: Trump Tricked Us

| Fri May 27, 2011 7:29 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, the conservative news outlet WorldNetDaily published a story in which prominent birther Jerome Corsi claimed that Donald Trump had told him that President Barack Obama's recently released birth certificate was a fake. We asked Trump about that, and he told Mother Jones that he had done no such thing. After our story ran Thursday, WND editor Joseph Farah seemed shocked that Trump would try to put distance between himself and Corsi, author of the new book Where's the Birth Certificate?. In a WND story, Farah casts doubt on the "leftist Mother Jones" story, puzzling why Trump would say, as he told Mother Jones, that he had not even read Corsi's book. After all, Farah writes, Trump had asked for an advance copy. From WND:

Farah wonders aloud why Trump would ask for a copy of a book he had no intention of reading—even going to the extent of having his organization sign a non-disclosure agreement to get an early electronic copy. "If he wasn't going to read the book, why go to the trouble of requesting a PDF copy and having your representative sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] for it?" asked Farah. "Was his intent all along to violate the NDA and give it to someone else? Was his intent other than what he represented to us—to go to school on the eligibility issue? Trump needs to explain himself to someone other than Mother Jones. That doesn't sound like good faith to me."

Farah and Corsi can't understand why Trump might not want to continue the fight over Obama's citizenship, so they seem to have cooked up yet another conspiracy theory: someone else put Trump up to it. Trump couldn't have been persuaded by the long-form birth certificate that Obama released in April, or the mountains of other evidence that prove that the president was born in Hawaii. No, Farah writes, Trump must be in league with nefarious forces trying to undermine the birthers:

I have strongly begun to suspect that Trump had other motives than seeking the truth about Obama. I think he was pumping Corsi for information for some other purpose than being on the right side of history.

In a recent on-air conversation, Corsi and conspiracy theorist/talk show host Alex Jones suggested that Trump was now scheming with the White House—and perhaps had been plotting with the Obama crowd all along. They speculated that Trump had been bought off, pointing out that his retreat from birthersm and his attacks on GOP 2012 contenders suspiciously coincided with NBC's renewal of his reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. Somehow, the pair said, the government had given money to NBC that ended up with Trump. (They didn't provide details.). Corsi did note, though, that when he recently told Trump that it looked as if Trump's political loyalties had been purchased by the other side, the billionaire developer told him that for him, the NBC money was "chump change."

Trump must be ruing the day he got in bed with these people. He's gone from being their champion to being their target. Perhaps he'll be the subject of Corsi's next book.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 27, 2011

Fri May 27, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers speak with a village elder during a Convoy Reconnaissance Patrol at Badamak, in the Uruzgan province of Afghanistan, May 23, 2011. The purpose of the patrol is to build relationships and trust with local citizens and assess safety, security, and insurgent threats in the area. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Simon Lee

Mumbai Terror Conspirator's Testimony Raises More Questions About DEA

| Thu May 26, 2011 1:30 PM EDT

On Wednesday, David Headley continued to deliver revelatory, damaging testimony at the trial of alleged Mumbai attack conspirator Tahawwu Rana. Headley—who helped plan the attacks—alleges that Pakistani intelligence collaborated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamist terror group that killed 166 Americans in November of 2008. His testimony will likely exacerbate an already fraying relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

But as we pointed out on Monday, Headley is also directing some unwanted attention at another security entity: the Drug Enforcement Agency, which employed Headley as an informant for several years. From The New York Times:

One of Mr. Rana's lawyers, Charles Swift, began cross-examining Mr. Headley on Wednesday, and his relationship with the D.E.A. was one of the first areas explored. Mr. Headley said that he had traveled to Pakistan for the agency in 1999, and continued working with it until September 2002, months after he had begun training with Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Mr. Swift asked Mr. Headley about a 2001 episode in which his former wife warned the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she believed he was plotting with terrorists. Mr. Headley said he told the investigators that he was mixing with extremists as part of a government assignment.

"I had instructions from the D.E.A. to visit those mosques," Mr. Headley said.

"So you told the government not to worry because you were working for them, right?" Mr. Swift asked.

Mr. Headley replied, "Yes."

If Headley really was supposed to infiltrate extremist groups on behalf of the DEA, it makes sense that the FBI woudn't have investigated what he was up to. Still, the revelation that he spent months working as a double agent dredges up ugly, painful memories of the December 2009 murder of seven Afghanistan-stationed CIA agents by Jordanian double agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi—a man who, it turned out, the United States had already identified as a serious threat.

Will Anybody Make the Case for Medicare Reform?

| Thu May 26, 2011 11:14 AM EDT

Democrats are riding high off their political victories this week on Medicare. On Wednesday, the Senate defeated Paul Ryan's 2012 budget, which passed the House earlier this month. The Dems held the purely political vote in an attempt to pin the Ryan plan even more firmly on the GOP, and in that regard, they succeeded. Despite their increasingly mealy-mouthed defense of the Ryan plan, all but five Senate Republicans stood by the budget despite the political risks of supporting its deeply unpopular plan to phase out Medicare.

The Senate vote now gives the Democrats full leeway to use the Ryan plan to attack Republicans in 2012, given the party's surprising unity behind the House budget. But that doesn't necessarily bode well for the future of Medicare itself. Yes, the Dems have succeeded in beginning to turn the political tide against the GOP by attacking their plan for Medicare, but they've done so by playing offense, not defense: Dems have raised fears about the Ryan proposal but haven't made a full-throated defense of their own Medicare reform plan—namely the major provisions for bringing down health-care costs through the Affordable Care Act. And, without strong defenders, some of those key changes have been under increasing threat of being weakened or dismantled.

Trump: Birther Jerome Corsi Got it Wrong

| Thu May 26, 2011 11:11 AM EDT

This week, leading birther Jerome Corsi, the author of the new book, Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible To Be President, claimed Donald Trump told him that President Barack Obama's recently released long-form birth certificate is a forgery. In a story published by WorldNetDaily, Corsi said that Trump told him that he'd gotten his own computer expert to take a look at the document and that this expert concluded it was computer-generated. WND's article made it seem that Trump was getting back into the birther business.

But Trump says Corsi's not telling the truth.

In a statement to Mother Jones, Trump said:

I am proud of the fact that I was able to get President Obama to release his birth certificate. President Clinton couldn’t do it, Senator McCain couldn’t do it—no one else could do it! Frankly, many people were surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Is his birth certificate legitimate? I hope it is for the good of the country, but that’s for experts to determine—not me. I have not read the book written by Jerry Corsi nor did we discuss whether or not the birth certificate was computer generated or in any way fabricated. I merely asked him how his book was doing and wished him good luck.

During an on-air conversation with conspiracy theorist/talk show host Alex Jones—which was posted within the WND story on Trump's supposed comments—Corsi discussed at length his conversation with Trump. Not once did Corsi mention that Trump had said he doubted the authenticity of the document. In fact, Corsi noted that he had pressed Trump to publicly question the document and to demand a forensic investigation of the original record (as opposed to the electronic version released by the White House). "Trump didn't seem interested in any of that," Corsi told Jones. Corsi noted that Trump was also not enthusiastic about Corsi's latest birther-related pursuits: encouraging the filing of criminal charges claiming the birth certificate was forged, and chasing down supposed leads showing birth records related to Obama in Kenya were destroyed. Corsi repeatedly complained about Trump dropping the birther ball. Corsi also said that he had told Trump that it "sure looks like you dropped out" of the birther crusade because he received "a big payment" from NBC, referring to the renewal of Celebrity Apprentice. Jones and Corsi discussed the possibility that Trump is now in league with the Obama White House—plotting against birthers and Republicans.

That Corsi's claims about this particular phone call seem a little shaky is not surprising. He also wrote, among other things, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, a book about Kerry's war record in Vietnam that was roundly criticized for factual inaccuracies. At various times, Corsi has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job; that President George W. Bush intended to create a "North American Union" with a single currency for Canada, the United States, and Mexico; and that Democratic politicians are helping the Iranian mullahs, who are trying to obtain nuclear weapons. 

The WND story also seemed a bit at odds with Trump's public comments in response to Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate. In April, as he did today, Trump took credit for forcing Obama's hand after making the document a centerpiece of his short-lived presidential campaign. "I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue," he said.

Trump, who had briefly been the most prominent figure to take up the birther cause, stopped talking about the issue after Obama released his birth certificate (and, of course, after Obama made Trump and his birther fixation the butt of several jokes at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner). Corsi, though, has an explanation for that. According to WND, Trump told Corsi that just because he wasn't talking about the birth certificate after the April release didn't mean that he was satisfied with the document. The story says Trump told Corsi: "I always said I wanted to know if it was real."

WND has used the Trump-Corsi conversation to draw attention to its own extensive "case" about why the birth certificate must be a forgery, citing various experts on such issues as "kerning" (the squishing together of letters that can only be done with a word processor, not a typewriter). WND has posted an annotated version of the document, highlighting all the alleged fakery. Appending Trump's name on the story, of course, is simply a way of trying to keep the issue alive, and to sell some books. WND reportedly printed 200,000 copies of Where's the Birth Certificate?

It's clear that this conservative news outlet that has made a franchise out of questioning the president's citizenship is nowhere near ready to let it go. In fact, Corsi claims that he knew the White House would be releasing a forged birth certificate weeks before Obama made public the long-form document—and that he didn't publicize that information because he wanted the White House to fall into his trap. And Corsi has tried to keep Trump involved. Michael Cohen, Trump's spokesman, says that Corsi has repeatedly called Trump's office "to provide Mr. Trump with information on the birth certificate issue, even after Mr. Trump publicly stated that the president had publicly released his birth certificate and that it's time to move on to more important issues."

The WND article was headlined, "You're forged! Trump declares Obama's birth certificate fake." This fact-free ploy might cause Corsi to hear Trump's famous catchphrase—that is, if Corsi can ever get the billionaire developer on the phone again.

UPDATE: Here's WorldNetDaily's response to Mother Jones.

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Palin's Latest: Signs of a 2012 Bid...Or Love of the Limelight?

| Thu May 26, 2011 10:11 AM EDT

OMG. Sarah Palin is running for president. Well, it's not official. And unconfirmed. And, perhaps, maybe she isn't. But The New York Times has a front-pager today with a headline proclaiming "Signs Grow That Palin May Run." The signs? She's bolstering her skimpy staff, beefing up her schedule of public appearances, and possibly moving to Arizona. (That's bad news if John McCain wants to be her running-mate.) Politico reports "speculation" of a Palin 2012 race is on the rise. And there's a new pro-Palin film being released in key primary states. Recently, she told her pal Greta Van Susteren that—you betcha—she has "the fire in the belly" for a White House bid.

It may well be that the former half-term governor/unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate is indeed heading toward a dive into presidential waters. But there's another possible explanation: as 2012 approaches, a presidential tease requires more, uh, leg.

Wisconsin Judge Strikes Down Scott Walker's Anti-Union Bill

| Thu May 26, 2011 10:05 AM EDT

A Wisconsin circuit judge has nullified Republican Governor Scott Walker's controversial anti-union bill, which would've eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions, saying Republicans violated the state's open meetings law in the passage of the bill.

In a 33-page ruling (PDF), Judge Maryann Sumi said the GOP's violation of the law was "clear and convincing." Sumi acknowledged that Republicans were frustrated by the weeks-long stalemate over the bill, a standoff that occurred when state Senate Democrats fle to neighboring Illinois to prevent a quorum and block a vote on the bill. But that frustration, she writes, "does not justify jettisoning compliance with the Open Meetings Law in an attempt to move the Budget Repair Bill to final action." She added that her decision took into account "the potential damage to public trust and confidence in government" if lawmakers don't adhere to the state's transparency laws.

The decision marks the latest event in the months-long battle over union rights in Wisconsin, pitting Walker and Republicans in the legislature against organized labor and Democrats. Walker originally signed his anti-union bill in March, amid protests by citizens and Democratic lawmakers alike. Almost immediately, the bill sparked legal challenges, including the one Judge Sumi ruled on today, which was brought by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

However, Wisconsin Republicans have said they would re-introduce the collective bargaining ban in another bill if necessary. Surely, GOPers will challenge Sumi's ruling, and will also start looking for alternate routes to make their reforms into law.

In a statement, Mike Tate, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said: "Today, Wisconsin was given further proof, from a judge appointed by [former GOP governor] Tommy Thompson, that Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers treated the rule of law with contempt in their illegal and divisive overreach. The decision should be looked at as an opportunity to work together to find commonsense solutions to grow our economy and get our fiscal house in order—not to tear our state apart, as Walker and his lockstep Legislature have chosen to do."

Tim Pawlenty: "No Sacred Cows" on Spending—Except the Pentagon

| Thu May 26, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

On the friendly turf of the libertarian Cato Institute, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty reiterated his plan today to tackle America's debt problem by freezing federal pay, slashing wasteful subsidies, and shrinking the federal government. Bemoaning that the government borrows 40 cents for every dollar it spends, Pawlenty said, "You can't run your families like that, you can't run your businesses like that, and we certainly can't run the government like that. There can't be any more sacred cows."

Well, perhaps just one: the bloated US defense budget, which according to the National Priorities Project's Chris Hellman has reached as much as $1.2 trillion a year. Of that, tens of billions of dollars are lost to graft, waste, and useless programs, according to numerous government and media reports. "I'm not one who is going to stand before you and tell you we should cut the defense budget," Pawlenty told the Cato audience.

Republicans refusing to touch the defense budget, despite their tough talk on slashing spending, is a time-honored tradition. But it flies in the face of reality. After all, each of the various deficit commissions—the president's, Esquire magazine's, you name it—recommend substantive cuts to the DoD's budget. So much for "no sacred cows."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 26, 2011

Thu May 26, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Soldiers of the 17th Fires Brigade fire from high mobility artillery rocket systems during a fire coordination exercise designed to train senior leaders on proper procedures for requesting and directing fire support at Yakima Training Center in Washington. Photo by Spc. Ashley M. Outler, 28th Public Affairs Detachment