Mojo - May 2011

Legal Advocates Slam Tea Party Constitution Classes

| Fri May 13, 2011 11:57 AM EDT

Earlier this week, we reported on a new project sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots to pressure public schools into teaching the Constitution using its favored, if dubious, curriculum. Well, the news isn't going over well in some quarters. Liberal lawyers were very unhappy to hear that the tea partiers wanted the public schools to teach the Constitution based on the writings of the late author of the 5,000 Year Leap, W. Cleon Skousen. Skousen's views on the Constitution are considered well outside the mainstream, and they include ideas drawn from white supremacist dogma and other shady sources. One of his textbooks on constitutional history contained blatantly racist material suggesting that slaves were actually a happy bunch of folks.

Friday morning, Doug Kendall, the president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal-leaning think tank and public interest law firm, blasted out a press release urging educators to keep the tea partiers out of their schools. He said:

I defy the Tea Party Patriots to find one credible historian willing to support their view of the Constitution’s history. Before the Tea Party gets to go into school and teach our children about the Constitution, they need to find a tenured professor on the history faculty on one of any of the 50 highest-rated universities in the United States who will vouch for the accuracy of their teachings. To qualify to teach America’s children about the Constitution you need to do more than dress up like James Madison.

The Tea Party Patriots are peddling constitutional gobbledygook masquerading as history. Yet whether it is Tea Party organizations misrepresenting American history, or Tea Party politicians like Rep. Michele Bachmann not knowing what state the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought in, the Tea Party has utterly disqualified itself from serious discussion of our Constitution’s text and history. America's school boards must flatly reject the Tea Party Patriots' attempts to muscle their bad history into our children’s classrooms.

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Pawlenty Snags Swiftboat Funder and Other Top Donors

| Fri May 13, 2011 11:30 AM EDT

Tim Pawlenty may be boring. He may be the best second-best Republican presidential contender out there. But damn if he ain't flush, reports The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Pawlenty's backers include Bob Perry, the Texas home builder who gave more money than any GOP donor to conservative groups like American Crossroads, which spent heavily in the 2010 election, and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which was active in the 2004 campaign. In 2008, Mr. Perry supported Mr. Romney.

Ray Washburne, a Texas real-estate developer and restaurateur who raised money for former President George W. Bush, is backing Mr. Pawlenty because "he's got a great story to tell."

The Pawlenty campaign held its biggest fund-raiser to date in Dallas on on Tuesday at the home of Tom Hicks, the private-equity and sports investor, who once owned the Texas Rangers baseball team. Co-hosts included heirs to the H.L. Hunt oil fortune, Dean Foods Chief Executive Gregg Engles, billionaire buyout investor Harold Simmons and Excel Communications founder Kenny Troutt.

Bill Strong, the Morgan Stanley executive who leads Mr. Pawlenty's fund-raising efforts, was slated to host an event in Chicago on Thursday that was expected to haul in more money than the Dallas event. The campaign expects to raise $800,000 at the Dallas and Chicago events combined, according to someone familiar with Mr. Pawlenty's fund-raising.

This is good news for Pawlenty, who's still contending with yawning enthusiasm and recognition gaps among Republican voters. Even better news? A number of the Pawlenty's early donors—including Perry, Engles, Simmons, Strong—contributed to Mitt Romney's campaign in 2008. That's not to say they're committed to Pawlenty for the long haul, but it certainly must be encouraging for T-Paw's camp.

The bad news? Romney spent more than any other GOP primary candidate in 2008, and appears to be well on his way to matching that pace in 2012 (RomneyCare problems, notwithstanding): at fundraisers this week, his fundraisers snagged $1 million in contributions, the Journal reports. Even if he loses a few donors to Pawlenty, chances are he'll be able to make up for it.

With Haley Barbour sitting out the 2012 race and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels still undecided, the bundlers are still there for the taking. So despite his recent good fortune, Pawlenty's got to keep bringing in the bacon. 

The Democrats' Medicare Problem

| Fri May 13, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Democrats have had a field day attacking Republicans for supporting Paul Ryan's drastic plan to voucherize Medicare. Now Republicans are starting to push back—and their counterattacks could highlight some of the Democrats' own vulnerabilities on the popular entitlement program for seniors. 

Republicans have already launched an ad against Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Ca.), a Democrat representing a Northern California swing district, Politico reports. In the television ad, Republicans claim that "McNerney and President Obama's Medicare plan empowers bureaucrats to interfere with doctors, risking seniors' access to treatment. Now, Obama's budget plan lets Medicare go bankrupt: That'd mean big cuts to benefits. Tell McNerney to stop bankrupting Medicare."

The first sentence of the ad refers to a new Medicare payment advisory panel created by Obama's Affordable Care Act. The ACA empowers an independent, Senate-approved group of experts to reduce Medicare costs—so long as their actions don't ration care, increase premiums, or decrease coverage. In terms of keeping wasteful spending and costs down, it's one of the most important pieces of the federal reform—and one of the most widely misunderstood, reviled by the GOP as the new "death panel." House Democrats were wary of supporting the panel to begin with, and concerned about its ability to bypass legislators. (Congress can still vote to override the panel's decisions, but the panel doesn't need advance approval to act.) Now a small but growing number of Dems have signed on to a GOP effort to scrap the panel, known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

So in response to the message that Republicans would end up placing seniors at the mercy of rapacious, private-hungry private insurers, the GOP will contend that faceless, unelected bureaucrats will be trimming Medicare instead. Democrats, of course, could argue that they're just trying to set fairer ground rules for the health-care market, which has victimized consumers through sky-high costs and unjust practices. But some Dems' willingness to sign on to the bill that would repeal IPAB shows that they may not be entirely confident in that argument.

To be sure, Obama has not only vowed to protect IPAB but also promised to strengthen its authority. Politically speaking, it could be an uphill battle for Democrats to explain their own reform plan for Medicare—and, as I predicted last month, Republicans will do everything they can to exploit that vulnerability. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 13, 2011

Fri May 13, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Pfc. Dustin Dean, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, pulls security behind a machine gun while the rest of his platoon searches a farmhouse for intelligence during a platoon training and evaluation exercise April 27, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Dean's battalion, the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, has been tasked to augment a brigade of paratroopers currently on the short-notice global response force. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

10 CEOs Who Got Rich By Squeezing Workers

| Thu May 12, 2011 7:02 PM EDT

Corporate profits grew 38.8 percent in 2010, the biggest increase since 1950. But while CEOs earned an average of 20 percent more last year, many Americans continued to lose their jobs and benefits. The insecurity of the middle class has a lot to do with how executives are paid. Bonuses pegged to stock prices encourage CEOs to mercilessly outsource and downsize, slashing costs to boost profits. The result is that more corporate leaders are getting paid at the expense of average workers. Here are 10 of the worst offenders:

Michael T. Duke Walmart Jeffrey R. Immelt General Electric Angela F. Braly WellPoint Mark G. Parker Nike Hugh Grant Monsanto Craig Dubow Gannett Clarence Otis, Jr.Darden Restaurants Gary M. Rodkin ConAgra Foods Keith E. Wandell Harley Davidson
Peter L. Lynch Winn-Dixie

*Duke's pay would have dropped even more had Walmart not stopped calculating his bonus based on same-store sales, which have declined over the past two years.

 

The Hypocrisy of Darrell Issa

| Thu May 12, 2011 2:31 PM EDT

At a hearing today of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is expected to attack a Presidential plan to require government contractors to disclose their contributions to political groups. The hearing is a bold move for Issa, who only months ago founded the House Transparency Caucus with the declaration that "sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant."

The disclosure rule at issue is really just a small-bore response to last year's sweeping Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which opened the floodgates to corporate cash in elections. It focuses exclusively on federal contractors because they presumably have more incentive than other private companies to bribe and influence politicians. So why is Issa throwing a fit?

The answer, as with most things in politics, probably involves money. The union-backed group Chamber Watch has tallied up how much dark money went last year to support Republicans on the Oversight Committee and the Small Business Committee, which is co-hosting the hearing. The results are striking:

Source: US Chamber WatchSource: US Chamber WatchEvidence suggests that a large part of this dark money comes from companies that feed at the public trough. Board members of just one of those dark money groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, earned a collective $44 billion from federal contracts last year, according to Chamber Watch. Only 18 of the Chamber's 53 board members didn't land contracts with the federal government.

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Dem Campaign Ad: "I Have Issues! I'm Korean."

| Thu May 12, 2011 2:21 PM EDT

Has there ever been a more blatant ploy to get the Korean-American vote? Or a political ad more directly indebted to the work of Margaret Cho?

Having watched this new campaign spot by Democratic congressional hopeful Dan Adler, who's running for retiring Rep. Jane Harman's seat in the Los Angeles area, we'll let you decide:

 

Issa Stacks the Deck Against Obama's Dark Money Directive

| Thu May 12, 2011 11:35 AM EDT

On Capitol Hill today, a pair of House committees, including the one led by the pugnacious Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), will debate President Obama's plan to issue an executive order that would force government contractors to disclose political contributions. The hearing's title telegraphs the GOP's stance on the order: "Politicizing Procurement: Would President Obama's Proposal Curb Free Speech and Hurt Small Business?" From the hearing's witness list, it's clear that Issa, who chairs the House oversight and government reform committee, has stacked the deck against the Obama administration. He allowed Democrats, who mostly support Obama's order, to invite only one witness to testify; Issa and House Republicans, meanwhile, invited five witnesses who all oppose the executive order. (A member of the Obama administration will also testify.)

Fred Wertheimer, a long-time campaign finance advocate who runs Democracy 21, says he was asked by House Democrats to testify, but his testimony was blocked by Issa's office. Wertheimer has been testifying on campaign finance issues since 1973, and he can't remember a hearing as one-sided as this one. As for opponents' claims that Obama's order curtails the free speech of government contractors, he calls that argument "absurd." In his written testimony, which will be submitted into the Congressional record, Wertheimer writes:

The Supreme Court clearly and unequivocally found in Citizens United that campaign finance disclosure laws were constitutional and necessary for the new campaign finance activities permitted by the Court’s decision. The draft Executive Order would provide such information to citizens and taxpayers whose funds are being spent on government contracts and who have a basic right to know this information.

Obama's executive order comes after Congress' repeated failure to pass legislation bolstering disclosure rules and transparency in campaign spending, and in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporation donations in American elections. The order has the support of good government groups and campaign finance reformers, but is opposed by GOPers and a few Democrats, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Hoyer's suburban district, southeast of Washington, DC, is home to multiple government contractors.

The Obama administration had initially declined Issa's invitation to testify the hearing, saying the drafting process on the order wasn't complete. But after Issa threatened to subpoena the White House, the adminstration offered up Daniel Gordon, the administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget.

Read Fred Wertheimer's complete testimony here:

Wertheimer Testimony on Obama Administration Executive Order 5 10 2011

What Mitt Romney Doesn't Need to Say About Health Care

| Thu May 12, 2011 11:16 AM EDT

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is giving a major speech in Ann Arbor, Michigan today on what experts agree is the signature crisis of his candidacy: the landmark health care reform bill he signed into law in 2006, requiring all residents of his state to buy health insurance. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, as good a source as any for what the conservative establishment is thinking, calls Romney "Obama's Running Mate"; over at Politico, Kasie Hunt lays out the stakes:

For Romney, there's no getting around it. The perceived similarities between the two measures are a deal-breaker for the Republican base, which loathes the president’s plan. At the same time, the former governor can't afford to completely repudiate the centerpiece of his four-year-term without reinforcing the flip-flopping knock on him.

In an attempt to put the issue behind him—something he hasn't come close to doing yet—Romney will outline his health care plan in a PowerPoint presentation that is designed to explain his views on federal policy but also to distinguish the Massachusetts plan from the president’s in a way that is convincing to Republican primary voters.

Yeah, that is kind of awkward. But here's another way of looking at it: Mitt Romney's support for providing poor people with affordable health insurance is only a problem until the Republican establishment decides it isn't a problem. There are sincerely held conservative arguments against the Affordable Care Act, but the party's most fundamental objection to Obamacare is reflected in that nickname: President Obama signed it.

From there, the individual mandate follows naturally as an unconstitutional, un-American villain. But it wasn't considered toxic by Republican activists in 2006, when Romney signed the bill, or in 2008, when he ran on it—and won the endorsement of tea party ringleader Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.). In other words, there's an on–off switch to all the outrage. Romney can talk himself hoarse trying to explain why his health care plan is different than President Obama's; or he can just sit tight and hope the GOP establishment decides, once more, that an individual mandate really isn't that big of a deal.

Newt Gingrich's Lockheed Martin Love Affair

| Thu May 12, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

On Wednesday, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich kicked off his presidential exploratory committee with announcements on Twitter, Facebook, and Fox News. He's in it to win it: In 2009 and 2010, Gingrich raised more money than all of the other candidates combined. With his deep network of PACs and business ventures, the former Speaker has the resources to go along with the strong name recognition. But Gingrich still faces a serious adversary—his record. On everything from medical marijuana, to marriage, to Libya, Gingrich has a long history of making incendiary statements that bely his own actions. Take, for example, his campaign to weed out wasteful spending.

In his 2009 book, Real Change, Gingrich singles out Lockheed Martin and NASA for squandering taxpayer dollars on faulty equipment for the agency's Mars program. The ballooning costs and endless delays, he explained, were emblematic of the "kinds of waste and fraud that currently plague government programs." As he put it: "These cumbersome, bureaucratic companies can match the federal government's expertise in red tape... What matters is not the quality of their engineering, but the quality of their lobbying."

Rather than funneling money into a company operating with little oversight, Gingrich argued, we should let the marketplace place do the work, and hold prize competitions for new technologies.

It's not a terrible idea—in fact, it's similar to the plan put forth by President Obama two years ago. But there's just one problem with Gingrich’s framing: During his two decades as a congressman from Georgia, representing a district adjacent to a major Lockheed assembly plant*, there was no bigger advocate for the contracting giant's "cumbersome, bureaucratic" business interests than Newt Gingrich.