Election Day 2012 is still 17 months away, but already a shadowy outside spending group has announced it will spend $20 million on ads bashing President Obama's record on the economy, jobs, and the nation's debt.

Conceived by GOP mastermind Karl Rove, Crossroads GPS will unveil its first, $5 million set of ads today, appearing on television stations in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Virginia, among other states. The ads will also appear on national TV networks. Here's that first ad, titled "Shovel Ready," ripping Obama for rising unemployment and national debt and a failed $830 billion stimulus. "It's time to take away Obama's blank check," says the ad's narrator.

Want to know who funded the "Shovel Ready" ad? Too bad. Crossroads GPS is what's called a 501(c)4 group, or "social welfare organization," under IRS tax law. That means the group can engage in politicking, but it can't be the majority of what they do. But more importantly, Crossroads GPS does not have to disclose who its donors are. It's a secret. When Crossroads GPS files its fundraising paperwork with the IRS for the 2010 election, which it has yet to do seven months after the fact, there won't be any donor names at all.

Think of Crossroads GPS' $20 million ad buy as a preview for what's to come in the 2012 presidential election. In fact, Crossroads GPS' sister group, American Crossroads, which does have to disclose its donors, has pledged to spend a staggering $120 million during the 2012 election cycle to unseat Obama and win the majority in the Senate. On the Democratic side, as I reported in May, there are an array of outside spending groups focusing on the presidential, House, and Senate races intended to counter the right wing's flow of dark money. After watching the GOP cruise to victory in 2010, with the help of the Crossroads groups, they're building their own war chests for 2012. "What's the benefit," one Democratic strategist told me, "of sitting on the sidelines and losing your majority in the Senate, losing more seats in the House, and possibly losing the White House?"

Already Democrats are using the "Shovel Ready" ad as a way to raise as much as $400,000 this week, The Hill reported. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the main fundraising arm for Senate Democrats, blasted out an email to supporters highlighting the GPS ad and asking for money. "It’s a huge buy," wrote DSCC official Guy Cecil, "but we can fend them off in the states they’re targeting IF we hit this fundraising goal on Thursday."

Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team pull camouflaged netting over an artillery emplacement during platoon evaluations on Fort Bragg, N.C., June 15. Evaluations follow months of training, field exercises and certification. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

The fireworks just keep coming and coming out of Wisconsin, the flashpoint for the grassroots uprising against the GOP's war on unions and workers' rights. Here's a breaking news headline from this morning:

"Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow justice by the neck."

Prosser, of course, is conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who narrowly won re-election to the state's high court this spring in one of the closest judicial races in Wisconsin history. Now, Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) are reporting that Prosser allegedly grabbed a fellow justice, Ann Walsh Bradley, around the neck with both hands during argument shortly before the court ruled on June 14 to uphold Republican Governor Scott Walker's bill to curb collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions.

Asked to respond, Prosser told WCIJ he had "nothing to say." Justice Bradley said the same to Wisconsin Public Radio. Here's more from the story:

The sources say Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs was notified of the incident. One source says Tubbs came in to meet with the entire Supreme Court about this matter. Tubbs, contacted by Wisconsin Public Radio, declined to comment.

Sources also say the matter was called to the attention of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which investigates allegations of misconduct involving judges. James Alexander, executive director of the commission, said Friday that "we can neither confirm nor deny" that the incident was under investigation. "The commission hasn’t given me any authority to make any confirmation."

Amanda Todd, spokesperson for the court, sent an email to the full court on Friday afternoon informing them of the Center’s media inquiries on the matter. Reporters also contacted each justice individually. As of the end of day Friday, none of the justices had commented.

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold Walker's bill not only angered Democrats and union supporters but split the high court itself. The court's chief justice, Shirley Abrahamson, blasted the four justices (among them Prosser) who wrote the majority opinion, writing that they "make their own findings of fact, mischaracterize the parties' arguments, misinterpret statutes, minimize (if not eliminate) Wisconsin constitutional guarantees, and misstate case law, appearing to silently overrule case law dating back to at least 1891." The court's decision overturned a district court judge who said Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature violated the state's law open meetings law during the passage of Walker's bill.

To be clear, the details of Prosser's alleged misconduct are still somewhat unclear. But if substantiated, these latest allegations aren't the first time Prosser has been accused of mistreating female judges. In early 2010, Prosser lashed out at Abrahamson in a closed-doors meeting, calling her a "bitch" and threatening to "destroy" her.

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama ran down a long list of things the nation needs to do better. Among expected topics, like education and healthcare, Obama noted infrastructure, and more specifically—high-speed rail. Parts of Europe and Russia invest more in their railways than we do, he said, and it's high time we start catching up.

That mission made some headway this week—but not in quite the way the rail industry would have hoped for. On Wednesday, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a legislative hearing to discuss a draft bill that aims to improve high-speed and intercity passenger rail for the nation. How? By privatizing Amtrak.

If implemented, the GOP-sponsored bill would transfer control of the Northeast Rail Corridor—the train web connecting major Northeast cities—from Amtrak to the Department of Transportation. DOT would then oversee a private sector bidding process for high-speed rail projects in the Northeast, and for intercity routes nationwide.

The rumor-mill has generated chatter this week that Mark Kelly—veteran, astronaut, and husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)—could make a run for Senate. He announced his retirement from NASA earlier this week, and posted on Facebook that he "will look at new opportunities" to once again "serve our country."

With the coming retirement of Jon Kyl in 2012, there will be an open seat in Arizona available should Kelly decide to run. But this of course raises all kinds of questions about Giffords' status and whether she will be able to run for reelection to her House seat, or possibly—circumstances permitting—run for Senate herself. If she isn't able to run for reelection, Kelly could also run to fill her seat in the lower House.

In either case, he'd have a lot going for him. Spouses running to fill the seat of their partner have done pretty well in the past (usually when the partner dies, but in this case I think the sentiment would still transfer, given the tragic circumstances). Military vets also have a pretty good record, and astronauts have done pretty well for themselves, too. Before she was shot in January, Giffords' was considered a likely candidate to run for Kyl's seat, but since then, no other prime contender has really shaken out of the mix. Might Kelly be the next best choice?

Georgia has been among a handful of states to crack down on immigration in recent months, passing "copycat" legislation similar to Arizona's sweeping law. Now Georgia's farms are complaining that they will soon face labor shortages because immigrants are now reluctant to come to the state for fear of reprisal. According to a recent survey conducted by the state's agricultural commissioner, farmers are expected to be short some 11,000 workers over the course of the season, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Georgia farmers say that immigrant workers who normally migrate from Florida for the seasonal work are staying away this year because of the new law. The measure, which takes effect in July, requires police to check the immigration status of suspects stopped for other offenses. And so far, not enough documented laborers have stepped up to take undocumented immigrants' farm jobs, more than half of which pay an average of $8/hour and about a third of which pay from $9 to $11/hour. If the labor shortage continues, Georgia farmers will be "forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields," says Jay Bookman, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal—who spearheaded the immigration crackdown and put the issue at the heart of his 2010 campaign—has put a few potential solutions on the table, including a dubious-sounding proposal that my colleague Lauren Ellis covered earlier this month in which farmers would hire 2,000 unemployed convicts who are free on probation to work on the farms instead.

The dilemma facing Georgia's largest industry makes it clear that state legislators didn't think through the serious ramifications of their sweeping new immigration law. Like it or not, immigrants are an integral part of the workforce in Georgia, as elsewhere, and simply trying to cast them out without making further adjustments to the labor market and economy can have unintended consequences. To that end, observers have admonished Georgia lawmakers for acting too hastily, per this editorial from the Valdosta Daily Times that Bookman quotes:

Maybe this should have been prepared for, with farmers’ input. Maybe the state should have discussed the ramifications with those directly affected. Maybe the immigration issue is not as easy as ’send them home,’ but is a far more complex one in that maybe Georgia needs them, relies on them, and cannot successfully support the state’s No. 1 economic engine without them.

A U.S. Special Operations team member is hoisted into a UH-60 aircraft during a medical evacuation training evolution June 13, at Multinational Base Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. Coalition Special Operations team members routinely conduct refresher training in medical evacuation evolutions to prepare for contingencies while operating in the field. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Whitney

I was flabbergasted when I saw an infographic in the Wall Street Journal online today that said Americans only work 4 hours a day on average. "Who are these Americans?" I asked myself. "And how do they pay their bills?" But there's more to the infographic than meets the eye.

On average, according the new statistics released by the Labor Department yesterday, Americans who had a job in 2010 worked 7.9 hours on a weekday, and/or 5.5 hours on a Saturday or Sunday. But the average American (which includes those who are employed, underemployed, and unemployed) only worked 3 hours and 58 minutes a day. While at first glance, the WSJ infographic could make someone think Americans are a bunch of lazy slackers who spend more time sleeping and watching TV and less time working than they used to, the actual data behind this graphic tells a different story.

In 2007, for example, 87% of workers (full-time and part-time) did some or all of their work at the office. In 2010, that figure dropped to 83%. This is probably at least partly because more people are working at home: 23% of the employed in 2010, as compared to 20% in 2007. And a lot of the people working from home were educated: 36% of those doing at least some work from home in 2010 had a bachelor's degree or higher, while in 2007 only 34.5% did.

There was one confounding finding though: The average workday for a full-time employed American has, indeed, dropped slightly: from 8.05 hours on an average weekday in 2007 compared with 8 hours in 2010. That could be because people are working when they're not technically "at work": checking work email from home while watching TV, for example, or reading emails on their Blackberry at 10 p.m. As our recent Speedup package has shown, people are indeed being asked to work harder, but for the same amount of pay. Whether that extra effort necessarily translates into billable, or reportable, hours is another statistic altogether.


The religious right is Tim Pawlenty's to lose.

In a recent poll of leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—which includes representatives from a number of evangelical organizations around the country—45 percent named Pawlenty as their preferred Republican candidate. Coming in a distant second with 14 percent: Mitt Romney.

In the NAE press release announcing the poll, Leith Anderson, the group's president, points out that Pawlenty's strong showing "might be expected since he is so often identified as an evangelical." It doesn't hurt that Anderson is Pawlenty's pastor at Wooddale Church—a shared history that the release fails to mention.

Pawlenty's religious fervor distinguishes him from Romney, the current frontrunner. It's central to his presidential narrative. But that's not likely to help him much with the broader Republican electorate:

Among Republicans, 59 percent hold a favorable view of [Romney], according to a Bloomberg National Poll, while only 16 percent view him negatively. He’s also more popular than unpopular with independent voters by a 10 percentage point margin. . . . [Pawlenty] is viewed favorably by 29 percent and unfavorably by 11 percent.

And then there's this:

While the poll shows more than half of Republicans are dissatisfied with the current choices in the field, an overwhelming 85 percent want candidates seeking their support to focus almost entirely on economic issues, not social ones.

Of course, social issues define the evangelical right. Meaning that Pawlenty would be well advised to aggressively broaden his base, and court some of that 85 percent that's begging to hear more about jobs and smart investments and less about abortion and traditional marriage. Because if polls like Bloomberg's bear out, most Republicans just don't care what the NAE thinks.

Every presidential candidate talks about the importance of "independent" voters. But in an interview with Kasie Hunt, former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman takes it a step further:

In an interview with POLITICO, Huntsman made clear that he plans to capitalize on election rules in New Hampshire and South Carolina that allow independent voters to cast ballots in the GOP presidential primary.

"These are wide open primaries, we forget that," Huntsman said, predicting an independent turnout in New Hampshire as high as 40 percent. "[I] think, given the fluidity of the race in these early states, that we stand a pretty good chance, and we're putting that to the test."

The former Utah governor's strategy is an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. His moderate positions on the environment, immigration and civil unions —and his time as Barack Obama's ambassador to China—are formidable obstacles to victory in a party where the energy is concentrated in the conservative core.

By Huntsman's own admission, his party's shift to the right has left him considerably out of step with the conservative base—a problem that's been reinforced by a string of polls, which show him bringing up the rear. So what's a professed Obama admirer and former moderate Republican governor to do? Nate Silver, riffing off of Huntsman's new anti-war push, tweets an unlikely scenario: "Independents want quick withdraw from Afghanistan too. Does the possibility of running as an independent enter into Huntsman's calculus?"