Mojo - June 2011

Advice for President Obama: Don't Listen to Mark Penn

| Thu Jun. 16, 2011 9:12 AM EDT

Outside of his inner circle, few Americans did as much to put Barack Obama in the White House as Mark Penn. It was Penn, you may remember, mapped out then-Sen. Hillary Clinton entire campaign strategy without taking into account the small fact that convention delegates were allocated proportionately and not winner-take-all. The result was that the Clinton campaign poured most of its resources into a few big states where it barely broke even on delegates, while Obama was able to build an insurmountable delegate lead by competing everywhere else. Math!

Now Penn is back—this time with advice for President Obama in a GQ interview on how to avoid embarrassing himself next November. Among other things he believes the President should downplay one of his singular national security accomplishments—killing Osama bin Laden—and consciously refrain from undertaking similar operations:

He's already mentioning it in speeches, and he has to stop. Never ever put the Osama mission in political terms. People are going to want him to put this in ads. Don't. Everybody knows he did a great job! This was a different kind of thing for sure, but after impeachment was over, Joe Lockhart had this great phrase: 'We're in a gloat-free zone.' The president's gotta stay in a gloat-free zone...

Obviously he took the biggest risk of his presidency with the Osama operation, and it completely paid off. He was right. But watch out now for overconfidence. Don't try this again with Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. The next risk could end up being a disaster that is very difficult to recover from. Sometimes I think Bush got into Iraq because the original Afghanistan mission seemed to go so easily—and he wound up with something that defined the rest of his presidency.

I'd love to meet the Obama voter who decides that he's going to vote for Mitt Romney instead because, back in early 2011, the President gave a few speeches in he which he mentioned the successful resolution of a 10-year man-hunt for the most universally hated man in American history. (Perhaps he's one of Penn's vaunted Micro-trend demographics?) Anyway, the whole interview is not very long, but I'll make it even shorter for you: The simplest way for President Obama to embarrass himself next November is to start asking Mark Penn for advice.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

How Republicans Talk About Climate When No One's Listening

| Thu Jun. 16, 2011 8:29 AM EDT

Sarah Palin may now dismiss global warming as a "bunch of snake oil science," but just a few years ago, back when she was governor of the state melting into the sea, she was inclined to care about the subject. It's well-known that she established a task force to address climate change in the state, but later flip-flopped on the issue. Yet as one exchange in the trove of emails released by the state of Alaska last week shows, Palin at one point actually took climate science quite seriously.

In an email exchange from July 2007, Palin discussed global warming with her brother, Chuck Heath Jr., who was taking part in a climate change study program for science teachers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the state's environment commissioner. Heath wrote:

Sarah, I'm just about done with my 80 hour course on global climate change. Most of it has been focused on coastal erosion which is probably a bigger deal than you're aware of … I have met some of the top scientists in the world on the subject and if you'd like, I can organize another advisory task force (which would include scientists, economists, citizens who live in these areas) who can give recommendations to the state. The problem is accelerating quickly so it would be good to get a handle on it now.

Palin forwarded the message to Lawrence Hartig, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She mentioned her hope that the state is "really getting serious about dealing with climate change impacts." She added: "I'm getting more and more enthused about digging into the subject and working on it."

None of this is to say that Palin's administration was all that progressive when it came to climate change policy. She created the climate task force but then ignored its recommendations. Her administration also sued the federal government for listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, due to the impacts of global warming.

What's most interesting is that Republicans—particularly the GOP's presidential contenders, declared and otherwise—have widely been written off as anti-science by their foes on the left. It's little wonder, with Michele Bachmann arguing that carbon dioxide is nothing more than plant food and Rick Santorum maintaining that he's never been fooled by science. But in the case of Palin, it's not that she refudiates the science, as she might say. What's more likely is that she's made the calculation that caring about global warming isn't particularly politically advantageous right now. She's not alone of course—both Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich have taken similar approaches. But in her case, Alaska's email dump contains an interesting insight into what she believes when she's not running for national office.

Tea Party Protests Another Mosque

| Thu Jun. 16, 2011 6:23 AM EDT

Several weeks ago, police arrested Izhar Khan, the 24-year-old imam of a Margate, Florida, mosque, for transferring money to the Pakistani Taliban. Now the tea party of Fort Lauderdale (a 25-minute drive away) is joining with like-minded groups in an attempt to shut down the entire mosque. The FBI's investigation targeted several Khan family members, including Izhar's dad. It did not, however, mention any other mosque attendees or leaders.

The chairman of one of the groups told a local news station: "The imam is the face of the mosque. When you have the president of the mosque saying this guy [Izhar Khan] is a star, even though he was helping to raise tens of thousands for the Taliban, I would say shut it down absolutely." A Boca Raton pastor suggests the mosque is committing treason. "We will not stand aside and let the 'enemy within' act as a kind of 'fifth column' for the Taliban on American soil. Nor will we allow our communities to be used as satellites for terrorist cells, and offer refuge behind the walls of sacred mosques as a kind of 'religious shield'," he said. Last year, the tea party led the charge against the mosque near Ground Zero. Mark Williams, a former Tea Party Express chairman, infamously said the Ground Zero mosque would serve as a place for the "worship of the terrorists' monkey-god."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 16, 2011

Thu Jun. 16, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

An Afghan National Civil Order Police officer speaks to a local shop owner during a mission in the streets in downtown Kandahar City, Afghanistan, May 29. The mission was led by U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 25th Infantry Division. Photo via US Army.

Was Huntsman Involved in His Family Firm's Price-Fixing Case?

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 2:00 PM EDT

In the early going, Jon Huntsman's soon-to-be-official presidential campaign has been characterized chiefly by a couple notable no-shows: his decisions not to compete in the uber-conservative Iowa caucus or take part in Monday's GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire.

But despite his best efforts to sidestep scrutiny, the opposition research squad at American Bridge 21st Century—a new Democratic political action group, which was profiled by Andy Kroll last month—has uncovered this gem: Huntsman International—a multinational plastics company founded by Huntsman's father—recently agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that the it broke antitrust laws by fixing the price of urethane chemicals from 1999 to 2004. The suit was filed in by several of Huntsman's competitors, reports the Associated Press.

Officials at Huntsman insist the company didn't do anything wrong. But they've still agreed to pay $33 million "to avoid the substantial burdens and uncertainties inherent in complex business litigation," Huntsman vice president Gary Chapman told the AP.

Jon Huntsman was a top executive at his family firm, serving as vice chairman of the company's board, among other roles, during five of the six years covered in the suit. Nevertheless, Chapman says that the Utah governor and recently ex-ambassador to China "has not been involved in the lawsuit in any way." And Huntsman's campaign says he had no knowledge of the settlement.

For a corporate titan like Huntsman International (especially one involved in processing chemicals), revelations about lawsuits and other dirty laundry aren't a big surprise. And this lawsuit obviously begs the question of what other, potentially damaging corporate skeletons Jon Huntsman might have stashed away.

Camp Tea Party

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 11:49 AM EDT

Think summer camp and most people tend to envision mobs of kids swimming in lakes, rowing canoes, or weaving friendship bracelets and singing campfire songs. But conservative activists in Florida have come up with a novel idea for a summer camp this year: Camp Tea Party. In what sounds eerily like indoctrination camp, a few Tampa kids will be spending part of their summer learning about the evils of European socialism and the Christian roots of the Constitution at the "Tampa Liberty School," a summer camp created by conservative activists from a Tampa 9/12 group. Their camp cheers will include such mottoes as "government can't force me to be charitable" and "I believe in God." The St. Petersburg Times reports on some of the activities campers can look forward to:

Children will win hard, wrapped candies to use as currency for a store, symbolizing the gold standard. On the second day, the "banker" will issue paper money instead. Over time, students will realize their paper money buys less and less, while the candies retain their value...

Another example: Starting in an austere room where they are made to sit quietly, symbolizing Europe, the children will pass through an obstacle course to arrive at a brightly decorated party room (the New World).

Red-white-and-blue confetti will be thrown. But afterward the kids will have to clean up the confetti, learning that with freedom comes responsibility.

Still another example: Children will blow bubbles from a single container of soapy solution, and then pop each other's bubbles with squirt guns in an arrangement that mimics socialism. They are to count how many bubbles they pop. Then they will work with individual bottles of solution and pop their own bubbles.

The camp is a hybrid of vacation Bible school and Glenn Beck. The organizers modeled the camp after one started in Kentucky last year that seems to have taken much of its curriculum straight from Beck's favorite writer, the late W. Cleon Skousen, author of some dubious and occasionally racist histories of the nation and the bestselling 5,000 Year Leap. In the Kentucky camp, kids learned, among other things, that the early American settlers starved to death because they were communists, a piece of Skousen dogma.

The camps are the brainchild of members of groups that sprung up a few years ago at the urging of Beck, who launched what he called the 9/12 project, symbolizing the day after the 9/11 attacks when the country put partisan differences aside and came together. Beck came up with nine principles and 12 values as the basis for the organization. The 9/12 groups have been associated with the tea party movement, but they also tend to have more religious undertones than their tea party compatriots. Many of their members are Mormons, like Beck and Skousen. Still, they are supportive of the tea party's new focus on the next generation.

The Florida activists are not alone in trying to foist their agenda on America's youth. Organizers of the Tea Party Patriots organization have recently urged activists to lobby public schools to teach the Constitution using materials created by a group Skousen founded. The Tampa Liberty School founders say they hope to expand their summer camp offering into local public schools as well, according to the St. Petersburg Times. "We've had classes for adults," Karen Jaroch, who chairs the Tampa 912 Project, told the paper. "Now we want to introduce a younger generation to economics and history, but in a fun way."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Audit Debunks GOP's Latest "ObamaCare" Conspiracy

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 10:55 AM EDT

Fueled by a series of misleading, dubiously reported stories from The Daily Caller, Republicans have accused President Barack Obama of naked corruption and political favoritism, charging that the administrations granted its allies waivers from health-care reform. Now an audit by the Government Accountability Office—the investigative watchdog of Congress—has blown the GOP attack out of the water. In the report, which was conducted on behest of House Republicans, the GAO concluded that the Obama administration granted or rejected waivers based on objective criteria, not partisanship.

According to the GAO, the Obama administration granted waivers if following the new health-care regulations would raise premiums for employers by more than 10 percent. It generally rejected applications if the premiums would rise by 6 percent or less. Overall, the Obama administration "approved 1,347—more than 95 percent—of the applications in their entirety, while rejecting 25 in part and 40 in whole," The Hill reports.

What's more, "according to the GAO's data, the majority of denials were for plans that covered union employees," the House Energy and Commerce Democrats pointed out on Tuesday. Such evidence further deflates the GOP accusation that unions were getting a disproportionate number of waivers because of their political ties to the Democratic Party.

Even so, it's unclear whether such independent assessments will dampen the GOP's enthusiasm for accusing Obama of favoritism. Even in the face of hard evidence that debunked the Daily Caller's original claims of favoritism, Republicans refused to quit the spurious attacks.

WI Supreme Court Upholds Scott Walker's Anti-Union Bill

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 10:53 AM EDT

Reversing an earlier decision by a county judge, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-union "budget repair" bill, which slashes collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions. The unusually quick decision was 4 to 3; conservative justice David Prosser, who narrowly won reelection this spring after a series of controversial recounts, was among those who believed that Republican lawmakers had not violated the state's open meetings act and supported reinstating Walker's bill.

In their majority opinion, the four justices wrote:

Choices about what laws represent wise public policy for the state of Wisconsin are not within the constitutional purview of the courts. The court's task in the action for original jurisdiction that we have granted is limited to determining whether the Legislature employed a constitutionally violative process in the enactment of the act. We conclude that the Legislature did not violate the Wisconsin Constitution by the process it used.

That, of course, was a rebuke of Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi, who ruled last month that GOP lawmakers failed to give proper notice of a crucial meeting in which they voted to approve Walker's anti-union bill. In a dissenting opinion, State chief justice Shirley Abrahamson, however, ripped the four justices who supported upholding Walker's bill for having "reached a predetermined conclusion not based on the facts and the law, which undermines the majority's ultimate decision." The four justices, she went on, "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."

Walker's bill will officially become law as soon as Secretary of State Doug La Follette publishes the bill, which has been caught in legal limbo for months as the court system debated whether lawmakers rushed the bill through the legislature without proper notice to the public.

State Republicans hailed the court's decision. In a statement, Scott Walker said, "The Supreme Court's ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again." State Assembly speaker Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "We upheld the constitution all the way through the passage of Act 10. We feel great about the decision."

Democrats reacted angrily to the ruling. "The majority of the Supreme Court is essentially saying that the legislature is above the law," said state Rep. Peter Barca, the top Democrat in the Wisconsin Assembly, the legislature's lower chamber. "It's now clear that unless the constitution is amended the legislature is free to ignore any laws on the books." Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said, "This will add fire to the movement to recall the Republican senators who stand by the runaway Scott Walker agenda...The decision itself was no surprise, given that this is a Supreme Court bought and paid for by the same corporate special interests that purchased elections for this governor and this Legislature." He added, "The only surprise was that they did not install Scott Walker governor-for-life."

Why Killing Bin Laden Won't Save Obama

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 9:56 AM EDT

A new Gallup poll shows that the small bump in support that President Obama received in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing has all but disappeared, confirming the findings of a Washington Post/ABC News poll earlier this month. Right after bin Laden was killed in early May, Obama's approval rating went up from 44 percent to 51 percent. But now the numbers are back down to pre-OBL levels, with the president's approval rating back down to 46 percent, along with a notable drop in support among independent voters. Gallup explains:

The drop in Obama's approval rating coincides with an increase in Americans' pessimism about the economy. Economic confidence also increased after bin Laden's death but began to decline early this month, perhaps due to reports of anemic job growth and concerns about the slow pace of economic recovery.

Gallup polling in mid-May found that the rally in support for Obama extended to his approval ratings for handling terrorism and foreign affairs but not his economic approval ratings.

So while bin Laden's death was a significant victory for Obama, the afterglow may be only temporary. As political scientists—along with my colleague Andy Kroll—have often noted, Obama's re-election prospects will hinge disproportionately on the state of the economy. Unfortunately, the latest indicators have made it clear that a full recovery isn't coming any time soon—especially in terms of employment. Obama certainly won't be able to coast into 2012.

Michele Bachmann's Fact-Checking Pays Off

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 9:04 AM EDT

Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, caused a bit of a stir when he promised that everything his candidate says on the trail will be "100-percent fact-checked." This seemed like a pretty daunting challenge; we noted at the time that the non-partisan fact-checking site PolitiFact had never fact-checked a Bachmann statement and found it to be anything but "false" or "very false"—the only major political figure for which that was the case.

No longer. Via PolitiFact:

Michele Bachmann said she would not support increasing the debt ceiling if it didn't include major reductions in government spending. 

"I've already voted no on raising the debt ceiling in the past. And unless there are serious cuts, I can't," she said at debate June 13, 2011, in New Hampshire...

Bachmann said Obama refused to approve an increase in the debt limit when he was a senator, and that he blamed President Bush for failed leadership, as well as Bush's supporters in Congress. She's right on both counts, and we rate her statement True. 

Clearly, Rollins' political savvy is paying off.