Back in April, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) gift-wrapped a sure-fire, can't-lose campaign talking point for endangered Democrats: the Path to Prosperity, Ryan's "mature" budget proposal, which cut some $4.3 trillion in spending—mostly from programs benefitting the poor and middle class—while preserving the disastrous Bush tax cuts for the rich and privatizing Medicare by transforming it into a voucher program that would eventually shift much of program's cost onto seniors.

That last bit didn't go over so well. After the measure's introduction, GOP lawmakers who supported it were met with strident protest in their home districts. The lesson: Medicare, as it currently exists, is quite popular. That left Democrats chomping at the bit to pummel Republicans over their "courageous" votes for Ryancare in the run-up to next year's election.

So recent reports that the White House is prepared to curb entitlements—specifically by boosting the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 as part of a deal to increase the debt ceiling—is raising the ire of top Democrats charged with helping the party take back the House and maintain its tenuous majority in the upper chamber. Curbing Medicare eligibility and throwing seniors into the wilderness of the private market would effectively surrender an electoral advantage signed, sealed, and delivered by Paul Ryan.

From the The Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

"We shouldn’t be giving away our advantage on Medicare," said a source familiar with [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Sen. Patty Murray]’s thinking, in characterizing her objections in private meetings. "We should be very careful about giving away the biggest advantage we've had as Democrats in some time."

"For the first time in the past two and a half years we have an unmitigated advantage on a single issue where our entire caucus is united," the source continues. "This is a case where the whole morale of our party was lifted by the fact that we were taking the fight to Republicans."

The Obama administration's sudden concession on including Medicare cuts as part of a "grand bargain" to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit complicates things in the here and now, too. Democratic challengers for House seats, Sargent reports, have already begun campaigning against the Republicans' Medicare plan.

The GOP can't seem to quit the young, ambitious, visionary, Reaganesque Ryan, pasting him front and center on recent fundraising blasts. Those blasts, though, make no mention of Ryan budget plan. That means that even as the GOP accepts the obvious—that the Path to Prosperity is also the Path to Electoral Defeat—the White House appears ready to tempt electoral fate and throw away a rare "unmitigated advantage."

Texas Governor Rick Perry's August prayer festival, to be held in Houston's Reliant Stadium, has put him in the company of some pretty controversial folks. Organizers of the event have said that the purpose of the event is, in part, to convert non-Christians to Christianity. And as we noted last week, one pastor who's signed on as an official endorser of the rally has argued that Oprah Winfrey is a harbinger of the Antichrist.

So what's the latest? Via Right Wing Watch's Brian Tashman we learn that one of the event's latest endorsers has taken dead aim at Lady Liberty herself. Oklahoma City-based pastor John Benefiel, the head of the Heartland Apostlic Prayer Network, delivered a sermon last August arguing that America was being punished by God for filling its landscape with false idols. You know, like the Statue of Liberty:

Libertas is also called the Freedom Goddess, Lady Freedom, the Goddess of Liberty. You know there’s a statue in New York harbor called the Statue of Liberty. You know where we got it from? French Free Masons. Listen folks that is an idol, a demonic idol, right there in New York harbor. People say, 'well no it's patriotic.' What makes it patriotic? Why is it? It's a statue of a false goddess, the Queen of Heaven. We don't get liberty from a false goddess folks, we get our liberty from Jesus Christ.


Students of American history will of course note that, in Ghostbusters II, the Statue of Liberty comes to life to defeat the demonic spirit of Vigo the Carpathian. How the mighty have fallen:

Over at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner has an interesting look at Michele Bachmann's ideological roots, focusing on her law school years at Oral Roberts University. Oral Roberts, who famously built his school after receiving a direct order from God, isn't the story here; it's Herb Titus, a Christian attorney who helped found the law school and spent his career promoting an ideology known as Christian Reconstructionism—the idea that "Christianity is the basis of our law, that lawyers and judges should follow God's law, and that the failure to do so is evidence of a 'tyrannical,' leftist agenda." Here's Posner:

Bachmann's history of questioning Barack Obama's American-ness, or of espousing "normal people values," is rooted in the Reconstructionist conception of "American-ness." Not just Christian, but their kind of Christian; one who would obey God, exercise "dominion authority," and, most crucially, is one of their "brethren."

Titus, founder of Bachmann's law school, happens to be the architect of a legal theory—as far outside of the legal mainstream as his Establishment Clause theory—that Obama is not a "natural-born citizen," a designation that would render him ineligible to be president due to his "divided loyalties." Deuteronomy 17, he insists, demands that that the "king" be selected from one's own "brethren." As an outsider Obama isn't a "real" American, worthy—according to the bible or the Constitution—of being president.

Bachmann's not responsible for the views of everyone she associates with. But as folks begin to scrutinize her views more carefully, it's important to understand where she's actually coming from. As I've explained previously, her worldview might strike you as extreme (and at times conspiratorial), but there is a coherent method to it all.

Rep. Michele Bachmann has been getting a lot of heat for a statement her presidential campaign sent out suggesting that Americans are at risk of "economic enslavement." On Sunday, in an attempt to distance the candidate from a pledge she'd signed which suggested that black families were more stable during slavery, Alice Stewart explained, "In no uncertain terms, Congresswoman Bachmann believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible." "Economic slavery" sounds like it could be a pretty horrible thing, but given that she's probably talking about capital gains taxes, it seems a bit far-fetched.

Bachmann's been saying things like that publicly for a while—at least as far back as 2001, when she warned that the administration of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, in partnership with Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, was pushing a state-planned economy "similar to that of the former Soviet Union."But Bachmann's not the only one making tenuous claims about how the government wants to shackle citizens. As it happens, Texas Gov. Rick Perry believes we're already being enslaved by the federal government. Here's what he told Evangelist James Robison back in May:

"I think we're going through those difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles of ... not spending all of our money, not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks, because at the end of the day, it's slavery. And we become slaves to government."

In case you were wondering: Yes, Rick Perry is Moses in that scenario.

At various points over the years, US military leaders and diplomats have pondered how to get rid of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of the Afghan president and the key power broker in Kandahar province. But it was ultimately the Taliban that claimed credit for completing the job: Early reports suggest he was shot dead in his home on Tuesday morning by a bodyguard, an assassination the Taliban described as "one of our biggest achievements."

The fact that Ahmed Wali, or AWK as he was sometimes known, was considered such an impediment by both sides highlights the exceedingly complex role he played in this conflict. His death comes at a fragile stage of the war, as the Obama administration prepares to withdraw 33,000 troops by next summer in advance of a full-fledged security handover in 2014. Meanwhile, the Taliban is ever working to re-entrench itself after being beaten back by US military forces.

There was a time that military commanders viewed Ahmed Wali as such a barrier to progress in the restive south, where he officially chaired the Kandahar Provincial Council and unofficially controlled much of the region's economy, that efforts were afoot to remove him from power. (In 2010, there was even talk of taking potential "law enforcement actions" against Ahmed Wali and other "malign actors," according to a leaked State Department cable.) AWK was accused of being a key player in the opium trade and a high profile example of Afghanistan's out-of-control corruption problem. Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded proof, and while a dossier was compiled enumerating AWK's misdeeds, the evidence was apparently never compelling enough to warrant his ouster. Also complicating matters was the fact that AWK was reportedly a longtime CIA asset who helped to run a paramilitary outfit called the Kandahar Strike Force, which aided agency personnel and US Special Forces teams on raids against the Taliban. (Ahmed Wali denied being on the CIA's payroll.)

Eventually, NATO military commanders adopted a better-with-us-than-against-us attitude to the mustachioed and perpetually scruffy Kandahari leader, who, years before becoming the kingmaker of the south, had worked in the family restaurant business in the US. AWK may have been corrupt, the thinking went, but he was still an important ally in a region where we had few. It was with his cooperation last year that coalition troops conducted a sustained offensive that forced Taliban insurgents out of their strongholds and brought a measure of peace to Kandahar. 

The question now is: What comes next? Love him or loathe him, Ahmed Wali was fluent in the unique, tribal politics of the region, and he held enough clout to bring a variety of competing interests to heel. AWK reportedly controlled a variety of economic activity in Kandahar, and he played a never-quite-defined role with the security outfits that protect convoys ferrying key military supplies back and forth to Kabul and elsewhere. With AWK gone, there are no shortage of regional power brokers, mostly of ill repute and some with suspected Taliban ties, who will be eager to fill the power vacuum and fight over the fiefdom of the man known as the King of Kandahar. You know what they say about the devil we know.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta meets with troops at Camp Eggers, Kabul, Afghanistan, July 10, 2011. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, U.S. Air Force

For about nine months now, Mother Jones has been trying to get a sense of just how much money might be behind parts of the tea party movement. Specifically, I asked one of the largest umbrella groups, the Tea Party Patriots, for a copy of its federal 990 forms. As a 501 (c)(4), the group is required by law to file the form each year with the IRS and make it public. TPP did not respond to some initial requests. Finally, in January, a spokesman for the group explained that the reason we hadn't been able to get the form is because the organization hadn't filed a return, despite being in existence for almost two years.

The group, which made a name for itself by calling for more government transparency, had tinkered with its filing date in order to avoid public disclosure as long as possible. As a result, it wasn't required to file a return until April 2011—for tax year 2009. So when April rolled around, I asked again. Again, no response. I even asked Mark Meckler, the group's chief financial officer and national coordinator, in person for a copy when he was speaking at Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference in DC in June. He promised that the return had been filed and that I could get a copy. So I emailed to follow up, and I waited. Still nothing.

Eventually, I filed a complaint with the IRS, noting that the group wasn't complying with the law. That seems to have done the trick. Late last week, I got a copy of the return. Given that it contains information that is more than a year old, it wasn't especially interesting. It didn't cover, for instance, the period leading up to the midterm elections last fall, when TPP got an anonymous $1 million grant. It did, however, shed some light on how much money the group raised in its early days, and what it did with it.

The highlights:

  • Between June 2009 and May 31, 2010, TPP raised more than $700,000, not a bad haul for a scrappy upstart.
  • TPP paid out about $150,000 for employees' salaries and benefits.
  • $459,000 went to pay for tea party rallies, including the big 9/12 march on the National Mall in September 2009, proving that marching around isn't necessarily "free" speech.
  • The group ended the fiscal year with only $40,000 in the bank, indicating that it was spending as fast or faster than it was raising money.

Some disgruntled tea partiers who've had issues with the way TPP has spent money might be interested to know that the group shelled out $183,000 on travel that year, as well as more than $60,000 on advertising. Also notable: the only board member who reported receiving a salary was Jenny Beth Martin, who apparently got $36,800. Many tea party activists have suspected Meckler of getting a six-figure salary. According to the tax return, Meckler didn't get paid anything in FY 2009. However, the return also doesn't say who got the rest of the $100K+ in salaries, instead reporting to the IRS that because the group was in its "development" stage, officers and directors were paid via contract for their services, which apparently the group believes they don't have to spell out in the return. Translation: Meckler and other board members were paid for their services, they're just not going to tell the public or even their own members how much. 

The conservative group The Family Leader may have dropped the controversial line about slavery from its "Marriage Vow," but not before the vow's first signer, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), dug in a little deeper.

Her spokeswoman first stated that Bachmann was only signing the "vows" portion of the pledge, not the preamble, which is the part that included the controversial line claiming that black families might have been better off during slavery. But then she threw in a line comparing actual slavery with "economic slavery" (via Politico):

"She signed the 'candidate vow,' " campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said, and distanced Bachmann from the preamble language, saying, "In no uncertain terms, Congresswoman Bachmann believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible."

Osha Gray Davidson summed up the problem with this pretty well over at Forbes:

Bachmann’s camp didn't explain what the phrase "economic enslavement" means, but apparently, the candidate has once again reduced the horrors of historical slavery to a talking point on her presidential quest.

It's not the first time Bachmann's made slavery analogies, however. Think Progress highlights three other quotes from the candidate likening things that are not at all like the actual enslavement of people to slavery:

Health care reform: "This is slavery…It's nothing more than slavery."

The national debt: "It is a slavery, it is a slavery that is a bondage to debt and a bondage to decline … It is a subservience of a sovereign people to a failed, self-selected elite."

Homosexuality: "If you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement."


Hit the Republicans with a club, and they at least get the message.

The Republican National Committee this afternoon sent out a fundraising email featuring Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House budget committee. He is the infamous author of the Ryan budget adopted by the House GOP that would end Medicare as a guaranteed benefit. Since the House Republicans passed his budget in April, the Democrats have been bashing GOPers for trying to destroy Medicare-as-we-know-it, and, according to the polls, the Dems seem to have have public sentiment on their side in this fight. So Ryan's proposal to cut Medicare and Medicaid are hardly good selling points for the party.

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, dropped the Minnesota nice schtick on "Meet the Press" this Sunday, criticizing his state-mate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), for having a "nonexistent" record as an office holder. Bachmann's campaign fired back at her fellow 2012 contender with an email later that day citing her efforts to end cap and trade as one bullet point on her record.

"I have fought the cap-and-trade agenda, rather than implement it, and I will work to end cap-and-trade as President of the United States," Bachmann wrote in the email, referring to the policy initiative developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem? This doesn't exactly count as a resume builder, considering the fact that a federal cap and trade program is currently nonexistent.

True, Bachmann grabbed some headlines in 2009 after she called upon citizens to get "armed and dangerous" to stop the climate bill. But the bill ended up passing the House (which was under Democratic control at the time) before it died in the Senate. Cap and trade is not a national policy, and probably won't be one any time soon, so it would be pretty hard for her to "end" it.

The list of accomplishments she sent around is almost entirely things she has "fought," rather than anything she proactively accomplished. And considering that a cap and trade bill, Obamacare, and the bailout all passed in the House, she wasn't particularly effective on that front, either.