Mojo - July 2011

Rick Scott, Military Hero for a Day

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 4:59 AM EDT

Embattled Florida governor Rick Scott had to scuttle another one of his big plans yesterday. The plan was to create a Hall of Fame for the state's prominent military veterans—with him as an inaugural inductee.

Scott, a Navy vet (more on his service record in a sec), was joined on the list of inductees by exactly zero Medal of Honor recipients. Not Fort Lauderdale's local hero, Sandy Nininger, who died in hand-to-hand combat trying to keep the Japanese from overrunning the Philippines in 1942. Not Bud Day of Ft. Walton Beach, the "most decorated US service member since General Douglas MacArthur," who was a POW in Vietnam (and a Swift Boater during the 2004 election). Not Paul R. Smith of Tampa, who manned a machine gun to protect his company of 100 soldiers in the 2003 battle for Baghdad's airport—and who posthumously received the first Medal of Honor awarded in the Iraq war.

Who else was on the VIP list of Florida military heroes? Six former state governors who fought in the Civil War on the losing side. One, Abraham Allison, assumed office in 1865 when his predecessor realized the Confederate cause was lost and committed suicide. Allison then went into hiding, was arrested by federal troops, and served six months in prison for his role in oppressing the Sunshine State's slave population.

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Debt Ceiling: Clueless GOPers Edition

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 4:18 PM EDT

A pack of rookie House Republicans went public on Thursday with their support for House Speaker John Boehner's retooled deficit reduction bill, which would trim spending by $917 billion over ten years in exchange for a short-term debt ceiling increase. But what stuck out at the freshmen's press conference wasn't their newfound support for Boehner's bill (some had been undecided until late). It was their inability to cite real-life facts to support their positions.

First there was Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He described the Boehner bill as a "win" for the American people, and for a country sagging under the weight of a $1.3 trillion deficit. That deficit, Kinzinger insisted, was President Obama's fault. After all, in 2007, under President George W. Bush, we had all the same corporate tax loopholes and tax rates that are in place now, and back then the deficit was only about $160 billion. Today it's more than eight times higher. And because Barack Obama is president today, that means the deficit clearly must be all his fault.

Holy wrong. As this New York Times graph highlights, the deficit skyrocketed under President Bush in 2008, as the government grappled with the bursting of the housing bubble and the financial meltdown—a crisis that goes unmentioned by Kinzinger.

Moments later it was Rep. Scott Tipton's turn to bash the Democrats. "They have no plan," he said. "They have no ideas." Well, that's not quite true. President Obama has outlined any number of ideas—cutting $4 trillion over 12 years, trimming defense and non-defense spending, even shrinking entitlement programs by $650 billion—over the past few months. To say Obama has no plan nor any ideas, as the GOP insists on doing, is so wrong it's laughable.

On went the boisterous speeches, with one GOP freshman even brandishing a piece of paper with the University of Notre Dame's famous "Play Like a Champion Today" slogan on it. After a while, the assembled rookies looked hot and ready to wrap. But not before a reporter asked about the Boehner bill's sure death in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"The Senate's gonna pass this thing!" Rep. Kinzinger yelled.

Never mind the 51 Senate Democrats and two independents who pledged to vote against it should it pass the House, or President Obama's promise to veto it. As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's assured reporters today, Boehner's bill is "a political act that has no life beyond its existence in the House."

That didn't seem to bother Kinzinger, though, who stood there grinning alongside his fellow freshmen, all of them sweating in their suits and skirts before the biggest vote of their short political careers.

Tea Party "Leaders" The GOP Should Ignore

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 1:50 PM EDT

The Washington media was buzzing Wednesday after the leaders of the Tea Party Patriots came to town and announced that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) deserved a primary challenge, along with any other Republican who voted to raise the debt ceiling. Mark Meckler, a national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, told the Daily Beast that Boehner's deficit plan was "an embarrassment." At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Meckler declared Boehner's numbers "fake" and "phantom."

It was an interesting choice of words, since they might also describe the number of tea partiers Meckler and his co-coordinator, Jenny Beth Martin, claim to represent. In the news coverage, Tea Party Patriots has been consistently identified has having at least 3,500 local chapters, making it one of the largest tea party organizations in the country. But many of those chapters are, to use Meckler's term, phantom, which raises the question of whether the GOP House leadership should really be paying quite so much attention to the noise coming from the tea party leaders working the media circuit right now.

Last fall, the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner tried to verify the TPP’s numbers. She attempted to run down every one of its local chapters. Out of the 2,300 chapters TPP then claimed to have, Gardner could only identify 1,400; of those, she was only able to make contact with 647. Most had fewer than 50 members, and some consisted of a single person. That's a fraction of the 15 million people TPP's leaders often claim to represent when they're on the Hill demanding that Republicans refuse to increase the debt ceiling. Which raises the question of why, exactly, Republicans are taking them so seriously.

There are other reasons to question the wisdom of Republicans taking economic advice from national leaders of the Tea Party Patriots and other top tea partiers in the news this week. Consider the fact that before riding the tea party movement to national fame, Meckler was a high-ranking distributor for Herbalife, a company considered by many consumer groups and regulatory agencies to be a pyramid scheme. After that, he got into "affiliate marketing," an industry responsible for all of those "tiny belly" ads haunting the Internet that the FTC says are a scam. His colleague, Jenny Beth Martin, also doesn't have a great track financial record. In 2007, she and husband lost their house and ended up owing the IRS more than $500,000 in back taxes.

In print and TV interviews this week, Martin claimed that the majority of her members thought Boehner should be replaced as House speaker. The comments went viral and led to plenty of media coverage about tea party intransigence. It also prompted an outcry from tea party leaders working at the state level in the trenches, many of whom have disassociated with TPP because of displeasure with their tactics. Billie Tucker, the founder of the First Coast Tea Party and an influential tea party activist in Florida, fired off an email to Martin expressing her dismay at Martin's claim to represent the entire movement when talking about Boehner. She wrote:

Jenny Beth: Who the heck is giving you guys advice and pr help?

Calling for Boehner to resign did nothing but create more chaos in a chaotic time in our country. The media will and has run with it as if the entire tea party "membership" thinks Boehner should resign.

Boehner may not be doing the best job BUT…the timing of your statement caused me to have to answer to the press for it. Next time you plan to make such a big, hairy, audacious statement, why not let us in on it beforehand so we can prepare for the attacks and maybe your highly paid PR firm could give us talking points too.

Martin's comments didn’t even dovetail with those of activists at a tea party rally held on the Hill yesterday during the debt ceiling negotiations. Most of the speakers, from a variety of tea party groups, were calling on the Senate to get behind the Boehner plan and also to push the speaker to call for larger cuts.

The Republicans should also not be too concerned about the saber rattling of Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, despite his landing a coveted spot on the Washington Post's op-ed page on Thursday bashing Boehner. The Tennessee-based Phillips is essentially a tea party of one. He is a prodigious blogger and occasional radio host who's advocated such things as limiting voting to property owners and warning that WASPs are on the verge of extinction

Few of the real tea party groups in his state will work with him because they see him as an opportunist. Last February, he borrowed $50,000 from a local businessman to help front the six-figure speaking fee for Sarah Palin to headline a tea party convention he organized in Nashville. Phillips charged attendees more than $500, prompting most of the larger tea party groups and even many within the state to boycott the event.

Last July Phillips tried again to host a tea party convention, this time in Las Vegas at the Palazzo Hotel. The event was first postponed to October and unltimately canceled entirely for lack of interest. Last week, the hotel sued Tea Party Nation for stiffing the hotel on more than $500,000 for the unused rooms he booked. Phillips, you could say, knows something about not paying the bills, but that doesn’t necessarily make him the kind of expert the GOP ought to be making policy around.

All of this is not to say there might not be a tea party movement out there poised to seek retribution should Republicans should they raise the debt ceiling. It's just that these particular folks you see on Fox News threatening to primary Boehner don't necessarily represent them.

The Ft. Hood Suspect's Alleged Antiwar Links

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 1:48 PM EDT

This story has been updated. Please scroll down for the latest.

Last night an Army private was apprehended last night near Fort Hood, Texas, allegedly in possession of bombmaking materials. Early reports say Pvt. Nasser Abdo, a Muslim-American, was slated for discharge as a conscientious objector (CO). But his separation was held up because of child pornography charges, and he'd gone AWOL from his base in Kentucky. He appears to be the same soldier interviewed by Headline News in this clip:

And according to a right-wing military blog, Abdo also may have connections to a prominent antiwar advocacy group. John Lilyea of This Ain't Hell says he's written about Abdo before as well as an attorney connected with Iraq Veterans Against the War who worked with Abdo on his bid for CO status, which included a now-defunct fundraising website, Freenasserabdo.org. (The video above was posted by a YouTube user freenasserabdo.)

Additionally, IVAW appears to have featured Abdo on its website and used his writing about about Islamophobia in the military in a press release. One commenter on This Aint Hell has identified himself as an IVAW member who "read Abdo's statement" at a public event put on by the antiwar group. "I have never met him and don't know him," the commenter—who calls himself Army Sergeant—writes. "I don't remember how the statement came to us. He is not an IVAW member, and I did not know him—he was at that point just a random Muslim CO. Maybe there's a good lesson there not to promote people you don’t actually know, and I’ll be thinking about that one."

The full story isn't clear yet. The "bombmaking devices" Abdo possessed apparently amount to "firearms and smokeless powder," which aren't all that uncommon among folks in Texas (no, seriously). And This Ain't Hell certainly has an axe to grind when it comes to Muslims, the military, and antiwar groups. Nevertheless, if Abdo had bad intentions, the pacifist left will likely be the subject of some serious attacks from the right. Or perhaps even Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

Bachmann on Reparative Therapy: Still No Comment

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 1:28 PM EDT

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) visited the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday for a speech and question-and-answer session. The GOP presidential contender's remarks focused mostly on her opposition to raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances. She did field one question on an issue we've covered: reports that the Christian counseling clinic she co-owns with her husband tries to cure gay people of homosexuality. Bachmann has repeatedly dodged questions on the issue, and even gone so far as to cut off interviews with Iowa reporters who broach the subject; when I caught up with her outside the MoJo DC office recently, she was a no comment (literally, she didn't say anything).

On Thursday, Bachmann was asked if she believes homosexuality is a lifestyle decision that can be cured. So, with her husband sitting to her left at the Press Club, how'd Bachmann respond? By dodging the issue entirely and declaring her spouse, her children, her foster children, and her business off limits:

I'm extremely proud of my husband. I have tremendous respect and admiration for him and we'll celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary this coming September. But I am running for the presidency of the United States. My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children, and I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States.

The notion that spouses should be immune to scrutiny represents something of a shift for Bachmann, who last February bashed Michelle Obama for supporting breast-feeding (as part of an anti-obesity initiative).

But Bachmann's small business is part of her stump speech; it's how she sells herself to voters. And opposition to homosexuality, which she once warned was being forced on children in public schools, was the cornerstone of her political career as a state senator in St. Paul. Moreover, the question of whether homosexuality is a choice is an issue that weighs on public policy at the federal level, and it's the kind of thing you'd expect a presidential candidate to be able to speak publicly about. If Bachmann no longer thinks being gay is a health hazard and an affliction that can be cured, that would represent a profound change in her worldview. Until then, her refusal to say anything at all about the issue is pretty powerful.

House Dems: Want a Gov't Contract? Reveal Your Political Donations

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 11:55 AM EDT

A bloc of more than 60 House Democrats wants President Obama sign an executive order forcing contractors to disclose their political contributions when applying for government contracts.. Their plea, outlined in a letter sent to the White House on Thursday, concerns a draft executive order leaked earlier this spring. The order is one course of action mulled by the Obama administration to minimize the impact of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. It's also a response to the failure of the DISCLOSE Act, a Democratic-backed bill that would've required similar disclosure by government contractors. That bill failed in the Senate last year.

"Any business that is paid with taxpayer dollars should be required to disclose their political expenditures to the taxpayers," Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a chief supporter of the executive order, said in a statement today. "In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, it’s even more important today to stand up for transparency and disclosure."

Republicans and big business groups vehemently oppose the draft executive order. On Thursday, the US Chamber of Commerce urged members of Congress to support amendments by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) to a defense appropriations bill that would preclude any donation disclosure requirement by federal agencies. It comes as no surprise that the Chamber, 60 Plus Association (known as the conservative answer to AARP), and conservative political advocacy groups oppose the order; if enacted, it would shed some light on what contractors help fund these groups, information kept confidential right now.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the powerful House oversight committee, also opposes the executive order, and threatened to use his subpoena power to bring an Obama administration official before Congress to explain the order. It would have been the first time House Republicans subpoenaed a White House official to come before Congress. In the end, the administration defused the showdown by dispatching Daniel Gordon, a federal procurement official who proved a frustrating witness by deflecting some questions and offering narrow, technical answers to others demanding information on the administration's plans.

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More Awesomeness from the Rachel Maddow Lawsuit

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 10:50 AM EDT

We told you yesterday about Minnesota anti-gay heavy-metal evangelist Bradlee Dean's—cue Doctor Evil voice—$50 meeelion lawsuit against Rachel Maddow, which his attorney promises will "end her career." We only skimmed the complaint though, and glossed over the best part: Apparently Dean is upset that Rachel Maddow made fun of his first name. From the complaint: 

On or about August 9, 2010, Defendants Rachel Maddow, MSNBC and NBC broadcast a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show that outrageously disparaged Bradlee Dean's physical appearance, his first name and his profession as a heavy metal entertainer and his standing in the community and represented that he and YCR had advocated the execution of gays.

"Bradlee with two E's if you're Googling," is how Maddow put it. She referred to him later in the broadcast simply as "Bradlee with two E's." People have been shot for less! But here's the thing: "Bradlee" is not Bradlee Dean's real name. His legal name is actually Bradley Dean Smith. He goes by "Bradlee" presumably because it's more punk rock; it is, to use his language, a lifestyle decision. As for his appearance, well, we're not passing judgment. But Dean did show up to deliver the opening prayer at the Minnesota House wearing a white track suit, and on Wednesday he arrived at his own press conference to announce said $50 million lawsuit wearing a black Minnesota Twins jersey. In fairness, it was a button-down.

John Boehner, the Time Waster

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 10:34 AM EDT
House Speaker John Boehner.

House Speaker John Boehner's rejiggered deficit reduction bill is set for a vote on the House floor Thursday evening. The speaker suffered a minor setback earlier this week when the Congressional Budget Office said his original bill would save only $850 billion over ten years, not the $1 trillion in cuts he'd hoped for. What remains to be seen is whether Boehner's new bill, expected to cut $917 billion, will win enough GOP votes in the House to pass. At the start of the week, more conservative House GOPers had come out in opposition to the bill, but GOP leaders say they're getting to whipping together enough votes within their caucus.

But here's a bigger question no one seems to be asking: Is John Boehner's bill a waste of time?

All 51 Senate Democrats and independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut say they will vote against Boehner's bill if and when it moves to the Senate. (So, for that matter, have a handful of hard-line Senate Republicans, but for a very different reason.) And earlier this week, the White House threatened to veto Boehner's bill should it somehow land on President Obama's desk. On Thursday, Press Secretary Jay Carney called the bill "a political act that has no life beyond its existence in the House." In short, the bill has almost zero chance of ever becoming law.

There's perhaps an argument to be made that by putting his own bill out there, Boehner has more of a shot at getting pieces of it into a possible final compromise bill with Democrats. That would presumably take place during the reconciliation process. But as Greg Sargent at the Washington Post explained, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Co. have no intention of drawing on the substance of Boehner's bill:

Senate Dem aides say they would then use Boehner's bill—which passed the House but died in the Senate—to expedidate their own proposal. Here's how. They would use the "shell" of the Boehner bill as a vehicle to pass Harry Reid's proposal, because for various procedural reasons House messages get expedited consideration. Senate Dems would vote to "amend" Boehner's bill by replacing it completely with Reid's proposal—which the Senate could then pass more quickly than they otherwise could.

After that, Reid's proposal—having passed the Senate—would then get kicked back to the House. Having proved that Boehner's plan can't pass the Senate, Democrats would in effect be giving House Republicans a choice: Either pass the Reid proposal, or take the blame for default and the economic calamity that ensues.

Setting aside the political posturing and gamesmanship, it's hard to see how Boehner's bill is anything but a waste of precious time. Remember: The Aug. 2 deadline is only six days away.

Herman Cain Apologizes for Anti-Muslim Positions

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 8:51 AM EDT
GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain

We've pilloried GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain in these parts for his insistance that Islam is incompatible with American values, his promise not to appoint any Muslims to his administration, and his belief that communities have the right to block religious groups (or at least Muslims) from building houses of worship. Cain, perhaps realizing that such bigotry has derailed a presidential campaign that really should have been focusing on health care reform instead, met with Muslim leaders in Virginia on Wednesday. Following the meeting, he released a statement declaring himself "humble and contrite," and apologizing for potentially offending Muslim Americans.

Here is his statement, in full:

I would like to thank Imam Mohamed Magid and the ADAMS Center for extending their hospitality to me this afternoon. We enjoyed heartfelt fellowship and thoughtful dialogue about how patriotic Americans of all faiths can work together to restore the American Dream.

While I stand by my opposition to the interference of shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.

As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues. In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists.

I am encouraged by the bonds of friendship forged today at our meeting, and I look forward to continuing this very healthy dialogue. The relationship we established was so positive that the Imam has invited me back to speak to not only some of their youth, but also at one of their worship services.

If Cain's views on Islam really have changed, that's great. But from a leadership standpoint, the initial problem remains. Cain, despite running on a platform of constitutional conservatism, jumped to bigoted conclusions about American Muslims based on a handful of readily debunked conspiracy theories. When he condemned the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he cited the attorney who filed suit to block it—an attorney who has also alleged that President Obama is attempting to raise the black flag of Sharia over the White House. When Cain tried to find examples of Islamic Sharia law being forced on American courts, he errantly cited a case in Texas (the case was actually in Florida), and seemed willfully ignorant of the fact that the case followed the same arbitration process that applies to all religious groups.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 28, 2011

Thu Jul. 28, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

"Rainbow Runners"

Cadets and staff assigned to Cadet Field Training finished their summer detail with a run-back from Camp Buckner to the steps of Washington Hall, July 22, West Point N.Y. After the runners came through Washington Gate they were cooled down by the West Point Fire Department. Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr. ran with the group and spoke to the CFT detail at the completion of the run. (Photo by Tommy Gilligan/West Point Public Affairs)