Mojo - July 2011

Michele Bachmann's $4,700 Hair and Makeup Bill

| Tue Jul. 26, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
US Congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

Considering Rep. Michele Bachmann's crusade against government spending and her demand that America live within its means, you wouldn't figure her for a conspicuous spender. But after launching her bid for the White House, Bachmann has broken with her usual frugality and shelled out some serious cash on a stylist in what could be seen as her own John-Edwards'-$400-haircut moment.

According to Bachmann's latest campaign finance filings, her campaign spent nearly $4,700 on hair and makeup in the weeks after she entered the presidential race on June 13. Records show her campaign made three payments of $1,715, $250, and $2,704 to a Maryland-based stylist named Tamara Robertson. Robertson's LinkedIn profile says she works as a makeup artist at Fox News in the DC area. She's also listed in the "Make-up" section of the credits for the Citizens United-produced film A City Upon a Hill, hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich—a pair who've raised eyebrows with their own spending.

Bachmann's hefty hair and makeup tab in recent weeks far surpasses what she's spent in the past. A review of her campaign records shows less than $1,000 in similar spending last year, which includes her 2010 congressional reelection bid. (A Bachmann campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.)

Even when Bachmann's campaign has paid for these kinds of services in the past, the costs have been far more modest. In February, the Minneapolis City Pages quoted a celebrity stylist named Natalie Hale saying that Bachmann paid her $225 for three different makeup sessions during the 2010 campaign. Hale added, however, that Bachmann tried to avoid paying for such services when possible. "I know for a fact if Michele has to pay for makeup she will usually instead do it herself," Hale said.

Not so anymore, it seems. Perhaps the spotlight and nonstop scrutiny of the presidential campaign have convinced Bachmann of the need for pricey stylists. But will Bachmann's $4,700 bill hurt her in the eyes of the fiscal conservative who've taken to heart her message on spare spending?

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What Rick Perry Learned From Ron Paul

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 11:25 AM PDT

Libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman Ron Paul has called his state's governor "very much the status quo," but don't tell that to Rick Perry, who has been talking as of late like he's a bona fide Ron Paul Revolutionary. On Friday, Perry earned national headlines (and condemnation from some Republicans) when he said that allowing same-sex marriages in the Empire State "is New York's perogative." And in his new book, "Fed Up!," Perry writes that legalizing marijuana "ought to be California's decision."

While conventional view of Perry as a Bible-thumping arch-conservative holds true, his willingness to condone some liberal-friendly policies outside of Texas puts him in close company with Paul, who has never overtly supported gay marriage or drug use but argued that regulating them should be left up to the states. Perry's position allows him to say that he agrees with conservative voters without pissing off progressive ones too much.  It's smart politics, says conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.  "At some point, you have to trust the voters," she writes, "and if you can't persuade them, then learn to live with the results of policies that you don't favor."

Perry has also taken a libertarian stance on a major national security issue, urging the Texas legislature to pass a bill that would ban the Transportation Security Administration from conducting invasive airport searches. The bill had no chance of passing—the feds had threatened to shut down Texas airports if it did—but it was straight from Paul's playbook. Last year, Paul introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act, an anti-TSA bill nearly identical to the one later introduced in Texas.

Though Perry is still far from a libertarian on many issues, he may see in Paul a model for courting the GOP's small-government and social conservative bases simultaneously. In Texas, a tea party stronghold where both Perry and Paul are better known than in the rest of the country, a major poll last month found that Perry would lose a 2012 presidential race in the state to President Barack Obama but that Paul would beat Obama by 5 percentage points. Texans may be fed up with the feds, or they may just be fed up with Perry, but either way, the Governor clearly has much to gain by becoming Paul's apostle.

Missing In Action: Michele Bachmann's Fact-Checking Team

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 9:02 AM PDT

As my colleague Tim Murphy wrote this morning, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) finally got sick of the criticism hurled her way by fellow GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty and fired back with an attack of her own. In highlighting the former Minnesota governor's questionable fiscal record, Tim notes, Bachmann is on the mark. But on the biggest issue on the minds of Americans—jobs and the economy—Bachmann is dead wrong again.

In a Sunday email to supporters, Bachmann says, "Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, 'The era of small government is over...the government has to be more proactive and more aggressive.' That's the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan. [emphasis mine]

Let's examine this. First, President Obama's philosophy, and by extension his policies, have not created record deficits here in the United States. As this nifty New York Times graph points out, it was President George W. Bush's policies—the Bush tax cuts, two unfunded wars, a prescription drug bill, and more—that created a massive deficit. Obama inherited a staggering deficit; he didn't create it. Now, there's a whole different debate to be had about the long-term effect of Obama's policies on the deficit, but that's not what Bachmann's saying. She argues that the mess we're in now is Obama's fault. Bzzt. False.

The "massive unemployment" we have today also isn't Obama's fault. Look at the following graph, which tracks the national unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, from when Bush took office to the present.

As you can see, the jobless rate climbed from a low of 4.4 percent in May 2007 to a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009. The bulk of that increase occurred during the latter years of George W. Bush's presidency, when the housing bubble burst and financial markets went into melt down. The reasons for those crises are many, spanning multiple presidencies. But to say, as Bachmann does, that "massive unemployment" is a result of Obama's policies is wrong. (Not that Obama should get off easy; he came into office with an 8.4 percent jobless rate, and it's now at 9.2 percent. Many economists argue that Obama hasn't done enough to stem the nation's jobs crisis, which shows no signs of abating.)

Finally there's Bachmann's claim that Obama's health reform law is unconstitutional. Bachmann would likely back this up by pointing to court decisions this year declaring the law unconstitutional. But there are also judges who have said the opposite, including a federal appeals court judge appointed by a Republican president who clerked under conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. That judge, Jeffrey Sutton, ruled late last month that Obama's reform law is in fact constitutional.

In other words, Bachmann's attacks on Obama are miles from factually accurate. Which makes you wonder: Has Michele Bachmann's crack fact-checking operation gone on vacation?

Debtageddon: The Big Point

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 7:31 AM PDT

The gang at NBC News' First Read newsletter reminds us of a fundamental point regarding the debt-ceiling showdown: the Republicans are to blame for this ugly and perhaps dangerous face-off:

*** But remember: Republicans started this fight: All of this finger-pointing, posturing, and politics -- with the U.S.’s credit rating at stake -- have generated a considerable disgust at Washington, at both Democrats and Republicans. But it is important to note that Republicans started this fight by tying deficit reduction to the debt ceiling (when many of these same Republicans have voted for clean debt-ceiling hikes in the past). The president and his party have indicated their willingness to pay the ransom -- with some concessions -- but Republicans won’t accept it. The irony to all this is that Republicans have won the larger argument they started; they just haven't figured out how to declare victory. What seems to upset many Republicans is how the president (using the bully pulpit) got to the right of them on deficit reduction. Of course, now both parties have a lot on the line, the president doesn't want to look like he can't lead, even a broken Washington, and the Republicans want to prove they can govern. 

This is no small matter—and means more than the usual blame-gaming of Washington. The debt ceiling could have been raised routinely, as it always has been done by both parties in Congress, and the titanic fight over spending and taxes could have been waged in other quarters, such as the annual appropriations and budget-drafting squabbles of Capitol Hill. But, noooooooooo. The Republicans had to tie—or handcuff—the two together, and then start running toward the edge of the cliff. It's not clear that the GOP has paid a full political price for this move. President Barack Obama has fared better than congressional GOPers in recent polls. But there's probably plenty of room for him to press this point: reckless GOPers created this mess. It wouldn't be spin. It would be the truth.

 

Bachmann Blasts Pawlenty's Minnesota Budget Mess

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 5:14 AM PDT

The battle between Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has mostly been a one-sided affair thus far. As Bachmann has jumped to the top of the polls in Iowa and Pawlenty has plummeted, the former governor has stepped up his criticisms of Bachmann, arguing that she's never actually accomplished anything during her decade as a legislator. Bachmann has largely stayed mum, but now, perhaps spying a chance to drive a stake through an opponent who's polling at 2 percent nationally, she's gone on the attack. Here's what she emailed to supporters on Sunday:

Actions speak louder than words. When I was fighting against the unconstitutional individual mandate in healthcare, Governor Pawlenty was praising it. I have fought against irresponsible spending while Governor Pawlenty was leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota. I fought cap-and-trade. Governor Pawlenty backed cap-and-trade when he was Governor of Minnesota and put Minnesota into the multi-state Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. While Governor Pawlenty was praising TARP—the $700 billion bailout in 2008—I worked tirelessly against it and voted against it.

Hey, this Pawlenty guy doesn't sound so bad! The cap-and-trade and TARP hits were a given—Pawlenty likes to refer to those positions as his "clunkers"—but the budget criticism is something new, and it's especially noteworthy because Pawlenty's claims of balancing budgets and cutting spending are his top talking points on the campaign trail. On this front, Bachmann is right. As I've reported, Pawlenty balanced Minnesota's budget through a series of tricky accounting maneuvers. He would defer payments or take out loans that didn't need to be paid off until after his term was over. Most glaringly, his push to cut taxes and spending at the state level forced local governments to pick up the slack, so real spending did not actually decline. A little bit of accounting wizardry is necessary sometimes; most governors do it. But it's not what comes to mind when you think of the "tough choices" Pawlenty has promised.

Up until now, though, fellow Republicans have been reluctant to call Pawlenty out on his budget bluster, likely because their own ideas are mathematically flawed to some degree. The Paul Ryan budget (which Bachmann supports) would require raising the debt ceiling (which Bachmann opposes). And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, seen as Bachmann's top rival in Iowa should he jump in the race, recently employed more or less the Pawlenty method to balance the state's budget. As the AP described it, Texas relied on "accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 25, 2011

Mon Jul. 25, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

US Army Pfc. Sean Jamison with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) provides security atop a mountain during Operation Sarak Basta II at Paktika province, Afghanistan, June 19. The operation eliminated an illegal route between the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Photo by the US Army.

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Senate Ponders End to DOMA

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 1:53 PM PDT

Friday marked the official demise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, 18 years after it was first put in place under President Bill Clinton. Could the 15-year-old law that made it a federal policy to pretend gay marriages don't exist be the next to go down?

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week on the "Respect for Marriage Act," a bill that would essential nullify the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that Clinton signed into law 1996. The federal prohibition means that same-sex couples—even those who live in states where their unions have been legalized—are not given the same federal protections as heterosexual pairs. They aren't allowed to take tax write-offs or family leave, and if a same-sex spouse dies, the partner can't collect their pension or Social Security.

There are already up to 80,000 gay couples who have been married in the five states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal. On Sunday, many more will join their ranks as gay marriages are performed in New York, too, for the first time.

The proposed new law, from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would end DOMA and allow those couples the same federal rights as any other married couple. The the Obama administration voiced support for the measure this week as well. Of course, the bill is opposed by gay marriage foes. Even if it passes the Senate this year (which is probably a stretch), it wouldn't go anywhere in the GOP-majority House.

A taste of that opposition, via the Los Angeles Times:

But Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family, which opposes gay marriage, said there was a "mountain of evidence" that showed the best environment for children was an "intact home with a married father and mother." Minnery noted that voters in 31 states had rejected gay marriage.

In a video that's been making the rounds online, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) rips Minnery apart for his inaccurate claims about a Department of Health and Human Services report that he cites as evidence that children who grow up with two opposite-sex parents are better off. As Franken points out, the report only says that kids are better off with two parents who are married and in the home—the HHS report makes no mention of the parents' gender.

What's most interesting to me, though, was Minnery's suggestion that because a number of states have rejected gay marriage, the federal government should respect that. In reality, though, this bill doesn't seek to impose anything on those states. States that have legalized gay marriage will continue to marry gay couples. Those that haven't will continue to not marry gay people.

It's basically a bill that would stop the federal government from interfering in the states—something that Republicans have supported on, for example, clean water protections. But apparently "states' rights" don't extend to marriage.

Oslo Bombing Roundup

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 10:28 AM PDT
Central Oslo following the bombing of government headquarters on Friday.

A massive explosion hit Norway's government hub in central Oslo on Friday, mortally wounding at least two people and injuring at least 15 others. We'll have more details in a regularly updated explainer here.

Pawlenty Ad: Yes, We Need a Miracle

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 9:20 AM PDT

At the 1980 Winter Olympics, a scrappy squad of college-aged American hockey players did the unthinkable: defeated a fierce, battle-tested squad of Soviet hockey super-soldiers, en route to winning the gold medal. It was a clasic underdog story, dramatized in the pretty-okay Kurt Russell movie, Miracle.

Hockey-loving, beer-guzzling Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty loves the story too. So much so that his campaign spliced in footage from the game in his latest campaign ad:

In the ad, Pawlenty reminds Americans that to overcome the impossible, "you fight, you bleed, you prevail," and that the US is "down...but not out." And he draws a none-too-subtle parallel between the country's fortunes, and those of his growing-less-relevant-by-the-poll presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, ABC—which broadcast the historic game—isn't pleased, The Des Moines Register reports:

ABC will soon be sending the Pawlenty campaign a cease-and-desist letter because the Republican presidential hopeful not only used the network's copyrighted footage but included a soundbite of Al Michaels' famous line, "Do you believe in miracles?"

"It’s a violation of our copyright and exclusive proprietary rights,” Louise Argianas, director of rights and clearances for ABC Sports, told the Register.

Argianas added that because Pawlenty's 30-second spot used Michaels' voice, she would also have to notify the announcer's agent. The ad began airing Wednesday in Iowa.

Pawlenty's campaign says the ad complies with fair use rules. But fair use is a tricky concept, one that the US Copyright Office's own statutes define in pretty murky terms.

Even if Pawlenty loses the fight with ABC, at least his ad embraces reality: it could, in fact, take a miracle to get him to the top of the GOP ticket. 

Irate Emails From Allen West: A Continuing Series

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 8:24 AM PDT

On Wednesday, Florida GOP Rep. Allen West dashed off an unhinged email rant to Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), in which he called her "vile" and "not a lady." That was kind of standard operating procedure for West, who has previously called President Obama a "low-level socialist agitator." And it reminded me of another Allen West email incident in June, in which the congressman trashed his local alt-weekly, the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, in his weekly constituent newsletter. The paper had, in good humor, chided West for violating a federal law—Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, Subsection B of the United States Code—by bringing an American flag underwater on a diving expedition with military veterans.

West responded by writing this:

It appears that my taking a U.S. flag down to a sunken wreck (artificial reef) for us all to take pictures and video just riled up some idiot Liberals looking for anything to criticize when it comes to me. Well, doggone sorry, perhaps next time I will put on a tie-dyed shirt and jeans, dance around singing anti-war, anti-American songs, and burn a flag. Perhaps that would endear me to the delusional dummies out there who are probably just jealous because they cannot dive to 80 ft into a hard current and proudly carry an American flag. What a bunch of losers!

Meanwhile, West hasn't backed down from his aggressive language, telling Fox News yesterday that "[T]here are certain ways we talk in the military. I guess I haven't learned the DC-insider talk."