Mojo - July 2011

John Boehner: It's "Cut, Cap, and Balance"—or Bust

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 11:09 AM EDT
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

As the White House demanded Congress reach a deficit deal to avert default on Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a crystal clear message to Democrats and the Obama administration: It's the GOP's scorched-earth plan or bust.

Boehner told reporters at his weekly press conference that, despite media reports, there is no deal in the works between him and President Obama. Boehner insisted that his plan was the "Cut, Cap, and Balance" plan passed by the GOP-led House on Tuesday. "There is no agreement," Boehner said. "There is no deal in private. Our plan is 'Cut, Cap, and Balance.'"

That plan, which is likely to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate today, would slash federal spending by $111 billion in the 2012 fiscal year, and go on to cap spending at about 20 percent of US gross domestic product. According to the Center for American Progress, "Cut, Cap, and Balance" would necessitate a 25-percent cut to every item in the federal budget, from defense spending to education to veterans' benefits. And if, say, defense spending was spared, it would mean far deeper cuts to other federally funded programs.

Not surprisingly, the plan is anathema to Democrats—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called it "weak and senseless" and "perhaps some of the worst legislation in the history of this country." The Senate voted to table "Cut, Cap, and Balance," and also announced that it would not be in session this weekend.

In his remarks this morning, Boehner, joined by a group of GOP lawmakers, blasted Democrats for not offering a deficit reduction plan of their own. "If they don't like our version of 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' that two-thirds of the American people support, then what's their plan?" Boehner said. "Our friends across the aisle aren't at all serious about doing what the American people are doing: spending less."

Boehner's flat rejection of any deficit deal with the White House, in exchange for raising the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling before the August 2 deadline, contradicts multiple news reports on Friday saying he and Obama were eyeing a $3 trillion deal. That supposed deal included trillions in spending cuts as well as new revenues from an overhaul of the tax code. (That likely means lowering rates but expanding the tax base, not tax hikes, which GOPers won't accept.)

Now, the fate of any deal at all is up in the air. Boehner says he's "keeping lines of communication" open with the Democrats, who are fuming over rumors of an Obama-Boehner deal seen as too favorable to Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) still has a last-ditch plan on the table that would let Obama increase the debt ceiling but prevent political blowback on Republicans—a deal House GOPers dislike. And the White House is keeping its cards close to the vest.

Last month, the White House said July 22 was the deadline to cut an agreement to slash spending and raise new revenues in exchange for raising the debt ceiling before the US defaults. Well, today is that day, and it appears a gaping chasm still exists between the White House and Republicans.

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NH GOP Politician to Unions: "Better Not F#%k with Me," or I'll Shoot

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 8:15 AM EDT

Lynne Ferrari Blankenbeker, a Republican lawmaker in the New Hampshire Legislature, has taken union-bashing to a whole new level.

In a July 21 email obtained by Mother Jones, the New Hampshire state representative wrote to fellow legislators about a recent training stint with the Army at Fort Dix, in New Jersey. A military veteran who has served in the Middle East, Blankenbeker described learning to drive an Army Humvee wearing night-vision goggles. She also trained as a gunner, and had to this to say:

Today I got to be the gunner which was fun. The .50 cal is quite a gun! I was never ascared of the unions but they better not F#%k with me again!!! Just saying.

Blankenbeker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Blankenbeker's relationship with unions in New Hampshire is a contentious one. The two-term representative, who represents parts of the city of Concord and says she's "generally against big government," has voted in support of right-to-work legislation, a direct affront to organized labor in the Granite State. Blankenbeker's legislative record reads like a union organizer's worst nightmare: She's backed lowering student drop-out age, opposed a minimum wage increase, and supported slashing taxes on business profits.

The president of the State Employees' Association, an affiliate of the national Service Employees' International Union, called for Blankenbeker's resignation just three months into the legislature's session for her anti-union votes. And SEA even set up a website, FireLynne.org, to push for Blankenbeker's ouster. "Your votes hurt the people who make our economy run," the site says. "We're tired of politicians making scapegoats of middle-class workers, like those who teach our children, plow our streets, and protect us during fires and emergencies."

Kurt Ehrenberg, political and legislative director with the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, said Blankenbeker's remark was "not surprising but unfortunate." He went on, "Rep. Blankenbeker has been part of this unprecedented assault on the New Hampshire middle class and working families."

Her union-threatening email isn't the first time Blankenbeker has stirred controversy with her remarks. In May, after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, Blankenbeker said there was a "possibility" that the Al Qaeda leader remained alive, joining a small band of "deathers" in questioning the terrorist leader's killing in Pakistan.

Nor is it the first time this year a political figure was caught threatening violence at unions and their supporters. During the mass protests in Madison, Wisconsin, in February, a deputy attorney general in Indiana named Jeff Cox wrote on Twitter that police should "use live ammunition" on protesters occupying the Wisconsin state capitol in protest of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union bill. Mother Jones broke the story of Cox's controversial tweet on a Wednesday morning; by Wednesday afternoon, Cox had been fired.

The Global Gag Rule is Back

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 6:31 AM EDT

A House committee has voted to reinstate a ban on US funding to organizations that offer or even refer women for abortions around the world. Often called the "global gag rule" or the "Mexico City Policy," the measure goes so far as to prevent health and aid organizations from even presenting abortion as an option.

Republicans on the House Foreign Relations Committee included the prohibition in an authorization bill marked up this week. Here's the pertinent portion of the legislation:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any amendment made by this Act may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.

While the provision is couched in the argument that it aims to prevent American taxpayers from funding abortion abroad, it's a misleading one. The 1973 Helms Amendment already bans foreign aid money from being used for pay for abortion services. This goes a step farther and says that no organization that offers abortions at all, gives a woman a referral to seek one elsewhere, or even mentions abortion as an option is eligible for US funds.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all adopted this policy via executive orders. And when Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama took office, they both rescinded the rule, allowing international organizations that offer abortions to at least get funding for services like health care, family planning, or preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Now congressional Republicans want to make the rule law.

Court: Drunken, Racist Call to Murder Obama is Covered by the First Amendment

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 6:22 AM EDT
Barack and Michelle Obama, walking with Secret Service agents on Inauguration Day 2009.

It's like your mom always told you: eat your veggies, finish your homework, make your bed, and do not ever threaten to kill the president because it's a Class D felony and you'll go to jail.

But if you mask your vulgar (or fiercely racist) death threat as a simple suggestion or prediction, you might have some constitutional cover after all.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction of Walter Bagdasarian, a Southern California resident arrested over two years ago after posting a late-night tirade against Barack Obama in October 2008 (the law against threatening the president covers presidential candidates, too). According to court documents, Bagdasarian's online comments include gems like "Obama fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon," and "shoot the nig country fkd for another 4 years+, what nig has done ANYTHING right???? long term???? never in history, except sambos."

The defendant claims to have been wasted when he wrote all that on a Yahoo message board at 1:00 in the morning. (As we all know, hard partying has a track record of causing people to suddenly become racists.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 22, 2011

Fri Jul. 22, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

US Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Riley (right) and a Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul interpreter (center) meet a villager during a patrol to the Arghandab River, Afghanistan, on July 19, 2011. Riley is a civil affairs officer assigned to the team's security force and is deployed from the Massachusetts National Guard. The team's mission is to conduct civil-military operations in Zabul province to extend the reach and legitimacy of the Afghan government. DoD photo by Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras, US Air Force.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Dies Today (UPDATES)

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 3:01 AM EDT

[UPDATES: For the latest developments, scroll to the bottom.]

It's over.

On Friday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will announce that they're ready to integrate openly gay and lesbian Americans into the armed forces, paving the way for President Obama to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell once and for all.

Since last December, when Obama and the lame-duck Democratic Congress passed legislation to repeal DADT, the ball's been in the Pentagon's court: The defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs were tasked with studying the effects of DADT repeal and certifying to the president that yes, it could be done. Once that were to happen, the president could certify their results, and 60 days later, uniformed service would be open to all. "The troops and their commanders are ready. Our nation's top military leaders have testified that commanders see no significant challenges ahead," Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the anti-discrimination Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in a statement Thursday night. "The official certification to Congress that the armed forces are prepared for the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' should go to Capitol Hill tomorrow with the President's signature."

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This Week in National Insecurity: Do Ask, Do Tell Edition

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 12:45 AM EDT
Photo illustration by Adam Weinstein; Civil War by US National Guard/Flickr Commons, flag by obeeah13/Flickr Commons

Got a debt-ceiling migraine, America? Here's your martial medicine: All the latest developments from the national security world, sure to ease your budget deficit hangover.

The sitrep:

  • Not all Republicans are against entitlements. Take Alabama, which still collects a special property tax on behalf of its war veterans. Its Confederate war veterans. ("Broadly speaking, almost all taxes have their start in a war of some sort," a historian explains.)

VIDEO: 'Barbarians' Glitter-Bomb Bachmann Clinic

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 1:02 PM EDT

Well, that was inevitable. Following previous attempts to "glitter-bomb" former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for their opposition to gay marriage, a band of Minnesota LGBT activists descended on a Bachmann & Associates Christian counseling clinic on Thursday in an attempt to dump glitter on Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus. The clinic, which is co-owned by the GOP presidential candidate, has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over reports that it practices "reparative therapy," a potentially harmful procedure in which therapists attempt to cure homosexuality through prayer. (The practice is rejected by major psychiatric and psychological associations.)

Per Think Progress, protesters dressed up as barbarians—a nod to Marcus Bachmann's statement in a 2010 radio interview that gay children, like "barbarians," "need to be educated"—and shouted "You can't pray away the gay—baby, I was born this way!" Mr. Bachmann, the intended recipient, was not there. 

WATCH:

Rep. Bachmann was herself the target of an attempted glittering at last month's RightOnline conference in Minneapolis.

A Statistical Analysis of Allen West's Crazy Talk

| Thu Jul. 21, 2011 9:48 AM EDT
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

By now you've read about Florida GOP Rep. Allen West's unhinged email rant, in which he told Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who represents his neighboring congressional district, that "you have proven repeatedly that you are not a lady." (He also called her "vile, unprofessional, and dispicable.") West has since either apologized or not apologized, depending on whom you talk to, but one thing is indisputable: He and his opponents are going to milk this baby for all its worth.

On Wednesday, West fired off a fundraising email to supporters, painting himself as the target of the Democratic attack machine; Democratic groups like EMILY's List did their best to capitalize on the moment as well.

West says stuff like this all the time though, which raises the question: Is his crazy talk a political asset, or a liability? As it happens, Case Western Reserve University political scientist Justin Buchler has released a study (PDF) that answers almost that exact question:

[T]his paper proposes a measure of infamy for Members of Congress based on the frequency with which their names are used as internet search terms paired with epithets attacking either their intelligence or their sanity. Using that measure, the paper examines the statistical predictors of internet infamy. Not surprisingly, the results suggest that ideological extremism increases the likelihood of a legislator attaining such infamy, as does a leadership position in Congress...

The kicker:

The results in this paper suggest that infamy is more electorally harmful than beneficial. While infamous legislators raise more money than their lower-profile colleagues, their infamy also provides a fundraising boon to their opponents, and in House elections, infamy appears to have a direct negative effect on vote shares, at least for Republicans. Most surprisingly, these results are robust even controlling for ideological extremism.

Looks like we may have been on to something.

h/t: Monkey Cage

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 21, 2011

Thu Jul. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Staff Sgts. Russell Johnson (right) and Stephen Adams watch as fuel barrels are airdropped July 8, 2011, from a C-17 Globemaster III above Afghanistan. The two NCOs are loadmasters assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)