Mojo - August 2011

National Republicans Trumpet Wisconsin Recall Victories, Beg for Bucks

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 2:21 PM EDT

The Republican National Committee blasted an email out to supporters today trumpeting the four Republican victories in Wisconsin's August 9 recall elections and using the results to ask for campaign cash. "The Republican Party won a great victory over the Big Union bosses and Obama Democrats last night, and we could not have done it without the support you have given the RNC," the email reads. Later in the email, the RNC asks for two- and three-figure donations to "regain total control of Congress and ensure Barack Obama is a one-term president."

Republicans came out on top in Tuesday's heated recall races, winning four out of six races and denying Democrats the majority in the State Senate. That narrows the GOP's edge in the Senate to one vote, though that lead could widen if Democrats lose either of the seats in the August 16 recall of two Democratic senators.

While some Republicans decried the national feel of Tuesday's recalls, the RNC heralds its own role in helping the state GOP beat back the Democratic challengers:

Because of your support of the RNC, Republican, we were able to help the Wisconsin Party's grassroots efforts and provide strategic resources to keep our majority in the state senate.

  • We provided staff on the ground;
  • Funded a voter ID program;
  • Worked with the Wisconsin Party on contact lists and a Get-Out-The-Vote plan;
  • Provided Get-Out-The-Vote technology and equipment to the state party; and,
  • Funded the absentee ballot program.

"None of this," the letter goes on, "would have been possible without your financial support of the Republican National Committee."

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Ann Coulter Named GOProud's "Gay Icon," Will Serve as Council Chair

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 12:18 PM EDT
Ann Coulter speaking at CPAC 2011.

Ann Coulter has been tapped as the honorary chair for the advisory council of GOProud, a national advocacy organization for staunchly conservative LGBT individuals.

In a Tuesday press release, GOProud announced that Coulter has enthusiastically accepted the honorary position, and that her official title on the council will be "Gay Icon":

"Ann Coulter is a brilliant and fearless leader of the conservative movement, we are honored to have her as part of GOProud’s leadership," said Christopher Barron, Chairman of GOProud’s Board. "Ann helped put our organization on the map. Politics is full of the meek, the compromising and the apologists – Ann, like GOProud, is the exact opposite of all of those things. We need more Ann Coulters."

Coulter responded by saying that she was thrilled to assume the role of "Queen of Fabulous."

It's only natural at this point to quickly review a few things about Ann Coulter:

In her unwavering support for Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Coulter suggested that perhaps there should be an all-homosexual service, decked out with the flashy stereotypes of "a dance club, a cosmo bar and a counseling center called 'The Awkward Place.'" She also wrote that there is "no proof that all the discharges for homosexuality involve actual homosexuals."

Coulter claims to be a "friend of the gays" while simultaneously saying that leftists are using them (and the blacks and the feminists and the single mothers) to "destroy the family" with the "made-up" concept of marriage equality.

For the 2008 presidential election, she full-throatedly endorsed GOP candidate Duncan Hunter, whose stance on gay rights can be accurately summed up in his vote to ban gay adoptions in Washington, DC.

Oh, and in 2007 she famously declared John Edwards a "faggot" to a chorus of CPAC applause, so, yeah, there's that.

(She also joked about how Al Gore was a "total fag," but, to be fair, that one can just get chalked up to her terrible comic timing.)

But Coulter's GOProud appointment will only seem bizarre to those who know absolutely nothing about GOProud.

The organization, though branding itself as a gay rights group, generally views gay marriage as a states' rights affair—a stance famous for working out awesomely for interracial couples in Alabama before the mid-'60s. (Incidentally, Coulter also maintains that she was the one who convinced GOProud to "[drop] the gay marriage plank.")

GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia, along with viewing federal hate crimes legislation as a waste of "so much political capital," spends nearly as much time and energy trashing Barack Obama as a "failed president" as he does being an apologist for homophobic right-wing politicos.

As a result of their agenda, GOProud has earned plenty of resentment from other gay rights groups, with columnist Dan Savage emphatically describing them as "gay Quislings and useful idiots that help to window-dress the Republican Party, which is...still rabidly anti-gay to its core."

So really, Ann Coulter and GOProud seem perfectly made for each other. This latest announcement is about as surprising as, say, the news that GOProud got booted from next year's CPAC.

Why Tea Partiers Are Scared of Hobbits

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 10:05 AM EDT
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Congress is out of session in August, which means that America's senators and representatives are touring their home states and districts, meeting with constituents at town hall forums. It is an American tradition of sorts, in which constituents attempt to make the case that Washington politicians are irresponsible, uncivil, and ill-suited for the task of governing—by yelling insults and shouting really loudly while other people are talking, sometimes at the behest of corporate astroturf groups. Democracy!

To wit: Josh Marshall flags this gem from Arizona Sen. GOP John McCain's event earlier this week:

Kelly Townsend, a Gilbert resident and member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party, demanded that McCain apologize for a comment made last month on the Senate floor about "tea party hobbits."

As well he should; the more apt Lord of the Rings/debt ceiling analogy would have been to this scene. Continuing on:

Tea-party activists called McCain "out of touch" when the senator said he didn't know about United Nations "Agenda 21."One man described the initiative as a "takeover of the United States of America by taking over our farms."

"First, our firearms, then our farms," another man added.

McCain said no Congress would allow that to happen, but that didn't satisfy several in the room who subscribed to the theory.

As it happens, "hobbit" is an especially sensitive term for tea partiers for reasons that go well beyond name-calling (they prefer "halfling," I believe). As I explained last week, a not insignificant number of conservatives (including, to a certain degree at least, Michele Bachmann), believe that the federal government has basically handed over our future sovereignty to the United Nations through a treaty called Agenda 21. Never mind that the agreement, which broadly outlined a number of goals to promote sustainable development, was never ratified by Senate; the fear is that rural Americans will be booted from their land and forced to, as Bachmann put it, "move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs." (David Samuels captured this fear quite well in his piece on the Montana bison reserve.)

So what would these urban dwellings look like? Some activists speculate that we will be forced to live in what London mayor Boris Johnson calls "hobbit homes." He means this is in a nice way, of course—ultra-sustainable dwellings that make use of the natural environment and would probably be quite comfortable, provided they’re built to scale; think some sort of combination of an Earthship and Bilbo Baggins' Bag End. But Johnson's description may have been a poor choice of words, and the anti-Agenda 21 activists have taken off with it. Unbeknownst to McCain, his use of the "h-word" hit a particularly sore spot for tea partiers.

Anyways, this all sounds kind of loopy—and it is—but it's worth keeping in mind that these views are entrenched among many on the far-right. Bachmann warned against Agenda 21 as a state senator; Glenn Beck brought the issue to Fox News; it's yet another way in which their ascendance marks a mainstreaming of the fringe.

Rumsfeld Torture Suit Is a Go

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 5:45 AM EDT
Donald Rumsfeld.

While the Obama administration has been soft on pursuing justice for victims of Bush-era human rights violations, it's at least comforting to know that the US court system is picking up a teensy bit of the slack. On Monday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that a civil lawsuit brought by two American men against Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the US government alleges sufficient evidence to proceed.

Plaintiffs Nathan Ertel and Donald Vance, who had been working as security contractors for Shield Group Security in Iraq, claim that they were unjustly detained and subjected to psychological and physical torture shortly after they started to suspect that their company was engaging in bribery and weapons trafficking. BBC News reports:

The men began feeding information [regarding the alleged corruption] to US government officials in Iraq until, in April 2006, the company confiscated their credentials to enter the Baghdad Green Zone…according to their court pleadings.

Then, US military personnel detained them, confiscated their belongings, handcuffed and blindfolded them and took them to a military base in Baghdad, where they were fingerprinted, strip-searched and locked in a cage.

They were then taken to Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport, where they "experienced a nightmarish scene in which they were detained incommunicado, in solitary confinement, and subjected to…torture for the duration of their imprisonment - Vance for three months and Ertel for six weeks", the court wrote, reiterating the men's allegations.

The decision [PDF] stated that command responsibility does in fact apply to top-ranking government officials in times of war, and that there was enough of a case to hold the former defense secretary, not just individual soldiers or the military commanders, accountable.

Here's an excerpt from the court documents (emphasis my own):

The plaintiffs allege that Secretary Rumsfeld then directed that the techniques in place at Guantanamo Bay also be extended to Iraq. The plaintiffs claim, for instance, that Secretary Rumsfeld sent Major General Geoffrey Miller to Iraq in August 2003 to evaluate how prisons could gain more "actionable intelligence" from detainees. In September 2003, in response to General Miller’s suggestion to use more aggressive interrogation policies in Iraq, and as allegedly "directed, approved and sanctioned" by Secretary Rumsfeld, the commander of the United States-led military coalition in Iraq signed a memorandum authorizing the use of 29 interrogation techniques (the "Iraq List"), which included sensory deprivation, light control, and the use of loud music.

David Rivkin, Jr., Rumsfeld's attorney, promptly issued a response that spouted national-security talking points so predictable that it's almost redundant to post them:

Having judges second-guess the decisions made by the armed forces halfway around the world is no way to wage a war...It saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to protect America.

Chart of the Day: The Great American Pay Freeze

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 5:25 AM EDT

Maybe all President Obama needs to break through the GOP’s wall of opposition to ending the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich is a new sales strategy. Michael Ettlinger of the Center for American Progress has a suggestion: pitch the expiration of the cuts as a temporary pay freeze for America's wealthiest individuals.

Here's how the math works out, according to Ettlinger. Assuming high-end incomes continue rising at the same rate they have over the past ten years, allowing the Bush cuts to expire at the end of 2012 would have the equivalent effect of a 10-month pay freeze for the richest 1 percent:

Does that matter to the Republicans of 2011? Probably not.

But rich GOPers who are terrified by the potential long-term effects of S&P's downgrade of the US' credit rating should think hard about whether their party's hardline anti-tax stanch is really in their best interests. Absent a long-term solution for plugging the deficit—and any solution short of America's transformation into libertarian fantasyland is going to require more revenues—America's debt will eventually be downgraded again. If that happens, the cost of borrowing money, expanding businesses, and creating jobs will spike. Do rich Republicans really want that? Probably not. In the long run, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire is about keeping the rich... rich.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 10, 2011

Wed Aug. 10, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Spc. Kyle Graves and Spc. Michael Bartolo attached to Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team, navigate through a series of rice paddies and corn fields while on a combat patrol to sweep for roadside bomb triggermen in Alingar District, Laghman Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 8, 2011. US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane.

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Wisconsin Recall Elections: Final Results

| Wed Aug. 10, 2011 2:00 AM EDT

A few thousand votes.

That, in the end, was all that separated Wisconsin Democrats from winning three of Tuesday's six recall elections and reclaiming the majority in the state Senate. Democrats won two races, in the 18th and 32nd districts, but fell short in the remaining four, including a gutting loss in the most high profile election. That race, in the 8th District on the northern outskirts of Milwaukee, pitted Democratic Rep. Sandy Pasch against GOP Sen. Alberta Darling. Democrats called Darling's seat the "crown jewel" of the recalls, given the veteran senator's role as the co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, which stood behind Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union budget repair bill.

But Darling managed to fend off a spirited and volunteer-fueled Pasch campaign. In a race filled with vicious radio and TV ads and allegations of fraud leveled by both sides, strong support in Republican-leaning counties in her district delivered for Darling when she needed it most. "Clearly the unions tried to take me out, and they didn't," Darling told a local TV network Tuesday night. For her part, Pasch cast her defeat as "a victory nonetheless." She said in a statement, "Against the longest odds, on Republican turf and facing on onslaught of special-interest cash, a coalition of grassroots voters stood an entrenched Republican to a virtual tie."

Elsewhere, GOP Sens. Luther Olsen, Sheila Harsdorf, and Robert Cowles defended their seats. Two Democrats, Jessica King in the 18th and Rep. Jen Schilling in the 32nd, unseated Republican incumbents Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke, respectively. "On Tuesday night, Wisconsin spoke loud and clear with the recall of two entrenched Republicans," said Mike Tate, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

With tonight's results, Democrats have shrunk the GOP's state Senate majority to a single seat. That gap, however, could reopen if either of the two Democratic incumbents lose their recalls scheduled for next Tuesday. (Both are expected to win.) Left-leaning pundits and politicos are describing the night's results a victory, considering that the two Democratic victories came on Republican-friendly turf. The mood at Democratic-friendly election night events belied that assessment, with plenty of tears shed and consoling among friends. There's no doubt Democrats' failure to win three seats comes a major disappointment after the party and unions spent tens of millions of dollars on the recalls and mounted a Herculean get-out-the-vote effort in recent weeks.

But despite the disappointment, there was already talk of the next fight—recalling Gov. Scott Walker—among the stragglers heading home in the wee morning hours on Wednesday.

***

Election Liveblog:

11:37 p.m. CST: Mike Tate, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, has accused the clerk of Waukesha County, a public official who found herself at the center of an election controversy this spring, of "once more tampering with the results of a consequential election." Tate didn't say what exactly the clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, is guilty of but goes on to say that "a dark cloud hangs over these important results."

Nickolaus found herself in the headlines during this spring's Wisconsin Supreme Court race. After it appeared that progressive candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg had won the race, Nickolaus announced that she had failed to report more than 14,000 votes in the Supreme Court race. Those votes ultimately gave conservative Justice David Prosser the victory, and so earned Nickolaus the vitriol and anger of Democrats.

That episode is no doubt the driving factor behind Tate's statement. He says Dems are deciding whether to take action.

11:17 p.m. CST: With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Sen. Alberta Darling (R) has moved into the lead over Rep. Sandy Pasch (D). Darling now leads by 3,108 votes with 16 precincts still to report.

11:06 p.m. CST: The sixth and final recall election in Wisconsin is an absolute nail-biter, with Rep. Sandy Pasch (D) leading Sen. Alberta Darling (R) by a slim 1,111-vote margin. But that's only with 68 percent of precincts reporting, and local media are reporting that the remaining votes to be tallied were cast in solidly red districts. There are, however, several precincts still to be recorded from northern Milwaukee, which could boost Pasch's chances.

10:44 p.m. CST: Democrats have notched their second win of the night, with the AP calling the 18th district race for Jessica King. She leads Sen. Randy Hopper (R) 51 percent to 49 percent with 97 percent of precincts reporting.

That brings Democrats' total wins to two. GOPers have won in three races, and just a single race now remains, the 8th district in north Milwaukee and nearby suburbs. With 67 percent of precincts reporting, Rep. Sandy Pasch (D) leads Sen. Alberta Darling (R) by 1,738 votes in that race.

10:13 p.m. CST: The AP has called the 32nd district recall election for Rep. Jen Schilling (D), giving Democrats their first win of the night. With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Schilling leads Sen. Dan Kapanke (R) 55 percent to 45 percent. Schilling was considered the lone sure win for Democrats.

There are now two remaining races, the 8th and 18th districts. Rep. Sandy Pasch (D) leads by 10 percentage points in the 8th district, while Jessica King (D) and Sen. Randy Hopper (R) tied in the 18th.

9:58 p.m. CST: Local media outlets have called the 14th district recall election for incumbent Sen. Luther Olsen (R). With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Olsen leads Rep. Fred Clark (D) by 8 percentage points, 54 percent to 46 percent.

That brings the GOP's victories to three out of six races in Tuesday's recall elections. Democrats must now sweep the remaining three races—they currently lead in two of three—to keep any hope alive of reclaiming the state Senate majority.

9:45 p.m. CST: A senior labor source emails to say, "We remain cautiously optimistic. This is tough terrain. We have done the work on the ground, and we await the results."

9:30 p.m. CST: The Associated Press has called the recall race in the 10th senate district for Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, the GOP incumbent. With 75 percent of precincts reporting, Harsdorf leads Democrat and union activist Shelly Moore by 16 percentage points.

Harsdorf is the second unofficial GOP victory of the night, after the AP called the 2nd district for Sen. Robert Cowles (R) over Nancy Nusbaum (D). Neither victory will be surprising for Democrats or labor officials, who had predicted Cowles and Harsdorf's wins. But that leaves four races to be decided, and Democrats need to win at least three of them to gain control of the State Senate.

9:25 p.m. CST: A group of labor supporters march around the Wisconsin state capital singing "Solidarity forever" an hour after polls closed on Tuesday night:

9:08 p.m. CST: Here are the unofficial results in all six districts so far:

Sen. Robert Cowles (R) v. Nancy Nusbaum (D): 57-43, with 52 percent of precincts reporting

Sen. Alberta Darling (R) v. Rep. Sandy Pasch (D): 71-29, with 9 percent reporting

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R) v. Shelly Moore (D): 58-42, with 54 percent reporting

Sen. Luther Olsen (R) v. Rep. Fred Clark (D): 55-54 45, with 39 percent reporting

Sen. Randy Hopper (R) v. Jessica King (D): 54-46, with 7 percent reporting

Sen. Dan Kapanke (R) v. Rep. Jen Schilling (D): 51-49, with 24 percent reporting

8:29 p.m. CST: GOP Sen. Alberta Darling pocketed 942 votes in the village of Thiensville, north of Milwaukee, while Rep. Sandy Pasch (D) won 585,  SE Wisconsin Patch reports. The website tweets, "Darling total in Thiensville is higher than David Prosser's 761 in April. Sandy Pasch also tops JoAnne Kloppenburg's 363 votes." These are, of course, very, very early results, with a slim percentage of districts reporting at this time.

8:02 p.m. CST: As recall voting comes to a close, an official with We Are Wisconsin, the powerful union coalition, emails to say that volunteers knocked on 92,332 doors across Wisconsin on Tuesday afternoon. That's an impressive number, and it's part of an even more impressive GOTV effort put together by left-leaning groups that I wrote about here.

7:41 p.m. CST: Daily Kos goes deep into the weeds with this analysis of the six senate districts at play tonight in Wisconsin. Well worth a read.

6:58 p.m. CST: Earlier this afternoon, Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a redistricting bill that redraws Wisconsin's political playing field to help state and federal Republican lawmakers. Walker said the bill was constitutional, but progressives have already filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill's changes.

The bill directly impacts several of the senate districts at play in tonight's recalls. For instance, if Democratic Reps. Fred Clark (14th District) and Sandy Pasch (8th) win their recall races, they would be either redistricted out of their current districts or left in significantly more Republican districts.

6:47 p.m. CST: GOP Sen. Randy Hopper, who faces Democrat Jessica King in Wisconsin's 18th District, tells TV station WITI Fox 6, "Win or lose tonight, I'm proud of the things I've done."

States Undeterred By ICE Letter on Secure Communities

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 5:05 PM EDT
An ICE agent apprehending a suspect.

Last Friday, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, breathed new life into the Secure Communities debate by sending a letter to 39 governors that terminated the program's memoranda of agreement with the states, insisting that ICE did not need the states' approval to implement S-Comm.

Under S-Comm, the FBI shares the fingerprints of suspects booked by state and local law enforcement with the Department of Homeland Security. ICE then places holds, or detainers, on those it believes are in the country illegally. To date, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported through this process, which has become a lightning-rod issue for pro-immigrant groups and which ICE hopes to implement nationwide by 2013.

If the intent of Morton's letter was to settle the question of who can and cannot choose to participate in S-Comm (New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts have all tried to opt out in recent months, citing the obstacles the program presents to law enforcement), it doesn't appear to have had the desired effect. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's spokesman told the Boston Globe over the weekend that Patrick intends to continue opposing S-Comm. And in California, where opposition to S-Comm has flourished, Morton's effort to clear the way for its national implementation also looks to be foundering. The TRUST Act, which passed the State Assembly and is now pending in the Senate, would leave it up to each of the state's 58 counties to decide whether to participate. Quintin Mecke, the communications director for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the TRUST Act's sponsor, said Ammiano remained committed to the bill, although he would be considering possible amendments in light of Friday's letter. 

Clerks: Wis. Recall Turnout Hitting Presidential Levels in Some Areas

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 5:04 PM EDT

Several city officials in the six districts playing host to recall elections say voter turnout is nearing what they saw in the 2008 presidential election, WisPolitics.com reports.

In River Falls, part of the 10th district where GOP Sen. Sheila Harsdorf is fending off challenger Shelly Moore, the city clerk was quoted as saying her office had sent out twice as many absentee ballots as usual. That's an indication that months of ground game are paying off and voter energy is high.

More from WisPolitics.com:

Hudson City Clerk Nancy Korson said voter turnout in Hudson, also part of the 10th, would likely not reach the levels of a presidential election. But they were comparable to the spring Supreme Court election, with over 500 absentee ballots received.

In Baraboo, Deputy Clerk Donna Munz said turnout was much higher than normal. She also said she'd received voter complaints over people at some polling places contacting them as they went into the polling places. At one, about nine people were outside and some voters said they were angry that they felt intimidated.

"We have received angry calls from voters regarding how persistent the people outside the polling places are," Munz said.

In the 8th SD, one of the top races with GOP Sen. Alberta Darling and Dem Rep. Sandy Pasch, Whitefish Bay officials reported a steady stream during the morning, but said it was too early to say how turnout would end up in Pasch's hometown.

Not every district was as lively. In the northeastern 2nd district, where GOP Sen. Rob Cowles has enjoyed a solid lead over Democrat Nancy Nusbaum, local officials predicted a turnout of around 45 percent.

Brother, Can You Spare a Job?

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 12:39 PM EDT
WPA photo from Depression-era soup kitchen.

Among the latest attacks on President Obama's policies are claims that his economic stimulus created few jobs, and at exorbitant cost to taxpayers: $278,000 per job, to be exact. Fuzzy math aside, what his foes fail to mention is that the stimulus, like all else these days, operated under the conservative creed that everything must be done through the private sector. This ethos, which Obama has firmly embraced, prevents the federal government from taking the far more efficient route of simply employing people, which might have created many more good jobs at the same cost.

Had Obama had heeded FDR's experience during the Great Depression, we could have put unemployed people to work rebuilding American infrastructure—bridges, tunnels, railroads, roads—not to mention restoring and shoring up wetlands and carrying out other environmental projects. That's what Roosevelt famously did with his Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps.

Such an initiative might have been possible, on some scale, prior to the midterm elections. But with the gridlock in Congress and diminishing confidence in the president and government, that course now is hard to imagine. Instead, the austerity imposed by the debt deal will further impede any chance of real job growth—as Roosevelt discovered in 1937 when he briefly adopted austerity measures, only to see a falling unemployment rate spike once again.

But even at this dismal stage, there remain a handful of realistic projects that ought to appeal to some fiscally minded conservatives, and Democrats as well.