Mojo - August 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 5, 2011

Fri Aug. 5, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Marines from Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman's squad embrace each other after paying tribute to the fallen marine's monument during a memorial service at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations. "He was like a dad to us," Lance Cpl. Michael A. Barnhouse said. "He'd take us under his wing and make sure we didn't mess up. If we did he wouldn't yell at us, but show us what we did wrong and how to correct it." (Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs, photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

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Meet the Folks Behind Rick Perry's Prayer Festival

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas).

This post has been updated.

On Saturday morning, Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined Christian religious leaders at Reliant Stadium in Houston for a day of prayer and fasting for America. "With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry explained in a YouTube spot promoting the event. "That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast, like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelites to do in the book of Joel."

Joel 2, the specific Old Testament chapter Perry is referring to, has a special meaning for many evangelical Christians—and more specifically among a small but growing movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. Its adherents believe the nation has become unmoored from its moral foundations, and that our present misfortunes are a direct consequence. They believe it will take a new push by modern-day apostles—messengers who've received their instructions directly from God—to put things back on course. And the apostles, as the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder has detailed, believe Perry is one of them.

But things didn't go as planned. What was once seen as a dramatic coming-out party for a latter-day Moses, in which Perry would emerge as a bona fide leader of the Christian right against the big-government "Pharaoh" (to use Perry's Exodus metaphor), is looking more and more like a flop. Just 8,000 tickets were sold by Friday—not enough to fill a high school football stadium in Texas, let alone a 75,000-seat professional one. Of the 49 other governors Perry invited to attend, just one, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, said he'd show up (a few others, like GOPers Paul LePage of Maine and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, issued proclamations). Texas Monthly's Paul Burka, the dean of Texas political analysts, is calling the event an "utter failure."

So where did it go wrong?

Mysterious, Defunct Company Donates $1 Million to Romney SuperPAC

| Thu Aug. 4, 2011 8:59 AM PDT
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

NBC's Michael Isikoff has a bombshell-of-a-scoop on a now-dissolved mystery company that, according to recent campaign fillings, donated $1 million to a super PAC founded by associates of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

That company, W Spann LLC, was formed in March by a Boston-based lawyer named Cameron Casey who specializes in estate tax planning. Six weeks after its formation, W Spann made a mega-contribution to Restore Our Future, the allegedly independent, Romney-linked "super PAC," Isikoff reports.

Casey dissolved W Spann on July 12, two weeks before Restore Our Future made its first campaign filling of 2011, disclosing that it had received just over $12 million in contributions in the first six months of they year. From Isikoff:

[T]he most intriguing of the million-dollar donations was from W Spann LLC. Its address was listed on the Restore Our Future campaign report as 590 Madison Ave., a 43-story, ultra-modern office building in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

But there is no public listing for any company called W Spann LLC at 590 Madison. A top executive of Minskoff Equities, the firm that manages the building, told NBC News that he had "never heard of" W Spann and that his management firm has no record of any such tenant.

Casey works as an associate in a law firm called Ropes & Gray’s. That's where the plot thickens, Isikoff reports:

One of the Rope & Gray’s longtime clients is Bain Capital, the investment firm formerly headed by Romney. It is also one of a number of major companies—including UBS, IBM and Cemex— that have offices at 590 Madison, the address listed for W Spann.

Asked about W Spann, Alex Stanton, a spokesman for Bain Capital said, in an email: "Bain Capital has many employees who actively participate in civic affairs, and they individually support candidates from both parties. The firm takes no position on any candidate, and the entity in question is not affiliated with Bain Capital or any of our employees."

Thanks to the Citizens United decision—which allowed corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns—super PACs like Restore Our Future and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS have been loading their campaign warchests with millions from undisclosed donors.

The use of a here-today-gone-tomorrow front company like W Spann shows just how far these crafty operatives have become at exploiting what's left of campaign finance law.

Bachmann, Romney Sign Anti-Gay Marriage Pledge

| Thu Aug. 4, 2011 8:56 AM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Mitt Romney.

The last time a social conservative organization unveiled a marriage pledge for GOP presidential candidates, it was kind of a disaster. (And by kind of, we mean "totally.") Frontrunner Mitt Romney denounced the pledge as "undignified"; Tim Pawlenty took a pass as well. That's what happens when you include language asserting that black families were more stable during slavery.

But on Thursday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM!) released its own marriage pledge, and this one is off to a noticeably smoother start. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and—notably—Romney are all on board. Here are the key points of the pledge, per the release:

  • Support and send to the states a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman,
  • Defend DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] in court,
  • Appoint judges and an attorney general who will respect the original meaning of the Constitution,
  • Appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters,
  • Support legislation that would return to the people of D.C. their right to vote for marriage.

That presidential commission on the harrassment of traditional marriage supporters should be a blast. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn't weighed in yet, but he'll be joining NOM next week for the Values Voters Bus Tour through Iowa, so it'd be a little awkward if he just left them at the altar on this one. Also tagging along on the tour? Santorum, Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and—schedule permitting—Bachmann herself.

Chris Christie Shoots Down Anti-Shariah Activists

| Thu Aug. 4, 2011 8:07 AM PDT

Via Adam Serwer, New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie delivered some much-needed real talk on Islamophobia on Wednesday. For months, he's been taking heat from conservative groups over his appointment of a Muslim, Sohail Mohammed, to the state superior court (here's Pamela Geller's characteristically calm reaction). With no factual evidence to support their claims, many conservatives fear that Muslims are stealthily forcing a radical strain of Islamic Shariah law on unsuspecting Americans—and Mohammed's appointment, in such a key position, would no doubt speed up the process.

But Christie, who has been known to speak his mind from time to time, has had enough of it:

Shariah law has nothing to do with this at all. It's crazy. It's crazy. The guy's an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in the state of New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the laws of New Jersey, the constitution of the state of New Jersey, and the Constitution of the United States of America…this shariah law business is crap. It's just crazy. And I'm tired of dealing with the crazies. It's just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious backround.

Here's the video:

Why Bachmann's Allies Hate International Baccalaureate

| Thu Aug. 4, 2011 6:50 AM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.)

It's a reasonable bet that International Baccalaureate, the international advanced placement system for high school students, will not be much of an issue in the Republican presidential race. But you never know.

As I reported this morning, International Baccalaureate actually plays a supporting role in a conspiracy theory hawked by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and many of her boosters back in Minnesota—one that helped kick-start her career when she was a home-school parent in Stillwater. Bachmann got her start in politics in the late 1990s by partnering with a group called the the Maple River Education Coalition to warn Minnesotans about the imminent "state-planned economy" that would turn the state into a mini-Soviet Union. MREC believed, absolutely, that the federal government was in league with the United Nations to create a new global order built on an ideology of radical environmentalism (which is what led then-Gov. Jesse Ventura, no stranger to conspiracy theories, to jest that they "think UFOs are landing next month"). As these conservatives saw it, "sustainability," and more specifically a little-known United Nations agreement called Agenda 21, was the catalyst for a globalist takeover.

What does this have to do with International Baccalaureate? Well, if your goal is to bring the world together under one banner, it obviously helps to indoctrinate the children. These right-wing critics argued that IBO was quietly weaning kids off the antiquated notion of national sovereignty and American ideals and pushing them to become world citizens. (This, among other reasons, is why conservatives were so irked by Obama's statement that he considers himself a "citizen of the world"). IBO students would be taught to revere the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and embrace a doctrine of moral relativsm that values gay rights, redistribution of wealth, and the notion that the earth itself is a living organism (think Avatar, I guess).

Bachmann has been silent on the International Baccalaureate part of the conspriacy. But in 2006, then-EdWatch president Julie Quist did testify before Bachmann's state senate education committee to urge the body to strip all funding for IBO programs. As she explained:

Dr. Ian Hill, Deputy Director of IBO, has said that the goal of IBO is the promotion of world citizenship. [http:/www.ibo.org] Either United States citizenship or world citizenship must have priority in our education program. Which will it be?  IB gives priority to world citizenship...

Amendment X of our Bill of Rights assumes that the rights in our Bill of Rights are inherent and inalienable, as is directly stated in the Declaration of Independence. For that reason, IBO is contrary to Amendment X of our Bill of Rights, and therefore undermines all ten amendments that make up our Bill of Rights.

All ten amendments—even the Third! World citizenship, anyhow, is not literally a thing that's in competition with national citizenship, inasmuch as it is impossible to get a "world passport" or pay "world taxes" or vote for a "world president" or compete on the world Olympic team. But a few weeks later, Quist and EdWatch showed up at the GOP nominating convention for the Sixth Congressional District. Bachmann won the nomination with their help, but there was another order of business for the group: They also pushed through a resolution formally opposing IBO. (Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty, supported the program.) Quist and another EdWatch alum, Renee Doyle, went on to take jobs in Bachann's congressional office.

Bachmann frames her education activism and work with Maple River Education Coalition as that of a concerned parent who was worried schools were dumbing down her kids. But the actual fears that she and her allies outlined at the time went much, much deeper than that. For some more thoughts on Bachmann's early career—and why conservatives don't seem to care—read Noah Kristula-Green.

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What if Obama's Debt Compromise Doesn't Impress Independents?

| Thu Aug. 4, 2011 6:25 AM PDT

President Barack Obama won in 2008 with independent voters (and, of course, a hyper-active base of Democrats). But after a year of the Obama presidency, independents were souring on him, and by the 2010 mid-term elections, they seemed to be quite skeptical of the former candidate of hope and change. Thus, one important component of Obama's reelection strategy is obvious: win the independents back. One way to revive their affections, the thinking goes, is for Obama to rise above Washington's increasingly bitter fray and produce compromises that demonstrate his ability to make the divided capital function for the American people. Last December's tax-cut deal fit this strategy. Obama was able to show independents he could forge a compromise with obdurate Republicans—plus, he produced a mini-stimulus for the sputtering economy.

As for this week's debt ceiling compromise—that seems to be another story. The deal yielded no immediate results that will bolster the economy (though it did prevent GOPers from blowing up the economy), and independents seem to be unimpressed. As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post and others note, the most interesting aspect of the initial polls taken after the denouement of Debtageddon is that indies are not keen on the compromise. A USA Today/Gallup survey found that 50 percent of self-identified independents disapprove of the compromise; one-third approve. CNN's survey found that 62 percent of independents are thumb's-down on the deal. (The deal does better with the whole population—39 percent approve, and 46 disapprove in the Gallup poll—because Democrats (far more than Republicans) considered it a positive outcome.

So if the independents don't like this deal, does that mean Obama won't accrue the political bennies he might expect to rack up among this slice of the electorate? In polling during the weeks running up to the final deal, Obama consistently polled more favorably than the congressional Republicans, suggesting his I'm-the-reasonable-guy strategy was paying off political dividends. But if at the end of all this independents think the deal is a stinker, maybe there won't be any long-lasting political gain for the president. He certainly won't be able to cite the deal when courting the middle.

Cillizza reports,

Curt Anderson, a Republican media consultant, called compromise a "media fascination" and dismissed polling conducted in the run-up to the deal that suggested people wanted a deal done. "That will always test well, and it is a complete misread and not at all instructive of anything," said Anderson.

Anderson...insisted that independents (and voters more generally) "want results more than they want compromise."

And this result was to no one's liking. Perhaps the political lesson for the White House is that the president is going to have deliver better packages to renew his bond with independents. But given who he has to negotiate with on Capitol Hill, that's going to be a tough deal to pull off.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 4, 2011

Thu Aug. 4, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Spc. Gareth Warner drops a 120mm mortar round into the tube while Spc. Ricky Olivo keeps the gun on target during a fire mission on Combat Outpost Zurok in Paktika province, Afghanistan. The soldiers are deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith.

The House GOP Jobs Plan, Again

| Wed Aug. 3, 2011 10:17 AM PDT
Joined by House Republican leaders outside the Cannon Caucus Room, Speaker Boehner discusses the Republicans' jobs plan.

As soon as the ink was dry on the new debt-ceiling deal, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was on Twitter pushing the GOP's "blueprint" for creating jobs and fixing the economy. There's a special new jobs website set up to promote the Republican plan. I was pretty sure that I knew what it was even before I looked at it, but Boehner's tweets were pretty insistent, so I decided to check out the plan. As it turned out, the fancy new website simply promoted the same old "jobs" plan my colleague Andy Kroll wrote about back in May. But since that was a lifetime ago in Washington, here's a refresher on what the GOP wants to do now that the debt fight is over:

Number one on the list of "pro-growth" policies House Republicans intend to push is reducing "regulatory burdens" on small businesses. The GOP plan highlights a number of regulations that hurt "job creators," including the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gasses; the FCC's net neutrality proposal, which is hated by the nation's biggest telecom monopolies; and "burdensome pesticide regulation."

Next on the list is.... lower taxes. House Republicans are promising to lower the tax rate for individuals and businesses to 25 percent, down from the current 35 percent. How that squares with the other GOP proposal to tackle the national debt isn't laid out in the plan. Presumably the big tax reduction will spur so much growth that the revenue will magically appear in the federal treasury, just the way it did, uh, with the Bush tax cuts. (It didn't.)

The GOP's other ideas include patent reform (which Congress actually passed since the last version of the plan was released) and "expediting" the drug approval process at the FDA. And no GOP jobs plan would be complete without a proposal to drill, baby, drill, to increase domestic energy production.

Critics can laugh all they want about Obama going on a bus tour to focus on job creation, but even if all he does is wrangle up some money to fix a few falling-down bridges, it's likely to put more average people to work than anything the GOP has in mind.

Veteran WI GOP State Senator: "I'm Not Sure" I'll Survive Recall Election

| Wed Aug. 3, 2011 9:48 AM PDT

It's less than a week until Wisconsin voters hit the polls in the recall elections of six Republican state senators. According to polling by Wisconsin's Democratic Party, Democratic challengers are, for the most part, sitting pretty right now, leading in three races and tied in the rest. Mind you, these are internal polls, so they should taken with a grain of salt.

But in the case of Republican Alberta Darling, a 20-year veteran of the Wisconsin state senate, you don't need polls to know she's in trouble in her race against Democratic state assemblywoman Sandy Pasch. Darling herself admitted as much on Tuesday. In response to an audience member's comment "Obviously you think you're going to win this," Darling said, "I'm not sure. It's going to be about turnout." From a long-time member of the Wisconsin GOP and a lock to win her recall mere months ago, that's a striking admission.

Here's the video, from the state Democratic Party:

Now, since the clip is short, we don't know what Darling said after this. According to polling data, Darling has some cause to worry: One poll released in mid-July by the Democratic Party showed Pasch ahead of Darling by 1 percentage point, while a Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the liberal Daily Kos put Darling up by 5 points. Even then, it's a sign of the shifting political headwinds in Wisconsin that the Republican state senator considered by Democrats to be the least likely to lose her recall election is now conceding that she may be unseated.