Mojo - August 2011

The Political Junk Shot Epidemic Hits My Hometown

| Wed Aug. 3, 2011 10:55 AM EDT

There's no reason why you would have heard of Cumberland County, New Jersey. Trust me, I'm from there. Until recently, our claims to fame included serving as one of the last vestiges of "garden" in the Garden State and our proximity to Philadelphia and Atlantic City. But now my home county has gained international attention due to it's very own junk shot scandal involving a local Democratic pol.

On Tuesday, Lou Magazzu, a member of the county's Board of Chosen Freeholders (the county-level government body) resigned after naked photos he sent to a woman he corresponded with online appeared on the internet. The photos of Magazzu first surfaced in early July, but it was only this week that story hit the local press. From the Cumberland News:

The photographs were acquired by county Republican political activist Carl Johnson, a long-time enemy of Magazzu, a Democrat, who stated the woman gave him the pictures along with numerous text messages and e-mails allegedly sent between her and the former freeholder.

Magazzu accused the woman of "working with an avowed political enemy" to distribute the photos. His lawyer also argued that this Magazzu's controversy is different from the national scandal featuring ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, because the photos were sent "to one adult, consenting woman, in a private capacity."

My father, also a member of the board, has been tapped to sit on the ethics committee that has been empaneled in the wake of the scandal. I'm not really sure how much ethical policy there is to work out here though. "No photos of your genitalia on the internet" should be a fairly straightforward prerequisite for sitting public officials—unless you were elected based on your past notoriety as a porn star or nude model. Then you get a special pass.

Apparently the Magazzu scandal is making my home county famous. So far, it's made the New York Daily News, Political Wire, and even the UK's Daily Mail.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 3, 2011

Wed Aug. 3, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Spent shell casings pile up as a soldier fires his weapon down-range during weapons qualification on Fort Riley, Kansas, July 26, 2011. The soldier is assigned to the 1st Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade. US Army photo by Sgt. Roland Hale.

What's Happening With the Debt Ceiling Explained

| Tue Aug. 2, 2011 7:45 PM EDT
President Barack Obama signs the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Welcome to our debt ceiling explainer. As of August 3, this explainer is no longer being updated on a daily basis. You can read on for the basics of Congress' debt ceiling fight and a blow-by-blow account of the action from late June to the day President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 into law, on August 2. In addition, you can read about the deep, painful cuts to public investment and safety exacted by the bill, Kevin Drum on why the bill sucks, David Corn on the White House's strategy and Nancy Pelosi's crucial role in sealing the deal, and why this fight was just one of many to come. Going forward, major developments will be noted on our main Political Mojo blog.


The Basics: On August 2 (or maybe a few weeks later), the US government will reach the point where it can no longer pay its bills. That's because, earlier this spring, the federal government reached the legal limit on how much money it can borrow—a.k.a., the "debt ceiling." It's currently set at $14.3 trillion. The government borrows money to pay for everything from tax refunds to wars and veterans' benefits, not to mention repaying our creditors, which include China, Japan, the United Kingdom, state and local governments, pension funds, and investors in America and around the world.

A debt ceiling has existed since 1917. Before that, Congress had to provide its stamp of approval each time the Treasury Department wanted to sell US debt to raise money. (Here's a wonky history of the debt ceiling [PDF], courtesy of the Congressional Research Service.) Putting a borrowing limit in place gave the federal government more flexibility to fill its coffers without going to Congress over and over. Lawmakers in Congress have raised the debt ceiling on many occasions, including eight times in the past decade, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said that failing to raise it and allowing the US default "would shake the basic foundation of the entire global financial system."

What Happens If Congress Doesn't Raise the Debt Limit? In a word: Catastrophe.

At least that's what Geithner told Congress in January. In an ominous letter, he wrote that a US default would wreak havoc on the domestic economy and essentially result in a hefty tax on all Americans.

Corn on "Hardball": Did the Tea Party Win the Debt Ceiling Fight?

Tue Aug. 2, 2011 6:58 PM EDT

David Corn and author Ron Reagan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball Tuesday night to discuss the resolution of the debt ceiling battle. Was the Tea Party the big winner? If so, what's going to stop them from holding the economy hostage again to get what they want in the future?

Watch the video below:

Want to learn more about the debt ceiling fight? Read David Corn on the Obama administration's strategy, review our detailed, updated explainer on how we got to this point, and learn why Kevin Drum thinks the deal sucks. Still hungry? Andy Kroll has a great piece on what the deal means for our future.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Why the Debt Deal Won't Hurt the Pentagon

| Tue Aug. 2, 2011 1:34 PM EDT

Will the just-passed debt-ceiling deal put the United States on a path to national security ruin? That's what defense hawks are saying. "Our senior military commanders have been unanimous in their concerns that deeper cuts could break the force," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said yesterday, predicting that the proposal would "turn a debt crisis into a national security crisis." Tom Donnelly, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, ominously told the USA Today that the Pentagon cuts embedded in the compromise wouldn't call for "long knives so much as chain saws." And Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that President Obama had used the debt bill to "not just promote, but insist on the knowing destruction of the US military." He added, "We will need to work very hard to restore spending necessary for our national security and commit to reject the threat of Armageddon inserted into this bill by the White House." (McKeon and Kyl voted for the plan nonetheless.)

Yet the Department of Defense might make out surprisingly well in the deal. It's long been prepared for deep cuts and has already started focusing on doing more with less. But it may not even come to that: Its congressional allies will have plenty of time to water down any potential reductions. According an assessment by Winslow Wheeler, director of the Center for Defense Information, "The debt deal kicks the defense budget can down the road for this and future Congresses."

Herman Cain: Muslim Brotherhood Sympathizer?

| Tue Aug. 2, 2011 12:15 PM EDT

No.

Perhaps I should backtrack. Last month, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain publicly apologized for a number of anti-Islam statements he had made on the campaign trail. After calling on authorities to block the expansion of an Islamic community center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; warning that Muslims were attempting to force a radical strain of Islamic Sharia law on unsuspecting Americans; and pledging not to appoint any Muslims to his cabinet, the former pizza mogul's longshot run for the White House had hit a serious rut. So he met with Muslim leaders in Northern Virginia to smooth things out. It didn't change that fact that Cain was getting his ideas on Islam from debunked conspiracy theories, but he at least seemed to have reached the conclusion that Muslims don't bite.

But now the authors of those conspiracy theories are none too pleased. Frank Gaffney, a Washington Times columnist and anti-Sharia activist who once warned that President Obama was raised a Muslim and might still be one, told Think Progress that Cain might be in league with the Muslim Brotherhood:

The ADAMS Center is a prominent Muslim Brotherhood apparatus in Washington DC. It's one of the most aggressive proponents of its agenda in the city. Specifically, meeting with Mohamed Magid who is the president of the largest Muslim Brotherhood front in the United States, who happens also to be the Imam at the ADAMS Center. It's one of those things, it's a very problematic departure from what I think had been a generally sensible [position]."

Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association issues director who has called for a moratorium on mosque construction in the United States, is also frustrated with Cain's new dance. "Cain had said that any community which does not want a jihadist-spouting mosque in its community shouldn't be forced to have one," he wrote. "And of course, he was right about that, and it's unfortunate that he has retracted the statement. His bobbing and weaving on Islam is leaving his supporters a bit dazed and is hurting his candidacy."

This comes just one weeks after the anti-immigration group Numbers USA gave Cain a "C-" on its candidate report card—despite the fact that he had previously promised to build a giant moat along the entire US–Mexican border, filled with alligators.

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John Boehner Is Wrong: Deficit Supercommittee Can Raise Taxes

| Tue Aug. 2, 2011 10:17 AM EDT

When House Speaker John Boehner's office released an outline of the final debt deal he hashed out with President Obama, one message was clear: This plan would not raise taxes.

In the near term, Boehner was right. The Budget Control Act, as the debt ceiling deal is officially known, contains no outright tax increases and does not eliminate any tax loopholes or corporate subsidies, including $4 billion a year for large oil corporations. But Boehner and other Republicans say the debt ceiling bill goes even further: They claim it's "effectively...impossible" for the "supercommittee" of 12 lawmakers tasked with cutting the deficit by $1.5 trillion more to raise taxes at all, tipping further deficit reduction even more to-the-bone spending cuts.

But Jim Horney, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities who analyzed the bill, has a message for Boehner: You're wrong.

Horney's argument gets pretty far into the fiscal policy weeds, but here's the gist. For starters, eliminating those oil company subsidies and tax perks for corporate jets is a quick and easy way for the government to bring in more money and, as Horney points out, doing so "is clearly allowed under the proposed agreement."

Next, to gauge how much you've trimmed the federal deficit, you've got to have a baseline from which to start. The GOP claims the debt ceiling bill's supercommittee uses what's called a "current-law" baseline; in plain English, a starting point in which the status quo reigns, in which laws governing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and taxes remain untouched.

This matters because it puts Democrats seriously behind the 8-ball in demanding new revenues from the deficit supercommittee. Take the Bush tax cuts. The way the GOP sees it, their expiration at the end of 2012 would not be considered new revenue; after all, that's what the law already says. Why is this important? Because in the search for new revenue, under the GOP's rules, supercommittee members would be fighting an uphill battle to enact more tax increases on top of the Bush tax cuts' expiration. In short, it becomes really, really hard for Democrats to demand a balanced proposal out of the supercommittee, setting us up another lopsided round of cuts. And that's why, in the GOP's words, a current-law baseline "effectively mak[es] it impossible for [the] Joint Committee to increase taxes."

Wrong again, Horney argues. Nothing in the debt ceiling bill, he says, requires using a current-law baseline to measure deficit reduction and so blocking future revenue from tax increases. If the supercommittee's members want to use a different starting point, one that takes into the account the deficit-cutting effects of tax reforms, they're free to do so. "It is not the terms of the new agreement," Horney writes, "but rather the opposition of Speaker Boehner (who has promised to appoint to the Joint Committee only members who will refuse to consider any revenue increases) and other Republican leaders, that threatens to prevent the Joint Committee from considering a balanced approach to deficit reduction." And with the short-term mandates of the Budget Control Act centered entirely on spending cuts, the supercommittee is the only remaining opportunity for lawmakers to squeeze some balance into the deal.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 2, 2011

Tue Aug. 2, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Yan-Oliver B. Kouaokwa sands the wing of an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Tomcatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31 in the hangar bay aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush is deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility on its first operational deployment conducting maritime security operations and support missions as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Smevog)

¿Sí Se Puede? Illinois Dream Act Passes

| Mon Aug. 1, 2011 5:17 PM EDT

When Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Dream Act into law today, the Prairie State became the second state in a week to try to bring some financial relief to undocumented college students. Like California Assembly Bill 130, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last Monday, the Illinois Dream Act deals with scholarship money. Under the new law, named after the all-but-dead federal DREAM Act, the state will put together a committee to establish private grants for immigrant students who attended at least three years of high school in Illinois and also received their diplomas.

At the signing, which took place at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago's largely Latino Pilsen neighborhood, Quinn stuck to the basics of the debate, framing the bill as a question of access. "All children have the right to a first-class education," he said. "The Illinois Dream Act creates more opportunities for the children of immigrants to achieve a fulfilling career, brighter future, and better life through higher education." 

Even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—who once called immigration "the third rail of American politics" and was considered an obstacle to immigration reform during his tenure as White House chief of staff—got behind the legislation. "Immigrants are a driving force in our city's cultural and economic life, and opening the way for all Chicago students to earn an excellent higher education will make our city even stronger," he said in a press release. "I am proud that families and students across Illinois will now have a better shot at the American dream—which starts with a great education."

Evangelicals and Abortion Foes Dive Into Wisconsin Recalls

| Mon Aug. 1, 2011 9:33 AM EDT

It's not only right-wing political groups, like the cash-flush, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity that are deploying resources to help Republican state senators in Wisconsin prevail in their upcoming recall elections. The evangelical right is lending its muscle to the GOP to protect the six Republican lawmakers against their Democratic challengers.

As Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports, various pro-life and anti-gay rights groups are throwing cash and manpower at the Wisconsin recalls to prevent Democrats from seizing control of the state senate. (Democrats must net three seats this summer to gain the majority.) These aren't middling organizations, either: Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC), a national evangelical group, is deploying volunteers to the Badger State to support the besieged Republican senators. From a July 20 FFC blog post:

The Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Coalition will work to get out the vote the old fashion way, by talking with Wisconsin voters through burning up the shoe leather in door-to-door canvassing across key neighborhoods in senate districts from Milwaukee to Madison. Then, before Election Day on August 9th, we will initiate a full-scale get-out-the-vote phone bank operation to make sure every last pro-freedom and pro-family voter goes to vote on behalf of our values.

Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Chairman, Tony Nasvik, has worked to organize this effort and has said, “General Patton’s rapid advance across the deserts of North Africa or the open fields of Eastern France were not possible without reinforcements. The recall spectacle in Wisconsin is nearing its conclusion in this all-out battle for the State Senate. This recall has been a pitched fight between the public (and in some cases private) unions from all over the country, while most of the ground campaign on the conservative side has been locally supported."

Here's more on the right-wing mobilization from Sargent:

Susan Armacost, the legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life, tells me that the group is involved in the recall wars because Planned Parenthood is active, too—and said that keeping the state senate in GOP hands would be better for the anti-abortion cause.

That’s because anti-abortion forces in Wisconsin are pushing the state to opt out of Federally funded abortions as part of the exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. The group is also pushing a state-level measure that would more strictly regulate abortion.

National groups are involved, too. Here is a flyer—sent over by the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin—that’s being distributed by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, urging a vote against Fred Clark, the Dem recall challenger to vulnerable GOP state senator Luther Olsen:

The remaining recall elections in Wisconsin—targeting six GOP incumbents on August 9 and two Democratic incumbents a week later—are quickly shaping up to be a national political battle. Barring a recall of Republican Governor Scott Walker, they're the final chapter in this year's tempestuous battle over union rights in Wisconsin. Walker's budget bill may have prevailed, but Democrats could have the last word if they reclaim the senate and throw a wrench into Walker's future legislative plans.