Mojo - September 2011

Texas Senate Candidate Compares Rival to Mythical Bloodsucking Monster

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 10:43 AM PDT

According to the most recent polling from Public Policy Polling, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst currently holds a commanding 29-point lead over former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz in the GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). But maybe that will change after Texans watch this new attack ad from Cruz, in which he compares the state's second-in-command to the mythical chupacabra:

Your move, Demon Sheep.

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Rick Perry Still Blocking Reporters on Twitter

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 10:03 AM PDT

As a reporter covering the GOP presidential campaign, I follow all of the candidates' Twitter feeds as a matter of course. Their tweets are usually about as interesting as you would assume. But on the plus side, I was one of the first 2,415 people to know what Buddy Roemer thought about Gary Johnson's recitation of his friend's text message conveying Rush Limbaugh's joke about President Obama's stimulus package.

But when I tried to follow Texas Gov. Rick Perry, I hit a dead-end: Apparently, Perry has blocked me from following his tweets:

I can still read his tweets if I go to his Twitter page—"The Iowa countryside is incredibly green," he observantly mused recently—but they don't show up in my feed. As far as transparency violations go, this is pretty small potatoes; it pales in comparison to deleting all of your official emails after seven days, which is the Perry administration's official policy. (Perry, for his part, calls transparency "boring.") But as it turns out, I'm not alone. Perry has blocked a bunch of reporters and bloggers, including some from Texas papers like the Dallas Morning-News. In response to that paper's inquiries, a Perry spokeswoman said: "[I]t is the governor's personal account, so he manages it as he likes. He uses non-state resources."

Perry's scheme of blocking journalists is confusing not just because no other candidate does this, but because, as the Post's Alexandra Petri, put it:

All your account really says about you is that you really like Texas and enjoy the company of dogs. But if you are planning to post embarrassing personal revelations later that you don't want the press to know about, maybe you should reread the Twitter manual, because this isn't really the forum.

Yes, my coverage of the governor's record in Texas hasn't exactly been glowing. I previously reported on his slow response to systematic abuse at the Texas Youth Commission, his coziness with the private prison lobby, his shaky record on the death penalty, and the radical roots of his prayer rally in Houston, The Response. Most recently, I noted that his Florida straw poll co-chair believes that gay people are responsible for natural disasters. But here's an entire post listing good things that Perry has done that progressive might actually like.

Making things all the more confusing, Perry, at one point, was following me:

Maybe Mitt Romney's right—there really are two Rick Perrys.

Perry Wants To "Mate Up" Gingrich and Cain

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 9:28 AM PDT

Perhaps the strangest moment of Thursday's Fox News/Google debate came when Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked who he would pick as his running mate. His reply: "I don't know how you would do this, but if you could take Herman Cain and mate him up with Newt Gingrich, I think you would have a couple of really interesting guys to work with."

Former Massachussetts Governor Mitt Romney quipped, "There are a couple of images I'm going to have a hard time getting out of my mind."

I suspect Perry's plan to "mate up" Gingrich and Cain (who actually did say he would choose Gingrich as his running mate) doesn't actually signify a shift in Perry's views on marriage equality. But if the image of a mutant spawn of Cain and Gingrich running alongside Perry doesn't frighten you, consider that Perry didn't exactly excel in his animal science major in college, receiving "a D in veterinary anatomy, a F in a second course on organic chemistry and a C in animal breeding." We can only hope that when this Hermewt Caingrich emerges, Tokyo will be spared.

Former CIA Official Backs Up Mullen's Pakistan Claim

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 9:20 AM PDT
Admiral Mike Mullen.

On Thursday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee that the Pakistan's army intelligence service, the ISI, has been working hand-in-hand with the Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network, one of three allied insurgent groups fighting NATO forces alongside the Taliban. But how did the US know that for sure? Reuters posits an answer:

Bruce Riedel, a former top CIA analyst with close ties to the Obama White House, which he once advised, told Reuters administration officials have told him that militants who attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on September 13 phoned individuals connected with the ISI before and during the attack.

Following the attacks, Riedel said, U.S. security forces collected cell phones the attackers had used. These are expected to provide further evidence linking militants to ISI.

Mullen has linked the alleged Haqqani-ISI tag team to at least three attacks against the US. This all comes as the Senate appropriations committee voted on Wednesday (the day before Mullen levelled his allegation) to make US aid to Pakistan "more rigorous, and contingent upon its cooperation in fighting militants such as the Haqqani network." But that's not exactly a game-changer for this fraught relationship.

Meanwhile, Reuters says that Mullen's "harsh words appear to represent a new low in U.S.-Pakistani relations"—yes, okay, given his prominence, maybe. But by what measure is this a new low? Apparently there's no drone strike too outrageous, no CIA-linked midnight murder too embarrassing, no terrorist bunker too cozy, and no special ops raid too invasive, for the US or Pakistan to say: At what point is enough enough?

Bachmann: I'm Not Responsible For The Words Coming Out Of My Mouth

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 8:53 AM PDT

In a television interview after the GOP presidential debate on September 12, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who was attacking Texas Governor Rick Perry over his decision to mandate that adolescent girls receive a vaccine for HPV, made the shocking suggestion that the vaccine caused "mental retardation." This is what Bachmann said:

"There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine.… She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences."

On Thursday night, Bachmann was asked directly about those remarks, which, as my colleague Tim Murphy reported, are not only completely false but could have serious health consequences by dissuading people from vaccinating their children. Asked about her validating paranoid junk science, Bachmann disavowed all responsibility, insisting that she was just the messenger.

Well, first I didn't make that claim nor did I make that statement. Immediately after the debate, a mother came up to me and she was visibly shaken and heart broken because of what her daughter had gone through. I so I only related what her story was.

Bachmann went on to explain a far more justifiable objection to Perry's decision, namely that the mandate was really about his desire to help a campaign contributor. 

For what it's worth, Bachmann's excuse is also false. She said that there "are very dangerous consequences" that come from mandating the HPV vaccine, and in context, it's clear she's referring to the false assertion that the vaccine causes mental problems. She wasn't merely "relaying" false information, she was endorsing it. Instead of simply admitting that it was wrong to validate and amplify a conspiracy theory, Bachmann basically said she's not at all responsible for making sure anything that comes out of her mouth is actually true. This is a shockingly glib response for someone who wants to run the most powerful country in the world.

Weekly Standard on GOP Debate: "Yikes"

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 8:08 AM PDT

As our post-circus wrap-up suggests, none of us here at MoJo Politics were particularly blown away by Thursday night's GOP presidential debate in Orlando. At various points, candidates trumpeted easily debunked conspiracy theories, declined to recognize the service of a military veteran, and went at each others' throats over the issue of allowing undocumented children to go to college.

But don't take it from us. After last night, even conservatives are starting to freak out about the Republican field. Here's Bill Kristol's special editorial at the Weekly Standard, one of the leading publications of the Republican establishment:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s official reaction to last night’s Republican presidential debate: Yikes.

Reading the reactions of thoughtful commentators after the stage emptied, talking with conservative policy types and GOP political operatives later last evening and this morning, we know we’re not alone. Most won't express publicly just how horrified—or at least how demoralized—they are. After all, they still want to beat Obama—as do we. And they want to get along with the possible nominee and the other candidates and their supporters. They don't want to rock the boat too much. But maybe the GOP presidential boat needs rocking.

The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: "I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!" As the evening went on, the craziness receded, and the demoralized comments we received stressed the mediocrity of the field rather than its wackiness. As one more experienced, and therefore more jaded, observer wrote: "I just thought maybe it's always this bad...they're only marginally worse than McCain and Bush."

Kristol goes on to suggest that Perry's performance was "close to a disqualifying performance." Before Kristol writes another epic poem calling for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get into the race, though, it's worth noting that 1.) The debate started at 9 p.m., finished at 11 p.m., and was going head to head with Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel, and 2.) See point 1. Last night's debate was disspiriting for any number of reasons, but very few people watched it except for those of us who had to, and it likely did nothing to diminish Republicans' chances next November.

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Reza Aslan: Expert in Exile

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 3:03 AM PDT
Reza Aslan.

In 1979, a seven-year-old Reza Aslan clutched his younger sister's hand as he and his family ran through the airport, fleeing an Iran entering the peak of the Islamic Revolution. They planned to return soon, but after Ayatollah Khomeini's hardliners consolidated power, their temporary exile became permanent in California. More than 30 years later, another revolutionary wave courses through the region. And Aslan, who's since emerged as one of America's leading commentators on the Middle East and Islam, likes what he sees. "Across the board, what has happened is that the regimes in the region now understand that they can no longer just ignore the will of the people," he says.

Even as the Middle East's latest revolutions chart a path very different from the one that forced Aslan from Iran, they've continued to spark his fascination with the intersection of religion and politics. Today, he's as comfortable expounding on the theological fine points of Sufi mysticism as he is sparring with those he blasts as "pseudo-experts" peddling anti-Muslim "bullshit." A professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, Aslan is the consummate public intellectual. He has written or edited four books, including his recently rereleased 2005 bestseller No god but God, frequently appears on television and radio, and traverses the globe giving talks at universities, film festivals, synagogues, mosques, and churches. A few days ahead of his speaking engagement this Saturday evening at De Anza College outside San Jose, I talked to Aslan about Islamophobia, Al Qaeda's role in igniting the Arab Spring, and the death of the two-state solution.

Mother Jones: You've argued that anti-Muslim sentiment in the US has gotten significantly worse of late, especially within the last few years. Why do you think that is?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 23, 2011

Fri Sep. 23, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

A child plays with two flags while soldiers with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade spend their last moments with their family before leaving to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. US Army photo by Staff Sgt Donna Davis, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs.

Michele Bachmann's GOP Debate Whopper

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 8:48 PM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann.

During Thursday's Google/Fox News debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) continued her pattern of making factually suspect statements. At one point, she claimed that "President Obama has the lowest public approval ratings of any president in modern times." Granted, it might all depend on how one defines "modern times." But if we are to interpret "modern times" as including the presidencies of any one other than Barack Obama, then we have to consider the following:

George W. Bush clocked in at a low-point of 25 percent; Truman sank to 22 percent in a 1952 Gallup poll; Nixon hit a low of 24 percent just days before his resignation; and Carter sank to 28 percent.

President Obama has thus far experienced a Gallup low of 38 percent. By the laws of first-grade basic math, Obama has sixteen points to go before tying the lowest presidential approval rating Gallup has on record.

GOP Contenders Get a Pass on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 8:07 PM PDT

For the third consecutive GOP presidential debate, the audience stole the show. At the Reagan Library debate in California, attendees memorably broke into a spontaneous round of applause in support of Rick Perry's record on the death penalty. At last week's debate in Tampa, a handful of audience members cheered the prospect of a man without health insurance being left to die. And on Thursday in Orlando, a chorus of boos erupted when a gay Army veteran asked former Sen. Rick Santorum if he should still be allowed to serve the country in Iraq.

Watch:

Santorum's answer was characteristic: Looking uncomfortable and stammering slightly, he said that the military was practicing "social engineering" by allowing gays to serve openly. He also effectively suggested that service-members should practice abstinence, stating that, "any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." He declined to thank the questioner for his service, normally standard operating procedure for an American politician.

More disappointing than Santorum's answer was the fact that he was the only candidate forced to come up with one. Fox News' Chris Wallace grilled Santorum and then moved on to a new subject. But DADT is in the news right now, and it is a tangible policy that the next president, as commander in chief, will be in a position to act on. It speaks not just to social issues, but also national security. Will President Perry block gay soldiers from receiving benefits? Will President Romney move to re-implement DADT? Will President Cain (kidding) move to to create separate housing for gay soldiers and straight soldiers (as some social conservatives have suggested)? If the candidates don't like the current policy, what exactly are they going to do to change it?

Santorum got pegged with the question because he's considered a "social issues" candidate. But this question really deserved to be asked of everyone.