Mojo - September 2011

Bloggingheads.tv: Corn & Pinkerton on the CNN/Tea Party Debate

Wed Sep. 14, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

They're back! David Corn and James Pinkerton reunite on Bloggingheads.tv to eulogize last night's CNN/tea party debate.

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

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 14, 2011

Wed Sep. 14, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Kyle Henry, right, a section chief with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, conducts a dismounted force protection patrol near an Iraqi 1st Federal Police check point outside of Joint Security Station Loyalty, Iraq. 1-7 FA Battalion Soldiers and the 1st FP conduct patrols together to enhance the safety of the local community and of those living on the JSS. US Army photo by Capt. Christopher Miles, 1-7 FA Battalion, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C.

Democrats Lose Nevada and New York Special Congressional Elections

| Wed Sep. 14, 2011 12:45 AM EDT
Republican Bob Turner, who successfully replaced disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner in New York's 9th congressional district.

Democrats took a beating on Tuesday night in a pair of special elections in Nevada and New York. A Democratic loss was expected in Nevada's GOP-friendly 2nd congressional district in the race to replace Rep. Dean Heller, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to take over the seat of disgraced US senator John Ensign after his resignation. But in the fight to fill the seat left by Rep. Anthony Weiner in New York's 9th congressional district, Republican Bob Turner's victory dealt Democrats a stinging blow in a traditionally blue district.

Turner defeated State Assemblyman David Weprin 53 percent to 46 percent, with 83 percent of precincts reporting. In Nevada, Republican Mark Amodei, a 12-year member of the state Senate, cruised to victory over Democrat Kate Marshall, the state treasurer, 57 percent to 32 percent, with 68 percent of precincts reporting.

Just weeks ago, Democrats were expected to retain New York's 9th congressional district seat in Tuesday's special election, despite the spectacle of Weiner's downfall. Weprin, however, committed a series of gaffes in the six-week run-up to the election, including blanking on the size of the federal deficit (he cast himself a fiscal crusader) and bailing out of a debate the day after the debt goof.

But arguably the biggest issue in the NY-9 election was Israel. While both Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, and Turner, a Catholic, tacked to the far right on Israel, Tuesday's election, in which a large percentage of Orthodox Jews cast ballots for Turner, was seen in part as a referendum by Israel's strongest defenders on President Obama's Israel policy. As Talking Points Memo reported, former New York mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, supported Turner in the race in the hopes of electing the Republican and delivering a message to Obama over his dissatisfaction with his stance toward Israel. (In May, Obama proposed that Israel and Palestine return to pre-1967 borders, an unpopular idea among Israel policy hardliners.) It didn't help Weprin that, as Jewish Week reported, a group of rabbis in Queens even forbade supporting Weprin in the election for his views.

Not that national Democrats didn't throw a lot into the NY-9 race. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost Weprin, blanketing the district with robocalls featuring former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But in the end, the polls showing Turner with a modest lead just days before the election proved accurate.

Turner's victory in NY-9 can be seen as a referendum of sorts on Obama. "If Turner wins on Tuesday it will be largely due to the incredible unpopularity of Barack Obama dragging his party down in the district," Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen wrote on Sunday. "Obama won 55 percent there in 2008 but now has a staggeringly bad 31 percent approval rating, with 56 percent of voters disapproving of him."

The Nevada election is not so surprising. It replaces one Republican congressman with another, in a heavily Republican district where a Democrat has never won. Not only that but Marshall was seriously outgunned in the political money wars: Republican groups spent upwards of a million dollars to support Amodei, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent zilch on TV ads for Marshall. Like Democrat Kathy Hochul in New York's 26th congressional district, Marshall's message to voters largely consisted of bashing GOPers for wanting to dismantle Medicare. It's now clear that the Medicare magic didn't work this time.

That didn't stop Republican officials from claiming Amodei's unsurprising win was also a referendum on national Democrats. "Even in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, voters have turned on the president," Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, said.

Anti-Abortion Leader Suspended Over Financial Suspicions

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 6:00 PM EDT

The Catholic diocese of Amarillo, Texas, has suspended the leader of Priests for Life, Frank Pavone, from active ministry outside the diocese, citing concerns about his finances related to the anti-abortion group. Pavone, whose biography touts him as one of the "most prominent pro-life leaders in the world," has run the group since 1993.

"My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship over the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization," wrote Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, in a letter to US bishops. "The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight."

The Catholic News Service has more:

Bishop Zurek said "persistent questions and concerns" from clergy and laity about how the "millions of dollars in donations" the organization has received are being spent led to the action.

The bishop also asked Father Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, to return to Amarillo "to spend time in prayer and reflection."

In 2008—the last year that the group's tax forms are available online—Priests for Life brought in $10.8 million income. While its 990 notes that Pavone made no income from the group, other top representatives were well compensated. The executive director made $95,394, and the vice chairman of the board made $162,253 that year. The group also spent $736,146 on travel—some of which may have funded Pavone's efforts to promote the group. In 2007, he also tried to start a seminary in Amarillo but was unsuccessful. The bishop's letter notes that there have been "persistent questions and concerns" about how PFL is spending "millions of dollars in donations."

Pavone was perhaps best known nationally for his role as an advocate for keeping Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a vegetative state, alive. The group also protests euthanasia, in addition to abortion. The pro-choice Catholic group Catholics for Choice put out a report several years ago looking at Pavone and Priests for Life, noting his outsized role in the group:

Pavone has always personalized the PFL message and image, selling himself—often with large photos of himself on PFL billboards—much as a candidate for office might do.

On Monday, Pavone was in the news announcing the Vote Pro-life Coalition, which was to undertake a voter registration drive for the 2012 election. The election, Pavone told Life News, will be "crucial to restoring protection to the unborn," and he pledged that "every day between now and November 6, 2012, my colleagues and I will do all in our power to see to it that the elections advance the cause of life."

Pavone says he will abide by the bishop's order, but intends to appeal, according to the Religion News Service.

Pediatrician: "The Problem is People Like Michele Bachmann"

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 4:49 PM EDT
GOP Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

At Monday night's GOP presidential debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann went after Rick Perry hard on the Texas governor's 2006 decision to mandate the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. On Tuesday morning, Bachmann doubled down, telling NBC's Today Show about a conversation she'd had following the debate, with a Tampa woman. "She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter," Bachmann said. "It can have very dangerous side effects." She said the same thing on Fox News: "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."

This is a serious charge: A public official putting young girls at a risk for mental retardation, all in the name of crony capitalism. But is there anything to it? No—and according to Dr. Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets, Bachmann's charged rhetoric could itself have dangerous consequences.

Bachmann, who is no stranger to conspiracy theories and junk science, is a little late to the party when it comes to the debilitating effects of vaccines. The charge leveled by the woman in Tampa—that vaccines can cause mental defects—was first raised in the late 1990s, and has been consistently debunked ever since. In 2010, the medical journal Lancet formally retratcted a paper by the British Dr. Andrew Wakefield which purported to draw a connection between the two, after it discovered that Wakefield had fabricated his data.

The problem, or at least one of them, is that as Offit explains, there's no way, biologically speaking, for the HPV vaccine to even impact the nervous system. "It's doesn't even make biological sense," he says. The Gardasil vaccine is produced by taking the gene that coats the HPV virus, and then putting that in a yeast plasma, which then produces a viral protein, which is then injected intramuscularly*. But it has nothing to do with the nervous system. But don't just take his word for it: "HPV vaccines were studied in thousands of people in many countries around the world, including the United States," notes the Center for Disease Control on its website. "These studies found that both HPV vaccines were safe and cause no serious side effects."

"In a better world you would like to think the HPV vaccine would never need to be mandated," says Offit. "If you seek out information—and I would argue I'm informed about vaccines, I mean my children are full vaccinated—you will make the right decisions. The problem is people like Michele Bachmann. If you're looking to inform yourself about vaccines, she is going to misinform you." Instead of choosing the potentially life-saving vaccination, parents will steer clear—and as a consequence, expose their children to potentially life-threatening diseases.

HPV's danger is mostly as a stepping stone to the considerably more dangerous cervical cancer, which kills thousands of women every year in the United States. Perry mandated that all adolescent girls receive the vaccine by executive order—a move he says he now regrets—but significantly did inlcude an opt-out clause with which parents could make exceptions for their kids if they raised conscientious objections.

As for the concerns of parents whose children suddenly seem to have gone through some serious mental transformation, Offit is careful to put things in perspective: "HPV vaccines don't prevent everything that occurs in adolescence; they only prevent HPV."

It's not an especially difficult concept: If the HPV vaccine is proven to save lives, then efforts to prevent people from receiving the HPV vaccine will likely have the opposite effect. Bachmann's playing with fire on this one.

Update: Media Matters flags this clip from Bachmann's appearance on Sean Hannity's radio program today, in which she informs the conservative talk show host that she has "no idea" whether Gardasil can actually cause mental retardation—she was just "reporting" what her supporter had told her. Hannity, for one, doesn't seem to buy it, which doesn't speak well for Bachmann's strength on the issue going forward.

*This section originally stated, inaccurately, that the vaccine was injected into the bloodstream.

Wall Street's Worst Nightmare: Elizabeth Warren To Run For Senate

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 4:31 PM EDT

Elizabeth Warren, consumer advocate and chief architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will announce on Wednesday that she will run for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts currently held by Republican Scott Brown.

Should Warren prevail in defeating the six candidates who have already announced their intention to compete in the Democratic primary, the result may be the greatest economic boon to Massachusetts media outlets since the days of Kennedy money as Wall Street ponies up serious bucks in an effort to defeat their arch-nemeses.  Democratic contributors can be expected to respond in kind as bringing the Massachusetts senate seat back into the Democratic column is considered an important key to retaining the Democratic majority in the Senate.

While Warren is not expected to make a formal, public announcement, the Boston Globe reports that a video will go up on Warren's website tomorrow announcing her intentions and saying, in part—

The pressure on middle class families are worse than ever, but it is the big corporations that get their way in Washington. I want to change that. I will work my heart out to earn the trust of the people of Massachusetts.

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Grassley Attacks Civil Rights Division for Hiring Civil Rights Attorneys

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 4:25 PM EDT
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The same conservative activists who brought you the New Black Panther nontroversy are on a new crusade against the Obama Department of Justice, accusing the agency of "politicized hiring." Senator Chuck Grassley, seizing on those accusations, told civil rights division chief Thomas E. Perez that he believed the division's hiring choices reflected ideological bias during a Senate hearing Tuesday.

The background for that accusation comes from two former Bush-era Justice Department employees, Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams, who have been documenting so-called "politicization in hiring" in the division by pointing out that many of the recent hires have backgrounds in civil rights law. Many of the attorneys, though, have simply worked at organizations arbitrarily labeled "liberal," such as the Red Cross or the New York State Bar Association. As I wrote here last week, National Review blogger Ed Whelan went even farther, singling out two division attorneys for being in same-sex relationships.

"Based on organizational affiliations listed, it has hired 96 liberals and zero conservatives," Grassley said. "It would be more accurate to state that to the division, civil rights experience is limited to experience with liberal advocacy groups." Grassley added that he was asking the Inspector General to look into the matter.

Grassley didn’t follow up on the issue during questioning. But in response to a question from Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Perez copped to the charge of hiring civil rights lawyers to work in the civil rights division.

"I plead guilty to that," he said. "Relevant experience is indeed very very helpful. My brother the surgeon hires surgeons in his surgical practice. I think it's important to hire people who have that relevant experience."

Return of the Big GOP Medicare Lie

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 1:53 PM EDT

The participant's in last night's GOP presidential debate once again took the opportunity to pretend that the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") put a massive dent in Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program.

Michele Bachmann told us that "We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare." Mitt Romney intoned "He cut Medicare by $500 billion. This is a Democratic president the liberal, so to speak, cut Medicare." 

Yeah…except that nobody stole anything and Medicare was not cut by $500 billion. 

Here are the facts:

For starters, nobody cut anything from the Medicare budget in the health care reform bill. The actions taken in the legislation are designed to slow the growth of Medicare spending without cutting benefits. Further, not one cent that would have gone to Medicare is somehow being shifted over to a program created by Obamacare (for first time readers, I readily use the term Obamacare because I believe that this name will ultimately stand as an honor to the President who made it happen.)

With respect to the infamous $500 billion, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has made it clear that the bulk of the projected savings will come from two primary sources—ending the subsidies to health insurance companies who offer Medicare Advantage programs and reining in the growth of payments to physicians. The remainder will, hopefully, come from cutting back on the waste and fraud that have long been rampant in the Medicare system.

Arizona Moves Up Primary Date. Let the Chaos Begin.

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 12:51 PM EDT
Gov. Jan Brewer

The race to hold early Republican presidential primary contests is heating up. The Arizona Republic reports that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) issued a proclamation on Monday declaring that the state will hold its GOP presidential primary on February 28 of next year. Brewer's decision breaks national party rules mandating that only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada can schedule their contests before March 6.

Last month, Kate Sheppard broke down the race to the front of the calendar:

The Iowa caucuses, which traditionally start the presidential primary calendar, are currently scheduled for February 6. The current tentative calendar from the Republican National Committee would put New Hampshire's primary on February 14, Nevada's on February 18, and South Carolina's on February 28. Super Tuesday—the biggest primary day by far—would then fall on March 6. In 2008, 24 states held their primaries on that day.

This year, though, Arizona and Florida are threatening to throw the whole calendar into chaos by to moving their dates forward. Florida has currently penciled in their primary for January 31, though that could change, based on a decision by the state's "Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee." The committee is required to issue its determination by October 1. Arizona is also considering a January 31 primary, though the governor must announce a decision by Friday. If the states do decide to skip ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, they risk sanctions from the national party for jumping the queue.

As Kate also reported, these sanctions will probably be ignored. Iowa and New Hampshire will just move up their caucus and primary dates. Being number one—the focus of international political and media attention, as well as advertising and campaign money—is just too sweet to give up without a fight.

Iran to Free Jailed MoJo Contributor This Week?

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 12:47 PM EDT
Shane Bauer in Tehran in 2010.

If all goes well, two American hikers imprisoned by the Iranian regime for over two years could be released within the next few days. After 26 months behind bars, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer (a Mother Jones contributor) should be released within the next two days, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News on Tuesday. Ahmadinejad announced that the prisoners will be granted a "unilateral pardon" as a "humanitarian gesture," according to the Washington Post.

Bauer, Fattal, and a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, were arrested in July 2009 while hiking along the border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Theories on how exactly the arrest took place vary. The three Americans could have crossed the border into Iran by accident, but some claim they were abducted by Iranian forces while in northern Iraq. Shourd, who accepted Bauer's marriage proposal while the two were imprisoned, was released in September 2010 after family and supporters forked over $500,000 in bail money. But Fattal and Bauer have remained in detention, and last month, the two men were sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of espionage. (Prosecutors did not present any credible evidence that the hikers were American spies or government operatives.)

Even with the announcement of the hikers' imminent release, there is still plenty of room for skepticism. Nearly every action taken by an Iranian president has to be approved by the Islamic Republic's theocratic leadership, who are not known for their love of the United States. (In fact, Bauer and Fattal's espionage convictions came after a previous "humanitarian gesture" was shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Court.) When asked by the Washington Post whether Fattal and Bauer would definitely be freed this week, Ahmadinejad responded with a vague "I hope so. I hope I will do that." Furthermore, the timing seems like it's based on political public relations calculation, since Ahmadinejad is about to embark on his annual "media blitz" before his visit to New York and the UN General Assembly.

The price of the hikers' release has been set at $500,000 each—the same amount of bail money that was paid for Shourd last September. Follow the developing story on Twitter via the hashtag #ssj.