Mojo - November 2011

Corn on Hardball: Who's Buying Newt Gingrich's $300K Advice?

Wed Nov. 16, 2011 7:48 PM EST

David Corn and Salon.com's Joan Walsh joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Newt Gingrich's ties to Freddie Mac and whether they will hurt his campaign. What did Gingrich do to earn $300,000 consulting for Freddie Mac? In his own words during the CNBC Republican debate last week: "I offered advice... as a historian."

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Zygote "Personhood" Heading to Georgia

| Wed Nov. 16, 2011 2:10 PM EST

Mississippi's attempt to grant fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans may have failed last week, but that hasn't stopped legislators in another Southern state from taking up their own amendment on that matter.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature plan to propose bills that would create a new constitutional amendment deeming a zygote a person. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Republican Barry Loudermilk.

In the House, the bill comes from a Democrat—Rick Crawford. Crawford's bio notes that he once studied to be a Southern Baptist pastor, and he's supported other anti-abortion measures in the House—including the "Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act," which would have made any "race-based or gender-based abortions" illegal. (It wasn't clear exactly how that would be enforced, but the bill didn't pass anyway.)

Georgia's bill will probably have some trouble passing, as previous efforts of this sort have split anti-abortion groups and lawmakers. But Dan Becker, the president of Georgia Right to Life a board member of Personhood USA, tells AJC's Jim Galloway that they're going to avoid the missteps of Mississippi and other states:

The lesson of Mississippi, the GRTL leader said, is that the implications of the measure needed to be spelled out beforehand, in legislation that would accompany it. To ease legitimate concerns and combat illegitimate ones.
"We have 50 sections of the Georgia Code being worked on right now. That will determine what will and won’t happen," Becker said. "We won’t have doctors prosecuted for ectopic pregnancies. Women will not be prosecuted for miscarriages. Passports will not be issued to the pre-born."

I'm pretty sure the biggest problem with Mississippi's law wasn't the difficulty of getting a good photo for a fetal passport. It was that voters—58 percent of them in fact—thought it was was an unwarranted intrusion on existing law, women's rights, and the patient-doctor relationship. But apparently Georgia anti-abortion activists believe they can avoid all that.

Taxpayers Get Stuck Saving Defense Contractors' Pensions

| Wed Nov. 16, 2011 1:11 PM EST
The Lockheed F-35 fighter jet, a Pentagon boondoggle that's expected to ultimately cost taxpayers $1 trillion.

The federal government forks over billions of dollars a year to keep high-earning defense contractors' pensions afloat, according to a new story by the New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson:

The so-called supercommittee in Congress has until Nov. 23 to find more than a trillion dollars of new savings in the federal budget.

Here’s one idea: Stop reimbursing the costs of pensions and other retirement benefits at huge, and hugely profitable, defense contractors. Over 10 years, such a move could save an estimated $30 billion — the amount by which these pensions are collectively underfunded...

Many of these funds have lost money in recent years in declining financial markets or on bad investments, so the bill for taxpayers has been growing.

Considering how much ordinary Americans have lost in their own retirement accounts—losses that the government does not cover—reimbursing contractors looks like classic corporate welfare.

And how. Government contracts with megafirms like Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon require Uncle Sam to reimburse the companies when their workers' pension funds take a hit in the market. Over the past five years, Lockheed has secured $3.1 billion in taxpayer dollars for pension reimbursements; that's a significant chunk of the $21.8 billion in operating profits they reported over that period.

These payments are all the more troubling since politicians from the left and the right (including President Obama) have targeted military veterans' retirement benefits in their cost-cutting zeal. But vets make a whole lot less than contractors, or "Beltway bandits," as they're called in Arlington and DC. Morgenson reports that the current value of the top five Lockheed Martin executives' benefits is around $40 million. That's just a tad higher than your average retired gunnery sergeant or lieutenant colonel makes in retirement.

Obama Worth Less Than $51,000 in "Croc Attack Insurance"

| Wed Nov. 16, 2011 1:00 PM EST
Cold-blooded. Reptilian. Assassin?

If Barack Obama were attacked by a man-eating crocodile during this week's visit to Australia, you'd think that his life would be worth significantly more than $51,000, right?

Right?

Well, AFP reports:

Obama will be the fifth president to visit...Australia, and his flying two-day visit will take in the staid capital Canberra as well as the Northern Territory town of Darwin, in the heart of "Crocodile Dundee" country.

Local firm TIO has snapped up the opportunity to insure the high-profile visitor, issuing a [sic] him with a Crocodile Attack Insurance policy which will pay out Aus$50,000 (US$50,870) if the president is fatally attacked by a reptile. ...

The company, which has been providing crocodile cover for more than 20 years, hopes to present a framed copy of the policy -- which features a menacing photo of the deadly predator -- to Obama in Darwin on Thursday.

Just to be perfectly clear, if the Secret Service can't prevent this from happening to the President of the United States...

...at least the First Family will be $50,870 in the black.

Thankfully, the chances of anyone (leader of the free world, or not) getting terminally wrecked by a croc in Australia are fairly slim, with an average of two reported fatalities each year. And if this BBC headline from summer 2010 is any indication—"Australian drunk survives attempt to ride crocodile"—Obama will have to do a little more than just show up to get assassinated by an Aussie crocodile.

Illinois School Suspends Teacher For Playing "Daily Show" Clips

| Wed Nov. 16, 2011 12:01 PM EST
Jon Stewart: Banned in Eureka.

Just imagine if he'd shown Two and a Half Men.

An Illinois school district suspended a high school civics teacher for two weeks after parents complained that he had forced kids to watch The Daily Show in class. According to the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, Rhett Felix showed Eureka students several recent segments from the Emmy-winning show, which resulted in a slew of complaints from offended parents:

School Superintendent Randy Crump suspended first-year teacher Rhett Felix on Tuesday morning following a two-hour executive session of the Eureka-based District 140 school board Monday night. During the public portion of the meeting, parents complained about bleeped obscenities and some sexual content of the segments and about a perception that Felix appears to have a liberal political bias. 

So what were the offensive segments students were shown? The paper helpfully identifies the specific clips from the October 31 and November 2 episodes. From there, it's not hard to see where things went wrong: One of the segments, which you can see below, begins with Jon Stewart discussing the then-breaking news of Herman Cain's sexual harassment complaint, and offering his own euphemistic pizza phrases: "You want sausage on your pie?"; "Want me to stuff your crust?"; "I told you, I guarantee, I will come in 30 minutes or less":

Felix, who could not be immediately reached for comment, also took heat for (as the paper puts it), "warning students against an Internet search that yields results deemed to be pornographic." As it turns out, that's a reference to another Daily Show clip, in which Stewart discusses Rick Santorum's Google problem.

Although the Daily Show is in fact a trusted source of news for many American teens, frothy fecal matter is not exactly the kind of subject you'd expect your kids' civics teacher to be discussing in class—especially not in conservative Eureka, Illinois, where Ronald Reagan spent his formative years.

Still, this quote, from a concerned parent, seems a bit much: "I look at what happened out at Penn State. Even though this doesn't rise to that particular level, I would ask that this board look at these allegations and respond with appropriate resolve."

It's exactly like Penn State. Except nothing at all like Penn State.

Newt Gingrich: The World's Most Expensive Historian

| Wed Nov. 16, 2011 10:51 AM EST

When Newt Gingrich was asked by CNBC's John Harwood why Freddie Mac paid him $300,000 in 2006, he played his wild card: He was hired, he said, for his analysis as an "historian." We called baloney—and sure enough Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Gingrich more or less did the opposite of what he said he did. And now they have a follow-up, with the full price tag: Over eight years, Gingrich was paid $1.6 million, or approximately 100,000 $16 muffins, for his work.

Clea Benson and Dawn Kopecki report:

The total amount is significantly larger than the $300,000 payment from Freddie Mac that Gingrich was asked about during a Republican presidential debate on Nov. 9 sponsored by CNBC, and more than was disclosed in the middle of congressional investigations into the housing industry collapse.

Gingrich's business relationship with Freddie Mac spanned a period of eight years. When asked at the debate what he did to earn a $300,000 payment in 2006, the former speaker said he "offered them advice on precisely what they didn't do," and warned the company that its lending practices were "insane." Former Freddie Mac executives who worked with Gingrich dispute that account.

The former officials said he helped craft and shape the agency's message in its efforts to win over lawmakers. That's in contrast to Gingrich's more recent statements; asked about his efforts by Harwood, he said he had sharply criticized the mortgage giant's housing policies and warned that its practices could hurt the economy.

Should his current surge in the polls continue much longer, it's unclear what will hurt him more: His business dealings after leaving the House, or his business dealings while he was still in the House, which prompted him to resign in disgrace. Or given the GOP base's ability to look past the flaws of any candidate not named Mitt Romney, he might just be in the clear.

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Mayors and Cops Traded Strategies for Dealing With Occupy Protesters

| Wed Nov. 16, 2011 10:50 AM EST

In a recent interview with the BBC, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan let slip that a group of 18 mayors had recently discussed the Occupy protests' impact in their respective cities during a conference call hosted by the US Conference of Mayors. Quan's comments immediately touched off speculation that the rash of recent arrests and crackdowns on Occupy protesters—in Salt Lake City, Denver, Portland, Oakland, and lower Manhattan, all within a four-day span, beginning November 12—were part of a coordinated effort by mayors and police departments.

An official with the US Conference of Mayors confirmed to Mother Jones that, during conference calls on October 13 and November 10, mayors and top police brass discussed the Occupy protests, any "issues of concern" with the protests, and how they're responding to them. "Included in the discussions have been efforts cities have made to accommodate the demonstrators and maintain public health and safety," the USCM official said. "Other topics discussed include the costs cities are incurring as a result of the events and the impact on other city service and activities."

The USCM official, however, denied that there was any coordination or planning between mayors and police officials about breaking up Occupy protests or tearing down encampments.

A spokeswoman for Quan said she didn't know what exactly was discussed about the Occupy protests on the call. Spokespeople for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the Salt Lake Police Department said they did not participate in the conference call. A spokesman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also said those mayors did not join the USCM's calls. Spokespeople for Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock didn't respond to requests for comment.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 16, 2011

Wed Nov. 16, 2011 5:57 AM EST

A pararescueman from the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., free falls from a HC-130P/N King refueling aircraft at 3,500 feet during a Cocoa Beach Air Show demonstration Nov. 4, 2011. The Cocoa Beach Air Show will feature 920th RQW Rescue Reservists, HC-130P/N King aircraft and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters Nov. 5-6. Pararescuemen are able to perform life-saving missions in the world's most remote areas, by air, land or water. (Courtesy photo/Mike Brown)

Rick Santorum Attacks Obama On Israel And Iran, Possibly Misquotes The Wire

| Tue Nov. 15, 2011 6:50 PM EST

TPM Reporter Eric Kleefield catches former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum attacking Obama over insufficient support for an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Santorum chose a rather interesting way to express his thoughts on the risks of Israel bombing Iran:

“If you attack the king you had better kill the king otherwise you will be in big trouble,” he said, acknowledging a military attack on Iran’s nuclear development facilities would be difficult to accomplish.

Santorum appears to be mangling a memorable quote from Omar, a popular character in HBO's hit series about the war on drugs, The Wire. Check out the clip below, and read our interview with Michael K. Williams, the actor who played Omar (and now portrays Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire).

The actual quote is, "you come at the king, you'd best not miss."

UPDATE: Santorum also could have been mangling an  equally concise quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "When you strike at a king you must kill him."

Is the US Getting Domestic Indefinite Military Detention for Thanksgiving?

| Tue Nov. 15, 2011 6:30 PM EST

A bipartisan group of senators is poised to force through dramatic changes to how the US government handles suspected terrorists—over the objections of the White House and Senate Democratic leadership. 

Legislative language that emerged from the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday afternoon would mandate the automatic, indefinite military detention of noncitizens apprehended in the United States who are suspected members of Al Qaeda or associated groups. The wording, which is part of a must-pass bill to fund the military, also appears to allow the indefinite military detention of citizens and legal permanent residents. The bill would also extend restrictions on transfers of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, though only for one year.