Mojo - November 2011

Bachmann AGAIN Lies About The ACLU And The CIA

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 6:56 PM PST
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn).

During Tuesday's national security debate on CNN, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tripled down on her hallucination that the American Civil Liberties Union is exerting some broad influence over the Obama administration's national security policies.

Bachmann narrowed her critique this time, arguing that Obama had "outsourced" interrogation policy to the ACLU because it allowed underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, to be read his Miranda rights. Bachmann also said that the CIA is not allowed to play any role in interrogations. That is completely false. 

Obama issued an executive order early in his presidency mandating that interrogations be governed by the Army Field Manual on interrogation, a document that was last updated during the Bush administration by Pentagon officials, not civil liberties advocates. The ACLU has actually objected to the current standards as still allowing techniques that could be considered coercive.

The CIA is part of the interagency High Value Interrogation Group (HIG), and as plays a significant role in interrogating terror suspects. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified during his confirmation hearing in June that "if it's someone where intelligence is the...primary objective here of going after and trying to find that out, then...the CIA individual becomes pretty central to the questions that are asked."

So Bachmann's criticism of Obama's national security policy is based on two obvious and verifiable falsehoods: One, that current restrictions on interrogation are somehow based on the prerogatives of civil liberties advocates, and two, that the CIA no longer plays a role in interrogating terror suspects. Her criticism really just comes down to a complaint that the US is no longer torturing people. Between the Obama administration's hawkishness abroad and its relative continuity with Bush administration policy post-2006, torture is one of the only things Republicans have left to draw a contrast. 

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VIDEOS: Mitt Romney's Campaign Finance Flip-Flop

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 3:10 PM PST

Shortly after I tweeted something rather impolite, though not inaccurate, about Mitt Romney's appallingly dishonest new anti-Obama ad, I received a direct tweet from ex-congressman and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer. The conservative Democrat turned Republican presidential candidate (although you'd hardly know it, given that Roemer was excluded from the GOP debates) wanted to point my attention to a couple of video clips showing Romney's er, evolving views on campaign-finance reform. 

The first one is pretty boilerplate: a young Senate candidate Romney taking swipes at Teddy Kennedy while calling big-money influence-peddling "wrong." But the second clip, wherein he tries to explain (or avoid explaining) to an old lady how it's okay that his PAC took $1 million from a shadowy shell company that was subsequently dissolved—well, it's just fun to watch Romney squirm. Have a look.

Here's Romney campaigning in Massachusetts in 1994:

And more recently, presumably in New England:

Oh, and if you're needing a laugh, here's a little holiday gift from ThinkProgress...

If at First You Don't Succeed at Making Zygotes People, Try Again

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 3:07 PM PST

Undeterred by Mississippi's failed attempt to grant fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans, anti-abortion rights advocates in Colorado and Virginia signaled Monday that intend to bring the effort to their states.

In Virginia, Delegate Bob Marshall (R) filed legislation that would amend the state constitution to declare that the "life of each human being begins at conception" and would grant all rights of Virginia citizenship to those "unborn children." Unlike Mississippi's measure, this bill specifically excludes "lawful assisted conception"—apparently embyros created for assisted reproduction aren't people. The proposal also states that there should be no action taken against a woman "for indirectly harming her unborn child by failing to properly care for herself or by failing to follow any particular program of prenatal care." The legislative language doesn't mention birth control, abortions to protect the life or health of the mother, or abortions in the case of rape or incest—all of which would likely be affected by this kind of law.

Colorado's attempt comes in the form of a ballot initiative from Personhood Colorado—the same group that led two previous failed ballot measures in the state, in 2008 and 2010. This time, they're making it clear that they are also going after birth control and assisted reproduction. The Denver Post reports:

The 2012 Personhood Amendment would add a new section to the state constitution to "affirm basic human dignity" and guarantee that the right to life "applies equally to all innocent persons" and "the intentional killing of any innocent person is prohibited."
"Our language is very clear this time," said Kristi Burton Brown, amendment co-author and Personhood Colorado founder. "No one can doubt our intentions or the effects this time."
The 2012 language states that only birth control, in-vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction "that kill a person" shall be affected by this amendment.
The term "person," the proposed amendment states, applies to "every human being regardless of the method of creation" and a human being is "a member of the species homo sapiens at any stage of development."

GOP: All Tax Cuts Not Created Equal

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 1:15 PM PST

As Washington comes to terms with the supercommittee's failure to extract another $1.2 trillion in savings from the federal budget, the conversation is quickly shifting back to measures that could actually juice the economy.

One of the more obvious ones is to extend unemployment benefits. Another is renewing the payroll tax cut President Obama signed into law last December, which reduced the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 to 4.2 percent. According to the Tax Policy Center, 121 million families benefited in 2011, at a cost of roughly $120 billion.

But the payroll tax cut expires on January 1. Views about what could happen if the payroll tax cut isn't extended vary, the Washington Post's Jia Lynn Yang reports. Goldman Sachs estimates that a failure to extend the payroll tax cut would stymie GDP growth by two-thirds of a percentage point in early 2012, while market research firm Macroeconomic Advisers thinks the slowdown would be closer to 0.5 percent.

But what does that mean for workers across the income spectrum? As Kevin Drum explained back in August:

Poor people, who are the most likely to spend the money, pay little or no payroll tax in the first place. And richer people, who are the most likely to save it, don't usually have any big debt problems. Most of the benefit of a payroll tax cut, therefore, is limited to a smallish segment of the public that's (a) rich enough to get a significant amount from a payroll tax holiday but (b) poor enough to either spend it all or use it to pay down debt.

But just how much more does it put in the pockets of poorer people? The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities chartified some answers:

Failing to extend the payroll tax holiday would take a bite out of the wages of workers at all income levels. But it's workers at the low end of the spectrum that would feel the pain most acutely.

Republicans—even those who've backed the payroll tax cut in the past—are lining up against it this time around, as Suzy Khimm wrote on Monday. That's because it's a signature piece of President Obama's jobs plan, and blockading his agenda is central to their efforts to take back the White House in 2012.

But given the fact that the payroll tax cut is a proven stimulative measure (even if it's not necessarily the most effective one, as Kevin pointed out), Obama isn't likely to abandon it, and Republicans know this. So expect them to use its extension as a bargaining chip/hostage in a future showdown—one over scaling back scheduled cuts to defense spending that will result from the supercommittee's failure to reach a deal.   

Romney's Jeremiah Wright?

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 1:15 PM PST
On-and-off Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.

CBS News has obtained an interesting internal memo from the Romney presidential campaign:

With a primary strategy focused on winning New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is set to pick up the endorsement...[of] Rep. Charlie Bass, but an internal campaign memo points [out] the potential downside of associating closely with the veteran congressman -- his lack of purity on tax increases.

"Note that as we're touting Charlie's fiscal bona fides, he was one of 40 House Republicans to sign off on the letter to the super committee a few weeks ago saying they are open to revenue increases," says the email from Jim Merrill, Romney's top New Hampshire strategist. "He says he means through eliminating loopholes or simplifying the tax code, but conservatives don't trust Charlie and are guessing this means he'll vote to raise taxes. No way to avoid it -- it's part of the Charlie package. I'm sure it'll come up."

The leaked memo illustrates how sensitive the Romney campaign is about big chunks of the conservative base thinking Romney is a closet liberal.

In the real world, the support of Rep. Bass, a starkly ordinary East Coast Republican, shouldn't be an actual problem for Romney. It's not like this guy's Jeremiah Wright, or anything; all he did was float the idea of possible revenue increases (much like another Republican you might recognize). This was, of course, after the New Hampshire representative's years of support for a balanced budget amendment, his vote in favor of the Ryan budget, and earning a 89-percent grade on free market principles from the Cato Institute.

Unfortunately, Romney is deep in the GOP's 2012 primary-election universe, a world in which an endorsement from a Republican with small tax hikes on the mind is anathema, but palling around with a tough-guy sheriff with white nationalist ties is somehow kosher.

This post has been edited for clarity.

Republican Senator Proposes Torture Amendment To Defense Bill

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 12:52 PM PST

The defense spending bill currently under consideration in the Senate would authorize the indefinite military detention of Americans suspected of terrorism, mandate indefinite military detention for non-citizens apprehended in the US, and make it almost impossible to transfer detainees in Afghanistan out of US custody. The Obama administration has already threatened to veto the legislation.

But the proposed law could still get worse: on Friday, a Republican senator proposed repealing Obama's ban on torture. 

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who won her seat in the 2010 GOP wave, has spent much of her time in the Senate trying to militarize all counterterrorism operations and reinstitute Bush-era interrogation policies. Last week, backed by Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ayotte proposed an amendment to the defense bill that would legalize torture.

The amendment, which purports to authorize "lawful interrogation methods," actually rescinds Obama's 2009 executive order banning torture. It directs the secretary of defense, attorney general and director of national intelligence to adopt a "classified annex" to the Army Field Manual, complete with a list of interrogation methods that could be used by the inter-agency High Value Interrogation Group (HIG). A coalition of civil liberties and human rights groups has called on the Senate to reject the amendment, stating it would "revive the use of torture and other cruelty in U.S. interrogations."

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Poor People to Get Poorer

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 11:00 AM PST

The failed congressional super committee and its inability to agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit-reduction measures to help stabilize the nation's finances has dominated the news this week. Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist may be despairing, but there's new evidence emerging that some key parts of the federal budget are shrinking without any extra help from Congress, at a time when some of those programs are desperately needed.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to provide cash assistance to poor families. It's sort of a last resort cushion after unemployment benefits and family charity have run out. Before 1996, it was better known, somewhat derisively, as welfare. But in 1996, Congress, with the blessing of President Bill Clinton, decided welfare needed reforming. The old program had been an entitlement program, much like food stamps or unemployment benefits—programs with budgets that automatically rose when the need did. Times like now, when the country has seen increases in the poverty rate for three consecutive years and has more Americans living in poverty than at any other time in more than a half-century.

In 1996, welfare was turned into a block grant and its budget was fixed at $16 billion, so that states received roughly the same amount of money every year, regardless of how many people might be out of work and suffering. Many Republicans in Congress would like to do this to the Medicaid program. But TANF should serve as a serious cautionary tale about what happens when the safety net is left up to the congressional appropriations process. Congress hasn't increased the TANF block grant since it was created. As a result, new data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the value of cash benefits to poor families have fallen by as much as 30 percent in some states simply because of inflation—call it a stealth budget cut.

The reduction in TANF benefits is now going beyond just the erosion from inflation: In many cash-strapped states, legislators have diverted money from the block grant to pay for other things, while slashing benefits to poor families at a time when unemployment has been consistently high. Six states have cut benefits just in the past year.

Center on Budget and Policy PrioritiesCenter on Budget and Policy PrioritiesIn the District of Columbia, for instance, the monthly TANF benefit for a family of three is now $342, not anywhere near enough to pay the rent, for instance. Once upon a time, welfare or TANF benefits were enough to at least keep needy families above 50 percent of the federal poverty line (about $9,000 a year for a family of three). But TANF benefits are now so low that they aren't enough to keep anyone out of deep poverty, which is a troubling development. According to CPBB, a family relying only on TANF for support during tough times would be much poorer today than such a family in 1996.

The future only looks grimmer. CPBB reports that because many states are suffering from enormous budget deficits, more TANF cuts are on the table, even in places like Washington state, which cut benefits by 15 percent last year. That means millions of American families aren't going to have much to be thankful about this week. Even if they can scrape together a decent green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, they'll probably be skipping Black Friday at Walmart for years to come.

Amazon Users Review the UC-Davis Cop's Pepper Spray

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 6:17 AM PST

Reviewers at Amazon are getting their digs in at Lt. John Pike, the campus police officer at University of California-Davis who pepper-sprayed a group of non-violent student protesters and has already become an Internet meme symbolizing police overreaction to the Occupy protests.

On the product reviews page for the brand of pepper spray apparently used by Pike, visitors have added views like "Perfect for use against peaceful protesters, especially ones who are sitting down and pose no threat," and "It really is the Cadillac of citizen repression technology."

 

While the reviews are pretty funny, as my colleague Kate Sheppard writes, getting a burning chemical that is 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper sprayed in your face isn't exactly a hay ride. 

A one-star review warns, "I used this on a small crowd of harmless non-violent protesters, and lost my job. That particular hazard was NOT listed among the warnings on the label." But so far Pike, along with the police chief of UC-Davis and one other officer, has only been suspended.

Study: K Street Is Holy Place

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 4:26 AM PST

God is everywhere—even K Street. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, the number of organizations involved in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy has increased nearly fivefold since 1970. At least 1,000 people work to extend God's influence in Washington, spending at least $390 million a year in the process.

Whose God has the most pull on Capitol Hill? It's unclear: roughly a fifth of the religious advocacy organizations in Washington push issues of concern to the Roman Catholic community, while a similar proportion represent evangelical Protestant interests; 12% are Jewish. And the heavy hitters cover a pretty broad range of religious persuasions:

Federal lobbying laws could be allowing some of these groups to avoid full disclosure of their advocacy work. Only 10 of the groups surveyed by Pew are registered as 501(c)(4)s, which are allowed to engage in a limited amount of lobbying. Over 80 percent of the groups are registered as nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3)s. Under that designation, they're not allowed to devote a "substantial" share of their activity to lobbying. (Twenty-six groups are 501(c)(3)s that have a partner group registered as a 501(c)(4), or vice versa.)

What qualifies as "substantial" activity devoted to lobbying? According to federal law, religious institutions must disclose their lobbying if more than 20 percent of an employee's income is from direct lobbying on behalf of that institution. If a religious group hires an outside firm to do its lobbying, that firm must disclose that it has lobbied on behalf of a religious institution. But the 20 percent rule is rarely enforced, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

CRP also found that during the first three quarters of 2011, 23 religious groups hired 68 new lobbyists and spent a combined $1.7 million. The upshot: with hot-button social issues like reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood funding atop the agenda for Republican lawmakers in Washington, expect these numbers to continue to rise.

The Collected Poems of Willard Mitt Romney

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 4:17 AM PST
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney reads an original composition to an unsuspecting Nevada retiree.

It has been said that Mitt Romney is awkward.

It is just a vicious rumor, of course; there is nothing to it. But the tag has stuck. Blame the Daily Show; blame the former Massachusetts governor's GOP rivals; blame deadpan press reports like this one. Viewed in that light, Romney's ordinary encounters take on an altogether different complexion. "Andrew is a great name; a lot of good Andrews out there," he told a supporter in New Hampshire on Sunday. "Ian—that's kind of a British name," he told a man named Ian in October. They're fairly ordinary statements (and both true), except Romney is considered awkward, and so those exchanges are, consequently, very awkward.

But there's another way of looking at the wit and mannerisms of the occasional GOP frontrunner: underappreciated poet.

Consider this passage, from a November speech in Troy, Michigan:

I love the lakes.

I love the Great Lakes.

You know, we’ve been to Massachusetts—I love the ocean, too.

I do love the ocean.

Mitt Romney/FlickrMitt Romney/Flickr