Mojo - December 2011

Corn on Hardball: Why Is Newt Gingrich Sucking Up to Donald Trump?

Mon Dec. 5, 2011 8:17 PM EST

David Corn and Howard Fineman joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss why Newt Gingrich has committed to participate in a December 27 GOP debate to be moderated by birther conspiracy theorist Donald Trump. And Gingrich isn't the only one: With the exceptions of Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have have agreed to join in the debate as well.

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LA's Civic Action Against Dark Money

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 6:40 PM EST
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) at the Supreme Court following arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, on January 21, 2010.

The Los Angeles city council wants to restore some semblance of sanity to the wacky, post-Citizens United world of campaign finance. A 2010 Supreme Court decision that's become synonymous with dark money's pull on elections, Citizens United allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns through (allegedly) unaffiliated outside spending groups. From the Wall Street Journal:

The L.A. City Council is set vote on a resolution Tuesday that calls on Congress to topple [the Citizens United decision] with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing that only living persons, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights and that money is not the same as free speech, according to a statement from the group MoveToAmend.org, which, as its name suggests, is geared to that aim.

The resolution before the council cites Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s 1938 dissenting opinion in Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson, in which he stated "I do not believe the word 'person' in the Fourteenth Amendment includes corporations."

The resolution also states that the Citizens United decision "supersedes state and local efforts to regulate corporate activity in their elections."

As the Journal reportsdefenders of the Citizens United decision often cite the first amendment in the face of criticism. According to the libertarian-leaning New American, attacks on the decision are attacks on the free speech of "small business and citizens groups," which seek to participate in the political process.

The American Heritage Dictionary's "Anchor Baby" Fail

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 5:47 PM EST

Houghton Mifflin's latest version of the American Heritage Dictionary includes the derogatory term "anchor baby" as one of its newest words. That's not really the problem. The problem is that it regarded (at least initially) the term as value-neutral, rather than as a slur used to dehumanize the children of undocumented immigrants as little more than a strategy for getting a green card. 

The term "anchor baby" was defined as "a child born to a non-citizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil; especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves, and often other members of their family." As Colorlines' Jorge Rivas pointed out, the dictionary's editor, Steve Kleinedler, went on NPR two weeks ago and said that this was an example of the American Heritage Dictionary defining a term "objectively without taking sides and just presenting what it is." This would be like defining "broad" as "a member of the female sex." Unsurprisingly, however, the American Heritage Dictionary shuns "objectivity" on this point and appropriately refers to the use of the term "broad" in this fashion as "offensive slang."

"Anchor baby" is used almost exclusively to delegitimize the claims of citizenship granted to the children of undocumented immigrants under the Constitution. The "anchor baby" slur relies on two particular myths, the idea that having an American citizen child is an automatic shield against deportation and the notion that people come here just to have children. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 91 percent of unauthorized immigrants in the US who had children in 2009-2010 came her before 2007. Having a child who is a citizen is hardly a certain path to citizenship either—the parent would have to wait till the child was 21 to sponsor them. 

To Kleinedler's credit, following a post by the Immigration Policy Center's Mary Giovagnioli explaining the origins of "anchor baby," he said that "we will be adding a label to the term, either derogatory or offensive, which I acknowledge should have been done in the first place." Now maybe the American Heritage Dictionary can get started on "waterboarding." In a move reminiscent of the New York Times, which ceased to describe waterboarding as torture after the US started employing it as an interrogation method, the dictionary refers to this practice as being "widely considered a form of torture." And you thought false objectivity that blurs more than it clarifies was just a mainstream media thing. 

Why "Doomsday" Budget Cuts Could Be Good for US Nukes

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 3:06 PM EST

If Congress doesn't fix its budget mess, and the government faces automatic cuts, how badly would it really hit the military complex? Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said budget sequestration could have "devastating effects" on the US's ability to protect itself. But Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the lead blogger at Arms Control Wonk, has crunched the numbers and come up with a decidedly different take—at least where America's nuclear arsenal is concerned.

Republicans Go After...Obama's Ambassador to Belgium?

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 12:15 PM EST
US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman.

GOP presidential candidates are demanding President Obama fire his ambassador to Belgium over remarks suggesting that Muslim anti-Semitism is related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Ambassador Howard Gutman argued in a speech delivered last week at a meeting of the European Jewish Union in Brussels that there is a distinction between "classic" anti-Semitism, that is general hatred of Jews, and "hatred and indeed sometimes and all too growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East." Gutman also said that "every new settlement announced in Israel, every rocket shot over a border or suicide bomber on a bus, and every retaliatory military strike exacerbates the problem and provides a setback here in Europe for those fighting hatred and bigotry here in Europe."

The Romney campaign Sunday, sent out a statement demanding that Obama fire Gutman "for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians," while rival Newt Gingrich tweeted to his roughly 1.3. million Twitter followers that "Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-semitism." Conservative media pounced on Gutman's remarks (frequently and conveniently failing to mention that Gutman himself is a Jew and the son of a Holocaust survivor), while seeking to link his comments to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's Friday speech urging Israel to end its "isolation from its traditional security partners in the region" and to renew efforts to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Gutman's remarks were clumsy—it's true that the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process inflames anti-Semitism; it's also true that anti-Semitism frequently borrows concepts from what Gutman calls "classic" anti-Semitism. It's one thing to protest Israeli government policies, such as settlement expansion in the West Bank and military incursions that kill civilians, it's another to react to them by collectively blaming Jews. That said, Gutman's suggestion that anti-Semitism would subside if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be reached isn't the same as saying Israelis or Jews are "responsible" for anti-Semitism. 

The conservative reaction has two purposes: The first is to bolster a narrative that Obama has thrown Israel "under the bus," as Romney likes to say, a view not shared either by a majority of Israelis or the Israeli national security establishment.  The other is to enable the self-destructive trajectory of Israel's current right-wing government, which has abandoned sincere efforts at reconciliation, by conflating any criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-Semitism.

The irony is that the Obama administration has been so on the defensive when it comes to Israel that it has failed to pressure the Israeli government into taking the necessary steps to reach a two-state solution, which given demographic realities in the region is the only way to ensure Israel's future.

Gun Owners Take On Newt Gingrich

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 11:31 AM EST
Gingrich in the 1980s.

Now that's he's the front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich's 33-year-record is officially open for scrutiny. There are plenty of reasons why conservatives might reject the former Speaker of the House, but here's another one: guns. Georgia Gun Owners, a grassroots gun rights group from his home state, is now blasting Gingrich for "his more than two-decade history of supporting gun control." The group has asked its 6,000 members to call Gingrich's new Iowa headquarters and make their complaints known.

Per the release the group blasted out this morning:

While Newt used the institutional gun lobby as a mouthpiece to convince millions of gun owners nationwide that "as long as he is Speaker, no gun-control legislation is going to move in committee or on the House floor," he was working behind the scenes to pass gun control.

In 1996, Newt Gingrich turned his back on gun owners and voted for the anti-gun Brady Campaign's Lautenberg Gun Ban, which strips the Second Amendment rights of citizens involved in misdemeanor domestic violence charges or temporary protection orders -- in some cases for actions as minor as spanking a child.

Gingrich also stood shoulder to shoulder with Nancy Pelosi to pass the "Criminal Safezones Act" which prevents armed citizens from defending themselves in certain arbitrary locations. Virtually all Americans know that Criminal Safezones don't protect law-abiding citizens, but actually protect the criminals who ignore them.

One of the problems with having a 33-year political career is that you accumulate a really long record of positions. It doesn't help Gingrich that he made his biggest impact in the '90s, when gun control and crime were much higher-profile issues than they are today. And as Elizabeth Drew recounts in her book Showdown, Gingrich viewed the gun lobby as a group that must be appeased, but it wasn't exactly his core constituency as Speaker.

An important caveat, though: If Gingrich is unappealing on guns, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hardly a palatable alternative. A similar group in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, has been handing out anti-Romney literature in the Granite State, touting (among other things) his support for a ban on assault weapons. If you're a hard-core Second Amendment rights activist, you likely cast your lot with Ron Paul a long time ago.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 5, 2011

Mon Dec. 5, 2011 6:57 AM EST

Soldiers from Bravo Battery, FIRES Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment launch a round downrange, Tuesday, November 30, 2011 during a M777 Howitzer live fire exercise on the Grafenwoehr Training Area. Photo by the US Army.

Occupy Calendar: Check Out #OWS' Jam-Packed Schedule

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Occupiers are going to need a spring break, judging from the packed winter itinerary of national protests being planned under the Occupy Wall Street banner. The movement's "Beyond the Park" faction may think it's time to stop erecting tent cities in public spaces, but if these plans all pan out, the Capitol Lawn could be booked through May Day. Check out this calender of events for what some are calling Occupy's "Valley Forge moment."

December 5-9: Occupy Congress
A coalition of labor and progressive groups plans to camp out in DC and "Occupy Congress" in what could be the biggest coordination yet between union officials and Occupy activists. Service Employees International Union is helping secure buses and housing for thousands of protesters from around the country and rallying support through MassUnited, the SEIU-backed group best known for the "Bobblehead Brown" campaign targeting Gov. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.*

Reporter Remembers the Most Awkward Mitt Romney Interview of All Time

| Sun Dec. 4, 2011 11:52 AM EST

This clip of then-Senate candidate Mitt Romney being interviewed by Medfield (Mass.) Cable 8 back in 1994 has been making the rounds. It's classic Romney, right down to his preferences for music: "I like music of almost any kind, including this." Boy, aren't bass lines great? I love tempo.

Take a look:

If you're wondering, "What ever happened to that Ken Cole kid?" we can report that he seems to have recovered completely from the awkwardness of this interview, as well as the supreme boredom of growing up in Medfield (incidentally, also my hometown). His first directing credit, Tornado Glory, tracked the antics of two Midwestern twister chasers for PBS, and he just completed his second project, a Bourne Supremacy-style mockumentary about IT workers. I sent him the clip; here's his reaction:

Herman Cain Suspends Presidential Campaign, Finally

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 3:15 PM EST
Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.

So that happened.

Former restaurant industry lobbyist, talk-show host, motivational speaker, and Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain dropped out of the GOP presidential race at a rally in Atlanta on Saturday, citing "false" attacks on his character that prevented him from getting his message out. Cain, in a noticeably less caffeinated speech than has been his custom, alleged that "elites" and political reporters had conspired to take down his reputation. Cain's not exiting politics, though; he's moving on to what he repeatedly referred to as "Plan B"—a new website devoted to sharing his solutions for fixing America. 

The site, "Cain Solutions," is currently empty.

In the end, despite demonstrating a total lack of interest in the rest of the world, the intricacies of politics, or basic Constitutional principles, Cain was undone not by ignorance or even a parade of sexual harassment complaints, but by alleged infidelity. For many, the main question wasn't whether Cain would drop out today, but whether Gloria Cain would stand by her husband's side when he did it—she did, taking the stage to chants of "Gloria! Gloria!" from the crowd.

After spending much of his address chiding the political establishment for not taking him seriously, Cain closed the speech with an extended quote from the theme song to the Pokemon movie: "Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me." Sometimes you just can't catch 'em all.

The dream is dead. But what a journey it's been. Here's a guide to some of Cain's greatest (or not) hits: