Mojo - December 2011

Social Conservatives Root for a Bachmann Comeback in Iowa

| Fri Dec. 23, 2011 6:58 PM EST
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has fallen in the presidential polls since winning the Ames Straw Poll in August.

Cindy Pollard almost left Uncle Nancy's Coffeehouse in Newton, Iowa, in disgust on Friday when she overheard that Michele Bachmann was about to make a campaign appearance. But Pollard decided to stay after spotting local John Fruetel, who came to tell Bachmann his views on gay rights.

Pollard is chairwoman of the Jasper County Democratic Party. She's also a lesbian, and married her wife in 2010, about a year after the Iowa State Supreme Court voted unanimously to allow same-sex marriage in the state.

As Pollard recorded a video, Fruetel confronted Bachmann, who was walking around the coffeehouse visiting with about 60 potential supporters individually instead of making a stump speech. "Thanks for your comments," Bachmann replied, after Fruetel told her she was wrong to oppose same-sex marriage.

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Letter Reveals How Ron Paul Cashed in on Paranoia

| Fri Dec. 23, 2011 10:01 AM EST
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)

Even as he's climbed to the top of the polls in Iowa and gone so far as to preemptively claim victory in New Hampshire, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has spent much of the last week distancing himself from racist and homophobic articles that appeared in his eponymous newsletter in the 1980s and early 1990s. In part, that's because anxious conservatives have decided to make an issue of it—last week, the Weekly Standard dispatched James Kirchik to rehash his original 2008 bombshell on the newsletters. It's also because, as Dave Weigel explains, Paul has failed to put together a coherent response. On Wednesday, Paul walked out of an interview with CNN's Gloria Borger when she pressed him on his role in publishing them.

The story hasn't gone away, and now Reuters has the latest: A newly unearthed subscription pitch circa 1993, this time bearing the signature of Paul himself. It reads like a caricature of the conspiratorial, unhinged, early '90s militia movement, the kind of thing that would make the John Birch Society blush. Written in the first person, it warns of threats from the "demonic fraternity" we know of as Yale's Skull and Bones society, the Trilateral Commission, the "perverted, pagan" rituals at Bohemian Grove, a global government, "the coming race war," the Council on Foreign Relation, and FEMA. Paul (or his ghostwriter, at least) carefully explains that you can trust his view that the federal government is behind AIDS, because he's a doctor:

 

 

It's plausible enough that Paul didn't write the newsletters he published, and that he doesn't agree with all of the opinions expressed therein, and that he was lying in 1996 (when he endorsed the opinions contained therein) and not in 2001 (when he first claimed ignorance). That's the case Weigel and Julian Sanchez made, anyway.

But even setting all of that aside, there's another element to the story.

South Dakota Spends Big Taxpayer Bucks to Defend Anti-Abortion Laws

| Fri Dec. 23, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Anti-abortion lawmakers in South Dakota have been busy in the past few years passing bills that limit access to abortion, most of which end up in protracted legal battles. And all of that effort comes at a cost to taxpayers in the state: $750,000 in the first half of next year alone.

The state has also been in a lengthy legal battle over a 2005 law that required doctors to read women a specific script before performing an abortion. The script included a host of factually and legally questionable lines, which Planned Parenthood—the only abortion provider in the state—challenged in court. Part of the script was thrown out, but the case is back in the circuit court next month.

In order to foot the legal bills, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard 2012 budget proposal includes a little over $1 million for the "Extraordinary Litigation Fund," the Rapid City Journal reports. The biggest portion of that, $750,000, is to cover the costs related to the Planned Parenthood case through June. And if the state loses, it will also have to pay Planned Parenthood's legal fees.

Earlier this year, the legislature also passed a new law requiring women to visit crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)—facilities that are most often run by anti-abortion groups—before obtaining an abortion. Under the law, a woman would need to first consult with the doctor providing the abortion, then visit a CPC, then wait 72 hours before undergoing the actual procedure. A judge granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of that law back in June, and it's probably going to be thrown out entirely. The governor's office says they aren't expecting any more legal fees associated with that case.

The Rapid City Journal also notes that the state has set up an additional "Life Protection Fund" to defend its abortion-related laws, using private donations. The fund had $63,387 at last tally. Most interesting, however, is that the state's voters rejected abortion bans at the polls in both 2006 and 2008, by a 12-point margin both times. But the state keeps fighting for draconian anti-choice laws—and spending taxpayer dollars to do it.

Your Daily Newt: Boycotting Banks to Defend Nude Photos

| Fri Dec. 23, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Hipster Newt Gingrich was into protesting banks before it was cool.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich won the gratitude of the tech world—and smut-loving Americans everywhere—when he fought against an Internet censorship provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act. But his career as a free speech activist actually began some 28 years earlier, when the former speaker launched a campus occupation in defense of the student newspaper's right to publish nude photos.

Although he had refrained from partaking in the counter-culture movements of the time, young Gingrich, while a graduate student at Tulane, became a rabble-rousing activist when the school administration censored two sexually explicit photos from a student newspaper. (One image depicted a nude male art professor standing in front of a sculpture of two figures engaged in intercourse). Gingrich denounced the administration for unfairly censoring materials that had been produced by students and funded by student activity fees. To correct the injustice, he formed a new activist organization, Mobilization of Responsible Tulane Students, to force the powers that be to step back.

With MORTS, which included members of the more radical Students for a Democratic Society, Gingrich led a march of 700 students to the school president's house—where, according to Tim Wise's account, Tulane president Howard Longenecker was hanged in effigy. He followed it up by leading boycotts against a number of local businesses whose executives sat on the Tulane board of trustees, among them Merrill Lynch and another local bank. When he secured a meeting with Longenecker, Gingrich played hardball:

He threatened the university president with disrupting campus life for weeks if he did not relent. "It is now a question of power," the brash young man told university president Herbert Longenecker, according to minutes of the meeting that NEWSWEEK discovered in Tulane archives. "We are down to a clash of wills."

As Gingrich explained to the alumni magazine Tulanian in 1995, "Our argument was that it ought to have intellectual freedom because it was a student newspaper...I told [the school president] that we were paying for it and had a right not to be censored by the people who were not paying for it." MORTS' agenda extended beyond nude photography. As Steve Gillon reported in The Pact, Gingrich's followers later occupied the student center, demanding that (among other things) the administration turn the school's swimming pool into a public bath. Gingrich also pushed to give students a role in the hiring and firing (and promoting) of faculty and all major university decisions—an assault on the Ivory Tower that's echoed in his more recent broadsides.

Despite his feverish protests, the nude photos were ultimately not published, and Gingrich's taste for activism was short-lived. After leaving Tulane, his views on student activists have changed considerably. In a 1984 book, Window of Opportunity, he blamed the "social decay and disorder" of the 1970s and 1980s on the Free Speech Movement. By November, he'd descended into outright hippie punching. Asked about the Wall Street Occupiers at a forum in Des Moines, he had a simple message for th 99-Percenters: "get a job, right after you take a bath."

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

Fri Dec. 23, 2011 5:57 AM EST

US Army Spc. Jason Bruno secures an area during an assessment of the local bazaar in the Shah Joy district of Zabul province, Afghanistan, on December 7, 2011. Bruno is a rifleman assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul. DoD photo by Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras, US Air Force.

WSJ & Politico Still Horribly Inflating Size of US Chamber of Commerce

| Thu Dec. 22, 2011 4:44 PM EST

The bad news for the US Chamber of Commerce is that the world now knows that Chinese hackers broke into its computer system. The good news is that its membership has suddenly increased tenfold. This is according to the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Politico, which reported yesterday that the US Chamber of Commerce has 3 million members, 2,700,000 more than it has claimed as of late.

Did a few reporters accidentally misplace a decimal point? Not likely. Most media outlets used the "3 million members" line until 2009, when I discovered that the Chamber's true membership is no more than 300,000. After a bit of back and forth, the Chamber was forced to agree with me. Many reporters continued using the wrong number until I called them on it, at which point the 300,000 figure finally won out. Or so I'd thought.

The inflated reports of the Chamber's size have allowed it to claim to speak for a broad swath of American businesses, when in reality it's a dark money outfit controlled by a few ultra-wealthy special interests. In 2009, just 16 members accounted for 55 percent of its $200 million budget. 

So here we go again. A math lesson for Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal, Tim Mak of Politico, and Gerry Smith of the Huffington Post (who should know better): 3,000,000 - 2,700,000 = the correct size of the US Chamber of Commerce.*

*If you count only dues-paying members, the true Chamber membership is probably closer to 100,000, but what's a couple hundred thousand here or there?

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WATCH: MoJo Reporter Nick Baumann Explains American Rendition on Democracy Now

Thu Dec. 22, 2011 3:40 PM EST

The National Defense Authorization Act, which passed both houses of Congress and could be signed by President Barack Obama as early as this week, came under great scrutiny for its original provisions that would have legalized indefinite detention of American citizens. Before passing in Congress, however, loopholes were introduced that made these detention provisions almost pointless. But Mother Jones reporter Nick Baumann uncovered another little-acknowledged section of the approved bill that would make it easier for the government to transfer American terrorist suspects to foreign regimes and security forces.  Watch him explain on Democracy Now what this legalization of rendition could mean for American citizens: 

Corn on Hardball: Whose Super-PACs Are Airing the Nastiest Ads in Iowa?

Thu Dec. 22, 2011 1:43 PM EST

David Corn and former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele appeared on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the barrage of mudslinging GOP campaign ads that have been airing on televisions across Iowa. With less than two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, which negative ads are influencing voters, and who's paying for them to air?

Your Daily Newt: The Soviet Union Will Last Forever!

| Thu Dec. 22, 2011 6:27 AM EST
Newt Gingrich gazes into the future—but what does he see?

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich touts himself as a "conservative futurist"—and although most futurists recoil at the suggestion that they're in the business of predicting the future, Gingrich wasn't quite so careful. His 1984 book Window of Opportunity is packed with predictions of what America might look like in the year 2000 (hint: a lot of it would be on the moon). For someone whose political rhetoric is so steeped in sweeping statements about transformative political developments, though, Gingrich was way off on one of the most transformative political developments of his day:

We must expect the Soviet system to survive in its present brutish form for a very long time. There will be Soviet labor camps and Soviet torture chambers well into our great grandchildren's lives: great centers of political and economic power have enormous staying power; Czarist Russia lasted through 3 1/2 years of the most agonizing kind of war; the Nazi state did not collapse even when battlefield defeats reduced its control to only a tiny sliver of Germany.

We must therefore assume the Soviet Union will survive as a dangerous totalitarian state.

The Soviet Union collapsed seven years later.

Immigration Hardliners Are Eyeing a New Tactic

| Thu Dec. 22, 2011 6:00 AM EST

It's been a frenetic year in the battle over state laws on immigration enforcement. The Supreme Court recently announced that it will review Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, and the Department of Justice has lawsuits pending against Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah, regarding harsh laws of their own. The National Conference of State Legislators reports that state lawmakers introduced more than 1,600 bills and resolutions relating to immigration and immigrants in 2011, up from about 1,400 in 2010.

Even with immigration hardliners hopeful that the Supreme Court will overturn an injunction blocking key provisions of the Arizona law, there are indications that in the coming year they may shift tactics to press for an immigration crackdown. In a USA Today article on Tuesday, reporter Alan Gomez wrote that conservative state legislators have begun turning away from the all-encompassing laws that followed the signing of SB 1070 last April. Instead, according to the bill's architect, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, they hope to bring a specific part of Alabama's HB 56 to their own states:

Kobach said Alabama was the first state to invalidate all contracts entered into with illegal immigrants. A strict reading of the law could mean that any contract, including mortgages, apartment leases and basic work agreements, can be ruled null and void.

"That is one that has a much greater effect than some people might expect at first glance," Kobach said. "Suppose an illegal alien is doing some roofing business and wants to rent some equipment. Some short-term or long-term rental suddenly becomes more difficult to do."

As Gomez pointed out, a federal judge already decided that Alabama cannot use the provision to keep illegal immigrants from renewing mobile-home permits. Apparently, that won't stop other state-level pols, like Pennsylvania's Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican founder of the restrictionist State Legislators for Legal Immigration, from introducing similar measures in 2012:

[Metcalfe] said the recent success of Alabama banning contracts and business transactions by illegal immigrants has placed them on his "wish list" for the upcoming session.

"That's a very good way to expand the fight to shut down access to revenue that they get," he said.

Metcalfe's wish list, it turns out, is quite different from that of the six Alabama religious leaders who called on Gov. Robert Bentley to repeal HB 56 "in the spirit of the Christmas season." Bentley declined to support the repeal effort, responding that "there is nothing unkind, unjust, or unwarranted about asking everyone in Alabama to obey the law."