Mojo - January 2012

Prosecutor: Campaign Worker's Arrest Not Obama's Watergate

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 7:00 AM EST
But how do we know that the Clintons aren't behind all of this?

On Friday, Zachary Edwards, who worked as the Iowa new media director for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, was arrested in Des Moines and charged with attempting to impersonate Matt Schultz, Iowa's Republican secretary of state. Edwards, who had been working for a Des Moines political consulting company with close ties to Iowa Democrats, was promptly fired.

To several right-wing news sources, not only was Edwards' guilt immediately obvious, so was the fact that his arrest likely represented one small piece of a conspiracy reaching straight to the top. "Much like Watergate, which began with a seemingly simple (if puzzling) burglary and ultimately unraveled the Nixon administration, it is impossible to say how far the trail of criminality will go," wrote Powerline's John Hinderaker.

"The big question is how far up it goes," pondered the notoriously conservative editorial board of Investors Business Daily, before speculating about Edwards' supposed ties to "the secretive rich-man's club known as The Democracy Alliance, and the loud crazies of MoveOn.org, both funded by socialist billionaire George Soros" and "a conspiracy to defraud democracy" involving "some of the highest political crimes ever."

Newsbusters, the site dedicated to "exposing and combating liberal media bias," speculated that the lack of coverage of the Edwards story meant it wasn't "safe" for the mainstream media to cover and insinuated that the Associated Press had purposely "avoided the damning details." (Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a Instapundit, promoted Newsbusters' coverage of the story.) And Hot Air wondered "what connections Edwards has to Democratic Party leadership" and "how many more Zach Edwards we can expect to find in Barack Obama's campaign this time around." 

Since every journalist worth his salt would love to expose something "much like Watergate," I decided to try something the right-wingers hadn't thought of: reporting. The criminal complaint against Edwards (PDF) has a case number associated with it, so when I couldn't hunt down a number for Edwards himself, I tried the Polk County court clerk's office and Edwards' bail bondsman to see if he had an attorney. As it turns out, it was a dead end—Edwards apparently hasn't hired a lawyer yet or had one appointed for him. No one, at least, has made court appearances on his behalf.

But I didn't have to go to a defense attorney to find out that Edwards probably isn't part of a grand conspiracy. John Sarcone, the county attorney in charge of prosecuting the Edwards case, couldn't say much about the details because of Iowa ethics rules. But when I told him what Hinderaker and IBD had been saying about Edwards, he laughed. "People have got imaginations, I'll tell you that," he said. "I don't think that's the case at all. They ought to give those jobs to creative writers, because that's fiction."

The White House and the Obama 2012 campaign declined to comment as to whether the president might be involved in an obscure campaign worker's alleged plot against the Iowa secretary of state. I smell a cover-up!

Front page image: Pete Souza/White House

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2021: Newt's Space Odyssey

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 9:48 PM EST

Courtesy of ShutterstockCourtesy of Shutterstock; Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia CommonsNewt Gingrich launched a Twitter frenzy on Wednesday when he delivered a major policy address on space at a Holiday Inn in Cocoa, Florida. Gingrich promised to complete a manned lunar colony on the moon by the end of his second term—January 2021—and set side aside 10 percent of NASA's budget for prizes that would encourage entrepreneurs and inventors to experiment on their own. It's a side of Gingrich we've seen flashes of on the campaign trail, but now he's boldly going where he's never gone before—or at least not in a long, long time.

Before he was a presidential candidate, extraordinarily well-compensated historian, speaker of the House, or really anyone of importance in Washington, DC, Gingrich was totally obsessed with space travel. He sponsored the Fundamental Space Act of 1984, which offered a path to statehood for future space colonies (the bill died in committee). That same year, he authored his first book, Window of Opportunity, to put forth his thoughts on how best to conquer the final frontier. (The cover features a giant bald eagle flapping its wings over the planet.) As sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle put it in the introduction: "It's raining soup and Newt Gingrich has the blueprints for soup bowls."

Pick up your spoons. Here are some of the best, or at least wildest, ideas contained within those pages. All quotes are from Window of Opportunity, unless otherwise noted:

We should have had a New York Times Moon bureau by now. Or at least a few underfed stringers: "If we had developed at a reasonable pace from 1969, today we would have eight to twelve space shuttles, two manned space stations, and a permanently operating lunar base. Each news magazine would have a section devoted to the week's news from space."

Send a team of astronauts to go to Halley’s Comet. "Projects like visiting Halley’s Comet could be easily undertaken by a program whose strength and sophistication would be unchallenged." Basically, Gingrich anticipated the plot of Deep Impact.

Cut food stamp budget to buy space shuttles. "Food stamps crowded out space shuttles; energy assistance crowded out a solar power satellite project that would have provided energy for all; more bureaucracy in Health and Human Services shoved aside a permanently-manned space station; the vision of a malaise-dominated decaying Western culture smothered the dream of a permanently-manned station." Besides, who really needs food stamps when the moon is made of cheese?

Cut farm subsidies; send farmers to space. Ok, this one wasn’t in his book but it’s too good to omit. In 1986, he told the World Science Fiction Convention: "If we'd spent as much on space as we've spent on farm programs, we could have taken all the extra farmers and put them on space stations working for a living in orbiting factories." Somehow that subject didn't come up in Iowa.

Pay your taxes; win a trip to space. "The shuttle is already comfortable enough to carry anyone free of severe health problems into space, and the next generation shuttle will be even more like an airliner. We should begin with a candidate-selection lottery based on individual income tax forms and offer to send each year’s winner on a shuttle flight." Not to be confused with the equally appealing option of sending our candidates into space.

Create man-made climate change, using mirrors. "The climate group at the Woods Hole conference suggested that a large array of mirrors could affect the Earth's climate by increasing the amount of sunlight received by particular areas, citing recent feasibility studies exploring the possibilities of preventing frosts in Florida or enabling farmers in high altitudes to plant their wheat earlier."

And fight crime. "Ambient light covering entire areas could reduce the current danger of criminals lurking in darkness. Mirrors could be arranged to light given metropolitan areas only during particular periods, so there could be darkness late at night for sleeping."

Mine the moon. "The moon is an enormous natural resource, possessed of more than enough minerals and materials to provide everything a self-replicating system needs. Structural glass and ceramics can be made by crushing rocks and molding them by hand; oxygen and water can be manufactured from the Moon’s soil to form life-support systems for humans." And unobtanium. Don't forget unobtanium.

Self-replicating robots in space. "At the present there is a fight between the planetary scientists who debunk a manned station and the manned-space advocates who debunk robots. Both sides miss the point. We want both people and machines in space, in large numbers, as rapidly as possible." The theory of the Earth’s demise in which self-replicating robots self-replicate ad infitum and consume all matter on earth is called "Grey Goo." You'll want to know that.

Huh? "Congressman Bob Walker of Pennsylvania has been exploring the possible benefits of weightlessness to people currently restricted to wheelchairs."

Peace in our time. "The welfare state could have reached out to our allies and to the Third World and built a cooperative venture that would have knit all freedom-loving people together in building a better future for all mankind—it decided not to. Today we stand on the verge of a moment of the movement of a 'Unified Free World Alliance' into space."

VIDEO: Gabrielle Giffords Bids Farewell—for Now

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:40 PM EST
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)

On Wednesday, Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) stepped down from her seat in the House of Representatives. In her farewell speech—read on the House floor by her colleague and close friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)—Giffords thanked her colleagues and constituents, and briefly touched on key issues that have been close to her heart while in office:

In public service, I found a venue for my pursuit of a stronger America—by ensuring the safety and security of all Americans, by producing clean energy here at home instead of importing oil from abroad, and by honoring our brave men and women in uniform with the benefits they earned. I found a way to care for others. And in the past year, I have found a value that is unbreakable even by the most vicious of attacks.

Here is C-SPAN footage of the emotional goodbye (click here to read the full text of her speech, as well as her letter of resignation to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer):

Giffords—a respected Blue Dog Democrat—has been recovering for the past year from a gunshot wound to the head she sustained during a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona. At the "Congress on Your Corner" public event held in front of a Safeway on January 8, 2011, gunman Jared Lee Loughner opened fire, killing six attendees and wounding another thirteen.

Unsurprisingly, an outpouring of support came from both sides of the aisle on Wednesday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Giffords the "brightest star among us," and said that she "brought the word 'dignity' to new heights" in her recovery from the assassination attempt. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) tweeted: "Rep. Giffords is an inspirational leader who will be missed [in] #Congress. R's, D's wish her nothing but the best as she continues to recover."

On Tuesday night, reverence for Giffords was also on full bipartisan display as she attended President Obama's State of the Union address. Her arrival inside the House chamber was especially poignant.

In her formal letter of resignation, also submitted to House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, Giffords wrapped up her farewell by promising, "I will recover and will return."

Mitt Says Newt Was for "Self-Deportation" Before He Was Against It

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 5:52 PM EST
Mitt Romney at Florida CPAC in 2011.

Fielding questions from Univision's Jorge Ramos Wednesday afternoon, former Massachussetts Governor Mitt Romney said Newt Gingrich was for "self-deportation" before he was against it. 

Romney's right: Gingrich once endorsed the strategy of making everyday life for unauthorized immigrants so miserable that they would "self-deport." Speaking to Ramos on Univision earlier on Wednesday, Gingrich said that "self-deportation" was an "Obama-level fantasy." He didn't mention that he'd endorsed the idea fairly recently. Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald hunted down the quote, which comes from an appearance Gingrich made on the Laura Ingraham show in 2010. "We have to enforce this law," Gingrich tells Ingraham. "We have to do that first. No work, self-deportation. Come back. We can figure out our immigration system after we enforce this border. But I just think you're not going to get the support of the people unless we really see that border enforced."

Gingrich has been running an ad in Florida calling Romney an "anti-immigrant" candidate, but the campaign withdrew the ads after Florida's Cuban American Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the ad was "inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn't belong in this campaign." Romney told Ramos Wednesday that it was "very sad for a candidate to resort to that kind of epithet."

Romney also suggested that Gingrich's criticism of "self-deportation" was just pandering. "It's very tempting to come to an audience like this and tell people what they want to hear," said Romney, who's been on both sides of immigration issues a few times himself.

There's a limit to how far Romney's willing to go, however: He's not willing to tell Latino voters he's Mexican American. When Ramos asked whether Romney, whose father was born to US citizens in Mexico, would count as the "First Mexican President" of the US, the former governor said no.  

"I'd love to be able to convince people of that in a Florida primary" Romney joked. "I don't think people would think I was being honest with them if I said I were Mexican American, but I'd appreciate it if you'd get that word out."

8 Things to Know About the Navy SEAL Raid in Somalia

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 4:20 PM EST

The latest example of Obama-era military badass-ery transpired last night around the time that you were probably asleep or detoxing from the president's third State of the Union address: Just moments before President Obama took the podium, a team of more than two dozen US Navy SEALs rescued two hostages from a group of Somali pirates. By the end of the raid, nine Somalis were dead, three were detained, and the two kidnapped aid workers—32-year-old American Jessica Buchanan and 60-year-old Dane Poul Hagen Thisted—were safely extracted from the camp in northern Somalia where they were being held. The pair had been held hostage since October.

Here are a few things you should know about the mission:

1. The Somali pirates may have been stoned and sleeping: The outcome of the raid might have been a little different if the kidnappers had just said no. A pirate named Bile Hussein told the AP over the phone that the SEAL team caught the camp guards after they had passed out from chewing qat, a narcotic leaf popular in much of the Middle East and East Africa for its euphoric qualities. (Hussein said he was "not present at the site but had spoken with other pirates who were.")

Gingrich: Maybe We'll Bomb Castro If I'm President

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 3:30 PM EST
Newt Gingrich has a grandiose idea.

During his interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos this morning, Newt Gingrich was asked just how far he was willing to go in order to eliminate the Castro regime in Cuba. Gingrich said that he thought it was "baloney" that Obama intervened in Libya (a decision Gingrich was on both sides of on multiple occasions) but apparently hadn't thought of bombing Cuba. Gingrich said this contrast was "fascinating," and wondered why Obama "doesn't quite notice Cuba." 

"The US bombed Qaddafi, are you prepared to the same thing with the Castros?" Ramos asked. Gingrich equivocated, suggesting he'd be open to the idea if there were a popular uprising like the ones in the Middle East and North Africa, but then seemingly attacking Obama for not having done so:

Well I think at the moment you don’t need to...in that case you had an uprising. I would say bluntly, because I find it fascinating that Obama is intrigued with Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, but doesn't quite notice Cuba. I would just argue if there was a genuine, legitimate uprising we would of course be on the side of the people. And we should be prepared to be on the side of the people. But in that sense, I don’t see why Cuba should be sacrosanct, and we should say, don’t do anything to hurt...we’re very prepared to back people in Libya, we may end backing people in Syria, but now Cuba, hands off Cuba, that’s baloney. The people of Cuba deserve freedom.

Here's the video:

Gingrich also said that he would take "all the tools that Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher used to break the Soviet Empire," to force regime change in Cuba. "They went at it psychologically, they went at it economically, they went at it diplomatically, they went at it with covert operations." Going back to using covert operations to try to depose the Castro regime—why didn't anyone else think of that?

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Gingrich Woos the Latino Vote on Univision

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 12:25 PM EST
Newt Gingrich at CPAC Florida in 2011

Newt Gingrich slammed Mitt Romney's proposal for "self-deportation" as an "Obama-level fantasy" an interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos Wednesday morning. If the polls are right, more than a tenth of the GOP electorate in Tuesday's Florida primary will be of Hispanic origin.

"I think you have to live in a fantasy of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts to have an idea this far from reality," Gingrich said alluding to recent revelations from Romney's recently released tax returns. "For Romney to believe that someone's grandmother to be so cut off, that she's going to self-deport? This is an Obama-level fantasy…[Romney] has no concern for the humanity of people already here." According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than two thirds of the nearly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US have been here ten years or more, and nine million people are part of "mixed status" families where one or more family members is undocumented.

The concept behind "self-deportation," already at work in states like Arizona and Alabama, is that state governments can make life so miserable for unauthorized immigrants that they opt to leave the country. As explained by immigration restrictionist Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in 2005, this is done by turning  every minute transaction with the government into an opportunity to ascertain legal status, such as "getting a driver's license, registering an automobile, opening a bank account, applying for a car loan or a mortgage, getting a business or occupational license, and obtaining government services of any kind."

Your Daily Newt: On Speed Limits and the Principles of Freedom

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Newt Gingrich laughs at a campaign stop in South Carolina.

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.

According to Newt Gingrich, two things inspired Newt Gingrich to become a revolutionary. The first was his experience with a youth literacy program called Earning by Learning, which taught him that educational outcomes could be improved if we started offering students cash incentives (Earning by Learning also offered a lot of money to Gingrich's former aide and biographer Mel Steely). The second, he told an audience at DC's Mayflower Hotel in 1995, was speed limit signs:

As you know in Germany, on the autobahn, there's no speed limit, you can go literally any speed you want to. Many Americans rent a car, they're doing 100, a Mercedes goes by at 120, they pull over to the side of the road and cry. They never fully recover from the experience.  If tomorrow morning the Bundestag adopted a 100 kilometer or 62 mile-per-hour speed limit, virtually every German would obey it the next day. And the next election they would massacre the current generation of politicians and they would elect the No Speed Limit Party.

Now I'm always cautious about this because I don't want to offend anybody in the audience, but my understanding is that the American cultural response to the challenge of speed limits is substantially different from the German cultural response: In most of America, the speed limit is the benchmark of opportunity...I want to make a point here. This to me was the moment, one of the two moments I became a revolutionary."

After a brief digression into a discussion of disciplinary pratices within the 18th-century British army, Gingrich returned to signage: "A country in which virtually every citizen drives over the speed limit is impossible to lead by bureaucratic regulation," he said. "By definition, this is why the health plan last year was so crazy. By definition, a nation driven by incentives will wake up in the morning and say 'How do I get around the rule? What can my lawyer find for me? Is there a consultant who knows the loopholes?'" Given that Gingrich rose to power in the GOP by exploiting loopholes in the tax code to use charities for political ends, we suppose he probably does have point.

Mitt Romney's Florida Foreclosure Flip-Flop

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Romney and Gingrich dueling at Monday night's GOP debate in Tampa

With his once-secure grip on the GOP presidential nomination loosening, Mitt Romney has been hitting Newt Gingrich hard this week in Florida. The former Massachusetts governor's plan: Make the mortgage meltdown—and Gingrich's paid work for the mortgage insurer Freddie Mac—a huge issue in this state, one of the worst-hit by foreclosures. Romney opened this offensive Monday morning in Tampa at a roundtable on the flagging Florida housing market; shortly after, his team released an attack ad alleging that Newt "cashed in" on foreclosures.

But Romney is also embracing the one person in Florida who has likely done more than anyone else to shaft troubled homeowners and help foreclosure mills stay in business: state Attorney General Pam Bondi.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 25, 2012

Wed Jan. 25, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Master Sgt. Chris Skierski sweeps the flightline for foreign objects and debris on January 15, 2012, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Skierski is an F-16C Fighting Falcon engine mechanic assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (US Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht)