Mojo - January 2012

Does Jon Huntsman Think Bank of America is a Person? [UPDATED]

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 10:47 AM EST
Jon Huntsman.

[This post has been updated. See below.]

On Thursday night, Jon Huntsman made his 157th campaign stop in New Hampshire, at a National Guard armory turned rec center in the city of Newport. He noted this fact with the same ease and aplomb that he displayed when answering hours' worth of questions lobbed at him by the audience. But Huntsman did bungle one question—and it was a telling one.

Near of the end of the event, Glenn Kaplan, 42, a cameraman and filmmaker, asked Huntsman if he supported the idea of "corporate personhood"—essentially, that Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have the same rights as people like you and I. "Will you support a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood?" Kaplan asked.

"On corporate what?" Huntsman replied.

"Personhood," Kaplan said.

Huntsman looked uneasy. He said he'd only been asked this question once before: on the satirical Colbert Report. Then Huntsman gave his answer, which was, more or less: Mumble mumble...fix our broken tax policy...mumble mumble...revolving door...level the playing field...mumble mumble...thank you. He didn't come with a cruise ship's distance of answering Kaplan's question. "It was a total cop-out," Kaplan said afterward.

The belief that corporations are people is no small matter. You'll remember in Iowa last fall Mitt Romney caused quite a stir when he said, "Corporations are people, my friend." Democrats and progressives pounced on Romney's remark as ammunition for their attacks on Romney as a candidate in corporate America's pocket, a man bought and paid for by America's 1 percenters. (It is true that 10 percent of America's billionaires have given money to Romney's campaign.)

In Newport, Kaplan specifically raised Romney's belief that corporations are people when posing his question to Huntsman. And Kaplan's mention of a constitutional amendment to roll back corporate personhood, which the Supreme Court furthered with its 2010 Citizens United decision, is especially timely. A coalition of good government groups and grassroots activists is ramping up efforts at the local and state level nationwide to demand that Congress pass legislation taming Citizens United. At the same, there are at least a half-dozen resolutions in Congress that would do just that. On the upcoming second anniversary of Citizens United, on January 20, a wave of events, including occupations of federal courts, are planned to demand an end to corporate personhood.

The fight against corporate personhood and Citizens United is shaping up to be the biggest fight in campaign finance. Jon Huntsman, it seems, can't figure out whose side he's on—Bank of America's or yours.

[UPDATE]: At a Q-and-A Friday morning in Concord, the state capital, Huntsman clarified his position on corporate personhood. "Of course corporations are not people," he said. "Who would say such an outlandish thing?"

 

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Rick Santorum's Big—and Pointless—Whopper

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 10:40 AM EST
2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum

It's hard to figure why political candidates frequently say things that are not true—especially when often it is easy to check their comments. Newt Gingrich said he was retained by Freddie Mac as a historian. Mitt Romney insisted he hasn't done backflips (or front-flips) to become more conservative. On Thursday, Rick Santorum, the former Republican Pennsylvania senator, while talking to a conference of college students in Concord, New Hampshire, was insisting that voters should elect candidates whose values and judgment they can trust, because you never know what issues will emerge and confront the nation's chief executive. And he was ready with a dramatic example:

The presidential debates the last time around, you know how many questions there were on health care in all the debates—one.

His point: No one could know at the time that health care would become such a central focus of the years after the 2008 campaign. So, conservatives, you better pick a loyal and unwavering right-winger who will be ready to take on whatever materializes.

Well, by now you've guessed the ending. Santorum was wrong. Throughout the GOP debates during the 2008 presidential contest, health care was frequently raised in questions posed by the moderators to the candidates. My colleague Adam Serwer pulled together a partial list.

* May 3, 2007, debate: "Gov. Romney, a year ago, it seemed that you couldn’t wait to tell the world about your health care experiment in Massachusetts. Since then, it’s been criticized by conservatives as something Hillary Clinton could have devised. You hardly mention it on your website. What's changed?

* June 5, 2007, debate: "Millions of Americans are dissatisfied with the current state of our health care system, and US employers are at a disadvantage due to the high cost of health insurance. What would you do to fix the health care system? And would you support implementing a single-payer system, in which the government acts as the insurer in order to save enough money to cover the millions of uninsured and to lower premiums for the rest of the US population?"

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 6, 2012

Fri Jan. 6, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Soldiers, serving with the Kentucky National Guard Agribusiness Development Team 3, Task Force Hurricane, inspect a greenhouse in Mahmod-e Raqi district, Kapisa province, Afghanistan, on December 28, 2011. The purpose of the mission was to insure that progress was being made in the local Afghan's efforts to improve their agricultural growth. Photo by Spc. Amber Leach.

Santorum and Students Clash on Gay Marriage

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 6:39 PM EST
2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum

Is Rick Santorum a bully?

It came close to that in Concord, New Hampshire, on Thursday when he addressed a convention of college students who had trekked to the Granite State from across the nation to witness the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. After a long discourse on American exceptionalism—in which Santorum claimed that President Barack Obama does not believe the United States is "objectively" better than all other countries, as Santorum says he does—the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, who virtually tied Mitt Romney in Iowa earlier this week, took questions. It was no surprise that one of the first queries was about his fierce opposition to gay marriage. Two students asked Santorum how he could justify this opposition with his opening remarks that focused on the guarantee, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that no American shall be deprived of the "pursuit of happiness."

"So anyone can marry several people?" Santorum asked. "What about three men?"

Santorum has been in this spot before, and he easily adopted a here-we-go-again stance, and, in a somewhat condescending manner, struck back with…logic. Or what he claimed to be logic. He asked the students to justify gay marriage. When one said, "How about the idea that all men are created equal and [have] the right to happiness and liberty," Santorum asked, Are you saying that everyone should have the right to marry anyone?

Rick Santorum's New Hampshire Roadshow: Terrorist Judges, "Snookered" Reagan, and Fidel Castro

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 4:01 PM EST
Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum loathes the liberal judges of the Ninth Circuit, the federal appeals court that stretches from Alaska to California to Arizona. In small-town New Hampshire on Thursday, Santorum unveiled his plan for ending those judges' "reign of terror": Ship 'em all to Guam.

Santorum was full of spicy quips on Thursday at an old train station in the town of Northfield. Riding high from his impressive second place finish in Iowa's caucuses, Santorum held court before a standing-room-only crowd here, with almost as many journalists as voting-age New Hampshire citizens in attendance. He veered from issue to issue, from the evil of President Obama's Affordable Care Act to tax policy under Ronald Reagan, reforming Social Security to the 2009 Honduran coup.

On the Ninth Circuit, a favorite punching bag for conservatives, Santorum said he supported its abolishment—"What the Congress creates, it can uncreate"—or at least tossing out its most liberal judges and replacing them with new ones. He acknowledged there might be some Constitutional problems with just firing the Ninth's judges. His solution: "Maybe we can create a court that puts them in Guam or something like that," a jab that earned him more than a few laughs.

The Ninth Circuit wasn't the only court Santorum blasted. He singled out the Supreme Court—at least its more liberal justices—for plenty of criticism, calling the high court an out-of-control "super-legislature." "Five people who are not accountable to the people should not be able to amend the Constitution," he said.

Like any good conservative, Santorum paid his respects to Ronald Reagan. In Northfield, though, the tax increases presided over by Reagan came up, in particular the Gipper's payroll tax hike passed in 1983. Santorum winced at this. "I love Reagan," he said. "He got snookered in '83."

And in attacking Obama's foreign policy record, Santorum ripped the president for calling the 2009 change-over in power that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya a coup. In doing so, Santorum said, Obama took his place alongside two other leaders: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. "How many times do you want to hear America in the same sentence as a group of three countries that's Cuba, Venezuela, and the United States?"

Yet what earned Santorum the most applause was not his attacks on liberal judges or foreign policy but on Obama's Affordable Care Act. Santorum pledged to make repealing health care reform his first act if elected president, vowing to replace it with a free-market system built "from the bottom up."

Nearly two hours had passed since Santorum strode into the old train station surrounded by a crush of cameras and reporters. Now, Santorum said it was time to get moving again. "I'd love to stay and answer more questions," he said, "but there's miles to go before I sleep."

Your Daily Newt: Virtual Gingrich

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 3:00 PM EST

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.

I could describe in great detail Newt Gingrich's 2007 address to Second Life, in which a pony-tailed avatar parachutes onto the steps of the United States Capitol to hear the (considerably slimmer) former speaker discuss novelist Isaac Asimov novel, Necromancer. Or you could just see for yourself:

We cannot confirm that the man at the 3:13 mark is Wolf Blitzer's Second Life avatar.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 5, 2012

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, walk into the sunset to catch their flight out of Forward Operating Base Pacemaker, December 25, 2011 in Kandahar. The soldiers were on a mission to deliver holiday gifts of cookies, candy and personal hygiene products to the outlying FOB. When the Chinook helicopter flew in to pick the soldiers up, it made dust go into the air, which caused the foggy look of the photograph. (US Army photo by Sgt. Ruth Pagan, 2nd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., PAO)

10 Reasons Michele Bachmann Will Be Sorely Missed

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 6:35 PM EST
Bachmann campaigns at a Rock the Caucus event on the morning of the Iowa caucuses.

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann dropped out of the GOP presidential race on Wednesday morning in Des Moines after a fairly disastrous sixth-place finish at the Iowa caucuses. "I believe that if we are going to repeal Obamacare, turn our country around, and take back our country, we must do so united," explained the one-time front-runner, whose campaign began to collapse almost immediately after her triumph at the Ames Straw Poll in August. "And I believe that we must rally behind the person that our country and our party and our people select to be that standard-bearer." In characteristic Bachmann fashion, she left her audience with a dire warning: If Americans don't elect the right candidate next November (she wouldn't suggest who that might be), the United States would become a socialist country. Take it to the bank.

Bachmann's campaign might be history, but no one can ever take away the memories. She represented—to paraphrase Kennedy—the greatest collection of paranoia, factual inaccuracy, and overheated rhetoric since Herman Cain dined alone. And she will be missed. Here's a quick look at the road we traveled:

  1. Her proposal to build a border fence through the Rio Grande and across the length of Big Bend National Park, even though that would have the unintended consequence of diverting the course of the river and, by extension, the US–Mexico border.
  2. Her autobiography, which made its first of many egregious factual errors on the very first page.
  3. The time she tried to sway undecided Iowa voters by dancing to Train's "Soul Sister."
  4. Bachmann Eyes!
  5. The time she accused Rick Perry of giving teenage girls a vaccine that made them "retarded," was soundly rebuked by the entire pediatric community, and insisted that she was just relaying what had been told to her:

     

  6. Her obsessions with lightbulbs, the regulation of which she believes is a steppingstone to United Nations tyranny.
  7. The time she promised to close the US embassy in Iran, which does not currently exist.
  8. Her insistence that the CIA had outsourced its interrogation policy to the ACLU.
  9. The time she paid strategist Ed Rollins $90,000 to help run her campaign.
  10. Her use of the title "Dr.," even though she is not a doctor by any commonly accepted standard.

Why does the GOP race suddenly seem a little less marvelous?

Paul Supporter Likely Violated Military Conduct Code

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 2:36 PM EST

Following a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul held a boisterous rally, featuring a speech from Army Corporal Jesse Thorsen. Thorsen, who was in uniform, voiced impassioned support for Paul's non-interventionist views. "We don't need to be picking fights overseas," he said, and pledged to help "make sure this man is the next president of the United States."

It was an understandable sentiment from a soldier who said he had served in the military for 10 years, which included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the appearance likely violated the protocols for service members included in Defense Department Directive 1344.10, which states explicitly that they are not to participate in political rallies as anything more than spectators. And if they do attend a political function, they're not supposed to do so in uniform.

Active-duty service members can "register, vote, and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces," the directive states. It also stipulates:

4.1.2. A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not:
4.1.2.1. Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (except as permitted in subparagraph 4.1.1.7.), rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one's own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator.

And it says that service-members shall not:

4.1.2.5. Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
4.1.2.6. Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.

"My immediate reaction, upon watching Congressman Paul's event, was that the soldier in question was in flagrant violation of department of defense regulations," said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School. "Lord knows there are people in the military, as in the rest of American society, who have very strong feelings about who is elected president. But the tradition is the military stays out of partisan politics."

The issue wasn't necessarily showing up in uniform; it was speaking out at a partisan political gathering. "If he was on active duty, it wouldn’t matter if he was wearing a Santa Claus costume or his birthday suit," said Fidell. "Wearing the uniform only makes it worse."

Thorsen could be formally reprimanded for doing so, with a court-martial or an administrative discharge, though Fidell didn't seem to think that was very likely. More likely, he could get "chewed out" by a superior. Even if Thorsen volunteered, the Paul camp should have taken this into account before inviting him on stage last night. (The Paul campaign did not respond to a request for comment. We'll update the post if they do.)

UPDATE: The Washington Post talked to a spokesperson for the Army Reserve command who told the paper that as of October, Thorsen was not on active duty. They are determining whether he violated any rules by speaking at the rally.

Adam Serwer contributed reporting for this post.

Chart of the Day: Presidential Recess Appointments

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 2:04 PM EST

President Barack Obama used his authority to appoint former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wednesday without approval from the Senate, which was in recess. By doing so, Obama defied Senate Republicans who had sought to block any and all such recess appointments by holding "pro-forma" sessions for the sole purpose of obstructing the president's ability to fill executive branch and judicial vacancies.

Obama's decision to appoint Cordray to the CFBP anyway has provoked outrage from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who didn't complain much when President George W. Bush used recess appointments to install Senate rejects including Iraq war architect John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN. Wednesday, McConnell characterized Obama's move as a power grab that “fundamentally endangers the Congress’s role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch.” 

Obama's decision to disregard the Senate's procedural roadblocks sets something of a new legal precedent future Republican presidents may try to take advantage of—presidents typically have not made recess appointments during pro-forma sessions. On the other hand, as TPM's Brian Beutler writes, Republicans were engaging in an "extra-legal attempt to nullify a key portion of an act of law" by blocking Cordray's nomination to head the agency. 

Few presidents have seen their appointments subject to as much obstruction as Obama, and few have been so timid about taking advantage of recess appointments. Here's a chart by Siddhartha Mahanta showing the average recess appointments per year of Obama's predecessors:

Data from the Congressional Research ServiceData from the Congressional Research ServiceAccording to reports from the Congressional Research Service, during their time in office President Ronald Reagan made 240 recess appointments, President George H. W. Bush made 77 recess appointments, President Bill Clinton made 140 recess appointments, and George W. Bush made 171. Obama's first term has seen a paltry 28. In this context, Obama's move seems less like a power grab and more like the proverbial 98-pound weakling taking a second to wipe the sand out of his eyes.