Mojo - February 2012

Koch Brothers Meet Again to Prep for "Mother of All Wars"

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 7:00 PM EST

Last week, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers held their latest get-together with wealthy conservative political donors. At these meetings, held twice a year under a veil of secrecy, Republican all-stars discuss election strategy and vet potential presidential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Last September, Mother Jones obtained exclusive audio recordings from a Koch seminar held outside Vail, Colorado, where Charles Koch had declared that the 2012 election would be "the mother of all wars" and thanked dozens of million-dollar donors who'd pledged to the cause.

According to a Huffington Post source, 250 to 300 guests attended the most recent event, which was held in Palm Springs, California. They included Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife has given a staggering $10 million to a pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC. Guests reportedly pledged a total of $40 million to the effort to oust Obama, with Charles and David Koch promising an additional $60 million. But it wasn't all fun and games, the source said, as guests complained that recent meetings had focused more on "alpha male" anti-Obama chest-pounding than the strategy sessions for which they'd been known.

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Your Daily Newt: Ridin' the Rails

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 6:54 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.

Newt Gingrich wants you to know that subways are for rich folks. Two weeks ago in South Carolina, he pilloried "those who, you know, live in high-rise apartment buildings writing for fancy newspapers in the middle of town after they ride the metro." On Friday in Nevada he blased Manhattan elites who take the subway to work.

Here's a photo of Newt Gingrich, from his 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way:

P.F. Bentley/Lessons Learned the Hard WayP.F. Bentley/Lessons Learned the Hard Way

In fairness, he was sitting in coach.

Sheldon Adelson's Long Odds on Gingrich

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 4:44 PM EST
Sheldon Adelson

Arguably, the only thing that's kept Newt Gingrich in the running this long (besides a gargantuan heap of grandiosity) is Sheldon Adelson's money. Adelson, the chairman of the Las Vegas Sands casino company, has, with his wife Miriam, poured a whopping $10 million into the pro-Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future. With Mitt Romney looking like a sure thing to win this Saturday's primary in Adelson's home state of Nevada, it remains to be seen if the casino mogul will keep bankrolling Gingrich if he goes for broke and hate-runs against Romney until the Republican convention.

Looking at Adelson's past, it's clear that he's not reluctant to put his money where his beliefs are, even if those bets may not pay off. Adelson made his name (and fortune) with his "take-no-prisoners ambition," as Peter Stone wrote in a 2008 Mother Jones profile. At the time, Adelson was a major backer of Freedom's Watch, a would-be conservative MoveOn.org, which envisioned a "never-ending campaign" to keep the White House and maintain a Republican majority in Washington, DC.

In spite of Adelson's contributions, Freedom's Watch never really took off. As MoJo's Laura Rozen later reported, some of the group's supporters blamed Adelson himself:

"He is both meddlesome and attached to his own agenda," says a conservative think tanker. "And he is not listening to people who are giving him good political and strategic advice…Everyone I know comes away very frustrated from their experience" with Freedom's Watch.

The son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, Adelson is also a vigorous supporter of conservative Israeli causes and politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Adam Serwer explains, "Adelson's donation to Gingrich likely has something to do with their shared anti-Palestinian views, namely the notion that Palestinian national identity is 'invented.'"

If Gingrich gets trounced in Nevada, will the gambling tycoon hold 'em or fold 'em? Or will he raise? With an estimated net worth of $21.5 billion, as Time's Michael Crowley has pointed out, Adelson can afford to spend at least another 0.0465% of his total fortune on this race.

Update: Apparently, Adelson's opposition to Obama trumps his affection for Gingrich. According to the New York Times, Adelson is preparing to get behind Romney when the time is right. Asked about the report, Gingrich told The Hill, "Sheldon's primary driving source is the survival of the United States and Israel in the face of an Iranian nuclear weapon. And compared to Barack Obama, virtually anybody is a better candidate. So that doesn't bother me at all." You gotta admire Newt's poker face.

 

Komen Isn't the Only Do-Gooder Group Conservatives Targeted for Planned Parenthood Ties

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 4:12 PM EST

When Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced on Tuesday that it would end funding for Planned Parenthood, anti-abortion activists, who had complained about Komen's ties to Planned Parenthood for years, were delighted. Tony Perkins, the president of the socially conservative Family Research Council, applauded tha anti-cancer group for "putting women's health first rather than fund the nation's largest abortion provider." Unfortunately for Planned Parenthood's foes, Komen's move led to a national outcry, and on Friday, Komen began to walk back its decision to cut off funds.

But Komen isn't the only apparently apolitical organization experiencing pressure to break ties to Planned Parenthood. While reporting Thursday's story on the right-wing boycott of Girl Scout cookies because of a Colorado council that allowed a transgender seven-year-old to join a troop, I learned that conservatives' biggest complaint with the Girl Scouts is the organization's ties to Planned Parenthood. Sure, inclusion of a transgender girl has some people up in arms. But the Girl Scouts' supposed association with what Cathy Ruse, a blogger for the Family Research Council, described to me as "the biggest abortion business in the US" is the religious right's main beef with the 100-year-old girls' leadership organization.

Komen's Position on Stem Cells Remains Unclear

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 2:13 PM EST

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has hedged its decision to stop providing grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings after that move kicked off a good deal of outrage. But it's still not clear where the group stands on embryonic stem cell research, another subject that has made Komen a target of anti-abortion groups.

Anti-abortion groups have been pressuring Komen to stop providing millions in support to research institutions like Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the U.S. National Cancer Institute because those organizations also conduct research using embryonic stem cells.

As we reported yesterday, news outlets affiliated with the anti-abortion rights movement have been touting a recent press release from Komen that insists that it is not funding embryonic stem cell research and does not support any cancer research that involves "destroying a human embryo."

A reader managed to find a copy of the Nov. 30 press release, which has since disappeared from Komen's website. I've posted that document here, and it definitely seems to suggest that Komen now opposes embryonic stem cell research. That wasn't the case a few years ago, when this Komen newsletter touted the potential benefits of using embryonic stem cells:

Embryonic stem cells (derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro and then donated for research purposes) have the potential to give rise to many different types of tissue. Because of this, embryonic stem cells are currently considered to have the most potential for use in the regeneration of diseased or injured tissues. Another potential role is providing a better understanding of cancer development.

The National Cancer Institute notes that "embryonic stem cells hold far more potential than adult cells" when it comes to research, because embryonic cells "can change into more tissue types and replicate indefinitely, two properties not generally shown with adult cells."

I've asked Komen to comment on whether they have formally changed their position on this type of research, but have not received a response. Although many are heralding Komen's semi-cave on Planned Parenthood, the group's current position is on stem cell research is still a mystery, and one that needs to be resolved—particularly since research on "a cure" is central to Komen's mission.

What Does Komen's Latest Statement on Planned Parenthood Really Mean?

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 1:27 PM EST
Susan G. Komen founder Nancy Brinker.

Breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure has reversed its decision to stop funding cancer screening referrals by Planned Parenthood, according to a letter from founder Nancy Brinker first obtained by Tom Benning at the Dallas Morning News and posted on the organization's website.

The letter reads in part:

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

It's not entirely clear what this means. Since their initial announcement on Tuesday, Komen representatives have offered an avalanche of shifting explanations for their decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Those justifications have ranged from a new policy forbidding funding any organization if it or one of its affiliates was under any kind of government investigation to arguing that the problem was that some Planned Parenthood affiliates offered referrals instead of mammograms. But other organizations that received grants from Komen (such as Penn State) were not held to the same standard regarding investigations, and the probe of Planned Parenthood, initiated by an anti-abortion Republican congressman, was seen by critics as political witch hunt. There are problems with the referral argument, too. As my colleague Kate Sheppard wrote on Thursday, criticism of Planned Parenthood over not performing mammograms was something of a "red herring," because "If you have health insurance and a primary care physician or gynecologist, that is generally the person who will refer you for additional care if they find reason for concern after an initial screening. But if a woman doesn't have insurance or a regular doctor, clinics like Planned Parenthood are her point of entry."

Given what Komen officials have said about their new standards requiring direct services, Friday's letter leaves one big question—whether Planned Parenthood meets Komen's criteria for future grants—still unresolved. Komen has not responded to journalists' requests for clarification, telling the Washington Post's Ezra Klein that its statement "speaks for itself."

Throughout the backlash, Komen's leadership insisted its decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood was not political. Although Brinker herself is a former Bush administration official and has given thousands of dollars to Republicans over the years, Komen has not been widely seen as a partisan organization. But Karen Handel, Komen's senior vice president for public policy, is a former Republican secretary of state from Georgia who is avowedly anti-abortion. A report from Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic suggested the Planned Parenthood decision had been "driven" by Handel, and the new standards were a mere pretext for eliminating Komen's funding for Planned Parenthood. (No retraction or correction has been made, and Goldberg says he stands by his reporting.) On Friday morning, Goldberg posted internal memos from Komen instructing employees on how to properly spin the decision.

The outcry seems to have helped fundraising at both organizations. On Thursday, both Komen and Planned Parenthood announced large donations, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledging $250,000 to Planned Parenthood and Brinker saying that contributions to Komen were up "one hundred percent."

UPDATE: A Komen board member tells the Washington Post's Greg Sargent that "It would be unfair to expect the group to commit to future grants."

UPDATE II: Planned Parenthood sends out a statement saying:

In recent weeks, the treasured relationship between the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and Planned Parenthood has been challenged, and we are now heartened that we can continue to work in partnership toward our shared commitment to breast health for the most underserved women. We are enormously grateful that the Komen Foundation has clarified its grantmaking criteria, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Komen partners, leaders and volunteers. What these past few days have demonstrated is the deep resolve all Americans share in the fight against cancer, and we honor those who are at the helm of this battle.

The crucial question remains whether or not that partnership actually exists after today, or whether this is just a more amicable divorce.

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How Will Mitt Romney Spin These Jobs Numbers?

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 11:30 AM EST
A jobs rally sponsored by the AFL-CIO union.

Mitt Romney never misses a chance to hammer President Obama for supposedly tanking the US economy. He accuses Obama of heaping on job-killing regulations and jacking up taxes on businesses large and small. "Obama's economic failure," the Romney campaign calls it.

But Romney will need some fancy rhetorical footwork to spin away the jobs numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, which offer arguably the most optimistic snapshot of the American job market seen in four or five years.

The headline unemployment rate dropped for the third month in a row, to 8.3 percent. The private sector created 257,000 jobs, and although the government sector lost 14,000 jobs, that still meant a net gain of 243,000 jobs overall. To boot, the number of jobs added in December was revised up. The BLS now believes the economy added 203,000 jobs in December, 3,000 more than initially thought. November's jobs numbers were revised upwards, too, to 157,000—57,000 higher than the previous estimate. That means job market growth was stronger in those months than originally thought, and the recovery continues to gain momentum.

Not all the news was rosy. Long-term unemployment—those out of work for six months or more—held steady at 5.5 million people, or 43 percent of the unemployed. And the overall unemployment rate, including the underemployed and those who've stopped looking for work, dipped by just a tenth of a percentage point, to 15.1 percent.

Still, the reaction to the jobs numbers was cheery all around. Moody's Analytics economist Mark Zandi said, "This is unambiguous. Everything is good." Financial blogger Felix Salmon called January's report "positively glowing."

Back to the presidential race. Does Friday's job report significantly boost Obama's re-election chances? You bet, at least according to New York Times stats guru Nate Silver. Silver pegs Obama's "magic jobs number," the monthly net job creation total needed to win re-election, at about 150,000. The US economy netted nearly 100,000 more jobs than that last month.

In other words, Friday's numbers are not just good news for American workers but especially for Obama and his re-election chances. Mitt Romney has his work cut out for him trying to explain away these numbers.

Romney Backer: He Does "Beautifully" Around Rich People

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 11:17 AM EST

Now he's a quote from a supporter that may not help Mitt Romney that much:

It's kind of hard for Romney to come across being a regular Joe. But put him in a room full of 400 business guys that are all successful, that relate to him, he comes off beautifully.

So said Daniel Staton, chair of the FriendFinder Networks, who attended a ritzy Romney fundraiser in Boca Raton. From Bloomberg:

One evening in late September, Mitt Romney supporters gathered at the $3 million Boca Raton, Florida, home of Marc Leder, the Sun Capital Partners Inc. co- founder behind the takeovers of retailers Friendly Ice Cream Corp., Limited stores and ShopKo Stores Inc.

Waiters served brie-stuffed French toast and short-rib tartlets as guests including Daniel Staton, chairman of social- networking company FriendFinder Networks Inc. (FFN), lingered about the 10,657 square-foot (990 square-meter), 6-bedroom waterfront home. Then they gathered inside for a half-hour speech by Romney, whose years of buying and selling companies for Bain Capital LLC left him with a worth of as much as $250 million and a natural rapport with the crowd.

It was after being impressed by that 30-minute-long speech that Staton made his comment about Romney. He may as well have said, "Romney really feels our pain."

Conservative Super-PACs Make It Rain

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 7:00 AM EST

With the Federal Election Commission filings in, it's clear that conservatives are decisively winning the 2012 super-PAC race—at least so far. Republican-leaning super-PACs focused on the presidential race or backing a particular candidate raised more than seven times what Democratic-leaning super-PAC's raised, more than $60 million to the Democrats’ $8 million.

What’s the reason for the disparity?

Attorney Neil Reiff, an expert in campaign finance law with the firm Reiff, Young & Lamb, said President Obama "discouraging the formation of super-PACs" might have something to do with the numbers, adding that "presidential fundraising might be sucking all the wind out of the fundraising out of the super-PACs." Obama's campaign has raised $140 million so far.

A Democrat involved in fundraising for super-PACs pointed to the ongoing Republican primary as a major reason, arguing that Democratic donors would open their wallets as the general election approached. "Is anyone really that surprised that oil companies and private equity billionaires are enthusiastic about beating president Obama?" the Democratic operative said.

Source: ProPublica PAC Track

Note: The numbers here reflect fundraising through December 2011, Gingrich's large donations from casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson came in January 2012.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 3, 2012

Fri Feb. 3, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Gun one, occupied by a gun line team from 2nd platoon, Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, fires a 155mm M777 Lightweight Howitzer during a live fire exercise at training range 52 on Fort Riley, Kan., on January 23, 2012. The 2-32 FA is the first battalion in the 1st Infantry Division to fire the M777 on Fort Riley. US Army photo by Sgt. Gene A. Arnold, 4IBCT PAO.