Mojo - March 2012

Romney Louisiana Endorser: Undocumented Immigrants Make Walmart a Scary Place

| Fri Mar. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney

On Thursday, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign released a new list of Louisiana endorsers, ahead of the state's Saturday primary. Among the supporters? State Rep. Tim Burns of Mandeville, who, in 2008, justified his support for a slate of immigration bills by suggesting that undocumented immigrants had made Walmart unsafe for women:

They're frustrated by the inability to go to Walmart at night, they're scared to go to Walmart at night...You weren't sure you were in this country. Not trying to profile people, but it just seemed like people were concerned, that they were...ah...I'm not trying to say any people there were being rude, or disrespectful or anything, but I could see how somebody, a housewife, could be intimidated to go there.

Walmart actually has pretty tight security, but Burns' point was that a certain group of people were by definition both suspicious and intimidating. It's positions and statements like these that help explain why Latinos are fleeing the Republican primary; just 14 percent of Latino voters say they would support Romney against President Obama in November.

Burns is also an avid opponent of abortion, to the extent that, in 2006, he sponsored a bill that would make the procedure punishable by one year in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. He made exceptions for rape and incest—sort of. Rape victims would need to prove within five days of the rape that they had not been pregnant prior to the crime; the rape must be reported to the police within seven days; and the abortion must be reported within 13 days. In cases of incest, victims would be required to file a police report prior to receiving an abortion (a move that would be severely complicated by the fact that the state also requires parental consent). State Rep. Joe Harrison, whose endorsement was also trumpeted by the Romney campaign on Thursday, introduced a 2011 bill that "would make it a crime to transport or shelter an illegal immigrant, or to help them stay here in the US"—similar to the law that was eventually passed in Alabama.

These aren't Mitt Romney's views in full and he doesn't have to agree with everything an endorser says. But campaigns, especially those as image-conscious as Team Romney, take the endorsement process very seriously, and they generally vet the politicians and leaders whose support they wish to cite. And Lousiana's not an isolated example: Romney has brought Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach—who helped lawmakers in Alabama and Arizona craft their harsh immigration laws—into the fold as an unpaid adviser, and tepidly embraced fetal personhood when speaking to Christian groups.

Ultimately, all of this underscores a larger issue facing his campaign. Romney has gone out of his way to convince conservative activists that he's just like them. The problem is when everyone else starts believing him.

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How Members of Congress Enrich Their Families

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 3:05 PM EDT

The New York Times had an interesting item in this morning's paper about nepotism in Congress. Basically, a new investigative report by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that hundreds of legislators use their positions to enrich family members, either directly by paying them for campaign-related activities or by earmarking funds for organizations where relatives serve as board members. According to the report, for instance, Rep. Ron Paul doled out more than $300,000 in salaries and fees to kin or in-laws. (There were payments of various kinds to Paul's wife, daughter, two sons, grandson, daughter's mother-in-law, two granddaughters, daughter-in-law, and a grandson-in-law.) CREW looked at the 2008 and 2010 election cycles and found 248 legislators worthy of inclusion in its report, which also included pols with lobbyist relatives and other sketchy stuff—see belowTo find out whether your own elected officials muck about in this ethical swamp, you can download the org's full report from the link above. But here are the summary stats: 

  • 82 members (40 Democrats and 42 Republicans) paid family members through their congressional offices, campaign committees and political action committees (PACs);
  • 44 members (20 Democrats and 24 Republicans) have family members who lobby or are employed in government affairs;
  • 90 members (42 Democrats and 48 Republicans) have paid a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit;
  • 20 members (13 Democrats and 7 Republicans) used their campaign money to contribute to a family member’s political campaign;
  • 14 members (6 Democrats and 8 Republicans) charged interest on personal loans they made to their own campaigns;
  • 38 members (24 Democrats and 14 Republicans) earmarked to a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit.

Rove vs. "Showdown": He Says OBL Raid No Big Deal

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 12:14 PM EDT

In political warfare, truth matters little. That's what Karl Rove demonstrated today in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that blasted the 17-minute film recently released by the Obama reelection campaign. This campaign infomercial notes that the Osama bin Laden raid President Obama launched was the "ultimate test of leadership." Rove, who served a president who did not defeat Bin Laden in such a fashion, begs to disagree—and he claims that Bill Clinton backs him up on this point.

Rove asserts,

As for the killing of Osama bin Laden, Mr. Obama did what virtually any commander in chief would have done in the same situation. Even President Bill Clinton says in the film "that's the call I would have made." For this to be portrayed as the epic achievement of the first term tells you how bare the White House cupboards are.

Yet that is not what Clinton said about the decision. George W. Bush's ex-brain is engaging in highly selective editing. Greg Sargent notes that the full Clinton quote in the film presents a much different perspective, for Clinton said of Obama:

He took the harder and the more honorable path. When I saw what had happened, I thought to myself, "I hope that’s the call I would have made."

He hoped. So Rove flipped the meaning of Clinton's words 180 degrees.

My new book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, details the nail-biting decision-making prior to Obama green-lighting the bin Laden mission and shows it was indeed no routine move.

On the night of April 28, 2011, Obama held a top-secret meeting with his closest national security aides to discuss how to proceed. The CIA had earlier informed Obama that its analysts had concluded there was a 60 to 80 percent certainty that Bin Laden was in the Abbottabad compound. But the agency had conducted a red team exercise, in which a set of analysts who had not previously worked on this case evaluated the intelligence. This group ended up with lower odds: 40 to 60 percent.

Several of Obama's national security advisers were worried by the red team results. Michael Leiter, the chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, believed the CIA had inflated the case. And when the president went around the horn and asked for recommendations, both Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Bob Gates counseled waiting for more definitive intelligence. Other advisers in the room opted for a missile strike (which would be less risky but could yield a less definitive outcome and cause collateral damage). Leon Panetta, then the CIA chief, and John Brennan, Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, backed the proposed helicopter raid. Such an operation, though, was not supported by a majority of Obama's advisers. Everyone in the room knew that much could wrong with such an operation. (Gates had lived through Black Hawk Down and the failed Desert One rescue attempt during the Iranian hostage crisis during the Carter administration.) And they also realized—though it was not explicitly discussed—that if the Bin Laden mission went bad, it would probably sink Obama's presidency. Nevertheless, the next day, Obama greenlighted the raid.

Showdown has more details on these deliberations. (An excerpt from the Bin Laden chapter can be read here.) It's quite hard to belittle the steeliness Obama demonstrated during these deliberations. Only a spinmeister would deny that this was a gutsy call.

After the mission was successfully completed and the president had received word that bin Laden had been killed, he worked on a statement with aides and told them what he considered to be a significant aspect of the raid. "It's important to be able to prove that America could do something difficult that takes a long time," he said. That was the message he wanted to convey to his fellow citizens.

Rove, the fellow who put a president in a flight suit and had him land on an aircraft carrier where he spoke in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, now contends this was no big deal. He obviously hasn't read the book—or bothered to consider the facts.

Iran War Watch: Budgets and War Games Edition

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 10:40 AM EDT

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, the rhetoric.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is pushing for the upcoming 2013 budget to include items that would further beef-up the Pentagon's ability to fight a war with Iran. Carlo Munoz at The Hill's defense blog reports:

Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is spearheading an effort to pump defense dollars into a specific slate of weapons and programs that could be used in a potential conflict with Tehran.

On Tuesday, the California Republican refused to back down from that plan, even if it could further inflame tensions between the two countries. "We are doing what we can to make sure [the United States] is protected…and that is what we are going to do," McKeon told reporters during a briefing on Capitol Hill...[Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio)], chairman of the committee's Strategic Forces sub-panel, added that the United States cannot afford to bet against Iran turning bellicose rhetoric into action.

Right now, it is unclear what programs or weapons systems would be included in the proposed budget items. (McKeon, Turner, and other committee members declined to comment on specifics.) In recent weeks, the United States military has augmented its sea and land defenses in the Persian Gulf to combat any potential efforts by Tehran to shut down the Strait of Hormuz (a loudly publicized threat from the Iranian regime that is, likely, another bluff). This has included expanded surveillance, more mine-detection technology, and requests for extra shore-launched cruise missiles.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story on a classified war game conducted by Central Command—titled "Internal Look"—that mapped out possible consequences of a preemptive airstrike on Iran by the Israeli military. The two-week exercise held earlier this month yielded some grim hypothetical scenarios, including the retaliatory sinking of a US Navy ship, an initial body count of at least 200 American sailors, and the escalation to a larger regional war.

Fight to Save Paper Dollar Hits DC Subway System

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Tourists riding the subway in Washington this week are likely to see more than just the new cherry blossom stickers newly affixed to the turnstiles. They'll also be getting schooled in one of the more obscure fights going on in Congress right now: whether to replace the dollar bill with a coin.

Opponents of a proposed bill that would replace the paper dollar have bought a raft of advertising in DC Metro stations, including virtually every available billboard at the system's hub at Metro Center, to rally Americans to save the paper dollar. Posters sponsored by "Americans for George" (as in George Washington) cover tunnel walls, imploring people to save the iconoclastic emblem of American heritage.

A quick look at the website for Americans for George suggest that the ads are the joint product of a bunch of laundromats, bowling alleys, vending machine companies and some bars, including one Scalawags Fish & Chips restaurant. But the average laundromat does not have the sort of deep pockets to cover Metro Center in slick ads. Instead, the deep pockets behind the George campaign are those of the Crane paper company, which is best known for making swanky wedding invitations but also manufactures the paper that US currency is printed on.

Crane, which is based in Massachusetts, is an American institution. According to the company, Paul Revere engraved banknotes for the Colony of Massachusetts Bay on Crane paper to help finance the American Revolution. Crane obviously has a big stake in the elimination of the dollar bill, and so it's taken to the streets (or rather, the subway tunnels) to gin up opposition to the proposed law. The company's got a pretty good case to make. For decades, Americans have firmly resisted any efforts to introduce dollar coins into circulation, and new polling data that the Americans for George commissioned from pollster Frank Luntz and others confirms that Americans really hate the dollar coin.

"We Are All Trayvon Martin": Photos and Video from the Million Hoodie March

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 1:24 AM EDT

Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York City Wednesday for the "Million Hoodie March," a memorial of sorts for Trayvon Martin—the teenager gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer in the Orlando, Florida suburb of Sanford. Some carried Skittles and iced tea, as Martin did that night. "My son is your son," Martin's mother, Sabrina Fulton, told the crowd. "This is not about black and white—this is about right and wrong." Tim McDonnell and James West were on the scene, and Josh Harkinson joined the march later on, after it merged with an Occupy Wall Street contingent. Here's what they saw, in video, photos, and tweets.

James' photos of the Million Hoodie March:

 The crowd filled Times Square, chanting and mic-checking.

 Nysheva Starr after leading the crowd in a passionate speech (see video).

The march made its way down Broadway, a large police contingent always nearby.

Most protesters wore hoodies, the garment that neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman said made him suspicious of Martin.

Among the chants: "We Are All Trayvon Martin." 

 Later in the evening, the march headed toward Union Square, where a contingent of Occupy Wall Street protesters had already settled in. Josh Harkinson explains: 

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The NRA Wants the Law Protecting Trayvon Martin's Killer in All 50 States

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 6:27 PM EDT

The National Rifle Association continues to press more states to adopt Florida-style "stand your ground" laws like the one that's made it difficult to prosecute George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in late February. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense despite the fact that Martin was unarmed. Since "stand your ground" laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force—even if they have an opportunity, as Zimmerman did, to safely avoid a confrontation—Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged. (If you haven't heard about the Martin case, get the full rundown in our explainer.)

The proliferation of these laws is part of a deliberate lobbying campaign by the NRA. In 2005, at the NRA's urging, Florida became the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law. Before that, most states required you to retreat from a confrontation unless you were inside your own home. Now 25 states have these "stand your ground" laws, which critics call "shoot first" laws (Gawker's pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko" calls the laws "a great, legally roving murder bubble") because they authorize citizens to use deadly force even if the person who makes them feel threatened is, like Martin, unarmed. Here's a map of the current situation:

Prosecutors hate "stand your ground" laws because they make it much harder to successfully prosecute people who claim self-defense. In Florida, a defendant doesn't have to actually prove he acted in self-defense—the prosecution has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he didn't do so, a very high bar to clear. The upshot? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Times reported that "justifiable homicides"—i.e., killings that were deemed legitimate—have skyrocketed in Florida over several years since the "stand your ground" law went into effect:

That's how you end up with stories with headlines like "How to Get Away With Murder." But the NRA continues to forge ahead, pushing to expand the legislation to even more states.

On March 1, just days after Martin was killed, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action posted a blog post urging Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to sign a bill bringing a Florida-style law to his state. Dayton vetoed the bill, noting that law enforcement officials had complained it would make it harder for them to do their jobs. Over at Media Matters, Matt Gertz notes several other examples of the NRA pushing these laws in recent weeks:

  • On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on "NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement." According to NRA-ILA, the bill would "remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present." The group urged supporters to contact state senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they "left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills" on February 29.
  • On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed "important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be." NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5March 8, and February 29

The Massachusetts legislature's joint committee on the judiciary held a hearing on yet another similar law in February.

WATCH: David Corn Talking "Showdown" on MSNBC's Morning Joe

Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:52 PM EDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday morning to discuss his new book, Showdown, which gives an inside account of President Obama's battles with the GOP, beginning with the game-changing 2010 midterm elections and ending with the beginning of the 2012 campaign season. Corn was joined on the panel by Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, to discuss the lame duck session, the failed Grand Bargain, the Tea Party, and more.

We've published two excerpts from Showdown: one about the tense night at the White House during the bin Laden raid and another about Obama's plan to win reelection.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter.

Beck's Website Calls Trayvon Martin "The Aggressor"

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:51 PM EDT
An undated photo of Trayvon Martin.

The right-wing reaction to the shooting of of Trayvon Martin has been mercifully muted. George Zimmerman, who followed Martin through the streets of an Orlando suburb believing he "was up to no good," claims he was acting in self-defense. But the evidence suggest that Zimmerman provoked a confrontation with the unarmed Martin, who was out to grab a snack while watching the NBA All-Star game.  

As my colleague Kevin Drum notes, Fox News has almost completely avoided the story, doing one segment between Martin's death and March 19. National Review published a thoughtful piece this morning by Robert VerBruggen calling for Florida's self-defense laws to be altered so they protect individuals genuinely acting in self-defense rather than vigilantes. 

Yet The Blaze, the website started by former Fox News host Glenn Beck, has lived up to its founder's penchant for reactionary racial paranoia. One post attacking Al Sharpton for criticizing local police for not arresting Zimmerman posits that Martin was once suspended from school for being tardy. The post then speculates that Martin could really have been suspended for any number of reasons, and offers a list that includes "armed robbery," "arson," "kidnapping" or "sexual battery" among others. (Perhaps even for Beck's audience a black kid being late to school may not be enough to justify summary execution.) While Zimmerman stated at the very beginning of his call to the police that Martin "looks black," the Blaze post interprets this to mean that "the audio weakens the racism charge, as it shows that Zimmerman was already suspicious of the teen before he could tell what race he was." The post goes to excruciating lengths to rationalize away the possible racial elements at play, while groping for some implicit justification for Martin's death.

The post's original URL (tawana-brawley-2-0-al-sharpton-sides-with-aggressor-in-self-defense-case) refers to Martin as the "aggressor," despite the fact that the police call establishes that Zimmerman chased down Martin rather than the other way around. The post also compares the situation to the 1987 Tawana Brawley case, which involved a young black woman who falsely accused several white men of rape—the incident that first brought Sharpton to national prominence. The comparison implies that the outrage over Martin's death exists solely to substantiate a groundless charge of racism against white people who are, let's face it, the real victims here. 

That doesn't mean The Blaze doesn't take racism seriously. After all, it does offer a lengthy post, complete with photographs, on the threat by the New Black Liberation Militia (no, I haven't heard of them before, either) to take Zimmerman into custody and turn him over to federal authorities. Buried down towards the bottom of the post, following several slideshows of black people in uniforms holding guns, is the recognition that "Martin may have been attacked, rather than the reverse." It's a matter of priorities—acknowledging the possibility that a teenager might have been murdered because he was black just doesn't warrant the kind of urgency that mocking Al Sharpton or highlighting a publicity-seeking black militia does. 

The black militia story is only the third most popular story on The Blaze at the moment, however. Ahead of it are two stories on Malia Obama's trip to Mexico.

Term-Limit Vigilantes Strike Again in Illinois

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 12:02 PM EDT
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)

It was sort of buried under the news of Mitt Romney's—surprise!—blowout victory in the Illinois primary, but there was another election on Tuesday with national implications: In Illinois' newly configured 16th congressional district, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger knocked off 10-term incumbent Don Manzullo by double digits to the win the GOP nomination. Manzullo was expected to retire after redistricting but ran anyway, and was opposed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose Young Guns super-PAC chipped in $50,000 in radio ads. So Kinzinger's win shouldn't come as a total surprise.

But what's interesting in this case is the involvement of the the Campaign for Primary Accountability, the anti-incument super-PAC I profiled earlier this month. Chaired by Texas construction magnate Leo Linbeck III, the goal of CFPA is to fund primary challenges to longtime incumbents, regardless of party. The group spent $200,000 on ads attacking Manzullo for, among other things, voting to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. CFPA has now been a factor in six House races—seven, if you count the preemptive retirement of Indiana pumpkinshooter Dan Burton (R)—and been on the winning side of three of them, knocking off Ohio GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt in addition to Manzullo and Burton. (In the other Illinois primary of note on Tuesday, CFPA-backed challenger Debbie Halvorson lost handily to Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.)

Kinzinger would have challenged Manzullo anyway, super-PAC backing or not; his alternative was to run against Jackson in a heavily Democratic district which includes Chicago's South Side. But midway through the primary campaign, the CFPA is happy to take credit.

"We fell in all six races we've accomplished our purpose—we've increased turnout, we've increased participation in the primary process, and we've made these races more competitive," says Curtis Ellis, the super-PAC's spokesman. "If you look even at last Tuesday's results [in Alabama], [GOP incumbent] Spencer Bacchus spent $1.6 million contacting voters. That's something he hasn't done in this century! His vote totals were 59 percent. That's the lowest he has ever received. His challengers got 41 percent of the vote. That's a more competitive election than that district has ever seen since Spencer Bacchus took office in 1992. Our success has never been measured in candidates being defeated. Our success is measured in how competitive these elections are. And in all cases, they're more competitive than they've ever been."

The group plans to release a new list of incumbent targets on Thursday; long-tenured congressmen from safe seats are officially on notice.