Mojo - April 2012

Survey: Jewish Voters Still Heart Obama

| Tue Apr. 3, 2012 9:10 AM PDT
President Obama at the White House Seder in 2010.

The Public Religion Research Institute released the results of its comprehensive survey of American Jews on Tuesday. The group found that President Barack Obama retains "nearly identical to levels of support...among Jewish registered voters" to "a comparable point in the 2008 campaign." That's despite incessant, unending, shrieking speculation that Obama's fumbled attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would cause American Jews—one of the most liberal demographics in the country—to suddenly decide they're anti-abortion rights or want to see Social Security privatized.

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GSA Administrator Resigns Over Hiring a Clown, Other Excesses

| Tue Apr. 3, 2012 8:09 AM PDT

This actually happened:

The chief of the General Services Administration is resigning and two of her top deputies have been fired amid reports of excessive spending at a training conference at a luxury hotel that featured a mind reader, a clown and a comedian.

(To see the collective Obama administration reaction to this behavior, click here.)

One of the main reasons the GSA exists is to develop government-wide cost-minimizing policies. Clearly, something went wrong.

Around 300 GSA employees attended the training conference, which took place at the four-star M Resort Spa Casino hotel outside Las Vegas in late 2010. Organizers blew $835,000 on the event, including nearly $150,000 in plane tickets and lodging for six "planning trips" made by the organizers. According to the Washington Post, some other expenses included "$3,200 for a mind reader; $6,300 on commemorative coin set displayed in velvet boxes and $75,000 on a training exercise to build a bicycle."

Over the years, conservatives have made it their thing to portray government as a bloated organ of inefficiency and reckless spending. Hell, they popularized the myth of the Obama Justice Department's "$16 muffin" to make the point about unelected bureaucrats blowing your hard-earned tax dollars on frivolous luxury items. But not even Matt Drudge's wildest fantasies ever rose to the level of government officials hiring Vegas mindreaders and juggling jesters. It won't take long for this humiliation to emerge as the next big meme on the anti-government right.

Ryan J. Reilly at Talking Points Memo has a solid rundown of some other "over the top" gems from the Vegas trip. Here's the GSA inspector general's report on the scandal:

Final Management Deficiency Report_WRC_2012 April 2 (508 Compliant)

Mitt Romney and Trees: The Continuing Saga

| Tue Apr. 3, 2012 7:45 AM PDT
GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney thinks about trees while holding a doughnut.

Politico's Mike Allen and Evan Thomas are out with the latest installment of their behind-the-scenes account of the 2012 race, and I'd encourage you to check it out if you're into that kind of thing. By now you may have already heard the book's biggest revelation—that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was heavily dosed with painkillers prior to the October Bloomberg debate in New Hampshire, prompting him to do things like walk into the men's room whistling "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and then stand at a urinal "companionably close by" a rival campaign manager. Which, honestly, explains a lot.

There's also this stirring defense of Mitt Romney, by his son, Tagg:

"In his spare time, he wants to solve problems," Tagg Romney said in an interview. "He wants to figure out, when he comes over to your house, he wants to figure out, 'Well, your boiler's not working. How are we going to fix the boiler?' and 'Have you noticed that some of your trees are dying out there? Why are your trees dying? What's causing that? Can we figure that out, and can we go down to the hardware store and see if they've got something to fix that?' And all of a sudden you see him driving a tractor in your backyard, and he's pulling stuff up.

He's like, 'Oh, these rocks were doing that.' I mean, that's just who he is."

[Emphasis added.] There are a couple ways of looking at this. The high-brow take is that Romney, as Ben Wallace-Wells put it in New York Magazine, is a consultant to the core, forever looking for ways to make things—like the health care system—work better. (This is either the best or worst thing about Romney, depending on where you stand.)

The low-brow take is that Mitt Romney's fixation with trees goes even deeper than previously thought. Consider:

  • His bizarre habit of attempting to identify the various species of trees when speaking at outdoor campaign events. From a piece I filed in South Carolina:  "'Gosh, it's great to be in South Carolina. What kind of tree is that?,' he says. It's a laurel oak. A few people shout from the audience, and Mitt apparently finds the answer that makes the least amount of sense and rolls with it: 'It's a Mitt Romney tree. Okay!'"
  • His repeated insistence that in Michigan "the trees are the right height" (this turns out to be factually correct).

He is our generation's John Muir.

Corn on "Hardball": Obama's Rise In Swing State Polls

Tue Apr. 3, 2012 7:41 AM PDT

On Monday, MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn chatted with guest host Michael Smerconish on MSNBC's Hardball about Obama's recent uptick in swing state polls.

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

Romney Adviser Blasts Government Investigation, Says Bring It On

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 3:45 PM PDT
MEK rally on August 26.

Last December, Mitt Romney claimed that he had never heard of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian dissident group that's drawn prominent American defenders despite being labeled by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

Romney's ignorance was surprising: Mitchell Reiss, his foreign policy adviser and a known Mujahedin-e-Khalq supporter, had spoken at a MEK rally just the previous weekend.  Now it's another adviser to his campaign, Michael Mukasey, who's voicing his support for the MEK. At an event in Paris last week, the former Attorney General spoke passionately against a recent Treasury Department investigation into the terrorist group.

Last month, Treasury delivered subpoenas to speaking agencies that count several high-profile figures and MEK advocates as clients, including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former Department of Homeland Security head Tom Ridge, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton. The subpoenas demand payment records from speeches given by the figures—records which might detail MEK payments to its backers. 

Neo-Confederates Freak Out About Ru Paul Museum Display

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 2:44 PM PDT
Ru Paul.

The South has risen again—against Ru Paul.

The freakout began, as many such freakouts do, over a museum display. On Saturday, the new Appomattox, Virginia branch of the Museum of Confederate History had its grand opening, with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and the ceremonial flag-raising of the 14 states in the Confederacy. It all seemed innocuous enough. But as the blog Southern Heritage Alerts explained, there was trouble. Just a few days earlier, a "flagger" (Lost Cause jargon for someone who publicly displays the Confederate flag) went on a "recon" mission to the museum a few days before its official grand opening and spotted a life-size image of VH1 star Ru Paul dressed in a bedazzled Confederate flag dress. (Here's a photo.)

Immediately, Lost Causers sprang into action. "This is Waite Rawls flipping the bird to all Southerners," read one characteristic blog comment, referring to the museum's director. "You must get in 'these peoples' face and spit and spit again!," read another. "Kid gloves ain't gonna work with this trash!!!! They spit on YOU and YOUR heritage everyday!!!!" Another commenter wondered aloud, "How could this have been allowed to happen even for a soft opening to me it is both hateful and disrespectful not alone what were small children to make of this." The Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of the nation's leading Neo-Confederate groups, put out a statement blasting the display.

Finally, the Washington Times, the paper of record for this kind of thing, got to the bottom of the story after talking to Rawls himself:

When reached, Mr. Rawls acknowledged that the Ru Paul likeness was up "for about six hours, and then taken down for good." He said it was someone's idea for an eye-catching example of the way a flag can be improperly used, but early "soft opening" visitors wasted no time in making their strong objections known, and the display was removed. He laughingly said it might be used for lining chicken coops in the future.

Fortunately it was no longer in evidence on Wednesday when some sixty students, parents and teachers from the Appomattox County School system became some of the first invited guests to enjoy the new facility.

So there you have it. The sons and daughters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have been saved from the prospect of seeing the Confederate flag desecrate Ru Paul.

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Feds Raid Oaksterdam University

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 12:15 PM PDT
Higher education: Oaksterdam

This morning, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, US Marshals Service, and Internal Revenue Service served a warrant on Oaksterdam University, a trade school in Oakland, California, for medical marijuana growers. Local pot activist Richard Lee, the founder of "America's first cannabis college," was reportedly detained briefly at his home as the feds began to confiscate documents and pot from the school and a dispensary affiliated with him.

The raid is the latest setback for local "hempreneurs" who'd planned to make Oakland into a mecca for above-ground pot cultivation and commerce. Last year, after the city council voted to approve four industrial-scale grow operations projected to net up to $7.7 million in yearly tax revenue, the Justice Department warned the city attorney that they would be considered "illegal, large-scale pot growing operations, with Oakland planning to get a cut of the illicit profits." The city council gave in, voting 7-1 to put the plans on hold. (For more on the city's pot-induced dreams, check out Josh Harkinson's profile of the guys behind the would-be grower superstore Weedmart.)

The Oaksterdam raid isn't a surprise considering the Obama administration's about-face on medical marijuana. The president campaigned on the promise that he'd stop federal raids on medical marijuana operations that were in compliance with state laws, a vow that Attorney General Eric Holder repeated after the election. But then the Obama administration raided more than 100 dispensaries in its first three years and is now poised to outpace the Bush administration's crackdown record.

The precise cause of the Oaksterdam raid is not immediately clear. Also unclear is whether any charges against Lee would extend beyond medical marijuana production to drug selling or tax issues. (Back taxes are dogging Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the West Coast's largest dispensary.) Yet targeting someone as high profile as Lee sends a strong signal that the feds don't think California's medical marijuana laws shield the state's growers.

"Medicine is not a crime! DEA, go away!" protesters chanted outside Oaksterdam as they passed around a "protest doobie" earlier today. Later, city Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told reporters that law enforcement should focus its resources on violent crime. "We have not had crime or violence associated with our dispensaries, and that's because they've been tightly regulated," she said. At least one protester was reportedly arrested after a clash with police, and riot police are now on the scene.

Occupy Oakland livestreamer @OaktownPirate has been reporting from Oaksterdam with the citizen journalism outfit Team Oaktown Live: 


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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 1, 2012

Mon Apr. 2, 2012 8:10 AM PDT

US Army 1st Sgt. Michael Strate (right), C-Battery, 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Spartan Steel, prepares to transport the M777 howitzer from Forward Operating Base Salerno to Combat Outpost Chamkani, March 28, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

Bomb Explodes at Wisconsin Planned Parenthood (Updates)

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 7:41 AM PDT

A small homemade bomb exploded outside of a Planned Parenthood office in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, on Sunday evening, local media reported. The explosive device, which was placed on a window sill, went off and started a small fire that triggered alarms and brought the local fire department to the scene. There were no reported injuries, and the building was closed at the time. Local police are investigating.

The office that was attacked is now "temporarily closed," according to the welcome recording on its voicemail system. I've put in a request for comment to Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Wisconsin. I'll update this post if she responds. I've also asked the local police department for more details and will update if I hear back.

UPDATE, 12:30 p.m. EST: Talking Points Memo reports that the FBI has joined the investigation.

UPDATE 2, 1:30 p.m. EST: Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has issued a short statement via Twitter:

Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support and concern. Last night our Appleton center was vandalized w/ a homemade explosive device. No staff or patients were injured. The Appleton health center will reopen tomorrow. Our primary concern today—as always—is our patients, staff and volunteers.

Teri Huyck, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, issued a longer statement via the group's website.

UPDATE 3, 4:00 p.m. EST: Talking Points Memo reports that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which is charged with investigating violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, is also probing the bombing incident.

Corn on Maddow: Why Romney's Latest Obama Attack Won't Work

| Sun Apr. 1, 2012 7:14 PM PDT

Corn talks with Rachel Maddow about why Mitt Romney is going to be as unsuccessful attacking President Obama on foreign policy grounds as he has been attacking him on the presidency.