Mojo - May 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 17, 2012

Thu May 17, 2012 10:39 AM EDT

First Lt. Daniel Loeffler, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, drives a Lightweight Tactical All Terrain Vehicle on Forward Operating Base Warrior, May 12, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Loeffler is a logistics officer for 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

West Virginia Funds Pro-Coal Attack on Obama Admin.

| Thu May 17, 2012 10:24 AM EDT

A group called The Coal Forum is hosting a slate of events in Charleston, West Virginia next week focused on criticizing President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency's "War on Coal."

The events will feature Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R), Nick Rahall (D), and David McKinley (R), as well as United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts. But some in the state might be surprised to learn that they, the taxpayers, are paying for the anti-Obama events, as Ken Ward Jr. reports:

You see, the Coal Forum is kind of a creature of state statute. Check out W.Va. Code 22A-6-7. Generally, this is a section of law concerning state mine safety boards and technical committees related to those boards. But it includes a little bit of language that charges the State Coal Mine Safety and Technical Review Committee with this duty:
Provide a forum for the resolution of technical issues encountered by the board, safety education and coal advocacy programs.
Over the last two years, the state Legislature (and the governor) have specifically earmarked nearly $60,000 for the "Coal Forum" (see here and here).

It's not surprising that the coal industry is down on Obama. But there aren't many states where the industry would have direct state support in advancing that agenda.

FLASHBACK: Bobby Jindal's Exorcism Problem

| Thu May 17, 2012 9:38 AM EDT
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

In an op-ed for Politico on Wednesday, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist called on presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to select Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as his running mate. That came just a week after former Bush speechwriter David Frum penned a piece for CNN entitled "Bobby Jindal for Vice President." Scott Conroy captured the emeging zeitgeist with a profile of Jindal for Real Clear Politics in which he reported that, after "private conversations with people close to both Romney and Jindal," there were plenty of reasons to believe" that Jindal could be our next vice president. Phil Klein at the Washington Examiner says Jindal is "hands down" the best to be Romney's running mate. Jindal Fever: catch it!

Criticism of Jindal—aside from his dodgy health care privatization scheme, support for an Arizona-style immigration law, and fierce opposition to reproductive rights—tends to center on an awkward State of Union repsonse he delivered three years ago. This is dumb because most people didn't watch it, and anyway, there's basically no dignified way to rebut a State of the Union. (For one thing, unlike the President's speech, there's no one there to applaud.)

A much bigger reason why Jindal won't be Romney's running mate is the exorcism he conducted.

No, really. Jindal himself wrote about the experience in 1994 for the New Oxford Review, in an article entitled "Beating a Demon: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare." The short of it is that, while Jindal was an undergraduate, his close friend, Susan, with whom he had maintained a wholly non-romantic relationship, began acting strange. One might attribute this to the fact that she was undergoing treatment for cancer. Jindal assumed she had been possessed. A sample:

Maybe she sensed our weariness; whether by plan or coincidence, Susan chose the perfect opportunity to attempt an escape. She suddenly leapt up and ran for the door, despite the many hands holding her down. This burst of action served to revive the tired group of students and they soon had her restrained once again, this time half kneeling and half standing. Alice, a student leader in Campus Crusade for Christ, entered the room for the first time, brandishing a crucifix. Running out of options, UCF had turned to a rival campus Christian group for spiritual tactics. The preacher had denied our request for assistance and recommended that we not confront the demon; his suggestion was a little late. I still wonder if the good preacher was too settled to be roused from bed, or if this supposed expert doubted his own ability to confront whatever harassed Susan.

...

The crucifix had a calming effect on Susan, and her sister was soon brave enough to bring a Bible to her face. At first, Susan responded to biblical passages with curses and profanities. Mixed in with her vile attacks were short and desperate pleas for help. In the same breath that she attacked Christ, the Bible's authenticity, and everyone assembled in prayer, Susan would suddenly urge us to rescue her. It appeared as if we were observing a tremendous battle between the Susan we knew and loved and some strange evil force. But the momentum had shifted and we now sensed that victory was at hand.

College, right?

The problem for Jindal going forward is that the absolute last thing that Romney wants, as the first-ever Mormon presidential nominee from a major party, is to spend even more time talking about a religious tradition that many Americans view with suspicion.

And now, back to not writing about the veepstakes.

Joe Ricketts, Government Handout Hypocrite

| Thu May 17, 2012 8:16 AM EDT

The New York Times won the morning on Thursday with an A1 story on a new anti-Obama super-PAC, Character Matters, that's planning on spending $10 million on an ad campaign linking President Obama—a "metrosexual, black Abraham Lincoln"—to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Character Matters is hoping to get either Jon Voight or an "extremely literate conservative African-American" to narrate the spots, which would be produced by GOP ad guru Fred Davis (of "Demon Sheep" fame).

The money for all of this comes from Joe Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade founder, Bison Burgers baron, and, with his family, owner of the Chicago Cubs. Ricketts solidified his status as a campaign finance heavyweight when spent $600,000 in the last month of the election to try to take down Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010. Since then, he's launched a campaign to eliminate earmarks, given $500,000 to the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability, and, earlier this month, spent $200,000 helping state Sen. Deb Fischer win the GOP Senate primary in his home state of Nebraska. (Ricketts' son, Peter, is a former US Senate candidate and a member of the Republican National Committee.) Ricketts is sick and tired of wasteful spending—so much so that the briefing book outlining the Wright ad is actually entitled "The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good."

But Ricketts' time with the Chicago Cubs tells a different story. Since the Ricketts Family Trust acquired the team two years ago, they have actively sought to use taxpayer money to expand their own business operations. As CBS Chicago reported in April:

The Cubs want to use $200 million in public funds to construct the long-planned Triangle Building along Clark Street in front of the ballpark. The Triangle Building would house team offices, a restaurant and parking, and would feature a Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame, a Cubs Pro Shop, and new ticket windows.

The only structure on the "triangle" site, the former Yum-Yum Donuts building, was torn down two years ago. Part of the site is now used as an ice rink during the winter months.

The Ricketts family also wants to use amusement tax revenue to fund the renovation, but Mayor Emanuel has not said whether he supports that plan.

In addition to using local amusement tax funds that might otherwise be spent shoring up actual public services, the Ricketts family is seeking a large federal subsidy to pay for a renovation of Wrigley Field. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported:

Ricketts also is seeking another public subsidy that is often overlooked in debates about publicly financed sports stadiums, according to economists. That's the federal subsidy that arises when a stadium is financed with tax-exempt bonds...

The exemption can result in a large subsidy. The municipal-bond market has been a mess lately, but let's assume a 2 percentage-point differential between tax-exempt and market interest rates. A $225 million stadium renovation financed 100 percent with 30-year tax-exempt bonds, assuming an equal portion of the principal is retired every year, would result in interest savings of $37.7 million, according to Dennis Zimmerman, a retired economist who studied the economics of stadiums at the Congressional Budget Office.

In fairness, "End the Spending—But Only When That Money is Being Spent on Other People" would be a terrible name for a super-PAC.

Update: Ricketts has released a statement calling the spot "merely a proposal—one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors," and disavowing its contents.

Update II: You can read my colleague Adam Serwer's take on the l'affaire d'Ricketts here.

The Charts TED Doesn't Want to Share

| Wed May 16, 2012 7:16 PM EDT

If you want to learn about topics like climate change, sex slavery, global poverty, or solving the world's problems with video games, there's a TED talk for you. But income inequality in the United States? Keep looking. National Journal's Jim Tankersley reported today that the wonkfest's organizers decided not to post the video of a TED presentation by a venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer, who'd spoken about how the American middle class has been left behind:

"We've had it backward for the last 30 years," [Hanauer] said. "Rich businesspeople like me don't create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That's why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich."

You can't find that speech online. TED officials told Hanauer initially they were eager to distribute it. "I want to put this talk out into the world!" one of them wrote him in an e-mail in late April. But early this month they changed course, telling Hanauer that his remarks were too "political" and too controversial for posting.

TED curator Chris Anderson* emailed Hanauer that while "I personally share your disgust at the growth in inequality in the US," he felt that posting the talk would lead to "a tedious partisan rehash of all the arguments we hear every day in the mainstream media."

Tankersley has posted the text and slides from Hanauer's talk. A couple of his charts will be familiar to MoJo readers—we originally published them as part of our packages on income inequality and the workplace speed-up.

 

Want to borrow our charts for your own alternative TED talk? Go for it—we've posted downloadable versions of the most popular ones here. Let the tedious partisan rehash begin!

Updates, 5/17/12: On his blog, TED's Chris Anderson has responded to what he calls the "non-story" about Hanauer's talk. He says it was not posted on the TED home page because it didn't meet its standards: "It framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance. The audience at TED who heard it live (and who are often accused of being overly enthusiastic about left-leaning ideas) gave it, on average, mediocre ratings."

Here's the actual talk, which Hanauer put on YouTube. You'll see that some audience members gave him a standing ovation.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Chris Anderson is also Wired's editor-in-chief. The sentence has been corrected.

Scott Walker Pulls Ahead in New Recall Poll

| Wed May 16, 2012 2:09 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has stretched his recall election lead over Democrat Tom Barrett to six percentage points, according to a new poll by Marquette University's Law School. Walker leads 50 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, an increase of five points from Marquette's last poll nearly a month ago.

The poll, Marquette's first since the May 8 Democratic primary, finds voter enthusiasm for the recall highest among Republicans, even though it was progressives and Democrats who triggered the recall election. An overwhelming majority—91 percent—of GOPers surveyed said they're "absolutely certain" to vote in the June 5 election; 8 in 10 Democrats and independents said the same. In addition, 6 in 10 GOP respondents said they'd tried to convince another person to vote in the recall, while just over 5 in 10 Democrats said the same. Democrats, however, are more likely to have been contacted by a campaign than Republicans.

Charles Franklin, Marquette Law School's poll director, said in a statement that a key takeaway is that Republicans hold the crucial edge in voter enthusiasm with the June 5 election weeks away. "In a close election with so few undecided voters," he said, "enthusiasm, turnout, and campaign contact with voters may make the difference."

The poll also found that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were deadlocked in Wisconsin, 46-46. Last month, Obama held a four point lead over Romney, 49-45.

The Marquette poll surveyed 704 registered voters in Wisconsin. The margin of error for the survey was about 4 percent.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Hot Scoop: "Obama Didn't Write His Own Love Letters"

| Wed May 16, 2012 10:53 AM EDT

President Barack Obama does pushups, for some reason.

On the vast list of right-wing conspiracy theories about President Obama—he's Malcolm X's illegitimate son; he was photoshopped into the iconic Situation Room photo; his memoir was ghost-written by Bill Ayers; he's people!—this new bit of muckraking from conspiracy cauldron WorldNetDaily deserves a place of honor on the mantle.

According to Jack Cashill, "an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue," President Obama didn't simply have Bill Ayers ghost-write his memoir—he had someone ghost-write love letters to his college girlfriend too:

In a recent Vanity Fair excerpt, [David] Maraniss reprints two extended excerpts from one of those letters. I believe that these letters were volunteered to Maraniss to impress the kind of people who read the New York Times.

If so, the Times took the bait. Reporter Adam Hirsch gushes over the young Obama's "literary sensibility" and his "ironic, literary mind." Although regretting that Obama’s “authenticity” has not made him a transformative figure, Hirsch remains "certain" that Obama “has it in him to produce the best post-presidential memoir ever – if he is willing to let that unguarded early voice speak again."

What Hirsch refuses to question is whether that "unguarded early voice" is Obama's own.

Among other things, Cashill wonders why Maraniss hasn't produced original copies of the love letters: "In 1982-1983, when the Vanity Fair letters were written, college students did not use word processors. If they typed, they did so on a typewriter. The odds are that this letter, if an original, was not typed." And why, he asks, were Obama's letters so erudite and coherent when his other writing reveal him to be a bumbling nincompoop?

Nowhere in "Dreams" is there any mention of T.S. Eliot, Münzer or Yeats, or any of the themes in this letter that so excited Adam Hirsch. As Obama tells it, he and his pals "discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy." This I can believe.

Totally missing from "Dreams," too, are the more exotic words in the letter to McNear: ecstatic, mechanistic, asexual, stoical, moribund, reactionary, fertility, dichotomy, irreconcilable, ambivalence, plus "hazard" and "counter" used as verbs, as in "I will hazard these statements" and "Counter him with Yeats and Pound."

Cashill's argument is, of course, foolproof. One small quibble, though: If Dreams from my Father was—as WorldNetDaily has already established—ghost-written, we can hardly use that as an example of Obama's sub-par writing standards. The plot thickens.

Report: MEK to Be Taken off US Terror List

| Wed May 16, 2012 10:39 AM EDT
MEK supporters rally in front of the US State Department on August 26, 2011.

Months of lobbying by prominent Democrats and Republicans and an assist from a high-powered lobbying firm that specializes in sanitizing the records of dictators seem to have paid off for Mujahideen-e-Khalq. The Obama administration is preparing to remove the Iranian exile group from the State Department's official list of terrorist organizations, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday:

The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department's terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington's relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program.

The exile organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK, was originally named as a terrorist entity 15 years ago for its alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein against Tehran.

De-listing MEK comes at an opportune time for several high-profile public officials. A number of former officials who allegedly recieved money in exchange for advocating for MEK are reportedly the targets of a federal inquiry into whether they violated US anti-terrorism laws, which forbid even non-violent advocacy on behalf of listed terrorist groups. MEK has American blood on its hands, but today the group is reportedly a huge help to Israel in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists—perhaps part of the reason it is being delisted. Memo to terror groups: If you want to get off the US terrorism list, make sure you kill the "right" civilians and offer generous speaking fees. 

This whole affair hints at a double standard in enforcement: High profile politicians can advocate for listed terror groups without fear, but someone like Tarek Mehanna, the Bostonian who was convicted of material support for terrorism in part for posting Al Qaeda propaganda on the Internet, can look forward to long prison terms.

Dark Money Deluge: Crossroads GPS Unveils $25 Million Ad Campaign

| Wed May 16, 2012 9:55 AM EDT
Crossroads GPS' new ad hammering President Barack Obama.

Crossroads GPS, the deep-pocketed nonprofit created by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, announced Wednesday that it plans to pump $25 million into a new ad campaign running in ten battleground states including Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The group's announcement is a direct response to the Obama campaign's pledge earlier this month to spend $25 million on ads this month. 

The first phase of Crossroads' blitz will be a two-week run of the ad "Obama's Promise," which slams the president for supposedly failing to fulfill promises to help struggling homeowners, cut the deficit, and not raise taxes on working and middle class families. Crossroads says it will spend an initial $8 million on this push.

Here's the ad:

To the average viewer, this spot resembles an open attack on President Obama. No one watching it would consider it anything but a call to vote for Obama's opponent. But there's a catch. Because the ad doesn't tell viewers to "vote for Mitt Romney" or oppose Obama in the November election, it is not considered an overtly political ad. It is instead known as "issue advocacy."

Here's why that distinction matters. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Crossroads GPS can engage in politicking, but that can't be the majority of what it does. Its focus, the law says, must be on promoting "social welfare" by discussing issues like debt, taxes, military spending, etc. And so when Crossroads runs so-called "issue" ads like "Obama's Promise," it allows them to bash Obama while staying on the right side of the law. Crossroads' tax status also allows the group to keep secret its donors.

Make no mistake: this sort of dark money double-whammy is something you'll see much, much more of between now and November.

The Chamber of Commerce's Dark Money Days May Be Over

| Wed May 16, 2012 7:24 AM EDT

In the annals of loopholes, one that the Federal Election Commission, the nation's election watchdog, created in 2008 could rank as one of the most absurd. The FEC's Republican commissioners decided that shadowy nonprofits running political ads (think: the US Chamber of Commerce) could hide the identities of people who donate more than $1,000, as long as those donors didn't earmark their money for a specific ad. So, for instance, a donor couldn't say, "I want you to run an ad attacking Nancy Pelosi next Monday at 7 p.m. on NBC." Donors and political operatives are not idiots, of course, and figured out how to capitalize on the loophole by just giving that money without specific requests, allowing groups like the Chamber to keep more and more donations in the dark.

But those days could be over. In March, a district judge ruled that the FEC's loophole broke the law, and on Monday night, the Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit rejected a request to stay the ruling. It goes into effect now. The decision deals a blow to dark-money politics, while delivering reformers and transparency lovers a big win. "The American people have a right to know who is bankrolling the ads that are designed to influence their votes," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the lead plaintiff in the case challenging the loophole, said in a statement. "In its decision to deny the stay of the lower Court's ruling, the Court of Appeals has signaled that the public interest is best served by increased donor disclosure."

The appeals court's decision on Monday could impact a slew of powerful political nonprofits spending big bucks in the 2012 elections. That includes Crossroads GPS, the brainchild of Karl Rove; Americans for Prosperity, which receives funding from the Koch brothers; and the Chamber of Commerce, which spent $32.9 million on the 2010 elections.

Dragging dark money into the sunlight is no small matter, either. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, conservative nonprofits such as Rove's Crossroads GPS have already spent $121 million in the 2012 cycle without naming who funded the ads. Overall campaign spending by dark money groups has spiked from 1 percent to 47 percent since the 2006 midterm elections. And in the 2010 elections, 72 percent of political ad buys by independent groups came from sources that had been banned from spending any money at all back in 2006. A recent UPI headline summed up the state of things before Monday's ruling quite nicely: "2012 election drowning in secret money."