Mojo - May 2012

Americans Elect's Enthusiasm Gap

| Thu May 10, 2012 3:01 AM EDT

Nearly two years ago, former junk-bond financier Peter Ackerman founded Americans Elect in hopes of fielding an independent presidential candidate in 2012. The organization's big idea was that a diverse field of contenders would compete in a series of online caucuses, bypassing the party system and "politics as usual." The resulting "nonpartisan" ticket, consisting of a Democrat and a Republican, would seize the popular imagination and the rest would be history.

Yet by last week, not a single candidate had qualified for Americans Elect's first online caucus, forcing the group to push it back to May 15. This week, after a midnight deadline passed on Tuesday morning and there were still no qualified candidates, the caucus was moved again, to May 22.

This isn't Americans Elect's first stumble. It got off to a rocky start when it switched from being a 527 group, which must disclose its donors, to a secretive 501(c)(4), a dark-money group that does not. Campaign finance watchdogs say the group is actually a political party and should be registered as such. In March, AE quietly changed its bylaws so that no single donor could cover more than 20 perecent of its total budget, meaning that future small donors would be reimbursing the group's wealthy angels. Its website does not accept donations over $10,000. Ackerman, who has reportedly contributed $8 million of AE's $40 million budget, says the new rules will ensure that big donors don't unduly influence the process.

And then there's the question of whether AE can effectively challenge the two-party system. "The Democratic and Republican parties have, over the years, been able to build huge barriers to entry for any other organization or individual who wants to compete in the election process," says Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist and member of Americans Elect's board of advisers who spent four months discussing the group with prospective high-profile candidates last fall. Sragow says that every politician he spoke with agreed that the political process was broken and left their meeting with a "high level of comfort" with the group's goal of chipping away at the two-party duopoly. "We briefed one sitting United States senator who said, 'If I was running for reelection, I would vote against myself. The system's gridlocked, and I think we ought to throw everybody out,'" Sragow recalls. "He literally said that." Yet ultimately, every potential candidate was too "risk-adverse" to ditch their party and pursue an independent presidential bid.

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US Soldier Trained Neo-Nazis in Florida for "Race War"

| Wed May 9, 2012 3:53 PM EDT

The 10 members of a Florida-based neo-Nazi militant group arrested last week received training in close-quarters combat and other Army-approved tactics from a member of the US Army National Guard, according to court filings.

The co-conspirators, alleged to be members of the violent white-power American Front, face felony charges for hate crimes, paramilitary training, and preparing for a coming "race war" against blacks, Jews, and immigrants at a fortified compound in the marshlands of St. Cloud, Florida, just south of the amusement-park haven of Orlando. A short paragraph buried in the group's arrest affidavit shows a disturbing link between the Florida gang and a US military employee:

 

Who is Ryan Riley, and how has he been able to lead the life of both a trained American soldier and a card-carrying neo-Nazi? I've reached out to the Missouri National Guard and the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, who booked the Florida conspirators, for comment. Both said they'd get back to me and I'll add an update as soon as they do.

On the phone, the Guard's public affairs officer sounded surprised by the allegations, as if she hadn't heard them before. An Osceola County deputy involved in the case declined to comment about Riley in detail because the investigation—a cooperative effort with state authorities and the FBI—was still open, he said. Riley has "not been caught yet," he said.

We've reported before on military members joining Oathkeepers, a "patriot" group full of tin-foil hat theories and anti-government plans. And many of the nation's most infamous political criminals and terrorists—from Lee Harvey Oswald to Timothy McVeigh to Nidal Malik Hasan—were veterans. But it would be unfair to the majority of conscientious service members to overstate a link between military service and violent radicalism. As conservative military blogger Jonn Lilyea points out, "One guy in the Missouri National Guard doesn't a conspiracy make."

On the other hand, one active soldier with alleged terrorist connections—domestic or otherwise—is one too many. If Riley is in fact using his military know-how to prepare for war with American blacks and Jews, it's fair to ask what the military can do to keep guys like him out of uniform.

Editor's Note: We removed the image originally published with this post; on Wednesday afternoon it had been available for use on Flickr under a Creative Commons license, but its author since changed the license and asked that we no longer use it.

Read the full arrest affidavit:

 


Obama Endorses Marriage Equality…But Not for All

| Wed May 9, 2012 3:43 PM EDT
President Barack Obama signs the certification of the repeal of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in 2011.

On Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama finally evolved into a supporter of same-sex marriage—but only for those Americans who live in states where gay marriage is legal:

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told Roberts, in an interview to appear on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday. Excerpts of the interview will air tonight on ABC's "World News with Diane Sawyer."

The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own. But he said he’s confident that more Americans will grow comfortable with gays and lesbians getting married, citing his own daughters’ comfort with the concept.

A president endorsing, even as a "personal position," marriage equality for gays and lesbians is, as Vice President Joe Biden once said, a big fucking deal. But Obama has endorsed marriage equality federalism—not the notion that marriage for gays and lesbians is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution that can never be taken away. Obama has adopted the same position that Vice President Dick Cheney did in 2004, when Cheney said he believed in marriage equality but that the states should be allowed to decide by a show of hands, as North Carolina did Tuesday, whether gays and lesbians have the same rights as everyone else. 

Cheney served in an administration that was extremely hostile to gay rights. With the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the administration's refusal to defend in court the federal ban on same-sex marriage, and Wednesday's endorsement of same-sex marriage federalism, Obama is the most pro-LGBT rights president in US history. Nevertheless, the position he articulated today accepts the legitimacy of states like North Carolina subjecting the rights of gays and lesbians to a popular vote.

In other words, Obama has left room for more evolution. 

UPDATE: After Obama's announcement, Mother Jones' David Corn spoke with an administration source and asked whether the president recognized gay marriage as a right. The official replied, "He has always said that it is a state issue, and he's not suggesting changing that. He did not support the North Carolina amendment, but he's not saying he will bring up a piece of federal legislation on gay marriage. This is how he feels himself about the issue, and he leaves it to the states."

People to Politicians: Eliminate Super-PACs And We'll Vote For You

| Wed May 9, 2012 2:54 PM EDT

Newsflash: Americans want political candidates who'll get rid of super-PACs and rid our elections of unaccountable dark money. And according to the results of a new poll, they're prepared to vote to make that happen.

That's a key takeaway from a poll unveiled Wednesday by Democracy Corps, the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and Public Campaign Action Fund, which supports curbing the amount of money in politics. Fifty-two percent of those polled, of all political persuasions, said they wouldn't vote for a candidate unless he or she committed to reducing the role of money in politics.

Scott Walker Foes Launch New Barrage Of Recall Ads

| Wed May 9, 2012 11:17 AM EDT

It's day one in the 28-day campaign pitting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker against his newly anointed Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker's enemies on the left are wasting no time shifting the focus back to the governor as they try to galvanize Wisconsinites to vote him out of office on June 5.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) unveiled a new recall ad on Wednesday called "Remember. Recall," that draws heavily on the imagery of the populist uprising in Madison, the state capital, in the winter of 2011. PCCC say it is spending $30,000 on its opening ad volley; the ad will appear on broadcast and cable channels in Madison, including spots during the Colbert Report and the national Sunday news programs.

Here's the ad:

Kansas Takes Critical Step to Protect Kansas From World

| Wed May 9, 2012 11:02 AM EDT

Kansas, 2021 A.D.

United Nations, you're on notice.

Kansas recently became the latest state to take proactive steps to avert a communist–environmentalist takeover. On Monday, a committee in the state house of representatives approved a resolution "opposing and exposing the radical nature of United Nations Agenda 21 and its destructiveness to the principles of the founding documents of the United States of America." Agenda 21, a two-decades-old non-binding agreement that was never ratified by the Senate, is designed to promote sustainable development and responsible environmental stewardship, but in the eyes of conservatives it has morphed into a vehicle for a green dystopia.

Arizona came to close to passing a similar provision last month, but the bill stalled in the legislature. As a Minnesota state senator, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) alleged that Agenda 21 would effectively ban the manufacture of light bulbs. Other activists believe that Agenda 21 will consign Americans to live in petite earthen "Hobbit Houses," and forcibly displace rural residents in the name of biodiversity.

The Topeka Capital Journal reporters that the bill's sponsors, GOP Reps. Greg Smith and Forrest Knox, were just being cautious:

Smith, Knox and Hedke described the nonbinding U.N. agreement signed by 178 nations in 1992 as an unauthorized power grab by radical environmentalists bent on ending private property rights in favor of communism. They said it is pervading local governments and is "an aggressive attack on individual liberty and the foundation of our country."

With the session winding down, it's unclear whether the Agenda 21 resolution will make it to the floor for a vote, but in a GOP-dominated legislature it would stand a good chance of passing. Meanwhile, the legislature is covering all of its bases. The same day it moved the anti-sustainability bill forward, the Kansas House passed—by a vote of 120 to 0—a bill designed to prevent Islamic Shariah law from creeping into state courts. The "Kansas Law for Kansas Courts Act" is nearly identical to bills that have been introduced in two dozen other states.

The silver lining in all of this is that those two votes took up time that could have been spent making legal abortions more expensive and harder to get, but apparently the Kansas House still found a way to do that, too. All in a day's work.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 9, 2012

| Wed May 9, 2012 10:42 AM EDT

Sgt. Joshua Smith, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, chats with an Afghan boy during an Afghan-led clearing operation on April 28, 2012 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. The soldier studied the Pashtun language prior to his deployment to southern Ghazni. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

In Congress, Dem and GOPer Working Together to Change the NDAA

| Wed May 9, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

With Congress getting ready to assemble the next big defense authorization bill, two House members are coming together across party lines to ensure that everyone arrested in the United States—even suspected terrorists—gets a fair trial.

Last year, during the fight over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress debated legalizing indefinite detention for American citizens suspected of working with Al Qaeda, ultimately deciding to dodge the issue. Now Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) are planning to offer an amendment to this year's defense authorization bill that would guarantee that no one—citizen or otherwise—could be denied a fair trial if captured in the United States. Smith, who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, will introduce the bill during a hearing Wednesday. Amash has agreed to support it once the defense bill comes to the floor next week, possibly bringing along enough Republican support to ensure its passage in the House.

"The amendment is drafted to prevent the president from indefinitely detaining persons captured on US soil without charge or trial," said Will Adams, a spokesperson for Amash.

Checking in With Michele Bachmann...

| Wed May 9, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) signs a supporter's head.

On Tuesday morning, newly christened Swiss citizen Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) blasted out the frantic email to her national supporter network, asking for money:

I'm reaching out to you today because I need your support to continue fighting in the U.S. House of Representatives against President Obama's big government agenda.

A major development has just occurred in my race for the U.S. House of Representatives and I'm asking for your immediate help...

...You see, in retaliation for repeatedly standing up to President Obama on the national stage, liberal judges have redrawn the lines of my Minnesota Congressional District to try and wipe me off of the political map once and for all.

Their bias was so obvious they even gerrymandered my home—where my wonderful husband Marcus and I live—entirely out of my District and placed it into one held by a six-term Democrat incumbent!

Yikes. Also: totally false. The so-called major development that "just occured" actually happened in February, and in the interim period, Bachmann has sent no fewer than four fundraising emails calling attention to said major development. The "liberal judges" tasked with drawing up Minnesota's new congressional districts were selected by the state's chief justice, Lorie Gildea, who was appointed to the bench by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. (Just two of the judges on the five-judge redistricting panel were Democratic appointees.)

Although Bachmann sounds deeply hurt that she and Marcus will no longer live in her district, the move actually makes her district more Republican. The redistricting panel swapped Bachmann's Washington County, a more moderate county that includes suburbs of St. Paul, with a more conservative rural county. (If it makes her feel better, the district still includes Anoka, where she attended high school.) Democrat Jim Graves, the Minneapolis hotel magnate who's challenging Bachmann this fall, has his hands full.

This isn't out of the ordinary for Bachmann. As I reported last summer, Bachmann has for years falsely claimed that she was targeted for redistricting by Democrats when she served in the Minnesota state senate. (Then, as now, the redistricting was controlled by a Republican judge, and Bachmann was placed in a conservative-leaning district).

Corn on MSNBC: Romney Tries to Take Credit for the Auto Bailout He Opposed

Wed May 9, 2012 4:21 AM EDT

David Corn joined MSNBC's Martin Bashir to discuss Mitt Romney's attempt to take credit for the 2009 auto bailout, which, of course, he opposed. Lest we forget, Romney penned an op-ed for the New York Times titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" in November, 2008.

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