Mojo - May 2012

Scott Brown Goes Birther on Elizabeth Warren

| Wed May 9, 2012 3:01 AM EDT
Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D).

On Tuesday, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) went birther on Elizabeth Warren. "Serious questions have been raised about the legitimacy of Elizabeth Warren's claims to Native American ancestry," Brown said in a statement released to the press

But given the available evidence concerning Warren's ancestry, Brown is essentially implying there may have been an elaborate, years-long effort to fake his opponent's heritage—not unlike the conspiracy envisioned by right-wing activists who sought "answers" about President Obama's citizenship. (The Brown campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

This faux controversy stems from a series of articles in the Boston Herald, which reported that Warren had listed herself as Native American in a Harvard Law School faculty directory. (Brown's top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, is a former Herald reporter.) This fueled criticism on the right that Warren had falsely claimed Native American status to advance her legal career. Now this bizarre kerfuffle has snowballed well beyond that, as conservatives pursue an in-depth probe of Warren's great-great-great grandmother's ethnicity and whether Warren's great-great-great-uncle lied about it.

What's known is this: As the Herald reported after publishing its initial story on Warren's background, researchers at the New England Historical Genealogical Society believe that one of Warren's great-great-great grandmothers, a woman named O.C. Sarah Smith, was Cherokee. If O.C. Sarah Smith was full-blooded, that would make Warren at least 1/32 Cherokee. (While that may seem insubstantial, Bill John Baker, the principal chief of the Cherokee nation, is also 1/32 Cherokee.) The NEHGS based its claim on a March 2006 newsletter referencing research by a woman named Lynda Smith. The newsletter reports that while digging into her own ancestry, Smith found a marriage application in which William J. Crawford, a son of O.C. Sarah Smith, listed his mother's race as Cherokee.

The NEHGS considers the newsletter to be a legitimate source, says Tom Champoux, a spokesman for the group. "Genealogists do reference research conducted by others, with further verification sometimes provided," he said in an emailed statement. "In the case of Native American research, it's not uncommon for families to pass down family histories orally, especially with earlier generations, as paper evidence and primary documents were not kept." But in this case there is a primary document cited—the marriage application.

Even this, however, has not been enough for Warren's critics. A day after publishing its story revealing the marriage application, the Herald published a follow-up implying the document may not actually exist. The article argued that genealogists had been "unable to back up earlier accounts" of Warren's ancestry because a copy of the marriage application has yet to be produced. Over at Breitbart.com, Michael Patrick Leahy, whose hobby is genealogy, has chimed in with a new wrinkle. Based on Census and other records, he argues that William J. Crawford either lied or was mistaken about his mother's race:

[W]hy would Ms. Warren's great-great-grand-uncle make up such a thing? Perhaps he showed the same kind of tendency towards ancestral "embellishment" that she herself seems to exhibit, or perhaps there was some logistical or tactical benefit in the Oklahoma Territory of 1894 to him and his intended bride that encouraged him to make the claim. Or perhaps he believed it to be true, even though in all probability it was not. We will likely never know.

(It's hard to imagine why a man wouldn't know his own mother's ethnicity. At a time when Native Americans were being herded onto reservations at gunpoint, it's unclear what conceivable benefit there would have been to falsely claiming Native American status. And even if William J. Crawford did lie for some reason, it's hard to see how Warren could have known about it.)

By jumping into this controversy, Brown seems to be embracing the same tortured, birther-esque arguments as the conservatives who are trying to paint Warren (and her great-great-great-uncle) as a liar. Perhaps the better question is why Brown is raising these "serious questions" to begin with.

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N.C.'s Amendment 1 Doesn't Just Screw Over Gay People

| Tue May 8, 2012 7:01 PM EDT
Brandon Allen votes in Cary, North Carolina on May 8. Allen voted against Amendment 1.

Update [9:20 PM EST]: With 35 percent of precincts reporting, voters have passed Amendment 1 by 58 to 42.

North Carolinians vote today on Amendment 1, a measure that would amend the state constitution—for the first time ever—to ban gay marriage. It's worth noting that gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. But if the amendment passes, which the latest poll suggests it will (with a 55-39 margin), North Carolina will join the 29 other states, including California, Ohio, and Texas, that have amended their constitutions to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples.

But Amendment 1 could also have troubling implications for straight couples. Thanks to the law's vague wording, critics argue it would likely strip away many of the legal rights associated with domestic partnerships or legal unions.

This is because Amendment 1 says "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State." While it's being called a gay marriage ban, the amendment is more than that—it's an all-out refusal to recognize any kind of partnership or union that isn't marriage. So gay North Carolinians, who couldn't get married anyway, are screwed, and so are straight, unmarried North Carolina couples.

The ACLU of North Carolina released a list explaining how bad things could get for unmarried North Carolina couples if Amendment 1 passes. Here are some rights that could be at risk:

  • Domestic violence laws protecting people in an unmarried partnerships might be weakened. (This claim has been debated by both sides, and it's still unclear exactly how the law would impact domestic violence victims. Opponents of Amendment 1 say many of North Carolina's domestic violence laws offer special protections to victims who have an established relationship with their abusers. So if the amendment narrows the law to legally recognize only marriages, it might weaken these protective laws for unmarried partners. Supporters of Amendment 1, such as Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., contest this claim. Berger said nothing in the amendment changes any laws on assault, rape, murder, or other crimes.)
  • Unmarried parents could no longer have the same child custody and visitation rights as married parents.
  • Private agreements between unmarried couples might not longer have a legal basis. This means, for example, that if a couple who has cohabited and raised children together for years decides to separate, the wealthier partner would not be legally obligated to divide property with his or her partner.
  • The law could interfere with unmarried partners' end-of-life arrangements, such as wills, trusts, and medical powers of attorney.
  • Employers would no longer have to provide benefits, such as health insurance, to the partners of unmarried employees.

Immigration Officials Can't Find Enough Immigrant Criminals to Deport

| Tue May 8, 2012 11:40 AM EDT

In June 2011, Barack Obama's director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pledged the agency would focus on deporting illegal immigrants who were actually a menace to society—i.e., violent criminals—as opposed to those who have lived and worked in this country for years without causing any problems. It was a nice idea and one that immigrant advocates welcomed. But now new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University show that not only has ICE failed in its goal of deporting more criminals and fewer noncriminals, but the percentage of deportations related to criminal activity has actually fallen, from 17 percent of the caseload in 2010 to 14 percent in the first three months of 2012.

Here's what the raw numbers look like in chart form:

Deportation Orders Sought in Immigration Court Based on Alleged Criminal Activity

Transactional Records Access ClearinghouseTransactional Records Access Clearinghouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The number of deportation cases in federal courts has been going down for a while, but the number of people deported because of serious criminal activity has decreased faster than the overall caseload. That seems to fly in the face of ICE's stated policy of focusing on real bad guys as opposed to nannies and meatpackers. It also seems to contradict a New York Times story from January that reported on the Obama administration's effort to ease up on deportation proceedings against people who pose no security risk.

According to the Times story, one in every six people in deportation proceedings in Denver, where ICE was running a test model, were being offered a reprieve for good behavior. "It makes us feel good to know that some of these low-priority cases will be placed at the back burner," Corina Almeida, the chief counsel for the ICE office in Denver, told the Times. "These cases free up others to move to the front of the line: the egregious offenders, those who thumb their noses at the system or commit fraud."

TRAC's numbers suggest that although deportations have fallen nationally, ICE is still wasting resources on people who don't pose much of a threat to the country. The numbers may also reflect that both illegal immigration and violent crime have fallen pretty dramatically in the past few years (net immigration from Mexico, whose citizens make up the bulk of ICE's court cases, is now about zero), leaving ICE with fewer potential criminals to deport in the first place.

Either way, the numbers don't bode well for the Obama campaign, which is courting Latino voters, for whom immigration matters a great deal. It may also provide some fodder from Obama's opponents, who will surely find something to attack here by claiming that ICE is doing a lousy job of getting criminal aliens out of the US.

George Soros Pledges $2 Million To Liberal Groups for 2012 Fight

| Tue May 8, 2012 11:34 AM EDT
George Soros.

Bite your nails no longer, Democrats. Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros, the man who spawned a million right-wing conspiracy theories, has entered the 2012 political money wars in a big way, pledging $1 million each to a pair of liberal independent political groups.

Soros' pledge, as the New York Times first reported, comes as a group of Democratic donors are expected to give as much as $100 million to left-leaning causes to register new voters, get out the vote, and elect Democrats (including President Obama) in the November elections. These donors, many of whom belong to an organization known as the Democracy Alliance, only represent one segment of the universe of big-time funders on the left.

But there's a catch: These heavy-hitting Democratic donors aren't keen on cutting six- and seven-figure checks to election-centric super-PACs such as Priorities USA Action, founded by two former Obama White House aides. The donors prefer bankrolling more established organizations committed to growing the ranks of the Democratic Party and building the progressive movement at the grassroots level.

Soros, for his part, split his pledge between American Bridge 21st Century, a super-PAC building a long-term opposition research hub, and America Votes, which brings together more than 300 progressive organizations to maximize their political clout. "As he has in the past, George is focusing his political giving in 2012 on grassroots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote," Soros spokesman Michael Vachon wrote in a Monday e-mail statement. (The Open Society Foundations, chaired by Soros, have supported Mother Jones' campaign finance reporting.)

Here's more from the Times:

The advertising-oriented Democratic super PACs, including Priorities USA and two groups founded to back Democrats in Congress, remain on the list of organizations that the Democracy Alliance recommends to its members. Robert McKay, who is the chairman of the Democracy Alliance and sits on the board of Priorities USA, said the $100 million expected to be spent this year by alliance members would include some money for election ads, but would most likely favor grass-roots organizing and research groups.

"There is a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections," Mr. McKay said. "That means get-out-the-vote efforts" directed toward young voters, single women, black voters and Latinos, he said.

Organizations likely to be a part of the effort include Catalist, which creates voter lists for allied liberal groups; ProgressNow, a network of state-based Web sites for liberal opinion and activism; and the Latino Engagement Fund, a new group that works to register and turn out Latino voters for Democrats. Conservative independent groups are financing similar outreach to Latino voters: the American Action Network, which spent $26 million against Democratic candidates in 2010, last year unveiled the Hispanic Leadership Network, which will seek to mobilize center-right Latino voters.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 8, 2012

Tue May 8, 2012 11:16 AM EDT

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Norma Garza, a pilot assigned to 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, conducts a pre-flight inspection on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as the sun rises, May 2, 2012. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joe Armas, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.

Scott Walker Recall: Wisconsin Dems Choose Standard-Bearer Today

| Tue May 8, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Democrats in Wisconsin are headed to the polls to pick a challenger to face Gov. Scott Walker in his recall election on June 5. The two leading candidates, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, offer voters a clear-cut choice: Do you pick the candidate who captures the progressive spirit and populist outrage that triggered Walker's recall? Or the one with the best showing in the polls?

If the recall election were held today, survey after survey shows, Barrett would stand the best chance of defeating Walker in a head-to-head fight. A former five-term US congressman who lost to Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial race, Barrett held a razor-thin 1 percentage point lead over Walker in last week's Marquette University Law School poll, and a slew of others put him well within striking distance. 

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Corn on Hardball: What's Obama's Campaign Pitch?

Mon May 7, 2012 7:57 PM EDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn and the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss how President Obama is trying to shift the election conversation into a debate about ideas and ideology. When Obama formally launched his reelection campaign on Saturday, his selling point was this: America's on the right track, but there's more to do—and Romney isn't the man to do it.

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

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 7, 2012

Mon May 7, 2012 3:00 PM EDT

Spc. Jon Saladin, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, walks past an Afghan graveyard during a US–Afghan patrol on April 30, 2012, Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Saladin serves with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Roe v. Wade Is Not a Gateway to an Islamist Takeover

| Mon May 7, 2012 12:20 PM EDT

When I began investigating right-wing celebrity and evangelical activist Kamal Saleem's past earlier this year, large parts of his story seemed to fall apart. Although in his book, Saleem, a self-proclaimed "ex-terrorist" with ties to Moammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, claimed to have called the cops after nearly being murdered by a band of swarthy-looking South Asian hitmen in Southern California, there was no record of a report being filed with any of the local police departments. The FBI couldn't corroborate his claim to have advised them on counterterrorism strategies. And a former roommate in Oklahoma disputed the notion that he could have been waging a stealth jihad as a broke immigrant who needed a ride just to leave the house.

The fact that Saleem's credentials as an ex-terrorist with inside knowledge of the Islamist plot to take over the United States were dubious at best has done nothing, however, to diminish his star power on the right. He's still a fixture at churches and at conservative confabs. Right Wing Watch reports on his latest appearance, at "The Awakening" conference in Orlando late last month. Per Brian Tashman, "Saleem not only detailed a treacherous scheme by President Obama to use immigration reform to legalize terrorism, but also uncovered a liberal plot to use the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade to 'bring Sharia law liberally in our face.'"

Essentially, his argument is that Roe v. Wade broke down the basic tenets of the American legal system, paving the way for an Islamist takeover. You can watch it here:

It's a trap!

Corn on "Face the Nation": An Uphill Battle for Obama and Romney

Mon May 7, 2012 11:24 AM EDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn joined host Bob Schieffer on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday morning to discuss Obama, Romney, and rough 2012 battle ahead. "We live in a time where I think fisticuffs happen by the nanosecond, and no one waits," Corn says.

Peggy Noonan, Michael Gerson, and John Dickerson also appeared on the panel.

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