Mojo - June 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 5, 2012

Tue Jun. 5, 2012 9:53 AM EDT

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) fires one of its MK 45 lightweight 5-inch guns during a gunnery exercise. Cape St. George and Carrier Strike Group 9 are deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher S. Johnson.

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Adam Serwer on Bloggingheads.tv: Memorial Day, Romney's Conservatism, Bloomberg's Soda Ban, and Obama's Kill List

| Tue Jun. 5, 2012 9:47 AM EDT

On Sunday, I did a Bloggingheads episode with Business Insider's Michael Brendan Dougherty. We talked about MSNBC's Chris Hayes remarks about heroism and the military, Obama's use of targeted killing, Romney's conservatism, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on serving soda in containers larger than 16 ounces.

My point was that although the military is seen as apolitical and nonpartisan, in practice military leaders can be very adept at political maneuvering, whether we're talking about raising troop levels in Afghanistan or repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. The military's apolitical reputation is probably one of the reasons public faith in it as an institution remains high even as respect for other public institutions has suffered.

The Dark Money Behind the Wisconsin Recall

| Tue Jun. 5, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Some startling stats about the election to decide the future of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

$63.5 million: The minimum amount spent by both sides in the recall

70 percent: How much more expensive the governor's recall election is than the state's second-most expensive race (the 2010 gubernatorial campaign)

$30.5 million: Amount raised by Walker to fight off the recall effort

$3.9 million: Amount raised by his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee

About 2/3: Proportion of Walker's donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

About 1/4: Proportion of Barrett's donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

Unlimited: Maximum individual donation Walker may accept under state law

$10,000: Maximum individual donation Barrett may accept under state law

$18 million: Amount spent on pro-Walker independent expenditures and issue ads

$15.5 million: Amount spent on pro-Barrett independent expenditures and issue ads

Corn on "Hardball": Will Dismal Jobs Numbers Hurt Obama?

Mon Jun. 4, 2012 6:20 PM EDT

David Corn and the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the tough work that lies ahead for the Obama campaign, especially in light of Friday's dismal unemployment numbers.

 

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

Walker Campaign Disavows Controversial Tea Party Group

| Mon Jun. 4, 2012 4:30 PM EDT

It's no secret that embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has been relying heavily on tea party activists' labor and donations to bolster his prospects in Tuesday's recall election. But a recent email from TeaParty.org asking for donations to Walker's campaign claims that Walker is "one of" the controversial group's "sponsors"—a claim the Walker campaign vehemently denies.

Even other tea party groups are leery of associating with TeaParty.org. The group, which is also known as the 1776 Tea Party, was founded by Dale Robertson, who famously showed up at a Houston tea party rally in 2009 carrying a sign that said, "Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar."

Rally organizers asked Robertson to leave, but someone snapped a photo that has dogged him—and the broader movement—ever since. After the photo of the sign became public, the Tea Party Patriots released a statement denouncing Robertson, emphasizing that it "has never had any association with Mr. Robertson" and stood "firmly" against racism and Robertson's sign. Robertson's reputation didn't improve much when in 2010, he sent out a fundraising appeal with a photoshopped image of President Obama as a pimp.

Like many of the media hounds claiming to represent the grassroots Tea Party movement, Robertson's main credential is opportunism. In early 2009, as the movement was taking root, he had the foresight to register a whole bunch of tea party domain names, including teaparty.org, Texas Tea Party, Houston Tea Party, HoustonTXTeaParty, and so on. Then he tried to sell the names back to the actual Texas tea party leaders, making veiled threats about lawsuits over their use of the Tea Party name. Most legitimate tea party organizations have put significant distance between Robertson’s organization and their own. In 2010, Adam Brandon, the spokesperson from the tea party group FreedomWorks, told me that Robertson's outfit was probably the only tea party organization FreedomWorks wouldn't work with. So Robertson has found some new supporters.

Most recently, Robertson has joined forces with people from the anti-immigrant Minuteman movement, which has fallen on hard times. According to Texas corporate records, TeaParty.org's executive director is Stephen Eichler and its media director is Tim Bueler, both of whom have extensive ties to the Minutemen movement. Bueler worked briefly with Jerome Corsi on the Swiftboat campaign against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

Corsi and Bueler were deported from Kenya in 2008 for trying to hold a press conference in which they promised to expose close ties between then-candidate Obama and members of the Kenyan government. Corsi is featured prominently on the TeaParty.org site in a section asking people to donate to support a birther campaign against Obama.

Given this background, why would Walker agree to be a "sponsor" of such an organization? Well, as it turns out, he isn't. The email appears to be an enterprising bit of self-promotion by the tea party group, not the Walker campaign itself. Ciara Matthews, communications director for Friends of Scott Walker, says that TeaParty.org appears to have appropriated one of the campaign's fundraising emails and distributed it without the campaign’s knowledge. The donation link in the email goes to the Walker campaign, but Friends of Scott Walker "did not authorize the use of our fundraising letter in this way," Matthews says. "We've never spoken to them, we don't get money from them," she continued. "We did not provide this fundraising letter to them for the purpose." No one from Teaparty.org responded to a request for comment. 

Super-PAC Targets... Precinct-Level Primary Race for Constable?

| Mon Jun. 4, 2012 10:51 AM EDT

In May, we told you about Liberty for All, the libertarian super-PAC founded by a 21-year-old college kid from Nacogdoches, Texas. Last month, the group spent big bucks to help win a Republican House primary in Kentucky. The final tally: $600,000 in television ads, a 15-point victory, and a big fat quote on the front page of the New York Times. Preston Bates, the group's executive director, told me he hopes to raise $10 million this summer and grow into the closest thing the "freedom" movement has to a genuine political party.

The group's next move, however, is a little bit hard to figure. The Austin American-Statesman reports that Liberty for All is throwing its weight around in a place where, it's safe to say, super-PACs rarely stray—the Democratic primary for 2nd precinct constable in Travis County, Texas. Challenger Michael Cargill is a gay African-American gun store owner, but as Liberty for All's Bates makes clear, the race is really about incumbent Adan Ballasteros. Per the Statesman story:

The Libertarian-leaning political action committee has spent more than $35,000 in its first few days on this campaign, more than double what the two candidates raised leading up to Tuesday's primary, and plans to spend more before the July 31 runoff...

"What's interesting about Mike's race is not necessarily who (Cargill) is. ... It's who he's running against," Preston Bates, Liberty For All's executive director, said in an interview with the American-Statesman. In a news release, Bates called Ballesteros "the poster-bureaucrat for everything that's wrong with the political landscape in America."

What's more, both Cargill and Liberty for All are launching an identical line of attack. Cargill, citing Ballestero's 15-year-old charge for allegedly smuggling cocaine into the United States (the charges were ultimately dropped), has dubbed the incumbent "the cocaine constable." According to the Statesman, Liberty for All "[o]rganizers sent a mailer to voters last week calling Ballesteros 'the cocaine constable,' saying he is 'as corrupt as they come' and showing a picture of a woman appearing to snort cocaine through a $100 bill." This is perfectly legal—super-PACs are forbidden from coordinating with the candidates they support, but there's nothing in the current law to stop an organization from parroting a candidate word-for-word.

The larger question, I suppose, is what the heck is a million-dollar super-PAC doing in a constable primary election in Austin?

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 4, 2012

Mon Jun. 4, 2012 10:23 AM EDT

Alaskan National Guard Pvt. Lathaniel Ulofoshio provides security for fellow members of Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team while conducting a site survey of the Sanjaray health clinic May 24, 2012 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Kandahar PRT is a joint team of US Air Force, Army, Navy service members and civilians deployed to the Kandahar province of Afghanistan to assist in the effort to rebuild and stabilize the local government and infrastructure. Photo by the US Army.

Poll: Wisconsin Recall a Tossup

| Mon Jun. 4, 2012 8:43 AM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

On Sunday, just two days before Wisconsinites decide whether to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a new poll showed the race between the GOP incumbent and his Democratic challenger Tom Barrett narrowing. North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,226 likely voters over the weekend and found Walker leading Barrett by just 3 points, 50-47—less than Walker's previous lead of 50-45 in PPP's last poll three weeks ago. (The latest poll's margin of error was ±2.8 percent.)

Former President Bill Clinton was in Wisconsin this weekend to rally the Dem troops, and the state's labor unions are going all-out to beat Walker. But Dems and labor face a campaign cash disadvantage—Walker has raked in millions from out-of-state dark-money donors—and the final debate of the race saw Barrett and Walker fight to a stalemate. Ultimately, the outcome of this battle will depend on turnout. If labor unions and Dems can get their voters to the polls, they stand a chance. If not, a more motivated conservative electorate will keep Walker in office. By Tuesday night, we'll know.

Can Love Win An Election?

| Mon Jun. 4, 2012 5:53 AM EDT
Jason Howell, independent candidate for Virginia's 8th Congressional District

"Love matters" is not the likeliest of campaign slogans in an acrimony-filled election season, but there it is in bold print on Jason Howell's website along with some areas—diplomacy, national security—that the 37-year-old congressional candidate feels could benefit from a bit more tenderness. At a time of hyper-partisanship and congressional deadlock, Howell, a political neophyte running as an independent against 11-term incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), is talking about linking arms—metaphorically, literally, maybe both—with politicians across the political divide and setting aside ideological differences for the good of the country. His chances of knocking off Moran? Not so good. Then again, love can do powerful things.

The son of Caribbean immigrants, Howell was literally born just as Richard Nixon was resigning. He says he learned that "discretionary income matters" at age 14, when he got his first job at Toys R Us, whose paychecks he split with his parents. After getting an accounting degree, he went to work doing the taxes and bookkeeping of local musicians, among other clients. But he says he was shocked by the debt crisis last summer, during which Standard & Poors downgraded the US debt rating based mostly on the broken political system, and eventually decided that he should do something about it, but not in the same way as the tea partiers who've jumped into politics in response to national debt issues. Howell, for instance, thinks the Bush tax cuts ought to expire, a position that would not endear him to many conservatives. But he's trying to defy traditional political labels. "I would be just as embarrassed to run as a Republican as I would as a Democrat," he told me when we met last week, at his request, at a DC coffee shop.

VIDEO: Scott Walker's Divide-and-Conquer Strategy Is "The New Model for the Country"

| Sat Jun. 2, 2012 11:49 AM EDT

Coming soon to your state: The anti-union, education-cutting, free-market-leaning, divide-and-conquer playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

According to a leading conservative activist, the Walker agenda in Wisconsin is the new conservative game plan for all states in the union. That was the key message delivered at a rally Friday evening in Madison by Tim Phillips, national president of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative nonprofit started with money from the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. "The Wisconsin approach to changing and making state government better is the new model for the country," he said. "You are the model for the country."

Here a video of Phillips' remarks:

Since taking office in January 2011, Walker has slashed collective bargaining rights for public-employee unions, cut funding to public schools by $800 million, signed a controversial voter ID bill that critics say discriminates against students and minorities, and approved a divisive redistricting bill that benefitted his fellow GOP lawmakers. Walker managed to eliminate a $3.6 billion deficit, but did so, his critics say, at the expense of workers' rights, teachers and students, and the public sector as a whole. In a January 2011 conversation with billionaire businesswoman Diane Hendricks, a top donor of his, Walker admitted that his plan was to "divide and conquer" the unions in Wisconsin. Walker's agenda has turned Wisconsin into the most polarized state in America.

This agenda, AFP's Tim Phillips insisted, is the new model for state governments. "Today every other governor in the country and every state legislator in the country is watching Wisconsin," he said. "Because the Wisconsin approach to changing and making state government better is the new model for the country. You are the model for the country. For fiscal prosperity and economic freedom and getting the state moving again. You're the model!"

The June 5 recall election targeting Walker is seen as a referendum on his divisive politics and policies; tea partiers say the recall is "ground zero for the battle against Obama's liberal agenda." Walker's defeat on Tuesday would deal a blow to his hard-line conservative playbook. A win, however, could validate his brand of governing, give momentum to Republicans' efforts to win state and federal elections in the Badger State, and even convince Mitt Romney's presidential campaign to make a play for a state Barack Obama won by 14 percentage points in 2008. Even more, it might convince other state politicians to follow Phillips' advice and adopt the Walker agenda as their own.