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Top Republicans Threaten to Ditch Grover Norquist's Anti-Tax Pledge

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 1:24 PM EST
Grover Norquist.

Grover Norquist's anti-tax-increase pledge is beginning to show cracks.

Over the long holiday weekend, four top Republicans in Congress said they would not be bound by their signing of the conservative activist's pledge not to raise taxes on their constituents in any way, shape, or form. These lawmakers have broken with Norquist at a crucial moment: On Monday, members of Congress restart their effort to hammer out an agreement to avoid going off the so-called "fiscal cliff" on December 31.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), ranking member on the Senate select committee on intelligence, dismissed Norquist's pledge during a Thanksgiving Day interview with a Macon, Georgia, television station. "I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," Chambliss said. "If we do it his way then we'll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House homeland security committee, said he agreed with Chambliss. Standing by an anti-tax pledge he signed decades ago, King argued on NBC’s Meet the Press, "is just bad economic policy. "A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress," King said. "For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different."

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC's This Week on Sunday that he agreed with Norquist on not raising tax rates, but believed—unlike Norquist—that other ways of raising tax revenue are fair game. "I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can't cap deductions and buy down debt," Graham said. "What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform."

And Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told CBS' Charlie Rose on Monday that he was "not obligated on the pledge."

Norquist, for his part, has fired back by saying that lawmakers are bound to their constituents, not him, on their promises to oppose tax increases in any form. As for King, Norquist told CNN's Soledad O'Brien on Monday that King "knows full well that the pledge that he signed, and others have, is for while you're in Congress. It's not for a two year period."

This is hardly the first time Republicans have made noises about wiggling out of Norquist's pledge. But could this time be different? Members of Congress are now staring down the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and a potpourri of automatic spending cuts that could total more than $800 billion in 2013. That includes a $55 billion cut to defense spending and $55 billion more shaved off of domestic programs.

Republicans don't want these scheduled cuts to become a reality. The defense cuts and the expiration of the Bush-era tax breaks could be enough to nudge Republicans into ditching Norquist's pledge. If they do, it's Norquist, whose political currency depends on the pledge and its adherents, who stands to lose the most. 

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Did the Head of the Israeli Military's Social Media Pose in Black Face?

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 12:36 PM EST

Following reports that he posted a photo of himself in what appears to be black face, with the caption "Obama style," Sacha Dratwa, the 26-year-old lieutenant heading the Israel Defense Forces' social media campaign is shutting down public access to his Facebook profile, according to a statement he sent Mother Jones and posted online.

A screenshot of the photo, which was originally posted by Dratwa on September 29, was published Saturday by the website, Your Black World. The image appears to be of Dratwa at the Dead Sea with mud on his face. While that would not be an uncommon activity there, the "Obama style" caption drew scornful comments on his Facebook page. Mother Jones asked Dratwa for a comment, and he said:

There have been attempts to make use of private photos from my Facebook profile in order to publicly misrepresent my opinions. Due to the amount of public attention I've garnered in recent days I have decided to restrict access to my page, in order to protect my privacy and prevent further cynical use of the information therein.  I am, and have always been, completely candid about my beliefs and have nothing to hide – as reflected by my Facebook profile, which until recently was open to everyone. The aforementioned photos do not reflect my beliefs and have no bearing whatsoever on my position in the IDF.

ABC News, which says it has confirmed the photo is real, reports that Dratwa responded to a user on Twitter accusing him of racism by saying, “I’m not a racist, please stop [spreading] lies about me.”

In charge of the Israel Defense Forces' official Twitter account, @IDFSpokesperson, Dratwa became a high-profile figure during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict. According to a profile by Gizmodo, in his free time, Dratwa enjoys snowboarding, swimming, vodka, macchiatos, and hanging out with friends.

The IDF did not respond to a request for comment.

This post has been updated.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 26, 2012

Mon Nov. 26, 2012 11:54 AM EST

U.S. Army Spc. David White, a security force team member for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, stands guard during a key leader engagement in Farah City, Nov. 18, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives/released.

3 Newsmakers Who Tried to Sneak One Past You Over Thanksgiving

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 9:52 AM EST

Every year, like clockwork, as we turn off the news and settle in for the turkey, someone drops inconvenient news in hopes it will get missed. Among this year's under-the-radar Thanksgiving newsmakers:

Jesse Jackson Jr. 

Jason Moore/ZUMAPressJason Moore/ZUMAPress

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) barely campaigned for reelection, was MIA from Congress for much of the past year due to bipolar depression, and recently became the target of a federal criminal investigation, yet cruised to reelection in Chicago's 2nd District with 63 percent of the vote. But he ended up only staying a couple weeks. The 47-year-old resigned last Wednesday as you were piling into the car to go visit your sister. Jackson, who held the South Side seat for 17 years, was already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over links to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempts to auction off Obama's Senate seat in 2008. Then in October, the FBI launched another investigation over allegations he used campaign funds to spruce up his Chicago home. In his resignation letter, he said health problems forced him to step down, but he also acknowledged the federal probe for the first time: "I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes…None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties, and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right." Besides the letter, there was no official announcement of the resignation. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce a date for a special election today.

 

The Pentagon

Jonathan Alcorn/ZUMAPressJonathan Alcorn/ZUMAPressAfter Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011, by a NAVY Seal team, his body was packed onto a helicopter and flown to the USS Carl Vinson, and he was buried at sea. But how did it really go down? That's what the Associated Press wanted to find out through a Freedom of Information Act request it filed with the Pentagon. The Defense Department complied on Thanksgiving eve, handing over a trove of heavily redacted emails in the first public disclosure of government information about bin Laden's death. The story the documents tell is that only a small group of the ship's leadership knew what was going on, according to the AP, and that officers used code to discuss whether the body had arrived on the aircraft carrier. "Any news on the package for us?" asked one. "FEDEX delivered the package," another responded. The grand high wizard of terror was also given a quite civil burial. According to the AP, one email read:

Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed. The deceased's body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased's body slid into the sea.

The AP requested other materials, but the DOD told the news wire it couldn't find any photographs or video of bin Laden's body taken during the raid or on the ship, nor any documents related to pre-raid plans, nor a death certificate, autopsy report, or DNA identification tests results.

 

Rep. Scott DesJarlais

desjarlais.house.govdesjarlais.house.govIn October, anti-abortion Congressman Scott DesJarlais' (R-Tenn.) campaign hit a little bump in the road when court transcripts from his 14-year-old divorce emerged revealing that when he was chief of staff at a Tennessee hospital, he allegedly had affairs with two patients, three coworkers, and a drug company rep and pressured one of the patients to have an abortion. He also backed his first wife's decision to terminate at least one of her pregnancies. DesJarlais won reelection by 12 points. Now, in his first public comments since the release of the tapes—published on Thanksgiving—the congressman basically said it was all water under the bridge. In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel DesJarlais said he has no plans to resign over the controversy, and that he will run for reelection in 2014. DesJarlais told the News Sentinel that his views on abortion have evolved, and that in the past, it "was just not something that I put as much thought into as I should have." He continued, "I am human. I don't think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect. I put myself out there as somebody who wanted to serve the public."

Why Raises For Walmart Workers Are Good For Everyone

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 7:07 AM EST

Chances are you missed this particular bargain on Black Friday: Agree to spend 15 cents more on every shopping trip, and Walmart, Target, and other large retailers will agree to pay their workers at least $25,000 a year.

Big box retailers aren't actually offering that deal, but a new study by the liberal think tank Demos argues that it would be a great bargain for us all if they did. Increasing the average wage at large retailers from $21,000 to $25,000 would probably cost you less than $20 a year at the register yet lift some 1.5 million people out of poverty (including your cashier), create 100,000 new jobs, and boost GDP by some $13.5 billion. 

Demos argues that retailers would benefit, despite higher labor costs, because their low-wage employees could suddenly afford to buy more of the basic necessities that they scan and load into plastic bags every day.

If you are still wondering what's in it for you, however, then consider this tidbit from Sasha Abramsky:

In 2004, a year in which Walmart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Walmart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Walmart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.

Seen through this lens, the worker protests that erupted after Thanksgiving at Walmart locations around the country might end up being the best Black Friday specials of them all. Think of them as 2-for-1 coupons: Spend more on wages now, improve the economy AND save us all lots of tax money down the roadmoney that we can spend instead on more important things, like, well, parachutes for our cats.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 22, 2012

Thu Nov. 22, 2012 1:51 PM EST

US Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, right, the security force commander for Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, and Spc. Devont Perkins, a PRT Farah security team member, patrol a local shopping area during a key leader engagement in Farah City, on November 20, 2012. PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district and provincial levels in Farah Province, Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the US Navy, US Army, the US Department of State and the Agency for International Development (USAID). US Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives.

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Discredited Conservative Behind "Unskewed Polling" Says Voter Fraud Won Swing States for Obama

| Wed Nov. 21, 2012 2:37 PM EST

From BarackOFraudo.com.From BarackOFraudo.com.

Dean Chambers launched the website UnskewedPolls.com in the final months of the election to counter what he saw as a Democratic bias in most presidential polls. Chambers' site was a hit among Fox-watching, reality-denying conservatives. He predicted Romney would win 275 electoral college votes and Obama would win 263.

Chambers was, as he later admitted, horribly, embarrassingly wrong. But the embarrassment continues.

This week, Chambers launched a new site, BarackOFraudo.com. As the URL suggests, Chambers does not believe Obama won the 2012 election fair and square. Instead, Chamber contends that Obama won the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida "by voter fraud." (That's the map posted above.)

Post-election, there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud in any of these states, and certainly nothing suggesting Obama's wins in those four states depended on voter fraud. So Slate's Dave Weigel asked Chambers for evidence backing up his serious accusations. What followed was a collision between fact-based reporting and fact-free magical thinking:

"I'm getting credible information of evidence in those states that there enough numbers that are questionable and could have swung the election," he says. "I'm only putting good credible information on there, like the actual vote counts, reports, and mainstream publications reporting voter fraud. There's a lot of chatter, though. There are articles people have sent me that don't hold up. Crazy stuff."

What's not crazy? "Things like the 59 voting divisions of Philadelphia where Romney received zero votes," says Chambers. "Even Larry Sabato said that should be looked into." (I've looked into this: 57 precincts gave McCain no votes in 2008. There's such a thing as a 99 percent Democratic precinct, and such a thing as a 99 percent Republican precinct.) Same story in Ohio. "Some of the precincts or divisions in cleveland were projected to be 99 percent Obama. That's a part of the state where it's known that a lot of ballot box scamming has been done in the past. There were isolated reports of people voting for Romney and having votes changed, though they didn't get much attention.

What about Virginia, then? "When votes were being counted on election night, 97 percent of the precincts were counted, and Romney was still leading 50-49," says Chambers. "When that remaining 3 percent were counted, a lead of 80,000 or so votes for Romney were turned into 120,000 for Obama." I pointed out that Virginia's stagger-stop-stagger count often works like that, with Democrats gaining in the end. "I was surprised it wasn't being projected for Romney when 97 percent was in," said Chambers. (The state was actually called earlier based on vote patterns.)

Fortunately, Chambers' failure to come with a country mile of predicting the presidential race means no one will take his voter fraud jeremiad seriously. Not even the Drudge Report, an avid endorser Chambers' Unskewed efforts, has stumped for his latest venture.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 21, 2012

Wed Nov. 21, 2012 1:33 PM EST

An MV-22B Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), takes off from Forward Operating Base Jackson, Afghanistan, Nov. 7, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexander Quiles.

Bachmann's Ed Allies Warned of Mind Control Scheme

| Tue Nov. 20, 2012 3:28 PM EST

Since we reported last week on Georgia GOPers' four-hour, closed-door briefing on a planned United Nations takeover of the Deep South, the event's organizer, Sen. Chip Rogers (R) has dropped his bid for another term as majority leader and distanced himself from the contents of the presentation. On Monday a spokesman told the Huffington Post that Rogers "probably sat politely if he was there, that is his style."

But the conspiracy in question—that liberals like President Barack Obama are using a mind-control technique called "Delphi" to push a one world government with the aim of foisting sustainable development on the world's citizens, as outlined in a decades-old UN agreement called "Agenda 21"—actually has much deeper roots. How deep? As Bluestem Prairie blogger Sally Jo Sorensen points out, the Delphi siren was sounded in 2002 by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's allies at the education watchdog, the Maple River Education Coalition. That year, when Bachmann was still speaking at group functions and pushing its policies at the state capitol, the MREC hawked a two-page instructional document titled, "Beware the Delphi Technique." It warned:

The Delphi Technique was developed by the RAND Corporation, a liberal think tank, in the 1960s. It was developed originally as a way of using repeated surveying of a group of people to bring them to agreement or "consensus."

The original survey technique has been adapted for use in controlling and manipulating meetings or study groups called to get public input for issues in education, police community relations, state control of child care, etc.

Delphi was framed as the vehicle by which central planners at the state and federal level would ultimately break down the walls of sovereignty and push a pantheistic global union. But all was not lost; there was an easy way out:

Maple River Education CoalitionMaple River Education Coalition

Bachmann, as far as I can tell, never discussed Delphi directly. But it was a pretty integral aspect of the MREC's push against the Profile of Learning, the Minnesota curriculum standard that launched Bachmann's career in public life. Beginning in 1998, she criss-crossed the state on behalf of the group and maintained close ties with the MREC during her time as a state Senator in St. Paul. In hearings as a state Senator Bachmann used her platform to push the Agenda 21 conspiracy in a fashion that would have fit in at the Georgia state capitol; she once questioned a panel of professors on whether they supported population controls or intended to ban humans from living in certain areas. She also fretted that the United Nations definition of sustainable development would lead to a moratorium on light bulb production.

In early November, Bachmann scored the narrowest re-election victory of her congressional career despite the fact that her district became more conservative after redistricting. She held off a challenge from Democrat Jim Graves by just one point—in a district that Mitt Romney won by 15. Raving against sustainable development helped launch Bachmann's career, but if this month's election results are any indication, her frequently conspiratorial warnings may also be what eventually brings it to an end.

"Did Jesus Die for Klingons, Too?" and Other Pentagon Projects

| Tue Nov. 20, 2012 3:07 PM EST

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R) is the rare Republican these days who is willing to argue that cutting defense spending is not only feasible, but important. To that end, he recently published a report identifying nearly $70 billion in wasteful spending from the defense budget. Many of the items make his GOP colleagues who believe the defense budget is sacrosanct and untouchable look incredibly foolish. A quick run-down:

  • The 100-Year Starship Project: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has spent more than $1 million to "foster a rebirth of wonder" and to make space travel to other solar systems feasible in the next century. To that end, the agency paid $100,000 to sponsor a strategy workshop in September featuring a session called "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?" on the theological threat to Christianity that the discovery of life on other planets might pose. A related conference devoted to the future of space travel included a workshop on "what intersteller explorers might wear." (Hint: Not polos and khakis.) The event featured an "intergalatic gala" for which attendees were asked to come in "starship cocktail attire."
  • Caffeine Zone 2: The Office of Naval Research supplied funds to Penn State University researchers who developed a smart phone app designed to "help people manage their caffeine consumption to suit their lifestyles." Coburn notes that two such phone apps already exist without the help of military financing.
  • Beef Jerky Roll-ups: The Defense Department invested $1.5 million to develop a new twist on beef jerky. The savory snack is designed to be more like a "fruit roll-up" than a Slim Jim, and to double as a sandwich filling if necessary. Coburn notes that the private beef jerky market has no shortage of products that the department might use, and that the jerky industry is thriving without the help of taxpayer dollars.
  • "Does this caulk gun make me look taller?": The US Air Force paid $680,000 to fund research on whether men were perceived as taller when they were holding a pistol than if they were simply wielding a caulk gun, paint brush or a power drill. Answer: Yes.
  • The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Institute: Remember those old screen savers from SETI that supposedly tracked the search for life in outer space? Based in Berkeley (of course), SETI amassed a huge array of telescopes that scanned the skies for "electromagnetic signals that could hint at the presence of an intelligent alien civilization." In 2011, SETI went dark for lack of, well, finding anything interesting and lack of funding. Thank heavens the Air Force stepped in! According to Coburn, the Air Force saved SETI from extinction with a $2 million infusion of funds to see if the SETI telescopes might supplement the country's existing search for aliens.

Coburn's report, called "Department of Everything," is useful in poking holes in Republican arguments that the Defense Department should be spared a single dollar of cuts lest national security collapse entirely. But it's also sort of a sad testament to the way the nation's budgeting process has gone wildly awry. All sorts of domestic needs that are starved for funding—everything from medical research (Coburn finds DoD funding breast and prostate cancer research) to alternative energy development to paleoentology—have found their way into the defense budget because that's the only place Congress is willing to spend money these days.