This post originally appeared on Mother Jones.
Last year, the Family Research Council's DC Values Voters Summit was about as establishment Republican an event as you can get. The entire GOP congressional leadership addressed the crowd of evangelical activists and Mike Huckabee, a longtime favorite of social conservatives, won the conference's presidential straw poll in a landslide. How things have changed in one year: Not a single member of the Republican leadership made the trek to DC's Omni Shoreham hotel for this year's summit. Instead, the event was dominated by tea-party-caucus types like Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), along with newly minted conservative rock star Christine O'Donnell, the surprise winner of the Delaware GOP senate primary. And in a startling indicator of just how much the political landscape has shifted, Huckabee was edged out of the 2012 straw poll by Indiana congressman Mike Pence. (Sarah Palin placed fifth.)
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told me that his group had invited top Republicans such as House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but none had jumped on the offer, citing campaign conflicts. Their absence suggested that the GOP leadership might have feared that it would be facing a hostile crowd. After all, it represents the party mainstream that has failed to back insurgent conservatives such as Alaskan senatorial candidate Joe Miller and O'Donnell. But as much as the Values Voter Summit may have reflected the new Republican reality, it was clear at the conference that the tea party movement and the old Christian Coalition are not one as the same. Only about a third of the attendees I talked to had even been to a tea party event. More than one person commented on tea partiers' political inexperience. I got the sense that many thought that while the tea party is certainly exciting, it may not be around a year from now—unlike the religious right, which has been battling against abortion and moral decay all these many years. Jeffery Later, the director of federal tax compliance for Walt Disney, said most of the people at the summit tended to be social conservatives, not the fiscal conservatives who are leading the tea party charge. He says his impression has been that "people who have never been politically engaged are getting into the tea party." Mark Meadows, a North Carolina resident, told me, "We can get real passionate about fiscal issues when everybody is out of a job," But once the economy revives, he predicted, the social issues—and the people who are passionate about them—will come roaring back. Michele Tennery, from Arlington, Virginia, was one of the few people I spoke with who had actually attended a tea party march. She said she'd been involved with the movement since Tax Day 2009. She suspected that while there might be a generational gap between tea party types and the values voters, she didn't see the two as all that different. "There are a lot of people who are motivated by their faith to get involved in the tea party movement," she said. Still, the Values Voter Summit organizers seemed to realize that their audience was not made up of hardcore tea partiers. Sessions specifically devoted to tea party issues were largely Tea Party 101 as taught by B-list activists and minor celebrities. One panel Friday featured Katy Abram, who'd became a tea party heroine after she stood up at a Pennsylvania town hall meeting last August and blasted Sen. Arlen Specter over the pending health care reform bill, the Wall Street bailout, and other hot-button issues. At the conference, Abram spent her time talking about one of social conservatives' favorite topics, persecution by liberals, claiming that all the death threats she's received have forced her husband to mow while armed. Abram was joined by Billie Tucker, a Florida tea party organizer who knew how to speak the values voters' language. She said there was some disagreement in the tea party over whether social issues were too divisive, but she reassured her audience, "I know God did not wake me up for four months because he has a tax issue. I'm putting my God back into the United States of America. I don't care what people say." The one tea party-focused breakout session on Saturday afternoon turned out to be a bit of a bait and switch. Billed as a special presentation of the results of a poll asking "Who are the Tea Party and Christian Voters and What Do They Believe?", it turned out to be a presentation dominated by the head of the Home School Legal Defense Association, who is mounting a campaign against Senate ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, largely because it would ban spanking. The poll results did reveal, however, that when it comes to disciplining children, values voters and tea partiers see eye to eye. Compared with 47 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of all Republicans, 82 percent of tea partiers strongly agree that American parents have the right to give their kids "a modest spanking."
This article first appeared on Mother Jones. For tea partiers, one of the great disappointments of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall Saturday was the ban on political signs. After all, sign-making seems to be half the fun of going to any good tea party. So the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella group for thousands of tea party activists, decided to give folks from out of town a chance to wave their "NOBama signs" in the shadow of the Capitol. On Sunday morning, they convened a tea party, complete with fiery speeches from minor celebs and organizers, plus the requisite open mic session for anyone who wanted a chance to publicly call Obama a liar or read some bad poetry they'd written about liberty. But signs or no signs, after baking in the sun all day on Saturday (the Mall was so hot that dozens of attendees had to leave the rally in ambulances), not that many Beck fans were looking to do it again on Sunday. Only about 200 die-hards made the trek up the Hill. For their trouble, they were treated with an unusual assortment of speakers. There were the usual suspects—Tea Party Patriot organizers Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin—but there was also a former FBI agent known for telling wild and dubious tales about his time in the Clinton White House, and a former Republican congressman with a long history of trampling the Constitution and trading favors with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The FBI agent was one Gary Aldrich, who, if you recall, in 1995 wrote a bestselling "expose," Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House, claiming that, among other things, the Clintons hung sex toys and drug paraphernalia on the White House Christmas tree. (The book, naturally, made him an immediate hero of Republicans and right-wingers everywhere.) He now writes occasionally for WorldNet Daily and runs the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, a group he founded whose advisory board includes Reagan-era luminaries Ollie North and Ed Meese. The Patrick Henry Center probably earned a few new members at the tea party for giving sweating activists a bunch of bright yellow fans emblazoned with "Stop Socialism." Even weirder than having Aldrich on the podium, though, was the presence of former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.). Of all the former washed up congressmen you could drag out for a tea party, Istook is probably not a first choice. A longtime darling of the Christian Right, the Mormon politician is most famous for his attempts to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow prayer in schools. His record as a social crusader doesn't exactly align with some of the tea party's more libertarian or states' rights positions, or even its reverence for the Constitution. Outraged to discover an ad on a DC bus urging marijuana legalization during his time on the House Appropriations Committee, Istook once introduced legislation that would punish the DC transit system financially for accepting the ad. His bill also would withhold funding from any transit authority that dared accept bus or subway ads challenging the nation's drug laws. The law was eventually found unconstitutional by a federal judge who wrote, "the government articulated no legitimate state interest in the suppression of this particular speech other than the fact that it disapproves of the message, an illegitimate and constitutionally impermissible reason." Istook's record also shows scant little respect for local governance. Most Americans don't realize that DC residents do not have voting representation in Congress. We are the only American citizens who truly understand what it means to be taxed without representation. To their credit, individual tea partiers informed about this abomination are usually deeply outraged. Istook, though, who served on the DC subcommittee of the House appropriations committee (briefly as chairman), has shown little sympathy for DC's disenfranchised residents. He used his committee post to meddle in the city's affairs like nobody's business, taking advantage of the fact that city residents had no way to fight back. In the late 1990s, for instance, Istook joined with his GOP colleagues to prevent the city from counting the results of a ballot initiative that would have allowed medical marijuana in the District. Eventually a federal judge rebuked Istook and reminded him and his fellow congressmen that they were engaged in a huge violation of city residents' First Amendment rights. Two years after the election, the ballots were finally counted; the measure passed. But rather than let city residents decide their own fate, Istook helped prevent DC from spending any of its own money to implement the law. Istook also helped push measures that barred the District from using city money to fund needle-exchange programs to fight HIV and AIDS, which are epidemic in the city. His actions on the DC subcommittee were hardly those of someone with deep, abiding respect for local democracy. On Sunday, I asked him about whether he's had a change of heart about meddling in the District's affairs now that he's come out as a tea partier. But Istook was unrepentant. He even disagreed that city residents were taxed without representation, saying, "You have representation. You just don't have the same vote." Mark Meckler, one of the national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, the large national umbrella group that organized the event, said he was unaware of Istook's history in the District. "DC residents should have a vote," he said. Even so, Meckler said Istook was a good fit for the tea party because he has a stellar record on the group's core issues of fiscal conservatism. But there's still one more reason why Istook and the tea partiers make rather strange bedfellows: He was implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Along with taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Abramoff's firm, Istook used Abramoff's sky boxes at Fed Ex Field during a Washington Redskins game for a fundraiser. Documents from one of the Abramoff-related prosecutions showed that Istook returned the favor by asking Abramoff what his clients would like to see in an upcoming transportation bill, a move that had Abramoff directing his staff to come up with a "Christmas list" of pork-barrel spending. Istook's chief of staff ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for taking perks from lobbyists in exchange for official favors in a case related to the whole mess. It's hard to see how this sort of stuff would endear Istook to the tea partiers. Perhaps they simply invited him to the party because of his singing voice. After reminding the crowd that all of the inalienable rights outlined in the Constitution come directly from God, he declared, "America should bless God," and then startled everyone by launching into a stirring baritone rendition of "God Bless America." He wasn't bad.
This post originally appeared on Mother Jones. The Six Flags amusement park chain has had its share of bad press lately, what with kids getting decapitated or having their feet chopped off on roller coaster rides, filing for bankruptcy and other Dan Snyder-related disasters. But the latest flap is more political. Tea partiers and other anti-Islam activists are freaking out about a Muslim Family Day planned for several Six Flags parks around the country on Sept. 12, the day after the World Trade Center attacks. The event, sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), offers Muslim families a chance to hang at the amusement park and be catered to by modestly dressed employees and halal food vendors. While Six Flags has been holding these events since 2000 for the 42-year-old Muslim nonprofit, apparently this year, it's getting more attention, both because it falls on the weekend of Sept. 11 and also because of the ongoing controversy about the Muslim center planned a few blocks away from Ground Zero in New York. Naturally Glenn Beck, who mocked the event on his show last week, and Fox News have stoked the paranoia and opposition, giving the day ample coverage. Last week, Fox hosted guests who have suggested that the ICNA is a front for Hamas and other terrorist groups. Now, tea partiers are in a full froth about the event and there are already calls to boycott the bankrupt amusement park chain. On the Tea Party Patriots website, a member posted an item entitled, "Stop Six Flags Muslim Family Day" which includes a missive from Annie Hamilton, an L.A. woman leading the charge against the park. She writes:
Muslim Day at Six Flags is inappropriate for a multitude of reasons and I'm saddened and shocked by the ignorance of the Corporate folks and by the action that now must be taken by the rest of us.
First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology - the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur'an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan - if that is Six Flag's idea of 'appropriate' then by all means, hold your day on September 12th but don't plan on expanding any time soon because not only will we ensure that you don't grow, we'll make sure that your parks become a thing of the past... STOP THE SILENCE. STOP THE NONSENCE. STOP THE MUSLIM DAY - THEY ARE NOT AMERICANS. THEY DO NOT ABIDE BY OUR CONSTITUTION - THEY ARE NOT ONE OF US - YOU ARE EITHER WITH US OR AGAINST US - MAKE YOUR DECISION.
None of the tea party commentaries mention that one of the men who first established the Muslim Family Day event in 2000 was himself killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. Nor do they seem to understand that the scheduling issue has far more to do with the Muslim calendar than any intentional desire to link the event to 9/11. The event is designed to celebrate the end of Ramadan, which ends on Sept. 10 this year. ICNA obviously didn't want to have its festivities on 9/11, so scheduled it for the next day. (Some tea partiers, meanwhile, have actually scheduled a big political rally on the National Mall for the anniversary of 9/11, but they don't see a big problem with that.) And far from being a "Muslim Brotherhood" front, ICNA's president is Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Price for his work pioneering microlending through the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Those nuances seem utterly lost on the tea partiers. So far, though, their freakout hasn't yet persuaded Six Flags to cancel. The company is either nobly standing firm in their commitment to diversity, or is in dire need of the 50,000 customers the day typically brings to their parks. Either way, a Six Flags spokeswoman told Fox News last week that the day would be nothing more than a "fun-filled family outing that typically coincides with Eid, the end of the Ramadan holiday."
This post originally appeared on Mother Jones.
Well, it's about time. Today, ABC News reports that the city attorney of Santa Monica, Ca., in conjunction with the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, has launched an investigation into Goldline International, the gold company that sponsors and is heavily promoted on Glenn Beck's TV and radio shows. Apparently, California authorities discovered what Mother Jones readers likely already knew, which is that Goldline misleads customers into buying overpriced gold coins that they weren't necessarily in the market for:
"There are two main types of complaints we're seeing," said Adam Radinsky of the Santa Monica City Attorney's office, which has launched what it described as a joint investigation with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. "One is that customers say that they were lied to and misled in entering into their purchases of gold coins," he said. "And the other group is saying that they received something different from what they had ordered."
Radinsky says that the investigation is in the preliminary stages but that it involves more than 100 consumer complaints about Goldline and the Superior Gold Group, which are both based in Santa Monica. Goldline defended its practices to ABC by citing its superior rating from the Better Business Bureau. But as we reported here a few months ago, pretty much any Joe with a credit card can get such a rating. Goldline also claimed the investigation was politically motivated by people who don't like Beck, a charge Radinsky denied. He told ABC, "Glenn Beck has nothing to do with our investigation. Our investigation is about transactions with individual customers and the complaints that they've raised. And politics really has nothing to do with it. It's all about consumer protection for us," he said. Radinsky also said that people with Goldline complaints can now file them at a special website set up by his office, www.gold.smconsumer.org. If Beck seriously cared about his audience, he should plug that site on his show sometime.
This post originally appeared on Mother Jones. Have you got an extra $75,000 burning a hole in your pocket? Maybe you’d like to give it to Glenn Beck, who in return will fly you over New York City in a helicopter to the Westchester airport, where his chauffer will drive you to Beck’s house in Connecticut and Mrs. Beck will make everyone dinner. That all assumes, of course, that you can pass a stringent background check first. The helicopter ride and dinner with the famous talk show host is but one of the many Beck-centric offerings available for auction as part of Beck’s “Restoring Honor” extravaganza on the National Mall next month. Beck has chosen to host a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (pending a permit from the Park Service) on August 28, the very day and place that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech 47 years ago. (Alexander Zaitchik has a good run down here of why this is particularly offensive.) The rally, also headlined by Sarah Palin, is ostensibly focused on American troops and designed to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which helps the families of service members killed or injured in the line of duty. Money raised from the auction will go to SOWF, but only after all the expenses for the rally have been covered. (The rally is estimated to cost $2 million, and SOWF says it has already netted that much from the event.) Of course, "Restoring Honor" is really all about Beck. The logo for the event has a drawing of him sheathed in light like he’s the second coming of Christ. By far the biggest ticket item in the auction is the dinner with Beck, and there is tons of Beck memorabilia and books in the mix, but there are some other interesting items up for grabs. Political junkies might be interested in lunch with Karl Rove, who can be had for a mere $7,500, $500 less than a scholarship to the online version of Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University. A tour of the Capitol with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman is up to $13,000. Now that Arizona has become the subject of boycotts and its sports teams are suffering, Beck is apparently doing his part to fill some seats. There are lots of Arizona Diamondbacks packages to bid on, including a luxury suite for 18 people going for a mere $1,000. By far the most novel item up for bid is the autographed bag used by Kieffer Sutherland in the shooting of 24: Redemption in Africa, going for $1,200—far more than the autographed copy of South Carolina Senator and tea party fave Jim DeMint’s book, Saving Freedom. No doubt this says something about Beck fans (though I’m not sure what), but a copy of Beck’s book, Arguing with Idiots, that both Beck and former green jobs czar Van Jones signed, is a strangely hot item, up to $4,250 by Thursday afternoon. The one signed by Beck and former Weatherman Bill Ayers is only fetching $1,600. The home page of the auction site also touts VIP tickets to see shows featuring Bill Cosby and Ellen DeGeneres, both of whom seem unlikely candidates for a Beck auction. As it turns out, at least as of Thursday night, you can't actually bid on those. Don't worry, though. You can still bid on the recently added giant statute of the Ten Commandments, much like the one that used to grace the courtroom of former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore. That rock is going for $2,750. If you want dibs on all this great stuff, you’d better hurry! The auction ends at 3 p.m. Monday.
More than 1,000 members of the public tramped through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room last week to catch a glimpse of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Strangely, not a single one of them leapt up to scream "Babykiller!" at her. The hearings, which finished late Thursday night, were a remarkably sedate affair. Throughout Kagan's entire time in the hot-seat, I kept scanning the crowd to see which, if any, of the visitors might be an anti-abortion protester in disguise. But by Wednesday night, it was clear that Kagan was going to survive three days of hearings without suffering that particular rite of passage. The silence of the anti-abortion protesters was weird. During Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings last year, protesters gave the proceedings their only element of surprise. At least five people were detained for yelling "murder" and other slogans about the "unborn" at Sotomayor. Even Norma McCorvey, the "Roe" of Roe v. Wade got herself arrested during the event. It’s curious that none of these people came to torment Kagan, for whom abortion was—and will continue to be—a much bigger issue than it ever was for Sotomayor. During her entire 20 years on the federal bench, Sotomayor handled only a single abortion case. In it, she actually sided with the very same kind of people who disrupted her confirmation hearing. Kagan, on the other hand, was actively involved in the Clinton administration’s political machinations over the partial-birth abortion ban legislation, which Clinton vetoed for a second time in 1997. But even that work wasn’t enough to drive the “unborn” lobby into civil disobedience mode. It’s possible that because Kagan is replacing one of the court’s most liberal justices, and thus won’t be really tilting the balance of the court, her nomination simply has lower stakes for the right-to-life movement. But there may be other factors involved as well. Matthew Faraci, vice president for communications of Americans United for Life, which doesn’t engage in public protests, posits that protesters didn’t get organized for the Kagan hearings because the main abortion bombshell about Kagan didn’t make news until the second day of the hearing. That’s when Shannen Coffin posted a story in the National Review Online that ramped up the abortion politics significantly. According to Coffin, Kagan's time in the Clinton administration showed that she was willing “to manipulate medical science to fit the Democratic Party’s political agenda on the hot-button issue of abortion.” Coffin is probably better known as Vice President Dick Cheney’s general counsel, a job he secured after successfully defending Cheney’s secret energy task force. But he also served as deputy attorney general during the Bush administration charged with defending the partial-birth abortion ban that finally passed in 2003. Citing documents released by the Clinton Library, Coffin claimed that when Kagan was working in the Clinton administration domestic policy shop, she persuaded the American College of Ob/Gyns to alter the language it used in a statement on the merits of the partial-birth abortion procedure to support the political fight against the ban. Apparently, in an early statement on the procedure, ACOG had said that most of the time, the partial-birth abortion wasn’t essential to preserving the health of a woman. The statement didn’t include any qualifying language suggesting that there may be times where the procedure is appropriate. Coffin quoted Kagan’s memo in which she wrote that ACOG’s original statement on partial-birth abortion “would be a disaster,” presumably referring to the impact the medical opinion might have on any attempts to strike down a ban. Coffin then accused Kagan of having meddled with the ACOG expert statement. He says memos in the archives show Kagan encouraging the group to amend its official statement in a way that would most benefit opponents of any partial-birth ban. Coffin claimed that the ACOG language made it extremely difficult for his office to defend the partial birth ban that did finally pass Congress, largely because the courts repeatedly deferred to the medical expertise of ACOG. In terms of abortion politics, it was a pretty big deal, and one that seems like it would have sent more folks than just Randall Terry to protest at the Capitol. But the ACOG bomb didn’t drop until late the second day of the hearings, giving anti-abortion activists less time to organize for the event. Nonetheless, Republican senators did manage to ask Kagan about the memos and her involvement with ACOG, and they weren’t happy with what they heard. Kagan said she had written the memos to aid President Clinton and to help ACOG clarify what it had already been saying in meetings with the White House. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) all but accused Kagan of lying to the committee, and criticized her for trying to politicize science. On Friday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, who supported Kagan’s nomination for Solicitor General, publicly announced that he would vote to confirm her for the Supreme Court based in part on her “extreme position on abortion.” And while the confirmation hearings are now finished, Faraci predicts that the abortion controversy is only going to gather steam next week as the Senate moves towards voting on Kagan’s nomination. Will it be enough to derail her confirmation? Probably not, as even the Republicans acknowledge. But who knows? Conservative interest groups, particularly those who really care about abortion, have already starting calling for a filibuster, something Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Thursday he wouldn't rule out.
This post originally appeared on Mother Jones. In May, AARP made headlines when its latest sex survey showed that the economy had taken a serious toll on the sex lives of the 45 and over set. Baby boomers are having way less sex now than they were in 2004, and even when they are, they're enjoying it less, AARP declared. But now it looks like it's not just baby boomers who aren't getting any. The Centers for Disease Control Monday released the 2009 data from its Youth Risk Surveillance System, which showed that teenagers were just a tiny bit less sexually active in 2009 than they were in 2007 (a data point evangelical Christian groups are, naturally, promoting as a sign that abstinence education is working). More interesting, there was a bigger dip in the number of 9th through 12th graders who were getting wasted first and then having sex, a sign, perhaps, that today's recession-worn teenagers can't afford the sexual lubricants of booze or drugs. Either that or they're choosing to spend that money on birth control instead. The use of the Pill or Depo Provera shots went up sharply between 2007 and 2009. Sadly, that still means only 22 percent of teen girls are taking serious measures to prevent pregnancy. Still, the numbers suggest that, as with the baby boomers, the recession may have left teenagers feeling a lot less randy--one side-effect of the economic downturn their parents are no doubt cheering.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has been fending off calls from around the country for a major boycott of her state for its passage of a draconian new immigration law. Last Friday, Brewer's reelection campaign fought back with a new video that quickly went viral. (By Monday morning it had been viewed more than 260,000 times.) In it, a green puppet sings a little ditty about how reading "helps you know what you're talking about," mixed in with clips of various Obama administration officials acknowledging that they've never actually read the ten page Arizona statute they've been bashing. It doesn't have quite the genius of Demon Sheep, but Brewer's video does a decent job of making Attorney General Eric Holder and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano look pretty foolish.

Ever since its contract employee Jamie Leigh Jones went public with allegations that in 2005, she was drugged and gang raped by some of her co-workers in Iraq and then detained in a storage container, KBR/Halliburton has fought her efforts to sue in a public courtroom. Jones had been forced to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement as part of her employment contract, which required her to bring any work-related claims before a private arbitrator hired by KBR rather than a jury. Jones fought the agreement and in September, prevailed in one of the most conservative federal appeals courts in the country. Her story persuaded Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to pass legislation to ban defense contractors from using arbitration agreements in cases of sexual assault. But last week, KBR signaled its intention to continue fighting Jones, no matter how bad it makes the company look. On Jan. 19, it petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing Jones to press her case in a civil court rather than in arbitration. Among its many arguments in favor of a high court hearing: that Jones is a media whore who has "sensationalize[d] her allegations against the KBR Defendants in the media, before the courts, and before Congress." In its petition, KBR is clearly miffed about the Franken Amendment, which it credits Jones with getting passed. KBR also suggests that much of Jones' story is fabricated. The company says in a footnote, "Many, if not all, of her allegations against the KBR Defenndants are demonstrably false. The KBR Defendants intend to vigorously contest Jones's allegations and show that her claims against the KBR Defendants are factually and legally untenable."