Blogs

GOP Rebel Justin Amash Just Beat a Guy Who Called Him "Al Qaeda's Best Friend"

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 10:35 PM EDT
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)

The GOP's business establishment talked openly about making conservative hardliners pay for pushing Washington toward a debt ceiling crisis last fall. But that wave of Chamber of Commerce-funded primary challengers to conservative incumbents never materialized. The Chamber settled on trying to take out Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a second term congressman and Ron Paul disciple famous for voting on no on pretty much everything—even the Paul Ryan budget—and for cobbling together a bipartisan coalition to rein in the NSA's domestic surveillance programs. It was the first part that drew the ire of business interests in his district, and the second part that made him the villain in one of the year's nastiest campaign ads. Amash, challenger Brian Ellis warned, was "Al Qaeda's best friend" in Congress.

Ellis received a rare primary endorsement from an incumbent member of Amash's Michigan delegation, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, an NSA defender. But we're not in 2002 anymore; it turns out Amash's civil libertarianism plays pretty well in the western Michigan district that gave America Gerald Ford. Boosted by deep-pocketed donors of his own (including the DeVos family), Amash eased past Ellis, making him a sure-thing to win a third term in November.

Update: After the results were in, Amash reportedly let the challenger's concession call go to voicemail, and then ripped into him his victory speech: "You owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign. You had the audacity to try and call me today after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country. I ran for office to stop people like you."

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Michigan GOP Primary Results: "Foreclosure King" Beats Santa Impersonator

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 9:44 PM EDT

The War on Christmas seems to comes earlier every year: Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), a Santa impersonator who was elected to Congress by accident in 2012, was defeated in a 30-point landslide on Tuesday, becoming this year's first (and probably only) victim of the Republican establishment's dissatisfaction with congressional tea partiers.

Bentivolio won his party’s nomination two years ago in a fluke after the incumbent, Rep. Thad McCotter, failed to qualify for the ballot and abruptly resigned. (A high school teacher and reindeer rancher, Bentivolio was the only Republican left on the ballot.) Bentivolio never fully sold himself as a serious congressman—he once promised to hold a hearing on chemtrails, the conspiracy theory that airplanes are brainwashing Americans with poison—making him an obvious target, despite winning the backing of Speaker of the House John Boehner.

More interesting than Bentivolio, who always had a placeholder feel to him, is the man who trounced him the primary—David Trott, a high-powered Republican donor whose law firm happens to process most of Michigan's foreclosures. As one registrar of deeds in southeast Michigan put it in December, Trott & Trott "made a living off of monetizing human misery." A big donor to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, and a member of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee's Michigan finance committee, Trott is an archetypal establishment Republican.

But he'll still have his work cut out for him: Romney won the 11th district by just four points in 2012. He'll take on the winner of the Democratic race between former CIA analyst Bobby McKenzie (backed by national Democrats) and urologist Anil Kumar.

Russian Hackers Probably Know Your Passwords

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:36 PM EDT

Holy crap:

A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses, security researchers say.

The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to small Internet sites....At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic.

So far, says the Times, the Russian hackers are mostly using the information "to send spam on social networks like Twitter at the behest of other groups, collecting fees for their work." I guess that counts as good news, all things considered, though obviously that could change quickly. Here's how the Russian gang did it:

They began as amateur spammers in 2011, buying stolen databases of personal information on the black market. But in April, the group accelerated its activity....Since then, the Russian hackers have been able to capture credentials on a mass scale using botnets — networks of zombie computers that have been infected with a computer virus — to do their bidding. Any time an infected user visits a website, criminals command the botnet to test that website to see if it is vulnerable to a well-known hacking technique known as a SQL injection, in which a hacker enters commands that cause a database to produce its contents. If the website proves vulnerable, criminals flag the site and return later to extract the full contents of the database.

“They audited the Internet,” Mr. Holden said. It was not clear, however, how computers were infected with the botnet in the first place.

By July, criminals were able to collect 4.5 billion records — each a username and password — though many overlapped. After sorting through the data, Hold Security found that 1.2 billion of those records were unique. Because people tend to use multiple emails, they filtered further and found that the criminals’ database included about 542 million unique email addresses.

I guess I really should get started on my annual password-changing exercise. Or maybe get a password manager, which I've resisted so far for reasons that may not really be that compelling. Or, alternatively, just forget the whole thing except for a very few sites that pose a real threat if hacked. I mean, do I really care if someone gets the password to my LA Times account? What good would it do them? Unfortunately, even on a fairly narrow reading of "real threat," I come up with nearly a couple dozen sites. That's still a lot of passwords to change.

This Woman Just Shattered One of Pro Sports’ Most Enduring Glass Ceilings

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 5:23 PM EDT
Becky Hammon, the newest member of the Spurs' coaching staff

The San Antonio Spurs confirmed today what was already clear: The NBA is, by far, the most progressive Big Four sports league when it comes to gender equity. The team announced the hiring of Becky Hammon, a six-time All-Star with the WNBA's San Antonio Stars, as an assistant coach. When the season tips off this fall, she'll be the first woman on the coaching bench in NBA history.

Women have held other (and less formal) jobs on NBA staffs before, but Hammon, 37, will become the first full-time female coach. It makes sense that the Spurs are at the forefront, given the recently crowned NBA champs' history of innovative, progressive leadership. (They lead the league in international players, for example.) And it further boosts a newsworthy summer for women in the NBA: In addition to Hammon's hiring, the basketball players' union named lawyer Michele Roberts as its executive director.

Notably, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) named the NBA the leading sports league for gender diversity in its annual report, adding that while women aren't as represented as they could be, the league still handily beat MLB and the NFL. Forty percent of the NBA's league office is staffed by women, helping it earn a B+ grade from TIDES. (The MLB and NFL got C+ and C grades, respectively.)

So why is basketball so far ahead of the other leagues? Slate's Amanda Hess suggests that it could be because, unlike football and baseball, women actually play basketball—and they're good at it. From the NCAA to the WNBA (which the NBA created in 1996) to the Olympics, we're used to seeing women like Hammon excel on the court. On the other hand, female engagement in the NFL stops at the sidelines, where cheerleaders are routinely degraded by team organizations.

Hess also argues that part of the NBA's commitment to gender equity stems from the view of former commissioner David Stern, who was instrumental in shaping the league into the powerhouse it is today. Stern is a noted liberal, for one, but also a shrewd businessman; he figured that making women essential to the league would boost the its bottom line. To an extent, it did: Stern argued that the WNBA initiatives helped to expand the NBA's female audience, even though it still lags behind the NFL's.

Today's decision from the Spurs, however, seems to disregard any business calculus. The best candidate for the job was hired, and she's a woman.

Chart of the Day: The Terrorist Watchlist By the Numbers

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 1:49 PM EDT

Over at the Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux break down the federal government's terrorist watchlist for us:

Of the 680,000 people caught up in the government’s Terrorist Screening Database—a watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” that is shared with local law enforcement agencies, private contractors, and foreign governments—more than 40 percent are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”

....[Classified] documents, obtained from a source in the intelligence community, also reveal that the Obama Administration has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the terrorist screening system. Since taking office, Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000—surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush.

....Most people placed on the government’s watchlist begin in a larger, classified system known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE)....In the summer of 2013, officials celebrated what one classified document prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center refers to as “a milestone”—boosting the number of people in the TIDE database to a total of one million, up from half a million four years earlier.

There's much more at the link. Click to read the whole thing.

The Siberian Permafrost Just Sent Us a Warning Message

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 1:34 PM EDT

One of the scary aspects of climate change is the possibility of positive feedback loops. When Arctic ice melts, for example, it exposes seawater, which doesn't reflect as much sunlight as ice. So more sunlight is absorbed, which makes the planet even warmer, which melts more ice, rinse and repeat.

Of all of these feedback loops, the scariest might well be the melting of the Siberian permafrost. As the permafrost melts, it releases large amounts of methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. That warms the planet, which speeds up the permafrost melt, which releases more methane, ad infinitum.

The good news about the permafrost is that it's probably not going to start seriously melting until the middle of the century or beyond. The bad news is that it might already be starting:

By now, you’ve heard of the crater on the Yamal Peninsula. It’s the one that suddenly appeared, yawning nearly 200 feet in diameter, and made several rounds in the global viral media machine....There’s now a substantiated theory about what created the crater. And the news isn’t so good.

It may be methane gas, released by the thawing of frozen ground. According to a recent Nature article, “air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane.”

This particular crater is apparently due to abnormally hot summers in 2012 and 2013, and one or two hot summers could happen regardless of changes in global temperatures. As usual, then, we can't say for sure that this is a direct result of climate change. But what we can say is that it's a canary in the coal mine. As the climate warms, we're going to see more and more craters like this. Individually, we'll never know if climate change is to blame. But collectively, there won't be much doubt. And if and when the permafrost goes into an irreversible meltdown, you might want to pack your bags and move to Tierra del Fuego.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama Wants Businesses to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 12:38 PM EDT

The Economist interviewed President Obama this week, and Clive Crook was discomfited by this snippet:

The Economist: We see a lot of business people and they do complain about regulation.

Mr Obama: They always complain about regulation. That’s their job....The business community does have broader responsibilities to the system as a whole. And although the general view today is that the only responsibility that a corporate CEO has is to his shareholders, I think the American people generally sense—

The Economist: Do you really think that's true? Because when I talk to corporate CEOs, that’s one of their complaints. If you ask for a complaint about the White House, they’ll say it is the attitude. Every CEO nowadays is involved in nine different social responsibility things—it’s ingrained in most public—

Mr Obama: Well, I think—here’s what’s interesting. There’s a huge gap between the professed values and visions of corporate CEOs and how their lobbyists operate in Washington. And I’ve said this to various CEOs. When they come and they have lunch with me—which they do more often than they probably care to admit (laughter)—and they’ll say, you know what, we really care about the environment, and we really care about education, and we really care about getting immigration reform done—then my challenge to them consistently is, is your lobbyist working as hard on those issues as he or she is on preserving that tax break that you’ve got? And if the answer is no, then you don’t care about it as much as you say.

Oddly, Crook is upset because he thinks this demonstrates that Obama is indeed anti-business, just as his critics claim. Here's what he has to say about that:

Interesting to see a politician accuse business people of insincerity. Even on the view that executives are entirely self-serving, by the way, you'd expect them to care a lot about education and immigration reform. Aside from that, how peculiar of Obama, pausing briefly from his busy schedule of political fund-raising, to criticize businesses for the effort they put into lobbying. If lobbying didn't work, businesses wouldn't do it. It works because politicians are receptive. That's their job.

Think about what we have here. The Economist interviewer is apparently taking at face value business complaints that they never get credit for the immense amount of social work they do. That's an odd bit of naiveté for a normally cynical business publication. Then Obama points out the obvious: what corporate CEOs say and what they do are rather different things. If you want to know what their real priorities are, take a look at what their lobbyists focus on.

Sensible enough, you'd think. But Crook doesn't agree. And here's the weirdest part: he thinks that it's somehow unfair of Obama to criticize business lobbying when, after all, it works. On this reading, the tidal wave of pseudo-bribery that lubricates Washington DC is beyond criticism precisely because politicians are so eager to accept all these pseudo-bribes. How can you be pro-business, and at the same time be critical of the endlessly parochial goals of corporate lobbying?

Those seem like perfectly compatible positions to me, so I don't really get this. Perhaps it gets to the difference between being pro-market and pro-business. These are rather different things, but they often get mushed together without much thought.

In any case, I have no doubt that Obama doesn't instinctively venerate the business community the way George Bush (or even Bill Clinton) did. Nevertheless, pointing out that most corporations aren't quite the social visionaries they claim to be is hardly evidence of anything other than a clear view of the world. After all, as Crook says, lobbying works. That being the case, surely Obama is right: if they really cared about the environment and education and so forth, they'd be mounting big lobbying operations and demanding that Republicans support them if they ever want to see another dime. But for the most part, they haven't. Money has spoken.

Rand Paul Is Learning How To Be a Good Stage Actor

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 11:12 AM EDT

Back when he was a reckless and irresponsible youngster, Rand Paul suggested cutting off all foreign aid, specifically including aid to Israel. "I want to be known as a friend of Israel," he said, "but not with money you don’t have."

Oh wait. That was actually 2011. Not so long ago after all. It's certainly well after the internet was invented and politicians' past statements became impossible to hide or fudge. Nevertheless, Paul is now running for president, so he needs to revise his position. That shouldn't be too hard, really, but as usual, he's making it hard:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Monday denied that he once supported ending federal aid to Israel — an idea he proposed as recently as 2011.

“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.

This is starting to become one of Paul's distinguishing features. He's also done the same thing regarding the Civil Rights Act. Instead of simply saying that his thinking has evolved in some way or another, he aggressively denies he ever held his previous position and then pretends to be outraged that some liberal shill of a reporter is deliberately misrepresenting his position. How dare he?!? So far the mainstream press isn't really giving him much grief over this, but that could change if he mounts a serious presidential run.

Poor Rand Paul. He's discovering that the actual existing Republican Party isn't really all that libertarian after all. If he wants to be president, he's going to have to jettison a whole bunch of fervently held positions, and he's obviously not very happy about that. I wonder how many times he's going to pull a performance like this? If he perfects it, maybe he deserves a Tony.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 5, 2014

Tue Aug. 5, 2014 9:42 AM EDT

US Navy Lt. Audrey Koecher talks with Guetemalan children at a community relations event. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Wojciechowski)

Three-Quarters of Mexican Child Migrants Have Been Caught at the Border Before

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mexican child migrant map
Pew Research Center

While the focus of the recent border crisis has been on unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, thousands of Mexican kids also have been apprehended trying to cross into the United States since last fall. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority had been caught several times before—and 15 percent of them reported having been previously apprehended six times or more.

The US Border Patrol made more than 11,300 apprehensions of unaccompanied Mexican child migrants from October 2013 to May 2014. Among the kids picked up, 76 percent said they'd been caught "multiple times before," according to the Pew report, which is based on data provided by Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the map above shows, 64 percent of Mexican minors crossing alone came from six states: Tamaulipas, Sonora, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Michoacán.

Currently, child migrants from Mexico (and Canada) can be deported shortly after apprehension, unlike kids from elsewhere, who are reunified with US-based family while their immigration proceedings are pending. As I wrote last month in a post about why the federal government shouldn't change the law to more easily deport Central American kids:

When an unaccompanied Mexican child is apprehended by the Border Patrol, agents are supposed to screen him within 48 hours. Specifically, they are supposed to determine three things: (1) whether the child has been the victim of trafficking; (2) whether the child has a fear of returning to Mexico; and (3) whether the child is able to voluntarily make the decision to return home. If the screening reveals that the child hasn't been trafficked, isn't afraid to go back, and can make the decision by himself, then he can be sent back.

In practice, says the ACLU's Sarah Mehta, "when they're happening, the screenings are inconsistent, but often they're not happening." Some agents don't speak Spanish; in other cases, Mehta says, kids have reported not being asked any questions at all, or being told by agents that they can't get deportation relief for whatever they experienced at home or along the way to the United States.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a UN Refugee Commission report claimed that more than 95 percent of Mexican children caught at the border by themselves in fiscal 2013 were returned to Mexico. If Mexican kids do have legitimate asylum claims, they're likely not being heard, advocates claim. And when these kids do get sent back, many try to cross again.

Here's another Pew chart, this one showing the numbers of unaccompanied child apprehensions by country of origin since 2009:

child migrants over time
Pew Research Center