2010 - %3, October

The Long Strange Prop 19 Campaign

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 7:50 AM EDT

A week out from the midterm elections, California Democrats are bummed out. Nancy Pelosi could lose her job. A Tea Party sympathizer could replace a liberal Senator. Someone could buy the governorship. Bad shit's pretty much guaranteed to happen. And that could be why so many of us on the Left Coast have turned our attention to such a seemingly trivial cause: Proposition 19, the ballot measure that would legalize recreational pot smoking. Because if you're going to be ruled by the Tea Party, you at least deserve tea that's strong enough to make you forget how screwed you are.

Close followers of Prop 19 can't decide how worried they should be about it losing. Polls on the measure have been clouded by all the marijuana (medical, of course) that everyone's already smoking. Just look at the schizophrenic numbers from last week: On Thursday, a major human-conducted poll showed Prop 19 trailing 49 to 44 percent; the next day, Yes on 19's internal robo poll had it winning 56 to 41 percent. The only logical explanation is that 7 percent of Californians are paranoid that the pollster on the line is a DEA agent or a friend of their mom but trust pollster robots (which aren't programmed to suss out potheads). This stoner Bradley Effect has also been noted by Nate Silver, who calls it the "Broadus Effect" after the given name of Prop 19 champion Snoop Dogg.

Perhaps all of this is why the Prop 19 campaign has been reduced to stating the obvious. "Moms say controlling and taxing marijuana is good for families," reads a Yes on 19 press release from last Tuesday. And here I thought that Nancy Botwin was just a character on Showtime. But on Thursday I learned that Dena Price, a 46-year-old mom in Ukiah, was busted for keeping her 15-year-old son home from school so that he could help harvest the 7-foot-tall cannabis plants in their backyard. Given the nature of the economy in Ukiah, I'm surprised that they don't teach bud trimming in high school.

Probably more influential in the Prop 19 debate are cops, who as a group tend to oppose legalization as a capitulation to the bad guys and maybe a threat to their job security. (A notable exception is San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, who just cut a TV ad in which he proclaims that Prop 19 "will put drug cartels out of business.") On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that a man had called the police to report that he'd been sold bad marijuana. "It was nasty," he said. (But probably not as nasty as the revelation that he was being charged with a crime). This dude's cluelessness could translate into brilliance in California. If the cops are worried about losing their jobs eradicating marijuana, why not just change the job description and have them eradicate criminally awful schwag? Now that would really put the Mexican cartels out of business.

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Can Phish and the Flaming Lips Get You to Vote?

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Fans of The Roots, Flaming Lips, and Phish should probably answer their phones this week. To close voters' "enthusiasm gap," musicians such as Questlove, Wayne Coyne, and Jon Fishman are calling hundreds of concert-goers with a live reminder to show up for the November 2 election. All 25,000 music fans who signed HeadCount.org's "Pledge to Vote" will get some kind of pledge reminder prior to next Tuesday.

Why focus on voters who've already said that they'll vote, you might ask?

Crashing the Covert Campaign Spending Spree [VIDEO]

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

You've heard about them in the news, watched their slick ads flash across the TV, maybe even given them some money. Each election season, a raft of outside groups crops up, bankrolling political ads across the country. But this year, the rules have changed—as has the amount of money pouring into independent expenditure campaigns, which is unprecedented. Thanks to Citizens United and other court rulings, we don't know who's funding many of these increasingly powerful players—groups like the Alliance for America's Future, Americans for Job Security, the American Future Fund, and Crossroads GPS—and in turn shaping the results of elections from Maine to California.

So we set out to track down some of these shadowy organizations and try to get some answers. Here are the three organizations we visited, as well as details on their leadership and their total spending in this election (via the Center for Responsive Politics):

  • 60-Plus Association: Often billed as the conservative alternative to the AARP, this group has so far spent $6.4 million on the 2010 midterms. The group's chairman is James L. Martin, a former chief of staff to the late Rep. Edward Gurney (R-Fla.) and an organizer behind the National Conservative Political Action Committee, among other conservative organizations. 60-Plus has funded ads opposing more than 40 Democrats in Congress, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), and Nick Rahall (D-W.V.).
  • Americans for Job Security: Headed by Stephen DeMaura, a former executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, AJS stirred up plenty of controversy with a vicious attack on Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter, Sen. Blanche Lincoln's opponent in the state's Democratic Senate primary. The ad accused Halter, a former tech executive, of shipping American jobs to India, and even featured an Indian actor "thanking" Halter for his supposed outsourcing. All told, AJS has spent $8 million attacking Democrats including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) in the midterms.
  • Alliance for America's Future: GOP consultant Barry Bennett runs AAF, whose leadership includes Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary. So far the organization has spent $632,541 target Democrats. including Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.).

Here's what happened when we paid these groups a visit.

A version of this story appears in the January/February 2011 issue of Mother Jones.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 26, 2010

Tue Oct. 26, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare to conduct an airborne insertion from a C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., during a joint forcible entry exercise at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., on Sept. 12, 2010. A joint forcible entry exercise is a large-scale heavy equipment and troop movement exercise conducted by the Air Force and the Army. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Angelita M. Lawrence, U.S. Air Force.

What Conservatives Fear

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 10:57 PM EDT

Politico's Kenneth Vogel has a piece today about American Crossroads, the mega-PAC founded earlier this year with assistance from Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie and originally dedicated to 100% public disclosure of donors. Unfortunately, it turned out that rich conservatives were a wee bit shy about about being publicly identified with actual conservative politicians, so they ditched the transparency hokum and spun off Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies — a group whose name is notable mainly for bringing to mind Voltaire's quip about the Holy Roman Empire.1 After that, fundraising skyrocketed. 

But here's the best part. Here's what rich conservatives were supposedly afraid of:

“Whether it’s legitimate or not, there is this near-hysteria, this belief that the Democrats are going to come after us,” if donors disclose their contributions to GOP-allied groups, said one person who was asked to donate the Crossroads groups. “Everybody is truly afraid that the Obama administration is going to target them.”

This is what I was talking about a few days ago when I wrote about the difference between liberal and conservative craziness. Both sides have their loons, but can you imagine this happening on the liberal side? Even at the height of Bush hatred during the early years of the Iraq war, rich liberals never lived in fear that Bush was "going to target them." It's paranoid lunacy. I'm sure they thought that conservatives would fight back against them, but that's about as florid as they got.

I dunno. There's hardly a demographic in the country that's safer from any effective kind of retribution than rich, establishment conservatives. But after a steady diet of Fox News I guess even they start to believe that Obama really is going to come after them with his Chicago style of thug politics. In reality, all they've gotten from him is an occasional bit of Wall Street bashing and some election-season tub thumping about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But reality really doesn't matter much anymore.

1Namely that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Likewise, Crossroads GPS is designed to extract money from rich businessmen for media buys, which is the opposite of "grassroots"; is interested solely in defeating Democrats, which is the opposite of "policy"; and was created for the express purpose of funding advertising for the 2010 election, which is the opposite of a "strategy."

When Bill Clinton Eats Out

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 8:28 PM EDT

In a story about the "Bill Clinton Ate Here" effect on restaurants, we get this tidbit:

When Mr. Clinton visits a restaurant, everybody in the room knows it. Douglas Band, an aide who frequently travels with Mr. Clinton, says that his boss introduces himself to every diner, as well as every waiter and every kitchen staff member. He will always pose for photographs and sign guest books. Someone from his staff will send a thank-you note a few days later.

That is truly awesome. Every diner. Every waiter. Every kitchen staff member. Every time he eats out. The man is truly a freak of nature. I hope his brain is preserved for science when he dies.

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Las Vegas Bets on Reid for Senate

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:18 PM EDT

In Vegas, casino managers make sure the house always wins. So who are they betting on for the Nevada race? October FEC disclosure forms showed executives at nearly every casino on the strip backing Reid over tea party darling Sharron Angle, though they might want to go all in, and soon, if they want to win.

Angle managed to snag $50,000 from four donors from the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (Sands, Venetian, Palazzo) during the last fiscal quarter. During the same time, Reid received around $52,000 from nearly two dozen C-level execs from the MGM Resorts behemoth (Aria, Bellagio, MGM, Mirage, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, New York-New York, Circus Circus, Monte Carlo). Reid also got $11,000 from supporters at Harrah's Entertainment (Caesar's Palace, Rio, Paris, Bally's). Overall, Reid has many more casinos (and their respective employees) to draw from, but Angle's are willing to pony up $10,000 a piece while many of Reid's are still in the four-digits. OpenSecrets.org shows Reid earning a total of $22 million for his 2010 campaign, versus Angle's $18 million. It's a respectable difference, but not enough when you consider FiveThirtyEight shows the two candidates head to head: Angle 49.6%, Reid 47.6%.

It'll be interesting to see if Vegas bigwigs decide to up the ante and give more to Reid during these crucial final weeks, or if they're going to cut their losses and walk away. As any good gambler knows, you gotta know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.

 

"I Feared for All Our Lives"

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 3:32 PM EDT

Last week, I wrote about Ansel Herz, the American journalist at the other end of a UN peacekeeper's gun in this amazing photo shot in Haiti. Today, I'd like to share his account, as he emailed it to me, of what went down at that moment. In addition to there being no good reason for the MINUSTAH soldier threatening to shoot an unarmed photographer, that wasn't the end of the peacekeepers' mistreatment of journalists or Haitian citizens at a Port-au-Prince protest last week:

One of the MINUSTAH fired a warning shot in the air and people panicked, ran away, yelling "Film! Film them!" The one in the photo pointed his loaded gun, finger on the trigger, at a lot of people, sweeping his arm in a big motion. Then the Haitians started chanting, "They're shooting on us, they're shooting on us."

I feared for all our lives in those moments, but was intensely aware of the need to document what was happening. As it unfolded my mind went straight to the man killed by troops at Father Gerard Jean-Juste's funeral in 2009. In that instance, UN troops leveled their weapons at unarmed people—and fired. MINUSTAH denied it later, even though a Haitian TV crew had grainy footage of the whole incident.

Later on last Friday, a MINUSTAH truck nervously forced its way through the crowd and a bunch of journalists were pushed into a ditch. Sebastian Walker from Al Jazeera English was one of them, ending up with a little bloody scratch on his head. At another point, one of the MINUSTAH base security guys covered my camera with his hand as I filmed him in the street. I was shoved several times by them too.

Makes you wonder how ordinary Haitians are treated, day in and day out, in places where there are no cameras.

I never saw the protesters be anything other than peaceful, until, long after MINUSTAH had upped the tension by pulling their guns out, someone chucked a single bottle at them from across the street. I'm told the UN is carrying out an internal investigation into their actions, as always.

You should know too that MINUSTAH troops have been accused of murdering a young boy in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, in August. 

Miss Liberty America Founder: I'm Not a Tea Partier

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 3:18 PM EDT

Last week I told you about "Miss Liberty America," the beauty pageant that, among other things, will evaluate contestants based on marksmanship (rifles and pistols only), CPR, fitness, and knowledge of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. I referred to it, somewhat in jest, as "the first-ever Tea Party beauty pageant." This morning I received a message from Alicia Hayes-Roberts, sister of Tea Party presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, and founder of the pageant. Her concern? Being tagged as a Tea Party operation might be bad for business.

"We don't want to be associated with that," Hayes-Roberts told me. "We're a corporation, we are a for-profit operation, and I can't have that."

For one thing, she explained, Miss Liberty America is hoping to promote diversity (the judging panel "will consist equally of African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian judges to more closely represent America"), and Hayes-Roberts is concerned that the Tea Party tag might complicate matters. For another, she just doesn't consider the event's core message to be anything out of the mainstream. "This fringe you've got fringe on the left, fringe on the right. I want to be associated with what the meat of America is."

"I'm trying to bring people together, not separate people. And there are some organizations that do nothing but segregate people."

So let me clarify: Miss Liberty America is not a Tea Party pageant; it's just a beauty pageant that awards a lifetime NRA membership to the winner, has a goal of "restoring Liberty to the United States" and promotes "personal responsibility," employs a North American Union-fearing presidential candidate as its Chief Financial Officer, and quizzes its contestants on the founding documents. For the record.

1.5 Cheers for Finland!

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 3:18 PM EDT

Bob Somerby has a question about Finland:

As we’ve noted, every journalist flies to Finland to examine its high-scoring (middle-class) schools. This furthers a preferred press corps narrative: Our own public schools are a mess!

But please note: No one has ever flown to Finland to explore a second question: How do they provide health care at such a very low cost? Here are the OECD data for the U.S. and Finland:

   Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
   United States: $7285
   Finland: $2900

How weird! Why does no one fly to Finland to examine this major achievement?

Click the link for the answer. I think it's about right.